Hundreds of riders gathered at McLaren Park Saturday for SF’s first sanctioned mountain bike race, the McLaren Short Track Challenge. The main event of the first San Francisco Mountain Bike Festival, it turned out to be a hell of a challenge, just as the name promised.
We’ve been keeping busy the last few weeks with work, riding and spreading the word about the event, (a fundraiser for the McLaren Bike Park) but on the day of the event, we laid down the cameras, and got on our bikes to join 300+ fellow riders to race on what had to have been the hottest day in SF this year.
We left the house early and rode from our place in Oakland to the BART, (Like our brief video in which we showed how easy and painless it was to take public transit to the park) getting off at the Glen Park Station. From there it was just a short 1.5 miles to the venue. Seeing as how I’ve never not driven a car to a mountain bike race that contained single track, it was nothing short of amazing to have a venue this close to home. At the station we encountered a few other riders making their way to the park and led them in, where we joined hundreds of other like-minded fat tire fans, waiting their turn to race or play with their kids on the skills course.
Maybe it wasn’t a record temperature, but was pretty damn warm for San Francisco. While waiting my turn to suffer an hour on the course, I sweated out four refills of my water bottle as I rolled around the park, first snapping shots of Inga in her first XC race, then cranking out at least another five miles just poking around in a feeble attempt to keep my legs warmed up.
Lining up with the sport men (AKA dudes that don’t find the time to train) it was announced that the group would be splitting up by age, due to a surge in onsite signups. A great problem to have for any event, especially a fund raiser we had put a lot of sweat and tears into, but it also meant one more hour of standing around waiting.
When it finally came time to race, it was really just a relief to finally get going and get it done. Driving to a venue and packing light has its downsides, and at this point it was well into lunch time. I only had eaten a small sandwich for breakfast, and had an abrupt realization that I was probably going to bonk if I didn’t eat anything. I frantically ran around until I located my Inga support team, and fortunately she had a Clif Gel, which I slurped down immediately before charging off to make my start time. Lining up at the start at the bottom of the long paved section, I pushed into the front of the pack. Having raced an XC or two in the past, I knew that with my mediocre fitness, getting a decent result depended on getting a solid start, and then not exploding on the initial climb. I’m pretty quick on the descents, but the course wasn’t very technical, so being a former gravity racer wasn’t going to give me much of an advantage here.
Finally we were off, sprinting up the hill to compete for a good position into the single track at the top. I managed to crank 3/4 of the climb standing before dropping into my saddle to avoid blowing up. For the next 45-50 minutes it was all about pain management.
Keep the pedals turning. Haul ass on the descents and recover. Repeat.
For the first two laps I managed to stay with the lead group, shredding the downs and doubling stair gaps for the crowd while playing the yo-yo with my fellow rider on climbs and descents. If I kept on riders on the climbs, I’d over take them on the descents. But that only lasted for about 20 minutes before my legs started to give out. On lap three I encountered leg cramps from dehydration, and suddenly my legs stopped working. Shit.
At that point on I just wanted to finish.
I remember thinking I should quit, but my legs could still push the pedals, so that’s exactly what I did. My leg never completely locked up, and folks were kind enough to hand me water bottles before I saw Inga; throwing my water bottle in her general direction I gasped for water. She was sweet enough to run around and fill my bottle, and somehow I managed to get it done, without giving up to many spots.
When the last climb arrived, it was a huge sigh of relief. My last slog up the hill was more than a bit pathetic, (a friend I encountered happily described it as such) but it turned out my early efforts paid off, finishing up an almost respectable 12th out of 50 some dudes.
That’s racing! I was just happy it was over, and unlike time DH race runs, I got a lot of racing for my buck. Then my outlook shifted and for the next hour my short term goals revolved around finding cold beer to drink— I earned that sh*t.
I was very anxious for my first XC race with no idea what to expect. While I’m in relatively good shape, and have been putting an effort in to ride four times a week, I can never keep up with Jason once he turns on the gas. I’ve added road rides to supplement my mountain bike rides but had been having a hard time learning how to recover and get to the next level of fitness. 3 weeks prior to the event, I purchased my first heart rate monitor, started riding my road bike a bit more at a higher cadence, and did some interval training. Since I don’t have an XC race bike I borrowed my friend Ian Massey’s light weight XC hard tail and spent a few days familiarizing myself with riding a hard tail again. I also spent Labor Day weekend at McLaren Park practicing the course. I knew my biggest challenge would be the initial road sprint and passing riders at a fast pace (something I am not normally comfortable with)
I was filled with so much nervous energy I had barely slept the night before and had an equally hard time eating breakfast forcing food down. I just wanted to get it over with. Arriving 60 minutes ahead of my 9:40am start time I immediately signed in, grabbed a coffee, and chatted with fellow riders and friends. At 9:00am I hopped on my bike and started warming up on the steep paved hill at the start of the race. Being asthmatic, I wasn’t worried about my legs as much as I was about my lungs. After 20 minutes, I felt like my lungs were open (the morning pedal to Bart and to the venue helped a lot) and my legs were working.
The Beginner Men were the first to line up, next up was the Beginner Women 36+, and then it was my turn. There were 8 women racing in my category and I knew 3 of them; all strong riders whom I’ve ridden with before.
When the timer went off, the adrenaline kicked in and I was spinning quickly up the hill, keeping within my 80% target hear rate zone. When I looked back, I was shocked to see I had a pretty big gap right off the start. As I pedaled onto the course picking up speed, I started passing a few women from the group ahead; then some of the beginner men. Thankfully, when I yelled “on your left” I was actually given room to pass. As I was nervous about passing, I was very grateful for the race etiquette. Feeling confident descending, on the first downhill I passed another group of riders. Taking turns fast on the inside and I managed to pass a couple more riders.
After the first lap, I was feeling very confident. I knew I had it and could pull back a bit because the next woman in my category was so far behind me that I couldn’t see her. Maybe I’m pretty decent at this XC thing after all! I spun up the paved hill, passing yet another group of men, and let myself recover on the single track behind a group of beginner men before blasting past them on the downhill.
I don’t remember much after that; just pedaling and recovering all while trying to stay smooth and relaxed. Once I approached the pavement stretch to the finish line, one of the women in the category ahead thought I was in her group and started to put on the gas. I couldn’t let her pass me, so I stood up to sprint and made it to the finish line with a first place finish!
That was awesome!
Overall the vibe on site was awesome, and the venue was packed with riders and spectators. Having spent several weekends creating marketing materials, getting them printed and then hitting the streets passing them out and talking up the event, it was extremely gratifying to see the riding community come out to support the race, and the first major fundraiser for the McLaren Bike Park. Big thanks to all the volunteers, and all the folks that came out.
Hopefully we’ll do it again next year and we’ll have a pump track race and possibly a dual slalom added to the mix!