This was a fairly short season compared to other years, and not particularly all that exciting for me.I missed 2 regular season races, the Double Down, the 6-12-24, and the season finale. On the upshot, part of the reason I missed most these races was for riding and racing in Washington and BC, so… ya pretty hard to complain about that.
In short, my riding this season was geared toward sustained endurance power –intentionally and accidentally.
This yielded to feeling a bit frustrated at the mid-week races as most the courses were flat – also, intentionally and accidentally. The flatter courses generally all resulted in very fast paced races that rewarded top-end power. My best race overall was Race 5 on Hillside, which was obviously, hilly.
While I was frustrated that at many of the Kincaid races I felt I could not match my cohort for sub 120-minute sustained speed, in hindsight I realized that the reason I started doing these races to begin with was to force me to do these a types of efforts.
I don’t have a problem going out and throwing myself at one grueling climb after another, or putting in long rides. I do have a problem with intensity. These races draw that weakness out, and I should be happy for that.
Arctic MTB 1
The first race of the season is typically low-key in terms of technical difficulty or climbing, but big on turn out. That was mostly true this year, for all the right reasons. These mellower courses don’t necessarily help me out much, but, for the growth of the sport, I think it’s a really good philosophy the bike club has adhered to over the years. That being said, this year’s first course actually had a fair bit of old school roots, along with a nice mix of STA flow trail, and double track, so you never spent too long on any one trail type. Anyhow, the race went remarkably predictable for me overall. Less than halfway into the first lap, I glanced around to see that Nick, Clint, Megan and I were all grouped up.“The posse is back together,” I shouted as we tore into the banked corners on Bolling Alley.
The 4 of us traded pulls for the next few laps, though Nick was usually 5-10 seconds out front.
About a quarter way through the third lap, my lower back was starting to feel very sore and tired. The high speeds, and the rooty sections, were taking their toll, but I was likely also feeling the effect of the previous weekend’s running race up Government Peak. We hit a stretch of double track, and though I like to drill these sections, I just didn’t have anymore top-end power, and Clint pulled away. Megan pushed me through the next stretch, but she had a little more leg, and came around as well. The four of us all finished within a 60-second window. I could not complain. Even if it were not for Government Peak, I had not put in any exceptional efforts on my hard tail as of yet, so, at the time, this race qualified as the hardest ride on that bike, hopefully leaving lots of room for improvement.
Arctic MTB 3
The next race on my docket was Arctic XC 3, nearly a month after XC1 (I missed XC2 for work stuff).I knew this was not going to be a strong race from the outset. For starters, I was putting in some good mileage on the weekends, and bagged two 6-hour+ Kenai rides the 2 weekends prior. As typical, I was reaching a mid to late-June performance peak.
The race was supposed to be held on Hillside on the Hillside Classic course, but after a series of bear maulings in the preceding weeks, numerous reports of an aggressive brown bear sow with cubs roaming the Hillside, the race directors prudently decided to make a last minute change of venue to Kincaid.
The alternate course was very flat and smooth.
I knew immediately that the race was going to be all about top-end speed.
Anyway, making excuses for myself, I think that going for my normal 10k run on Monday was a bad idea. It’s not like it hurt me a ton, I wasn’t hobbling around, this is the same run I do every week, but, in hindsight, it didn’t help me either.
I knew this to an extent on Tuesday as I did a trainer ride (raining), and could feel that my legs just weren’t going to have pop.
On an upshot, Nathan raced his first MTB race ever, so, he and I went to pre-ride the course and warm up. Three moose blocked our route though, and I can’t say it was much of a warm up as a result!
Surprisingly, the race didn’t go out as hot as I expected, and I was able to tag along through about half of the first lap, and even make some descent passes. Once we hit Bolling Alley I started to drift back a bit.
Because the course was flat, I tried to push my big ring up front as much as possible. This worked great the first lap, but as my legs faded early, I found it was causing more strain as my RPMs dropped through the second lap. By about halfway through lap 2, I was really suffering trying to push the big ring, and finally relented. I continued to feel like garbage until a little ways into lap 3, at which point, my legs started to respond to the higher RPMs, and my riding evened out and felt smoother. At this point of course, it was too late. I was alone.
The race was a little disappointing, but timing wise, I tend to hit a physical slump in late June early July most years, so, it was consistent, and really didn’t bother me that much, other than I wished I’d had the legs to at least chase my cohort group for more than one lap.
