Let’s just start this review of my first mountain bike race with the bad news: I placed 31 out of 32 racing above my category. I am a Cat 3, and not a very good one at that. Racing Cat 2, which had the longer course, I was in over my head both in terms of fitness and technical abilities. The guy who won the Cat 2 category finished 1 hour, 40 minutes ahead of me. He should be a Cat 1, but whatever.
Less of a Race, More of a Ride
I had zero competitiveness about this race. I wasn’t trying to catch anyone, I wasn’t trying to beat anyone. I was just riding it to finish. As my friend, Cecily, put it: “Have fun, don’t die.” However, I will say that when I rode with people, especially on the descents, I rode faster to keep up with them and not clog the trail. I even passed a few people on the first downhill bit!
Descending was Hilarious
But after that first downhill bit, and after a lot of people passed me, the conditions on the trails really deteriorated. Super greasy mud, incredibly deep mud, one section that was clay was absolutely icy — I crashed there at least three times in the span of 100 yards. And the worse the conditions got, the more trepidatious I got. I entered one section behind two women, and 4 minutes later, they were 400 yards ahead of me.
Climbing was… OK
There were parts of the race where I climbed pretty well. During the second huge climb, I closed a 3-minute gap down to about 15 seconds on a bunch of folks ahead of me. Who then promptly opened it right back up on the descent. Whatever.
Two things occur to me about the climbing: not having ANY idea of the course, I was really hesitant to dig very deep. If the course turned crazy steep, or the climbing just *kept*going*, I worried I would bonk or just overheat or just fry. That’s a fear I’ll have to get over, though I think doing much longer training rides will be a part of overcoming that fear.
About the Bike
The second thing is that I just don’t know how to go very fast on that mountain bike. The geometry feels weird, and I don’t know how to pedal it fast. I just feel like I’m bouncing. There’s no power there yet. The pedaling will, I think, work itself out with time and a longer crankset. Paul has some 170s on there, and I want at least 172.5 if not 175s.
The fit? Well, I might take it in and have someone look at me on it to make suggestions, and frankly, I might at some point need a bigger bike. But for now, just for riding, it was fine. Honestly, other than short-track and the occasional rides with the Muddy Iguanas, long races are not in its future.
With 10 inches of rain in the month of March, and 4 inches in the prior week alone, I was really worried about not just the conditions, but getting soaked and cold. As it turns out, I was fine. I borrowed some shoe covers from Chris, and my feet didn’t get very wet. I wore my crappy old Marmot rain jacket and stayed dry-ish (except for all the sweating).
But my biggest fear of all was bonking. I did not want to bonk and be an hour from anywhere, with nowhere to go but back uphill and back downhill through treacherous trails. So I took some gels along, and a bar, and half a PBJ. In the first 90 minutes, I had two gels and a bar. And ugh, did my stomach hurt.
As much as anything, I think that’s a part of why I didn’t climb very hard. It hurt in a way where I couldn’t tell if I was hungry or if it was just achy. During the last hour, I think, I had my half PBJ, and it carried me to the end.
But Was it Fun?
Yes, it was fun to be out there and try something new, and to survive what were some pretty tricky conditions.
No, not really. It was a little too far for me and the conditions were about surviving instead of learning.
Yes, it was fun to chase that group down the first descent.
No, it was not fun to crash repeatedly in the clay.
Yes, it was awesome riding down with Jimmy, and getting a beer afterward.
No, it was not fun riding the last 90 minutes basically by myself.
Yes, it was fun to do a long ride like that which will help my fitness.
No, it was not fun to ride in fear that my body would bonk, shut down, get cold, or just quit.
Yes, it was fun to get muddy.
No, I am still unsure of my ability to go fast on a mountain bike.
Yes, I went faster than I thought I could or would.