Sunday, May 15, 2011

Longer Race, Higher Place

If I had to pick a couple of strengths I feel I have when I race my bike, they're endurance and good recovery. If I had to pick a couple of weaknesses, they'd be top-end power and handling. I've figured out some things to do with handling that are helping me to improve, but I'd say most sport-class men handle their bikes better than I do, for now. At least, when they're fresh - during the first hour of a race, I usually start drifting back through the pack as soon as the course enters some singletrack, and I lose another place every now and then for the rest of the hour. During the second hour, though, I often start catching people again. In the BuDu races, that wasn't very useful because the second hour was only fifteen minutes long, and in Indie races it tends to be 30-45 minutes.

I thought I'd try a race in which it's two hours long.

A local couple have really thrown themselves into promoting some endurance races, and have created the Northwest Epic Series. The first race was yesterday - the Stottlemeyer 30/60. It's on a trail network I've race on before, but wouldn't say I really know. It's on the Kitsap Peninsula and requires either an expensive ferry ride or a long and circuitous drive to ride there, so I've only gone for races.

I carpooled over with a teammate. Adella was unable to come, although this is probably the most boring kind of race to spectate in existence.

The race started with a climb up a couple of miles of fire road, and then dove into some singletrack. I've been having some knee pain lately. I think I've addressed the cause, but I spent some extra time warming up and didn't get a particularly good spot in the start, which was a single 129 rider wave. With 30 miles to go, I didn't want to be too aggressive, but I still worked my way up pretty far during the fire road portion. Of course when we hit singletrack, people were still close enough together that there was a lot of stopping and starting. I couldn't see any gaps ahead, really, so I just went with it. Nobody else got that I was playing "red light, green light," or maybe they just didn't think it was that funny.

Once we erupted into fire road, things sped up. So the first thing I did was drop my water bottle. There are worse things to drop, but I lost the group of riders I'd been following while I got that sorted out.

Once I got rolling again, the first lap was pretty good. I didn't make any really big mistakes, and started catching some of the 30-milers who went out too fast and even the tail of the 60-mile race by the end of the lap. After the fire roads and the second aid station, the course was on rolling, sandy singletrack for a while and then more heavily wooded, steeper singletrack. Another rider, a woman with Ragnarok Racing, who I'd passed on the fire roads caught up to me again in that area and I stayed on her wheel for a while - I think it's silly to pass someone who's managed to chase onto me, at least, in the terrain in which she's done it. We chased onto two riders, one in a "DFL or bust" T-shirt, and the really nasty climbing started. I like to think climbs are my office, and I wasn't going to climb at the pace of "DFL or bust," so I passed the rider I'd been following, maybe not as gracefully as I'd have liked, and then, of course, the trail widened briefly, giving me an easy line past the next two riders. After that, I was on my own for a while, and then I started trading places with an older guy on a bright green Specialized Epic. I think he and I were fairly parallel for the rest of the race.

Coming out of the last piece of singletrack, a fairly fast and bumpy descent, I passed a couple of Group Health riders stopped pretty close to the middle of the road. Then I got to the first aid station, stopped to swap my empty bottles for the two I staged in my bag, and got rolling again, but ended up right behind a group of four people going more slowly than I'd have liked. It was in a climbing singletrack section, and I didn't want to do the whole thing at their pace. When the one in back fell, I took the opportunity to run by, then did it again for the next couple and found myself behind a guy I recognized from racing at South Seatac and some dude in a red SRAM jersey.

The guy I recognized, I remembered as banging out corners in a way I still hope to emulate. The guy ahead of him was having a little more trouble, but they were close enough together that a pass would be really awkward, and they were at least going faster than the last group, although I think at least one of them chased back onto me - I heard someone crashing through the bushes for a while. The trail flattened out, and got a bit wetter - it was covered in absorbent, black soil, and took a ton of energy to pedal on. The other two guys started to open a gap on me. Then, the longish fire road portion started again. I hate to admit it, but after riding on wet organic soil for a while, I was happy to be back on a 10' wide strip of gravel. I chased back on and overtook those guys, and started opening up the throttle. Which was dumb...

I began to feel a little less brilliant coming into the third quarter of the course, with all the climbing and descending. The older gentleman on the Epic caught me again, somewhere in there, and some of the leading 60-milers passed me; maybe one other 30-miler did. I also managed to catch a few more 30-milers, and then gave up a spot to a guy on a singlespeed. I managed to pass him on the last fire road before the last singletrack, barely, so I tried to yield the trail to him but he turned me down. Which was nice. From there, there was a gentle descent, one last, less brutal climb, a quick descent, and then the fire road climb to the finish. By then, I was pretty destroyed - I was having huge trouble keeping a decent cadence. (Someone else, to whom I'd insisted on complaining about this, pointed out that I was still spinning.) I decided that, whatever, it was the finish line and I always sprint the finish line. So I stayed in a largish gear and fought my way up the last several yards of fire road standing.

At the end of all that, I finished 19th in Open Men, and 36th overall. With 53 finishers in my category, I'm pretty happy with that - I've beaten a lot fewer people to get to 19th. Final time was 3:12:42.6. The guy who won it did the whole course in 2:28:22.4 - pretty fast. The guy who won the 60-mile race had a little less than twice that time.

In general, this race was a big success for me - I'm happy with how I did, and I think the format is good for me. The major fail was in nutrition. I did not get enough calories. I bought a tub of Gatorade powder and some powerbar gels not too long after the race. A reduced-strength Gatorade mix seems to work well for me, and while the powerbar gels, at least the vanilla ones, taste pretty gnarly, they don't make me sick, I don't inhale them, I don't have to chew them, and the wrappers are easier to deal with - so several improvements over energy bars when I'm riding at really high effort for a long time.

I've got a normal-length XC race coming up in July and then I'll do a 50-mile race in August. It should be fun.