Sunday was the second race of the South Carolina State Championship Mountain Bike Series, and my second mountain bike race after a pretty long absence. Lucky for me, it's also my last race for a while, as I switch my focus to building the aerobic engine for cyclo-cross season.
I quit mountain bike racing after only doing it a few times. I hated the way we were corralled at the beginning and sent into the woods in 2 minute intervals separated into 1000 different age groups, in 3-4 different ability categories. Add in single-speeds and clydesdales, and its just a lot going on, on one course.
My problem was that I didn't spend enough time on my mountain bike, and I was slow. I really enjoyed short track racing, but cross country bummed me out. Especially after getting caught by the 30+ guys, and having to stop and pull over on the side of trail while groups of fitter, older guys went by.
I decided to give mountain biking another shot this year. I wanted to build more technical skills for cyclo-cross and I hate road racing. So off we went.
Back in March, we opened the two race state championship series at Poinsett State Park. I was a beginner... it was only my third cross country race, after all. It was also my first race after hanging up the wheels after cyclo-cross season.
I won the race that day, got stoked on mountain biking and got a license upgrade, setting my goals for a cat. 1 mountain bike upgrade and maybe even collegiate nationals this fall.
The race at Harbison State Forest wasn't quite the same though. These are my home trails, but that only meant that I knew the spots where I would be walking. The race was fast fast FAST. I went into the single track in 4th place, hoping to keep my sights on the three guys in front of me. I got passed by one more rider and the gap got bigger and bigger as we went flying through the woods, slipping and sliding over the dusty trails that could have used a little bit of moisture.
I had moved back to 6th place after the first tight, semi-technical section and trying to conserve energy on the open, power section of the course. I knew that there was a super technical trail coming and there would be lots of short steep climbs. I needed to save the energy that I could have used to close the gap to the 5th place rider, just to survive that trail.
Spider-Woman is the infamous, rocky, twisty trail that I knew would likely break my race. On top of walking the rock garden, I was routinely being passed by groups that started behind me, slowly extending the gap to the other men in my race as I stood stationary on the side of the trail. Here I settled into 6th place, second-to-last, and hoped that the 7th place rider would not catch me.
Leaving Spider-Woman, I had to open the engine up and try to make back some lost time. I rode by my friend and KindHuman teammate, Steve Noiret, and together we charged into the next section of single track.
I came through the start/finish line to sound of cheers from my parents (all three of them!), Jen, and KindHuman boss Adam Abramowicz. I swear, today was the unofficial first day of summer, and luckily I had a bottle waiting in the feedzone. In just 1:40 of racing, I went through nearly three bottles of water and Nuun.
The second lap was only 10k, and much less technical. I made it my goal to try to make up as much ground as possible. Shortly into the second lap, I caught the 5th place rider. I planned to ride with him for a while, but he pulled over to let me pass and I set out to open as much of a gap as I could.
The second lap went by with little issue. I only hoped that I would get caught from behind, as I didn't think I had anything left for a race to the finish. Luckily I rolled across solo, in 5th place. A whopping 12 minutes behind the winner, but only 4 behind the rider in front of me. Not great, but good enough for me to feel hopeful moving forward.
After the race, Jen and I waited on the state championship results. Since I upgraded mid-series, I could only take half of the points that I earned from my win in March. I thought that my 5th place at Harbison would earn my a spot on the podium and a South Carolina State Championship medal (well, for third place at least), but I was wrong. I finished a few points short, in 4th place in the overall.
Despite my disappointing result in the state championship series, it was a good day. Both Steve and Adam had good races, and afterward, we had a great cookout at Adam's house. It was great to do some team bonding and, most importantly, gain a few pounds before starting base training for cyclo-cross season.