Thursday, June 1, 2017

That Escalated Quickly: My Cat 3 Season

When I began looking at my plans for the 2017 season, I was focused on XTERRA, training for Worlds, and preparing myself to compete at that level. I began riding with MOD Cycling last fall and, on a whim, signed up for my first real MTB XC race in Austin (I raced in Wichita Falls last August for fun!) so I could race with my new teammates and check out new trails.

Little did I know that was my first hit, and I'd soon be hooked! What was supposed to be one fun race before tri season turned into a full competitive season racing for the Cat 3 Women's 30-39 Title- and guess what? I won! Although I was lax on doing race reports, I wanted to write a summary of my XC Spring Season to ensure I captured all the fun, the memories, and the lessons I learned. When racing picks back up in the Fall, I plan to "cat up" to Cat 2 racing, which will push me harder than I've ever raced before, so I want to make sure I have this stuff somewhere I can go back to and smile, you know, when I'm ready to die later.

Mellow Johnny's Classic

This was the first race I went to, which I wrote about here. Of all the events, I think this was still my favorite. I approached it with no fears, pressures, or expectations- just went out there and raced against myself to see what would happen, which ended up being one of my highest finishes at 2nd place! I am really looking forward to this one next year to see how my time compares (per lap, since Cat 2 does twice the distance of Cat 3!) and how my skills are doing on some of the more technical uphills on this course!

Hill Country Challenge
This race happened to fall on a weekend when we had nothing else to do and an itch to go camping, so away we went! I actually did write up a report from this! (And then fell off my blogging wagon.) The race was hot, and it was hard, but it was also what spurred me to go ahead and plan to race the full season. I figured I already had two races, why not go for more and see where I landed? I was having fun, seeing BIG improvements in my technical and climbing skills, and entry fees for MTB races are mercifully cheap. This race also solidified my love of the off-road community, especially the women I race against. They are friendly, fierce, and FUN, and yes that alliteration was on purpose. But seriously, this community is full of strong competitors who are amazing at what they do, and yet the peacock attitudes and extra aggressiveness I've experienced in other racing atmospheres has never been present. I placed 4th, and vowed to start working more on my climbing- beginning with adding a bigger climbing gear to my bike!

Pace Bend Race

I've started writing about this race several times, to only stop again. This race was a challenge. Not only because of the broken finger I got during pre-riding and the incredibly technical course, but also from an emotional standpoint. During this race, TMBRA experimented with starting the 13-15 and 15-18-year-old boys behind us, rather than in front of us. (Start order was something that changed throughout the season. Race organizers explained to me that it was due to requests from different racers and they were working on finding what worked best.) Normally, the women get caught in a tangle of young boys who are inexperienced and sometimes not the best at yielding the trail to faster women behind them. Well, by starting them behind us, but only by two minutes, we had those faster, but still young and inexperienced racers, coming from behind and passing illegally - on both sides, on downhills and obstacles, without calling out, and so forth. I was pushed off the trail, two other women wrecked due to being pushed off the trail, and the rest experienced frustration in one form or another. In my case, it forced me to fall back far enough (when a pack of 10 boys pushed past me without calling out, forcing me to stop off the trail because I was sideswiped wheel-to-wheel by one) that I was unable to catch back up and be as competitive as I could have been. It was disheartening, but in the end, we still had a great race. I received a reply to my email from the TMBRA staff about my concerns and hopefully, they are moving to separating the Junior racers from the adults more, which I think is a great solution. I placed 3rd, and got to meet a fellow XTERRA racer who is also going to Worlds this year! (Unfortunately, she's in my age group! ☺)

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Big Ring Challenge- Cancelled

This race was actually canceled due to permitting issues, which was a big bummer. It caused the points system to be modified from best 5 of 8 for Cat 3 to best 4 of 7, which made it fair to those of us who planned to use this race as our 5th race and would have otherwise not had another chance for points. Instead of racing, I decided to try my skills at the Goodwater Loop, an IMBA Epic trail that circles Lake Georgetown. I endo-ed my bike on my return trip along some very sharp rocks and ended up with my first stitches ever! Check it out- it was grossly awesome! Lesson learned: Do NOT be too lazy to wear your knee pads, you nitwit!

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The Warda Race

This was the final race in the series and a blast on many levels. Not only did I have to race my absolute ass off thanks to the non-technical course and a super strong field, but it was the capstone on a season that began with riding on this very same course. During the Dirty Dozen relay back in February, I was unable to ride the whole course, having to dismount and walk many of the climbs, making my max average speed about 7.8mph. This time, I rode ALL of it (aside from one slick concrete climb I was worried was wet) and conquered the entire course. My Strava file was littered with PRs and my overall speed was 9.6mph! I finished 2nd, just seconds in front of my teammate behind me! Our whole women's race was encouraging, engaging, and a ton of fun, from pre-race jitters to post-race party. I think we all loved seeing how far we had come in our first season!

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Overall Results + Pay Dirt

Points-based series systems always cause me to get overly competitive, and force me to race more races than I plan to. (Which is exactly the point from the race promoters' perspective, so, good job, y'all). Next season, in Cat 2, racers are only able to miss 2 races, rather than 3, and those at the top tend to race nearly all of them. Also, Pay Dirt, which involved volunteering for at least 10 hours of trail work at local parks to get extra points, is practically a requirement if you're dreaming of the podium, whereas this season, only two Cat 3 women got Pay Dirt points (myself and one other.) I love the Pay Dirt program because it encourages those of us who are using the trails and parks to give back by helping to maintain them, or even build new ones. I shoveled mulch for 10 hours for mine, and it was well worth it!

In the end, I raced enough races and finished high enough that I got the overall champion title for my age group. It was a great "rookie" season! I am not required to move up to the higher category next season, but I think it's the right move. The races are longer, which would prepare me better for XTERRA season, and racing against women I KNOW are faster than me will push me to get faster myself. I have fallen seriously in love with XC racing, and am already jonesing to sign up for my next one! Thanks to all of my fabulous fellow competitors, new friends, and fellow lady mountain bikers for all of the amazing times this season- you all did awesomely!

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