(UPDATE 3/21/15: Since I wrote this article I found out that Jeff Rupnow’s racing age is 39 and he won’t be racing in the 40+ expert age group with me. He’s still fast as hell and I have no chance of keeping up with him. I guess I’ll be happily eating his dust in 2016. I’m still going to give him an adversarial nickname.)
I really have no idea if I’m ready.
But, I committed to it publicly, so here I am – getting prepared for my inaugural season of racing with the experts. In my gut, I feel like I’m about to get crushed – DFL (Dead Freakin’ Last – Right Kenny?). However, I think I’m alright with that.
Short history (filtered by my corrupted memory):
- Year 1 (Circa 2007) – First year novice. I finished second in Novice Veteran (an oxymoron) and was one of the top novice riders.
- Year 2 – Moved up to sport. Did not do well. Consistently bottom third of the field. Felt discouraged.
- Year 3 – Came to terms with sucking. Raced anyways. Mediocre finishes but at least I was getting exercise. Averaged 33rd percentile in sport.
- Year 4 – Drank a lot of beer. Put on weight. Missed a bunch of races and didn’t finish the series. Felt very slow and out-of-shape.
- Year 5 – Put races on calendar early to make sure I was able to go. Made a lot more races and started to get a little faster. Goal was to beat Chris Knapp.
- Year 6 – Lost weight for health reasons – nearly 50 lbs. Was surprised with how fast I got. Finished 3rd overall in the fastest sport division and got my first win. Started researching how to actually train for a mountain bike race.
- Year 7 – Decided to race sport one more time to go for a division win. Came up short because of a few mishaps, but had several race wins and overall my best season ever. Committed publicly to racing expert even though I wasn’t required to move up by league rules. Still took a lot of crap from people who thought I should’ve moved up this year.
- Year 8 (2015) – Racing expert for the first time. Trying to have a healthy attitude. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, but am I in expert shape? We’ll see.
I don’t really feel like an expert. I’m definitely faster that I was, but when I look at the expert finishing times, they are holding the speeds 50% longer than I am. That’s a big difference, considering I was already feeling maxed out by the end of a sport race.
So, I am trying to get some healthy perspective. This year is about benchmarking. I’m just trying to figure where I stand, so that I can just work on improving that. When the gun goes off at the first race (this is a figurative gun), I can’t chase Ross Clark and Jeff Rupnow. I need to find my own pace. I need to figure out who is at my level and ride with them.
If I come in last, then that’s fine. These guys are amazing athletes who work really hard at getting better and deserve to finish well. If I can hang with any of them, I’ll feel honored just to be able to hold their rear wheel for a few miles. Hopefully, by riding with them I will become a better rider.
Maybe when I’m following them I can discover new efficiencies. Maybe there is a line through a rock garden that I’ve never seen before. Maybe I’ll be able to glean a bit of knowledge about how much to sit or stand when I’m riding. Maybe there is a secret to mentally preparing for 30 miles. Maybe there’s no secret and they’ve just been blessed with muscular endurance, feather-weight bodies, and VO2Max’s that are god-like compared with us mortals.
Those are the things that I’m hoping to learn this season.
Getting Ready for Expert
What have I done differently to get ready for expert?
For one, I didn’t take as much time off this winter. The winter before, I scaled back my riding significantly for several months, and I felt like I took a hit to my fitness. This year I took a short break to help revitalize my mental state, but I kept up some of my more intense workouts throughout the colder months in my basement.
I’ve also embraced more rest and recovery into my schedule. This allows me to have higher quality cycling workouts. Ride, run, rest, ride, run, rest… This means that I am only riding my bike 2.33 times per week on average. It seems to be paying off. I measured my strength in Functional Threshold Power this March vs. last March and it’s at least 8 percent higher. I’m currently testing higher now than I was at the peak of last season.
I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life and my big question is will I have the endurance to hold it for the higher mileage expert races. I’m still trying to build that endurance, and that will be a bigger focus as I get outside more often.
Having more rest has allowed me to be more consistent and I think it’s also helped me to stay healthier. I haven’t had any major illnesses the entire winter, which I consider to be a feat since I watch two kids who are little germ factories.
My biggest setback is the fact that I had a vasectomy two weeks ago, but so far it doesn’t seem like that is going to be a big deal. I took a week off the bike. Let me tell you, I was pretty nervous about sitting on a saddle again. There is still a very mild lingering ache down there, but after a week of riding, I am almost back to my pre-surgery levels of intensity and feeling better every day.
Meeting the Challenge
I’m in that middle ground, too fast to stay in sport forever, but not sure I’m ready for the experts. However, I think I’m mentally prepared for this new challenge. It pushes me out of my comfort zone, but I think it can only make me better.
I’d like to challenge you, not to race expert, although I’d love to have you race with me, but to think about how you can push it up a notch. What can you do to improve as a rider? Can you go farther or tackle new trails? Can you improve your skills and become more efficient? Is there a rock garden you’ve never cleared before? How did you finish last year? Can you beat that by 10 percent?
My nemesis, Chris Knapp, told me he is thinking about moving up to expert. He is embracing the challenge to push himself to new heights. It’s good to know that there is at least one guy whose dreams I can try to crush this season. Chris and I can battle it out for DFL. Who else will hear the call?