I've been approaching these early season TBF races as "train-through" races anyway, keeping the big picture in mind (being fast later in the year when it matters more to me), but this past week I made it really hard on myself... mostly intentionally.
First off... I finished 7th, and I'm in no way making excuses and I especially don't want to discount the effort of the guys who beat me. They are super fast and are training hard right now as well. But I'll tell you why I'm pretty darn happy with 7th.
Saturday I had a great day on the Tallboy, getting in about 4 hours of pedal time and it included a good training/coaching ride with one of my clients. We had some beautiful sunny weather and riding in just shorts and a jersey in early March is a gift. That ride had put my tally for the week at 17 hours of riding. That may not seem like a lot to some, but that's already close to a weekly high this year and with one day to go. So I started formulating my agenda for race day... and didn't really stop eating.
I decided since the weather was warmer that I would ride to the race in the morning and get in a nice long warmup. Just as I was suiting up, Jen called and asked if I could grab four bundles of twist ties to bring because they were running out at registration. Clint to the rescue!!! Can do... so I loaded up jersey pockets with twist ties, race fuel, various extra layers and my phone to stream some Pandora tunes as I cruised over. About 45 minutes later I arrived and offloaded the twist ties to save the day (In my head). At this point was my first "crossroads" so to speak... do I eat again? I didn't really feel hungry, kind of, but it was only about forty minutes to race time. I elected to get a little bit more coffee, keep sipping some electrolyte and just start warming up more intensely In hind site, I think I should have eaten at least half of the Clif bar that I had with me because once I started trying to go hard my heart rate just wasn't rising. An indication to me that the I wasn't still fully recovered and the food I was eating was still going to recovery and not fueling. But race time was here, I popped a chocolate Clif Shot (like chocolate frosting Mmmm!), and went to the line.
Now enter agenda item #2... line up at the back... way back. With some big Pro XCT races coming up, I'd be lining up with 60+ other dudes (100 for Sea Otter) and towards the back most likely. So I wanted to make this start as challenging as I could and teach myself how to be comfortable working through traffic at the start. So I went to the back and hung out with the expert women, single speeders, and guys as fit as I can only hope to be in 25 years. When the ten second countdown came I looked down at my Garmin which showed my HR at 68... "uh oh, this is gonna hurt." GO!!! But I hadn't... tick-tock... Ok now here we go!
See me? Yeah... not there in the front!
Highball!), I saw a lane to the left and went for it, shooting to the center and still passing... and now back to the right. The 90 degree corner was coming up so I looked for a lane to overtake a big chunk of guys. Nothing to the inside except a picnic table and no clear lane to swerve to the outside. I'd have to sit in behind all the brakers and try to overtake on acceleration coming out of the corner. The crystal ball in my head suggested that the swarm would swing wide and I would cut hard through the corner and sprint from the inside. It unfolded exactly as planned and I bit off another big chunk of traffic, but I was still way behind. I took the outside line through the next left hander and kept passing until the first choke point between some big rocks. Guys, you can't go three wide into that... brakes!!! I should have taken the jump to the right. Ok, through the rocks and out of the saddle again. I take the outside line on another left, trying to maintain more speed than the rest of the conga, and almost wash out on the gravel before getting onto the pavement. I sprint up the little rise on the pavement, "Go get 'em Clint!!" I hear as I weave through. Still on pavement, I have to fall in line, hard right, then another choke point between some rocks and posts. I see an opening nobody else is taking and I go for it sprinting by... BRAKES!!! JUMP!! Bang! My left foot gets ripped out of the pedal by the rock. That opening wasn't as big as I though it was (uh... yeah... maybe that's why nobody else was taking it?!?!). "That didn't sound good!" Says someone behind me. But everything still worked and I was pretty sure I still had all my toenails. Now into some singletrack... still way behind but this is what I wanted. I have to fall in line as the trees are too close to pass in the grass. There was a bit of pavement coming up so I knew a good sprint was coming. I sit up, relax, and take a few deep breaths... turn... turn... down the bank... GO! I sprint by a few out of the saddle, and then get down as aero as I can, weaving in and out of the draft as I pass before having to hit the brakes behind others as we funnel back into the trail. Nowhere to pass here so I take a few more deep breaths to recover. I look down, my HR is only in the 150's... what the!? I felt like I was putting in a 175+ effort. We make the turn around and the trail widens... "On your left!" And I pass in the weeds... getting back up to speed. Did I mention how much I love how the Highball sprints (especially paired with the ENVE carbon wheels)? Traffic is starting to thin out now as I'm getting closer to the front. A few hundred more yards of trail and we're on the cobble stone levy. A final flat stretch of about 300 yards before really getting into the course and I can see the leaders at the other end already. I go "aero" again and do my best NASCAR "Sling Shot" pass (minus about 799 1/2 horsepower) and TT to the other side. 160... geez. I'd picked off most of them by this point but I think I was still in about 10th or so as I started up the first climb of the course.
