(scroll down to read just the race report)
This was one of those rare races where I felt like I did everything right to prepare. I had plenty of time during the week to get some quality miles in, including 30 miles on a trail that was similar to the fast, swooping style that I would encounter at Ft. Yargo State Park in Winder, GA. I kept up with my soft tissue rehab work after my rides and didn’t hold anything back when it came to fueling and recovering fully. On the day of my 30 miles I had intended to do a race simulation but instead decided I would push it on the climbs and simply enjoy the curvy downhills and kicker jumps of Harmonie State Park. I had a really enjoyable ride and focused hard on becoming comfortable with my braking/cornering technique. I preloaded with some new race day fuels and prepared my water bottles as I would for a race. This, by the way was a new skill I was developing. Using 2 water bottles to hydrate instead of my usual camelback dependency. This came about in a few ways. First I noticed how free and light I felt without the camelback on my short rides where I would be lapping by the car and could easily refill my bottle as needed. I also realized I tend to drink from my camelback when I’m struggling during a race. Usually trudging up a tough climb or when I’m overheating I would reach for the tube to drink until I felt stable . Not that I think it slowed me down particularly but I did figure I was over hydrating. I was pleasantly surprised how I’ve been able to ‘survive’ with less water. When you’re riding hard and you need a drink, you need a drink! But working on this skill has taught me how to strategize my power surges and better assess my hydration needs. I know it can be dangerous to be in a situation where you need water and you’re out or can’t drink without stopping, but I’m willing to risk that 1-2 times for regular rides and races with less weight and resistance. Besides, all the cool kids are doing it! Well let me rephrase that, all the pros I watch and most of the elite riders race with just water bottles so there’s gotta be something to it other than they are all converted roadies who just don’t want to wear a camelback. So I had to practice. Practice grabbing the bottle and replacing it as well as riding safely while holding on with one hand. That was another factor I detected- what hand I had to grab the bottle with. I tend to be left hand dominant and taking my left hand off the handle bars made a lot more sense considering my shifter and rear brake are on the right side. Since I would be controlling the bike with only one hand it should be my right hand. However most of the side access bottle holders out there are designed for right hand grabbing (I need a side access because I have a small frame full suspension that allows for very limited space). I already had one of these and decided this was what was making me feel very unsteady in using bottles in the first place. I managed to find a cage that pivots on the attachment screws to allow for right or left-handed access, as well as to the amount of side versus upright tilt of the cage. This was the ticket! Grabbing with my left hand feels much more natural and in turn I believe I am in greater control of my bike. Thus I have practiced grabbing my bottle and replacing it efficiently while on my regular rides. Road rides and trail rides alike I made sure to consistently use the bottles I will race with and kept a sharp eye out for ‘tame’ sections of trail I could practice this coordinated movement. Mission accomplished, the next step will be addressing the act of picking up a second bottle during a race!
After my 30 miles I made sure to stretch, get a protein drink down and plan my next few days of rest vs riding leading up to the sunday race. This was on Wednesday, I did a 13 mile ride Tuesday, worked out Monday, and enjoyed a 55 mile road ride the Sunday before. Thursday and Friday would be rest days which included a hot yoga class and then a planned easy pre- ride the Saturday before the race. At the pre-ride I again told my inner cheap skate to “shhh” as I ingested my supplements and nutrition as directed by the manufacturer. I realized that I haven’t been pre-loading or topping off my carbohydrate ‘tank’ before my rides, thinking that it was better to deplete what I had before adding more to my system. Before races, I was eating maybe 200 calories leading up to race time where as they suggest a regular 300 calorie meal 2-3 hours before race time. I was also depending too heavily on hydrating ‘as needed’ instead of (again) pre- hydrating. All in all, I did a few small things differently and it seemed to payoff this race.
Mentally I felt pretty grounded going into the 4th SERC race, my 2nd of the season. The course had minimal climbing and was structured as a 10 mile loop in which I would complete two laps. My Dan’s Comp teammates and I put in two laps the day before which allowed me to mentally secure the sequence of trail features. The first mile of the trail was flat, double track that narrowed into a short incline before putting you on a wide open downhill complete with catapulting ‘water bars’, translation rolling jumps. Then it turned into twisty, single track leading into the first gradual climb at mile 2.5. I planned to sprint out to the water bars section and bomb down the hill to gain some ground. If other riders caught up to me on the climb at least I wouldn’t be subject to their climbing pace. The next 4 miles was primarily swoopy, single track which would be a good place to hold my position either in front or just off the leader’s wheel as this trail structure made it easy to maintain a good pace without much output. I memorized a few more little climbs at miles 5 and 6 that were separated with much faster single track that I felt I could possibly put some distance on someone pushing from behind. Mile 7 opened up to 200 meters of double track, two quick climbs that I would need to stand up for, and then a mile of high cadence trail/road/open field terrain. The last mile included twisty switchbacks with the longest climb of the day where I envisioned giving my all to pass someone if needed before floating in between the narrowly taped- off finish. Plenty of areas to recover my lungs and drink from my water bottle without slowing myself down.
