|Making the turn to the finish of|
the "No Brakes" Mtb race
at Stratham Hill (NH).
Stratham, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Last weekend was a rare opportunity (lately) for me to squeeze in two races. They would both be my first experience and I can easily say they won't be my last. My teammate, Amanda House, alerted me to the weekend's festivities when I saw her earlier this month at the Pinnacle Challenge VII. At the time she informed me of the No Brakes mountain bike race on some of the newest singletrack in Stratham (NH). It was only later that I found out that the same morning they held a 5k trail race at the same park. The RDs spaced the two events so that it was possible to do both...although I would learn that very few would attempt. A little back and forth on Facebook and I had a handful of teammates doing the trail race and still a few others doing the mountain bike race. This time of year for me, is a transition from the longer and harder training and racing I do from January through September. If I'm racing it's generally shorter stuff that's closer to home and the two events at Stratham Hill (5k trail & 9 mile mtb) only 30 minutes from home fit the bill perfectly.
EVENT #1: FIRETOWER 5k
Prior to the race I gathered a little intel from teammate Jeremiah Fitzgibbon who had pre-run the course. A mix of carriage roads and single/double track with one climb to the fire tower (hence the name). He told me to expect it would be fast. He, I, and new teammate Tom Cross lined up with 170 trail runners in the soccer field next to the 4H building on the Stratham Fairgrounds. Looking around it was obviously a family environment as the starting line was dominated by pre-teens. Not wanted to risk getting tripped and trampled I decided to get off fast when the gun fired (by Miss Stratham Fair I might add). Within the first few hundred meters I was in the Top 5 running stride for stride with a young guy who seemed pretty determined to keep me behind him. The top 2 guys were putting a gap on us by the 6-7 minute mark but I was securely in 5th, directly behind 4th, and could see 3rd place. Just before the 2 mile mark the young guy in 4th fell back to me and I moved around encouraging him to stay with me. Approaching the firetower climb I could feel myself closing the gap on 3rd place. About 1/2 way up the 300+ meter climb I caught and passed the guy for 3rd place to the top of the hill. But as we began to descend the doubletrack trail he quickly regained the spot and accelerated away. I obviously still have a lot of work to do on my downhill racing. Back in 4th place I caught a glimpse of Keith Schmitt closing on me. Knowing he's a far more talented runner than myself but recognizing the finish was only a few hundred meters away I leaned forward and if he was going to pass me he would have to earn it. Luckily the finish line came when it did as he was only 2 seconds behind. I was able to hold him off for a 4th overall finish in 18:50 (6:04's). I'm incredibly pleased with the result. I felt strong but not quite red lined. A really, really great late season effort.
EVENT #2: NO BRAKES MOUNTAIN BIKE RACE
The Firetower 5k finished around 9:30ish. My SPORT class one lap 9 miler would most likely go off around 11:45ish (or when the last of the ADVANCED/EXPERT riders completed their first of two laps). I changed into my aR cycling gear, drank some HEED, and chatted with teammate Geoff Cunningham who was making his mountain bike racing debut on his new Specialized 29er. My love/hate relationship with mountain bike racing is pretty well documented. It can be incredibly exhilarating and challenging but it can also be so humbling that it hardly seems worth the effort. And the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that it's how the races are organized, not necessarily the sport itself. And the folks that put the No Brakes race on know exactly what they're doing. By sending the ADVANCED/EXPERT riders out first and waiting to start the SPORT race until those riders had finished their first lap assured that we (or I) wouldn't be traffic for the faster more skilled riders. In fact, we would never see each other on the course. Lining up for my race there appeared to be a small crowd of maybe 20 riders with all ability levels represented. I actually began to think that it was probably me that looked hardcore in my aR cycling kit. Little did they know. I lined up in the 3rd or 4th row and decided I would get a feel for the crowd in the first few minutes of the race and then try to forget everyone else and ride as hard as I could. As the race started I immediately felt a sense of urgency and pushed toward the front standing on the pedals in the big ring. Moments later I was again in the Top 5 (like the trail race). The course consisted of two primary "climbs" connected by some smooth, fresh, twisting singletrack. I'm a fairly strong climber so I was able to catch a couple of guys on the first climb to the same fire tower I had raced to earlier that morning. As we hit the singletrack however I started picking my way through and obviously slowing them down. When I found a spot I told them to go ahead and try to catch the guys on the podium. For the next 7 miles I essentially rode alone. I dabbed a few times on the tight switchback climbs...not for fitness, but for lack of bike handling skills. The singletrack sections were sensational and as I was racing I was already making plans to return and ride these tracks again. I missed a turn toward the end but quickly figured out my error and probably only lost 10-15 seconds. Pushing hard on the last 2 miles of flat carriage roads and fields I felt very, very strong as an entire spring, summer, and fall of riding had paid off. I crossed the finish line in 51:07 and in 4th place overall. My second race and second 4th place finish of the day. The race was a blast! That type of mountain bike racing I love. Racing against fairly evenly matched athletes without holding up 20-30 elite riders.
This is most certainly a double I will do again next fall. And hopefully I'll have some aR teammates willing to try to capture my new King of the Hill crown.
NEXT UP: Hallowiener Hustle