Sunday, 22 July 2012

Grin and Grind It

A couple of years ago I first rode the Howell Mountain Challenge. Fresh from a decent run at Downieville I felt strong and managed a decentesque time of 2:15. This year, the HMC fell a couple of weeks before Downieville. The perfect warm up for one of the race highlights of the year. With a couple more years riding experience under my belt I expected to do better than I did in '010. However, as I readied the Nomad and kitted myself up I felt distracted by the morning sun which was burning strong already. Me, Chris and Spangles had done a China' loop the day before and, although fairly leisurely and early, it had managed to trigger the all too familiar heatstroke headache and nausea. So as I hung around with my fellow Cat 2 riders waiting for the start I felt somewhat queasy in the rising heat. Not good.

As we set off from the start everyone fired ahead. Lost in the spirit of racing and keen to get into a good position. I took a steady launch from the start line (knowing I ride better with a warm up) and eventually caught the throng at the first hike-a-bike section. Heading out of the college grounds we hit a long stretch of fireroad. The perfect way to thin out the masses. After that, some twisty turny trails through the trees. This section was a lot of fun. Constant ups and downs and some tight corners meant gear choice was key to keeping a good click. And it was shaded. I started to feel in the zone as my nausea was lost to the thrill of riding dirt! The wooded section opened up to a fireroad connector to some awesome open singletrack. A little like China Camp's front side flow section, the trails had nice flowey corners and long, fast straights. Plus a few rooty drops and rocks peppered the trail to add interest.

After the turns... came the earns. A short steep climb followed by a long sustained ascent. I managed to stick the Nomad in the granny and grind it out. Slightly cooked, I started to feel under the weather again. The grin inducing flow had masked my below par condition. But now I could feel something wasn't right. As I hit the three roller coaster rocky sections near the end of the first lap, things started to go downhill - in every sense of the word.

The end of the first lap, at the aid station, and I downed as many cups of lovely cool water as I could before I started to drown. And then I emptied them down my back and neck - trying to cool down and reinvigorate my weary state. I almost considered bailing. Almost. I didn't feel great and knew it was going to get worse. But, I cracked on and decided to forget about getting a decent time and just enjoy the trails. However, I steadily felt worse..... My systems didn't seem too bad. No cramping, cardio felt ok. But I was losing the will to ride. Every steep climb defeated me. My mind swam with thoughts other than trying to crush the dirt. My heart wasn't in it and my head was too hot and sore to fight it.

As I reached the last big climb before the end of my second (and last) lap, I played good samaritan to a Cat 1 rider with a puncture and no means to fix it. As he busied himself with my spare tube and pump I was glad of the chance to sit down and gather my frazzled self before the final push. I actually managed the last climb (no great achievement given that in 2010 it barely registered in this blog as a steep climb) but today it felt like a Herculean task. The last mile or so to the end line was almost insane. I could barely manage Sunday stroll pace let alone race pace. Still, I had a lot of fun on the descents during lap 2. The corners were perfect for practicing the BetterRide skills. Open and smooth but a little loose, they dared you to leave off the brakes and use good technique to rail them. Great fun.

I came in around 2:45. Even minus the puncture stop I finished a solid 20 minutes slower than last time. Bah.... Oh well. Maybe it was the heatstroke. Or maybe training for bike races AND the SF Marathon is proving too much for my mid-thirties carcass. Either way, I'll be back to ride the Howell Mountain Challenge next year. Sometimes I compete in races and realise I'd never ride those trails were it not for the atmos and fun of racing. By themselves the trails aren't all that. But I'd happily take the trip to Napa to ride the trails at Angwin on any given Sunday. There's just so much good stuff there to shred. Next year I'll just have to make sure I get a decent rest and a good night's sleep beforehand  :o\

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