One problem I've had living in St. Louis is that there are so many bike races, yet I hardly ever find out about them until after they're over. Friends would keep telling me to check the calendar at STL Biking, but I'd always forget. I finally got around to checking it a few weeks ago and I came across a very interesting race, Tracks N Treads off-road "biathlon" (run/bike, not ski/shoot). So, an off-road triathlon without the swimming. I've been wanting to do an off-road triathlon for years, so this semi-local event seemed as good a time as any to start.
The problem with this idea is that, while I've run more trail races than I can count, I've never raced on a mountain bike before. And the thought of doing so kind of scared the hell out of me. So this was a bigger leap for me than it may seem. The most helpful thing was that I drove over to Edwardsville to ride the trails at SIUE last weekend. I can't imagine racing those trails without the experience I gained from just that one ride. Although I didn't know every turn like the back of my hand, I did remember the big picture, and I knew exactly what to expect.
The forecast was supposed to be warm, and it was over 60˚F when I left my house, but it was only 50˚F in Edwardsville when I arrived. I brought several possible shirts to race in, but they were all sleeveless. Whoops. Well, if that's the worst thing that happens then I'm in for a good day.
I rode over to the trails and rode easily over the first mile of the course to reacquaint myself with it, as this part may be crucial during the race. Then I came back, put my bike and gear in the transition area, ran a little bit, then headed to the start line.
A few young guys bolted off the front immediately. I was in no hurry to match their pace, so I hung back a bit. Once we got off the sidewalk and onto the single-track trail they started to come back to me. It was difficult to find a place to do so, but I eventually passed them one-by-one. I lead the race for the last half of the run. I was the first to enter and exit the transition area.
The bike started with about .75 miles on a paved path before entering the woods. I made sure to drink as much as I could and take some gel before the woods, because I knew I wouldn't have a free hand once we hit the single-track.
One guy caught up with me just before the turn into the woods, but he didn't pass me. I went hard once we hit the dirt and after a few turns I put some distance between us. There were a few times during the early miles I could hear a rider approaching, but nobody caught up. Until about half way through. A guy came up fast and, after tailing me for a while, he found a spot to pass and he overtook me. I raised my game a bit and I tried to stay with him, but he was just better than me. I couldn't take the turns as fast as he did and he pulled away. So much for first place.
A short while later another guy quickly caught and passed me. This dude was on a cyclocross bike. During the 30 seconds or so I was able to follow him it was obvious he was out of my league. I don't feel a bit bad about losing to someone like that. I started to worry that maybe there was a whole line of people poised to rip past me, but that never came to fruition. A third guy caught up with me just before we dropped back out onto the pavement. I went out first and hammered the last .75 miles at 23 mph and he wasn't able to get around me. I finished 3rd. I later discovered one of the guys who passed me was on a relay team, so I was the 2nd place individual.
The race really couldn't have gone any better for me. The hard run effort didn't slow me down at all on the bike section. I'm used to running after biking (as is customary in triathlons), so I wasn't quite sure how fast I could get away with running. The bike leg pushed me to my technical limits, but I was fortunately pretty far from my physical limits. As scary as it was the first time, I could possibly get used to racing on a mountain bike. I just need to practice. A lot.