Friday, July 23, 2010

A Girl’s Racing Diaries

After a slow start to the mountain bike racing year (my excuse: studying towards a master’s degree) I’ve been training and racing in full swing for the past 6 weeks. This is the story of what I’ve been up to.

My first mountain bike race of the season was a Canada Cup at Hardwood Hills at the end of May where I got a severe kick in the butt. I was the last finisher (I’d like to think that the 5 DNFs had been lapped, but that’s wishful thinking) and I struggled to even cross the finish line, having blown apart after the first 2 of 4 laps. I had a decision to make: either I dropped down from Elite to Expert, or I whipped myself into shape. With a lighter school schedule in the summer months, I opted for the latter and decided to dedicate my free time to training. Then ensued 5 weeks of "intensity" coupled with long hours that included the Camp Fortune Sunset Series, OBC Time Trials, many loops of the park, long mountain bike rides chasing Neil, Rob and Tricia and the final culmunation of the 24hrs of Summer Solstice. I had successfully beaten myself into the ground; now, time to recover and hope that my training had paid off.

Test number one: Buckwallow Ocup. My strategy for racing Elite the past two seasons had been to start as fast as possible to stay with the pack and then hang on for as long as possible, hoping to not blow up before the finish. But, inevitably, I’d suffer on the last lap and end up crawling to the finish in pain. I needed a new strategy. With the help of Imad around the campfire at the HillBilly Campground on Hwy 11, I decided to approach this race with a well calculated mental plan (time to dust out the ol’ sports psychology tips that I’d learned from Nick Vipond and had implemented when I was winning Expert races). I was nervous about the race, especially since this was the same race course that I’d fallen on last year that was responsible for the back pain I’ve been feeling ever since. It didn’t help that I took a nasty tumble on the pre-ride that left me with chain ring marks all down the front of my legs…? (think: Neil catching the sight of me catapulting through the air out of his peripheral vision, dropping his bike to sprint back up the trail towards me). Here was the master plan: start off slow with the intent of finishing strong after 4 laps, ie. no limping to the line. After that, I broke up the course into three sections and labeled a keyword to each: 1. Fast double track: “Hammer” 2. Really rough climbing section: “Suffer” 3. Technical Singletrack: “Flow”. Amazing…the plan worked well! I started in 9th place out of 10 and slowly reeled in enough girls to finish 6th overall; I even had enough for a sprint (against no one) at the end.

Test number two: Quebec Cup Marathon. I am new to mountain bike marathon racing and this was to be my first try. I opted for the 50km distance since it was still 50% longer than my usual races but not so long that I’d have to pace myself to even finish (unlike the 80km option). I figured that I could do it in 3-3.5hrs and I was comfortable pushing myself for that long. The race was in the small town of East Hereford, nestled in the corner of the Eastern Townships and bordering on New Hampshire. It’s a beautiful area with lots of mountains and Christmas tree plantations. Being someone who likes to know where they’re going, I was a little troubled by the lack of race course maps and feed zone information on the morning of the race. On the start line, they were thoughtful enough to give us the vital info in quickly spoken french: two feedzones 17km apart, 4km gravel climb to start followed by fun singletrack (~7km), then lots of river crossings, the worst grassy climb you’ll ever do, the worst gravel climb you’ll ever do, and finally, 10km flat/downhill to the finish. Got it. Since everyone in the 50km started at the same time, and marathons tend to attract more of the “epic ride” crowd, I wanted to start near the front to get into a good group for the climb and good position into the singletrack. When the organizers insisted that the women line up at the back of the pack, I refused and stood my ground in the third row.

We were off and I was able to hang in to the top 20 without too much trouble. There weren’t any women in front of me, so I knew what placing I would be in if anyone passed me throughout the race. The first 4km climb was a good selection climb and I was having fun keeping up with the men. I spotted a large framed man near the top and powered up to his wheel for the windy descent. Next, onto to some doubletrack before the singletrack section and I …what? my back tire felt squishy…how did I get a flat on the relatively smooth terrain that I had just covered? Now, this was a big deal because in my six years of racing I have NEVER had a flat! Time to get the noggin’ working: check for obvious punctures/tears caused by sharp objects: negative. I’m running tubeless, so maybe there was a slow leak that might seal up with Stans Goo if I give it some air…ok, decision made: give it air and go.

By this time a whole slew of people have caught up and passed me so I hammered back on the course to catch them. Thirty seconds later I’m convinced that I’m flat again (the phantom flat tire syndrome) and I got off and started untaping my spare tube from my bar. I checked my tire again and realized that its holding air although a could hear a slow leak coming from …where? C’mon goo, I said, it’s your time to shine! Plus, I wanted to get to the singletrack before it got too congested, I could always fix my flat on the other side. Good thing there was another 5 min of doubletrack to pass back some of the guys that had a caught me (had a girl passed? I couldn’t be sure).

Once the singletrack hit there was a backlog of people walking up the first technical climb. I ran up beside them and jumped on at the top. I followed a string of people going at a moderate pace, which suited me fine since I was worried of ripping my deflating tire off the rim. After about 20min of this, I came to what I thought was the end of the singletrack, jumped off my bike, noticed that I had only lost a bit of air and decided to use up the rest of my CO2; I still had another to use whenever I wanted to put my spare tube in. However, this stop cost me a spot as a woman sped by. I chased her and phew, past her before long. To my surprise, I still had some fun technical bits ahead of me that I was able to speed through at my own pace. And this was all in the first 15km!

The rest of the race went very smoothly and I was happily surprised that my tire held air. The climbing was definitely in my favor and I eventually caught up to a guy that I had been riding with at the beginning. Up until the last 10km, I always had wheels to follow and people to chase; I really enjoyed that aspect since it rarely happens in my Elite races. The last 10km went by really fast since it was mostly zigzagging down through Christmas tree farms. I finished with a time of 2hr 57min, 27th overall out of 132 competitors and 7 min in front of the next woman. The best part was having my parents there at the finish line cheering me on. I had a great time, especially since I felt that I was really “racing” the entire time. The feeling makes you forget the pain you’re in and helps you focus on going as fast and having as much fun as you possibly can.

Test number 3 is coming up this weekend at a Quebec Cup in Val-Morin. I’ll keep you posted.


The Vegan Vagabond said...

"When the organizers insisted that the women line up at the back of the pack, I refused and stood my ground in the third row."

Are you kidding me??
Good for you for standing your ground. That organizer was an ass.

Nice work on your marathon!

Anonymous said...

Its love hearing what others are up too - I enjoyed your write up. I agree wit V.V. - stand your ground! Men can be horrible at times...

Greg C