Anyways, we arrived around 8:30am. Katie and I got suited up in our "race kits" and and headed to registration to get our numbers, etc. At this point it was chilly and misty- the temperatures were great for a hard effort but I wasn't sure if the humidity and mist would make the trails greasy.
Katie will be racing one lap as a Novice 19-29 and I'll be doing two laps in Sport 30-39. After registering we parted ways and I warmed up by lapping the "hole shot" and first few minutes of singletrack. Within the first 60' of singletrack I hit the first obstacle and was forced to hike my bike... rutted out steep right hand turn topped with a large rock juxtaposed with big baby head rocks and.... damn that is a technical start. Just passed this the trail eased up (in a technical way) and there was a downhill. I figured most folks will be off their bikes and there would be bottle neck at that first obstacle and thought I should try to win the hole shot and get ahead of the pack... But being my first race I had no clue what would happen.
After warming up for 30+ minutes I felt pretty good and went to the lineup and found my category quickly. Sport 30-39; I was told there was about 17 of us. I worked my way into a fairly good starting spot- and focused on staying calm. My plan was to push hard for the first 15 minutes and then fall into a manageable pace to finish our two laps (16 miles). Not knowing anyone around me I had no clue where I stood in regards to speed, fitness, and technical skills- oh well.
220.127.116.11.1. Go! And we were off. Huh? This is weird, nobody is going that hard. I can push this pace much harder ( or so I thought). I had to navigate around 5 or 6 guys and clung to the outside of the paved road. When we hit the apex of the turn and the steepest section of the hill I put in a sprint to make the holeshot. Whoah! It worked... I hit the hole shot with nobody remotely close... Did I go to Hard? Yes- most likely.
After the first obstacle (yup I had to hike it) I saw my Dad with his camera- "looking good stretch!" Wow- still nobody near me. He must think I'm doing really well or horribly...
At this point, I had no strategy. I never thought I'd be in the lead. What kind of pace do I keep? Heeding advice from a friend I recited my mantra for the day- smooth is fast, fast is smooth....
Not having raced, I never thought about traffic from other racers. Ugh- Why is this kid with platform pedals going so slowly down this big downhill... Ugh- why is this kid throwing elbows and not letting me pass through this rock garden?! Yeah the younger guys ahead threw me off and I definitely lost time working through the back half.
After 30 minutes my lead gap was broken and a racer I recognized from the lineup passed me on a technical climb (he cleaned it, I did not). I tried to keep his pace but he had this place dialed and I couldn't keep that pace. I let him and another racer looking dude pass me around this time.
Around 40 minutes- I felt my calves twitch with a familiar feeling... Uh Oh. Last time I felt this in a big ride- I was stuck on the side of the trail for 10 minutes working the cramps out... Can't let this happen now! I ate a gel and took some endurolytes and kept going hard.
When I passed the lap point I wasn't feeling great. I could hardly step off my bike without cramps shooting through my calves and the techy climbs were incredibly hard to clean. In addition, I had spent the last 20 minutes trying to hold the leaders pace and it wasn't sustainable for me. The thought of curling up in a ball and DNF'ing crossed my mind a couple times. Enjoying a good sufferfest- I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind and decided to try to trick folks with "smoke and mirrors" and look fresh.
I barely remember seeing my Dad but I'm sure he shouted something and then snapped this photo.... I was probably at my most belligerent moment here.
Ok- time to resolve this. I've ridden farther, faster and harder- whats going on? Is the humidity sucking the life out of me? I gotta slow down and recover.... I ate more and drank more. Kept a pace that fit my style better and I focused on staying on my bike as much as possible.
Smooth is fast, fast is smooth.
Due to the recovery pace I was running- folks were passing me and at this point I saw my chance at a podium victory vanish but didn't care I just wanted to finish. At the Mid-Point I ate bacon and loved life. I ended up riding the last half with a younger cat 2 racer and while we rode fast we chatted and enjoyed ourselves. My legs, and outlook improved.
Around an 1 hour 40 minutes I came across a rider who was cramped up on the side of the trail... Perhaps it was empathy, the inexperience racing, or the lack of oxygen in my mind but I decided to stop and try to help him recover and offered my food or electrolytes. He thanked me but didn't want anything.
Shortly after, on a short chunky downhill, I threw my chain badly- it came onto my crank arms and was twisted like I had never seen before. I had to stop to fix it and another rider, that I knew was in my category passed me....He just looked over smiled a bit and said- "That sucks". "Damn! Oh well" I thought "I'm only riding to finish at this point anyways".
I fixed the chain and got back on. Within 100 yards I hear the racer who just passed me yell in anger. He snapped his rear derailur. Oops. And at this point we are 1/4 mile from the finish. Karma? He was a nice guy and strong- he ran the finish.
Feeling so much stronger than I did at this section on the first lap I was psyched and charged the finish hard. I crossed the line at 02:08:10. Nearly 22 minutes less than my goal. Wahooo! ... wow I'm pretty beat.
As soon as I saw Katie, she gave me a hug and whispered, "I won!" Wow! That is so awesome- I was pretty worried about her as she was racing experienced CX racers and this course is highly technical! My Dad and her asked- "how did you do?" I said- "no clue, probably mid pack- 6th or 7th place maybe? I don't really care, I'm just glad I finished."
Katie and I went to the car to change for her podium and my dad stayed at the registration area. I got a text- from my Dad- ---you were in second place at the end of lap one and they think you finished 3rd.
Wow! I had no clue- that is great. Are we going to get a double podium ?!
Yup! As it turns out Katie finished 1st in her division and I finished 3rd. Pretty cool for our first race effort and such a hard course. I'm sure we both learned countless lessons from this experience.
After our short award ceremony we watched the pro racers come through the lap point. The top guys were putting laps in under 50 minutes and they had to do 3 laps. Brutal! This was amazing to see and although it made my effort seem elementary it instantly spiked me with motivation and inspiration for the future.
Thank you Gnar Weasel Shredeth- its been fun, see ya down the trail!