I’m not sure if it was meant to be a motivational speech or just a humorous quip at the start of the race, but the starting attendant leaned over to me just before I launched into my epic lap with this sly grin and said “now, you know….you’re the rabbit…everyone’s chasing you today”. Gee, thanks. It’s not like I wasn’t already running scenarios through my head about how fast I should go. However, whether simple conversation or a pre-race motivational speech, it worked. I rode like a….well a rabbit being chased by greyhounds.
But, before I post up my numbers, I thought I would share a little bit about today’s race. The weather was a bit chillier than I anticipated due to a few clouds and some wind. When the sun was shining and you could find a spot out of the wind, it was really quite pleasant, though. This made for a cold warm-up.
Evan (my brother-in-law) and I met up in Holland at 8:30 and drove together to the Deep Lake Campground, arriving around 9:30 where we met up with my brother, Tim. This is where the trail head is for the Yankee Springs Mountain Bike Trail and the start of the race. The experts and elite riders were being released starting at 10 so it gave us just enough time to stop by the Cross Country Cycle Team tent to say hello to the guys, grab our registration packets from the registration tent, and head down to the race start to cheer on the team riders and take some video. Once they were off, we finished getting ready back at the car.
I thought it would be a fun idea to warm-up by riding to a section of trail a couple of miles away by road. I figured each lap would take the elite and expert riders about 45 minutes to complete, plus or minus a couple of minutes, and this spot should be about 5-8 minutes away from the start/finish line. While we waited, we noticed that the temperature was slowly rising, especially in the sun. Last minute clothing choices are such a fun, yet integral, part of race strategy. Evan decided he was going to ride with just a short sleeve jersey, despite my quality recommendation for him to ride bare back. I waffled on my own attire.
After watching most of the Cross Country Cycle Team go by, we headed a bit further up the road to a two-track that led to a single track that pops out right onto the main mountain bike trail where we watched another couple of dozen riders. By 11a.m. it was time to start seriously warming up and heading back towards the start. A quick stop at another point in the course allowed another vantage point, and cut my brother’s ankles up pretty good from traipsing through the woods. I mentioned earlier this morning that my hamstrings felt unusually tight, and they still were so I took another loop up around the bend of the road before heading back to the car for last minute prep.
My wife, mother-in-law, and two girls came out to see the race today, which I really thought was great. We met up with them at about 11:30, just in time for a photo op and to situate them for the perfect view of the start. Evan and I started in the top 10 slots which were established based on registration order. I managed the pole position, somehow.
The race organizers decided to cap this year’s race at 700 riders. That cap was met on Thursday night which meant for the first time ever there were no day-of registrations. It also was the highest attendance in its 23 year history (I believe). There were also 16 team tent spots on starter’s row. As a newbie to racing, I’m getting acclimated to having a dry place to change your clothes, hang your bike, and have a seat out of the wind. Riders and their families were buzzing everywhere, which made it both hectic and joyous at the same time. I love race day vibe.
Just before Evan and I headed down to line up for the race start, the elite and expert riders started piling in. It was a good showing for team Cross Country Cycle with mostly smiles and positive trail reports. Only one incident of an under hydrated teammate challenged the overall sentiment of satisfaction and enjoyment. I made my final decision on attire (long-sleeve jersey; shorts) and headed down to the race start.
After the comments from the start attendant, I took off in a fury. The time trial start was structured so that one racer would start every 10 seconds. Your time began when you crossed the start pad and ended when you crossed the finish line pad. This creates a gap between riders to help alleviate traffic. I rode no more than 1/8 of a mile into the trail before starting to wonder when I was going to start hearing the grinds of the gears on the bike behind me. I thought I heard them about a mile into the trail on a climb. At that point I realized that my warm up routine had not been focused enough nor adequate. My legs felt like concrete. I thought for sure I would be caught and passed within the next few turns. I tried looking back a couple of times on some switchbacks and kept pumping my lethargic legs up the hills and through the flats. They finally warmed up at around mile 8 (that’s what it felt like, anyway).
I never was caught. As is usually the case, I get stronger as the ride wears on (or maybe put a better way; I wear out less than the average bear). The trail received some trail maintenance within the past week that included a major re-route around a nasty hill climb. I felt like I was going to get caught in there as I fumbled my way through the new and unfamiliar trail, but once through it, I felt pretty confident that I wasn’t going to be caught today. There’s only one major climb after that point and had felt my legs come to me by then so I began focusing my attention on crushing the hills and sailing the downhills.
The race ends by riding along the entrance drive after popping out of the main trail and riding it down for a ways near the start line again. My mother-in-law was waiting for me at the corner out of the trail, yelling loudly and cheering me on. That was awesome. My wife and girls were down near the finish line to cheer me through the last 100 yards where I passed over the finish pads and timer clock. It read 12:48:blah, blah, blah. I couldn’t catch that last little bit then, but it ended up being 12:48:41. I had absolutely crushed my goal of under 55 minutes and even surpassed my stretch goal of under 50 minutes. I took 1st in the Sport Clydesdale division, and 4th in Sport overall. If I was the rabbit today, there were many hungry dogs when it was all said and done.
In addition to my finish, Evan put up a 3rd place finish in his age group, falling behind two other Cross Country Cycle Team riders and Tim took 2nd in Beginner Clydesdale. It was Tim’s first mountain bike race and he hammered it. Cross Country Cycle had many jersey’s in the winner’s circle today, so it was a great race for the team. The Fort Custer Stampede is next in two weeks so I’ll smile about the win today, but tomorrow its back to training for the next challenge.