"For an occurrence to become an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it." ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tracks and Treads Off Road Biathlon

This year the Metro Tri Club organized a new race, the Tracks and Treads Off Road Biathlon.  The race was a 5k on the SIUE Cross Country course (Mud Mountain) followed by an eleven mile mountain bike on the GORC trails.  Robin Rongey stepped up to the position of Race Director and handled the job admirably.  As a racer and a volunteer everything seemed to go off smoothly.
The weather had been threatening rain which would have been bad news for the mountain bike portion of the race forcing us onto the alternate course.  Luckily the weather held and the decision was made to stick to the original course.  This was the news I was wanting to hear since I signed up for the mountain biking more than anything else.  It had been raining during the days leading up to the race so there were a few mud pits but overall the course was in good shape for riding, better shape for riding than I was.  I forgot to mention this was the first time I had ridden my bike this year, and the course was tough.  I learned that mountain bike riding is not quite the same as mountain bike racing.
I got out to SIUE early on race morning because I was volunteering at registration.  I found Robin and asked her what to do, and she quickly rattled off my instructions.  I wrote a couple of notes so I wouldn't forget anything.  It seemed there was a lot to remember, pink bibs, white bibs, race day entry fees, USAT registration, etc.  Volunteering before the race was really contributing to increasing my pre-race stress levels.  Fortunately my friends Jim and Phyllis were there to help out, and I fear that I had to abandon them in their time of need.  When registration was the busiest I had to go set up my transition area leaving them to handle everything.
We received quite a surprise when we discovered that the ROTC was going to be conducting a training exercise (Cougar Strike) out on the course during the race.  In the spirit of cooperation both groups decided to make the best of what was obviously a scheduling error.  The ROTC had the woods and we had the trail.  They even used one of their simulated artillery rounds to start the race.  The BANG was pretty LOUD and there was no question that the race had begun.
I stayed with Jim Cedor and Jake Mongler at the start of the run but decided it would be wise to back off the pace a bit to conserve some energy for the bike.  I always feel really wore out when I run the Mud Mountain course, not sure why maybe it's the grass.  I asked Gary Wilson who was volunteering as a course marshal if I could use his bike about half way through the run.  He thought I was joking.  As I was running up the hill to the transition area I pulled my Honey Stinger gel out of my pocket and sucked it down.  It probably would have been just as fast to do it in transition.  I finished the run somewhere around 24:50(?) not great but there was plenty of race left to either make up time or lose ground.
Once I got into the transition area I was all business (usually I linger a bit too long) because I thought I saw Jim Cedor sitting on his bucket with his back to me.  I hopped on my bike and I was off.  Surprisingly I beat Jim out of the transition area.
On the way to the single track a few guys on cyclocross bikes zipped past me.  Going into the race I figured that I was a strong enough runner to outrun some of the good cyclists, and that they would catch me easily enough in the second half of the race.  So there were no surprises when they passed me.  I will admit that I was a little nervous about the bike portion of the race since my biking skills were a little rusty and the course conditions were not ideal.  Once we hit the single track the guy in front of me went down.  Seriously 20ft of single track and already I am swerving around a downed rider.  I asked if he was alright he said that he was so I kept going.  To be honest I was glad to have an open trail in front of me.  The first section of trail was the one with which I am most familiar, I've ridden it, and run it many times so it was good to shake off the rust on such a familiar trail.  I caught a couple of people and passed them, they were fast runners but not particularly strong mountain bikers.  That's one of the things I loved about this race it brought people together that maybe would have never competed together, and maybe to some degree the playing field was leveled just a bit.  Maybe.  I slowed down so a faster rider could pass me and when I came around a corner there was a huge mud bog, this thing was sloppy and slippery, quite challenge to ride through.  The guy I let pass made it through but I hadn't regained my speed from letting him pass, so what I should have done was dismount and portage my bike across the hostile terrain.  In the split second I had to make a decision I decided to see if I could ride through.  It was one of those decisions that you know is wrong as soon as you make it.  I hit the bog and immediately all forward momentum ceased.  Gravity did the rest.  I said "oh shit!" as I tipped over.  So there I was like a hog in a waller.  My right (top) foot popped right out of the pedal while my left (bottom) foot took a little more convincing.  It was actually kind of a struggle to get my foot out and I was a little panicky thinking that someone was going to come along and use me as a bridge to get across the mud.  There were some ROTC guys in the area and I must admire their professionalism because I didn't hear any of them laughing at me.  They must have recognized me as a veteran and out respect waited until I was out of ear shot to laugh.  Go Army!  I made it to my feet and pushed my bike to the other side of the bog.  Pretty much my entire left side was covered with mud but I wasn't hurt so it was time to get back in the race.
