Friday, March 31, 2017

Hill Country Challenge Race Report

Although I wasn't initially planning on it, it looks like I'm gunning for points in the TMBRA Spring series, since I raced Mellow Johnny's, and have now made the trek down to Comfort, Texas for the Hill Country Challenge.

Bryce and I drove to Comfort via Fredericksburg (where I had what has to be the most awkward dining experience ever) and set up camp at Flat Rock Ranch. We had pre-paid $30 to camp and ride for both of us from that evening through the next day, which was super simple. The campground is big and open with lots of space for people to camp however they'd like. We found a few shade trees and settled in. I didn't have time to pre-ride before dark, but my legs were tired from a lot of riding in the previous week anyhow, so I was OK just relaxing!

That morning I got up and rolled over to the registration table where I picked up my bike plate and learned what signs I'd need to follow for the Women's Cat 3 race. Cat 3 did one loop of the "lower loop" which was 11-12 miles long.

At roll-call we realized we had 8 women in our group, which was really fun! Sometimes at races there is a really low number of women, which helps podium chances, but makes you not push as hard since you know the competition is thin. I was excited to see how I stacked up against a deeper field, as we'd only had 5 at Mellow Johnny's. The woman next to me was actually 42, and said she was racing in our age group (30-39+) because the 40+ group was tougher and she wanted to place. That is definitely not the spirit of the rule according to USAC (they intend it to be for really strong Masters riders who want harder competition, not easier) and I was annoyed by it, but, that's racing!

At the whistle we charged up the hill at the start and continued a climb for almost the first two miles, which varied from wide open jeep trail to switch-back single track. It was definitely not easy! I cranked along, knowing I was in 4th, and came to the first marked drop/ledge. I am pretty fearless with descending, so I went ahead, and pretty well had it until I needed to juke around a rider with a mechanical and flipped my bike. It was slow-mo, and more of a dumb handling mistake than a real crash, but frustrated me that I was then suddenly back in about 7th place as riders caught and passed me while I dusted off my knees and my pride. (Thankfully, my new knee pads had come in, and they work!)

The trail was nearly 900 feet of climbing in total, and that came in large chunks at a time, but it had some really fun downhill runs and drops, too. I caught my teammate, who had stopped to help a young boy with his flat (she is a much nicer person than I am) and she and I rode closely for much of the rest of the race, I leap-frogging with her on downhills and she tailgating or passing me on uphills. With our powers combined, we'd be hella racers for sure. Eventually I pulled ahead as I rode a few obstacles that she walked, and was excited to pass a few women in the last mile or two.

I can tell my climbing continues to improve, and could feel the difference when I consciously shifted my weight in the saddle and concentrated my efforts in being efficient. I also added a 40T cog to my cassette, which made a HUGE difference on the steeper parts!

I ended the race in 4th place, just one minute behind 3rd. I was irked that I was so close and my dumb wreck is likely what set me back from the podium, but no use in dwelling, just try harder next time!

My other friend won the 40+ age group because she is incredibly fast, and we enjoyed swapping thoughts and stories from the trail as everyone rolled in to the finish line. The mountain bike racers I've met are all so nice and fun and welcoming to their competitors. It truly makes the racing experience fun! I think it's because there is a certain level of advantage to having a nice bike, but XC racing is about your strength and stamina- about the machine, and not the machine's money. That kind of parity takes the pretentiousness out of the sport that is often found in road triathlon, at least for the women I'm racing. I really enjoy it, and after reading that the series winners need only race 3 races for series state champ points, I'm eager to keep going. The best 5 of 8 count for points, and since I'm already at 2, I might as well try for three more and see where I land! So, see y'all at Pace Bend!

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