In mountain bike racing, is it possible to do well and NOT suffer?...to perhaps, dare I say, do well and even have fun?
Well I attempted to answer that question this weekend. For myself anyway.
The TVR is held at the Treasure Valley Scout reservation in Rutland, MA. After leaving Kristy and the baby at home, and then dropping off the lil' man at my folks in Northboro, I drove through Worcester, up over the Hills (caked with college memories) and out to Rutland. Julian was crying when I left my folks, but I called them on the way to the race and it turns out that he had already calmed down and was relaxing with the tv babysitter.
So with that stress off my mind, it was time to stress about the race. Actually, back to our theme...I decided to NOT stress about this race. In fact, I decided that, for just this race...the last one of the year...my first geared race in well over a year...I was intent on simply having fun. (Gasp!)
What's that you say? It's impossible to have fun bike racing? I know, it seems like suffering and bike racing go together like dog crap and sneaker tread. But like a sharp stick, I was going to try to scrape the stink of suffering off racing. (I think I just pulled my metaphor muscle)
Here's how I planned to go about having a fun race: 1. NOT start superfast and blow myself up; and 2) ride at an even pace that I could sustain the whole race.
(On a side note...as I was registering, I saw a female racer with curly locks protruding from below her helmet and a green/black/kenda/seven race kit - immediately recognized her as none other than Mary Mc. Partner Mike was there too, as well as some other serious elite talent. It's pretty cool to be racing on the same course at the same time with those guys and gals you read about. Their times are ridiculous.)
I lined up at the start with 30 or so other men racing Cat2/VetII and somehow ended up in the pole position. Huh? I offered to trade with anyone who would be seriously racing for points or anything, but everybody looked at me like I was crazy, so I just said something like "all right, but you're going to be passing my slow ass in the first two minutes." And that is exactly what happened: "Go!" and my teammate Lucas and the rest of the brawlers are hammering off the line...I wasn't, and dropped back pretty quickly. But knowing that was my plan, I didn't panic. It's a long, hard 19 miles or so, so I figured I'd pass whomever I'm supposed to and not pass whomever I'm not. I settled into my pace, after all, pace is the trick (any excuse for an Interpol link).
The course was incredibly fun, but not for the faint of heart, lungs, or skills. LOTS of pointypuncture rock gardens and spillslippery roots, and a couple of thighthrashing climbs. I rode steady and somewhat carefully through the ruffstuff and started picking up some places here and there on slower riders and bobbles and mechanicals (lots of flat tires out there). The new bike goes up really well - all stiff and light and spinny...gears makes climbing so much easier.
The course got more 'flowy' and super fun towards the end of the lap. I came through the start/finish with plenty left in the tank for lap 2, stopped to quickly change bottles and have a gu, and I was off again.
I passed some more guys - wasn't sure what age category they were - and then caught a guy who said he was in first place in the Cat2/VetI group. Really? Hmmm, maybe I'm doing ok. I rode and chatted with him for a while. Soon the trail headed upwardly again and I decided to pass him and invited him to latch on, but next time I looked back he was out of sight.
I then rode by myself for a while. I was having so much fun I was actually audibly "whooping" through the woods. At one point I heard some wet-brake-squeal getting closer and closer from behind, and that's when I decided to start hammering a bit. I dipped into my reserves and managed to pull away from Mr. SqueallyBrakes and pass some more people and then I took it home - to a surprising 6th place in my class. I'm psyched with that result. The rest of the Cape Cod crew did well too - Tim got 2nd (!) in his class , Lucas got 4th in mine, Jeff C got 5th in his.
So is it possible to do well without suffering, and maybe even have fun? I'd say, unequivocally, YES! And that's how I'll try to ride from now on. Maybe I could suffer and place higher, but the more I suffer, the less fun I have.
And with that, so concludes my first full racing season. If memory serves, I got a 1st, two 2nds, a 3rd, a 4th - all in Cat2 SS - and then this race's 6th. Not too shabby, especially with a chunk of time off in the middle for Helena's birth and juggling the needs of a 2-year-old. I learned a ton too, and had a lot of fun.
Is an upgrade to Cat1/Expert in my future? - maybe. If I have a good offseason and start well next season, I may apply. But at this point I think I'd rather have fun in a lower category than suffer to be in a higher one. As has been said through the millenia in many different ways - it's the journey that matters, not the destination (any excuse for a Ray La link).
Thanks for reading.