So I thought it would be fun to do an XC race the week after a 6 hour race... I wasn't sure how I would feel after the Graham Swamp 360 but I thought a whole week would be enough time for decent recovery. And if anything, considering riding at Haile's Trails outside of Gainesville (Newberry, FL) is always awesome, I couldn't pass up on an opportunity to go ride there. This course is only open a few times a year for races only, so I had to go! Fortunately, I did not totally bury myself at Graham Swamp the week before and my back ailment was feeling a lot better...so I was ready to go lay down some laps! I had also done an XC race at Snow Hill last November the week after racing Couch Potato AND The Swank 65 in North Carolina the week prior, so I knew it was certainly possible considering I didn't do too bad at that Snow Hill race. Besides, these XC races only last about 90 minutes so if anything it is a really good interval workout.
After the Graham Swamp race last week, I took 2 days off the bike while we took the kids to LegoLand for spring break. On the 3rd day (Tuesday), I hopped on the rollers on my road bike for an hour doing a TrainerRoad recovery type ride. On Wednesday, I rode at Hanna Park on the mtn bike. I didn't ride long and just wanted to see how I felt overall. I only rode the south loop so I did a warm up lap, then a fast lap and finally a warm down lap. I only wanted to ride the distance of an XC race and I felt good enough to know I could confidently race Sunday- my legs were a little groggy but not too bad overall. I took Thursday off and Friday I did another easy TrainerRoad ride. Saturday I did an easy hour road ride with a few efforts over the Wonderwood bridge. I wanted to keep my effort and volume as low as possible to maximize recovery. What I didn't do was keep my beer consumption under control Friday and Saturday night! Friday we had out of town relatives over for the evening and then Saturday was a friend's book publishing party, so I had way too many beers 2 nights in a row...including the night before the race. Brilliant! So on race morning I woke up a bit tired with only 5 hours of sleep... but whatever, this bike stuff is all for fun so no way I'd put life on hold for a 90 minute bike race. Besides, that's my style anyhow...be prepared but don't take this stuff too serious...it has to be fun! Good beer (in moderation, usually) the night before EVERY race!
So the drive to Gainesville Sunday morning was a bit,eh...rough, boring, dark...but hell, I was about to go ride Haile's Trails! I got to the course and setup close to a spot where I could setup my bottles since I was rolling solo. I always set a cooler on a char in the feed zone at races so I can roll by and grab what I need. For XC races, that's only 1 bottle per lap. I got to the venue at 7:30 so that I would have plenty of time to pre-ride the course prior to the 9:30 start time. I was told at registration that the course was a bit different than the last few races so riding it was a must. Since I don't get to most XC races the day before to pre-ride, I always ride a lap before the race. This is to not only to check out the race course, but also my warm up.
The race course was backwards from the last time that I had ridden there and the first mile was totally different and quite challenging. There were a few steep punchy climbs, drops that became off-camber, and just some totally fun stuff to ride. After the first mile was some fun, flowy single track, a drop down into a quarry, a few short/steep climbs and some killer views along some beautiful lakes that had formed in the deep quarries. The whole course was 5.5 miles and it was fun as hell!
This was the first race of the Southeast Regional Championship Series (SERC) which also has races in GA, AL, TN and NC through July. It was also the USA Cycling (USAC) Florida Cup, whatever that means. I was curious how big this race would be (overall turnout) considering it was a SERC race and also how much of the dense south FL race population it would draw. To my surprise, the turnout was really low. Not sure if this is the trend in XC racing considering all the endurance races and gravel races popping up. This would also be my only SERC race since I am not doing too much XC stuff anymore, just long races where I get the most bang for my buck. I will hand pick a few XC races throughout the year that are close enough for me to drive to the morning of the race, like in the fall Florida series. Anyhow, there were only 13 dudes that lined up for the XC-2 40-49 race, which is usually one of the biggest classes. XC-2 is CAT 2, or sport, in the XC racing world. Sport is a notch above weekend warrior (Beginner/CAT 3) but not as hardcore as the Expert/CAT 1 folks.
