Making excuses

I think I’m going to lose my middle-of-the-pack status.

The first mountain bike race of the Soldotna Cycle Series at Tsalteshi Trails was Thursday night, and in the past, I’ve always been able to cross the finish line with enough people behind me to at least make me feel fast. And when they post the results, not having to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page is a nice ego boost.

But I think this year, I’m going to be doing a lot more scrolling down.

Now, I could admit that all those people who dropped me like a bad habit in Thursday’s race have simply been training harder. I have so far avoided those online fitness tracking apps — I tell myself that my rides are a chance for me to unplug and decompress — but I have to admit, it appears to be working for a lot of the other competitors.

I could also admit that during my “unplugged” rides, I clearly have not been working at the intensity needed to keep up with the lead pack. I’ve been judging my effort by feel, but apparently I’ve been getting soft, and I should admit that I need to get a little tougher.

I could admit that all those kids that I used to be able to beat on skill alone have all gotten a year older and are now bigger, stronger, faster and more skilled — while I’m just a year older.

And speaking of bigger, I could also admit that the few pounds more I’m carrying this year probably didn’t help me on the hills. The hills weren’t bad; in fact, I passed a few people on the climbs. It’s just that when I got to the top of them, it still felt like I was on the hill.

I mean, it doesn’t help that there are people out there who seem to have made it a personal goal to beat me specifically. It’s like a predator stalking the weaker member of the herd.

So I could admit all that, but what would be the fun? Instead, I think I’m going for the time-honored tradition of making excuses. Here’s a few I’ve been working on:

— My bike wasn’t shifting right. That’s an accurate statement, and it’s probably time for a tune-up and a new chain. But it wasn’t the reason that a whole pack of people passed me on lap two Thursday.

—I didn’t have enough of a warm-up. Which would true, except that I’ve never had enough time for a warm-up. Actually, I had more time Thursday that I have in the past, but that sprint off the starting line still left me gassed.

—I didn’t eat or drink enough before the race. Also probably true, but I did have an energy bar and a sports drink. Ideally, the experts say, I should be fueling throughout the day, but I got busy and didn’t make enough trips to the water cooler.

—Trail conditions/weather/bugs. Any one of those might work, but Thursday evening was perfectly pleasant for a bike race, and if you ride fast enough, the bugs aren’t an issue. As for the trail, well, everyone rode the same course. For an excuse to be effective, it has to be unique, right?

— Here’s my favorite, and the one I’m going with: I recently had to replace a tire after a blowout on a trail ride. The new tire I picked out, I was told, offers better grip and more durability, but sacrifices a little bit of speed. I could admit that for me, better traction probably increases my speed — you can go much faster on the downhills and in the corners if you’re not worried about you bike sliding out from under you — but it sounds better to blame it on slow tires, doesn’t it?

Getting back my middle-of-the-pack status is going to require some hard work. I’m going to have to do some interval training, a few hill repeats, maybe some strength training. I might even do well to use some type of fitness app. I could try to improve my skills on the more technical areas where I have to slow down.

I should probably eat better, maybe not so many hot dogs, and cut back on the adult beverages. And on race days, I’m going to have to push a little further out of my comfort zone.

On the other hand, I do these races for fun, and that sounds like a whole lot of work. Maybe the back of the pack isn’t so bad. But I think I’ll need to come up with some better excuses.

Will Morrow lives in Kenai. Email him wkmorrow@ptialaska.net.

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