I wanted to share my experiences with you from the night race at Marsh Creek State Park. When I first heard about the event, I knew it was one I wanted to do. I have always had a good race at Marsh Creek, with my record being 2nd, 5th, and 3rd for the last three years. The course is nice, with some singletrack, some nice climbs, and some power road sections, which I do not like, but that is because wide open power sections are a weakness for me. Throw in some rocky sections, and some mud and it is a lot of fun. Before we get there though, I want to talk a little bit about my 2009 racing season.
A top five series ranking in the MASS is my goal for the year. It is my last year in Vet 1 Sport as I will officially be old next year (40) and racing in the next age cat. So far, the season has been fairly kind to me, with both Fair Hill races being the exception. I started racing way back in January, finishing 4th out of 60 riders in Leesburgh, VA in the ice and snow. In April, FH 1 was not kind to me because I was not smart at the start. I learned long ago that a finish line sprint at the start of the race is not too smart, but I entered this race with one goal in mind and if the course was only 1/4 long, I would have accomplished that goal. Unfortunately I forgot my previous lessons and I paid the price. The rest of the season has been pretty good to me, finishing just off the podium at many races and coming back late in other races to finish up strong. Granogue 6th. Iron Hill 4th. TdT 6th. Then I got sick after Tour De Tykes. Real sick. Coughing, phlegm, nasty sick. 11 Days of anti-biotics did a number on my body and I finished them the day before FH 2. I started the FH 2 race feeling strong, but knowing I was sick and had not trained in the three weeks prior to the race. Mentally I was blown before I even started. Sure I rode during these three weeks, but I did no intensity. None. And I paid the price. Right from the start, I was off the back and just rode the race instead of racing the race. Everytime I tried to get going, my body said no. My 15th place finish was not good, but it matched my finish from the Spring FH race, one that I was hoping to drop from my score. It was still better than mid pack though and I did manage to stay in the big ring for just about the entire race. It was also my first race on a 26er in a very long time. On the open, fast course, my 29er would have been a big advantage.
After FH, I looked ahead at the remaining races and put together a plan. Marsh Creek was too soon to train for, but I had to start training for the rest of the season. Game on. Tuesday after FH had me doing 5 minute start intervals. Wednesday was hill climbs, Thursday was two 20 minute time trial efforts on the MTB. Love those things.
I arrived to the Marsh Creek venue to find it was very dark. I got lost a few times getting to the venue, but that is to be expected up there as the park is tucked away behind houses and an actual town. Soon after registering, I found Joel Kahney. Shortly after, I met up with Steve McCann and then I saw Kid Chris (Consorto). Cool. We had four strong riders. I got dressed and took a pre-ride with Mark Sanford and Dan McDermott. I got lined up at the front and hoped for the best. Fields were smaller, but it was hard to tell who was in each class. I knew Mark Sanford was there and Chris Yanovich too. Number 1 and 2 ranked in my class and I was currently sitting in fifth place. I stayed close to Chris on the MASS start and I was among a select group of ten riders. I knew Mark had to be very close behind me. I held my position for a bit, then I got myself into trouble in the dreaded open sections by the Dam. I managed to hold my position in the first open section as Mark Sanford rolled easily up to my wheel right before we entered the woods. He coached me through the wet sections as he pre-rode the course earlier in the day and knew where the trouble spots were. I managed to get away from Mark over a really big (3 foot) double log crossing and started the stone road climb back up. Mark came rolling by a few minutes (OK, seconds) later, knowing the open sections were my kryptonite. This open section of the course was over a mile long and I really, really hated that. A few more riders came by and I could not wait to get back into the dark woods. I knew from racing this course last year that a big climb was coming up, one that I had to run with my singlespeed last year but would be able to ride with gears this year. I got most of the way up before slipping out and having to run the rest of the way. The woods were really dark and I switched on my second light so I could see better.
