First, some good news: I finished the race and I didn’t eat it.
Second, some sucky news: Despite finishing the race with an official time, I have no idea where I truly placed because the signage along the course was confusing enough that a bunch of people ended up (inadvertently, I hope) riding a shortcut that took over a mile off the course. It confused me too, and I actually waited so I could ask a couple riders coming from behind which route to take. Since there’s no way to show who did or didn’t take the shortcut, there’s no way to fix it.
This is sucky because one of the main reasons I entered this race was to see how I’d stack up against other women in my category. Now, because of this shortcut, I won’t get to find out.
Other suckiness: The confusing website that couldn’t agree with itself on where our race was going to start, and the staff who had no idea either. Good thing it was obvious once we got there.
Additional suckiness: The race was billed as a 10 mile loop, the posted GPS showed a 12.8 mile loop, and my bike computer, which reads a tad low, showed 14.3 miles. I signed up for a 10 mile race. While I don’t mind riding 14-plus miles, I would expect that an organized race would be more accurate about things like, oh, say, race distance?
Okay, enough about suckiness. How about a race recap? They started the categories in waves separated by about 5 minutes each. There was about half an hour’s worth of waiting in line for race start, which meant that even though I did a warm-up, I had cooled back down by the time the race started. Unfortunately for me, I am a terrible rider when I’m cold. Terrible, as in, slow. Just ask Aaron.
Down the track we went toward the trail. By the time we got there, I was way behind midpack. That’s okay, I thought, I’ll catch them on the trails once I warm up. And catch them I did. Well, some of them, anyway. The problem with being slow early is that it’s hard to pass once the trail narrows.
I caught a couple riders on the first dirt uphill, then a couple more on the first downhill. Then we hit the singletracks and switchbacks, and the group slowed way down. Traffic jam! It was a tad frustrating, since I could ride faster than some of the other riders on that terrain but didn’t have room to pass. People fell or stepped off their bikes whenever there was a steep climb or a sharp turn, but I only gained position from it some of the time. (There was a bit of, “Oh, we’ll all wait while you pick yourself up and get back in line,” from some of the other riders. It’s a girl thing, I guess, and while it wasn’t very racey of them to do that, I understood and appreciated the sportsmanship behind it.) Mostly, it just separated me more from the leaders. Damn my sucky slow start!
The race results are up. I looked at them just now, and they made me really mad. It’s not that (most of) the riders who took the shortcut were trying to cheat, but the end result is that a lot of the riders took a shorter route (which also meant less climbing) and thus registered a faster time.
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I took a break from this post to go to bed, and spent the entire night having fitful dreams about stupid race shortcuts. Lame.
Some good things about the race: I didn’t eat it in the gravel, I didn’t eat it in the deep, steep sandy downhill, I can handle riding in sand a lot better than I could a week ago, and I’m better overall at picking a line and just going for it (screw caution, just go!). I never felt the need to do that last one until this race; there’s nothing like being forced to learn to do something.
Despite being pissed about the shortcut, I’m happy that I rode the full course, and that I pulled off an average speed of 8.8 MPH. That was my goal based on my calculations from last year’s race (which was inaccurate because the course distance was wrong), and the fastest I’ve ever ridden on the trails.
While I don’t have an accurate comparison of numbers, I got a feel for where I stand in my field. The best riders are strong and skilled. They’re better than I am, period, and I’m okay with that. Most of the riders out there are stronger than I am on a flat or a reasonable uphill. I’m not quite sure how to address this one; I bike, I weight train, I cross train. I’m not naturally strong (oh, genetics, you kill me), and no matter how hard I work, I’ll max out at some point. C’est la vie. A lot of these riders, however, are slower on the downhill, can’t make it up a steep uphill (which requires technique as much as strength), can’t take a sharp corner, and slow down on singletrack. I can do all these things, but it doesn’t help me much if I’m behind them. Yup, I definitely screwed up my race start.
Anyway, I’m happy because I finished the full course, and did so intact. I’m happy because I set a new personal speed record. I’m happy because the other riders were cool folks. And all of that happiness is tainted by a short length of trail with a black and yellow arrow pointing at it. That wasn’t our arrow, people. I wish they’d told us that.
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I keep thinking about this every few minutes, and it pisses me off that I’m forever immortalized as having finished 18th out of 30. I’m not bottom half, dammit! All the top finishers took about a mile’s worth of time off the top finishers from last year. Last year and this year’s times for the men (who don’t have this “shortcut” option) were about the same. What does this tell me? Shortcut! *#$^*(&^@!!!
Annoyed. Really annoyed. All that work just to be compared to a bunch of people who rode a shorter course than I did. Pfft.
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I wrote to the Athlete Services Director, described (and illustrated) the course issue, requested that this issue to be noted in the official results, and asked them to please take extra care to avoid potentially confusing signage in the future. I got a prompt reply that said thanks for the e-mail, there were issues but it was mostly rider error, the confusing sign was a different color and thus clearly different from the course signs, and that they’d take my comments into consideration for next year’s race.
To which I say, there was rider error because the “clearly different” signs were confusing! But whatever, complaining about this year’s race is like beating a dead horse. I’m thinking about next year. Do I enter this race and risk disappointment again? If I do and the same situation presents itself, do I ride the shorter route because other people will? I want to be “fast” too!