I rounded out the end of week #12 of the build, peak, and race structured training with a race at Red Wing, Minnesota on the trails of Memorial Park.
If you read comments by Joe Friel, Dave Morris, Ned Overend, Lynda Wallenfels, etc....they are all careful to state that you should be careful not to set lofty expectations for a particular event because there are too many factors outside of your control. Setting a lofty goal like "I'm going to win this race" should be avoided. I'm much more realistic, so that's not a problem for me when I go up against guys who can trounce me by 5 or 10 minutes at any given race. My goals are more to do my best and execute. I'll take whatever place I finish in stride. I have been fortunate to podium twice this year, but I am being careful never to expect that.
Why not set lofty goals?
Simple. The things you cannot control trump. Weather, who shows up at the starting line, last minute changes, and on and on all contribute to an outcome that may or may not align with one's expectations of a lofty goal. Even though the calendar date choice for me when I started training for this season (December 31st) meant that the timing of my base period, followed by the build period meant that my first Priority "A" race was this weekend - I was careful not to have any lofty expecations. The training more or less aligned when this peak hit, not the choice of race.
I was more interested in how my body performed and what it meant or could mean going forward in using structured training. In others words, I was still going to race my race and analyze it post race to see what it all meant. I had done my part sticking to the structured training leading up to this weekend, was feeling really good in the past couple of races leading up to yesterday, and was anticipating a nice challenge on the excellent singletrack at Memorial Park in Red Wing that features the famous "Stairway to Heaven" climb.
I drove up on Saturday afternoon and had decided I would not be camping because severe weather was expected. I just don't want to be in a tent when a severe storm hits. Period. When they say severe weather and to expect large hail, high winds, possible tornado, lightening - I don't want to be in a tent or campground.
I exited off if I-35 to take the road through Northfield and enjoy the countryside drive over to Red Wing. Clouds were building up at a very high rate of speed and the cloudbursts suddenly started to happen. Heavy rain that even the windshield wipers at full speed couldn't remove. This kept up most of the way over to Red Wing, but luckily - the storms remained just enough south of Red Wing that only a light sprinkle caught the race course as I pulled in around 6:20 or so to do a low key, Zone 1-2 pre-lap scout of the course. The course was in perfect condition with hero dirt and tacky sections. I was careful to only do a light spin with a couple of short hard efforts to wake up the legs. Only a few sections where there was a mud spot or two which were well on their way to being dry. I memorized where the climbs were and how to pace and hit the climbs as well as how long they were. It was a really fun singletrack set up with log overs, a cool jump, tight and twisty, flowing trails, a couple of killer climbs and exactly what one wanted for a State Championship course. It was one of the best set ups and in perfect condition I have seen in years. Well done!!
I finished the loop, headed back to the car, drank my recovery drink and packed the bike into the Element to go get a room. Skies had cleared up and the prognosis was looking excellent for Sunday morning's race. I felt confident that everything was unfolding according to plan.
Let's run through the list of things out of my control to help set up the scenario.
I had not factored into my equation that getting a motel room would be so difficult. Everything in Red Wing was full. What? Okay. So I headed up to the Twin Cities and stopped at the first group of motels. All full? What? The gal at the desk tells me that Friday night's storm knocked out so many people's power in the Twin Cities, that they had all flocked to the motels for air conditioning. Well - there's one out of my control!!!
I hit the Wi-Fi and started calling around. Everything was full. Finally, somebody I spoke with at the Embassy Suites on the phone told me she had heard of 2 rooms available over in Burnsville and gave me the numbers. I quickly called and got one of the last 2 rooms available in the city! By the time I got there, checked in, and had dinner - it was 10:30 and I fell fast asleep. The whole ordeal was not that much of a biggie, but a bit of stress, worry and more driving than I wantd to do - at least in terms of things that I wasn't planning on for this trip.
