Friday, April 12, 2013

There Was Mud

This past weekend I raced in the Mudslinger, the second OBRA XC race of the season.  As predicted, the rain came and saturated the trails, ensuring the race lived up to its name.

I hitched a ride with a buddy from Team Dirt and we helped man the registration tables.  I enjoyed meeting a bunch of the riders and checking out the competition - they certainly ran the gamut from very casual to the nervous beginner.

With about 45 minutes to the start, I was released and I got ready for the race.  One of my goals this season has been to get a proper warm-up, and I certainly didn't have enough time to do so here.  In some of the races last year I didn't feel quite ready to do a sprint right at the beginning of the race, and a difference of a position or two going into the singletrack can have a HUGE effect on how the race unfolds.  After dressing and getting my gear situated (how does one dress for a 2.5 hour event that could either be sunny and still, or driving rain - possibly switching between the two in the span of 15 minutes?).  I opted for the knickers (a no-brainer), a long-sleeved undershirt and my thermal, long-sleeve jersey.  I carried a jacket, rain knickers, over-booties, and my buff - figuring if I needed to stop and put those on I was out of the running and just needed to stay warm.

So, with about 15 minutes before the start, I started biking around.  Ripley gave his little spiel before the roll-out to the starting line, and I kept on circling around.  We all rolled out and headed to the starting gate about a mile away.

I made sure to be near the front of the mass because last year I didn't hear the announcement for the Clydesdales and I missed starting with them by 30-45 seconds - which was no fun.

All the pros, CAT 1 men and women, and CAT 2 men started in various waves, and then it was time for us Clydes to show our stuff.  Of course the CAT 2 women were right behind us - giving us a hard time.

Off we went, up hill for 2 miles and 600' elevation gain.  We all sized each other up, and about three minutes into it I realized that this was my time.  I'm crap for downhill, so I'd better use my strength to my advantage.  So I turned on the afterburners and took off up the hill, first catching the straggling CAT 2 men, then passing a bunch of them.  I didn't really look back to see if any of the Clydes were following me - I was hoping not.  Once in a while I'd glance back, but my short term memory is about as good as my descending (not good) and I didn't see any Clydes behind me.

My goal was to put some distance between me and the other Clydes, hoping that I could get a few slow CAT 2 men between me and the others, letting me maintain the gap I'd (hopefully) built up.

I turned down Super Tree - the first downhill section and focused on staying upright.  It's not terribly difficult, but it was a bit muddy and I didn't want to pansy out.  I was riding and heard a voice behind me saying, "you're good... you're good" (indicating he didn't want to pass me).  The singletrack opened up into a road for a short bit before continuing with the descent and WHAM! a Clyde passed me.  sonofabianchi!

I was pretty surprised by his blowing past me so fast and didn't pick up the chase fast enough - he was gone.  I tried picking the pace up down the last section of descent, but I didn't see him again - I actually didn't see anyone until the very end when someone else caught me just as the descent finished.

So, after 15 hard minutes of climbing, I lost my lead and then some in just 6 minutes.  damn.

We had another climb, so I started plugging away, picking off CAT 2 after CAT 2, and then I saw the Clyde.  I caught up to him and we chatted.  He was impressed with my climbing saying I had left him, but he was immediately on my tail maybe a minute into the down, so I couldn't have gapped him very much.  He asked if I'd let him in front if we entered the singletrack down at the same time and I agreed.  I don't think that was a mistake - he was obviously better at that than me.  My mistake was to keep chatting with him and slow down for a few minutes.  We entered a singletrack going up and he missed a shift, so I continued up and up until we reached the next down - Collar Bone Alley.

The day before the XC race, Ripley held a hill climb and a downhill race.  The downhill went down Collar Bone Alley and then down Panama Canal  (I thought it was going to include the top portion of Root Down, but it didn't).  Someone posted a video of his ride down this section during the downhill race.  It's kind of fun to watch - he edited out the 4 minutes of flat/climb between the two downhill sections, and it's not as muddy as it was for me on Sunday.  That said, he finished the downhill in around 12 minutes - it took me 18 minutes to do it.

I successfully navigated the twisty singletrack entrance to the Alley and got into the wide, water-berm studded road section, only to hear a swear and feel someone ride into my rear wheel.  It was that damn Clyde again.  He stayed upright somehow and zoomed on.  I kept on riding, focusing on doing my best to feel safe.  I think that's what I need to work on with the mud - to push that envelope - especially on this section where it's muddy and wide - it's about as safe as can be with wide open mud, so I should let'er rip (a little more).  I don't need to worry about slowing down/stopping because the course is pretty ride-able.  I just have to have a little faith.

