Sometimes things go wrong in a race, and I had my share of escalating mishaps in Tuesday evening’s Schenectady Central Park mountain bike race, the fourth and final race in the HRRT Hot August Nights series.
Less than a mile into the first lap my bike slipped off a narrow plank bridge, one of many “skinnies” on the course. Since riders were still bunched up – nearly tire-to-tire – five or six bikes got by me before I could continue without interfering with other riders. The mishap initially cost me just a few seconds of time, but it meant I’d potentially have five or six more difficult passing situations to contend with on the course’s narrow, twisty trails.
In the next few miles I was able to get by three or four of the riders who had passed me earlier. And then I jammed my chain in the rear gear set. I think it took me about a minute and a half to re-set the chain, but a minute and a half in a race feels like an eternity. Two more riders got past me.
first (and only other) race, three weeks ago. All things considered, I felt pretty good about that time. In Lap 2, I caught up to and passed two more riders, but I was mostly riding on my own, with no one immediately in front of or behind me. Halfway through the lap, red tape that had blocked the wrong way at a trail junction was down. In a split second, I decided the course went to the left (which was really more like straight ahead). Bad call. I realized pretty quickly that I had gone the wrong way, but the trail I had taken merged back with the race course, so I figured I’d just go with it. After all, how much could the shortcut have taken off my time, 30 seconds… 60 seconds…? I could just report my shortcut at the finish and we’d apply a suitable penalty to my Lap 2 time. But as I continued on the course, it became clear that I must have cut out a significant chunk of terrain. By that time I was beyond the point of no return: re-tracing my route back to the wrong turn would have been not only pointless due to the significant lost time, but also dangerous for me and other riders on the course. When I crossed the finish line, my Lap 2 time was in the low 20s, meaning I had shortcut the lap by nearly 15 minutes.
Getting off-course can be one of the most frustrating things that can happen in a race. In this case I had a solid time for Lap 1, so I feel like I at least salvaged a decent result for the evening. The very nature of a mountain bike race course – trails through the woods – makes course marking a difficult job at best, and I have no complaints whatsoever about the course marking for this race. After all, the junction where I made my wrong turn was marked, the markings were just down. The error was mine, and mine alone. For another account of getting off-course in a race (I hate the word “lost”), read Herb Tern’s post from just a few weeks ago in the Times Union Outdoors blog. In my opinion, Herb’s experience had a lot more to do with poor course marking. And if you read my comment at the bottom of Herb’s post, you’ll note the odd coincidence that the only other time I’ve gotten off-course in a race was also at Schenectady’s Central Park. Maybe the place is cursed.
You might ask, why race at all? Why not just enjoy running and riding recreationally? For me, pinning on a race number adds a level of excitement, risk and reward to participation in a sport. In some ways it helps define a level of commitment to a sport. Racing is certainly an opportunity to learn and develop skills quickly. I don’t necessarily feel that way about all of the sports I participate in: climbing and hiking, for example, aren’t really geared towards competition, and while skiing can be competitive, I haven’t been drawn to that aspect of skiing. But for riding and running, I think I’ll want racing to remain a component for as long as I participate.
Race series results
Thanks to the HRRT bike club for organizing the race series and providing the prizes!
Photo credits: Photos 2, 3 and 4 are courtesy of www.pbase.com/j_harvey/. The first photo is mine.