After racing Endurance all year, I decided to give Cross Country racing a shot this fall with the Gone Riding Florida State Championship Series. With a few events rescheduled and cancelled due to Hurricane Irma rendering most trails in the state unrideable, the season this year kicked off at Hailes Trails in Newberry, FL outside of Gainesville. I raced here back in May for 6 hours (ok, 5 hours) so I was familiar with the trail, but at an even Endurance pace. The thought of hitting these unique trails as fast as possible for an hour was exciting and scary at the same time.
As a season opener, this race was a 2 day event: Day 1 is an Individual Time Trial on a shortened course for bonus points, and Day 2 is a classic Cross Country race. Starting this year in Cat 3 meant I’d be doing 2 laps in the XC race, and the ITT course was just 1 lap for all of a slightly shorter course. I had done the math and research and knew the bonus points available in the ITT were going to be very important, so I made sure I had a good preride on the course a few hours before to know what I was getting into. With a large field of nearly 150 riders, there was a lot of hurry up and wait for your turn, so I tried to time my warm-up well in order to be ready for FULL GAS from the whistle.
I went as hard as I could for ~19 minutes, up and down the old rock quarries and through the flowing singletrack which makes Hailes so unique. Honestly the pace was so fast it was hard to even think, and I crossed the line out of breath and thankful it was over. As I talked to the other racers they had similar stories, an ITT at Hailes is brutally tough and painful. At the end of the day it was good enough for 4th in my class so 2 bonus points, though I questioned whether or not I had taken some power out of my legs for the next day’s XC race.
We got up early the next morning with the Bikeminded crew to cheer them on and hand up bottles for the Cat 1 and Cat 2 racers. There were many familiar faces there competing in all classes, and as I waited for my wave to start later in the day I could see the pace and suffering I was in for. I gathered my things and started my warm-up so I could get to the start line in time to get a good spot.
Exactly opposite of Endurance racing, the start of a Cross Country race is incredibly important. Everybody told me this, I knew this, but I didn’t really understand it until the whistle blew. A frenzy of clipping in, mashing pedals, shifting gears and jockeying for position for a little under a minute and we were flying into the first section of singletrack. I went into the woods about 7th, not great but in a field of 23 riders in my age group for Cat 3 that wasn’t bad either. As we got into the woods the pace went from “I think I’m gonna puke” to “This hurts but I’ll probably live”, and I started to look for opportunities to make up for my poor start. Passing when I had chances early in the lap took their toll on my legs, and as soon as a rider in front made a mistake on a climb I had to stop to run around him. I’m much better on the bike than running, and I got exhausted running up a steep climb.
The top 3 riders were riding away and then a few more started to pass me. Fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and maybe more came past me as I settled in on the last section of the first lap. Silly mistakes and mental errors had me frustrated and slow. Starting the 2nd lap was a reset button, I gathered my thoughts and put my best effort in to be clean and strong. My Infinit Nutrition custom blend had me feeling good and I started to reel in some riders. Back up to 8th place as I descended into the loose rock quarry, I could see riders in sight. You never really know if they’re in your class or not, so I just always assume they are and start chasing.
The last 1 mile of the course featured a technical rock garden immediately followed by four really tough climbs and descents (where’s my dropper?), and a long straight flat run into the finish. I could see a couple of riders getting closer as I went up and down each of these climbs, and I had finally caught up to them on the last climb. There was a little Bikeminded cheer squad on that last climb and that gave me the little boost I needed to finish strong. We were all side by side and it was a drag race, all of us putting out whatever we had left to get to the line first. I was able to squeeze by them both, going from 8th to 6th position in the last 100 yards of the race and 5th was only 10 seconds up. After how the day went I wasn’t sure I’d have legs left but I was happy they listened when I told them to stop those pedals one last time.
It was a really tough day, there was adversity both self-inflicted and situational, but I was able to gather myself and regroup in time to get back in the race. Endurance racing is hard in many different ways, but one thing is that you almost always have time to overcome mistakes and problems. With Cross Country, you better get it together quick and go, cause somebody is on your tail! The intensity and tactics are going to be something I’ll have to learn as the season goes on, but I’m really looking forward to the next race!
We were also super stoked for many of our good friends who were able to nab podiums or top ten placements in their classes. Congrats, friends!! Check out a sneak peek of pics from the race here and be sure to log in and have a look at the full galleries for the time trial and for FSC #1.