Tuesday, 4 June 2013

When Races Go Wrong: Rd 3 North East XC MTB League - Hamsterley

I guess it was inevitable that I would come to this.  If you ask me about most of my short course XC races of a few years past I would say that something is never quite right.  It most cases its just been lack of race experience but with one thing or another I've been quick to write them off blame my lack of fitness or skill and then not bother again for the year.

This year my fitness isn't much to sing or dance about but my attitude and approach have no doubt got me further than before.  Much I credit to riding single speed which has made me take on the whatever will be will be attitude, and last year and this year enjoy racing so much more.  My first two races have been my best to date in terms of feel and results.  I was looking at the data from my last race and on the same course I was riding a minute a lap faster.  With the laps only being between 6 and 7 minutes long that's a hell of a difference and meant I finished up doing a lap extra.

So to round 3, and once again I was faced with a similar course from last year at Hamsterley.  I knew this was a tough race taking in one big climb followed by a fast decent full of berms, rutted and hard work on my rigid bike.  I know I'm not the fastest going down (trust me I am slow!) but I knew that the climbs would count for a lot.

As it happens the race was a short one for me.  As I climbed up the first climb I was struggling with its sheer length and just felt like I'd got nothing to give. The decent then did its best job to beat me up.  By the next lap the climb I was breathing out of my arse for very little gain, and coming down I was loosing my line too easily and it was a miracle that when I did come off the track I didn't crash or go over the bars.  The third lap saw me groveling up the climb and already negative thoughts of having to do this climb again was making me doubt my racing on further.  Coming down my back started to really hurt, something I attributed to fighting with my bike and not riding loose but also just feeling so trashed.  As I got to the line I pulled out.  There was no way I could go on like I was.

Photo with thanks to Paul @ Clarkson Photography Grass Root Sports UK

Looking at my lap times I was riding over a minute slower than the seven months before, so what had gone so wrong?

It's in this situation you have to be realistic about your failures.  I watched that same weekend the first World Cup XC of the year and watched Nino Schurter finish about 14th proving that even the best riders in the sport have off days.  This was my off day.

Firstly, in this situation its important to look at your training and look at what you were doing before each race and see if there was a difference. Often training can be to tough before races and there hasn't been enough recovery but in my case it was as much the opposite.  I hadn't ridden enough, and more to the point not ridden with quality in mind.  I had for the last month or so been putting in fast paced workouts, riding tempo mainly for nothing more than hour or about 10 miles.  What I seem to be lacking is stamina from good quality endurance.  Something I've been addressing ready for my next race.

Doing a proper warm up.  I'm probably the worst for this.  I guess I get caught up in the atmosphere, catching up with friends and then before I know it I'm off racing.  I didn't even pre ride the course let alone get my heart rate up which was foolish and just means everything is a bigger shock to the body.  I guess warming up is an easy one to dismiss as when I go out riding I don't warm up, I just go out and ride as I'm sure lots of others do to.  A good warm up should not just get the muscles loosened up but get the heart beating fast and lungs working.  The key is not to put much strain on the muscles so spinning on a turbo is ideal or just quick sprints in an easy gear following from a short tempo effort.

On line Arousal.  Stop giggling, I know it sounds daft but that's the term given to how you feel on the race line.  If you've got butterflies and are too tense this can have a negative effect.  Your heart race can be too high and muscles to tense. On the other end of the spectrum if you are too relaxed then your body just isn't fight or flight ready.  Somewhere in the middle is what you want or even aggressive attitude firing yourself up for the battle ahead.  I was way too passive, chatting away and not really thinking about the race ahead. (weirdly I used to be to tense)

So racing cold, chilling on the line doesn't make for a great racer but there is one other element.  Food.
Obviously, with short races of under an hour eating during the race isn't that important.  What you eat before almost certainly can be.  Ive often been given the formula of ensuring eating a meal three hours before a race with plenty of carbohydrates.  Then thirty minutes before something like a banana or energy bar.  Then a little bit more a few minutes before.  This may work for you but not for me.  I have to honestly say some of my best evening rides have been done on the back of a big meal that is high in protein and usually only an hour and half before I've ridden.  So I'd say to anyone, ignore usual wisdom and experiment to find whats best.  Most of time it'll come by mistake.  If you ride well, think about what you ate before and take that into consideration before you next race.

The one thing that I know works for me in quick races and that I didn't have in my last race was caffeine in my drink.  It I feel helps with my reactions and also gives that feeling that I can push harder towards the end of a race. 

Anyhow, my next race is this Friday so it's time to put some of this advice into practise.  As I stand in the league I'm actually doing quite well. Currently I'm 11th out of 75 overall.  4th out of 26 for my age group and 1st out of 4 for the single speed cats.



Ok, one thing to add to your list - don't compare lap times! You know that dirt conditions can radically affect how fast you can go on the trail, so don't beat yourself up too much about times that don't compare favorably.

And you're right - watching the first two world cup races was a great reminder of how things can go very badly for the pros - they really are just like us!

Sadly the ground conditions were fairly similar as the last one was on man made all weather single track. Think the times just backed up what I knew and felt. I wasn't firing on all cylinders!

Hopefully I'll be writing a very different race report next time!!

Thank you so much for sharing your story and tips . They can be helpful to those who are looking for good bike deals.

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