Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fat Tire Weeknight Series Race #1

Tonight I raced at the first Fat Tire Weeknight Series mountain bike race at the YMCA Camp Arrowhead. I posted about investigating these trails a few weeks ago.

A week or so ago I stopped into Park Ave Bike shop and talked to the owner, Andy August, about me participating on my muni. I actually worked for Andy at Park Ave Bike Shop back when I was in college, over 15 years ago. He granted me permission.

I've been nervous on and off for the past few days. I've never ridden with a single mountain biker before, much less over 50 of them... racing! I was mostly worried about getting in their way, and envisioned some of them getting pissed at me.

The whole family came with me, which was nice. Before the big race started there was a kids race. Sydney participated in that one, as the ages went up to 7. I was too nervous and busy figuring out where to zip-tie my race number to really watch her. But I hear she did well and she says she liked it. I ended up zip-tying my number between my spokes. #148

Kyle also raced, but in the actually race, as a Junior level. His age group did a single lap. He doesn't really ride his 24" wheel mountain bike on trails much, and before leaving he said he didn't want to race at all. But once we got there he changed his mind. I was a bit nervous for him, because I know there are some challenging climbs and downhills. An inexperienced rider could definitely get out of control and get hurt, or at least very frustrated and discouraged. Plus, despite bringing shorts in the car to change into, he decide to stay in jeans. If he wasn't going to ride, that would be ok, because it was unseasonably cold today, in the lower 60's. But, Kyle is Kyle, and he wore his jeans. He turned out to be ok, but I'm sure some people saw it as a bit weird.

Each lap was supposed to be something like 2 miles.

Experts went first, starting their journey of 7 laps. After about a minute, Sport started their 5 laps. Then beginner with 3 laps. That's where I was. I positioned myself at the back of the group. I got a sudden burst of anxiety as we were about to start, but nothing too bad. The start was actually not at the finish line, but went around the perimeter of a baseball field and passed the finish line. I'm not sure why the finish line just wasn't where we started, but ok.

If you click on the picture below you can see me at the start, though it's a bit of a Where's Waldo. My head is at the corner of the white tent in about the middle of the picture. There's a wheel that almost looks like it must be mine, but it's really the back wheel of a biker. This is just the beginner class and the juniors waiting behind.

As we got going, it became clear that I was slower than all the beginners, but that was expected. I shifted into my Schlumpf for some of the field, but had a UPD towards the end of it. I'm not a big fan of riding on grassy areas because potholes are not easy to detect. That's what got me. It got me again on the second lap. Grr.
Right after the field, I entered single-track, and started feeling winded pretty quick. That happens to be at the beginning of most of my rides. I guess I gotta get warmed up. But it's scary at that point to think how much farther I have to go and I'm already feeling crappy.

I believe there were two Junior classes that started after me. It wasn't long before I was being passed by some of them. I guess that was a bit discouraging, but I hoped I overtake them later. I saw Kyle every once in a while. He passed me too. I was glad to see he was doing well. At one point I helped a kid get his chain back on. At the end of the race he told his parents the unicycle guy helped him. hehe.

The race route was certainly different than what I has test ridden a few weeks ago. In fact, they had made new trails there altogether. There was a pretty significant switchback climb, which unfortunately was too much for me to ride in one go. I did ride a bunch of it, but probably walked at least half. I always feel like I'm doing the walk of shame, but hey... maybe someday I'll be more capable. New trails are always a bit softer and harder to ride, but these weren't all that bad. Perhaps the dozens of bikers ahead of me had paved the way.

Somewhere in that first lap the experts were starting to pass. Pretty much the standard routine was for them to yell "On your left" and for me to hug the right and keep riding, or when the trail was particularly skinny, for me to hop off and stand to the side, often in the weeds. I could usually hear them as they got close, and often didn't need any verbal cues. I got a lot of "Thanks" and a whole lot of encouragement and compliments for riding muni. "That's hardcore!" "You rock!" "You're awesome" "Go uni man!" Much appreciated.

There were some Tryon team riders there too. In the parking lot one of them (sorry!! I forget his name... again) asked if I wanted a Tryon jersey to wear. I asked if he had a small, but he didn't. At one point, he and another Tryon rider passed me and one said something like "Passing teammates!" I'm tempted to interpret that as an acceptance onto the Tryon team. I'm not sure if there's any requirements to do that, or what that would really mean, other than wearing their jersey, but it felt like respect and felt good. I really did get a lot of great compliments throughout the whole event. I really appreciated it all, and don't really feel all that worthy. The other racers were pushing themselves and working very hard too. I'm just using different skills.

Somewhere probably half a mile before my last lap I saw caught up to Kyle and expressed my concern about doing another lap, much less two. I was feeling it in my lower back. But as the course eased up a little bit, I guess I got a second wind. I passed by the finish point and moved on to my second lap.

