After a full day of recovery I've had some time to think about my first comeback race. It wasn't perfect, nor was it as bad as I was expecting it to go down. I've had a great off-season to prepare myself physically and mentally, with the help of my trainer, Clayton of Carmichael Training Systems, as well as the support of my friends and family. It was a lot of fun and a huge sigh of relief.
Racing the Sea Otter Classic was never on my calendar till recently when my wife and I decided to move to San Francisco. With the added stress of moving and the relatively short time till race day, it left me questioning and even doubting myself. Thankfully having the time to explore the Marin Headlands gave me a quick feel for the terrain and amount of climbing to expect, but more importantly the confidence to attack the race from the start.
I started fine, leading the pack up until the gravel fire road where I decided to back off a bit, knowing I wouldn't be able to sustain the pace. The course started out very loose with a fast descent before the first steep climb, also known as "the wall", an otherwise rideable section for the more experienced rider, but ultimately a hike-a-bike section. I cleared it on the first lap.
After another short section of climbing the course transitioned to a rather long, tight and sandy single track descent. I could have benefited from better tire selection here because it was so loose and sandy. I was in 7th position at this point when I came around a tight off-camber corner a little too fast, overcompensating the turn, crashed and flipped myself over a steep slope, flipping backwards into some bushes. My ankle somehow got lodged between two branches making it nearly impossible to get up. After 20 seconds or so knowing I was in a bind, cursing and on the verge of panicking, I did the biggest sit-up known to man, grabbed hold of the branches that were pinning my leg, and unwound myself from the mess. By then I had lost two places, my left calf was throbbing with pain, yet somehow I quickly remounted my bike and kept going.
I found myself struggling to find my own rhythm for the remainder of the race. For one, it was incredibly hot. I made the mistake of not having enough water on-hand, forcing me to stop at every aid station available. The heat was a notable factor for everyone, most of whom had a hard time just finishing the 40 miles race. Even the pros didn't have it as hard as we did, only having to do one of the two 20 mile laps. Incredible. I had a side cramp for most of the first lap, and I knew I had pushed way too hard to make up for my early crash. My heart rate was pegged to the ceiling for half the race, but towards the end of the first lap I found my strength and started to catch a few riders.
I took it easy on most of the descents on the second lap, but tried to push myself on the climbs. Early into my second lap I started to feel a twinge of leg cramps. I knew then I had to back off on the power and up my pedaling cadence. I was making up time on the climbs, passing people with the quick, concentrated spin, but eventually I hit the wall, on the threshold of bonking. Luckily it happened with only a couple of miles left in the race.
I came in 9th out of 20 in my age category. I finished 20 minutes off the race leader, which isn't that bad considering my early mishaps. I made quite a few rookie mistakes, like going too hard in the beginning and not pacing myself better, especially not having enough water, but I could have done way better if I hadn't crashed so hard. I definitely would have gained at least 5-10 minutes, putting me within the top 5. Live and learn, then relearn, I guess.