Monday, July 23, 2012

Stranger In A Strange Land

“The human mind’s ability to rationalize its own shortcomings into virtues is unlimited.”  Robert Heinlein
The more I think about it, the more yesterday’s WORS race was like a time trial.  In my previous mountain bike races there was always an easy part, usually a long section of flowy singletrack ridden at a speed that kept me in touch with my competition while allowing me to recover from an earlier effort.  The Sunburst Showdown really had no such section; I was on the gas almost constantly.  But I had a successful race because I can put out that kind of sustained aerobic effort.  Many of my fellow Citizens-class racers can’t, and I think I know why.

I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of my competitors’ training plans, but I suspect many of the guys spend most—if not all—of their saddle time aboard their mountain bikes.  They get lots of those flowy singletrack sections that allow for recovery.  Their efforts are explosive, but relatively short.

Because I train mostly on the road or on the Eisenbahn State Trail, I eat up miles with aerobic efforts that I sustain for long intervals.  A lot of good riders won’t go near the Eisenbahn because it’s an almost pan-flat, almost dead-straight rec trail.  But I recognize its value as a time trial course.  All of my little self-timed TTs to Campbellsport and back might seem silly to some people, but I know they contribute to my physical fitness and to my psychological capacity for suffering.

Seven races into the WORS season, I’ve proven to be a pretty fair mountain bike racer.  The Sunburst Showdown provided a rare opportunity to compare my lap times to those of the Sport, Comp and Elite racers.  At all prior venues my Citizens course was shorter and easier.  At Sunburst all categories raced the same course, just different numbers of laps.  I finished two laps in 1:01:32 … about 30 minutes per lap.  If I can assume I had one more lap in my legs at approximately the same pace, then I would have finished squarely in the middle of the Sport field.  But as I mentioned yesterday, Sunburst was a test of aerobic fitness and not of bike handling skills.  On a more technically challenging course I likely would lose ground to experienced Sport men even if I had superior fitness.

I’m probably not unique but I do think I’m unusual in that I became a mountain bike racer without first becoming a mountain bike rider.  I never go mountain biking just for fun; I ride only in the context of training for an upcoming race.  In that respect my relationship with my mountain bike is different than my relationship with my road and cyclocross bikes.  Through Sunday I had done 115 rides this year, only 34 of which were on the mountain bike.  I look at my 29er as a race-only machine; even when I’m going only as far as Glacial Blue Hills to practice, I transport the bike by car.  The thought of riding it across town, exposing all of its inefficiencies vis-à-vis my other bikes, is distasteful to me.

What am I trying to tell you?  I guess, that I still see myself as an outsider despite modest success in competition and the acceptance of my fellow racers.  I always feel like a cyclist, but one who dabbles rather than specializes.  I’m just good enough at a variety of things for each discipline to be fun, and maybe that’s all I ever will be.  And maybe that’s OK.

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