A couple of weekends I go I had a race in Sisters OR - the Sisters Stampede. I guess it's been happening for a few years now - obviously the first year for me.
As it was Simone's birthday the day before, and Memorial day tends to be chilly, we decided not to camp out, but instead to drive over on the day of the race.
The day was gorgeous, but not too hot, and it'd rained the day before, so the infamous eastern Oregon dust was kept to a minimum.
As it was only my second race, I didn't really know what to do - I certainly don't have a rhythm or ritual. I registered, hit the portapotty, said "hi" to the few Team Dirt folks I saw, and casually dressed. Simone and Mary said their goodbyes and wandered off as I hopped on my bike for a warm-up.
I rode about a mile and a half of the course, mostly just trailing groups of other people, getting used to the soft sandy dirt and the uneven terrain. The race was supposed to be pretty flat (compared to Willamette valley riding) and fast - though I didn't get a chance to talk to anyone who'd ridden it the day before.
I finished my warm-up just as the Cat 3 folks were racing toward me (they started 30 minutes before the rest of the field) and headed over to the start area.
I saw Simone and Mary near the helicopter - which took off seconds later to go rescue one of the Cat3 people, told them I'd see them at the finish line, and I went to the start line.
As opposed to a very staged start (10 stages were mentioned on the web site), they lumped us into just 4 or 5. Pro & Cat1, Cat2 Men & Single Speed, Clydesdales, and Cat2 Women. So the start was this huge sea of people, and just like the Mudslinger, the Clydesdales were all mixed in with the Cat2 Women and most of us didn't start on time. Key learning: assert yourself to be in position for a good start, even if it's the 2nd to last wave.
So I was off, racing like mad because I wanted to get in a good position before the singletrack started. The general layout of the course was mostly flat and up until it began the mostly down hill 2nd half, and the first 5 miles or so were doubletrack/road, and once you were in the singletrack - there was very little opportunity for passing.
I wasn't the first Clydesdale, but I was in the front pack - along with two tandems (still have no idea how they weave in and out of trees, pretty impressive), and after a couple of minutes we caught up to the end of the Cat2 Men. I settled in to conserve a little energy and pass when an opening happened on the doubletrack. There was a Clydesdale ahead of me that I tried to catch for a good 7 miles, and he was always one or two people ahead of me. Every time I'd get on his wheel, he'd slip between a couple riders and the hole would close up. Key learning: find someone to chase and pass - helps keep the focus early on.
After a while the crowd thinned out a bit and we headed into the singletrack. Up to that point I was generally faster than the people I was riding with (passing many more than passed me), but in the windy singletrack I definitely slowed down just a little bit. While we were continuing up I held my own pretty well, but during the descents I lost a little ground each time. Luckily in the first half, most of the singletrack was climbing or flat.
We began encountering small rock gardens. I haven't ridden around rocks like this since Moab - and my pedal placement was a little off. As a result, I knocked my left foot off the pedal 4 times during the race, though luckily not at critical moments and not very jarringly. At two spots I pansied out and put a foot down, loudly apologizing to the people behind me, but not really worrying about them b/c I was in front and they weren't. There were a few places where people got really knocked around on the rocks and I got a couple of passes there (mostly by running my bike through the log jam of people). Key learning: practice going through rock gardens, remember to maintain momentum.
It was about this time I lost sight of the Clydesdale I had been following. I didn't get his number - though I like to imagine he placed first.
The rest of the climb was very pleasant, riding up roads (passing folks) and singletrack. I'd chat with people on the road, and although they were friendly and talked back, nobody else initiated a conversation.
About 45 minutes into the race, going uphill on a road, a skinny, uber-fit Cat2 Woman flew by me. In the end, she didn't finish but a few minutes ahead of me, but at that moment it was like I was standing still. The second Cat2 Woman followed less than a minute later. I thought it would be the beginning of an onslaught, but I didn't see but two more women racers, and they didn't show up for another 30 minutes (and in the end, only one passed me).
As we reached the top and rode along the ridge, I had some beautiful views of the Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor (?), which would have been really nice to look at, if I took a pause. This race was so different than the Mudslinger in that I was continually telling myself, "push it, push it" - there was very little coasting, and every time I caught myself coasting on anything but windy singletrack, I immediately began pedaling to try to pass someone.
The downhill was a little more challenging for me. I've been trying to pick up tips on how to descend faster and more confidently - and the course was perfect for practicing this. Lots and lots of windy turns at speed - but relatively flat, so you didn't immediately pick up speed if you let off the brakes. I'm sure the Cat1 folks barely touched theirs and pedaled most of the time.
I let one guy pass me who asked, and I kept up with him for quite a while (we still had some rolling terrain), but eventually he put distance between us. At that point, I was always one of the people who had a train of 2-4 people behind me. I tried not to think about it much, but every time I made a mistake I'd verbally abuse myself - feeling guilty for slowing folks down. That said, only one other person asked to pass, and I let her pass (ladies first, after all). The couple of times we hit road on the way down, the people in line behind me wouldn't keep up with me on the road, so they remained stuck. Key learning: people are behind you because they were too slow to get in front, it's their responsibility to pass - not yours to let them pass.
The rest of the downhill was just linking turn after turn after turn - I felt a little like I was skiing.
At one point I got some song stuck in my head that Simone had been singing for an HOUR on the way to the race... Oh right, it was a single line from the musical Annie, "Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow, you're always a day a-way." over and over. I recognized the pattern and worked hard to break out of it by thinking of another song I could mindlessly repeat to myself.
As we neared the end (which I only found out by asking people I was passing for the mileage) I tried to think of my finishing strategy. I didn't put a lot of thought into it, other than, "ride fast." And I did, passing several people. Nobody passed me in the last two miles - even the guy who had been asking to pass on the last section of singletrack.
Well, almost nobody.
Key learning: Look behind you near the finish to see what you're up against.
I got lazy and just began motoring, which felt pretty good, but I didn't know who was behind me. It turns out, another Clydesdale had caught up to me and was on my tail. I knew someone was back there but made the naive assumption it was just a Cat2 and I didn't care about that. Murphy's Law - of course it was a Clydesdale, and he passed me with 100 feet to go. At that point my legs were pretty spent and I didn't really have a surge left (classic rookie mistake I'm sure). So I got 10th (instead of 9th) out of 22.
I talked with the guy who passed me. First, he apologized for riding my wheel, which I said was no big deal - my fault for letting him past. And I noticed that even 5 minutes after we were finished, he was still trying to recover - still breathing really hard. So, at least compared to him, my aerobic conditioning was pretty good, I just needed to save a little in reserve. Key learning: save a little for a kick at the end.
Also, I was only 1min45sec out of 4th place, which is pretty good for a 2 hour race, especially considering the rumor I heard that a number of the Clydesdales started with the Cat2 guys. This actually seems consistent with what I remember from the start - but a handful of people in front of me, and only 1 or 2 Clydesdales passed me (and I passed a couple on the trail). I certainly don't remember 10 people in front of me at the start. Oh well.
I texted Mary and Simone to let them know I was done, ate a bunch of food for recovery, and chatted with people.
I realized that my food of choice: homemade energy balls, while tasty, were difficult to eat on the trail. I might go back to Clif Shot Bloks - which I think are super tasty and would be easier to eat during the race.
Other than that, I was pretty pleased with the race. It was way fun, it was way fast. I'll definitely race there again next year.