For my first MTB race, I, along with Chadd and 50 other riders rode the BD-NL Challenge. Starting in BD, we rode the Outer and West loop, exited on the road and road 6 miles to New Light. Did NL counterclockwise, got back on the road and rode back to BD for the South loop. 33 miles total; 12 miles of road.
Chadd and I lined up in the middle of the pack because we thought we were average guys. They took us through the parking lot spread us out before we hit the trail. Johnny V showed up take some pics and videos. He got us for the first part when we were all “thumbs up”. Luckily, he didn’t’ get any shots of the death march at the end
It was pretty intense first couple of miles, reminded me of a cyclocross race with a couple of exceptions: 1) I’ve never ridden any of these trails there was a surprise at every corner and 2) this pace was not going to be sustainable for another 3-4 hours. I thought we were doing well until I looked back at a long line of riders patiently waiting to get around me. I pulled off the trail to eat my first of many slices of humble pie. I told Chadd to go ahead since my bike handling skills are very basic, and that’s being nice. I proceeded to go over log that had a drop on the other side, did an endo, and slammed my wheel against a tree, knocking it out of true. Having a tire rub against the frame for most of the race was probably more psychologically slowing than physically. Got out of BD1 relatively unscathed and Chadd was nice enough to wait for me. We tore off on the road. We are able to catch a couple of guys on the road before heading into New Light.
New Light was very challenging. Big climbs, big descents, and lots of rock gardens. About half-way through NL (~2.5h) the leg cramps started. They would alternate between legs. At this point I shifted from race-mode to survival-mode. This is where the mind starts to consider not finishing, secretly hoping for a major mechanical. Something to ease the misery. Not having ridden these trails and never ridden this long on MTB, it was hard to know how hard to push. Got out of NL and headed back to BD. The road was a nice chance to spin the legs, pass the dude on the single speed (who passed me back later, ugh!), and fuel up. BD2 was much was a refreshing change, being less technical. But it seemed to go on forever, creating the death march. At this point, not really knowing where I was in the race, I was hoping to not be finishing dead last, which given my pace, seemed like a real possibility.
But all suffering is temporary as I popped out onto the park road and took off to the finish. Finished in ~4:20. Chadd was right around 4 (probably closer to 3:50 since he waited for me). Not sure where I finished but no DFL, for sure. I was surprised at how hard this ride was and how spent I felt afterwards. Not as fried as a mountain century but close.
So lessons learned:
#1. There is a huge difference between an MTB ride and an MTB race. Putting that number on handlebars changes the game. No stopping at the top of the ridge to catch your breath and take in the views. A constant push.
#2. I suck at MTB. Real men MTB. By the transitive property of cycling, I’m not a real man (yet!)
#3. Air pressure on a 29er hard tail is critical. I jacked my tires up to 35R/30F to reduce the rolling resistance on the road but paid for it in trail bounce, especially when the rear tire hit going over a log.
#4. Road races races have built-in recovery; MTB races, at least this one, don’t. You would power up a hill and then hang on with the body tense careening down the hill, stopping occasionally to pick up your teeth that had rattled out of your head.
#5. Humble pie doesn’t taste so bad after the 10th slice.