NECS#1 Glocester Grind
I'll just say that this past weekends 'Glocester Grind', in Rhode Island was among the weirder feeling mtbike races I've done. I have never, ever worked so hard for an hour and a half, and not climbed anything! This New England style riding / racing is a real eye opener. I'm used to those western mountainous courses, where the climbs that go on forever are rewarded with grin-so-much-your-face hurts descents.
The only race I can compare to this one was the MSC course at Telluride, CO. It's also a 5.5 mile 'circuit' but ascends a lung searing 1800 feet per lap - all up at a low point of about 10k feet above sea level. I first thought, when reading the course description; "pfft! 5.5 miles? That's NOTHIN'". Then, when each (of three for my expert friends and I) lap took upwards of 45-50 minutes I knew what was up. Every inch of that course was earned.
The Glocester Grind felt similar.
Instead of huge altitude - we had to fight mind boggling rock gardens. Instead of crazy fast hair-ball descents, we had to punch it through bogs and mire that made one wonder just how deep one's front wheel could go before becoming stuck, or striking a subterranean object - either one halting forward movement. Both venues provided fun times for duking it out with my peers, this I know.
Before moving on to the race report 'proper', I'd like to point out some quick things I've noticed here "back east" as a recent (re)transplant: First off - there is little to no pre-race lead up banter on any internet forums that I could find. In NM, AZ, CO, UT, and CA - it seemed there were vast quantities of data/chatter to be had from current, and older - discussions. Here in New England? I could hardly find anything. Hell, I wasn't sure I'd show up to race and not be kidnapped by some ATV driving youths. To the promoters and series' organizers credit - there was a well run event up and running when I arrived.
But who knew?
No course maps, no ability to pre-ride this particular course, no internet yakkety-yak about tire selection(s), frame shock PSI, trail conditions, nutrition, local camping info., beauty products, shaving, and so on. This was truly a first! Show up, warm up, race completely blind. This was a new experience, and one not for the uninitiated. I have my battle wounds and experience - which help - but only get one so far. Thank god I had ridden Lynn Woods a few times! Never with the sort of mud we saw at the race - but a good initiation to the rocky goodness of New England. But still - I was nervous and simply figured I'd try and follow someone off the front - or blow up trying. Quiet reserve is the Modus Operandi in this area - a distinctly understated New England manner I never had even when I lived here, and certainly did not nurture in the self-agrandizing, me-me-me 'wild west'. Folks were cool, calm, and helpful.
How was I to know?
Anyhow - on the way to the race Sunday morning, it was pouring rain pretty much the whole 2 hours between Marblehead, MA (new home) and Glocester, RI (race venue). It thankfully eased off within 20 miles of the venue - but temperatures dropped to the mid/low 50's. Geez! Cold, wet, or perhaps cold AND wet? More new experiences to try here... Found a paved area to park in across from the property the race was held on - and was impressed by the turnout. Looked like a typical NM Off-Road Series race turnout - roughly 175 to 250 racers. Walked over to registration, picked up my number (that was too easy) and headed back to get ready. Looked like some races were happening at the time, and what with the fresh goop/mud everywhere - I figured trying to pre-ride any of the course was a waste. Suited up, pulled out the trusty old stationary trainer and iPod, and started spinning through my first warm-up in a LONG time.
I used my HR monitor to check ranges and time(s) for different parts of the warm-up, and after seeing some scary HR numbers for the perceived effort I was putting out, decided to keep it on for the race. The preceding week I had been rather sick, and had stayed off the bike(s) pretty much entirely. This made me a little nervous - but so it goes. As I warmed up everything felt better. It was very humid, so despite the cool weather, I stripped down to shorts, jersey, and arm warmers. Packed up all the crud, checked bottles, GU, tube, CO2, and headed to the staging area.