Arctic MTB 5
I missed Arctic 4 as I was out of state racing in Washington, so my next race was race 5 in late July. I probably would have skipped it anyway as it was a short track race.Arctic 5 was the second planned race on Hillside, but since Race 3 had to be moved last minute, it became the only hillside race of the season.
The original plan was to race a course I designed last season that used the Brown and Black Bear trails, and only climbed part way up the Hillside trails. The motivation for designing that course in 2016, was that we raced on Hillside 3 times, and in short, climbing all the way to the top of Hillside for the third time of the season seemed, well, stupid and unfair. I wanted to have a course on Hillside that featured some faster rolling terrain, two of Anchorage’s most tech trails, and wasn’t just and up and back down race.
Since this year this was the only race we’d be having on the Hillside, and the other courses this year had been really flat, I had a quick thought the week before the race, and came up with a new course idea to throw at the board. They went with it.
Designing courses on Hillside is pretty fun as the trails all snap together nicely. My only goal was to break the climb up, and maximize the descent.
A misty rain fell Tuesday and Wednesday night, leaving the course greasy in places. The single track was generally fine barring a few low spots, but my biggest concern was wiping out on Spencer Loop, as the high speed double track can get a surface similar to black ice when damp.
Megan made a helpful comment while warming up though, about basically leaning out over the bike and leaving the bike itself in a more upright position through the corners. It really went a long way for me.
The race went off in a typical sprint. My legs weren’t there for it, per usual for this season, and I couldn’t get clipped in on one side for the longest time.
I entered the single track in a line up behind Clint, someone I did not recognize, Patrick, and Chris, with Nick on my tail.
We headed up through lower Queen Bee, losing sight of the next pack as we made it around the first bend. Our small group slowly drifted backwards.
Then as we went into the short Lama descent, Clint showed us how not to ride over a root! Nick and I lit into him without mercy, letting him know that there would be many more roots and rocks to come, and maybe he should learn how to ride them!
We’re really supportive of each other!
When we hit the short climb on the Spencer oxbow, my legs were feeling good, and I attacked the pack.
Nick stuck the move, and the group seemed to hold on through the Janice-Stinger mini loop. Once we hit the base of Yellow jacket, I had started to build a gap. I drilled the climb, and extended my gap.
Descending Hive, I occasionally caught sight of Megan in front of me, but did not catch her until passing the start/finish. She hung on through the lower portion of the course with about a 10 second gap through lap 2 until the base of Yellow Jacket.
My legs still felt good though, and I was hitting every climb hard. It hurt, and as much as I worried about blowing up, I kept reminding myself that if it hurt for me, it hurt for everyone else. Even though my first lap was my actual fastest, my second lap felt the best. I only climbed 10 seconds slower on the second lap, but for whatever reason, descended 20 seconds slower. The irony, is that on the third lap, I actually descended faster than I did the second lap, and only 10 seconds slower than I did the first lap, but I felt like I was going much, much slower than the previous 2 laps on that descent. I have no idea why that would be, but I was partially convinced my rear tire had burped, and was going flat. It was fine.
I caught sight of Andy for a second on the second descent, but after that, I was pretty well alone the entire third lap. I still felt pretty good, but my attempt to completely blow myself up on the last climb on lap 3 seemed mediocre at best. I kept reminding myself that there could be someone 5-10 seconds up ahead just tanking it, and if I got to them before the top, the position would be mine for the taking, but once we got to the top, making a pass on the descent was unlikely.
Unfortunately, as with other races this season, I have not trained well for explosive efforts, and have failed to deliver them in the races.
Just as I dumped it down the last rooty Spencer exit single track, I came up on Nico, and rode his wheel through the finish.
I expected to see a few riders blow themselves up in this race, and was hoping to pick them off, but it seemed most people rode really well.
It was nice to finally have a race where climbing and handling mattered. With the greasy course conditions, and mix of roots and lots of single track, this course felt like an homage to the east coast, or at least, as close as they can get up here without just dumping a pile of slick boulders in the middle of a trail…that’s not a bad idea…
Arctic MTB 6
The last race of the season for me, this marked the end of a shorter and lighter season for in-town racing.The course was a good one, punchy and rooty, using some trails on the west side of Kincaid we haven’t raced in a long time.
With only a 3-day buffer post Soggy Bottom, I wasn’t sure how my legs were going to respond, and figured it would be a good indicator of how tired my body was overall.
