On the way home from racing yesterday, I heard Steady as she goes by the Raconteurs on my favorite Sirius Channel, Alt Nation. The song reminded me of how I look at endurance MTB racing. When doing a long race, I find that it is much better to just get into a groove rather than go too hard. In my opinion, you have to find your happy place and stick with that pace. Going too hard at the beginning of a long race for too long is a sure way for me not to finish strong. I was able to test this theory of mine again at another ultra race on Sunday at the WVMBA Wayne Ultra in Leith, OH.
The Wayne Ultra race was a 42 mile XXC race, which is part of the WVMBA Ultra Endurance MTB Series. The 42 mile race was primarily made up of single track trails, but also included a few fire roads and some paved roads thrown into the mix. The start of this race (about the first 3 miles) was pretty interesting because it had a controlled pace monitored by a motorcycle rider. Before the start, he gave us very clear instructions not to pass him until he sounded his horn for the official start. Within the first hundred feet of the unofficial start of the race, a few of the crazy WV Night Club Riders jumped a dirt pile and passed the pace motorcycle. The motorcycle came to a stop and made all of the riders regroup and again told us to stay behind him. He then proceeded to ride at 7mph with all of us behind him in complete frustration with the slow pace. I have done many races with a controlled start, but never one that had to be followed so strictly and so slowly.
Anyway, this caused Andy to blow a gasket after about 2 miles of this crap. He sprinted around the motorcycle and went up the road like he was attacking a road racing peloton. He then proceeded to tell the MC rider to DQ him for not following the pace and off he went on his own up the road. At the time he did it, I thought maybe he had to pee or something and was riding up the road to relieve himself. But, no, Angry had his own agenda for the day, showing his disgust of the slow pace by removing his number plate, but continuing to race. He actually did finish quite well in fourth place....too bad it didn't count for anything. Remember, Andy, steady as she goes next time.
Being the calm, cool and collected person that I am (unlike Angry), I was able to maintain my composure and ride behind the motorcycle even as silly as I thought the slow pace was. I kept pedaling in an easy gear, spinning my legs, waiting for the first big climb that awaited our arrival. I attacked hard at the base of the climb, mostly to separate things before the single track. My strategy seemed to work and a group of about five of us created a gap on the other racers. Our group soon caught Andy in the woods. I said to him " I think you are DQ'ed" and he said he knew, but was going to race on anyway...crazy kid!
Tim Carson was flying in the early single track and after having my life flash before my eyes on a super steep descent, I was more than happy to let him ride away. I had found my pace and was just going to ride my own race like I have done so many time before. Our group of five began to splinter after about 10 miles or so and I then found myself all alone in second place. Ben Ortt caught me at a check point before a long climb about mid race or so, but I was able to open up a gap on him by the top of the climb and also gain time back on Carson. For the next ten miles to 15 miles, I saw Tim about 30 seconds up the trail from me, but I could not close the gap. Finally, on a long flat fire road section leading to the last check point, I was able to close the gap and get around Tim before the next section of single track.
At this point, with about ten miles remaining in the race and all of it seeming to be point straight up, I knew that I needed to ride a hard pace to put time on Tim before the long final descent to the finish. By the time I crossed the finish line, I created about a 5 minute gap over Tim and finished in first overall. It was definitely a fun race with some good single track. My finishing time ended up being 3 hours and 49 minutes. It felt like I had a little bit of an unfair advantage during the race because I did not use a single speed. I actually decided to do the race on a 1x9. It was the first time I have used a 1x9 for doing a MTB race and I must admit that I did enjoy it. I used a 36 tooth in the front with an 11x34 on the rear and it seemed to work perfectly for me. It was definitely a good course to use gears on because of all the steep climbing and the fast fire road sections. I don't think that I would have been able to get the overall win on a single speed at this race. I could get use to using a 1x9, but I will more than likely be using my single speed set-up at the majority of the races I do.
So, my theory of keeping it steady passed another test. I am hoping that one day Andy will find his inner Zen and also learn to keep it steady. Happy Trails, Gerry