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Learning to Race

jp's picture

By jp - Posted on 03 May 2014

Re: This ride meeting: 
Convict 100 2014
Position (Overall): 
Race Category: 
50km Male Veteran
Position (Category): 

I've been entering MTB half-marathons for about 10 years now. When I started I was stoked to finish in the top 50%, but today I was stoked to finish in the top 4%. I've certainly stepped up the training over the years, but it's only the last 9 months that I feel like I've started learning how to "race". The real change started when I actually got some coaching - just one weekend (the Fling training weekend with Anthony Shippard and Kyle Ward), but for me it was the start of understanding racing vs riding in a race. Today I felt like I raced.

Just prior to the start Anthony kindly offered a last minute tip: "Start in the first wave around the 3rd row and make sure there are no more than about 15 people in front of you when you hit the big climb". "Got it" I replied, wondering how on earth I was going to maintain that sort of pace and still have the legs to get up the climb. I actually started around the 5th row and in about 30th position or so, and found that the group was so tightly packed there was no way through. In fact I lost a few places through not being aggressive enough. I was surprised this group stayed together for the next 15 mins or so - I could see a couple of attacks happening off the front, but I was only about 100m back from the front of the pack. Speed was pretty solid, averaging over 30k along this section, but I was keeping up fine. We hit the big climb and, as expected the pack in front of me came to a grinding halt and started pushing their bikes, while the guys up front rode on. In the 2 previous Convicts I've done I've never walked any of this climb, but today there was no way through, so I had to walk the first third. Pretty annoyed with myself for not following Ant's advice, but I pushed on pretty briskly and passed a few people, then jumped on the bike and passed a couple more.

Got to the top and had a minute or so slow pedalling/ recovery, ready for the next section. I caught up with Kylie Webb (2013 female winner) and asked her if she was winning - she said another girl was up the road a bit, so she was in 2nd. I don't really know Kylie but often end up chatting with her during races. I offered her some words of encouragement then got on with it.

I was on a recon ride along this section of trail with Anthony a few weeks ago, and his words of advice suddenly came back to me: "at this point in the race you'll be riding with the people you're going to finish with. So don't try to drop them - work with them". Now I have very limited experience working with other riders, so I was relieved when another guy started organising 4 of us into a group. We encouraged Kylie to join us, and off we went taking turns at the front. Kylie got dropped, then after a few k's the group basically fell apart, so I was back to solo.

For the next 15k's or so I kept swapping positions with the same 5 or 6 guys - the general pattern was I would catch them on the climbs and get passed on the descents. Either I need to work on my descending or get a dually...

At one point a female rider caught up for a short time - not Kylie, so she had dropped back to third.

I felt pretty good on the climbs, and as I caught riders I felt like they were suffering more than me. No one seemed very interested in working together at all - so I just sat on wheels where I could, saving my energy as much as possible. I was working hard but feeling ok.

Just before the final descent I caught up with a very fit looking guy who I decided must be a roadie... He pulled aside to let me lead the way down. Got to the bottom in one piece and hit the final dirt road section. Now I always end up alone on this road battling a headwind, so I was determined not to make that mistake this year. 100m ahead were two guys working together, and 50m behind was the roadie. I slowed a bit, he soon caught up and took the first turn. His very natural use of hand signals confirmed my suspicion about his "dark side" pedigree, and I was very grateful that at least one of us knew how to do this "working together" thing. I cast my mind back to the Fling training weekend, and Anthony's coaching - don't go too hard on the front, keep together, stay on the back wheel, and something about an elbow flick. To my surprise it worked like clockwork, and before long we caught the two guys in front. Now 2 became 4, and we were really motoring.

With about 1km to go we passed a couple of very spent-looking solo riders, then caught the leading female, who jumped on our train. Now everyone was getting twitchy, starting to work out their final moves... We rounded the final corner and sprinted to the line, finishing basically 4 abreast, with the fastest female right behind us. Hand shakes all round and speculation about whether we were under 2 hours...

So I really felt like I had "raced" today, pushed myself and hit my goals - to go under 2 hours, and finish top 10 in my age group.

A great atmosphere at the finish line, a very refreshing beer, and the end of another fantastic race. Can't wait for the next race, where I will have that little bit more confidence to go harder off the start line...

Dicko's picture

What you experience brings back memories of the highland fling a couple of years ago, which put me on the path to racing as opposed to finishing.

Thats a fantastic time and great result. It feels so good when it all comes together.

Look forward to fast times and racing. Maybe a few of the local xc clubbies to keep us going before the next marathon ?

A well deserved result.


jp's picture

Thanks Dicko,

Yes, I think a few local races would be good. I feel like I still have a lot to learn.

sikllama's picture

That's a fantastic result jp well done mate. The canoon rd hill repeats obviously are working Eye-wink

jp's picture

Yes, Canoon is good. So is Quarry Road Track - have you tried it?

Fatboy's picture

Great read and result. Well done.

Tristania's picture

I'm glad that you were able to "race" well today and hit your under two hours. The QRT really keep your fitness up too. Maybe you should reward yourself with some social rides? I think it's time you hit a 100 sometime soon as well... C100 2015?

jp's picture

Thanks Craig. Hope you had a good race too?

Brian's picture

Well done mate.

jp's picture

Thanks Brian

sikllama's picture

Haven't ridden it on my superfly yet, only on my 14.5kg hardtail last year. Need to get back there and check it out - it's on my LCNP/OMV/QRT todo list.

Lach's picture

Well done JP.

jp's picture

@Tristania - yes, defintely a few social rides before getting back into the training. I would like to do a 100k race soon, but would prefer to do it on a decent dually. Will have to save up for one!

doc's picture

Great to read about the added dimensions to your ride

Congrats jp on a very good result !

Antsonline's picture

What a great read, and an ever better result.
Like Dicko said, there is nothing better than the feeling of it all 'coming together' on the day.
Aggression into the hill is a tough one, and frankly, it doesn't sound like it would have any difference to end result - you would have been 20 or 30 secs faster up the hill, only to be caught at some stage by the fast rolling group that you were a member of anyway...
Kylie Webb is a great girl, really friendly, and an excellent bike rider - racing regularly in Canberra in all the mens B-grade XCO races etc. She is James Downings other (much better) half - and I enjoy both their company, inside and outside of racing.

Swapping turns, racing instead of just riding, being 'present' enough during the ride to consider when and whether to push on - those are great skills to develop.

Whilst commentating on the event (which is good, but no-where near as good as racing) I was excited to see you coming in with the bunch you did - as I knew you would have gone well.
I'm happy to have helped in some small way (advice is one thing, but actually riding fast is another!) and enjoy seeing you achieve goals.
After a few weeks of relaxing and re-evaluating, you'll work out what is the next step.
Maybe its 100's, or even the odd 100km, or maybe its some XCO club racing, and some more 50's - there is no right answer, or clear progression. Just keep it fun. My advice - just do a bit of everything.

Well done JP. Great riding.
BTW - Cory came to me at the end and shook my hand and said "those lines you showed me seemed to work!" - that was a fun ride we all had that day.

jp's picture

Yeah, it was definitely a fun ride that day, and very cool that we were joined by Cory and Jason. Although I did feel a bit out of my league...

andyfev's picture

Awesome result, congrats. Great write up too felt like I was riding with you. 50k specialist Eye-wink

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