• Race Report: Lake Sonoma XC Series, First Race - My First Dirt Race of '14

    TL;DR - first mtn bike race, huge tactical error, much suffering, then beer and burgers

    This was my first ever mountain bike race. I was pretty excited and drove up with Mike in his racing van which is actually quite awesome. I am now considering getting a minivan which is not something I thought would ever happen. I'm sure it will be great vehicle for kids, but it's even better for a bike racer.

    I know you're all thinking, we haven't seen you riding much, are you in shape to race?? The answer is... absolutely not... but, that hasn't really stopped me in the past and I really wanted to try out this mountain bike racing thing that all the kids are talking about. For this race I would be using my hardtail 29er. I'm pretty sure if I had Mike's cheater bike I would have lapped the field a couple times, but you do what you can with what you have...

    I had some granola with whole milk for breakfast and brewed some coffee for the car and away we went. On the way up I asked Mike a bunch of questions about mountain bike racing. He was very helpful and suggested I could probably out sprint most at the start and be in front when we hit the dirt. This would be advantageous as there weren't many places to pass on this course.

    So, when the sport class rolls out, I'm somewhere mid pack, maybe around 20th. I start accelerating up the small paved/gravel path leading up to the dirt. The people in front of me aren't going that hard, so I start passing people up through the middle of the pack. Eventually, I get a boxed in about 2 rows from the front, so I move around up the left side in the grass just off the path and hop back on the path in fifth right before we turn onto the singletrack. At this point, I could have easily moved up into first, but since I didn't know the course (and probably didn't belong that high up) I decided to be near the front, but hang back a few spots and follow the leaders.

    Surprisingly, I was able to hang with the 4 guys in front of me on the first descent and the first creek crossing. At this point, I'm a little winded but feeling good and trying to stay with the leaders who are setting a pace that is fast but manageable. Then, we hit the first set of switchbacks. At this point, I realized that those skinny little bastards in front of me could climb much faster than me. I pushed hard to stay with them not wanting to let them ride away from me this early in the race. I figured, I'll dip a bit into the red and recover on the next descent. Oh no.. the next descent is over a small rock garden, so not really the place to recover or rest. Then we have a couple creek crossings and you really need to focus to not stuff it in the crossing and to keep enough momentum to make it up the other side without getting off your bike. Then more up and down and more creek crossings.

    So now we're 20 minutes into the race, I've been red-lined since that first switchback and I'm pretty sure I'm going to quit the race after one lap when we get back around near the parking area (the sport class race is 3 laps). I feel sick to my stomach and can barely breath (lactic acid pooled in my stomach making me feel sick). I definitely should not have tried to stay with the faster guys. My plan to recover on the easier flatter portions of the course was not working. I came around one corner, had some trouble getting the bike to go where I wanted it to, hit a rock and nearly crashed. Then maybe 20 seconds later I had to put my foot down to avoid falling over. At this point I'm pretty sure I'm going to DNF and I think I should probably slow way down so I don't crash.

    I slow down and let faster riders pass me when they catch me. I start trying to just spin and keep moving while going slow enough to let my body try and recover. As I come around to the start/finish line and the end of lap 1 I decide that I should probably ride one more lap before I quit so I can see the parts of the course that I rode through in a haze (in case I race here in the future). I decide to go one more lap at the current relaxed pace and treat it like a fun ride out in the park. Maybe halfway through the second lap I start to feel more normal. Now that I'm not delirious, I start to up the pace a little, chasing some guys in front of me while keeping an eye on my HR to ensure I don't go into the red again.

    As I come around the finish of lap 2, I start to think if I quit now Mike is going to harass me all the way home and my wife will harass me until the next race. Eff it, I'm going to finish and I'll just keep it steady for the last lap. In the third lap, I start to slowly catch some of the people that passed me on lap 1 while I was dying. I'm feeling ok, so I attempt to pick off a few guys in front of me. I think I passed maybe 4 guys on that lap and finished mid pack completely exhausted.

    I finished 10th out of 18 in the 35+ sport category. I probably could have finished higher if I hadn't completely imploded in the beginning. Next time, I'll be a bit more reserved for the first lap or maybe preride the whole course so I know if there are places to recover or not.

    After the race I grabbed a beer to wait for Mike to finish his race (expert class does 4 laps). I finished my first beer as Mike was pulling in. We changed out of our kits and then grabbed some fresh burgers off the grill and another beer. I have to say, the beer and burgers after the race makes mountain biking pretty amazing. Office park crits could learn something from these mountain bike race organizers...

    So, overall, it was a fun day. I'm definitely going to try some more mountain bike races in the future. And, I'm going to start dieting again as a less fat Ryan is a faster Ryan.


    - Ryan