Summer has finally arrived as temperatures rose all the way to the high 90's with humidity the past few days. Riding the XC course at Seven Oaks in cool temperatures is difficult enough, but yesterday's heat added that extra little bit of "gotcha" for the IMBCS #6 XC race.
Hats off to Kyle, Ron and all those that helped to get the trails ready for the race after the unusual year of rain we have been having in Iowa. And hats off for a new challenging face lift to the trail. I didn't get a chance to pre-ride the loop and had no idea there would be anything different from last year's trail until the pre-race meeting. Cam asked me if I had taken a lap yet, and when I said no, he smiled and said it had some nice new technical and tough challenges. But when he said it amounted to about 10% or less of the overall trail, I welcomed the new challenges in my mind before ever having seen any of it.
At the start of the race, I got caught too far left going down the top ridge of the ski area heading into the singletrack. I ended up in the grass and weeds. My bad, but I had to dismount and let a few pass me before getting back on the trail and on my Dos Niner. The initial mile or two had several pulling over to let others pass and some of the opening steep climbs after the first bridge were still muddy enough to make climbing a hit or miss in a few spots. I thought I made it cleanly around Sterling Hiese on a switchback when he dismounted only to find my rear tire spin out and I stalled, so I had to dismount to complete the pass. I passed a couple other riders on the next series of climbs and during the new narrow bridges over the fun roller coaster section I was able to clean and move on down the trail while others were dismounting. I liked the new trail during lap one and only got stumped by one switchback to the right when I took the inside where it was soft enough mud to stop me in my tracks.
After making it to familiar tried and true Seven Oaks trail, I was able to pick up the speed a little bit on the remainder of lap 1. After crossing the first bridge in lap 2 and hitting the series of climbs, I realized that I really wasn't able to produce the same power on the climbs as I had in lap 1. Could it be the heat? Regardless, I struggled to find a rhythm I could use to clear each climb without going too deep in the pain cave with the heart in the heat. As the 2nd lap wore on, I realized not producing enough power was melting my momentum to clear corners, climbs and technical sections. It was there for lap one, but not in lap two. That meant my riding was getting sloppy and I was frustrated with it, but there was nothing I could do about it. The heat and the difficulty of the climbing with the new trail sections combined seemed to be too much for me. Not to mention, the reality of the 7 pounds I gained on vacation meant I was carrying some extra weight up the hill. I'll be working on getting rid of that vacation weight gain this week...
Momentum is a crucial element at Seven Oaks because if you go to slow, you will not clean the technical sections and find yourself walking up some of the short steep climbs and switchbacks. I continually fought myself to find something in my reserves to clean each of those sections - sometimes winning, sometimes losing and having to dismount and walk up a section to clear it. What happened to my lap 1 fitness?
It seemed like the new sections didn't allow for as much recovery as prior versions of the trail, but I need to ride Seven Oaks a few more laps in cooler temperatures to make that determination. It's always a wake-up call to ride at Seven Oaks for the first time in a season, and this was my first time riding there this year. I think a couple more laps under my belt of the new trail sections will help quite a bit. Next time, things won't seem so difficult. Regardless, I trudged on welcoming the challenge of it all. There were a couple of sections on both laps that looked like we all did the same thing and simply hiked it due to the mud and steepness of the grade.
Once I made it into the comforting familiarity of the section of trail behind the campground and paint ball course, I felt the "battle" was over and I had survived the heat and new trail war. I have to say, I came across the finish line pretty spent and tuckered with the satisfaction of simply having completed the challenge. It was then I learned from Paul Varnum that 25% of the field had flatted or DNF'd for one reason or another. I ended up in 4th place for Sport Open which is an improvement over my showing last year at the Seven Oaks race where I was 8th place.
All in all - a fun new "challenge". I am looking forward to getting some more laps in at Seven Oaks to mentally and physically learn the new trail. It's exactly the kind of course that we need to push our limits, find our boundaries and improve our mountain biking skills. I may have to break down and put my triple crankset back on so I have a granny ring when I ride there. ;=)