2017 Battle the Bear MTB Race
Welcome! Its been many years since I’ve written. In the past I had chronicled my road racing and other stories about life but decided to take a break. Now I’m back with a different perspective and a bit more maturity.
My first actual bicycle race on my USA Cycling account was May 5th 2007. That would make this month my 10 year anniversary racing some type of cycling discipline! For the past ten years I have put my energy and focus into competitive road racing while dabbling in track cycling the past two seasons as well. In that time period I have moved up into the 1/2 road and track category while also nabbing a national champ jersey at the inaugural USAC Hill Climb Nats. On a good day I can get a top 10 on the road but usually a top 15 finish for me is a solid accomplishment. The talent out there in the road scene is incredible and I’m humbled to be racing against such amazing competition. I also love trying new things and challenging my mind and body to see what it can handle. The past two seasons I spent a good deal of time racing at the Velodrome. Somehow all of this has now lead me to racing mountain bikes! I try not to question its logic and just roll with the punches.
During the latter part of 2016 I decided to jump into my first ever mountain bike race. I’ve had a mountain bike ever since college. I bought a fully rigid Specialized Stump Jumper with cantilever brakes for $45 at a garage sale. Ironically my wife raced to her first Xterra win using that bicycle! Sure I had messed around on single track near my house but this would be way above my level. It happened to be an “epic” mtb race called the BREK 32 (baby sister of the BRECK 100). Still, it had 5K of climbing over 32 miles. A no joke tough race! Since that race I’ve been hooked on mountain bike racing. The atmosphere, the riders, the camaraderie, and sheer insanity required to race up and down mountains totally excites me. But the positive attitudes of other mountain bikers stands out to me more than anything. Almost every time I pass someone, or someone passes me pleasant words are exchanged. “Nice job” or “Keep it up”. Even though its a PIA passing people on tight single-track riders are nice people! Maybe this has a correlation to why so many of them don’t shave their legs. I still can’t figure that out but I’ll most likely always have smooth skin!
Let’s fast forward to last weekend’s Battle the Bear. I’ve ridden at Bear Creek a few times so I knew what to expect regarding the course but I was definitely surprised at how hard the top riders in my age category would be. Coming from the Pro 1/2’s locally in Colorado on the road I suppose I was a bit overconfident regarding my fitness and experience. The 1/2’s on the road here in Colorado have some of the most talented riders in the country. I’m sure every state with a large population of competitive cyclists feel the same way but I can only give my opinion and my perspective based on the races I’ve done around the United States. Road racing is highly structured where you ONLY race with those in your specific category that correlates with your given USA Cycling license. MTB racing? Well most aren’t sanctioned by USAC so no one really cares! Race in your age category or throw elbows with the Pro’s, the choice is up to you. For now I’ll stick to my age category until I start consistently winning. My training over the winter / spring has gone very well especially when it comes to my power numbers. Normally I try not to obsess over them but in late winter I was already showing I could hit 5.0 w/kg on my field tests. I have also changed much about my diet. I’m now totally gluten free and only eat eggs and fish for animal protein. The more plants I eat, the better I feel and once I’ve gotten used to creating a consistent meal plan I’ll be taking eggs and fish out of my diet as well. Please understand that I am in no way trying to persuade or convince you to do the same. I’m only sharing what works for me and how it makes me feel.
Onto the race (finally):
I arrived about an hour before my start time and did a 4–5 mile warm up. I rode easy on the pavement with a few pickups and then did some stretching. With no one in the feed zone for me I brought a small cooler with 3 bottles. Before the start I dropped the cooler over in the “pit” zone and did a little prayer they would be there for me during the race. I’m not the most religious person but I still say prayers over trivial things!
Boom! The start of the race was insanely fast but I wanted a good position moving into the single-track. Four riders were ahead of me and I followed their wheel. Even though I knew this pace wouldn’t last forever I was determined to go out with the leaders hoping they would pull me along. The first 5K or so we were flying past people left and right and I actually fell into a good rhythm behind them. Being my 8th mountain bike race ever I knew I had the least technical skills so my plan was to use my fitness and follow good lines. This worked only a for little when we ran into some trail traffic. The rider I was following went to make a pass on someone from another age category but the guy moved into his line and he had to slam on the breaks which caused me to slightly bump him forcing me to unclip and fall over. I was pissed but tried not to let it get to me. I got back on my bike and closed the small gap but I was on the rivet. Once I caught his wheel again I looked down and my heart rate was 194BPM. We hit a small climb and I was dropped. Not the way I wanted to start the race but that was my current situation.