Racing sport suits me just fine considering where I am in life. I raced sport for a little over a season in 2006 before upgrading to Expert, where I raced from 2007-2008 before the heart disease stuff got me. I honestly have no desire to race expert again because I see that as being too serious and I want bike racing to be fun. I was on the verge of burnout racing Expert back in the day and I do not want to go down that path again. Besides, since I have a 2nd chance at racing bikes, I do not know how long this second chance is going to last so I want it to be as fun as possible. My heart disease has no cure and my ICD only protects me from worst case problems, so I have no guarantees with this stuff.
Ok, so back to the actual bike race... I was not super aggressive at the start like I normally am for XC races. I just kinda took off with the group and settled in around mid pack to start. My goal was to get through that first mile with no issues and then settle into a good pace when we hit the flat single track. I had no clue who the fast guys were in this group and I honestly did not pay attention to when the leaders pulled away, I just rode my bike as fast as I could at threshold. What was cool about this race was the guys who came down from Jax, who normally do the road bike/race thing, and raced in my class. This certainly added to the fun element and gave me a good reason to push a little harder so the "roadies" wouldn't beat me, haha! I know those guys are all incredibly fit but I was really impressed with how fast and consistent they were out there on the mtn bikes. Great job indeed to Drew, Ralph and Travis! I hear those guys may have the mtb bug...
So I actually had a really good race. I felt great, rode great and was very consistent. I was smooth all day and never had any issues on any of the steep climbs that a lot of people had to get off their bikes to get up. My average heart rate was perfectly at the top end of threshold. I spent 75% of the race in zone 4 and the other 25% in zone 5, so I'm not sure I could have pushed too much harder. My 3rd lap was almost the exact same time as my 1st lap, so I was really stoked that I did not fade at all. I took no nutrition besides bottles, so I seemed to mix them all just right, haha. What is interesting to me, however, is how fast guys are in this class these days. The last time I raced sport, I was always in the top 5. Since I have been doing a few XC races the past 3 years, I have not touched the top 5. Yes, I train primarily for races that last 6+ hours instead of 90 minutes, but I'd think I have enough intensity with sporadic group rides and TrainerRoad workouts to be a little faster. Finishing 7 minutes behind the winner in 7th place in a 3 lap XC race is curious to me considering how good I felt and how overall fit I am. I know that I could train specifically for this stuff and do better, but it is still interesting to me what kind of fitness garners what kind of results in a different style of racing. Maybe I'll target some specific workouts after ORAMM this summer and see if I can cover some ground in a few FL XC races in the fall. Could be a good challenge but I honestly just like being competitive.
Ok, so March marked the 3rd month in a row of knocking out a 6 hour race. I did the Battle of Snow Hill (Geneva, FL) in January, The 6 Hours of Santos (Ocala, FL) in February and the Graham Swamp 360 (Palm Coast, FL) this month. My next 4 months will be the Hammerhead 50 (Ocala, FL) in April, the 6 Hours of Haile (Newberry, FL) in May, the 6 hours of Tsali (Bryson City, NC) in June and then ORAMM (Old Fort, NC) in July. After July there are a few races I may do like the Fool's Gold (Ellijay, GA) in September or maybe one of the Chain Buster Southeastern Endurance Cup 3/6 hour races in GA & NC in September and October. I will definitely do the Couch Potato or Swank 65 again in Brevard, NC, but probably not both again. September through December is the Florida State Championship Series, so I will certainly do a few of them like Tallahassee, Fernandina, Hailes or Felasco if I can make any of them fit.
Oh, and after ALL races...its time for a cold one! I've been on a FL craft beer sampling kick lately and I've learned that not only is the selection continuing to grow, but there are still plenty of good ones to choose from in the sunshine state!