After Saturday’s happy conclusion, the pressure was off going into the OBRA XC Campionship. I’d been nervously looking forward to the race all year, and was happy to see it finally arrive.
The race was held at Lucia Falls near Benton, Oregon. Part of the fun of racing is visiting new places, and Lucia falls didn’t disappoint. As a bonus, they also provided a fun place for the kids to explore with Sis while I raced.
I didn’t get a preview of the course before the race, but the flyer said “enough climbing to weed out the non-climbers and enough descending to weed out the non-descenders”. That sounded pretty good to me. I’m not an excellent climber or descender, but I’m average enough that I thought the two might even things out for me, or at least not put me at a huge disadvantage in either category.
For this race I once again raced Category 2. There was an option to race the 30-35 open category, but that meant possibly racing against 1s and pros, and that didn’t sound like much fun to me.
At the gun we were lead neutral through a few hiker-friendly trails before being set loose at our own pace. I started around 5th in my starting group (which combined 2s and Open). It looked like the guys in front of me were all Open racers, so I decided to try to hold their wheels to ensure a good pace – that way I wouldn’t go too fast or too slow. This worked out pretty well for the first fifteen minutes of the race,which was mostly flat. When I looked behind me I didn’t see anyone close, so I guessed that I might be in the lead for my category. Woo hoo!
Things started getting a lot tougher shortly thereafter. I’d heard some people talking at the starting line about “the hill” and about how bad it was, but I thought to myself “how bad can a hill be?”. As we approached its base and the doubletrack gravel road shot skyward, I began to understand what all the talk was about. “Stay cool, it won’t be that long” was the first thing that went through my head. I was wrong. It was long: About a mile. As for steepness, I heard people saying that it averaged 25% to 30% for about a mile. In terms of putting those numbers into real life, the hill was so steep that beyond not getting off and working the challenge was to find a position far back enough on the bike that traction could be maintained while simultaneously trying to avoid popping a wheeling and flipping back over the rear tire. It really was that steep! I’m not sure if this shows it, but here is a picture of the elevation profile that gives a sense of it:
I’d been hanging on to my group of five okay until we hit the hill, but when we finally did, the group immediately started gapping me. I tried for a minute to hang on and knew that I was quickly going to blow up if I didn’t back it off a bit and find a pace I could sustain. When I did that, the group sailed up the hill without me. It was a bit of a bummer to see them go, but I told myself that these must be higher category riders and I didn’t need to race that race.
When I finally crested the hill for the first time, things got fun in a hurry. The downhill was loose but blazing fast. I’m a bit of a nervous descender, and I took it easy going down. I’m glad I did because near the bottom of the hill I passed one of the front four guys upside down in the bushes. He later got back up and re-passed me.
The remainder of the race was almost completely solo for me. When I came back around and climbed The Hill the second time, I noticed a guy in my rear view mirror and panicked a little. I was suffering pretty badly and knew I couldn’t go faster, but he was definitely gaining on me. I tried to be smooth and a little faster on the downhill, and he eventually disappeared from behind me although I heard his brakes squeal occasionally while descending.
On the third and final lap, a different rider appeared behind me on The Hill again. I thought for sure the group must be catching me one by one. I didn’t have to decide how to react though, because at this point I was in my super-granny gear and my legs only had one speed: survival. I just concentrated on spinning as well as possible and getting to the top of the hill ahead of the guy so that I could try (again) to hold him of on the descent.
“Steady as she goes” was the mantra for the day, and it ended up being good enough to see me through to the finish line. I crossed with an incredible amount of relief, and hunched over the bike totally exhausted for a few minutes while I tried to regain my wits and senses.
Having looked at the results, I can now see that I finished about three minutes behind the lead group of four riders, but I guess all of my worry was for naught because I was actually five and a half minutes ahead of second place in my race. Worry can be a good thing though, because I never knew if I had 30 seconds or five minutes of lead, and I’d hate to lose a race because I got lazy or overconfident.
This race is officially my category 2 swan song. Its time to HTFU and start racing with the 1s. It was fun doing some races and actually winning this year for sure, winning is such a rare thing! I do look forward to next year though, and the new challenge of finding a way to get a bit faster and be competitive in a whole new shark tank.