I was awakened about 5:30 a.m. with huge claps of thunder. Yes, a big morning storm was moving from the west to the east and the radar confirmed it was heading directly towards Red Wing. Suffice it to say, the weather is an element that is totally out of my control - so nothing like 4 hours of rain before the race to alter the race course conditions. By the time I got showered, had breakfast and packed up for the drive back to Red Wing - I read on the internet that the race was still on, but an alternate rain loop would be used instead. I did not ride the alternate rain loop on Saturday night as it wasn't even in my thoughts.
Luckily, I had brought along my Maxxis Beaver tires mounted up on a set of wheels. When I arrived at the site to register, it was still raining. Steve Stilwell stopped by my car to say hello and we talked about the mud. He had his Maxxis Beaver on the rear of his new carbon XC Vassago bike. We were in a similar scenario in Duluth a couple of years ago and both ran the Beavers there in a mud fest there. I watched some of the racing as the Citizen Class was in the middle of their race. They were covered head to toe in mud. The ground was squishy and my thoughts of the perfect tire for the singletrack conditions from the night before quickly vanished. I registered, did my prescribed warm-up, and then swapped wheels for the mudfest. My Renegades floated well on the grass with excellent rolling resistance, but they don't have the digging power of the Beaver which I felt I was going to need to stay upright. No way I was going to hike-a-bike this time. I wanted to climb it all!!! Maybe the Renegades would have worked, but I didn't want to chance it.
Instead of the usual XC race course that I had pre-ridden, we would be doing an alternate 2.7 mile rain loop (5 laps) that involved a lot of wide open meadows, grass, doubletrack and slogging. Again - the last minute changes are nothing that can be controlled by a racer, but I knew that this was a race, rain or shine event and I was prepared with the gear I had brought with me. It finally stopped raining a few few minutes before we lined up for the 11 am start. The sun started to poke out and everyone was smiling. Steve had won the 1st Minnesota Series race of the season and I figured he would be the one to have a chance at this one. I introduced myself to another racer in our group who I did not recognize. It was Keith Peterson and he was from Red Wing. These were his home trails, but he said he doesn't do many of the Minnesota Mountain Bike Races. But he looked trim, fit and ready to roll.
At the start, I managed to take off and get up with the front group of 6 or so. A racer new to our age class this year due to his birthday moving him to 50, was Ted Siefkes, who had placed 3rd in the first race this year behind Steve. I remember him from the 45-59 age group when I raced in that. He was always strong in that group. He took off like a rocket at the start and we never saw him again. I tucked in behind Steve on lap one, and Keith was tucked in behind me. The worn path in the meadow that was supposed to be dirt was so muddy that it reminded me of peanut butter, Crisco, Grease, Vaseline all mixed together - we were all doing better riding in the wet, squishy grass alongside of the worn path. With the Beavers digging in (as they are supposed to for traction) and the wet conditions - it was a real slog to ride in this stuff. Felt like we all had flat tires. Felt like we were all pushing much higher wattage to maintain any kind of speed than we would be in dry conditions. I figured I could maintain this for a good 8 - 10 mintues start before settling into my pace. No way I could hold this kind of power for the duration.
Well, the shortened lap featured a few singletrack sections that were scary with the grease/Vaseline/peanut butter/Criso conditions. Treacherous in fact as many went down. We were all being a bit careful in lap one on those sections as the pucker factor was very high. I was still on Steve's tail near the the end of lap 1, but then he took off as we started lap 2. I was gassed from keeping the start speed for the entire first lap that was about 12-15 minutes or so. As soon as we passed the starting line, Keith went around me and told me I was looking good. I tried to hang with him, but he dialed it up a notch and I just had to be content to try and settle into a pace I could maintain. The course required you to be on the power the entire time except for two or three descents. The rest of the time, the wattage was high to keep moving forward. What a slog!!! I kept working the gears to keep me from burning out, but also keeping me in the race zone.
