Monday, April 18, 2011

First Full Racing Series, Complete

For one reason and another, I've never actually gone to all the races in a series. The points are structured assuming this, so it's not that big a deal. But yesterday, I went to the 6th BuDu Racing race in their series. It's an early-season series, so now it's done. I'm not sure why, exactly - I think it was because of going to all six - but I got some swag. It's a Jansport hydration pack; I'd been thinking about replacing the bladder in mine for rides running over 3 hours. So I'll get a chance to try this over the next few weeks, and later in the summer. The pack is courtesy of Singletrack Cycles.

Adella went to most of my races with me. She's awesome for supporting me that way, and her observations on my races are always amusing.

If I've learned anything from this series, and from my finishes in it, it's that I need to ride my mountain bike more. I can hang with the faster riders for a while in the flats, although I think the faster guys in my class would beat me in a road race too, and I catch and pass people on climbs, but when the course goes into a singletrack section, I start drifting back.

Yesterday's course had such strongly demarcated different kinds of riding that it really brought this out. It started with a brief gravel road section, then a relatively non-technical climb up some flowing singletrack, with a final section up a narrow service road. I kept myself in mid-pack up to the entrance to the singletrack, in an effort not to get caught behind someone making a mistake, something that happens more the further back in the pack I am. I still ended up getting separated from the front runners there - it was the two riders right behind me who made the mistake. But after I got rolling again, I managed to hold my position and then pass a few people on the fire road section of the climb.

The course stayed on top of a hill in a lot of winding singletrack for a while after that. I didn't lose a ton of places, but I started losing places there and certainly letting the gap in front get bigger. It took people a while to catch me there, though - I definitely bought myself some time attacking the initial climb. When the course went into descending singletrack with a really loose surface, I was really in trouble. I managed not to get myself hurt, but I got passed a ton.

Following the loose descent was a flat, bumpy, windy section. On the first lap, I was still losing places, but I think on the second lap, I managed to keep my position through there. That area felt like it would never end, but eventually it did. There was another, short section of singletrack after that that was relatively flat, and then a last climb up a wide gravel road to the finish. Of course I tried to sprint the finish on the last lap, but I was having trouble shifting into my next chain ring, so I settled for shifting a couple gears on my cassette and rode across the line in the saddle.

I often pick off a few riders in the last lap of a race, and this one was no exception. But something that was interesting to me is that I even managed to drop a guy in the singletrack. I don't know if I passed him earlier in the race, or if he started in a later group and spent the whole race chasing up to my position, but I noticed him when he passed me in some of the flat, bumpy stuff. I figured I'd never see him again, but I managed to stay on his wheel for a while, and then he made a mistake and had to put a foot down. I wasn't able to ride past him, so I ran, and kept running for a little while until the trail got simpler. I was sure I'd see his rear wheel again, but I never did.

I hope that my ability to maintain a good pace at the end of these races is a good indicator of how I'll do in endurance races. I'm going to get called on it in about a month, so it'll be interesting one way or the other.

I'm planning one more traditional XC race this season. I'm planning to go to the Padden Mountain Pedal. This is a long race with a lot of climbing and descending. Honestly, I haven't done that well in it in the past. The climbing is on singletrack, and I don't climb as well when I have to think, or handle my bike. In a way, though, that's good - it'll give me an opportunity to see how I'm doing at what will be one of my two goals for the rest of the spring and the summer - to develop my bike handling skills, and to improve my stamina so I can be really competitive at the 50-mile race I'm planning in August.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Some Kind of Redemption

I raced at Ft. Steilacoom on Sunday. Between 'cross and last year's MTB race there, I've actually raced there a fair amount now. Last year's race was pretty stressful, and while I did okay, I didn't feel that good about it. I was late getting out of the house, got lost on the way, and barely registered in time to start, let alone warm up or pre-ride.

This time, I feel like I pretty much got it right. I got there in time to register, and while I didn't ride the whole course, I rode the more technical sections. The park is mostly flat, with three hills in it. One of them is wooded, and the riding there is fairly technical. The others are not, and the riding is mostly pretty simple.

One of the things I didn't pre-ride was the start. It went down a road, and then some doubletrack, and then took a sudden turn up a short boot pack through some grass. On the line up the middle, that was ridable, but it was a lot more difficult to either side. I'd decided I would just stay in contact with the pack and then try to do something with the race once there were some hills to work with. A couple of positions up, a guy didn't manage to keep his line on the boot pack, and put a foot down. I was thinking I'd go to his left, but he moved more to the left, and I ended up running the section. While that put me at the back of the pack, I was still in contact until I tried to remount, went too far, and ended up in the grass. Oops! Once I was sorted out, the pack had a gap on me. Including the guy who'd made the mistake in the first place.

I had a little schadenfreude when I caught up with him, bouncing up and down on his suspension and failing to climb a short, steep, loose pitch leading to the next part of the course. I cleaned that on all three laps. It didn't take me too long to chase back onto the tail end of my class, but by that time they'd already mixed in with the 19-29 men and the juniors, and the fastest couple of 40+ men were starting to show up. I never really know where I am in a XC race, and clearly this was to be no exception.

During lap 2, I ended up right behind one of the kids who was racing. I guess I was probably lapping him, but the organizers let the kids go in the first wave, so I'm not really sure. It was on a loose descent on the wooded hill and I wasn't about to start yelling at him to get out of the way, so I just hung out on his wheel until he pulled over on his own. By then, a couple of other guys were behind me. I think they knew what I was doing, because nobody asked for a pass.

That descent was the last part of the course on the little hill, and then there were about three quarters of a mile of riding through the grass. I was sure the guy behind me would pass as soon as we hit the flats, but he didn't. I figured he must be drafting off of me and not talking, because I couldn't hear him, but I decided I didn't care, chose a gear I thought I could sustain until it turned back into a mountain bike course, and channeled my inner time trialist. Strangely, I actually managed to drop him. I felt warm and fuzzy about that, because usually my strong suit on a MTB course is climbing, as long as it's not too complicated, and I can't do all that much when I'm mostly pushing air. Later, I drafted off of someone else who passed me - it was that simple, and that fast, on that part of the course.

During the last lap, my teammate Kim, who's very, very fast and in her first season of racing mountain bikes, and winning every time she starts, after her first season of 'cross last Fall, caught up to me. We rode some of the wooded hill together - I can stay with her on a climb - and then she disappeared into the woods once the descending started.

Once out of the trees, I time-trialed to the finish and did my usual sprint across the finish. I felt generally sore over my whole body, which I think is a good thing - having more specific soreness indicates an imbalance, I think.

Adella, who is awesome for coming to my races with me, did a faux-liveblog of the morning. It's much better than what I thought a liveblog of a MTB race would be.

So last year, I finished 8th, out of 12 finishers. This time, I finished 7th, out of 12 finishers again. Moving up! I feel like I'm better in longer races. The big problem I have with these short races is that as long as they don't need to do it too long, a lot of the other guys in Sport class can put out more power than I can. In 2009, I tended to go fast and then make mistakes and while I'm riding a lot cleaner now, I'm not spending as much time on my bike (funny how having school and a life will do that) and I'm heavier. So I know what I should be working on next winter, and even this summer, but with the last race of the series a week away, I'm not going to make any progress now. I'm planning to reincorporate intervals in my training next week. I have a XC race in late July that may tell me something about how that's working, if I actually do the intervals days.