Sunday rolled around too damn early as I was still trying to recoup from a bit of a late night at the Knoxville Nationals. Actually, it was a really early night for that particular venue considering I was home and in bed by 12:30. In any case, Sunday was forecast to be a near perfect day for a race. A high of around 80, sunny, and perfect. For once the forecasters were right. It was a perfect day for a race.
I loaded my plethora of gear as I prefer to go prepared for anything rather than nothing. I rolled in and was signed up and ready for my pre-ride by 10:45. I got just a bit of flack signing up for the beginner's class again. I was really torn about what to sign up for as I wanted to ride more than a lap, but at the same time I wasn't ready to step up to the big kid's table and ride with the sport guys. I'm sure I could have held my own and finished just fine, but the reality is, I'm a beginner, so why not enjoy the only time I'll ever be classed as such. I headed out with my buddy Keith for the pre-ride.
Almost as soon as the pedals started turning, I knew it was going to be a struggle to get any kind of power out of my legs. Granted, I hadn't chased down an gels or anything other than a Clif bar for breakfast, but still, a severe lack of training does not make a bike racer. As Keith rode pretty effortlessly along, I bungeed back and forth keeping contact with him, but working a little harder than I wanted to just to keep up. There were a couple new climbs that we hadn't done on the Wednesday ride since the course hadn't been marked and a section of ups and downs in the last mile that were surely going to suck some power out of you right at the end. The best addition though was the screaming asphalt downhill at the very end that shot you out towards the finish line near 30 mph.
The pre-ride was done, the other classes were off and one of our group of beginners (2 ladies and 3 guys) made a bet for the first person to pass a sport rider would earn themselves a quick $5. Then we were off 2 minutes down from the sport riders and 7 minutes behind the experts. I hit the trail in 3rd place just trying to keep my head in the game early and not go out too hard. The leader was new to strictly mountain biking, but was an adventure racer. He had some strength and speed on the flat easy terrain, but myself and Kurt passed him pretty handily on the first rough downhill. The downhills were definitely rough as evidenced by the amount of water bottles distributed along the side of the trail.
A couple miles into the lap I slowly passed Kurt and he latched onto my wheel as I'd been riding his since the start. Considering he beat me last week, I was wondering if I'd have enough gas to stay in front. I slowly eked out a gap on the second big climb of the day which was a steep gravel and shale covered climb that was fun for at least one lap. I kept pushing my pace since I knew he wasn't far behind and tried to stay mindful of my heart rate. While I didn't spend as much time above 190 this race as in Boone, I still kept it hovering in the mid 180's for the entire lap.
The double track was nice and flowy allowing for passing with ease. A simple "on your left" was really all that was needed to pass people. Only one slight miscue found me digging myself out of the bushes. Strangely enough, it was on an easy spot. I went to cross a gravel wash at the bottom of the railroad tie hill and my front tire washed out sending me through the boundary tape and into the bushes. I jumped back up trying not to lose much time, but now I was at the bottom of a hill with no momentum so only one thing to do and that was run up the hill. I used to think I would be faster running some spots than riding, but now I'm not quite so sure as it really sucked running that hill. Now we hit the quick hitting ups and downs on the course as we'd climb part way up the hill before descending almost to lake level before turning right back up. A few of these and then we climbed to the top of the park to hit the screaming descent on the asphalt trail that was almost as rough as the doubletrack. I let out a big whoop all the way down the hill as I was having a blast and crossed the line first in the beginner's category.
While I was happy with the result, I got just a minor bit of flack for running as a beginner after all was said and done. I guess as Brian said, I may have taken to it like a duck to water, but in all the fact is, I've been riding bikes for a year and a half, and mountain bikes for 8 months. Now I'm not sure if it smarted that they got passed by a beginner that had a 2 minute start deficit (hey it was easy for me to go all out since I only had 1 lap to run) or what, but it's not like I'm out there scoring money for placing in the beginners class. Shoot, at Boone we didn't even have prizes, but I still had a great time. We all have to start somewhere, but I guess I don't see what's so wrong with keeping myself in check for a couple races and gaining some more skills so I don't run into issues when I move up. Personally, I'd rather not fall off my bike and hold someone else up or worse yet, have someone get hurt because of a bad move on my part.
What do you in the blog reading world think? Should I stay beginner for another race or two (all that's left if I can even make it to the races) or should I move up to sport now just to say I did it?