I lined up on Saturday morning for the Limestone Canyon race. I've resolved to race more often in 2019, and with Tahoe off the table, I've been looking for smaller, closer options. Limestone certainly fit the bill.
A peek at the course map and a bit of Google satellite imagery magic was nearly as good as a pre-ride. I printed out a little cheat sheet that combined course cues with a tactical plan:
|4.0||RIDGE - 2 KICKERS|
|10.0||GO GO GO|
I hoped I'd need the tactical info, but honestly I know where I stand in the Sport class pecking order. Just the same, it was really nice to have that on my top tube out on the course as a way to measure my efforts, and especially to know when to expect turns, climbs, etc.
It was clear from the map that there were basically two key points on the course. I figured that at mile 5.1, where the major climbing topped out, whoever was out front would probably stay there. And the best opportunity to be ahead at mile 5.1 would to go to the riders at the front when the fire road funneled onto singletrack at mile 2.
So the funnel onto singletrack would be the first selection, and the last two climbs on the ridge would be the second.
So I wasn't surprised when the race organizers told everyone at the start of the race: "Get your passing done by mile 2."
I mentally prepped for a lung-busting start, and hoped that the relatively flat singletrack to the first climb would provide a chance to breathe & find a sustainable rhythm.
Someone yelled, "GO!" and we were off.
I clipped in clean, and headed onto the fire road sitting top 10(-ish?), and tried to spin my way into solid position.
I don't think I was ruthless enough in passing. Several times, I let gaps form a wheel or two ahead of me, and had to catch the wheels of passing riders to get around, rather than pushing around myself. That might be smart racing (maybe?), but it felt like I was falling farther and farther back.
I'm reminded of a line from Sean Yates's book: "The field is going to split, and you're in the wrong half. MOVE UP."
By the time I hit the singletrack, I was sitting maybe top 15, felt, race stupid and my legs were toast. I figured the leaders were well up the trail and maybe I was hanging onto the back of the second group. I knew I'd have nothing left for the ridgeline if I didn't get my HR down, so I dropped a couple of gears, and tried to spin my way up the climb as easily as I could.
By the time I reached the ridgeline, I knew dialing back the intensity was a good call, but I also had no idea if there was anyone left behind me.
At that point, I got into the headspace that works for me in this situation: If there is anyone benind me, I want to hold them off. And if anyone ahead crumbles or has a mechanical, I want to be in position to capitalize. So I pushed on.
Right on cue at mile 5, the trail started down, and I let the bike run. It was really nice to be able to push over the top knowing I'd have a long descent to recover.
I passed a few riders on the way down through the canyon. One or two were completely shattered, granny-gearing it home, and most were coasting. In the past, the flats have been where I felt extremely weak, but I found that my recent training was doing me good. I didn't feel powerful, but I certainly had the gas to hold a fast pace down through the canyon, which was satisfying.
The final, short climb up to the ridgeline singletrack went easily enough. The trail was far more groomed than anything earlier in the course, which was nice, but I was well aware that I could push too hard, or I'd detonate.
The ridgeline singletrack was... not that much fun. It was loose and rocky, and several little downhills had become rutted, narrow funnels full of loose gravel. Throw in big prickly pear cacti here and there, and I found myself worrying far more about not getting hurt than about going fast.
Once I hit the fire road at mile 10, I just hit the gas and made sure to hold off anyone who might be close behind. I took a couple of looks behind me, didn't see anyone, and knew I'd probably be fine if I just held my pace.
The coast stayed clear all the way to the finish line. Final place: 9th out of 13 in Sport Men 36-49.
That's... pretty much what I expected. I was hoping for a solid mid-pack finish, but I felt like I rode better than I expected, and I see what I need to do to prep for future races.
First, I need to get leaner. I'm just carrying around way too much fat to be competitive. The single most obvious difference between the Beginners and the top of the Sport class is their body makup. Lots of bellies in the Beginners and slower Sport riders (myself included). Zero excess body weight on the podium.
Second, I need to continue the structured training I've been doing. I felt so much better after this race than any other race I've done, and I felt like I was much stronger later in the race than I would have been a few months ago.
And third, any prep for future races needs to simulate the classic local XC race start: 2 miles of fast fire road followed by steep singletrack climbing.
But I did a little number crunching, and I feel like moving up to a top-5 finish next year is doable. With a 1:05:00 finish, I was just 8 minutes off the podium, and just 10 minutes behind the winner. That's a big chunk of time, but getting 10 minutes faster on this course over the next year or so feels doable, and the math checks out.
Basically, extrapolating from my recent efforts on Coachwhip, I might be able to take a minute off my lap time each month. If I do that every month for a year, I'm on the podium. If I do any more than that, I win.
That definitely feels like something worth working for. I'd love to come back next year and post a top-5 finish or better.
So, today I did my endurance miles, and tomorrow it's intervals. The work continues...