Reporting on my first ever Short Track MTB race challenges me a little.
About five minutes after the race I tweeted:
#STXC race report: I almost threw up. So. Much. Fun. Wish you were here.
...which covers it pretty consisely.
“I almost threw up.”
I staged in the very back of the pack, like almost literally the last guy out the gate. Huge mistake. The front of the pack staged almost twenty minutes before the start, and with no call ups this is the Right Thing to Do. Somewhere around rider 15 or so, the first few modestly technical turns slowed the pack to a crawl, so I spent the first two laps trying to squeeze past twenty riders at a dead sprint to catch the front ten, who had opened this impossible gap. They really need call ups to get that dead weight out of the middle of the pack. Basically, two or three timid guys around Position 15 threw the race for the forty guys behind them.
My mantra — inasmuch as “mantras” are “things you shout at other people” — for these laps was: “less brake more pedal!”
My “mantra” for the last three laps was “on your left.” (Sidenote: MTB racing is weirdly courteous. Slower riders would pick weaker lines to let faster guys past. As the fields started to overlap [two women and at least one Cat 2 passed me; I lapped many junior riders] the reason became obvious.)
Anyhoo, with the carrots so far ahead of the mules, I sprinted waaaay past my red line on the first and second laps. I couldn’t breathe or swallow, I felt like I’d swallowed bleach, my insides all in knots. I really did throw up in my mouth a little. (Lesson: don’t eat the free brownies at the Chris King tent two minutes before staging). But only a little: my stomach was mostly empty.
I heard someone say they only did three laps last week so I thought I could sustain this pace for that long. I didn’t have a watch, so my only sense of time (the race lasts a fixed period, like Cross races) was from counting laps. As it turned out, I stretched the effort into five monstrous laps. I was especially proud of my legs, which never felt bonked until after the finish. My lungs, however, were destroyed.
“So. Much. Fun.”
The fun quotient was huge. Like cyclocross-grade fun, maybe more.
Just riding out the course before the race was fun. But the actual race turned the fun dial up to eleven. Double hairpin off-camber turns, steep berms on the tiny ring, berms on turns, long sprints over the infield: fun, fun, fun, fun. The motocross course was inhumanly fun, wonderful flowy stuff. I even caught some air. I am capital Not a competitive person but the heat of competition pushed me much harder and faster than I would have pushed myself. So I was taking this moderately techincal stuff at appropriate speeds — if I rode this course solo I never would have had the stones to break over it.
I never once dabbed (i.e. put my foot down) during the race, although twice I threatened to wash out. And I got two compliments for unlikely maneuvers: “nice line,” “good recovery!”
“Wish you were here.”
Road racing is a macho, antisocial ritual. It has meaning only for its participants. It’s lovely to have my family on hand, or to ride with friends, but these are not essential elements.
MTB racing, like cyclocross, is an event. They have music, and announcers, and beer. I felt like a Lone Wolf having no friends on hand. More importantly, I had a kind of spiritual feeling: this is so much fun it deserves to be shared.
Just as importantly, mountain bikes don’t lend themselves to riding to and from the race. (So, it pays to have support in the form of a car.) My 15 mile homeward trip took far more than an hour and I arrived with numb crotch and hands. (This reinforces my belief that the most comfortable bike positioning for non-trivial distances is aero, i.e. long back and hands below hips.) My Kona is perfectly-proportioned for short track racing — I could kind of throw it around under my body, which felt great — but that comfortable sit-up-and-beg position was murder on my backside for the long trek home. It made me seriously consider Sean Chaney’s tagalong bike hauler.
For my friends considering doing this on ’cross rigs: there are no barriers but lots of berms. Without low gears and wide tires you might be running up them. The technical stuff will probably make you fall. You can recover a lot of speed on the sprints but outside the sprints will be a battle of expert handling. There were lots of folks riding ’cross rigs and they all did pretty well, but they all looked to be strong handlers and sprinters.
Oh, yeah...how’d I finish? 27 of 61, pretty handy considering I started the race about 60 of 61.