13. Single Track Classic

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Some Sublimely Classic Single Track (photo courtesy Ted Anderton, Apex Photography)

I’m not superstitious. I’m not even moderately-stitous, but the irony of this blog isn’t lost on me. Blog #13, and it was my worst race ever. Worst. Race. Ever.

The Single Track Classic (formerly the Single Track Challenge), presented by Pulse Racing, at Hardwood Hills is a sweet patchwork Hardwood Hill’s bestest and awesomest trails, with a bunch of fresh new trails mixed in for fun, and even a few in reverse. As in past years, the crowd was huge; the course was technical, tight, and twisty; and the competition was fierce.  Single Track Classic or Challenge?  It’s was Single Track Awesome!

I’d been looking forward to the race.  Last year, before the race, my buddy had to pee, and while he was peeing, the race started.  We tried to make it, but by the time we hit the start area, everyone was long gone.  This year was a re-race!

Or maybe not.

Team Colin was a mess.

I worked late the night before, and I got to the race with about half an hour to register and prepare. Then I discovered my rear cassette was wrecked, so I spent about 20 minutes trying to fix it (The guy at Eccleston Cycle tried to help, and the rep at the Shimano tent even tried, but no luck. Awesome people by the way.). So, after mucking around for 30 minutes, the race was about to start, and I was still in the parking lot running around in the Team Colin support vehicle, trying to prepare my tool kit, change my clothes, and eat something.

I felt like a busker in a phone booth.

And where were my damn  gloves?

In the midst of my in-the-vehicle-getting-ready-yoga, I heard the start whistle, and in one movement, I pounded the food into my mouth, changed into my kit, found my gloves, and sprinted to the start.

And then the real challenges started.

Race Report:  Single Track Classic (May 28, 2016)

The Single Track Classic started with a nice shot of double track on a gentle climb.  Usually, I can seed myself within the pack in a start like this, but by the time I got to the start line, I couldn’t even see the tail end of the pack.

I didn’t want to get stuck behind a pack riders when we hit the single track, so I pushed hard to get to them.

I was not successful.

Without even the slightest stretch or warm up, I couldn’t manage my breathing. Worse, because of the early sprint, I feel like I burned through all of my already depleted matches before even reaching the pack.

By the time the single track started, I had passed a bunch of riders, but I was still in the middle of a slow pack. I was happy for the slight break in pedaling, but as the minutes ticked, I knew I was getting further and further behind the lead. It’s not a huge problem for me to be so far back because I’m typically not fighting for a podium finish, but it always stings a bit when my legs and lungs have more to give, and I’m stuck behind a slow group.

Gotta say though, it’s great the Single Track Classic draws so a variety of riders–from the exceptionally fast, to the exceptionally recreational, and everyone in between.  It’s a testament to the awesomeness of the organizers that EVERYONE feels welcome in the race.  Nice job Pulse Racing!

And then the race got really fun.

The single track at Hardwood Hills is sublime. Awesomely fun and wickedly challenging: narrow tree gaps; rooty and rocky; and scattered with giant log overs, quick grunts, zippy descents, frequent whoops, and tight corners. The older single track was worn and fast, and the new trails were raw and gritty. It was a day of tough trails, but rideable features.

And the double track that connected the trails was either white knuckle fast, or slow and grinding.  Awesome!

Under normal circumstances, I would have had a huge cramp in my face from grinning. But today was another story. Between an angry cassette (later I discovered it was the freehub), and being so tired, every pedal stroke was a chore. Every corner was a grunt.  Every climb was a wall.

Ugh.

Sensitive readers may want to skip this next part.

With about 4k to go, I felt like couldn’t do it. My back was throbbing, and my lungs were screaming. I’m not proud about it, and I’m not happy about it, but I had to stop. So, for the first time ever in a race, I stopped pedalling, unclipped my pedals and got off my bike. I only rested for a minute or two, but those minutes were hard won throughout the race, and it was tough to see 8 or 10 riders pass through.

The race ended with a quick zip downhill to the finish line.  I finished with a whimper, a fizzle, and a sigh.

I placed 61st out of 131 riders. Not a great position, but a quick look at my abacus tells me that I passed 70 riders.  Started from the bottom…

In so many ways, the race was awesome. Great trails, great course, lots of first timers and recreational racers, lots of kids, and lots of easy banter between riders. It’s was also nice to be part of a BIG race.  Plus, Ted from Apex photography was there.  He always makes me look better than I am.

In another way—the way that pedals a bike—the race was awful. Some days riding just hurts.

After the race, my friend Mark Summers asked me what I learned from the race. I didn’t know the answer. I’m not sure I could have changed anything: I’m a teacher, and I love working with my students, so I can’t work less; I’m a dad, and sometimes I don’t sleep well because I do my chores after the kids go to bed; and I produce school plays for my students, which takes a great deal of time.

Sometimes there just isn’t time to properly prepare (physically and emotionally) for a race.

And I know that everybody else has their list too. But yesterday wasn’t the only race of the year, or the most important race of the year.  It was just a race. Sure, it was a cool experience, and it’s nice to perform well, but we all have jobs, and family, and other obligations, and…

And sometimes eat a bowl of Mini Wheats for supper at 11PM (Wait, is that just me), and go to a race the next morning utterly unprepared.

And maybe that’s the reason Dan Marshall suggested I start this blog–so I could work it all out.  Maybe that’s why he says I’m relatable. At the top of my page, it says “Team Colin is a working father who trains for XC mountain bike races.”. Sometimes, there won’t be ideal conditions, and sometimes I will be grossly unready (and sleep deprived, and late for the race, and just plain exhausted, and…) but I race bikes, and there was a race, so I raced.

Life got in the way, but life will always get in the way.

There wasn’t a resounding boom at the Single Track Classic (although, as my heart tried to scratch its way out of my chest, it sure pounded a lot)  but the worst race is the race not done, and at the end of a hectic week, I gave it my all, and that’s at least worth a little boom.

Ride.

 

Post Script:  After the race, I caught up with Scott and Shannon Bentley.  They raced single speeds in the 50k distance.  2nd and 4th place respectively.  Beasts.  Scott and Mark Summers were the first to nurture a younger, non-racing, me, into Team Colin.  It was great to catch up with my old “coach”.  I said to Scott and Shannon a dozen times yesterday (and I always say it to Mark and Leslie Summers) that it is impossible to put into words how grateful I am to them for their support and encouragement.  Boom.

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