6 long months of training was put to the test last weekend at the Idyllwild Spring Challenge, and the time to beat was 2:15.17. My last race was the Turkey Trot cyclocross in November and since then I've logged lots of hours on the trainer (and wore through a tire), run many miles (which I'm not doing anymore) and re-newed my training focus after buying, moving into, and working on our house. I was pretty nervous that after all the hard work, I might not be able to improve my time from last year. You see, by this point in last season, I had already done 5 XC races and one endurance race (VQ), so I was fully expecting that I was in 'better shape' back then.
With the 12 Hr solo race fast approaching (June 20), I decided it was high time to test myself. We did the ISC last year, and I really enjoyed the course...a good mix of climbing, traversing, and descending; fireroads and singletrack; technical and rip-roaring fast. As far as races go, it is one of the BEST in SoCal.
Dan and I drove up to Allison & Justin's on Friday evening, so that we'd have a shorter drive in the morning and get to hang with our friends for one extra night. The Mann's were our VQ training partners from last season, and with everyone's race/training schedules this year, we hadn't seen each other much. But as one might expect, with good friends, it was like old times. Allison is now a pro XC racer for Sho-Air and is burning up the podium. Justin's now Cat1 and taking his share of great finishes, too.
Dan & Justin wasted no time pimping out the hardtail I borrowed from Steve...Justin kindly lent me his Cobalt wheels, Allison let me try her Ergon grips, and I even got a new seatpost/saddle. All in all, the bike probably lightened up by a couple pounds and felt fast in the parking lot.
Saturday found us up early and on the road for the winding drive to Idyllwild/Hurkey. The parking lot seemed a little more empty than last year, but I was still anticipating my competition. Dan & Justin finalized their plan for feeding bottles to Allison & I during the race while I sat around and Allison started to warm up. We chatted with Luke & James for a bit, and before I knew it, those guys were all off to the start. Our friend Amy arrived...it was her first race ever (and she finished the 19 mile course), so we chatted a bit before I got warmed up.
I've never really warmed up long enough before a race...maybe spun around in the parking lot for 5 min. Justin had me out for about 30 min with 5 short intervals to get my body producing lactic acid. One of my 'downfalls' is that I always feel like the first 5 miles of a race is utter torture....it's because I had never warmed up properly. After my intervals, I stripped off my arm warmers and headed to the start.
So, I'm still a Cat2 racer. I did the '04 season and '08 season (yes, there was 4 years in between where I only raced gravity) as a sport rider but never was serious about training. The Cat1 40-49 and Cat2 women all went off together. Out of the start, I was behind Barbara, but by the top of the first short climb, I was glued to her wheel and feeling good. Justin reminded me not to let myself blow up on the Keen Camp Climb, so I tried to keep my heart rate from going too high. I did peak out at 188, which is the highest I've ever gotten it to on the Garmin. :/ Keep in mind that by the top of Keen Camp, we're at about 5400'. Compared to last year, though, I was uncomfortable but starting to settle into the effort instead of feeling like utter hell.
I kept glancing back because at this point, I was leading the Cat2 ladies out. My competition was behind me by about maybe 8-10 seconds. At some points, she seemed to be gaining on me and closing the gap. At other points, I thought I was pulling away. By the time I got to the top of Keen Camp, I didn't see her and never looked back again.
I rolled through the meadow and tried to remember to take in a gel. It didn't go down well, and I was awkward while trying to recover a bit but keep the wheels moving. Once on May Valley, I tried to keep it in a good gear and spin enough so that I didn't burn out my quads. Soon, I noticed I was passing people (mostly guys), as I kept the effort consistent.
The Buena Vista and Mirkwood trails were a blast...then over to Southridge. Hike-a-bike hell...I got up some of the steep parts I had trouble on last year, but the rock sections seemed to have multiplied. Every 30 seconds I felt like I was off the bike. I passed some more guys and knew that Dan would be waiting for me at the top with a fresh bottle. I saw him and Justin, they cheered me on and I kept on going.
Snakeskin was awful...I didn't remember all the little climbs but I tried to hold Carolyn Popovic's wheel for a while (haha...it worked as long as there was a slower rider in front of her). Finally...Exfoliator! Awesome trail. I was descending so well that I surprised myself. I felt totally 'on'...contrast that to my climbing on Snakeskin where my mantra became "think smart, pedal hard".
By this point, I was excited because I knew it was almost over. The Demoralizer was the only thing that stood in my way, but I had already decided that I was NOT going to walk up it this year. So, I dumped all my gears and grannied up the damn thing. I probably could have walked it faster, but pride was at stake!
You know, despite the effort, I still felt like I had a little bit left in my legs. I couldn't tell exactly, but with the Garmin I knew I had beat my time from last year. Turns out, I finished in 2:06.04, beating my time from last year by almost 1o minutes!!
My stomach hurt for the next 3 hours, and I was not feeling well...I didn't even really enjoy the post-race M&M's, though the $50 I won was pretty sweet (pun intended). I had a great time hanging with everyone and getting back to the race scene. We ended the evening with a great dinner and great camaraderie. Special thanks to Justin for being great race support, to Allison for her encouragement and the sweet grips, and to Dan for believing in me even when I didn't believe in myself.
Can't wait until June 20th!