The Austin Rattler 100K, set at Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville (42 miles southwest of ATX), was the first of this season's qualifying races for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. Outside of watching trail clips riders posted on YouTube, I had very little knowledge of the course. I heard it was hilly and that sections were technical; but I entered the race only knowing that I had to ride the 15.5 mile loop four times in fewer than 7 hours if I wanted to qualify for the Leadville lottery.
The Friday night before race day, TPG drove us to our weekend home base — Bastrop State Park, just about 13 miles from the race course. For those who don't know, a wildfire ravaged 96 percent of the park in 2011, burning thousands of loblolly pines. We saw acres upon acres of charred pine trees at the park. But there also were pockets of green sprouting from the ground that made us hopeful that in a couple of generations' time, the park would be returned to its stunning glory. The weather was ideal for camping — just cold enough for a sleeping bag, but not too chilly (or windy) to be uncomfortable. Best of all, no rain!
On race day, we headed to Smithville with bikes in tow — my fat mountain bike invading the personal space of TPG's svelte tri-bike on the bike rack. With Ironman Texas just about a month away, the race location afforded her plenty of hilly, pave options for a good 3-or-so-hour training ride.
I estimated it might take me 6 hours to finish the race. I didn't like not knowing the course, but what can you do? So when the race began, it was all fresh trail to me. And it was awesome!
I hadn't entered a mountain bike race (excluding gravel grinders) since 2005, but my recent training has been predominantly on trails. So I was confident from the beginning. The first half of the trail was mostly jeep and fire roads — plenty of room for all the riders to avoid each other and avoid logjams. These were the sections where I excelled, especially up the hills. And there were plenty of hills. Many were separated only by 50 yards or so of flat or downhill relief. So it seemed like we were constantly climbing.
But we weren't. There were some fun and fast downhills. I confidently flew down these sections, many littered with fist-sized rocks and featured puddles from recent rains at their bottom.
calling your name and spectathletes yelling and
ringing cowbells can boost the spirits. The
organizers of the Leadville Race Series clearly
know what they are doing.
The trickiest section of the course was about 5 minutes from the start/finish line. I haven't a clue the name of this section, but the three whoop de doos, two with bridge crossings, made for an exciting race. (The first and second loops, I conquered them; the third and fourth loops, they returned the favor).
The first lap, I clocked in at about 1:15, significantly faster than I anticipated. I expected at least an 1:30 for the first lap.
The second lap was mostly uneventful. My confidence was elevated since I knew the course. The humorous race volunteers at one section of the course blasted late '90s and early '00s rock and rap (I recognized Cypress Hill and Limp Bizkit) and good-spiritedly mocked/motivated riders to pick up the pace. And that's exactly what I did on the second lap. I pedaled fast through the flat sections, passed anyone in front of me on the hills and conserved energy as I sped downhill. The sun poking through the pines and beating down on racers in the open sections of the course became a factor on the second loop. I had to stop for a two-minute Camelbak refill. Even with that delay, I crossed the line in 1:15.
Such a fun time splashing in the puddles. I think in this photo I am actually saying "Yeah, yeah, yeah!!!"
The third loop was the toughest one. My quads started cramping, and I couldn't attack the climbs quite like I did the first two times. I focused on engaging my hamstrings and glutes as much as possible — leaning my core forward and grabbing the bar ends of my Ergon GP2 grips. That made a big difference. I only hopped out of the saddle and relied on my calves two or three times the entire race, practicing my strategy for enduring 24 Hours in the Canyon in June. My pace was slower — not quite sure exactly, but at least 1:20.
This angle does the whoop de doo no justice. It was steep and fast. Oh, and the most fun you can have on two wheels
Livin' Dangerously Fast. Proud of my race and the kick-ass badge/bottle opener. Muchas Gracias to TPG also for making a killer post-race sandwich and being the best Sherpa a racer could ask for.
Overall, it was a great race. I performed well, didn't injure myself, felt great on the bike and could have ridden even longer. All of that's a great thing, because I have entered the buildup in my training for 24 Hours in the Canyon. This weekend, I will return to Palo Duro Canyon State Park for the first time in over two years to get in some solid miles and hours on the race course. It's supposed to be a perfect weekend for it, too. Great weather for riding and camping.