But soon my back was getting bad again, and after walking up a short steep hill I needed to rest. I decided to down one of my PowerBar energy gels. Tangerine with twice the caffeine! I was hoping it would give me some more energy, but definitely wasn't thinking about it helping my back. But within minutes I realized my lower back suddenly felt just fine. Huh... maybe there's something there. Of course, it didn't last for the rest of the race, but it was great while it lasted. On the topic of nutrition, I used my CytoMax mix in my CamelBak. And about 48oz was enough for the entire race, and post race. But then, it was cool out so I wasn't sweating too crazy.

At one point in my second lap a mountain biker was about to pass in a tight section. I pull over and held onto a small tree. I was on an incline, and after he passed, I unintentionally did a funny pivot thing, turned around and basically fell before I ever got going again. I raked my shin down my pedal, but didn't really think anything of it. It wasn't until the end of the race that I saw I had a small amount of bleeding. And it wasn't until I got home that I noticed some swelling. It's nothing too bad, but it's funny how those kinds of injuries are unnoticed when you're really pushing yourself.

Throughout the race, at certain bridges and open areas, Amy and the kids, and miscellaneous spectators cheered for me. At the end of lap two, I stopped at the finish line. Everyone cheered as if I had finished my three laps. I corrected them and just said I was taking a break.

But even the time keepers looked baffled. Hmm. I was feeling pretty spent, but I considered going for my third lap. I asked for my time to determine if people would be standing around waiting for me at the end. My time at that point was about 55 minutes. And I knew from looking at last years times that some of the expert and sport riders finished at about 1 hour 30 minutes. So I decided to try for another. Amy looked a bit concerned, because that's her job, but I really didn't want a DNF (did not finish) posted.

Lap three didn't seem too bad. I did stop for another energy gel. This time it was a strawberry flavored Clif Shot energy gel. The package shows a coffee cup on it with "1/2". I haven't looked into it, but I guess that's half a cup of coffee worth of caffeine. I any case, it didn't consciously notice any difference after that one, but who knows. Maybe those "x2 caffeine" gels are better?

On one of the final hill climbs of my last lap, I got a crazy cramp in my right calf. Well, I'm calling it a cramp, but it was caused from pushing really hard on the climb. Is that a cramp? Anyway... Holy bejesus! I literally dropped to the ground and rolled around, swearing and groaning for a moment. I stumbled to the high side of the trail and sat there for a few minutes. Probably about six riders passed in that time, and several of them asked if I was ok. "Cramped up. But I'm ok.", I said. Thanks for checking guys. After a few minutes I walked until I had some friendlier flat ground and continued on. I could feel some after effects on my calf, but it wasn't bad.

As I rounded the field in my final lap, my eye caught a small person charging at me from the side. It kind of startled me, but it turned out to be Sydney, and she ran beside me as I finished. I got some good cheer from the crowd.

After chilling for a bit, shaking some hands, and getting some compliments, I walked over to the time keepers to check my time. 55 minutes. WHAT! That was my second lap time, but they had written it in the third lap place! And I had no third lap time written anywhere. Ugh. Thankfully, Amy had been taking pictures of me as I approached, and rider #6 was caught in a picture. Knowing he finished just before me, the time keepers estimated my time. Though once the results are posted I'll have to check. I think they make have just given me his time. We'll see. I think it was about 1 hour 24 minutes.

I think all the other beginners had finished their 3 laps about the time I finished my second. Maybe that explains the funny look when I informed people I had only finished my second lap. In the reports I get from other muni riders racing with mountain bikers, it ALWAYS sound like they pass mountain bikers and finish ahead of some. I guess I'm just not there yet. Or maybe this trail was different. It's hard to say, but I'm at least a tad bit disappointed from that perspective.

On the other hand, on the first lap I couldn't imagine doing any more. And on the second lap I had thought my back was going to break. But I pushed myself and finished the 3 laps I signed up for. So I'm overall pleased with my performance.

It is great to finally know what it's like to race with mountain bikers. Thanks to Andy August of the Park Ave Bike shop for allowing me. Thanks to the countless mountain bikers and spectators who encouraged and praised me. And special thanks to my great family for their support!

I can't say for sure I'll be racing again next week. It will undoubtedly be hotter. But it would be cool to try to beat my time, and continue to represent muni.

My cycle computer says it was 7 miles.

Fat Tire Weeknight Series Race #1 - 2011-06-11


  1. I'd totally be there if I lived close. Sounds like fun and it takes something like this to challenge you beyond your normal riding patterns. Good for you!

    BTW - Why no KH shin guards?!

  2. So far it's been pretty rare that my shins get injured, and I figure guards would be hot and add even more weight on me. Of course, like any insurance, I'll wish I had it after I needed it. Maybe I'll have a chance to try before I buy sometime.

  3. I hit my shins more often than I hit my head! The shinguards are probably the best $75 I ever spent.

    I don't like to ride without having all of my protective gear. A couple years ago I did a hard faceplant that had my wrists sore for a couple months. I was just tooling around in the back yard when I did a bad hop and it went bad fast.

    Hillbilly gloves: required
    KH Shinguards: required
    Helmet: required

    It can get a bit hot under all that but it's not debilitating or anything, just warm.

  4. Sounds like you had another lap or two in you!