I forgot how much I love cross country. But more on that in a bit, as this past weekend I did something I never thought I’d do – I rode a bike race. Golden Gate Velo puts on the Mt. Tam Hill Climb once a year, which runs from Stinson Beach up to Rock Springs parking lot. You head north for 4 flat miles on highway 1 before turning right onto Bolinas-Fairfax road for 4.5 miles and then right again on Ridgecrest Blvd for the final 4 miles. In total, you climb 2,000ft in those final 8+ miles. The CEO at my work is a fairly avid cyclist and definitely played a role in convincing me to sign up for this thing. He gave me some advice, mainly to just tuck into the pack on the flat part and then see what I could do on the hill. I didn’t have a chance to ride the BoFax portion of the route beforehand, but I’d done the Ridgecrest Section, so I knew what was coming for the final 4 miles. I rode out to Stinson in the morning before the race for a warmup and met Jonas at the start. We were in the public/open group which started last, at 10am. Today was also my first time riding in clipless pedals for more than 5 minutes. I didn’t really have any problems with them, thankfully, but I’m sure I’m due for a fall at some point when I am unable to clip out.
As a quick aside, WTF is up with the pedal names. “Platforms” make sense because they’re just pedals. The ones with the cages are apparently called “clip-ins,” while the ones that you click into and need special shoes for are called “clipless.” That doesn’t make any sense to me. Why not just call the pedals with cages “cages” and the click-in ones “clip-ins” because THAT’S WHAT YOU FREAKING DO WHEN YOU RIDE WITH THEM.) But I digest…
There were about 25 guys in our group and I found myself in the middle of the line quickly after the start. I would like to point out that I was the only guy riding a cyclocross bike (or at least the only one with cyclocross tires) but there was one dude with a backpack and running shoes. I wanted very badly to not lose to him. A week ago, that was me, though, so who knew what might happen… The first thing I noticed is that I had a hard time staying right on the wheel of the guy in front of me. I was uncomfortable being so close to someone while moving so quickly. In running, being on someone’s ass is not a huge deal as my feet handle way better than a bike, but on the bike, my handling skills and overall comfort were considerably shaky. When I did manage to get up on him, though, I finally observed firsthand how helpful drafting can be. About 1.5 miles down the road, the pace suddenly slowed as the leader decided he no longer wanted to pull everyone, so people fanned out across the road and I thought for a moment I might end up riding through everyone and to the front. That thought was erased very quickly. Jonas ended up taking the lead and before I knew it, I was spit out the back of the group, as everyone went by me (except for one guy). When we hit the turn onto the climb, I was about 100m behind the group. I wondered if they knew something I didn’t, but figured we still had 8 miles of climbing to go and my plan all along had to be cruise the flat and then grind the climb.
And grind I did. I passed 5-10 guys within the first mile and another 5 or so in the next 2-3. There was one older guy with whom I found myself battling a bit, but he was quite friendly so it wasn’t very competitive at all. I just put my head down and rode. I started to feel fairly fatigued about 6 miles in and the last couple miles were rough, but I knew where I was on course and managed to keep going pretty well. I finished in 53:31 which I think put me 10th out of 25 in our group, but well behind Jonas, who ended up winning in 47:40 (impressive!). Here’s my Strava data:
Even more impressive were the guys who did the climb in the 41-42 minute range. I can’t even fathom that. After talking with Jonas and Gary at the top for a bit, I headed back down to Mill Valley and recovered for the rest of the day.
Sunday morning found me up around 7:30am to hitch a ride with Mark McManus and DBo into Golden Gate Park for my first cross country race of the season and DBo’s first xc race ever. After some coffe and 2 Picky Bars, it was time to warm up. I was a little worried how tired my quads would be after the bike ride, but as I started the warmup, I felt surprisingly good. It was a blast warming up with the SFRC and West Valley teams, as I don’t think I’ve warmed up for a race for several months. Most of the SFRC guys were split between those who had never raced XC and those who hadn’t raced in 15-20 years. They were in for a rude (but fun!) awakening. As we watched the women race, DBo commented that it didn’t look like anyone was having fun. I told him that’s because if you’re having fun, you’re not running fast enough. He seemed concerned.
Before long, we were blasting across Lindley Meadow and onto the trail down JFK. I found myself mid-pack (or so it felt) and running uncomfortably fast. DBo and Jorge were right with me through the first mile, with Paddy a bit ahead. Over the next 2 miles (the race is 4 miles on a 2-loop 2mile course), both DBo and Jorge pulled away from me by about 20-30m. I knew we still had that final little kicker hill that everyone takes for granted at the top of the loop, and I resolved to stay in contact with them and try to move past them on the hill. At the same time, I was also formulating excuses as to why I lost to them in an xc race. Right before that final hill, we ran through a big throng of people and that got me pumped. I started really working and gapped them a bit towards the top. I managed to hang on through the finish line, but we were all within 5 seconds of one another. It was so nice to get out and compete like that and feel some self-imposed pressure again. It was also great to feel my lungs popping out of my chest. Strava data here: https://www.strava.com/activities/391720824/overview
Afterwards, we cooled down and drank some beers, commingling amongst SFRC and WVTC. As DBo put it, “This is the best Sunday ever!” (or something like that). Welcome to cross country season. Can’t wait for the next race.