My fitness from road racing is only one part of the puzzle when it comes to racing mountain bikes and I have a long way to go. Thor my buddy from road racing was motoring off the front. I couldn’t believe how strong he was on the mountain bike when usually he is sucking my wheel on the road.
I spent the majority of lap one passing riders and trying to calm my body down from the punishing fast start. Once lap one (of 5 laps) was over I finally began to ride a more realistic pace for myself. In my short stint with mountain bike racing I’ve found myself alone on the courses requiring to work from within rather than follow others as road racing tends to be. I love “feeding” off other riders and can usually tear my body (and mind) apart trying to hold someones wheel compared to solo riding.
Mountain bike racing is allowing my body to suffer and dig deeper to find those demons.
On lap 2 I started to feel the heat. The temps were creeping above 80 degrees and with little shade I was going through liquids fast. My mountain bike only has room for one bottle cage. It does give you a place to put another one on the backside of the down-tube but my bottle flew out somewhere on the first lap. During the second lap the trail traffic became less busy and it was peaceful out on course being alone in my own thoughts. Coming close to the finish of lap 2 I needed to get a bottle from my cooler. I raced into the pit area and ran in circles for about 20 seconds before I found my bottles. Jumped back on the bike and started lap 3. During the total of the race I probably lost 2–3 minutes getting off my bike for bottles.
With a fresh bottle I was feeling good on lap 3. I knew I was in fourth place at the time since I had started (and been dropped) by the three leaders. My goal was to get on the podium so I kept pushing hard hoping someone would have an off day. My luck turned around when I saw the third place rider standing on the side of the trail. I felt bad he was having an off day but moving into third also gave me some much needed inspiration.
During the third lap I had some company of other guys from different age categories. One rider in particular sat on my wheel for a long time and never pulled through. This is something I’m not used to as with road racing everyone works or no one works together. I told him I wasn’t the best wheel to follow downhill but this didn’t seem to deter him. That was about to change when my focus drifted for a minute and I hit the side of a narrow section of single-track and had to brake in order to stay upright. All I heard behind me was the guy flying off the trail and onto the road. Well he decided not to follow my wheel after that!
Although there weren’t a lot others from the race around me I found myself having to pass a lot of runners, hikers, people walking dogs, and even some on horses! This was my only gripe about the course. I really wish the course would have been closed to everyone except those racing as I had a few close calls with riders going the opposite direction. One lady walking her dog even yelled out to me “Get off my trail!” as I passed her.
Coming into the fourth lap I grabbed another one of my bottles and headed back out. My energy was falling a bit but not enough to completely slow me down. Every time I looked down at my computer my heart rate was above 170! I couldn’t believe I was able to ride that hard for 3+ hours. The 11 mile loop had some climbs but nothing too long however on lap 4 my legs started to shake a bit when I would get out of the saddle. I knew this wasn’t a good sign. My upper body was also killing me. I kept switching between semi-rigid and fully-rigid suspension. I should have just keep the bike in semi-rigid because I had some serious arm / upper body pain I had never felt when riding a bike.
Coming through the start finish I was out of extra bottles and had about half a bottle left on my bike. I poured a bit of the water over my head and it felt amazing. On the first short hill I tried to get out of the saddle to work different muscles and I started to feel my quads cramp. After that I stayed in the saddle 98% of the time as I was worried I would have a serious cramp and have to get off the bike. The last lap was depressingly slow even as I continued to pass riders who were at a snail’s pace compared to my semi-snail pace! Every rider I passed looked like they were on a death march. It was tough to witness. I didn’t see anyone behind me so I knew if I kept pushing I would get on the podium. Finally 3 hours and 46 minutes later I finished the 57 mile race.
What a suffer-fest and a good way to start the beginning of the race season. As I’m typing this Colorado is getting a Spring snowstorm but I’m hoping I’ll be able to race again this weekend. Stay tuned for more posts!