The Mountain Bike Life

Today might be the day that changes life as a mountain biker forever. I’m not certain this is a good thing. Unfortunately as I write this ‘today’ has not yet happened so I can’t tell you whether or not this anticipated watershed moment has actually shed any water. For all I know I could be ruined already. By the time our west coast readers wake up I will have finished, I hope, The 18th Annual Hare Racer at Heritage Park in Adrian Michigan. Read below the break to what runs through my mind in the days leading up to my first race.

One section of trail at Heritage Park from my ride last Monday. The race course wasn’t marked yet so I can’t say whether or not this will be included.

Considering how physically demanding mountain biking is it never ceases to amaze me how laid back riders are. I can be honest when I say I have never met a rider at the trailhead or on the trail that I didn’t get along with. The rampant reports of ‘Stravassholes’, trail wreckers, and people who have no regard for uphill riders do not resonate with me at all. Granted I may just be lucky or maybe the areas where I ride are simply unique, but the vibe has always been pleasant. My biggest fear with regards to racing is the potential of experiencing, or even becoming part of a completely darker side of riding. I’m not afraid of becoming rude to other riders I don’t believe I am wired that way. What I am afraid of is an addiction to max effort. I am afraid that once I have tasted a race I will always ride with the next race in mind. My fear is that an activity that was once about having fun bombing down hills and clearing troublesome climbs will become a more mechanical training activity.

A unique rock garden feature at Heritage Park. Courtesy Steve Rodgers

I do like the idea of a greater motivation to push myself. However competition can bring the worst out in us. I have no problem when my ride is interrupted by a conversation with another rider, hiker, or *gasp* equestrian. However if I get over-hyped on getting ready for the next race these trail users could become potential setbacks in a good training run. People are too awesome to be seen as setbacks in my personal quest for speed and I fear my own propensity towards selfishness. Our racing readers are probably laughing at this article thinking I am some nut who is over thinking things. I hope they are right. Maybe this is all a ridiculous head game I’m playing. I know that whenever I have trained for running races the last thing that has ever been on my mind is stopping to have a conversation with other runners or walkers, etc. I just don’t want riding to be like running… ever.

This is from the 17th Annual Hare Racer kid’s race. They have a number of children’s races that take place following the adult race.  –  YMCA of Lewanee County

Beyond the fear of racing causing some alter ego to emerge from the depths of me lies some more standard fears. The first of the more normal fears is the prospect of taking last place. Maybe that is petty and I highly doubt that I will finish last, but I’ve never raced and I have no idea how fast everyone else is. My first cross country race (running) in high school ended with me finishing last place. It was an awful feeling. I was just a frosh getting in shape for wrestling, but dropping a near 27 minute 5k time in a competitive race was a pretty pathetic experience. Fortunately I cut almost 9 minutes out of that time my freshman year and became competitive, or at least better than middle of the pack. Eventually over the years I got my 5k time consistently in the low 18’s, and occasionally the high 17’s. Running did get more fun once I was faster. If I had never had to run at the back of a pack in competition I probably never would have pushed myself to be a faster runner. Maybe that will translate to biking as well and an embarrassing finish could be the best thing to happen to me. Nonetheless biking is not running, and I really don’t want this sport to turn into a training routine.

A small feature that will likely be a part of the course today.

The second of the more normal fears is the start of the race itself. In this particular race the start is about a 400 yard sprint that dumps into a fairly long section of narrow single track. Do I go out hard only to be that guy that is holding everyone else up? Do I go out easy only to find out that I am actually a lot faster in the single track than a bunch of people ahead of me? For this first race I plan on lagging a little bit, but for all I know I might cost myself a top 5 finish if I get stuck behind everyone. It should be noted that this is a small community race, I’m guessing 40 or less adult riders. It’s possible that I might be top 5 or bottom 5, I have no idea.

There are a number of technical features throughout Heritage Park, I am interested to see which ones if any will be included in the race course. Courtesy Steve Rodgers

Some of the other fears include the basic pre-race stuff. Getting there with adequate time to warm up, having the bike in good working order, being well rested, timing my eating properly before the race, not bonking, etc.

Final tune and lube on the homemade DIY bike ‘stand’ – instructions for building this stand will be forth coming in a later post.

Truth be told this race is something I have been looking forward to for a number of weeks now. I am far more excited than I am fearful, I just hope today marks a step in the right direction for my Mountain Bike Life.

Everything packed and ready the night before. It’s probably overkill having all the tools with me but I’d rather be over prepared. There will be kids there for races too so I’d like to have the tools to help them tune their bikes if necessary.

I wonder if any other first time racers have experienced similar fears to what I have? Every piece of advice I read is simply this “Go out and do your first race and have fun, it’ll make more sense after that.” That is the advice I am taking and I can’t wait to get back on here and tell you all how it went.

I’d love to here you tell us about your first race experience, or some of the fears that keep you away from racing.

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