I’m not sure what made me sign up for the Oak Flats Race as part of the New Mexico Off Road Series. In all honesty, I’ve been eyeing the list of races every year since I’ve moved to New Mexico. And every year I’ve managed to come up with lame excuses not to race. I guess this year I ran out of excuses, especially for a $30 race less than 30 minutes from my house.
I couldn’t believe how nervous I was lining up at the start line. Granted, I had never done a mountain bike race before, but the Cat 3 women’s group was very slim in numbers. In fact, I was the only woman Cat 3 racer in my age group. I was guaranteed a 1st place podium finish, and that alone should have been enough to settle my jitters.
The women in Cat 3 ranged from seasoned veterans to those that appeared to be brand-spanking-new to the sport, let alone racing. While waiting at the start line, one of the girls hit the nail on the head when she mentioned her only goal was to “not biff it.” Deep down that was my goal too, but optimistically I was hoping to come away with the Cat 3 first place finish for a grand prize of $50.
After jockeying ahead of a few of my “competitors” in the first few straight aways, with shakey legs and a pounding heart, I finally settled down and got into a rhythm through the mild rock gardens that lined the beginning of the race course.
The course description of fast, flowing descents, steep inclines, and easy singletrack was extremely accurate. The trail destruction that naturally occurs with 250 riders making multiple laps added the most difficulty to the race course. Easy rocky sections and tight turns became much more difficult as loose sand built up. Trail conditions such as this slowed down the Cat 3 racers and juniors, causing some bunching and, unfortunately, a couple of wipeouts. However, as the riders began to stretch out and nerves calmed down, the fun truly began.
Since this was my first race (besides casually Cat 6 racing on the weekdays), I learned a lot in just the first lap:
1. Internally, I’m fairly competitive. On the trail, though, I found myself being nice to my own detriment. This course had numerous spots to pass, but I failed to capitalize as often as I should have, even when others would ask me if I wanted to pass. There wasn’t much difference between my casual Saturday ride and the race. That is, unless I came up on a guy I thought I could pass and stay ahead of. Sorry guys, the raging feminist in me is hard to quell at times.
2. I found that my strong traits were the downhill sections and technical terrain. I was able to partially make up for my slow climbing and wind-sucking. However, due to my inability to pass others during the first lap when the trail was the most crowded, I was unable to capitalize on the downhill. If it’s your first time racing, make sure to position yourself so you can take advantage of your strengths.
3. Eating and drinking while on the race course is tricky, at least for me. I decided to go without a camelback at the last minute. However, my waterbottle holder was unfriendly and led me to storing my water bottle in the back pocket of my (road) jersey. Getting at energy shots in my jersey was also tricky. I haven’t decided if my method was poorly executed or poorly planned to begin with. Perhaps it was a combination of the two.
4. Knowing I was automatically first helped my first-time jitters a lot. It made me more passive on the trail, but it also allowed me to just enjoy the race and the trail. I made sure to catch a little air on the downhills when possible, and even chatted with another competitor while “racing” on the course. I highly recommend signing up for races with as few competitors as possible!
I definitely had some fuel left in the tank at the end of the race, and for the next race I plan to be more competitive. Overall I had a fantastic time, and can’t wait for my next rac!. I have a lot to learn, since race season is kicking into high gear in New Mexico.
If you’re interested in racing some sweet singletrack in New Mexico, there are 8 more races this year as part of the 2014 New Mexico Off Road Series.
Your turn: Share your tips and tricks for mountain bike racing below! We promise not to use it against you at the next race…