I began racing in 1998, in white cotton socks and blue jean cutoffs. Sexy, huh? The race was the Mud in Your Eye at Fort Rock. My finish wasn't exactly inspirational, but I thought “Hey. I can do this!” The second race was at Mt Snow in 1999- on the expert downhill course on a fully rigid XC rig. The result:
A. No one was injured
B. People pointed at me
Then came my first jersey, a front shock, and by October’s Second Start Enduro, a pair of Carnacs and clipless pedals. When promoted to Sport, it was under duress. At the time, my “training” rides were 30-45 minutes long. I even wrote a letter to EFTA begging to stay in Novice class. It didn’t work. The response I got back was “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”
Fast forward and I have earned a handful of Expert NECS season titles, served on EFTA’s board, stepped onto the podium at the Nationals, and been fortunate enough to ride in some spectacular places. I have always enjoyed head to head competition with like-minded racers. MTB racing has been a pleasure and competitively successful indulgence.
Training has always been about what can be done in balance with other aspects of life- a job, a wife, a family, a home, and a garden. In the earliest years that meant 2-4 hours/week, 4-6 hours as a Sport, and since; 4-6 in the winter, and 7-10 during Spring and Summer with less in the fine cool months of Autumn. Throw in some tempo blocks, big gear climbs, trailclimb intervals and races… shake well and BOOM, race on.
I eat well, stay hydrated, and try to get enough rest. This is largely enough regarding nutrition and recharging my batteries. Of course I try to load some carbs before long races and get plenty of protein after hard rides. I keep it natural and avoid long names on ingredient lists. I put a couple ounces of rice syrup in my water bottles. It’s been available in health food stores since the seventies. Gels give me gas. GNC and branded uber-products give me the creeps.
Bikes? They have evolved rapidly and I’ve always been slow to spend. A rigid Jamis gave way to Homegrown hardtails until I finally got an Trek Top Fuel in 2008 as part of collective physical and mental healing after a MTB induced hospitalization. The HTs are faster, but the FS is easier on the body although it needs constant attention and spontaneously combusts.
I generally stick with what works, resulting in a tendency to wait and see rather than being a leader when it comes to training, nutrition, and bike innovations. It is an economical approach and keeps the focus on the experience rather than on enticements by manufacturers.
A few years ago, I watched as some local pros and a few experts sprouted wings when they saddled up on carbon 29ers. Remember when Superflys appeared? The pros with these trail-leveling craft almost always beat the ones with square wheels. Like a magic pill, 29erized experts catapulted ahead. I have struggled to find the fitness to keep up, occasionally overcoming but most often I am left scratching my head. At $4K-$8K each, there are a lot of them at races now.
I began seeing posts on amateur blogs exclaiming about winter training camps in warm sunny places designed to get a jump on the local competition here in New England. Training camps? We’re local amateurs, right? OK, so it’s an excuse to ride too and we all understand that. Cool or freaky? Definitely geeky.
Commercials during the Tour de France, neatly inserted between segments during the morning live broadcasts every hour or so, urge me to “Ask your doctor for a Little T”. “Combat fatigue.” “Restore vigor.” “Increase libido.” Each slogan-y 30 second spot is used to entice competitive cyclist viewers, especially aging cyclists. Last week I heard an ad for testosterone on the radio during my morning commute. Heck you can go to The Mall and on-line and load up on all sorts of eccentric and prohibited temptations. I wonder how many times I am seeing the results of these products locally. Muscle mass and spectacular results speak louder than words. Most of us have just become older.
“Hey, look at that!” - cars trunks brimming with before, during, and after enhancements. OK, I took some Endurolytes™. I’ve since gone to drinking a can of chicken broth at the mid-point of a 100K race. Four years ago, we never saw the omnipresent white bottles nor heard the telling sound of pills. In the old days sonny, people got cramps while racing and if you rode evenly enough, you would not get cramps. That’s managing racing – not managing the correct supplement blend.
Recently I heard an amateur racer, here in NE, get ready…. uses an altitude tent. OMG- a tent!!! Are you kidding me? Go ride in Tibet for a month. That’ll work. Just do it when there is a race immediately afterward so the effect shows. Sheesh! You have definitely crossed a line and need a greater purpose to serve.
Anyone else seen tossed 5 Hour Energy™ bottles on course this year? Every time I see them, my thought is “Is that what people are taking?” …a conglomeration of chemicals in more small white bottles? I thought a wake up coffee and a mid race iced tea in a 100K race was radical.
I ride and train locally. I don’t consume jars of supplements. I don’t wear hormone dispensing patches nor do I take precursors. I don’t see myself sleeping in an envelope. I don’t see myself “investing” in training camps. I don’t see myself borrowing against my home to buy the latest race machine. I don’t see myself gulping down concoctions to keep the pace.
I race a couple of bikes that don’t roll like 29er ceramic bearing hardtails with sloshing smooth treaded tires. I recently raced and found myself hanging on for dear life in the grupetto until I had to back off… while drafting …on a road section. That was a first.
In 2012, I’ll be doing more riding alongside friends, ripping it up and throwing down a few beers afterward. I see myself paying off my mortgage and riding something I got on a deal. I see myself a little less obsessed with racing and I expect my ego to complain. That is something I can live with.