No sooner had I posted my goal sheet for this year, than I was given cause to reconsider significant portions of it. A majority of this year’s race season was intended to mimic the last. I had planned on return trips to Big Frog, the race that almost killed me, and Lumberjack, the zenith of my mountain bike racing career to date. But several things have come up that have caused me to reconsider much of my big-race lust.
First, I need two new bikes. After thrashing it mercilessly for years, I sold my beloved Trek Fuel at the end of last year, with an eye toward a lighter, hardtail 29er on which to contest this season. The handful of races I entered on the Airborne Goblin Evo last year convinced me that this was probably the most prudent route for the type of riding I’d be doing, and I was past due for an upgrade anyway. My road bike, while certainly a satisfactory performer for recreational rides, was never meant to be a race machine, for sprints or endurance. With more road racing on the agenda for this season, it’s time I stop bringing a cinder block to a rapier fight.
Buying two new bikes isn’t going to be cheap. Neither are out-of-town ultra endurance races. Between registration, gas, hotels (where necessary) and food, I can count on most of those weekends costing me around $500, and that’s before paying to fix whatever the race does to my bike. Those of you who follow me on FaceTwitGram (links at the top right) have seen some of the carnage I inflicted on my machines last year. As I started (at my wife’s gentle prodding) to add up the estimated expenses for my fitness pursuits in 2015, it became clear that trying to do all of it– racing, new bikes, going out of town a half dozen races a year– was becoming cost prohibitive. Something had to give, and the most logical thing, since I need the bikes, is to cut the expensive races.
Where to Improve?
But there’s more to it than just the financial aspect. Ringing in the back of my head for the last several months is a snippet of a conversation I had with my brother-in-law, a far superior and more experienced cyclist to myself. After commenting on the strengths of his finishes at the Iceman Cometh Challenge, I intimated (half joking) that maybe he should give up being a roadie, and focus on mountain bike racing full time. To which he said:
The only reason I do as well as I do on the mountain bike is because of road biking.
And there’s a lot of truth to be found there. Many of the most successful mountain bike racers in the world only ride on dirt when they’re racing. The rest of the time, they’re out on the asphalt, pounding out the training miles. The reason that strategy can work is consistency. You can hold yourself at higher levels of effort, on demand, and for longer on the road than you’ll be able to do when at the mercies of the trail ahead of you. That unpredictability is what makes mountain biking more fun, but also sometimes less effective from a training perspective.
All of this underlines an ugly truth I’ve been trying very hard to ignore: the biggest hole in my mountain bike game isn’t the mountain biking, it’s my level of fitness. When the going gets rocky, or muddy, or tight and twisty, those are the places I’m usually able to hold my own, or even gain ground on my competition. This became especially evident at my last two big races of 2014. But when the trail or road angles sharply upward, or even when there’s a long stretch of fast flats, I run out of gas well before my erstwhile peers.
The targets I set for myself at the bigger events this year would represent substantial improvements, no doubt. But to what end? If I succeed in knocking off an hour or more from my times at Big Frog and Lumberjack, I still finish well outside the top 100. The painful question becomes, do I pay all that money, take the time off work, and go race my brains out for such an ignominious finish? Of course, finishing at all is something to be proud of, but I checked that box last year. To go back and do it again, to finish merely for the sake of finishing, seems a waste of time and resources at this point in my progression.
The gap in my fitness to the next pack ahead of me had already caused me to step back from some of the local MTB races for 2015, removing 6 events from my already jam-packed schedule. While I won the Sport class of our local FastLaps series last year, my victory was due, in no small part, to the sharply reduced field. The next leap forward for me is to the Expert class, where I will need to lose about 4 minutes per lap at John Bryan or MoMBA to be competitive. With that in mind, I had already decided to forego racing the FastLaps series in 2015, planning to train hard and come back in 2016, more ready for the challenge. Consistency demands that I apply the same logic to my endurance racing.
What’s in Store?
Postponing my return to a few of the bigger events this year does not mean my calendar will be short on racing. As I mentioned, I anticipate racing quite a bit more on the road this year, including a few rounds of the Ohio Spring Roadrace Series, and some local crit racing. I intend to scratch the MTB endurance itch at a few of the Tri-State 6 Hour rounds as well, for the experience as well as the training load. And all the while, I’ll be training up to run my first marathon in October.
It was not an easy or pleasant decision to scratch some of my favorite big events from the planning calendar for this year. But if all goes according to plan, I’ll be much better prepared for them in 2016, enough to start chasing some respectable finishes. In the meantime, 2015 will have no shortage of fun and racing, albeit more local and less expensive. Stay tuned to this page for more updates and announcements soon, as my plans begin to take shape!