Unfortunately, despite having some of the nicest summer weather we’d seen all…summer…the rain, and fall, finally showed up just 20 minutes before go time.
Pre-riding the course, while still dry, I had no problem on the roots with the hard tail, but the 20 or so minutes of gusting wind and driving rain managed to make them slick and slimy, and traction proved to be a major limiting factor for me. I probably could have gambled on lower tire pressure, but I’ve been burned so many times on low tire pressure on Kincaid’s high speed flow sections, or burped as it is, that I’m always really hesitant to run that risk and end my race. Going a little slower over roots at least keeps me in the game; burping a tire means game over.
The race went out, and as a pretty good indicator, I stuck with the sprint up through the sandy Leikisch climb. I think that’s the only sprint I really stuck all summer.
Nonetheless, I knew a junk show was coming as soon as we got on the skinny/rooty ridge trail, and let a few faster racers slip in.
I was going slower than the guys in front of me, but I didn’t feel too bad about potentially letting a gap open. Riders up ahead were having a lot of trouble, and just keeping my pace steady and smooth, I easily closed any gaps when fell without having to dab or stop myself.
There was a bit more passing between the second stretch of Leikisch and C$, and then we were back on roots and soon enough on the sandy bluff trail.
I was surprised to see at this point that the race was still pretty bunched up. The typical fore runners were still in sight. The loose sand of the bluff definitely challenged a lot of people.
We hooked back on C$, and then banked a U-turn to rip Lees Train, which, was expectantly very slick.
I slowed down and rode the next section from Lees to QFB conservatively.
Despite allowing a small gap to open yet again, when we hit the bottom of the jump line on Good Greef, I looked up to see that still, things were surprisingly bunched up.
I had hoped to drill the climb up GG, as it was the only sustained climb on the whole course. There was a rider in front of me I didn’t recognize, I could tell he was at his limit going up the climb, and at one point he started to separate. I encouraged him to keep after it, and he obliged.
It seemed by the time we got out to the Biathalon ski trail exit, the gap up to the next group had opened a bit more. A little chaos ensued on the ski trail-pave-Roller Coaster section.
A group that included Chet, Clint, Nick, the rider I didn’t know, and myself, all hammered it out. Just before we hit the top of RC, I sensed the group slowing, my legs responded again, and I punched the last hill to take the hole shot into Second Breakfast.
Second B-Fast is one of my least favorite flow trails in Kincaid: it’s dank, gets slimey when wet, and has some really awkward transitions. The roots on Middle Earth were no better, and I felt a little bad when I hit one on of the 90s over roots really awkward and stalled, causing a chain reaction behind me. That being said, it’s a little bit on the racer to anticipate those types of issues in wet and rooty conditions and buffer.
Back through the stadium, there was more attempted shuffling, but, when we topped out Leikisch and headed into Ridge, I had again out climbed the cohort and took the hole shot.
Once we got through Ridge, Clint made a move to get onto C$ in front of me.
He proceeded to kill it, and was able to chase down the next group, about 30-seconds in front of us.
Clint has always been faster than me on Kincaid’s fast and smooth flow trails –wet or dry – but he really put on a clinic.
I still chastised him for apparently sand bagging over the weekend in the Soggy just so he could beat us all up on a Wednesday race!
The cohort was now down to Nick, Chet and I.
With no one blocking me in, I slammed the Greef climb hard, nearly reeling Clint in along with the next pack in, but it wasn’t enough. Nick and Chet were able to re-close the gap less than 10 minutes later on Middle Earth. On lap 3 Chet started to fall off the pace a bit on the Ridge. I sensed Nick that was trying to make a move on Leikisch on the way to C$ and I made that goddamn hard tail dance over the rutty ski trail to hold him off, much to his chagrin.
I figured having got the hole shot, I was going to attack again on Greef, and if he caught me before the stadium roots, I’d let him around.
Fast forward, 10 minutes later, having attacked and dropped him as planned, he was able to catch back up about halfway through Middle Earth.
I wasn’t going to make him try and make some crazy pass through the slippery roots, and as we hit a wide swath, I told him to come around.
Nick did exactly what I was trying to let him avoid doing, and skidded into a mangled and dead alder.
After confirming he had not skewered any vital organs, I lit into him (verbally). I let him around at the next descent spot, but warned him to avoid trees this time. Funny enough, we were closer to the stadium than I realized, so I rode in a few seconds behind him.