My first mountain bike race ever. This sure was a good one to pick. Long enough to be a challenge. Reasonable climbing of 2700 feet total elevation and non-technical riding. Just my thing. The race switches directions every year. This year the race went from Indian Lake to Inlet, NY.
Since Black Fly is an unsanctioned race the categories are self selected. Obviously the age and gender is non-negotiable (well for most) the class for mountain bike is either beginner, sport or expert. I decided to go with beginner since this was my first time ever. Felt like a logical choice.
Heading into the race we had a lot of rain. In fact it rained all day Friday and they were calling for more on race day. I choose not to pay any attention to that because it was a variable that I couldn’t control. As it turned out the temperatures at the start where in the low 60’s and the sky was cloudy. Actually not bad weather for a bike race.
As we lined up for the start one of the first things I learned about the beginner category is that they wanted us to start near the back of the pack. The cyclocross bikes had first dips followed by expert, sport and then beginner. All of the sudden I was beginning to question my choice of self selected classification. To be clear, I am no sand bagger. I had no visions of glory that I would actually get a podium finish even if I did start as a beginner. I really thought I would have no chance of doing very well at all. This would be a surprise later.
As the race rolled out the testosterone fueled cyclocross studs where off to the races while the rest of the peleton consisting of the mountain bikes followed behind. The start of the race is on a paved road and immediately goes on a slight uphill. I quickly figured out that I should start passing people more out of trying to find space to ride than anything else. After leaving town the road eventually turned to the left. Another paved section followed by dirt.
While riding on the paved section in the first 10 mies I was going at a nice hard but steady effort. Nothing crazy rather just trying to get my feel for what others around me wanted to do. I treated it like I would a road race. I was looking for people to work with in the bunch. That would prove a little more difficult than one would expect. I kept finding a bunch, sitting on a wheel and then deciding that it was just a little slow for my liking. Not to long after I found a very tall guy on a mountain bike who looked like he had done the race before. He was also a great guy to draft off of because he was so tall. I got on his wheel and traded places with him for the majority of the pavement and the early dirt road sections. The race turned to dirt and would stay that way for the next 25 miles or so.
The climbing began in earnest on the dirt road. The climb was gradual with a few kickers here and there. I was feeling good. I was climbing well and within my limits. I continued to pass people on a fairly steady clip. My tall friend was still near by and willing to exchange a wheel every now and again. I’ve often said one of the greatest things about doing endurance events is when there is sometimes a lull in the action and an opportunity to chat with your fellow suffering companions often presents itself. I decided that I would start chatting up the tall dude.
Tall dude looked to be in his 50s. Very thin and extremely fit looking. As we were both side by side grinding our way up the dirt road climb I told him that he’d look liked he had done the race before. He replied and said that he hadn’t but he had done plenty of other races. He started rattling them off. 5 time Ironman finisher, Ultra Marathoner, SOS (Survival of the Shawangunks) and many other equally sick and twisted sounding events. I can’t remember them all but trust me, it was an impressive resume. I asked him which Ironman races he had done. He said at this point in his life he was finished with m-dot races because they had been taken over by “Corporate America” He said that he had lived in Hawaii and had done Kona. This was back in the early 80’s before it got too formal. He told me that he used to have these really long dread locks and was in a reggae band. He entered Ironman under a fictitious name the first time. It was the single name, Mai kai which is hawaiian for “toward the ocean”. ( Ok, I made the actual name up because I can’t remember what he actually said it was but it was something like that) The next year he entered he used the name of his reggae band but this time included his surname. He said that this was before you had to produce an ID at registration and long before you had to take out a second mortgagee on your house to enter. He also had tails of drug use. Lots of pot smoking was a regular part of the training regimen as well as during the event itself. He told me he even knew this one guy who did a hit of acid at the bike turn around while racing Kona! Even though this conversation only took a few minutes I was captivated by this guys stories. Sadly, I had to say good bye to my new friend as I started to drop him on the climb. I ratcheted up the effort a few ticks and he hollered to me, “climb on dude”! When we began the long descent I wouldn’t see him again until the finish.
What I learned about my mountain biking skills so far is that I can climb fairly well but my descending is even better. I am fast and fearless when it comes to going down hill. I had received good advice that I should loosen my grip on the handlebars and allow the front end with the shock absorb the terrain. This proved to be great advice and I was using it to my advantage. I bombed those descents like nobody’s business. Only braking when I felt like I was on the precipice of disaster. (mind you I do actually drive a desk for a living so I am making this sound more dramatic than it really is) None the less when I got to the bottom all the people near me on the climb where now gone. I pressed on looking for a wheel to follow.
The rest of my race went like this. I would go strong by myself glancing over my shoulder every now and again to see who was around me to work with. I wanted to form a group and draft off of someone. The road was flat and fast now. It made no sense to work alone. Since nobody was behind me I thought it would be best to look ahead. I would ride a hard steady effort until I found a group of riders. I would make the catch and sit on a wheel for a while. Then when the moment was right I would get off the front and bridge up to another group. I was feeling super strong and confident! These opportunities to leap frog up to another group usually came on certain strategic places on the course. Either a fast descent or on a climb. Before long I could sense the finish line approaching.
We finally exited the dirt road section and came back out on to the pavement. I knew that meant the race would end soon. We started to climb up a hill I rode past this guy with an Adirondack Velo Club jersey on. He told me the course takes us down the descent and into the single track and we are done. I cruised down the hill as fast as I could go and started on the dirt road towards the single track. i passed one rider that looked to be in my age group. The single track was nasty mud. It looked like they had just cut the trail for the race. It was mostly green grass that had been rolled over scattered with a few deep patches of mud. This is where my roadie experience didn’t help me to much. I was a little out of my element and was just hoping that I didn’t crash in the mud. Every time I would come to the mud I would just peddle as hard as I could to try to blast through it. For the most part that worked. I came out of the single track and went into the finishers shoot. I came in at exactly 2 hrs 44 mins 29.12 seconds. Good enough for 3rd place in the beginner MTB Men 40-49 age class.