I guess it's officially more than just cross-training now, since I rode in my first mountain bike race last night.
Last night’s HRRT Hot August Nights Mountain Bike Race, the first in a 4-race series, was just the sort of fun, low key, local race I was looking for. Not quite 3 dozen riders assembled for the 6pm start at Schenectady’s Central Park mountain bike trails. 19 of us were entered in the “Sport” category (two 5-mile laps), with 15 others in the “Expert” category (three 5-mile laps). Since I’ve never ridden the Schenectady trails before, I got there early and rode for 10 or 15 minutes to get a feel for the terrain.
The warm-up ride was definitely a confidence booster. The trails are reasonably smooth with short ups and downs and occasional log obstacles. There are roots but no rocks. The main challenge comes from the tight twists and turns of the trails. I’d rate the Central Park trails as significantly less technical than SMBA, which is a good thing since I can’t imagine racing for 10 miles on the SMBA trails.
Short of a mechanical issue, getting lost or injured, I figured I’d certainly be able to finish the race. My main concern was following race etiquette and not getting in the way of other riders, who all looked to be more experienced than me with clip-in pedals, cycling shorts, jerseys and gloves – all of which I lack. I wasn't the oldest guy there, but definitely at the advanced end of the age spectrum.
The Experts started first, followed by us Sports a minute or two later. The first 100 yards or so follow a gravel road before turning onto single track for an uphill climb. It turns out that the key to the race comes in that first 100 yards. Once onto the single track, passing opportunities are difficult on the narrow, twisty trails. I passed a few other riders, and a few passed me, but the order didn’t change much over the 10 miles. For much of the race I rode directly behind one or a few other riders, which helped my pacing. Eventually, in the final half lap, I was riding on my own.
Other than a minor crash (missed a bridge, came off the bike and slid down an embankment) or two (made pretty good shoulder contact with a tree) I rode pretty well. I didn’t fry my legs or lungs, kept a good pace and negotiated the obstacles. I rode negative splits (36-minute first lap, 35-minute second lap) and finished 10 out of 19, middle of the pack. It was a lot of fun.
The HRRT series continues for the next 3 Tuesday nights. A $30 annual membership in HRRT gets you in free to all their races. Hopefully the HRRT folks will post results and photos on their website. I’ll miss next week, but hope to race at least one more Tuesday night this month.