Just over one week ago, I competed in my first ever mountain bike race. Six days later, I competed in my 2nd ever mountain bike race. Within a week’s span of time, I had gone from a recreational rider to a competitor (although I am much too slow to be considered a competitor to my fellow racers). I simply enjoy being out riding in the woods at my own level of “fast”. Having a course marked out for me gives me a focus to get to where I belong – the finish line – no matter how long it takes compared to everyone else.
Ramsey’s Revenge at Brandywine Creek State Park was my 1st ever mountain bike race. It also, coincidentally, was Josh’s first ever mountain bike race. The day before Josh and I pre-rode the course. I would be doing the Cat 4 course. Josh would be doing the Cat 3 course. Although much of the course was the same, my course would diverge slightly away from more technical and rocky sections of the Cat 3 course, making it more “beginner-friendly”. Don’t get me wrong, I would still be riding over a lot of rocks and relatively technical sections. Pre-riding the course made me second guess my choice for starting off on such a challenging, hilly, up-down kind-of course. We left our pre-ride ride feeling more nervous for our race day, even though we were both very familiar with Brandywine’s trails.
On race day, Josh’s race didn’t start until 12:30 and mine at 1:00. All morning we nervously paced around Josh’s house anxiously awaiting when we would have to leave for the race. Our nervousness continued to build as we started to pack things in the Jeep. We arrived around 11 AM and went over to the registration tent to pick up our race plates. Because temperatures would reach nearly 90 degrees by the time our races would start, we found some shade and tried to ease each other’s nerves. A culmination of nervousness continued to build and all we could do to distract ourselves was ride up and down the road running parallel to the race course.
Around 12:15 we made our way back to the top of the Ramsey Farm hill so Josh could prepare to stage for his race. They called over the entire Cat 3 field at 12:30 to begin staging near the starting line. Cat 4 wasn’t scheduled to go off until 1 o’clock so I made my way to the bottom of the hill to see Josh’s start. At 12:40, Josh came flying down the hill and I sent him on his way by yelling last minute words of encouragement.
Now alone, I made my way back up the hill to wait for the announcement for Cat 4 to be staged. I waited with 8-10 other people anxiously awaiting the start of the race. By 12:55, we still hadn’t been informed to start staging so a few of us decided to wander over to the starting line. Luckily, we had made the right decision as the Cat 4 men were about to start. We informed the starter that nobody had announced Cat 4’s staging. A few men missed the start of their race and had to try their best to gap the distance of the rest of the field. Cat 4 Women were up next. Luckily, I wasn’t in the staging area for very long because that would’ve just augmented my nervousness. I can’t decide if nearly missing my race was therefore a good thing rather than a bad thing because I didn’t have too much time to think about starting the race.
The race started on the downhill so everyone started sprinting down. I started in last place but I knew my strengths in climbing uphill would be to my benefit. After a short flat, we started our 1st climb. I passed two other women which boosted my confidence a little bit. I knew how to ride these hills as Josh and I had gone up them many of times. I felt great knowing what the course would be like. Next was a another steep downhill that flowed right into a long, less steep uphill. Then we dipped into single track.
The single track was flowy, rooty, rocky, uphill, downhill, and everything in between. I felt strong on every climb but there were one or two downhills that I opted to walk down due to the steepness. I’m not afraid to admit this because I am simply stating my current skill level. Steep downhills are not my strong point. Log overs are usually a lost cause (unless they’re tiny log overs, of course!). I will also admit that there were some parts of the trail that normally I would be extremely frightful of riding on during training mountain bike rides. However, during the race, I didn’t think twice about doing them. My adrenaline kicked in and I went over and around obstacles I normally would get off my bike for.
I tried to ride faster on the single track that wasn’t technical. Then we proceeded up our final uphill. It was a long climb, especially with tired legs. I kept spinning my legs and I didn’t have to get off my bike and run up it. Thank goodness for my climbing legs! The climb ended and I would soon be rewarded with the finishing downhill!
After some twisting and turning in the woods, we emerged in the wide open field. The finish line was down below. Once I hit the downhill, I focused on keeping my tire in the single track and tried not to tap the brakes. I hit 26.1 MPH on this downhill nearly flying myself off my own bike. I crossed the finish line tired and shaky. I think my nervousness stuck with my throughout the race, hence my shakiness.
Josh approached me with a cold bottle of water and we congratulated each other on finishing our first ever race. He enjoyed himself just as I had and we talked about racing our mountain bikes again sometime soon. We had finished our first race! Woohoo!
In retrospect, my severe nervousness wasn’t completely necessary. I went in to the race hoping not to get last, hoping not to crash my bike, hoping not to get stuck with a flat tire out on the course, and hoping not to mess anyone else’s race up that might sneak up behind me. I didn’t get last, I didn’t crash my bike, I didn’t get a flat, and I didn’t mess anyone else’s race up. I did get off my bike a few times to walk my bike downhill (yes, downhill) and over log-overs, but I knew going in to the race that I would be doing so. I’m far from being a skilled mountain biker but this race did indeed boost my confidence a little and I can honestly say that I will be doing more mountain bike races in the future.
My race recap from my 2nd ever mountain bike race will be up so, but for now I leave you with these words of wisdom: Do not be afraid to try new things. If you fail, you’ll learn from it. If you succeed, you’ll learn from it. Try new things to learn new things.