Sunday, February 23, 2014

Southern Cross

The first race in the Ultra Cross series, Southern Cross was my first goal event of the season.  It was my 3rd attempt.  I finished 6th on a 29'er MTB 2 years ago.  Last year I raced a CX bike, missed a turn on the final long descent and added some extra mileage.  This year I was back again on a CX bike.  The competition has ratcheted up a couple of notches over the last couple of years, so my optimistic goal was a top 5 in 40+ but realistically I was just looking at seeing where my early season form was and just pushing as hard as I could.

The weather turned out to be pretty good.  A little chilly at the start, but nothing like last years freeze.  I got a reasonably good starting position (for me).  The tall grass and soft ground on the winery grounds at the start made for some difficult going early on.  I lost a few spots by those more ambitious on the first big run-up than me.  By the time we got to the road my legs were already burning, but it's crucial to be in a good drafting pack early and then sort it out on the climb.

I had been riding the .GPX course file of the course on my CompuTrainer, so I knew when and how long the first climb would be.  I think I paced myself pretty well because of those that passed me early in the climb, I was able to reel them all in and a grab a few more spots before the 1st aid station at the top at mile 12.5.

A few more short, steep climbs and descents followed before a long descent leading onto a road section.  Somehow I managed to hit the road solo, so I had to do all the work myself instead of sharing the work with drafting partners.

There are a few more short steep climbs before we turn onto a road that follows a creek on a steady incline that suits my climbing style perfectly.  It's a joy to be outside with great weather, great terrain, pedaling up a mountain.  Other riders are few and far between, but I do manage to pick a few spots before the aid station at mile 32.

Next up:  Super fast, rough road descending.  It's a bit technical, but most of all, it is a bit of crap shoot wondering how fast I can rocket down the mountain bouncing off of rocks without flatting.  I played it reasonably conservative, losing a little ground to some MTB's, but pleased that I got to the bottom with no flats, no issues.

I pop out onto the road, solo again, for the 5 or so miles back to the winery.  We enter the winery on a narrow, paved undulating road, but the real difficult section starts with a giant run-up and doesn't end until the finish line.  Two miles of suffering through soft ground, tall grass, off-camber sections, more run-ups, a log crossing, 2 creek crossings and the accumulation of 49 previous miles of fatigue.  But it does finally end.  The extra struggling at the end adds to the satisfaction of mission accomplishment.  I crossed the line in about 3:20.  Good for 7th in 40+ and 25 minutes faster than I was last year.

A good start to the season.

See you on the trails!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Taco Stand Classic 6-Hour SEC

I had been wanting to do a Chain Buster's Productions SEC race for a while because it looked like a fun, well-run series that I could do well at on venues that were (mostly) within a reasonable driving distance.  I didn't get a chance to race any of them last year.  However, I was pleasantly surpised when the 2014 race schedule was released and many of the 6-hour race dates fit into my training plans (mostly).

I had never been to Tribble Mill Park in Lawrenceville, GA - the site of Saturday's Taco Stand Classic, and it looked like I might miss it again when initial weather forecasts were for rain/snow showers.  Fortunately, as race day drew closer, the forecast was updated to rain and then to possible rain, then to just morning showers.  At the last minute, I decided to take the chance and headed to the race.

The delay to commit to the race meant leaving at 4:00am on race day to make the 9:00am registration deadline.  Which I did.  As I drove, the temperatures warmed ever-so-slightly.  By the 10:00am start time conditions were cool and a bit overcast with the sun occassionally peeking thru the clouds and no rain in sight.

I had no idea what the trail would be like (other than a few brief Youtube videos).  I took a conservative starting position for the mass start.  As we left the pit loop and entered the woods for lap one, I quickly realized that hadn't been a great move.  The trail was tight and twisty with very few overtaking opportunities.  I kept waiting for the trail to open up, but it never did. 

I started calling off my passes and began working my way forward rider by rider.  There were 3 or 4 fairly significant climbs that were moderatley technical because most of the trail was covered in pin needles.  They were all doable in the big-big ring which is my favorite kind of climb.  I had also managed to make a pretty good guess at the tire selection, too because they were working well.  By the end of the first 9 mile lap I was really starting to get the trail figured out.  The familiar flow of racing my bike in the woods was coming back again.

I blew through my pits at the end of the lap and headed into the woods for lap two.  By now I had moved up enough, and the field had strung out enough that I was catching riders individually instead of in groups, making passing much simpler.  I am a lot more at ease when riding my own pace.  No distractions in front and no pressure from the rear.

About a third of the way through the lap I managed to pedal-strike what was probably the only rock on the trail.  It damaged my pedal so badly that there was no way I could clip in.  In fact, it was difficult to keep my foot from sliding off.  Not being able to weight the left pedal made for a very stressful lap #2.  All the years of poor form and sitting while cornering paid off I guess, because I made it back to the pits without incident.  Just a bit of time lost. 

I rode to my car and picked up my spare pedals, then rode to my pits where my toolbox was, changed the pedal and headed out for lap #3.  I felt like a hero after the way I had been riding.  I could rail the corners again and pedal without having to constantly readjust my foot.  With no one in the pits to check timing and scoring for me, I had no idea how much time I had lost or what position I was in.  I actually felt like the pressure was off for a good result now.  I just focused on being smooth and good pacing and nutrition technique.

I made my 2nd (and last) stop in the pits at the end of lap #4.  By now it was obvious that I would only be able to complete 6 laps in the 6 hour time limit.  I decided to make the most of it: To enjoy the trail and to keep the pace high.  ...and to catch and pass anyone I saw on the trail.  It was still a race, after all.

By the final lap I was starting to feel a bit fatigued, but there is something satisfying about completeing that last lap.  Every obstacle overcome, every hill climbed, I think to myself, "this is the last time I have to make this climb".  By now I know the trail well, I know which parts of the trail to expend extra energy to make time and where to just be smooth and stay off the brakes.  It's a good feeling. 

As I circled around the pits for one last time I allowed myself to wonder what position I was in.  I rode a strong pace and no one had passed me while I was on the trail but I was unsure if there had been anyone in my class up ahead that I never caught sight of.

I crossed the finish line and turned in my timing chip.  No fanfare.  Just a bunch of fellow racers and their support teams happy to see the end of a long race. 

I casually changed and gathered up all the pit equipment and water bottles, etc that I had scattered around throughout the race before allowing myself to check the results.  I'm not sure if I was surprised or relieved to see my name at the top of the Solo Masters results, but I was pleased.  It was a long day.  It sure is good to be back racing my bike in the woods!

See you on the trails!