I pushed pretty hard once I got to the flat/up between the Alley and Panama Canal, but I didn't see the Clyde.  I settled into navigating Panama - which is about 1/3 twisty and tight, 1/2 flowy, and a little bit of scary.  At the same spot where I split my lip the year before I got off the well-worn path (slightly off-camber and high) and ventured into a branch-filled rut off to the side.  I put a foot and a hand down as two people passed me and I breathed a sigh of relief that I didn't have a real crash.

Just a minute later I reached the bottom and turned up the hill, resolving to catch the Clyde.  Afterwords I checked results, and he finished the downhill section of the race in 13 minutes, where it took me 18 - so I definitely had ground to gain back - likely too much.

So I started grinding up the hill.

To my surprise, I see the Clyde riding back down.  I asked what happened, and he said he broke his wheel. "yay" I thought, I'll take that.  I relaxed a little bit knowing that he wasn't going to be passing me on the downs any more that day.  Of course I had no idea how far ahead of the other Clydes I was...  And, to be honest, a number of the CAT 2 men looked like they would have qualified for the Clyde category.

I kept racing, and no big dudes passed me (though, honestly, I was the largest Clyde by a fair margin).

During the first two climbs I didn't pay attention to my heart rate much, but when I glanced down I could see that the rate was at 91-92% of my "max" (just determined by age, but it's generally been accurate for me).  I usually can't handle riding at >90% for more than a couple minutes, but most of the first two climbs were above 90%.  I don't know if my heart rate monitor was a little off, or if the warm-up just dialed me in.

Back to the middle climb...

This climb has some pretty steep sections at the beginning, and it took me 36-40 minutes to finish the climb.  I didn't push as hard as the first two climbs (hmmmm... mistake?) but I kept the effort level pretty high.  Nobody was passing me - so that was good.

I knew that the top was just past the aide station, and that Root Down was next.  Last year I walked a section of it because I was scared.  I'd asked a number of friends from Team Dirt who were good racers for some tips on riding in the mud.  Their tips were useless: "don't use the brakes, ride it out." I guess there's no magic bullet.

At the top I resolved to give it my best shot, to grow a pair and actually race as though I wanted to win this thing.  I knew that if I walked it, it'd be slower and I'd let the other Clydes catch up.  So I rode.

I took some sections real slow, and I put a foot down once on the first section of downhill.  Actually, as I did that, a guy went to pass me (plenty of space, it was all good) and he fell.  I had to laugh a little.

When I got to the bottom of the first section of Root Down I let out a huge WHOOP! of excitement - I'd ridden it all, in the mud.  I didn't remember what the second section held, but I was pumped and ready.

It turns out, there's more roots and a big switchback with a steep drop.  I walked that little section - about 100-150' total.  I saw other guys walking it too, so I didn't feel emasculated.

At the bottom of all that we rejoined the first loop, did some climbing, and re-descended the Collar Bone Alley and Panama Canal - staying on my wheels the entire time.

I felt like I rode the downhill better in the second half - I remember letting the brakes out and picking up some speed in sections, but looking at the Strava data...

I took descended the downhill in 18 minutes the first time, and 19 the second.  Bummer - I thought I was going so much faster.

Of course, after reaching the bottom of Panama Canal, I still had 2 miles of riding on a gravel road to reach the finish line.

I felt pretty good - nobody had passed me on the ups, and only a few small guys (and the one Clyde) passed me going down.  I started riding on the road and noticed two people behind me.  Nobody was going to catch me on the gravel, so I upped the tempo.

With these two miles left, things changed for me.  The previous 2 hours and 20 minutes I was limited either by my aerobic/lung capacity going up or my fear going down, and in these last 10 minutes my lungs felt great - but my legs were starting to die.  I pushed on, seeing that I had a good chance to finish in under 2:30.

Officially, I finished in 2:28:27, 8:40 ahead of the next fastest Clyde.  Woo-hoo!  Not only had I gotten on the podium, I'd blown through my goal of finishing in 2:45 and did a sub 2:30 race.  I looked back on older race results (Clydes have only been a category for 3-4 years) and I finished faster than any Clyde has finished the race!  Course conditions were comparable to last year's - at least Trevor Norland's time was within a minute of last year's.

So, I was super stoked with my performance and the overall results.  I talked briefly with the Clyde who broke his wheel - and he'll be at the next race too.

My takeaway ... a good warm-up is key, I did OK this time and it really helped.  Being in the right starting heat calms the nerves, and my time to hammer is on the climbs!  Also, I can ride mud better than I could last year, but I need to keep working on my descending - I'm losing too much time.

I was 1st out of 6 Clydes (only 5 finishing), and if I'd raced as a CAT 2 40-49, I would have placed 8th out of 27 - pretty reasonable.  No CAT 2 women caught me, so I didn't owe anyone a beer.

Thanks to Oregon Velo for the photos.  In the last two you can see the Clyde I was leapfrogging in the white jersey behind me.

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