Sage Brush Safari Race Report

Kenda's first mountain bike race of the season is in the books and it was a snowy, muddy mess! The race was held up at Lake Morena (Campo)  which is past Alpine (East San Diego). Snow levels reached as low as 1000 feet the night before so I checked Facebook before we packed up to head out and as far as I could tell the race was still on. Apparently, I just missed the update because they later went on to tell everyone that the race has been delayed an hour because they had to adjust the course. We headed out of Temecula around 7am, dropped the kids off at my in-laws and took off towards Alpine with just Amy and I. The day happened to be my birthday, and what better way to spend the day then spending some alone time with the wifey, racing a mountain bike race, then head to Stone Brewery for a little Birthday celebration with my friends and family?
The drive was pretty nuts on the way out and I could already tell it was going to be an interesting day on the bike. Once we pulled off on our exit we headed towards the race site and our car started hitting some ice and swerving a bit. I'm glad we had our AWD Element to get through some of the mud. We passed a few cars that were struggling and even saw a truck get stuck. If these cars are getting stuck, how is it going to be on the bike!!?? We luckily found a spot near the start and made our way over to registration, only to find out then the race was delayed.
So with the extra time to kill, I listened to some advice at the Kenda booth and decided to purchase their Small Block Eight tires because I knew the Slant Six tires I used for last week's Duathlon would not hold up in this mud that got as deep as 2 feet in some parts of the course. I'm glad I did -they handled the conditions really well. As I was changing my tires, the race director made an announcement and explained why the race had been delayed. He said he went over the course on a quad and had trouble getting through it and said it would be way too dangerous to ride. Instead the course changed to a 4-5 lap Cyclocross style race with very little climbing. I told Amy, great there goes my strength---I'm going to get worked! One thing the director failed to mention that there was going to be three river crossings, with one of them waist deep every lap!

Photo by Dave McElwaine
  I took off for my warm-up after sipping on some Heed from Hammer Nutrition which I wanted to try to see if could solve my cramping issues. I already use their Recoverite, which I really like - so I decided to give Heed a try during my race. I started up the regularly marked fire road climb and looked over to see a huge river crossing with race markings pointing in that direction. The poor volunteer was trying to explain to a group of us that riders will be crossing it 4-5 times. People were pissed. It was already low 40's outside and that ice water had to in the 20's. One guy had just purchased a brand new Specialized Epic 29er and said after the race, if I had to pick thee worst thing I could possibly put my bike through, it would be this race.

The pro's went off at 12:00 and at 12:20 the gun went off for my race (CAT 3). I only had one mountain bike race under my belt, but I still felt confident and lined up front. There were probably about 50 people in my race (they combined a ton of age groups) and I got out quickly, settled into 2nd and 3rd place up the fire road climb. It went by fast and before we knew it, we hit that first deep river crossing and it was pretty funny. Everyone hesitated and it seemed like no one wanted to go first (including me!). I let a few go by me that hit it pretty conservative and they paid for it. One guy was baptized--he literally fell all the way in, rose up and screamed. I hit it pretty hard and actually pedaled through it fairly easily, but came out with my toes now completely numb and hurting! Then we hit the single track where we hit all kinds of traffic. I was stuck behind a pack of six riders (I think CAT 2 60+ AG) and then all of the sudden Adam Morka (Pro winner) and about five other pros came up on us and it was a mess until we finally got out to some fireroad.

Photo by Jesus Ortega. Someone
struggling through the thick mud
  There were a ton of deep mud sections where you had to just power through it. At first I thought I'd get killed on a race like this because there were no hills, but because of the thick mud throughout the course it actually helped me, because it basically mirrored my training right now. Lots of aerobic, low cadence work. So the power I needed was there and I just kept passing a ton of people throughout the race. I just tried to focus on staying upright, taking in calories and keeping power up. As I started lap 3, I took in a Powerbar Gel that I had taped to my bike. I ate a lot of dirt. As I came up on the river crossing I changed to my middle chain ring and because of all the mud, I dropped my chain. I quickly fixed it, as a pack went by me and when we hit the crossing, I ended up hitting some guy that fell, so I went in with one leg completely submerged and managed to get back on and get out of that freezing water.

I think the Gel kicked in and I think I had my fastest lap was on lap 3. I just kept passing a bunch of people and no one had a blue (CAT 3) plate, so I just kept hammering away. Love the Hurt! Finally the last lap came and I just maintained. With about a mile to go I tried to speed up and pick off a few more people but the legs had nothing left. Part of that is probably from hammering a mile swim then a quick 25 mile bike ride the day before, but other than that - my legs responded really well to the conditions. After the race, I took a bit to recover and I gave Amy a big muddy kiss and I told her I've never had so much fun on a mountain bike. It was being like a kid again, playing in the mud and riding your bike - but this time you got the bonus of racing/competing - which I love the most.

The Finish
 It felt a lot like a Cyclocross race even though I've only done one and it was not in the mud. It reminded me of some episodes of Behind the Barriers with Jeremy Powers where they ride a lot of races up north in the mud. It always looked so fun, and with the heavily spectator - multiple lap course, it felt a lot like it. I told Amy that I'm pretty sure I won my age group and that we should stick around for results. As we were waiting, we find out that it's 2:45 and our B-Day celebration at Stone started in 15 minutes. Oops! We just got so caught up in the moment of the race - time flew. We made some calls and told everyone we'd be late to our own birthday party. Lame!

The race and awards ceremony was nothing like I've been a part of. Mountain bikers know how to do it right! Everybody was so laid back and friendly. I chatted it up with so many people. After the race people busted out their chairs, BBQ's and apparently you can bring your own beer to these things. I wish I'd known! Just about everyone around was drinking a post race beer, eating some good BBQ and talking about how brutal it was. I ended up winning my race by over a minute, got to be on the podium for the second week in a row and took home a really cool custom made trophy. They clocked me in 1:20 and change, even though I had 1:18 on my Garmin - oh well. After the awards we ran to our car, got changed and got over to Stone as quickly as possible. Sorry everyone! I would really like to race four more times so I can qualify for CAT 2, but we'll see if I can work it out in the schedule - might be difficult with triathlon season starting. This was a great confidence builder on the bike and I am just going to build on these two races and gear up for TRI Season!

Here's a few more pics from the weekend:

The Mistress handled the conditions well. Thanks again to The Bike Shop in Temecula for loaning me these sweet Reynolds wheels. If you are ever on your way to Vail to MTB, be sure to stop by the shop, it's on the way!

Fighting some traffic in the first lap
The aftermath

Stone bday party with family and friends (ignore my wife's crazy look!!)

Thanks for reading!!!


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