Oi, Nine Mile wasn't what I'd hoped it would be. Despite my moderate ranking, I'm pretty disappointed with my performance. No one to blame but myself though. Here's the run down.
The course wasn't what I was expecting. I had heard that it was fast and not too technical, but I didn't really know what I was getting into. I guess it's where I live, but I have always felt that a mountain bike course is defined by the climbs. Instead of being hilly though the course was virtually flat. There were a few climbs, but they were all middle chainring stuff, nothing you had to gear down and grind up. I also expect tight singletrack with switchbacks heading up the climbs. Instead the course was rolling open double track for about 2/3 of it's length. Actually this part of the course was kind of fun and made me wish I had brought my cross bike.
The other third of the course was tight twisting singletrack that seemed to go nowhere. While the course was flat it was also bumpy in these parts. I'm not used to tight and flat and combined with the bumps there was just no way I could conserve momentum. Some people really seemed to fly through these parts, but I just couldn't do it.
The biggest problem on the singletrack though were the rock gardens. There were more rocks on that course than in the whole of Iowa, it seemed. I've never ridden anything like it and I didn't know how to pick lines or keep my momentum up through these sections. I got the impression though that rocks like this, or worse, are par for mountain bike courses in much of the country. Most people seemed to handle them well and flow right over and through these sections.
On the open sections my endurance training came in handy and I'd pass a lot of people who were struggling while I was barely pushing the pedals, but as soon as we got to the singletrack my weakness showed and all of the people I had passed and more caught and passed me. It was frustrating yo-yoing back and forth like that. I felt like I should be more consistent, like I was going too hard on the doubletrack, but I never felt like I was working too hard or even breathing hard. I even saw some people climbing short hills in their lowest gear and having trouble, I don't get it. Am I a good rider or not. I couldn't figure it out.
All the tedious singletrack wore on me pretty quick. By lap four I was starting to dread those sections. I had forgotten commandment one of endurance racing: ride your own race. If I had been thinking straight I would have said to myself, "just walk the parts you can't ride and don't worry about everyone else," but I didn't. I became annoyed with myself for not being able to ride what I figured were easy singletrack and rock sections. I guess I considered them easy because I wasn't busting a lung out there. I never had to catch my breath or felt my legs burning. It wasn't mountain biking the way I know it.
On lap five I had a hard crash transitioning from the singletrack to the road. I caught my crank on some dirt and was launched over the handlebars. I landed squarely on my chest. For a second I thought I had knocked the wind out of myself, but I hadn't. I grabbed the bike and pulled it off the course and started to get a serious head rush. I felt dizzy, my head hurt, and I heard buzzing in my ears. I had to sit down. I knew I couldn't ride that way. I began to wish that I had hurt myself worse so that I could drop out of the race. I knew the damage wasn't that bad though. It would just be an excuse. After a few minutes my head cleared and I started to ride again. My head wasn't in it anymore though. I felt tired, not physically, but mentally. I wanted to quit.
I finished out the lap and started another, but noticed that when I started to breathe heavily my chest hurt. I also started to feel sleepy. That was enough for me. After the end of lap six I went back to my camp. I figured that I would rest for a while and see if I felt better later, but I really didn't expect to. I went and chatted with Kyle and Ron from Irwin's and then decided to go to bed. I knew that I shouldn't have quit, but by that time it was dark and I was dreading riding the rocks in the dark. I kept picturing myself falling and breaking an arm or something. Looking back it wouldn't have been a problem if I had ridden my own race and just walked when I felt like it. I couldn't sleep and my body wasn't tired or sore, but my mind didn't want to race anymore.
I finally fell asleep with the thought that once it was light I'd get in a final lap or two, but the weather had other plans. At about 5:30 in the morning the storms started again. The wind wasn't as bad as the previous night, but the rain and lightning were worse. Again I thought of riding on slippery rocks, falling, and breaking an arm. I got up and walked around for a while, took a shower, and called it quits. It turns out that after a bit of a fiasco with delays and restarts the race was called at 5:30. I couldn't have gotten those last few laps in anyway.
If there's anything I've learned from this race it's to not pay attention to perceptions of what I should be doing and focus on what I can and am doing. In my first 24 hour race I couldn't ride large chunks of the course, but that didn't deter me. I just swallowed my pride and walked up those hills. If I had done the same thing at Nine Mile I would have gotten in probably four more laps without much trouble. Looking back my lap times weren't that bad. If I had continued at that pace, or even a little slower I would have been fine. As it was I did 80 miles in 10 hours with no physical exhaustion or soreness. That is at least some sort of accomplishment.
It was worth going up just to see everybody from my previous races. Endurosnob, Paddy, Simmons, and Kerkove from Trans Iowa, Charlie Farrow from the Arrowhead and more whose names elude me just now. It was good to go to a race of almost 900 people and still feel like I was known and welcomed. Maybe I'll give it another shot next year
For now I'll just have to look forward to the 24 at Seven Oaks. Now that's a course I can get into. Climbs like you wouldn't believe. Bring your granny ring and your good set of lungs. If you're looking for a good small 24 I can't recommend it enough.
As to that riser stem, Paddy, I love it. It is part of the solution to hand numbness problems I'd had on other 24s. That along with the Ergon grips kept my hands feeling great all ride. I even rode the first four laps without gloves (I'd meant to wear them, but I forgot and didn't want to stop) and felt great. Yeah, it looks funny, but so do I.