17 seconds off of the podium....!!!

I headed up to Minnesota on Sunday morning for the 7th race in the Minnesota summer mountain biking series - the SingleTrackAttack at Hillside Park in Elk River, MN. Give or take a few minutes, it's a 4 1/2 hour jaunt from front door to the registration table. I was amazed at how foggy and muggy things were at 5:45 a.m. on Sunday. Saturday night had been a very pleasant evening as we were at a pool party and sat out on the deck socializing until 10. I guess the muggy humidity rolled in during the night and the prediction was for a very high heat index come race time. I've grown accustomed to the heat this summer on the bike, so I wasn't too worried.

In terms of the Minnesota series, this was to be my 3rd event in their series thus far this summer. I was looking forward to it since I have enjoyed the Hillside Park trails the past couple of seasons. According to the radar, they were hit with a nice overnight rain, but everyone claimed the sandy soil soaks up most rain - so no special mud tires were needed. I went with the Continental Race King 2.2's to give me a bit more BB height in hopes I could avoid any pedal strikes on the rocks and roots on this twisty course.

My only worry centered around my legs. Lifting weights on Wednesday for the first time since our basement flooded in June and riding full out on Thursday's RAGBRAI meant my legs needed a full two days of recovery. I failed to cool down after the RAGBRAI ride and failed to get some recovery fluid/food within the important window of opportunity. So, my legs were shot on Friday. I went out for a recovery ride on Saturday with Tara and was shocked how bad my legs felt at the start of the ride. I could barely get up the first hill in granny gear. I nearly turned around 3 blocks from the house. I knew better and thought the blood flow would help me recover and wake up my legs. So I kept on at a very easy pace to get the blood flowing while Tara kept looking back wondering what was wrong with me. About 30 minutes into the ride, my legs came back to life and I knew I would be okay on Sunday. Once I arrived at Hillside Park, got suited up and started warming up - it was confirmed that my legs were back.

We all got lined up in our respective age group starting waves. I was the next to last wave to start at the SingleTrackAttack as they started us in chronological age group order. So my wave group included the 45-49, 50-59 and 60+ racers. I managed to get in the 3rd row at the start line after all of the series leader call ups were finished. At the gun, we all jumped out and one guy shot off like a rocket. The rest of us were pretty content to stick in a clump down the gravel road to the singletrack. I was in a debate with my legs and mind as to whether I really wanted to turn myself inside out to get up to the singletrack with the first few racers or not. And the question loomed in my mind if I would actually be able to recover in the heat for the rest of the race if I did so. I probed the legs and started to move up in the pack only to be cut off and pushed to the left side of the road out into the grass by another rider - so that settled it for me. I hung where I was and went into the singletrack in the middle of the pack. It didn't take long for me to start passing a few that were dabbing at some of the turns, roots and trail conditions (muddy corners).

It was very warm and humid. And I knew the duration of the race was going to be 90 minutes plus based on the mileage and type of course Hillside is. My legs were feeling good and I knew I had time to work my way through the crowd, so I pushed on trying to remain cautious on certain corners that were muddy enough that tires were slipping out on most of us. Everybody was pretty cool about passing in this race and the singletrack gave plenty of opportunities to pass with its design. In retrospect, I was getting too comfortable behind slower riders on lap one and not doing my part to work around them as best I could. Most likely that was due to the debate between my mind and body with regard to the RAGBRAI effort on Thursday and how to handle the heat/humidity. In spite of that, I was hanging with guys that usually place better than I do by a minute or two, so I was content to be in the hunt.

Was it the heat, or was there a sculpture of a lady of the woods out there...

Single Track Attack Sculpture in the Woods

I hit one rut in the middle of a turn that was still very wet from the fresh rain and down I went. Luckily, I fell in very soft and sandy soil so nothing was hurt. I just had sand all over my legs and hands, but I hopped right back on and buzzed on...

Single Track Attack Race Grind

Due to the 4 waves that started in front of us, we hit a lot of traffic and had to work our way around slower riders from the age groups in front of us. This made the 2nd half of lap 1 and all of lap 2 a bit more challenging. I got stuck behind one Clydesdale in one of the tighter, twistier sections who would not allow me to pass no matter how nicely I asked (I asked 3 times). He was not obligated to let me pass, but most racers realize when a faster rider is on their tail and will make room for a second or two for a rider to overtake them. I finally got around him on a climb where he was riding well, but his weight didn't allow him to climb as fast as I could so I just went around him and took off to make up some time. I venture to guess I lost 10 - 20 seconds right there, but who knows. It wasn't the only delay I put myself into and got lulled into a bit of recovery before pushing on and passing. It happened again in the same exact section on lap 2 when I got stuck behind a guy on a 29"er who had not learned the bike's attributes quite well enough to lean and carve the turns while laying off of the brakes. He was over-braking every corner, which caused us to slow and go around every corner, followed by acceleration to get back up to speed. I actually got into a conversation with him about the heat and humidity and instead of passing, I was socializing. WTF!! Then I heard a rider or two coming up behind us and I gunned it around him and gave it my all for the final section of the race.

It was so twisty and thick in the forest, you really couldn't tell who was ahead of you or behind you as you couldn't see very far. Lots of sharp, switchback uphill turns where you had to keep the power on the pedals to rotate around the turn...

Single Track Attack Race

Coming out of the thick forest and into the more open straight sections and final turns, I caught up to the wheel of the winner of the 60+ group (and he usually beats me by a minute or two) and another rider who was in the 30-34 age group. I had nothing to gain to pass these two guys on the final 200 yards to the line, so I just hung with them and we all crossed the line more or less as a clump. Bravo and kudos to the race crew who had a wide enough finish chute this year to avoid any crazy thing such as I experienced last year. Last year, during a final sprint to the line to beat another racer, I accidentally locked handlebars with him crossing the line because the finish line chute was only about 4 feet wide and I got stuck. This year, it was more like 10-12 feet wide and there was plenty of room for a safe finish.

I went for 20 minute cool down ride and noticed my legs, bike and clothes were covered in mud, sand and slop. So it was a get down and get dirty race, but a lot of fun. My legs were working well, my bike handling was spot on and the trails were a blast. Any sliding out with the tires was very predictable and easily managed. After loading up my bike and cleaning off, I went to get a turkey wrap and drink at the concession stand and then headed over to check the results. Wow! I came in 4th only 17 seconds behind 3rd place. Did I leave those 17 seconds on the trail? You bet. My bad, but the heat, the recovery from RAGBRAI, the socializing the night before, the lack of sleep, the 4 1/2 hour drive all probably contributed to my decision making. Still, that's a big improvement for me in this competitive field up in Minnesota. 7th place in my first race up there this season, 5th place last race and now 4th place. A podium spot was that close and I let it slip through my fingers. Not next time. I'm peaking for some upcoming events and hope to keep on the improvement path this month as each weekend race unfolds.

Kudos to Rich Omdahl and his excellent crew for once again hosting a favorite event of mine. I'll be back for sure...


Iowagriz said...

Nice report and great job on the race. Podium before the season is over up there for you.

Bruce Brown said...

I hope so, Tom. Hey - great job out at Banner. Not knowing it was 99 degrees I rode down and did a loop today. It's in very good shape and riding well at the moment. Any news on a rescheduled date for the race there?