Huntsville State Park Race Report – 2013

It has been nearly 4 months since my last TMBRA race. I was unable to make Camp Eagle over Labor Day weekend so this would be my first test to see if I had made any improvements over the summer.

I’ve been riding regularly for about the last 5 weeks and have seen some pretty significant gains in some of my times on my fun and training rides. I was looking forward to seeing how those might translate into the race setting.

Nearby Sam Houston Statue

Huntsville State Park is, as you may guess, just outside of Huntsville, Texas. It’s a fun course through the tall pines around a small lake. The trail itself is very sandy and rooty, only broken by numerous bridges over marshy areas.

The sand can be problematic and the roots add to the trail to give it some technical handling requirements. There isn’t much elevation gain at about 650ft per lap, with the climbs being mostly longer gradual climbs. The downhill segments are only technical in that you can gain a lot of speed quick, and they often terminate into hard turns in deep sand.

I wanted to make this race as I am still working to get my 8 ‘counting’ races for the state series. This would be my 8th counting race and would give me a good indicator of my final state series placement.

I was also excited to make this race as I was hoping my gains would give me a shot at a podium finish. The podium has eluded me all year and I’m still working on landing on a step before the year is over.

To help me possibly get onto the podium, 5 of the top 5 series racers are no longer making the races. 3 of them have catted up to Cat2 and 2 others are not racing in the fall. This meant out of the ‘regular’ guys who show up to race, I would have a pretty good shot at getting on the podium if I have a good race.

I made it out to pre-ride the course the week prior and was glad I did so. I managed to learn some good lines and experiment a bit with handling in the deep sand. I quickly learned to make sure I had dumped my speed before the turns to make sure I was able to take the most inside, most shallow of the sand corners.

I had contemplated if I should look at getting a higher volume front tire, but after pre-riding opted to go ahead and keep the 2.1 Maxxis Ignitor up front. This is the same tire that I have been running all year and have been generally happy with it under most conditions with the exception of the very muddy Rock Hill Ranch race back in February.

Our start time was slated for 1:30PM, which meant I had plenty of time to drive down the day of the race. This allowed me the opportunity to get to ‘sleep’ in my own bed before the race. I say ‘sleep’ because I rarely sleep well the night before a race…

The day of the race I woke up at 7AM and started my routine. I had already loaded everything into the truck so it was just a matter of final preparations. Breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, getting ice and drinks together and heading out. I was on the road by 7:30.

I headed straight for Huntsville where I did a pit stop at Subway for a sandwich for lunch. Then on to the Park.

I putted around a bit, visiting with folks I hadn’t seen since May. Took my GoPro and filmed the Cat2 starts and went to the feed zone to cheer on the guys I knew who were racing.

Warm ups went well and everything was lining up great!

I got to the staging area and they lined us all up. Unfortunately, for some reason, the start times were running about 15 minutes behind schedule. It would have been nice of them to let us know that so we could have known… Sitting in the hot sun at 1:30 in the afternoon isn’t optimal for being ready to race. By the time we actually got to the line, I was halfway through my water! Fortunately I was able to get a quick refill from a friend standing nearby.

The ‘start loop’ for Huntsville is basically about 1/2 mile of doubletrack before it drops into a mile or so of fast, mostly downhill singletrack.

I didn’t particularly want the hole shot, but I definitely did not want to get too far back. When the whistle blew, I just pedaled. Not too hard, but just how much I wanted. Low and behold, I’m in the lead with the hole shot and I didn’t really even want it! (I’ve said that before!)

Hole Shot

Hole Shot

We were flying through the singletrack. This first segment is a lot of fun and I was pushing pretty hard. There were about 4 of us in a pack and we had gapped the next group already. The riders with me were urging me on so as not to lose the gap.

I was running hot and I knew I couldn’t keep up this pace. I let one of the guys around and cooled a little. Miguel A was behind me, asking for a pass towards the bottom. I knew the bridges were coming so I called out a ‘Not now’ but it was enough to take me out of my zone. A slight mental lapse as I hit the bridge and my wheel slid out. Down I went…

Crash!

Crash!

Crashing on a bridge is a scary thing… Fortunately it turned out alright. I banged my hip and it took me a couple of seconds to locate my sunglasses, but I was able to hop back up on the bridge and keep going. The gap we had was now gone, but I was still in 2nd as the group I was with had to stop. My bike was on the bridge and Miguel had dropped his chain.

I jumped on the bike and kept going. The adrenaline from the crash really spiked my heart rate and as it started to wear off, I knew I was going to have to really dial it back for a bit. Once off the bridge and onto a little climb I eased over and 8 guys came around. From 2nd to 9th in 3 seconds time.

In 9th Place

In 9th Place

At this point I’m redlined and had been a while. Which meant I was going to have to recover a bit, and here I was at the bottom of one of the long climbs. I settle in and just start working on smooth, relaxed, efficient pedaling to give me a chance to recover.

Beach balls make fitting warning signs for upcoming sand traps

Beach balls make fitting warning signs for upcoming sand traps

I give up another place and find myself in 10th. The good news is that by the time I crest the climb, I have my heart rate a bit under control and I’ve recovered somewhat. The next section of trail is again mostly downhill. I take this opportunity to further recover, but make good time as well. Again focusing on efficiency more than being too concerned with place and effort.

I stick with the last couple of places that had passed me and once the trail begins climbing again, I start reeling them in. I make up a couple of positions and continue to work on closing the gap to the next ones.

Hard left coming up!

Hard left coming up!

Another downhill segment, more rooty and technical than others and I really open it up, laying off the brakes and just letting the Niner run. I quickly close the gap on a couple more positions and get around one in the long “Fenceline” doubletrack climb.

Reeling in Michael C

Reeling in Michael C

As we drop back into the singletrack, we’re about 2/3rds of the way done and I’m starting to feel pretty good. This is how I could have been feeling the whole race if I hadn’t gone out a little too hard in the start. Need to pay attention to that for the next race!

"You've got to be kidding me!!" - Jeff J

“You’ve got to be kidding me!!” – Jeff J

I make another couple of passes in the last gradual climb and know that all that is left is the final downhill segment. 4ish minutes of sandy, rooty, twisty, turny downhill. A real fun segment! I concentrate on riding cleanly, but riding hard as well.

There is one final gut check punchy climb at the very end. Wanting to get the pain of that one over as quickly as possible I light up my remaining matches and blast up the powerline climb with all I have left. After that, it’s a little more downhill to the finish which I focus on riding cleanly to avoid any possible crash at the end.

I roll across the finish in 5th place. I was really hoping for a podium but the late addition of some unknown Houston ringers and strong rides by Sean and Miguel bumped me to 5th. I was disappointed, but it was a fun race. While Huntsville is very sandy and there aren’t really any major technical features, the trail as a whole is a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the ride!

Race Videos:
Vimeo
YouTube

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 167 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 1:30PM
Nutrition: Oatmeal & coffee, 1 honey stinger 15 mins before race, 1 water bottle during race
Weather: Humid and overcast, 91 degrees
Dress: Bibs and short sleeve jersey
Week lead in: Normal Tuesday and Thursday Interval workouts, Saturday Openers
RPE: Rode hard, felt great, 100%
CTL: 44.4
TSB: -4.1 (steady)

About TC

Long time mountain biker, recent mountain bike racer. Borderline unhealthy obsession with mountain biking, constantly drawn to hit the dirt and share my experiences.

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