Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Platte River Battle Royale

Don't ride muddy trails... unless you're racing and have the trail leader's approval! Photo credit: Angelina Peace
What an interesting race at Platte for me this year. I was more fit and handled my bike significantly better than last year, yet ended up with the same placing overall as last year (11th) and four spots lower in my age group than last year (8th). I think I can attribute my lack of improvement in placing almost entirely on the strength of the field. I believe the overall number marathon racers increased by nearly 50% and my age group more than doubled! Local pro, Brad Auen, toed the line in the under-40 age group, plus Brian Johnson who finished third in the marathon race at Swanson. There were a few other names I didn't recognize as well, but some were obviously fast considering their finishing times. Rafal Doloto, and my team mate, Jakob Wilson were racing as well. Both of them are faster than me on any given day.

So, I knew it was going to be very difficult to get on the podium like I did last year. I figured that it was still a possibility though, since anything can happen in a race. And, indeed, things happened that moved me up in the placings. It turned out that both Rafal and Jakob quit after four and five laps, respectively.

My nephew, Logan, and I made our own podiums! Photo credit: Rachel Loewens
Going into the race, I was confident that I should be able to do seven laps. I did seven laps last year, and I have better fitness and handling skills this year so I knew seven laps should be a benchmark for me even with a new section of the course that added a couple minutes to the lap times. I decided to make eight laps my stretch goal. If I could average under 34:15 lap times, I would, in theory, be able to get eight laps in.

The race got under way pretty well for me. I was able to get to my bike (it was, again, a Le Mans style start) and get to the first climb towards the front of the field. They included a section of single track on the climb this year, that created a bit of a bottle neck earlier on than usual, but I was able to get there without having to slow down too much. As we emptied back onto the double track climb, I was able to make up a few more places before hitting the main trail. I set into the singletrack feeling pretty good and I was moving very well for me. Things were gelling and I was flowing through the turns carrying good speed. I was happy with that and no one was catching me from behind yet. That's unsusual since I'm still racing my CX bike on these trails, so when things get turny and a bit rough, I'm usually at quite the disadvantage.

About maybe a third of the way into the first lap, on the kind of bermed S-curves just before the new section, my front wheel washed out and I hit the ground pretty hard, rolling on my right shoulder. That hurt! I got riding again right away (after gathering the food that had fallen out of my pocket, thanks Tyler!), and though my shoulder and side were a bit sore, it was nothing I couldn't handle. It took me a good lap or so to get my bike handling back under control, but eventually I was able to get past the mental block that can come with a crash and got to riding more smoothly again.

Getting back into the flow after crashing. Photo credit: Kyle Hansen
Then, in the third lap, I rode over a log crossing and on the backside of the log I must have hit it just right and I tweaked my earlier injury just right. Suddenly there was this sharp pain in the back of my ribs that just about took my breath away every time I went of a trail feature or stood to power up a short rise in the trail. It was painful enough that I wasn't sure I could continue. I figured that I would get myself back to the pits and make the decision to keep going or quit then.

By the time I made it back to the pits, the pain had subsided to more of an ache than a sharp pain so I decided to press on. At that pain level, I knew I could finish the race, but it was slowing me down. I was much more ginger over every trail feature and stayed seated on more climbs than normal. Going through the rock garden was the worst cause carrying my bike (no way in hell I'm riding those rocks on my CX bike!) really aggravated whatever it was that was tweaked in my back.

On my next time through the pits I told Cameron, who was pitting for me (and doing a killer job at it!) and my wife that I was going to need ibuprofen on the next lap. I was able to keep riding, but it was pretty awful. I hoped that the ibuprofen would take the edge off the pain enough to kinda enjoy the rest of the race. They got me the meds on the next lap heading into lap six and about two-thrids of the way through the lap I started feeling better and by the time I started my last lap (eight was definitely out of the question at that point) I was in really good spirits again. My last lap was my third fastest lap!

Cameron was on point in the pits for me. AND he finished third overall in the men's cat 3 race... He's 13 years old. Photo credit: Rachel Loewens
I finished seven laps in right around four hours and eleven minutes. Normally, I finish these marathons feeling pretty well spent, sometimes feeling awful, but this time I felt pretty good. Had been able to go for another lap, I would have. I think having that injury forced me to pace more conservatively than I normally would have. I also hydrated better than I historically have which helped a lot as well.

So, I didn't hit my goal of eight laps and I didn't end up on the podium. I honestly was bummed about not hitting the podium, but knowing how stiff the competition was and the fact that I was able to push through some real dark moments in the race means that I don't feel bad about my performance even if I was disappointed with the final result.

I learned, yet again (and more poignantly) that marathon MTB races always have difficult times in them that make you want to quit. But those feelings are generally only temporary. If you keep moving, you can usually get past them.

Now, I'd just like to get past the healing process of whatever I did to myself in that crash. It would be nice to be able to reach for something on the top shelf of a cabinet without grimacing! Ha!

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