Victory doesn’t have to be 1st place: (aka The KNOT Mountain Bike Race Recap)

Thought I’d try my hand at “just” a 2 hour race. As more of a 4-5 hour endurance rider and racer, I went into this with low expectations. My goals for the race were to focus on riding smooth at higher speeds in twisty terrain and to get in a high intensity race-paced training effort.

Within minutes from the start, I struggled to keep the 4th rider in view, and the front 3 moved quickly out of sight. My slow-twitch endurance legs couldn’t respond to their frenzied, fast pace. I kept thinking to myself, it’s just the start of a 2-hr race, certainly there’s time to reel them in. But then, I’d question, “is there really enough time in just 2 hours?!?! All I could think was that these were some mad strong cyclocross or short track riders, and that I was with the wrong crowd.

I had laser beam focus on rider #4 up ahead of me, but I feared that I was flirting with my limit and wouldn’t be able to sustain this pace for 2 hours. But within the first 1/2 lap, I closed in on #4 and overtook her. Near the end of the 1st lap, a racer from the Men’s Sport category who caught up to me said, “she’s about 1 minute behind you. I retorted, “thanks, but I don’t care. I’m more interested in who’s ahead.” I didn’t actually think I’d catch anyone up ahead, but I certainly didn’t want to slide backwards.

It was a lonely first half of lap number two. All I could think of is, “can I sustain the pace of lap 1, even with no one to chase?” My legs felt heavier and the short steep efforts threw my heart rate to its max. My first lap was about 55 minutes, and I thought this second one might slow to the 1 hour mark. But then, out of nowhere, there was #3 right ahead of me!!! I excitedly closed in on her, and easily kept her wheel. But there was no where to pass. I felt she earned her place and I refused to let myself ask for a pass. I settled in behind her, hoping to use it as a bit of recovery, but I kept nearly buzzing her wheel, too eager to pass. When the trail widened enough, I shifted gears and sprinted around her.

She didn’t let me get away easily though. From following her wheel, I knew I maintained more speed in the turns and descents, but she’d gain on me on the uphills. She always seemed to power up the hills standing, reminding me of Annika Langvad. I had a Jolanda Neff hamster wheel cadence, which didn’t seem so effective. But I forged ahead, trying to keep my focus forward and not look back. And then, out of the blue, there was #2!!! I couldn’t believe it! I took her easily on an uphill, and then did everything I could to create a gap.

I honestly can’t remember much else. I have no idea how far they actually were behind me, but I felt like I could hear the leaves crunch on the trail right at my back. I recall the extreme burning sensation in my legs and the trees whizzing by, at times feeling like just millimeters from my handlebar, threatening to knock me down.

But then, just like that, there was the final grassy straight, then a quick turn over an awkward narrow bridge, and then, the Finish Line. I crossed it, and my second place finish felt victorious.

Epilogue: Planning & nutrition (mostly to help me remember for next time 😉

In preparation for such a short race, I couldn’t decide whether to carry water bottles or a Camelbak. I had pre-ridden the course earlier in the week, and it was so fast and twisty, that I knew there would be only select times that I could safely reach down to drink from a water bottle. Vain as it was, I just felt like I’d be so “un-Pro” wearing my Camelbak. After a lot of wish-washy consideration, I chose to geek it out with my pack. I was glad I did, because even though the temperature at the start of the race was in the 40s, by the end it was in the 70s and the hydration was critical. I drank just shy of the 52 ounces (2 full water bottles worth) that I put in there.

For a shorter race, all I used for nutrition was one Hammer Gel 15 minutes before the start, and a dose of Fully Charged, Race Caps Supreme, Anti-Fatigue Caps, and Endurance BCAA+ tabs about 30 minutes prior to racing. During the race, it was just water, Endurolytes, and two gels that I taped to the top tube of my bike. I hit the Recoverite immediately after the race was over, and then took a quick spin back out on the trails to stretch out my legs.

The trails were very smooth and covered with leaves and pine needles, making them a bit slick. I dropped my tire pressure down to about 25psi in the rear and maybe just a tad under that on the front, on my Cannondale Scalpel 29er.

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