After (somewhat embarrasingly) tasting success in the 2 lap “taster” SXC race in round 1, I felt duty bound to step up and actually enter the full 4 lap race at the next available event, which was this weekend at Laggan Wolftrax close to Dalwhinnie. Haven’t managed much in the way of full-on training recently, but I’ve been doing laps around Arthurs Seat whenever I have the chance.
I managed one sighting lap before the race, which revealed that the course consisted of a relentless sustained climb up, followed by a descent back down over a lot of rocks, a little bit of woodland and some fun fast swoopy jumps’n’berms hardpack. It was substantially more brutal than the Cathkin Braes course, and for the first time I felt my hardtail bike wasn’t up to the task. The best thing on rock is to carry momentum so you mostly skip over the tops. The moment you lose momentum, you start hitting each individual bump and it’s energy-sapping. I would’ve gladly swapped out for a full-suss bike!
Onto the race itself. Usually in a cyclocross race I participate in the initial bunch sprint, perhaps 2/3rds of the way down but certainly staying with the pack. At Laggan, the gun went off, I started sprinting with everyone else … and then suddenly the pack was off into the distance at a speed I couldn’t imagine sustaining. I looked behind, and there were two stragglers behind me but everyone else was flying up the ascent at about double what I could realistically do! Ah well, so much for racing. So I settled down at a pace which I thought I could sustain for the planned four laps and went for an afternoon ride. In the end, I was lapped and so only did three laps (about 1h20m riding).
So that was sobering. Out of 22 people in the ‘sport’ category, I finished last out of the 20 finishers (and two DNFs were faster riders than me too). Best laps for other rides ranged from 17 to 23 minutes, whereas I was out at 26 minutes.
So what happened? I think the ‘60% down the field’ results I got in cyclocross are flattered somewhat by the large mix of abilities in cyclocross races. My lap times are typically 50% slower than the winner’s pace, but there are plenty of people slower than me. In this weekend’s MTB race, my lap times were the same – 50% slower than the leaders – but there’s wasn’t a crowd of other computer programmers to keep me company. Everyone else who’d made the 2.5 hour drive to Laggan for the Sport category race was actually really rather awesomely good!
The other new thing for me was the longer duration. Cross races are about an hour so there’s no need to eat or drink. But beyond the hour mark, I need to eat + drink. I realised this just as I was falling asleep the night before the race – one bottle wasn’t going to be enough. So, lacking any helpers, I left took a second bottle and left it on the ground in the feedzone. At the start of lap three, I did a quick exchange-of-bottles and got underway again. That bit worked out fine!
Still, I’m glad I did the race. In some ways, I got more out of finishing last in the sports category than I did from winning the taster category. If it wasn’t for the SXC race, I wouldn’t have thought to visit Laggan, and it’s substantially different from any other MTB place I’ve been to. The vibe at the races is great with noisy spectators and without exception the fast guys who lapped me were friendly and encouraging. I also continue to be amazed the levels of fitness + skills on show at these races. My main reason for doing the SXC races is to keep my fitness vaguely up for Ten Under The Ben, which is now less than a month away. So perhaps it’s now time to do a bit more Serious Training!!