7 oaks rec area in Boone seems to be the one course in Iowa that is spoken about in hushed tones. You here whispers of it in dark corners and people tend to be at a lack of words when you try to directly question them about it. The moons aligned this weekend and I was able to take some time to find my way to Boone for my first mountain bike race.
With the perfect storm of my lack of training, the fact that Boone seems to be regarded as extremely difficult, and my first off road race, I decided beginner was the way to go. Call me a sandbagger if you will, but we all have to start somewhere. I pre-rode about 80% of the course and realized that even on the beginner loop, I was going to be in for some hard work. Talking over with the race organizer's, it was a question of whether we should do 2 or 3 laps and I felt to get our money's worth we should do 3 since the pre-ride took less than 20 minutes.
6 of us towed the line for a sprint up the gravel road and into the singletrack before hitting a pretty gnarly and rutted descent before we made a 180 to start the real portion of the beginner loop. Apparently all the gravel riding this winter paid off as I drilled it from the start and made it to the singletrack with a small gap on the rest of the field. Coming into the section I pre-rode, I felt a little more confident and kept my pace high. I cleared all but one obstacle on the first lap and came out with somewhere around a 30-45 second lead over 2nd place. I may have went out a shade too hard as I was starting to feel it coming into the 2nd lap.
I unravelled on this lap. I was just gassed enough that I could make it up to the obstacles, but not clean them. I fell, I flipped and I rolled somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 or 6 times on this lap. I lost my entire lead and let two guys by. Damn. By the end of the lap, I had caught back and passed one of the guys, but the leader was now long gone. Towards the end of the lap I started feeling some pinching in my left shoe. I wasn't sure what it was and it didn't feel very good, but what can you do? I kept the pace as pushed as I could and was starting to regret that I had voiced my opinion that we needed to do 3 laps.
By the start of the 3rd lap, I was in 2nd, but not by much. I had one guy breathing down my neck and I wasn't sure how many more were behind him. I knew I didn't have much left in the tank so I decided early on that I'd be much quicker jumping off the bike and running the obstacles I knew I would have trouble cleaning versus trying them and falling. This would be what saved my goose. I was faster than the guy behind me on the riding portions and he was having to run the same areas I was so I wasn't losing ground. I finally put some time back in the bank and just focused on drilling the rest of the lap without hammering a tree or any other equally gnarly fates that you might find at 7 Oaks. All in all I made it to the finish line in 2nd place and I think less than a minute behind the first place rider.
Some fun facts and stats for just the beginner portion of the ride can be found here. Probably my favorite stat is that I reset my max heart rate to 197. On the final lap I was way beyond gone and heard my computer beeping at me. I looked down to see it wasn't just my head telling me that I was about to go beyond the point of no return. My previous best was 195 BPM and I had set my max at 196 figuring that was a pretty safe figure. Now I just need to figure out how I can get those numbers down to more manageable levels. Any tips?
Alas, with mountain biking, podiums apparently are shunned as we gathered around to here the awards. A number of the death squad members had a pretty good day. They rolled all the way through the expert, single speed, and sport classes, but nary a mention was made about the beginners. Hey, I know we're the little guys, but a shade of recognition would have been cool. All in all a good day to race.
Oh, and about the title, I still don't know how to climb... I just happened to get a lot more practice at it today.