It’s officially the “Pre-Season” and time to start thinking about racing!
I decided to start my 2018 race season off a little earlier than the last several with the Cactus Cup Fat Tire 40 XC race outside of Scottsdale this last weekend. I picked this race primarily for its early spot on the calendar, while in need of a couple of races before my first “A-Race” in early May (full race schedule HERE). With the additional appeal of warm weather, and expectedly fierce competition from local Arizona and nearby California racers that are already near top race form, I figured it would be a good challenging race to kick things off with for the new year.
The following is a quick “Race Report” for those interested, and hopefully more informative “Takeaways” or lessons learned (or remembered) from my racing experience that perhaps you can apply to your own upcoming racing endeavors…
The longish, 42 mile race was held on most of the trails within the McDowell Mountain Regional Park outside of Scottsdale. This trail system is made up of super fast, flowy, mostly smooth trails; sprinkled with some surprisingly rocky sections to keep it honest. Not much elevation gain or loss, but rather long “false flats” and roller coaster terrain, with the occasional 1-2 minute long power-climb.
I would definitely rank this course more as a finesse course due to the seemingly endless turning and flow that put demands on managing momentum, as opposed to a fitness course that puts more emphasis on sustained power output. For those that don’t know me and and my riding abilities, I am definitely more of the latter type of rider than the former, with pedaling power my strength over riding finesse. Regardless, I’ve ridden many miles over the years within this park and looked forward to racing again on it and testing my weaknesses a bit.
I pulled an all-day drive down from Denver on Thursday. Fueled up with coffee and burritos from the day before, Friday I was able to get out on the course and loosen up with a two-hour spin around the park. After lunch, a nap, then bike prep and dinner I was ready to kick off my 2018 race season! Race morning came early at 5am for a 7:25am start. Coffee, oatmeal, peanut butter & banana were on the breakfast menu. Before I knew it, it was time to get out for a warm-up spin and get to the start line.
As expected, a solid contingent of Specialized racers and the local AZ racers were in attendance. All lined up and we’re ready to go!
The start was WICKED fast! A mad 200m dash to the singletrack followed by several miles of roller-coaster trails before things settled in on a wider double-track false-flat “climb”. I’ve never been a fast starter, but managed hold on for the ride through the early rollers until after a short steep climb broke things apart and left me gapped before I knew it. The leading train of 20 or so riders sped off ahead, while I was left in time-trial mode for the next 30 miles. As the race progressed, I could see the lead “train” up ahead in the distance getting smaller which left me to pick off the popped riders unable to maintain the hot pace of which they started with.
I rolled into the finish in 16th place in the Pro/Elite Mens race. Tired, thirsty, and a little beat up, both physically and mentally.
Doing early season races is an important part to building fitness and becoming “race ready”. You simply can’t replicate these kinds of harder sustained efforts in training. Subsequently, these efforts can yield big jumps in fitness and “race readiness”.
On the flip-side, racing when you’re not in top shape can be tough on the psyche at times. It usually hurts a little more than you remember (because we usually remember our positive racing experiences) and performance can be below what you’re expecting or hoping for. These negatives can be compounded when you travel to early “warm weather” races and the local racers are already knee deep into their race season, and nearing top-form, when you have yet to dip your toe in the racing waters for the year.
Despite my lack of starting speed and ability to hang onto the leading train, I was happy to get in a super solid 2.5 hour race-pace effort. Upon review, I managed some solid numbers for the full 2.5 hours of racing. Some ‘peak’ power and HR numbers for the season thus far were achieved. This lets me know that I was able to work hard for the full duration and fitness is there. Just need to find that “race readiness” in time for my more important events to come.
I’m also pleased with my overall strength and conditioning. To go long & hard, particularly early in the season, and not experience low-back tightness, cramping or any other muscular abnormalities lets me know my muscles are engaging properly and my hip-stability is there. This is a big limiting factor for many cyclists (particularly mountain bikers) and can cause all sorts of negative issues and loss in power over longer durations.
This leads me to believe the chassis is strong; now I just need to tune the engine a bit more for peak performance.
Racing is hard. Early season races, when you’re not yet on form (and maybe others are?) are seemingly even harder. But that is the point of early season races: check yourself, check your equipment, blow-out the “cobwebs” to help prepare for more racing. Early season racing can also play tricks on your mental fitness as well. If they go well, you feel super motivated; however if they don’t go as hoped for you can feel disappointed or even discouraged. Don’t let this happen. Turn that frown upside down, and remember your fitness is still building in the early season and you will continue to improve and find your racing form.
Some things to keep in perspective when you hit up your first race or two of the season:
- Time of the year, how early?
- Where are you in your training block? (base training vs. race prep training)
- Location of race? (local or out of town)
- Type of course? (strength or weakness)
- Quality of competition? (local or national)
Hopefully going through these Q&As will help to sort out the pre-race expectations and post-race highs and lows.
With a review of these critical reference points, I find myself in a better place mentally.
After a few days recovery from my first big effort of the season (and drive home), it’s back to training to finish off my 2018 Base Build. I have 8 more weeks to find fine tune and find my race form as I lead up to my first A-Priority events of my season in May.
Onward & Upward!
Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Sessions:6 Sport Performance. Looking for help with your endurance sport training? Check out S:6’s Training Plans, Team Programs, and Personal Coaching options created to fit your needs and budget.