With my sickness finally over I decided to do an XC race this past weekend. Although I was coming off the Firecracker 50 four days ago I wanted to race again. Since I still consider myself new in this sport I look for every opportunity to learn, become a stronger rider, and of course increase my technical ability on the mountain bike. There is no better teacher than immersing yourself into competition. Racing against others (and yourself) is the best way to learn from your mistakes. Whether you like it or not, the worst and the best of ourselves tend to come out in competition. Mountain biking specifically has a slight difference because you are racing with and again others, yet you tend to find yourself more often than not all alone on a course. Even if you are riding the majority of a race with someone else, gaps will open up as one of you are a better climber while the other rider might be a better descender. I am quickly learning that having a balance of these two is what makes you a great XC / Marathon rider. Plus some lady luck, a sweet mountain bike, proper nutrition intake, a positive mental attitude, picking the correct tire and tire pressure, good gloves, and no fear!
I headed back up to Winter Park this past Saturday but the start was in a slightly different location than last time. The race started on another dirt road right off of the Main Street in Winter Park. Aside from race #2, I had never ridden in Winter Park so I didn’t know what to expect. I arrived with plenty of time for a solid warm up. This time, I decided to ride the first 4–5 miles of the course to help familiarize myself with the terrain.
After a good warm up on the course I headed over to the start for the staging. There were a good amount of riders in my category (Expert 30–39). As the race started we quickly went from a dirt fire-road to singletrack. Good thing I pre-road this section so I was able to anticipate the fast start and got a good position into the singletrack. I was riding second wheel and the person in front of me was really hammering. I wanted to stay out of trouble so I stuck to his wheel even though it was a bit faster than I was comfortable with. Keep in mind Winter Park sits at 9,000ft. After a mile or so the road then opens up to a wide and bumpy dirt / gravel / grassy road. This road climbed up for 1–2 more miles. The rider in front of me stayed at a blistering pace so I let some distance between him and myself. Although this was a much shorter race than the Firecracker 50, I wanted to pace myself on this first climb. After studying the profile map I knew there was a short downhill and then a even longer climb than the one we were on. With about a half mile left on the dirt road the rider in first seemed to ease up a bit and I quickly caught and went passed him. It wasn’t my intention to lead my field but when I have the opportunity I take advantage of it. I like the feeling of knowing riders are trying to chase me down. It keeps me on edge enough so when the real pain and suffering happens I keep thinking back to all of the riders behind me. The best line I tell myself is “If I’m suffering this bad, then they have to be suffering as well.” Rarely does a rider pass me who doesn’t have some type of discomfort on their face or from their body movements.
I entered the singletrack which kept climbing up before a fast, root-filled downhill section. This section of the course did not seem to get much sunlight as the ground was moist and the trees were lush and green around me. It almost felt as if I was riding in Upstate New York or somewhere in Oregon or Washington. The trail remained on singletrack as I started the next big climb. This was a long one (based on the map). The singletrack kept winding around itself and it seemed at times I was going in circles. After 10 minutes or so the trail opened up and I could see the rest of the long climb in front of me. I could also see riders up the trail from other categories and this motivated me to pick up the pace. I kept looking down at my heart rate which read between 175–185BPM. I seem to have a pretty high threshold HR because its always in this range while I’m climbing hard. I also looked back a few times to see how far back my competition was. Not the best idea as I veered off the trail and few times and almost crashed. In the distance maybe 30–45 seconds behind me I saw a blue and white kit. I was pretty sure this was my friend John who I’ve raced against many times. Oddly enough this helped me push even harder than the riders up the trail as I hate getting beat by my friends! I kept pushing onward and caught two 19–29 year olds. They let me pass and then I soon hit the top of the climb which then turned into a very bumpy dirt fire-road. If you have raced XC or Marathon before (at least in Colorado) you know that there will most likely be fire-roads which act as connectors from one trail system to the next. This is also a great time to get some fluids down, have a gel, and check the distances between the competition. I’m always micro-managing my efforts based on where my competition is. This can be both positive and negative. If I know they are in front of me I’ll tear myself apart to catch them. If they are closing the distance behind me I can, at times, start to panic that I’m not riding fast enough.
After the bumpy fire-road I hit the next downhill singletrack section. It started off with a few short drops, rocks, and roots before entering some nice fast flowing switchbacks. I was feeling REALLY good at this point. My breathing, legs, and body were on all-systems-go mode. I was tearing up the switchbacks and felt in control of my speed and handling. Then reality sank back in, and those voices started telling me; I’m still a newbie at mountain biking.
It happened quite fast but from what I remember was coming around a dusty switchback too fast and my front tire lost traction and I went flying off the bike. My bike stayed in the same spot but my body went sliding down the trail. When I got up, I ran back to my bike, and got back on I felt some serious pain in my arm and elbow. Normally when you crash, the adrenaline is enough to help you forget about the crash so you can continue. But I must have really smacked my arm on the ground because my right arm was throbbing and I was having trouble gripping the handlebar and pulling the brake lever. I could feel every bump in the trail. Blood was running down my arm and all over my jersey. I did the best I could on the downhill but knew I was losing time. Shortly after a Single Speed rider caught up to me and we chatted a bit. He said the cuts looked bad but not terrible. Finally after what seemed like forever the pain started to dull. At least enough so I could focusing on racing again.
Coming into the finish with a Single Speed rider.
My arm was still really hurting and I wanted to get in cleaned off. Later that night after inspecting the cut it looked deep so I went to Urgent Care to make sure I didn’t need stitches. Luckily for me I didn’t need any, just a couple of Steri-Strips would do the trick.
Although this was a low key short XC race, I learned a lot. I learned that you need to respect the trail and Mother Nature always wins! Downhill sections of XC courses are always a gamble. Push hard and you will hold off your competitors. Take too many risks and you may end up taking a dirt nap! I know my downhill racing is getting better but crashes like this also bring me back to reality. I also learned its probably best to keep baby wipes and a medical kit in my car as I’m sure this is not the last time I’m going to have a face and body full of dirt and scrapes.