Like a fish out of water…

I decided to take my recent MTB fling to its next logical step – my first MTB race. A few teammates of mine convinced me that Spanish Lake would be the perfect venue to jump in and see what I thought – not too technical singletrack, with some open 2-track sections where I could use my roadie strength to gain position. There was even a first-timer category – I could probably do real well. I was interested, and after surviving the DeClue trail a couple weeks ago I figured I was ready for anything. As the day approached, however, I realized I could not, in good conscience, do the first-timer’s race – or even the beginner’s race for that matter. As a seasoned Cat3 road-racer it just seemed cheesy – like a dedicated triathlete showing up at a time trial and doing the Cat5 race. I decided to just go ahead and take my lumps in the sport race. If I liked it and wanted to do more MTB racing, it would provide a good baseline for measuring future progress.

I had intended to get there early enough to take a practice lap around the course – my skills (or lack of) would already be a handicap, and doing the first lap blind would put me at a real disadvantage. Plus, at my age I need a really good warm-up. I found registration and got my number – I wondered what was so funny when I asked what side it went on. By the time I was ready to take a lap I got scared I wouldn’t make it back in time for the start. Big mistake, and I knew it, but hey this is just for fun, right? I toodled around the fields and explored a little of the nearby sections of the course, then took my place at the start in a field of 15. I looked around at all the carbon frames and disc brakes, then looked at my 13-yr old tank of a bike (but with a brand new rear derailleur!) and reminded myself, hey this is just for fun, right? Rich said go and off we went. Talk about a throttle-fest! Well, I wasn’t ready for it and quickly found myself near the back of the field as we approached the singletrack. I got settled in, though, and on the second stretch of 2-track I jumped around two guys. Then we hit a short, steep rise – I wasn’t geared right and slowed to a crawl as I fumbled clumsily with my shifters. One of the guys I just passed got back around me, and by the time I got over the top the leaders had a gap – I watched them slowly pull away and I couldn’t do anything about it. I redlined trying the close the gap, then they disappeared into the singletrack. I knew I’d never see them again, but I continued to push the rest of that first lap. It was hard – I was beginning to wonder if I could last for 3 more laps. Once I finished the first lap though I was able to settle into a more comfortable rythym and actually start having some fun. With nobody around me I could focus on the obstacles, and each lap I handled them a little bit better. I crashed once going over a big log but nailed it the next two times. Other than that I only had to unclip once. I was averaging right at 17 minutes per lap, but the 4th lap I started getting tired and finished with a time of 1:10. Somehow, I managed not to get caught by any of the sport racers behind me, so I ended up in 11th place. That may not sound too good, but hey, I didn’t finish last.

The best thing was seeing the reaction of the DRJ boys when they saw me. Bob comes walking up saying, “What the hell is this!?” I thought Chris was gonna bust a gut looking at my bike – I don’t think he’s ever even seen a chromoly stem! And Rich Pierce, who I didn’t think even knew who I was, made a point to come up to me afterwards and thank me for showing up and giving it a try.

I think I might try it again sometime. I had fun, and it was a great atmosphere – a lot more casual and laid back than the roadie scene. Oh, and big props to my teammate James Nelson, who started 2 min back of me and still passed me – on a singlespeed. Nice job, James!

About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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2 Responses to Like a fish out of water…

  1. Brian says:

    Oh man! I’m sick and tired of reading all of these race reports about how awesome Spanish Lake was before I got there. It’s all about me!

    Way to go man! After reading your race report, all I can tell you is, that’s mountain bike racing. Once those guys get out of sight, it’s like they’re gone forever. You can try as hard as you want, but you can’t put your arms around a memory. It’s over!

    Good job! Welcome to the pain!

  2. Boz says:

    Good job, Bugman. We haven’t met, but I’ve read about you on your blog. I’ve also ridden with Drew Black a few times off-road and in ‘cross practice.

    Put more mtb races on your calendar for next year, they’re fun. I’ll make you a deal, you enter a few mtb races and I’ll enter some crits.

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