The rest of the race was pretty much all of the same. Some singletrack, some narrow doubletrack, some nice climbs, both long and short ones. The wide open sections were only part of the prologue, so I was happy to be through those sections. Wet trails at the bottom of the park, dry at the top, a lit up ruins house in the middle, and a rock valley that allowed my rear wheel to slide two feet to the right every single time (scary fun). I rode each section as I would my 20 minute time trial efforts. Somewhere out there, the battery for my bar light slid down my bottom tube and it disconnected. After wasting 15 seconds trying to reconnect it while still riding, I gave up and tucked the wire under my cables. I still had my helmet light and if I lost that, I would come to a stop and fix the bar light. I passed the scoring trailer, confused if I just rode 4 miles or 9 miles. See, the course was 1 prologue lap and two laps and I never asked how many times we would cross the finish line. Looking at my watch, I figured out that I was out for about an hour and hopefully had two laps down with one to go. During my last lap, I got passed by a few of the Elite riders that were out before us and rode one more lap. First was Rob L, then a little later Wes came by. When Matt Miller came by in 5th place, I jumped on his wheel for three seconds, then I heard Kid Chris announce his arrival and I backed off so Chris could jump on Matt's wheel. I pointed out that Matt was right there in front of us as he passed me, but Chris told me he was right in front of him all race and he had been trying to close the gap for the entire race. I rolled on Chris' wheel for a short time, allowing him to pull me forward and therefore closer to the finish. The rest of the lap was uneventful and I was surprised how much shorter it seemed (well, duh, it was only 5 miles VS the 9 for the prologue/lap ). After crossing the line, I verified I was indeed done and turned in my chip.
The podium was kind to me as I finished in 3rd (of 5 riders) and scored the points that go along with 3rd, moving me up in the overall Vet 1 rankings. Awards started about 1:50 AM and looking at the pictures, it was pretty clear I was sleeping on the podium. My only podium this year so far and you would think I could look happy? I know I felt happy and smiled, so I think the posted picture was taken early in my 15 seconds of fame. I think this finish places me solidly in 4th place, but I am not taking the time to do that math right now. Once we get past 7 races, the posted points mean nothing unless you account for the best 7 races for each rider. Prior to this race, the rider in 4th has one extra race than I do and the rider in 6th has one less race than I do. The 4th place rider has beaten me the last two races by a small margin and is a great climber. The rider in 6th was the de facto champ in Vet 1 Sport last season as the rider awarded the championship upgraded to Expert once the title was locked up mid season.
As far as team points, prior to this race, we were in 5th place. I think we may currently be in 4th and we have some work ahead of us to make it to third as Bike Sport had a ton of riders out there on Saturday night. When I joined this team, it was with the vision that Allied Milk would be a top three small team in the MASS. It has been a great ride and I hope we finish that ride up strongly. I trained quite a bit in the off-season, losing 25 pounds of extra body mass and training like never before, scouring the internet and training books to learn how to get better, as well as bugging all of my racing friends for training ideas. I left a team I have been riding with since 2003 (first as the Wooden Wheels team and then Henry's Bikes, with a core group of riders all moving at the same time), give or take two seasons where I was lucky enough to be sponsored by Fort Frames, where I starred every week as pit master for the Elite team after racing the C and B Master's races earlier in the day. I gave up cyclocross last year to focus on MTB for 2009, allowing myself to build a good base in the off-season instead of racing myself silly year round. I am just an average racer that has had to work hard for the results I have earned and I know that I still have a lot of work to do to get where I want to be, but I am passionate about this sport and goal oriented. I wanted this season to count and I wanted to be on a team that wanted the same things I did. I know that Dan wanted a team podium when we talked about it over the winter. I know from Saturday night that Joel and Steve want it. I know Kid Chris wants it - why else would he be chasing down Cannondale sponsored riders for a 5th place finish at 1:45 AM instead of being out late partying like other 22 year old males?
So for the rest of the season, I have laid down a challenge to myself to finish up on the podium at each race and keeping myself firmly positioned in the top five ranking in the Vet 1 class. I am facing my kryptonite at Sewell this weekend, the land of super-fast big ring riding and few climbs or technical sections. I know it will be the hardest race of the series for me, for I am at home when the riding is technical, the climbs are long, and the conditions are horrible. I get by with my skills and average fitness. But I am facing my demons on Saturday. The rest of the MASS season is important to me and to my teammates. Who knows where we will be next year or what will happen with the MASS? Things could change a lot, but rather than focus on next year, let's focus on the rest of this season. The only thing that matters now is the next four MTB races if we want to podium. On Saturday, we will be in the belly of the beast, slaying the D and Q dragons who I think are now right behind us in the Small Team rankings due to our Saturday night performances. They have been close to us all season and I get to directly take on one of their riders who will be in his element on this power driven course.
Thanks for listening to me. I hope to see you all at the Summer Sizzler on Saturday.