I passsed a few we caught up with from the prior wave's start in lap 2. At the end of lap 2 I had settled into my pace and felt I was back in control of what my training had prepared me to do. I also felt that "gee, maybe 4 laps would have been plenty instead of having us do 5 in this stuff". But it was the State Championship which should challenge everyone a bit more. Well - we had that in spades trying to stay upright, fighting the mud, and scrambling to keep the bike moving!!! I let the Beavers do their thing on the descents and muddy singletrack sections. The bike would slide all over the place, but they would eventually dig in and give me traction. So I didn't fight it and started to relax with what they can do. This kept me upright for the entire race and I made every single climb. The turf started to improve in lap 3 as the sun and the wind were working their magic to turn all the grease, Vaseline, Crisco, and peanut butter into a bit better condition than when we started.
I was cashed by the end of lap 5. I didn't cramp, but I felt the early tingles of it building up due to having to push such a tall gear due to the mud sucking our speed and very little chance for recovery on the course. On the last big climb that was the only climb where I dropped down to the smaller ring on every lap, as expected - the dreaded chain suck from the mud happened. Somehow I managed to quickly back pedal and get the chain unstuck and kept going without having to dismount. Whew! Lucky break there as I would have had to hike-a-bike it up a really muddy mess had the chain stuck.
Here's the start of the soft climb...
I crossed the line in 1:22:11 - good enough for 4th place in my age class. Ted, who jumped off the line at the start never to be seen again, used his big powerful legs to best the rest of us. He was 6:38 ahead of Steve which was a huge performance because Steve is light, fast and has good handling skills! I was 3 full minutes off of the podium, 3 1/2 minutes behind Steve and 10 minutes from the winner. That's a reality check!! Congrats to Ted, Steve, and Keith for pounding it out in those conditions.
Here are the top 5 results for our age class...
Tough competition this year everywhere I go in the 50+ crowd. That's a good thing and keeps me from getting complacent. It's only going to continue as birthdays cause more to move into our age class. Was I happy with my performance and dealing with all of the things one cannot control? YES! The whole thing felt like I imagine what a road race crit would be like. Only this was in the mud and wet sloggy grass.
If I look at it another way, my time was good enough for a podium spot in the following age groups...
14 and under - podium
17-18 - podium
19 - 24 - podium
25-29 - podium
35-39 - podium
(not to mention 60 and over; Clydesdale, Fat Bikes as well)
So - I can beat a lot of the younger riders, but the competition is tough in the Baby Boomers. Again, no lofty expectations going into it. I finished 4th three weeks ago at Mankato where I felt I had a really strong race, and I finished 4th yesterday where I left it all out on the course.
I mashed my way around that course and only dropped into the smaller ring to use a spin cadence up one climb every lap (the steep muddy ascent that I had to stay seated in my smaller ring of the double up front). I think all the mashing - seated or climbing - is what caused my legs to feel like they were getting closer to the edge of cramping by the end. But there was no other way in the slop we were dealt with thanks to the weather. Moving forward was indeed a challenge. Kudos to the trail crew who were able to pull it all off in spite of Ma Nature's Sunday morning delivery. The singletrack course I rode the night before was one of the better I have been on in years. All that work by the trail crew, and nobody got to experience it. Maybe next year.
The bike after the race is going to need some major cleaning...
I used a water bottle and my towel to clean up for the drive home. The sun was shining, temperatures were in the 70's and I stopped at Cabela's in Owatonna to treat myself to a huge camping cot that was on sale and a self-inflating pad for our tent camping. The cot was marked down to $99 and I got a membership discount which meant I paid $79 for it. Sweet deal. It's the Cabela's Outfitter XL Cot that measures 85" x 40". Great for somebody that is my height and the width means I can roll over, sleep on my side, sleep on my belly - just about anything. It's sturdy, heavy (23 pounds!!!) and will replace my old Ikea folding cot that actually weighs a bit more. Whether or not this cot goes on RAGBRAI remains to be seen, but for camping - I am now a "happy camper" and looking forward to using it. It folds up and will easily go up top in the Yakima box which opens up some space in the car for other gear.
This thing is huge (in the world of cots that is)!!!
Nice and long so my feet finally don't ever have to hang off the end of a cot or pad again!!!