[I've been sitting on this race report far too long trying to add pictures. I finally said screw it. I'll upload the pics in a separate post.]Race #2
AFC Sugar Hill XC
1st / 30 (23M/7F)
The Adventures For a Cure Sugar Hill XC race was my first biking race of the year and my first MTB race ever. It was my first race win (of any kind) since 2003 when I won a heat of the indoor 2-mile on the track my senior year of high school.
I had bought a MTB from Sterling on the JHU team in October and hadn't started riding it on the trails till January. The first MTB bike ride I did in January with a bunch of Kelly Benefit Strategies/LSV guys was the scariest thing I had done in recent memory. I was honestly terrified and wanted to stop and walk most of the time. My head was filled with negative thoughts about how I was a coward and how awkward I was on the bike.
That as only 3 months ago.
Tangible self improvement -- one of the best parts of sports.
Lots of good things happened at this race. I put in a lot of "bike practice" to improve my bike handling and it paid off. I took the time to ride the course multiple times which also paid off. I came into the race with a strategy, stuck to it, and in the end it was a good one.
That's really the long and short of it. For a more detailed narrative keep reading.
I was pretty excited the night before the race and was up long before my alarm for once. Made it to the race uneventfully, got my number and started warming up.
There are a few things you should know about my bike. I was riding a single speed, meaning there was only one gearing. Because I was riding a single speed bike I needed a specific plan for the hills. Certain hills I needed to run up. Others I could only ride over if I came into them with enough speed. Often times this meant hitting a series of turns and features before the base of the hill to come into it fast enough.
Also, I was riding a "rigid" frame - meaning no suspension. A bike with suspension will glide over rocks and roots, absorbing impacts for a smother ride, but most importantly keeping the bike in contact with the ground and rolling forward thus maintaining your speed. On a rigid frame if you hit a root or rock too hard or at the wrong angle the whole bike will jerk around and/or pop into the air. This makes handling harder but also slows you down as your speed is being disrupted by all the bouncing.
All this makes my bike affordable and (in my opinion) fun to ride -- but it wasn't going to do me any favors in terms of being competitive.
But I got to the line and I started to feel like I had a chance to be competitive. Most of the other riders looked like "enthusies". The only riders who looked semi-serious were about 5 15 year olds and a guy in FULL DH gear. Still, this was a MTB race and I didn't know what to expect. But I had planed, practiced and now I was finally going to test myself on the bike for the first time in about 8 months.
The whistle blew, and away we went.
I figured I was going to get dropped on the road section because of the gearing on my single speed which was set for climbing not for flats. But I was able to tuck in at 3rd place for the ~300m we were on the road. Once we hit the dirt for the Big Climb I struck out in front and found my own lines fully expecting to be passed as I grinded it out in one gear.
I had practiced this climb and decided my race strategy was going to be to get into the red and get position early. The climb was slippery and rocky but I slowly worked my way up it. It's about 400m long and takes a couple minutes to do. Near the top in the last 50m it kicks up again and gets real rooty and rocky and just like I practiced I jumped off the bike at this part and ran it up.
The course martials were cheering as I crested the top, slapped my non-drive-side pedal down and did a nice little cyclo-cross style jump back on the bike.
I was in and ready to roll. I headed out onto Rockburn Branch 1 and glanced over my shoulder down the hill to see what the field was doing.
There. was. no. one. there.
I was blowing the field out of the water at the top of the first hill on a single speed.
"Uhhh ... I may be in the wrong category."
But it didn't matter - I still had the whole race ahead of me. I hit the chicanes of Rockburn 1 and before I was a minute out of the climb I crashed.
IDK what happened. I was toying with my brakes before the race and I think I ended up setting them unevenly or something. It doesn't help my heart rate was still in the red and I was pretty amped up. At anyrate I just got a few srcathes and scrambled back on my bike and kept going.
Still, no riders in sight.
I got hot on a few other corners and almost crashed again and finally told myself:
"DUDE you need to CALM the FUCK down -- you're winning. By a lot. Just don't crash into anything you SPAZ"
This little pep talk calmed me down a bit. Getting my heart rate back under control I came out of Rockburn 2, held my speed through the corner and managed to make it up the hill onto Morning Choice like I had been practicing. Climbing the gradual uphill on Morning Choice at a more moderate pace I made it to the clearing and a had to clear a few runners off the trails (the course was not closed).
"RIDER BACK! Thanks, there's a race coming. 30 guys behind me."
"Thanks ... does that mean you're winning?"
"Yeah ... I guess so. Weird."
Coming out of the clearing I hit a curving drop into onto a equally steep hill and managed to find the line up it for the first time. Then there was a long down hill where you had to hop a log and agradual climb to a road. 100m of road (I almost overshot the turn) and then you pick up Cascade Falls.
Here things get tricky. Cascade Falls had mud sections, a couple of stream crossings and severally very rocky sections. I picked my way along without crashing into the rocks. I had to get off and run over a particularly tricky section but I was erring on the side of caution since I had a time buffer.
Coming off of Cascade I came onto Ridgeline Trail, a trail I had run dozens of times as well as biked every time I had come to Patapsco this last winter. Coming over the first climb I saw another rider in my race creeping up on me for the first time.
Oh. hell. no.
I was not going to blow this lead on my "home turf". I dropped the hammer and talking to 2nd place later he told me he closed in on me but once I saw him I was gone. Felt good about that.
And that was basically it. I flew through the last section of trail, bombed the descent back down the Big Hill and brought it in for the first place finish I had been hoping to get this year. Zipped up my jersey and pointed to our title sponsor Kelly Benefit Strategies.
There was some congratulations from teammates and competitors and some good-natured teasing about sandbagging the division which I deflected by telling them it was my first race. I got some cool swag in the process including banana beard and a sweet backpack.
All-in-all a very promising start to the season and definitely not my last MTB race.