The Pro/Elite guys took off, and we were cued up right behind them. There was about a 75 yard dash across some grass to some double-wide chicane things, then we were on-course. I ended up near the outside of the group headed into the first turn, so gassed it and grabbed 3rd or 4th wheel. Trying to keep up through the insane twisty, bumpy, rooty, muddy, rocky sh1t was all I could do - and was dismayed to see one guy pulling ahead off the front. I figured if I could survive for a little while, I'd have to get around the guy ahead of me and go "catch up" - if there was anywhere to pass, and anywhere I could possibly make up any time! After 12-14 minutes there was a decidedly Cyclo-cross style portion of the course, in that it was a series of 'lanes' taped off next to each other, and had bermed turns. I goosed it by some other category racers, then one in my group - and caught up/near our leader. Mr. Orange, I'll call him.
All this was way harder than it should have been, as I was wheezing and hacking a good bit, and somehow felt like it would have been smarter to sleep in and kick this cold I had... but what fun is that?
We yo-yo'ed for the first lap and a half, and I gradually grew more comfortable on this crazy course. We wound our way through the start/finish/lap area twice per lap, and through a few areas where you could see other folks on course, as it wrapped around and doubled back near itself. I dropped a chain after accidentally hitting my front shifter (tree/mud) and quickly fixed it. Still seeing Mr. Orange ahead as we started the 3rd and last lap, I figured it was time to take a deep breath and plan an attack. But for some reason, I kept having to get off and run through shin-deep mud! He did too, but seemed to recover better as we got back on our bikes. Back and forth, up, down, around the 462,384th rock - I saw this groovy little bridge over a creek with a rocky approach ramp up to it, I knew that after that was a more open area I could turn up the gas and go for it. But then I remembered that on lap 1 I took the bridge and noted the creek crossing was faster - and safer. Lap 2 I tried it and proved my theory true. In traffic with other category racers on THIS lap, I hit the bridge again, sort of off-camber up the rocky scree to it, and heard the tell tale "whish whish whish whish" of a pinch flat.
Damned tubes! Damned stupid line choice! And god damned MUD up to my eyeballs.
Holy christ this is going to suck, I figured. EVERYTHING is covered in mud, dirt, sticks, leaves, and a sort of sandy debris. Just getting the wheel off, and then the tire de-mounted all took too long - and then getting a tube in, seated, and aired up took even longer. THEN getting the sloppy construct back in the dropouts, chain on, disk in caliper, and locked down was almost comical.
It worked though - but at a huge loss in time - and in confidence. It seemed like EVERYONE blew by me while I flailed out there. I simply could not get back into my rocky rhythm / groove, and was off the bike a lot for fear of flatting again, and THEN being stuck with a gnarly hike / run back to the finish area. The bummer is I felt fine - plenty of gas in the tank and legs still had some pop. It was only about 1:25 into the race, so it wasn't like we were out there for very long. But alas, of all the people that passed me, only ONE was in our category - so I managed to hold onto 3rd place this time.
Results were fast and thorough, and I earned some gas money for the drive home too. I would have tried to socialize more, except that I felt like barfing and was sort of light headed. Good to see the usual post-race beers and bravado that is the universal language of mountainbiking! The odd thing (to me) about this New England Championship Series is that the EFTA (Eastern Fat Tire Association) sanctions and permits there own races / race body, so it is not NORBA / USAC. This meant slightly different categories - but netted the same exact fun, fast times at the races. Hell, by the time I got home they had uploaded the race results to the website! That was a rarity out west - where sometimes a week would go by before results were posted. I'll keep it up as an EFTA 'expert', but might see about doing the longer 'elite' races if so permitted. No rush - as the season has JUST started, and the next one should have more competition as there are no other race/date conflicts for it. This past weekend saw races for both the EFTA series, and the Root 66 series on the same day - so attendance may have suffered a bit.
That's all for now - until the next one. Feels good to do a race report after so long! Hopefully the next one will have more photos, and be written better.
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