Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Race Report: Domnarski Farm

Sunday was the annual Domnarski Farm mountain bike race in Ware, MA, part of the Root 66 series.  Last year, as my only mountain bike race of the year (and only perhaps my 5th race ever), I fell in love with this course.  It is unforgiving, with 1200 feet of climbing; it is technical, with at least half of the course being rocky singletrack; and at 10 miles, it's short.  All of this is good for the kind of riding I do.  So I headed down to Ware and met my old man, a good rider who hasn't been on the bike much but entered the race regardless in his tye-dyed tank top.

Mountain bike racing is divided into 3 categories.  I race Cat 2, also called "sport", because supposedly we're "sporty"...somewhere between elite and weekend warriors. Unlike distance runners, who are spoiled for choice, mountain bikers choose between perhaps 20 races in New England from April through September, mostly encompassed within two race series'.  As far as level of competition, picture your local 5k road race; now cut out the back half of the pack.  What remains is a rather serious group.  This is what a mountain bike race feels like.  Mountain biking suffered a decline in participation after a big boom in the 90's, and while it's now recovering, the racers seem to be a core group of serious riders. Still, the division of riders into 3 separate races, and the further subdivision into age groups (which is how everyone judges their progress and finishes) seems to water it down too much.  I'd really like to race against the big guns and be able to directly compare my time and finish.  But I'm an outsider to the sport, so I shouldn't voice my opinion too loudly.  Not with runner chickenlegs, with all their hair and whatnot.

At any rate, the Cat 2 race goes off, and I'm riding within my wave of 30-39 year olds.  The 20-29 age groupers started 2 minutes in front; the 40-49's are behind me; and the Pros and Cat 1 older gentlemen are perhaps 5-10 minutes in front.  The result is a tight sprint for trail space as it immediately narrows onto singletrack, jostling within your little group.  This year, folks were very polite all 'round; not always the case.  I hammered the first big climb (which more or less comprises the first mile or two of the race) knowing that a 10-mile race is really only just over an hour, and therefore calls for a high aerobic effort throughout.  I redlined up the first part of this climb, passing a guy in my group and disgruntling him in the process.  (It is a distraction and a confidence crusher...which is half of why I pass people right away.) He says "You DO know it's a TEN MILE race, right?", to which I replied, "Yes, I like hills".  I never saw him again, so he probably felt a bit silly.  I hadn't fought hard for position right away, so I spent much of the first 3 miles catching guys in my age group, passing them, and hoping I wasn't pushing too hard too soon. But again...a 1- hour bike race calls for a flat-out effort from gun to tape.

I felt best on the technical singletrack, but unlike in previous races, I didn't lose much ground on the faster trails and downhills.  For once, the big-gear pushing required in these sections-- not a forte of a skinny runner-- felt good.  Maybe the weight lifting and relative lack of fast running (ok, general sucking-ness at running at the moment) has given me more bike-leggedness.  But the only place I really felt at home was the tough stuff, and I worked through what felt like the rest of my age group (there were 11 of us) and was soon passing Pro or Cat 1 women and some older Cat 1 men.  I found myself yelling out of joy after clearing some tough obstacles, ones that I probably wouldn't ride through cleanly at training pace.  One of the best moments was working the long climb in the sun on the powerlines, right next to an older Cat 1 gentlemen, me yelling encouragement and being genuinely thrilled at this grinding effort in the 90-degree sticky air.  It was freaking glorious! Back in the woods, reaching the highest climb with a view out over Ware or some other town, there was some running and hiking with the bike as a gaggle of riders from all sorts of categories hit a section of rock walkups.  I took advantage of the collective anaerobia up top and blasted down the other side, with 3 miles to go, before others caught their breath.  Again, only an hour race, no reason to worry about oxygen debt; there's plenty of time for the legs to recover on the downhill. Blasting down from the top of this point required getting so far behind the saddle that my butt almost dragged on the back tire.  A few more technical sections and the final 2 miles was mostly wide, fast trail, with a screaming-white-knuckle final descent into the finish, where I (apparently) barely held off the 2nd place finisher from my category.  I won my age group in 1:03:18, a minute faster than last year, but considerably better given the heat, and a considerably better placement.  My first 'win' on a bike, and the time was the 3rd fastest of the Cat 2 race, which was the most encouraging part.  My old man rode to finish, riding somewhere around 1:50, not bad considering the course and his lack of biking.  I think I may have talked him into getting on the bike more and more fully comprising a "Team Best" at some other races, as we've done in the past.

This result, and how good it felt (I had plenty of legs left) makes me think I should focus a bit more on the remaining bike races I have on my calendar.  It was also apparent that the limiting factor for me now on the bike is how fast I can negotiate the terrain, not my bike endurance, which is a surprising result.  A longer race might even suit me because I didn't leave 100% of my energy out on the course over these 10 miles.  If I can have a few more results like this, I'll upgrade to Cat 1 next summer, something I never really thought I could do. Thus far, the biking appears to be fitting nicely with the kind of running training I'm doing, so long as I don't get delusions of running fast road races anytime soon.  Which hopefully I'll keep in mind next weekend at Lake Wyola, the only road race I'll run all year most likely, where Matt will attempt to whoop me and my busted achilles/lack of fast training will pose quite a challenge.  Onward!

....hopefully I can mine Matt Domnarski's race photos when they're up and post a nice photo of me and the other "podium" finishers.  I'm not ashamed of the vanity.

Full results:  http://root66raceseries.com/results.cfm

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