Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Race Strategy ... Or Not

When I hear the words “race strategy”, road racing comes to my mind. As a mountain biker, I cringe at the thought of anything “road”. I prefer to think of mountain bikers as woodsmen with experience, knowledge or even a plan if it involves beer, but the words “race strategy” sound odd to me. So call it what you want: every racer has the opportunity to make some choices going into and during a race, and as a result, strategies can be formed. I am going to share a few of my recent race strategies.

This past weekend was the Taconic 909 race. Although I pre rode the course a week before the race, the course was wet on race day. A short preview of one single track that morning made me rethink my usual plan. Instead of getting through the climbs and letting it rip on the downhill, I decided to push my limits on the climbs and ride safe down hill. There were quite a few roots on the downhill, and to be honest, with many high speed sections, I was not comfortable going full throttle. I took a hard fall at this race last year, and I was not looking to repeat any of that.

My strategy was working well as I found myself at the front of a train of ladies for 2 and a half laps. However, I did not figure in adjusting my drinking into my new plan. Normally I would drink on the climbs as most of the single-track required 2 firm hands on the bars at all times. I was pushing so hard while climbing, that I forgot to drink enough. This was a big mistake, as I found myself cramping in the last few miles of the race. I often get calf cramps while sleeping, so I have some experience dealing with them, but I rarely get them on the bike. To make things worse, my legs were both cramping in multiple places.

Since I was close to the finish, I stayed on the bike, and tried to keep going, but a few times I could only coast, crying f-bombs like a baby. It took a bit of mental power to block the pain, try to pedal lightly and relax enough to get to the finish line without both legs locking up. I lost one place to a pro women during this time, but managed to slip in only 10 seconds in front of 2nd place in my class. Lesson learned: Always have a feeding and drinking plan that goes with the race plan.

I mentioned above that I pre-rode the course. I know this is not always possible for some, but I highly recommend pre-riding as part of a racer’s pre-race preparation. Not only does it give the racer a chance to dial in technical sections, it allows the racer to know where they are going. This past weekend, a bunch of racers went off course. Pre-riding could have prevented this. Also when pre-riding, I often see racers repeat what they think is the fastest line over and over again. Often, conditions or lines can change within a race day. Heavy traffic can also block desired lines, so keeping an open mind to optional lines can be helpful. When I pre-rode the Nationals course at Bear Creek, I explored many optional lines and never felt locked into one. I was prepared to ride the space between people if needed.

Another thing that I feel is important to mention is: not giving up. It is easy to get discouraged. It can be overwhelming. I know, because I have given up a few times myself. However, there have been times when it seemed like I was failing in my attempts to race, and then something turned around and I rallied back. This past weekend the 2 ladies that went off course, figured it out, backtracked and were able to continue. They both regained their positions to finish 1st and 3rd. The race ain't over until it is over.

While riding a mountain bike seems quite physical, it is very mental in so many ways. So whether I think I have a strategy or not, I always have a plan, even if the plan is to not have a plan.

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