Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pickett's Charge

Last weekend was Pickett's Charge, a race on trails outside of Bend, and the last of the Oregon XC series of races.  Mary had a women's mountain bike clinic over the weekend, so Nana and Grandpa came down to hang with Simone.  Dad and I headed over to Bend Saturday night to avoid having to wake up at 4:30 to make it to the race on time.

Sunday morning we woke up and had a disappointing breakfast at Jackson's Corner (the potatoes were incredibly salty, and my scramble was pedestrian (how's that for a high brow description?)), and then drove out to the Wanoga Sno-Park.  The parking lot for the area is an oval, and in the middle there is a BMX course - lots of bumps and corners and way fun.  They didn't have a kids race, but the kids were very content riding that for 2 hours.  Heck, I would have been happy riding it for 2 hours.

As we drove out, the weather was gorgeous, if a bit chilly.  I picked up my registration and changed into my race clothes.  I rode around a little bit, hopping on the course for a couple miles and saying "hi" to various people.  As the race start approached, so did the clouds and the rain.  Quickly all discussion turned to how much to wear for the race.  I opted for an undershirt, a long sleeved shirt, and my jersey - I might invest in a "team dirt" jacket next year to make wearing warm stuff easier (since you're supposed to race with your logo visible).

During the TOE50 I discovered that while my homemade energy bars/balls are delicious, they are difficult to eat while riding, so I opted to carry Clif Bloks, Dots, gummy bears, and jelly beans.  Mary found some gummy bears and sour jelly beans that were made with real sugar, and I mixed that with the Bloks (real-ish sugar) and Dots (mmm.... corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors).  And then I put them in my new "Aero FuelBox", basically a little zippered pouch I attach on the toptube/stem of my bike.  That worked really well, I ended up keeping it open and just digging my hand in there for a few pieces at a time.  It was so much easier than digging around in the jersey pocket.  And the sugary snacks were small and easy to eat - I could either chew them or let them melt.  I really like the taste of the Clif Bloks, but compared to the other flavors, they were kind of flat - that said, they were the easiest to eat (softest).  The Dots are yummy, if a bit sticky on the teeth.  The standout of the bunch were the sour jelly beans which had a great burst of flavor (my mouth is watering just writing about it).  I'll definitely use this in all my future races, supplementing the longer races with the DIY energy balls at the rest stops.

The start was very nicely staged, with good-sized signs for each category.  This was a gripe I (and others) have had about other races, and these folks did a great job of making it very clear.  Plus, each wave started 2-3 minutes apart, ensuring lots of separation.  As a result, the 11 clydesdales had plenty of time to bond - which was kind of nice.  About the only downside was that we were the 2nd to last wave, with only the Cat 3 riders behind us - and they were doing just one lap, so the race was a bit lonely.

The official OBRA timer blew the whistle and we were off, climbing up hill for 1/2 mile, then down a dirt road for 1/2 a mile, and into the singletrack.  I took off like a shot and shouted, "I'm winning!" just to say I was in the lead at one point.  We all settled into the climb, jockeying around to find the pecking order.  Surprisingly, if you look at all of the folks who did the climb on Strava, I have the 7th fastest (of 40), including significantly faster than my buddy Scott - who finished the race way way way ahead of me.

My goal at the start was to try to be in the top 3 of the clydes when we switched to the singletrack, and I couldn't quite do that - I was fourth.  Unfortunately, I got stuck behind a slow Cat 2 woman right at the singletrack, and clyde #3 put some distance between us right away.

The trail has a number of places where the trail Y's into two trails and you get to choose which direction to go.  The first one was pretty early on the single track, and I chose poorly and followed the slow Cat 2 gal... which allowed Clyde #5 to jump past me into position #4.  That was the one mistake I feel I made during the race - he quickly put a gap between us, and got past a couple slower Cat 2 women, and within 5 minutes he was gone from view.  In the end, he finished at least 7 minutes ahead of me (dunno if he finished #3 or #4), so he was definitely faster than me for the day.  Still, had I chosen the left branch, I could have held him off a little longer.  I fretted about that mistake for a chunk of the ride, but kept telling myself I'd just have to catch him.

