This article goes out to all you aspiring mountain bike racers. I want to tell you a little bit about my first mountain bike race, and maybe it will inspire you to get to one yourself.
Let's start from the beginning...
I picked up a form at my local bike shop, filled it out, and sent it in along with $13. Then I re-read Ned Overend's book to make sure that I would know what was going on at the race. I had no clue what to expect at the race since I had never been to one. All I knew was that I should pre-ride the course before race day.
Well the week before the race my mom and I drove out to the location of the race looking for a state forest or a place with trails. No such luck. After talking to a local, we found out that the race course is on private property and it is only open for the day of the race. OK. The trip wasn't a total waste; at least we knew the directions and how long it would take to get there. We drove around a few back roads, and I was able to get a feel for some of the terrain I would be riding.
The race would be on Saturday, so I made sure to take Thursday off and get a decent ride in on Friday so I would be fresh. (If you take a day off the day before the race, your legs may feel "dead" on race day.) Also on Friday, I tried to load up as much race stuff as possible to save time Saturday morning.
I woke up nice and early Saturday morning and had a large breakfast of apple cinnamon pancakes four hours before the race. Then I threw all my stuff in the truck and double-checked by MTB race checklist to be sure I had everything I needed.
We left for the race, which was just a little over an hour away. The ride gave me some time to plan my race strategy and listen to some music to get me pumped up. Once we got closer I could see the riders warming up on the streets. I saw so many nice bikes and team jerseys; I was a tad intimidated.
We parked over in the field with everyone else. Walked around a little and made it to the registration table. They had a packet for "Levin Bloom." After they changed that, I changed into my cycling clothes and started to warm up for 20-30 minutes. (By the way, when I changed, I found a little bathroom under a pavilion. Normally you just change at your car.)
I tried to practice my start and my finish since they were in the same spot. It's always nice to know if there are any sharp turns or other surprises close to the finish, especially if you are duking it out for first place.
I made it back and people were starting to line up so I jumped in about three or four rows back. The race director had to give a quick speech at the line about race etiquette and the like. Start! Here we go! I had been practicing clipping-in to the pedal quickly, but guess what - it took me a few tries this time and everyone was passing me.
After a half mile or so, we hit a nice steep hill with plenty of switchbacks to separate the field. I love hills, so I passed a few people, and chased a few more at the top. Then I ran into a little problem: my descending skills. It's not that I was bad, but I was pretty inexperienced; everyone I passed on the climb would catch me on the descent. After trading places with the same people over a few hills, I knew I couldn't keep wasting my energy like that. So on the next downhill I just let the bike go. I had never had the balls to go so fast, and no one could catch me anymore!
The race just kept getting harder as it went on. Everything was pretty much mental; I've never ridden so fast or been in so much agony! At least I could check my odometer and see that only 4 miles are left!
As the race went on, I was passing people who were wearing team jerseys. How can they be sponsored?
Then I hit a nice downhill along a pipe line. Very fun! Took a corner and... another hill!
People start cheering for me at the base of the hill, which was kind of weird; I had never had people cheer for me while I was out riding by bike before. Anyway, this hill is freakin' great! I couldn't feel the pain anymore, and I just started flying up the hill because I knew the race was almost over. (One good use for an odometer!)
I got to the top of the hill, realized that there was a left turn and more hill! Worked out perfect since I was able to pass someone else. Then it was all fun downhill. The feeling I had on the climb was truly euphoric. That's what racing is all about!
As I near the end, people are out on their porches watching the race and cheering me on. After a sharp right, I cross the finish line. My mom is nowhere to be seen, so I take a cool down lap. When I came back to the line, some guy crossed it and his friend said that he might have made the Top 10 with that finish. I was puzzled. I was sure there was a pretty big crowd of riders ahead of me.
Then I simply waited around for a couple hours (nothing unusual) as results were compiled, and enjoyed a nice shaved ice and some free water during the wait. And yes, I did change out of my nasty, sweaty uniform.
Finally, the trophies: I got 5th overall, giving me a 1st in the 16-19 age category, and earning myself a nice little trophy to go with my free t-shirt.