I'm happy to report I survived my first bike race ever on Sunday, so thanks to those here on the forums who wished me luck.
The race was here on my hometown trails---trails that I helped build and have gotten pretty familiar with since starting to mountain bike last year---so it was a great place to do my first race. Well over 600 riders showed up to compete in the humid 90+ degree weather. It was definitely hot, though a brief rain Saturday morning helped to keep the trails from getting too dry and dusty.
I raced in the Citizen Class, which started at 10:00 am and ended up with 157 male riders and 31 female riders finishing the race. Afraid of starting too fast, I was toward the back of my wave of riders as we left the gate and entered the first part of the course---a long, open stretch of doubletrack---though I passed a few riders once they started to let the main pack break away. Meanwhile faster riders from the wave behind mine passed quickly by me before we entered the first section of singletrack.
While the first part of the race seemed fast to me, once we entered the singletrack things slowed down quite a bit. Riders were staying up, but the pace was such that I was hugging the tire of the rider in front of me, working my breaks a lot, and passing during the few chances I got.
Exiting the first section of singletrack, we entered a wide, grassy downhill with some deep ruts hidden in the grass. I knew to stay left to avoid those, though some didn't and consequently went down in a heap. There were at least a few water bottles scattered about.
The rest of the first lap went somewhat the same. On the doubletrack I could pass a few here and there, but for the most part couldn't match the aerobic efforts of many of the riders. I was stronger on the singletrack and could make up some ground there, but eventually found my self stuck behind other riders and unable to find enough spots to pass.
Oh, and somewhere during the last part of the first lap I started really feeling like I would puke and wondering if I would even finish.
The second lap, going into the long section of doubletrack, I was slowing some, but had started to recognize other riders that I'd been swapping position with throughout the race. I knew these were the guys with the same overall ability as me, so I made it my goal to try to outrace them. It was now a race against half a dozen riders, rather than a hundred-some. Nothing personal, just a game I had to play in my own head to push myself harder.
With riders being spaced out more I was able to move faster on the singletrack, but I found myself digging really deep to hold my position when the course opened up. For a while, I thought I was going to die in the heat and need to be carried off the course, but I didn't stop. There were a couple of climbs where I was barely moving at all, but I stayed on the bike and attacked when I got close enough to one of the riders I had singled out as those I needed to beat.
Finally, in the last 1/4 of the race, I got my second wind. I've always been stronger toward the end of my rides than at the beginning, and this turned out no different. I started riding hard to get behind riders in the doubletrack and would sprint to pass as many as possible before entering the singletrack. Once there, with no one right ahead of me, I was able to use my familiarity with the trails to open up some daylight. I was still getting passed, but by much faster riders from waves which had started after mine.
When I finally exited the woods and got within sight of the finish, I was spent. But I knew I had pushed myself harder than ever before, so the pain, lightheadedness and nausea seemed so worth it. I knew I had finished pretty far back, but I was happy with how I rode.
I ended up placing 91st overall, out of 157 male finishers in the Citizen class, with a time of 1 hour 12 minutes. 15 minutes behind the lead. 10th out of 18 in my age group.
I achieved my goal of completing a mountain bike race and not finishing anywhere near last place. Now, the funny thing is, I've found myself looking at the upcoming race schedule, wondering which other races I should register for.