It wasn't long before I was just flat out tired but I kept pushing on, and on.  I caught up to within striking distance of a couple people but I didn't pass and took the opportunity to rest for a minute.  They would pull away from me on the ups and I would catch back up to them on the downs.  That's pretty much how the first loop went. A couple more people passed me in the first loop like John Slosar but I fully expected that to happen it was only a matter of time.  I thought Jim Cedor would have caught me by this time but he was no where in sight.  I encountered a couple more mud bogs on the course and decided because of my previous experience I would dismount and run across.  Looking back I wish I would have tried to make it through, what the hell I was already muddy, and had a change of clothes waiting in the van.  Oh well maybe next time.
I passed the people I was behind just before the second loop, and ducked back into the trail behind the 3rd place woman.  I know she was the 3rd place woman because all of the volunteers would yell "3rd place woman!" at her or basically words to that effect.  I stayed behind her for the rest of the race.  She offered to let me pass a few times but I knew what I had left in the tank, and despite getting a second wind it wasn't much. Since she was fighting for an overall position it was better for her to be in front of me.  Eventually she put a pretty good gap on me so I felt that my decision not to pass was justified.  A couple more people were creeping up behind me.  It was getting close to the end and I did not want them to pass.  I kept thinking of Gandalf at Moira "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!"  Somehow I found the energy to speed things up and by the time we hit the Delyte Morris Bike Path I had stretched my lead on them.  Once on the path I put my head down pedaled like there was no tomorrow.
Now I will be the first to admit that I am not the best rider so I was kind of nervous that on the flat as a pancake Delyte Morris trail they would close the gap enough to catch and pass me on the up hill section leading to the finish.  I didn't want to look back because I was sure that I would see them right behind me.  I got to the end of the DM trail section and turned back on to the Mud Mountain course for the race to the finish.  This section is all grass and was sapping my speed big time.  My legs were screaming at me, but it was almost over.  As I rode up to the final ascent before the finish I tried to stand up to eek out a bit more power from my legs.  Quickly I realized that this was not an option because my legs had nothing left to give.  My only option was the small chain ring.  I clicked the shifter and wouldn't you know it my chain came off.  For the second time in this race I was having an "Oh Shit!" moment.  I know how to put my chain back on but for a couple paralyzing seconds I didn't know what to do.  Something had to be done and quickly before the previously mentioned riders caught up and passed me.  For a split second I thought about picking up my bike and running with it.  Yeah that sounds crazy but I was in full on panic mode.  Good thing for me I came to my senses, flipped the bike upside down got the chain back where it belonged, flipped the bike over once again and hopped on.  Apparently the gap on the other riders was bigger than I thought because they were just now making the turn off the trail to head toward the finish.  I rode as fast as I could and crossed the finish line.  The two riders behind stayed behind, and that made me very happy.  I was completely wore out and was glad that it was over.  This race reminded me of a few things, I hate the Mud Mountain course, I love to mountain bike, and my body is not in as good of shape as my mind tells me it is.
At the transition area I saw Jake and we talked about the course and what not.  I mentioned that I was surprised that I beat Jim Cedor.  Jake politely informed me that Jim had been finished for some time, and as a point of fact I had not beaten him.  So for the whole race I thought he was behind me, and I kept pushing trying to keep him there, haha.  I should have known better since he is a much better rider than I am.  If that was him that I saw in transition, which now I think wasn't, he would have quickly passed me out on the trail with my narrow lead anyway.
My finish time was 1:50:56 which is a good time.  I'm happy with it at least.  I placed 3rd in my age group and 18th over all.
I have to give a big Thank You! to everyone that made this race happen.  The decision to participate was sort of last minute, and it was certainly the right decision.  The race was not that big this year but I am sure that once the word gets out next year's race will be big.  I know I will be back but I am going to need to get a lot faster to compete with all of the strong runners and riders who stayed home this year.
Once again Thank You to everyone involved for putting on such a high quality event.