Ever so inevitably, the 2014 race season arrived on 6 May, and four days later, on May 10th, I was already racing for a second time on the sick Niner Air-9 RDO. Both races sent me deep into the hurt locker.: first locker visit was at the local (Fort Collins) short track series sponsored by New Belgium, a fundraiser for the Ciclismo Youth Foundation (a foundation dedicated to getting kids on bikes); and then on May 10th, my only team racing experience to date, I was at 12 hours of Mesa Verde seven hours from Fort Collins in Cortez, Colorado.
My solo performance at the short track series wasn't all bad, but a loose course, nerves, and a malfunctioning bike left me well into the mid-pack (or worse, results haven't been posted). However, I rallied at 12 hrs, surpassing my expectations in a couple of ways: (1) I laid down the fastest lap on my team (by just 4 seconds below a very fast teammate); and (2), over my four laps on the 16 mile course I produced negative splits until the last lap ... which was only about 30 seconds slower than my fastest (third) lap. The negative splits are about the best result I could have hoped for, a clear sign that the training .... including many sufferfests ... is making me stronger and faster.
Other good news, my 3-man team, all Northern Colorado Grassroots Racing members, pulled off a 6th place finish out of 37 all male 3-4 person teams and a 13th finish overall out of 377 entrants (many teams, some solo riders). The competition was not to be taken lightly, and of course we had to race against local teams from Cortez, Durango, and other nearby Colorado mountain biking communities. After over twelve hours of racing (our unofficial time 12:19:12), we were nudged out of fifth place by less than 4 minutes (12:15:48) ... and fourth place by just over 5 minutes (12:14:7). Even the third place team was not that far away for a 12 hour event, their time 11:58:25.
Nutrition and a willingness to push myself into my upper heart rate zones was also working for me at Mesa Verde. Here's a summary of my heart rate data from the race provided by Strava:
Most (85%) in my tempo zone 3 ... followed by 14% in my threshold zone 4. All of these are estimates, since I've never really done a solid analysis of my heart rate zones. However, these data demonstrate that I can push myself and then hold steady in the hurt locker for extended periods. On the race course in Mesa Verde I rarely backed off, as the two percent in zone 2 (moderate) captured. It was all gas, approaching red-line or over that threshold. If I can continue to train and recover ... especially leading up to a race ... then I might continue to surprise myself ... and 2014 might surpass 2013 by a modest leap.
Next up on the race schedule is a grueling 64 miles through Hartman Rocks trail complex in Gunnison, Colorado (a course designed by Dave Wiens, 6 time winner of the Leadville Trail 100). Being a Colorado mountain town, Gunnison is way above sea level, over 7700 feet (2346 meters). The race will approach or exceed (not sure) 9000 feet as it winds between technical rock gardens and fast flowing sections lined by sage brush. This is one of my "A" races, the other two are the Silverrush 50 and the Leadville Trail 100. For these races, I hope to be in my very best form to maximize my performance ... and finish well. But of course, the universe always gets the last word ... so stay tuned!