Agenda item #3... stay in the big ring. It's not totally out of the question on the flattish terrain of GB, but still hard in some spots with a 42 tooth. I had a few reasons for this. I had been working with my front derailleur and some pliers to get it in a more optimal condition than it was left after knotting up the chain two weeks ago, but I still didn't trust it. Another reason was to be a motivator to keep pushing really hard and the last was to really work on engaging all the leg muscles, use a slow cadence from time to time, and pedal efficiently. I made a few passes up the climb and was sustaining a heart rate around 167 which isn't terrible for me but I felt like it should have been in the mid 170's. I caught a rider as I got up to the top, and did a bit of a supercross style block pass on the sharp left hander before hammering down the hill. I gassed myself on the schwoopy trails out to the "Beek's Bight" parking lot crossing where I could see a couple riders together, one looked like Jim Hewitt and the other was a Santa Cruz / X-Fusion team rider I didn't know. At least now I could see the guys at the front from time to time. But they were still about 10 seconds up and I hadn't seen the front group yet, probably another 10-20 seconds up. And so I chased...
After the main climb and downhill from the "bench hill" on the third lap, I caught a rider just as we hit a little rock garden climb. He took the normal center line and so I went left, standing up to power over and make the pass, BAM! "OOUUGGH!!!" Stem to gut again... chain was off. Ouch. I put it back on and passed the guy at the top of the next rise as he pulled over to let me by... thanks! Ok so there was no catching Neilson, or the front guys, unless they fatigued. So I just kept a strong, sustainable pace in the hopes that my last lap would have some productivity.
As I came through the start/finish to begin my 4th lap, I ditched my empty bottle... throwing it across the finish chute in the general direction of where Jen was in the timing area in the hopes I could find it again later. I heard someone say "Nice throw!" so I don't think I hit anyone :-). I snatched a bottle from the neutral feed zone and took the last of the gel I had with me. But I was already starting to get that empty feeling like it wasn't going to be enough. Not "hungry" but definitely not fueled. I was already having a hard time keeping my heart rate in the 150's and that just got more difficult as the final lap continued. I still made the main climb in the big ring. I still had agenda item #4 to complete: Have a strong last lap and give everything I have. I couldn't see any of the leaders anymore, but I kept pushing. Winding through the trees, hitting my marks, right, left... stay on top of it, pedal, breathe, breathe... 'S' turn ahead... I glance down to look at my HR at the wrong time (144...)... left... OFF LINE! $#!^!! TREE! Miss the bars! Lean! OLAY!!! Whoa! Close one! Only grazed the shoulder... that would have been all bad! Focus... finish... stay smooth... That little mental lapse woke me up for sure! And I started having fun again, jumping and banking off of the trail. Fun is fast! Out to Doton's Point for the final time I could see Ron Shevock. I was getting hungry, totally bonking, but that was more motivation to keep it up and finish. Only 10 minutes left.... push. I caught Ron and we had a nice little conversation about how much this sucked, how much we hurt, and how much Neilson crushed our souls... until I went by and gave the last five minutes of the course everything I had. I came across the line in 2:02:40, 6 minutes back from the Pro winner Cody Kaiser. But that time was faster than the winner's time two weeks ago on the same course, and I was three hours and nearly 50 miles into the day's riding so I was pretty happy with that. And that chocolate brownie Clif bar back at the car tasted SO good!
After some chatting and congratulating with other racers... and as it started to sprinkle (I guess it is still March!), I set off for another two hour coaching ride with another client. The sun eventually came out again and we had some fun on the local trails (with a little pump track action thrown in) before ending up at home where there was food that needed to get in my belly! Five hours on the day, 75 MTB miles with a race in the middle. I was satisfied to say the least with my "spectacular training event," even though I had bitten off more than I could chew to finish on the podium.