Sunday, April 2, 2017, it was a glorious spring day at Mountwood Park in West Virginia. Temps were in the 50s at the start of the race and rose into the 60s by the end. Unfortunately, rains had fallen throughout the week and although most of the trail was rideable, there were still significant sections of mud to navigate. Over 200 riders lined up to tackle the Challenge at Mountwood.
This race is always one of my favorites and I was excited for the first XC event of the year. I’ve been training a lot, but not able to ride much singletrack because of the poor trail conditions in my area. I was eager to see how my fitness would translate to a race scenario.
All 66 expert racers left in one giant wave. The race starts with almost 2 miles of fire road before the singletrack. It’s a really cool way to start the race because the intensity is high and there is a lot of passing.
At this point of the race I was feeling really strong. I was passing racers on the climbs and moving up in the crowd. I entered the singletrack somewhere in the middle of the pack, but I felt positive about it because my breathing and heart rate were under control and I felt like I hadn’t burnt any matches yet. Plus I had just passed one of my rivals from 2016, Brad Smith. This was a great way to start the season.
But, less than a mile into the singletrack, things started to turn, I started to hear some excuses rattling in my skull. So distracting.
On one short, steep, peanut butter-covered climb my rear tire spun out in the mud and Brad Smith passed me when I had to dismount my bike. That didn’t take long. No need to panic. It’s early. Stay calm. Just stay with him.
- But my tires had too much air and I seemed to be slipping in every trace of mud. I tried to adjust and pick better lines…
- But I haven’t been riding much singletrack lately and my line selection was a little sluggish. Yeah that’s it. And of course, since I’ve been riding so much road…
- My tire tread is worn down and can’t grab onto the rocks and roots. Zero traction. None. I should have put on my new Bontrager XR2s before the race. What was I thinking? Well, at least I have my new fork. That’ll help my traction a little bit, except…
- The rebound is bouncing me more than I’m used to and it’s throwing off my mojo. I just need a few more rides to get the feel of this thing down. That’s all. It’s still early James. Don’t panic. This early in the season you can’t expect everything to click right away.
- I just need another mile or two to adjust and stitch my ride back together. Then I’ll focus on catching Brad. Surely, he’s a little rusty too. You know, when I think about it…
- Everyone seems to live closer to dry, rideable trails than I do. How can I compete with that? I’ll do better once Alum Creek dries out. Then I’ll get some good training rides in and I can do some more speed work. Then I’ll be wicked fast. Of course, come to think of it, I never train when trails are muddy. That’s my problem…
- Mud is like my kryptonite. Sure, most of this trail is rideable, but those mud spots are throwing me off. Everyone knows I’m faster on dry, dusty trails. They do know that right? I can’t handle this slop. And speaking of the trail, there are so many downhills…
- I’m not really a downhiller, I’m more of a climber. And now I’m five miles into the race and can’t get by these geared guys on the climbs. Geesh! They are literally stealing my singlespeed advantage away from me. So frustrating. Here I go… Awesome, I finally passed them. But now we are going downhill again and they are asking to pass me back. Arrggh.
- I’m losing so much time slowing down to let these guys pass on the descents. That’s okay though. We’re 10 miles in and these chumps are going to start getting fatigued. Then I’ll show them who’s boss. I’ve got all day endurance. That’s right. I may not be high-powered on the start, but I’m the energizer bunny. I dare you to try and outride me. Wooh… My legs are feeling a little tired.
- I must still be recovering from Barry Roubaix. That was 62 hard miles. I thought 6 days of recovery would be enough. I guess I was wrong. Of course, there was that one run I did too.
- Maybe I’m still tired from my 11-mile run on Wednesday. I thought it would be cool because it’s different muscles and all. Maybe that’s what did it. Okay. I’ll just try and use my momentum to ride efficiently and save myself for these climbs.
- But there are so many short, steep climbs that I don’t have the gearing for. I’m having to hike my bike up this punchy crap. I’m not really getting to show off my climbing prowess. I guess my specialty must be long, gradual, dry climbs. We need more of those. When I find a long climb I’m going to make my move.
- It’s hard to focus on racing when there are so many excuses in my head. I just can’t concentrate. That’s the problem. Maybe I should turn this into a Sunday ride. I don’t always have to be racing do I? Can I just enjoy the scenery? Oh, there’s someone coming from behind. I can’t let him catch me. Pedal harder. My competitive streak is kicking back in. Crap. Another downhill. I guess I’ll let him by. Was he riding a hybrid in blue jeans? I have a sweet new kit. It’s streamlined. That should make me faster than him. Of course I did get bibs instead of shorts for the first time ever.
- I guess I’m just not used to riding in bibs. I’ll probably be better at East Fork next weekend, once I adjust to my kit. I’m probably just distracted by the extra comfort. It’s 17 miles into the race and I can smell the finish line. Sure this won’t be my best performance. With all the extra West Virginia guys, this probably wouldn’t count as one of my final OMBC scores anyways.
- It’s hard to get motivated, when you know your score doesn’t count. I’m sure I’d be faster if I had more on the line. East Fork is more my kind of course anyways. I will definitely be more rested and ready to race there. But what if I’m not? What if I never get faster this season?
- I’m probably past the pinnacle of my race career and my muscles are starting to atrophy with age and I’m going to get a pot belly and arthritis and be in a nursing home soon. The future is bleak. Do I need a new hobby? What have I been doing all winter? Maybe I should switch to being one of those people who shakes the cowbells on the side of the trail. I’d probably be really good at that. I have really good shaking muscles. Tons of shaking stamina in my forearms. Almost to the finish line. Ooh!
- A very mild blister is forming on the inside of my thumb. Should I stop and perform first aid? How can I endure this very, very, mild discomfort for a whole mile? I must… keep… going… Do it for the children! Don’t wuss out like some squishy millennial! Persevere! You are tough! …sort of. At least when I get back I can have a beer. Beer always makes things better. But with spring break and all, I’ve had to much beer lately. Am I getting pudgy?
- Beer be killin’ my power-to-weight ratio. I’d be so much faster if I quit drinking beer. It would be so much easier to trim body fat and I’d get better sleep and could recover from hard rides easier. Of course, then I wouldn’t get the happy feeling I get when I sip a cold glass of barley and hops. Oh! I just figured it out. Do you hear that noise?
- I got sand in my bottom bracket at Barry Roubaix and now my bike is creaking when I go fast. That’s definitely it. The creaking has been drowning out my good vibes all race. I’m going to tune up my whole bike and clean out my bottom bracket and head tube. You can bet I won’t have to live through this cacophony in the race seven days from now. There’s the finish line. Mountwood has been cruel to me, but I’m almost done. Sure, I was slow, but at least I didn’t crash. Why did I let myself get so down?
- I guess I’m just a horrible person with a bleak output on life who has wasted tons of time training in order to get a mediocre result. Wah, wah, wah….
I finished 10th out of 12 in Expert 35+ and really don’t feel like I lived up to my potential. However, despite my bleak outlook, I can’t wait to do it again. See you April 9th for the OMBC race at East Fork State Park. I’ve gotten all the excuses out of my system and I promise to come back with a vengeance.
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