Overall, training has been going quite well since the beginning of the year. Fitness benchmarks are significantly improved from January. I've had my share of bad luck though. When heading to Arizona last month, it hadn't rained in 87 days. You expect it to be dry in March in Tucson. It not only rained during our trip, we got sleeted on. The temp was back to 80F the following week.
So I planned to do this race called the Massasoit Lung Challenge at a venue I've never been to. I waited until the last minute to pre-register, as I have no interest in riding or racing in foul weather. This was on Friday. The very next morning, I woke up sick. I hadn't been sick in a long time, so why the day before my first race of the season? This wasn't one of those scratchy throat ordeals either. It was full-on headache and feeling weak and achy all over deals. The probability that I'd be in the mood for racing Sunday plummeted.
I didn't feel awful when I got up Sunday, just kind of crappy. The weather was going to be stellar. The trails were likely dry. In short, we're lucky if we get one race day this good per season. I couldn't bail. The venue is only about an hour away, so not a big commitment to head down.
I warmed up on the first two miles of the course. Crap, I was going to kill myself on it. The course wasn't technical per se, but at speed it presented many opportunities for bodily harm. The singletrack was fairly wide and very rooty. I break bones on less technical terrain, and my phobia of going fast on stuff like this would get the best of me.
I was amazed how large the Cat 1 fields were. The 40-49 and 50+ fields both had 30+ starters. Stacked too. Lots of roadie power was present. Most guys were on 29" bikes, mix of dualies and hardtails. I brought my 26" dualie Racer-X. Probably the right choice over my 29" hardtail, as my back was killing me by the end of the race with squish under me.
I lined up at the back of my field. I didn't want to be in anybodies way when my apprehension took over in the trickier bits. Plus I was feeling crappy. This turned out to be a huge blunder. Alby said it better than I can in the first few paragraphs of his recap. In the first two miles I lost at least two minutes. I think I came to a complete stop 4-5 times. First into the singletrack, then at each of the two bridges, plus a couple other pinch points. That was the slowest first 10 minutes of any MTB race I've done.
Once we got to the doubletrack, I started passing riders in ones and twos. Things opened up a bit and finally I cold throw down some roadie Watts. I was burning matches left and right. I started seeing Keith Button (CCB) and Joe Rano (Gear Works) ahead. They started in rows one and two, so I started feeling pretty good about myself. Then we hit the hills. There were three that stuck out. The first was rideable but put a deep sting in the legs. A short while later, a second, much steeper climb was clearly a run-up. I doubt anybody was riding it. Immediately after, another stinker forced me off my bike. I'm sure there were several riders cleaning this one, but I figured I'd get over quicker on foot and didn't try on any of my laps. Bombing down this last one brought us back to the start/finish. My first lap took nearly 37 minutes.
I passed Keith and Joe on the second lap. A bit of tag occurred, as I couldn't hold them off in the techy stuff. Once we got to the doubletrack and climbs, I gapped them for good. Keith and a couple others raced Quabbin the day before, so I was impressed with his effort. I caught up with Dave Belknap and Andy Chambers (Nerac Earth) towards the end of the second lap. I could pass and put distance on them on the climbs and open doubletrack, but got killed on the technical stuff.
One thing stood out in this race. I use my brakes way more than my competition. The fear of crashing, or snapping an ankle again, is overpowering. How does one get past that? I was "that guy" in this race for sure. Attack and pass people when roadie Watts could be laid down, but then gum up the works as soon as we went into rooty chicane sections. I had a couple very close calls on lap two. One, a root took my front wheel away. I jambed my right foot down so hard it made my whole leg hurt. How I managed to stay up is beyond me. Another time my Racing Ralphs didn't quite hold around a fast loose over hardpack turn. It might have almost looked like I knew what I was doing, a nice tripod skid around a turn. But I nearly soiled my chamois on that one. I finished the second lap a little faster than my first lap.
I couldn't ditch Andy and Dave. There was just enough techy stuff forcing me to brake where they would let momentum run out. On the third lap, Dave started to fade and I managed to grow a gap on him. I got a third wind and even charged ahead of Andy for a bit. But he was super smooth on the most off-cambered, rooty nastiness. I wasn't. The ratio of roadie friendly to real mountain biker terrain just wasn't high enough for me to stay ahead of him to the finish. We only had another 8 minutes to go or so. I can bury myself for 8 minutes, even at the end of a TT effort like this race. The terrain wasn't conducive to burying though. Andy made an impressive, sketchy pass just before the final hills and held it. I crossed the line in 1:49:22, my third lap time almost identical to second lap.
I had no idea how many from my field were ahead of me. I assumed many. When results were posted, I was fairly pleased to finish 7th out of 31 starters. I probably wouldn't have done much better had I felt better. It was a solid field. My crappy start hurt me more than anything else, killing myself for the second half of the first lap to get back in the game. I thought surely I'd cramp up before the finish from that effort.
It was well worth coming out. We don't get race days like this very often, where its cool enough you barely break a sweat but don't need long layers, and your bike and body are clean after the race. I would definitely do this race again. It favors roadie power. Maybe next year I'll have a 29" dualie and get over my phobia.