Monday night I went out for my first mountain bike race at the PIR Short Track series. It was only the second time I've actually ridden my new MTB, which I've had for over a month. I managed one ride through Forest Park last week and that was it. So it was all or nothing. I signed up for the whole series because when else am I going to be able to ride great dirt, bumps, single track and gravel 10 minutes ride from my house? Exactly.
Earlier in the day I took my bike down to River City to get a shorter stem. While I was upstairs getting helped, there was another RC employee working on a very nice Cannondale belonging to Sue Butler. Her name sounded kind of familiar, so I figured she was pretty good. Next, I stopped by Cyclepath on the continuing search for a saddle that doesn't make me scream after 10 minutes. Bill offered me not one, but two test ride saddles and let me take them for a week. Brilliant! Why has no one ever done this before? There's no way you can really know if a saddle is going to work without some serious ride time. Especially on a MTB, there's no garuantee of keeping it unscuffed enough to return if things don't work out.
At home, I was running late, as usual and had just enough time to pop one of the test saddles on, throw on my kit and ride to PIR. Did I mention it's only 10 minutes from my house? Bliss.
When I arrived, the junior and beginner women's clinic had already started. I still needed to register, but I didn't want to miss some nugget of information that might help me survive the race. I rolled up, and who was holding court, but Sue Butler. She and another woman took us in two groups pre-ride the course.
The problem with riding the course slowly is that a lot of the obstacles require speed in order to clear them. There was literally a huge pile of gravel in the middle of the start lap. I might have freaked out about it, but I didn't want to look wimpy in front of Sue, so I just waited till everyone else was at the top and then rammed my way up. Speed is your friend.
My favorite section by far was the whoop-de-do hills, or whatever you call them. Sue showed us how to push down at the right time to increase speed. And I loved her tip for climbing more effieciently: "Boobs to the tube!" In other words, keep your center of gravity low. One thing not to do is stand up and pedal, especially not on a full suspension bike, as that is just asking for back tire spin out.
We circled into the trees and rounded a sharp corner into several very small, compact bumps. A guy blew by us and promptly crashed in the middle. "Doesn't it make you feel better to see the guys crashing too?" said Sue. "We scheduled that just for you, ladies." Then someone in our group tried it, with not much better results. Sue demonstrated and advised us to keep out pedals level while cresting the bumps, so you don't hit your pedals. But that assumes you have enough momentum to stop pedaling and still crest the bump. Easier said than done. I don't like to think too hard about technical obstacles when I'm on the MTB so I cut ahead and just barely cleared the bumps.
After that I went ahead of the group and finished the lap. I was stressing out about registering. I meant to register by mail earlier in the week but I forgot that stamps went up. I got in line with about 20 minutes to go until my race start.
I saw a young girl also in Sorella uniform and figured she must be our newly sponsored junior racer. I felt really bad about not having time to say hello and gave her a couple of smiles. By the time I finished registering, they were calling up the kiddy racers and I still had to pee and fiddle with my tire pressure. I let out too much air and then had to rush over to the Chris King booth to use their pump. And my saddle had loosened on the ride over, so I ended up stuffing my multi-tool in my jersey and running over to the start line, where everyone was already lined up. I just had time to tighten the seat and hope it was in a decent position. I stashed the tool between two fence posts and squeezed my way up into the women's field right before the beginner men were sent off.
I'd been nervous about the race for most of the afternoon, but there was no time for that now. Thirty seconds after the men, our horn sounded and we were off.
My goals in this race were, as in every race, to keep the rubber side down and have a good time. I really could care less about my finishing place, so I let most of the riders surge ahead of me on the nice wide starting straight. It was much easier to navigate the course now that the race was on and there wasn't much time to think.
I got passed by most of the women I think, but I managed to pass some little kids, so I felt good about that. On the first lap, we had to go through a lovingly hand-made mud pit. There was really no good line, so I just down shifted and pedaled like crazy and made it through. Then there was a super twisty single track section through some dirt piles and then the whoop de do hills. The tree sections had lots of sharp turns but I took it easy. When I got almost to the end of the first lap, I went through a short muddy section and up a steep hill. There was a very good course marshall (or maybe he was just a super helpful spectator), who was always yelling encouragement and helpful advice. He reminded me to quit looking down and instead look out and ahead at where I wanted to go.
I did about three laps I think. After the first lap, I just settled in and literally enjoyed the ride. I passed one woman who was walking her bike, but still moving forward. Good for her. For next week, I need to work on faster passing, tighter corners and pushing a bigger gear on the non technical areas. For the most part, I seemed to have no trouble being in the right gear at the right time.
When it was over, I felt completely toasted. My throat was on fire from the dust and I literally couldn't talk for about five minutes. My friends Simon and Laura, who came to cheer me on, came over and watched me heave and spit for a few minutes while I downed water. If I could just skip the 20 minutes or so immediately after the race, that would be perfect. After a while, I started feeling human again and could chat normally. I saw the Sport women's race go off with Sage (my Urban Assault partner) right in the mix. And I chatted with Laura, a new teammate I hadn't met yet. I didn't find Sasha (our new Jr racer) but will definitely chat her up next week, since I am now registered for the whole series (and plan to arrive nice and early!).
My bike is now appropriately muddy, which makes me very happy. I don't feel like such a poser. I'm definitely looking forward to more racing next week!
ETA: In the men's single speed race that happened just after ours, one of the racers, Colby Brooks, collapsed near the start/finish area. When I could breath again, I went over there to take pictures of the race and saw several people surrounding him and sharing CPR duty. He did not crash, probably his heart gave out, as people said he just collapsed at that corner of the track. Time seemed to slow down. It felt like they were doing CPR forever, and I didn't think he was going to make it, but the EMTs arrived and got him stabalized and he is reported to be doing well and recovering. I have to give huge credit to Mike Murray for having an awesome organized team, medical personal etc. There's a lot of second guessing going on over at bikeportland.org about whether the race should have been stopped, but as far as I can see, things were handled with minimum panic and maximum efficiency. And Colby is alive. I'm sure as far as he and his loved ones are concerned, everything was done perfectly. Get well soon Colby.
EATA (Edited Again To Add):
The results are in and I placed 11th. Not that I'm competitive or anything.