I put my new fueling plan in action that morning; refrigerator oatmeal and a banana when I got up, 16 oz of Hammer Perpetuum an hour before the race, and half a Hammer bar right before as my stomach felt a little empty. I will need to find about another 150 calories to consume when I first get up on race days. I took my supplements with breakfast and taped a gu to my bike just in case I needed it. I was lucky in this case as I had a teammate who would be racing later in the day and could hand me my second water bottle as I came through the start/finish. I felt really good, anxiety was down and I just kept reminding myself, “I’ve put the training in, I’ve worked hard, I’m a strong rider”. Getting ready to line up I spotted the girl who beat me out for 2nd place at the last SERC race, and as I was politely chatting with her I new she would pose a real challenge to me again. In our field of 10 CAT 2 women I overheard a few women admitting with a nervous laugh that this was their first race in a few years, or ever, and I also noticed a very young looking girl. This in fact twelve-year-old looked pretty focused and ended up lining up right next to me. The horn sounded and the young rider took off before I even had two pedal strokes in. I didn’t see anyone one else in my peripheral so I set my eyes on her and sprinted out to execute my plan. I stayed within a few bike lengths of her, not knowing where her handling skills may be at and I was able to look back and just barely see one or two racers almost 50 yards back. This felt good. It became clear that the twelve-year-old knew the trail better than I did and kept one step in front of me. I would catch her on the open sections and stayed on her up the first climb, which also felt very good, but by the time we caught some of the men and were in the thick of the woods I knew one of two things. She was either a local who knew every root and rock of Ft. Yargo State Park, or she was the making of a race monster! My only hope was that her immature muscles would peter out by the second lap.
For the rest of the first lap I maintained a good speed, concentrating on my cornering technique, looking for the handful of ‘shortcuts’ between switchbacks, and coaching myself to stay ‘out of breath’. I am susceptible to the cliché, out of sight out of mind and in a race situation that spells disaster as inevitably, the person in front of you and behind you… are gaining ground! By staying out of breath I am constantly reminded to pedal harder and resist the euphoric feeling of coasting through the twists and turns. Most of lap one I was by myself though I was vigilant on anticipating climbing, sprinting, and drinking sections. Trudging up the last climb I knew that if it came down to it I could beat out a competitor up this climb and to the finish. I ramped up my speed nearing the start/ finish and forced myself to drink the rest of the water in my bottle. I had about 1/3 left and felt like I had managed my thirst really well. My teammate was in perfect position to handoff my second bottle and I decided I would drink from this one early, in preparation for a push the last few miles. I felt really good, young girl was nowhere in sight and I thought the current 3rd place rider, yes it would be the woman who beat me at the last race, was way back. I caught myself almost backing off as I passed 3 men in the double track section, but as I began to pick my way through the switchbacks I heard and saw my pursuer. I quickly rehearsed my positive self-talk, “I’ve worked really hard, I’m a strong rider and I deserve this”, but she’s not going to just give it to me. I doubled my efforts up the first climb and took on gaining every inch and every second I could. I reminded myself to ride a clean race- no mistakes through the corners filled with soft pine needles and I would maintain an easier gear to save up my legs to push through the remaining climbs. I rode the next few miles with some male racers, all of which were extremely complementary and willing to step aside for me. They’d stay with me a bit, thoughtfully reassuring me that they weren’t pushing my wheel but appreciated the pace I was pushing them to. When I felt myself pulling away I asked a couple of them to give me a holler when that girl caught up to them, kind of a shot in the dark- they hold no allegiance to me but if they did it, I would gain valuable information about the position of my pursuer. As I began the climb at mile 5 I heard a distinct “whoop, whoop” and as I smiled I accelerated up the rooty trail, glancing back briefly to assure that the female rider didn’t see me before I crested the climb and pounded my pedals to scoot out of her sight. I figured she was about 25 seconds behind me and though I was confident she didn’t know how close she was, I knew she was not the type to back off. I drank from my bottle and reassured myself that I was hydrating adequately. The next few sections of flat double track would now be my sprinting grounds. My inner dialogue became, “as long as I make it to the mile 7 climb without her insight, I would be golden”. I passed two more male racers who were battling hard and felt an added sense of security that if she did catch up, passing these guys in the single track could slow her progress just enough. As I rounded the lake I was able to look back about 100 meters and see that the trail was clear. I had one last climb to go before 2nd place would be mine. I rode hard but cautious of any little thing that could cause an untimely crash.
I finished the 20 miles with a huge feeling of pride and accomplishment. I may not have won, but I pushed myself the whole race, felt strong even through the last climb, and I was able to cheer for the 3rd place finisher as she cross the finish line about a minute after me. I congratulated her and we talked a bit about where we were from and what other races we were planning to do. I felt incredibly grateful for her presence on the trail, to push me to finish strong and to realize a new level of determination within myself. I later found out that the young rider is in fact a very serious twelve-year-old racer, though I ultimately finished roughly 2 minutes behind her. All in all I felt exceptionally good with my race preparations and ability to perform. I know that I’m not exempt from negative thoughts and experiences during a race, but this was a huge step in my mental and physical progress. The weekend was made even sweeter as my Dan’s Comp teammates also had podium finishes including a landslide win in the CAT 2 50+ by Mr. Bob Kay. Up next, preparations for the first race of the Kentucky Points Series race at Waverly in Louisville, KY on May 18 and just 6 days later at Angle Mounds for the first race of the Southern Five series.