The rain stopped about 3 miles into the ride, and it slowly got a little nicer.  The sun was welcome, but it never got very warm.

After the initial climbs we got to descend on a trail called Tiddlywinks for nearly 4 miles, and man was that fun.  Lots of windy, banked turns, little whoops.  It'd rained (and snowed) the day before, so the trail conditions were great - no dust at all.  I had adjusted my seat about an inch lower than I normally have it, and the climbs seemed normal - but on the descent I really noticed a difference.  There was one spot where I chose to go over a large rock (2' high) as opposed to around, and the drop off was steeper than I expected - and I had absolutely no problem adjusting myself on the bike to cleanly ride it out - feeling very stable the entire time.  I think had the seat been at the regular height I might have gotten stuck and felt in danger of going over the handlebars.  So, key learning: ride more with the seat in the slightly lower position to see how that feels overall.

The riding in Bend is definitely different than in Corvallis.  The Bend trails are just so windy and banked, you really need to have good separation between you and the bike.  I felt a little more confident with that skill on this ride (versus Sister's).  In Corvallis, the rides are much straighter, and of course less rocky.

On the way down there was a corner which had 10-15 water bottles scattered around.  I asked the team if they had any clue as to why this was, but nobody had a definitive answer.  The best guess was that the turn was after a straight section and people were caught off guard while getting a drink.

A nice surprise was that I passed a couple people on the down - yay fun.

After the wonderful descent, the climb began.  At the end of the descent/beginning of the climb some folks passed me - they were some pretty fast Cat 3 guys.  One clydesdale passed me during that chunk, but we started climbing and I got past him quickly.

One really young Cat 3 kid passed me on the climb and I stuck with him through the end of the first lap.  I could have passed him but chose to just ride his wheel because I was near my limit.  He turned off at the finish, and I kept on going for lap # 2.

The second lap was like the first, only a little bit slower.  I tried to go faster, but the overall time was longer, so I'm sure it was slower.  The down was probably even more fun the second time, and the up was bearable - though my legs were pretty tired.

This was the first race my heart rate monitor worked, and it appears that my anerobic threshold is around 166bpm.  Whenever I was above this, I could feel my legs starting to fail, and when I was below I could feel that I had just a little more to give.  I checked the rate many times during the race and it was pretty accurate.

The second lap was also a bit lonelier.  I didn't see anyone for most of the lap, I think one person passed me, and near the end I caught up with a slower Cat 2 guy.  With one kilometer left (really, a 1km sign...) I decided to catch the Cat 2 guy, and luckily I caught him just a little before the last 'Y' in the trail - I took the other branch and passed him.  At the end of the race I finished alone, leaving him behind.

I finished 5th of 11 clydesdales, and you can check out my ride on Strava.  I was a bit disappointed to not have finished higher, but given the 7 minute gap between me and 4th place, there wasn't any one thing I could have done to fix that (as opposed to the TOE 50, or Sister's Stampede), and I really did push myself pretty hard for nearly the entire 2.5 hours.  So all in all, a great race.

Dad and I hung out for the awards, munching on the food they provided.  They had a few giveaways, but nothing like the bike/wheels/roof rack stuff that Mike gets.  People started drifting away as the awards went on, probably because it was difficult to hear and it was kind of cold.

I drove to Sisters where Dad and I got a milkshake - fresh banana for me, mmmm.... then Dad drove and I took a little nap.

I talked with Scott after the race, and we both agreed that a better warm-up was needed.  While I was significantly behind the other clydes in front of me, I still think that a stronger start would help.  I don't know if a stronger start itself is the cause of the final positions, or if it's just that the stronger riders have stronger starts - I imagine it is a bit of both.  Key learning: work on hill starts for next year.

As this was last race of the XC series, the winners of the series were announced (not official until Thursday, but good enough for me).  I ended up in 6th out of 21 clydes.  Next year I'll try for top 3, but the way the scoring works, a big part of placing is racing in 6 of the races (only your top 6 finishes count), and then placing high.  The top two guys from this year look pretty tough - both of them placing either 1st or 3rd in all 5 of the races they each raced - so unseating them will be some work.  The rest of the racers either didn't race enough to get a good idea of how good/bad they are, or seem to be in my ballpark already.

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