Saturday, after stopping in LeMars - the ice cream capital of the world - and downing some scoops of Wells Blue Bunny goodness, we headed north to Worthington. We passed the highest point in Iowa around Sibley and Tara joked she was having difficulty breathing at the altitude. ;-)
We rolled into Mankato after about 5 hours on the road and checked into our motel. I had decided, the night in Nebraska was fine for our first camping, but it would have been pushing it for Tara to camp a 2nd night. So I had booked a room online since every time I go to Mankato there seems to be some sort of baseball or softball tournament and no rooms are to be had. We showered off and headed downtown to a restaurant that a student of mine, Tad Ennen, had recommended to us. It's called Number 4 American Bar and Kitchen and to sum it up - it was delicious!!!
Considering the previous night provided limited hours of sleep due to the smoke and noise, we both slept like logs in the motel. Breakfast and coffee was good in the motel on Sunday. The weather looked as if it was about to rain as we checked out and headed over to Mt. Kate for the MNMBS #2 event - Bluff Riders Charge. Sure enough, as soon as we got in the car the skies opened up with rain. It rained all the way over to Mt. Kato and I got the umbrella out to go register and check-in for the 11 am race. Tara had planned on riding her bike on the paved bike trail that runs from Mankato to wherever it runs, but the rain changed her mind for the time being.
I got suited up, warmed up in the light showers that were happening and heard plenty of comments from the CAT 3's that were finishing up the course was in fine shape, even with the rain. I ran into former Iowan Steve Stilwell who now lives in Hudson, Wisconsin. Steve was sporting a brand new Salsa Spearfish orange frame and was ready to race on his new full suspension bike. The rain tapered off to an occasional sprinkle and we all lined up for the CAT 2 11 am start.
My goal this year was to be a bit faster on this course than I was last year. Taking into account that I had just raced the day before and the Mt. Kato course was wet compared to last year's dry conditions, that was going to be a tall order to fill. I had not done back to back consecutive day XC races in a long time - maybe I tried it once or twice before. I knew it was difficult to do, but the legs felt up to the task thanks to all the base miles this year.
I started with the 50+ and Clydesdale wave and made sure to get a better jump at the gun compared to Saturday's very slow start for me. I was in the top 7 or 8 as we began the climb of the side of the Mt. Kato ski hill. I didn't want to leave my race on that opening climb, so two guys got around me at the top when we headed into the singletrack. My Nobby Nics took away any fears I had of worrying about slick conditions. In fact, I kept wanting to go faster on descents and in technical sections, but was held back by those in front of me. Hmmmmm.....same problem as last year on this course.
I hope to get some photos and video that Tara took of me posted, but we'll see if I can figure that out. Every now and then, she would pop up alongside a part of the course and yell at me while filming me. I will admit, that I was testing my endurance and body on lap one to see if I was going to be okay or not in this race. It was in lap 2 that I started to break it open and get moving. In fact, it was my final lap that I shaved off several minutes from the first two laps as I found my stride and was not blocked by anyone on the descents as I picked up speed. I also felt that I had nothing to hold back in lap 3 since Saturday's race was over and this one was about to finish leaving me with no reason to hold back. I wasn't cramping and things felt fine. I crossed the line in 5th Place for my age group...
Here is the uncanny thing. One year ago, same course, same bike, same competition, same # of laps, same old man racer, etc...my final time was: 1:18:58.02. This year, with my goal of being faster, my final time was 1:18:58. 2 hundredths of a second faster. Gee, and they said gains are small once you hit my level of training!!!! But wait, there's hope. Last year my time landed me 7th place. This year, it was good enough for 5th - so that's got to be taken as some sort of progress. ;-)
I had a lot of fun this weekend (so did Tara). I got to push myself to see if my body could handle 2 consecutive races and experiment with pacing to pull it off without imploding. My neck and shoulder withstood the demands and I arrived at the finish line safe and sound on both days. After the race, the sun poked out of the clouds and Tara was able to go for an hour ride on the bike path while I cleaned up and watched the start of the Comp and CAT 1 races. Wow, the top riders in those groups can really climb!!! I couldn't believe how fast some of those 130 pound XC weenies were flying up the hill without even looking like they were hurting. No fair!!!
Tara got back from her ride and we drove into Mankato for lunch at Tandem Bagles before heading home to Indianola. All in all - a very fun weekend of racing and the trip was a nice getaway for the 2 of us.