Posts Tagged ‘cat-2 mountain bike nationals’

Bouncing Off the Walls: Taking the Kids to Mountain Bike Nationals

Monday, October 28th, 2013

by Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra. Visit me on Google+ and Facebook.

Sean Hess and Kids at 2013 Mountain Bike Nationals at Bear Creek, near Macungie, Pennsylvania

Me and the Critters after the Super D

The Bear At Bear Creek

The 2013 US Nationals Course (near Allentown, PA) this summer was a beater. I raced as a Cat-2.

The downhill sections were an upper body workout. If you raced the Granby-Sol Vista Nationals a few years back it was a bit like that: no time for rest on the descent.

Rock garden after rock garden with narrow trails leading to buttonhook turns and, guess what, more rock gardens.

Having kids stuck in a 10×10 hotel room was even more challenging, but I’ll get to that later.

Being from Florida, the fact that the races took place in 110-degree heat was about the only thing that went right.

Carnage on the Course: The Cat-2 XC

Something like 15% of the cross country Cat-3s DNF’d in the morning cross country races. Lots of broken bikes and injuries I heard, and I would see two riders hurt pretty badly in the afternoon race that I was in.

I went up the hill pretty fast and made it a point to drink most of my water. The trouble was, I wasn’t expecting such a long slog down the other side. I couldn’t rest enough on the downhill and I faded, badly.

My mistake in practice was that I worked the rock gardens slowly, taking time to learn some of the lines (all well and good). The trouble was, I didn’t run the downhill fast like I would in the race. In the race it felt like one continuous rock garden, and I had no idea it would beat me up so much, or that there would be so little time to rest or drink.

The switchbacks were generally clean, but the intermediate changes and slight directional shifts were what caught me. I would clear a really tough section only to clip a pedal and go down or take a turn to hot and go off the course. It was a really hard course to find rhythm on with very little practice.

The Super D That Wasn’t So Super

The Super D was held on sections of the cross country course, but in the reverse direction. The racing sections were only open for practice after dinner and before sunset, which was a pain.

The first night there was lightning in the area so the lifts weren’t running. That meant three climbs up the mountain…but it was all good. I’m one of those rare types that likes climbing hills. It was relaxing. The only negative? My last practice run was nearly in the dark.

The second night I got one trip up on the lift before they shut it down again (lightning in the area again), so up I climbed one more time.

I was fresh for the climb up but had a stupid crash coming down. I went over and into some rocks and gashed myself up pretty bad. But I finished the run down and it was all good.

Race morning the lifts were running. I was trying to contain that feeling of dread waiting for the start mixed with the elation to be racing  that is (more or less) the prelude to my every race.


I threw my chain about 10 feet onto the course…

I have a bad habit of throwing chains on Super Ds.

I think it’s because I start out from a standing start in a low gear (I must backpedal a bit before I start, which can drop a chain in low gear).

Lesson learned…practice the way the race starts, from a standing position.

The chain throw also threw my focus. My legs were tired too.

Lesson two for the day: give yourself at least 24 hours of rest between climbing sessions or between climbing and racing.

At practice I felt fresh because I had 24 hours rest between the practice sessions, but only 12 hours rest between practice and race. Factoring in fatigue from the crash and prerace jitters, it was a bad combination.

I rode OK in some spots, not OK in others. My practices the first night were all superior to my race performance.

When I got to the bottom I realized my front fork was locked in place and the dial control for it had been blasted off.

Normally I notice when my front fork is locked, but the course was so rough it never occurred to me that I was racing on a rigid fork.

Did it happen during the crash the night before or when I came off during the race? I have no idea.

Lesson three: check your front fork after practice.

I’ve been racing for eight full seasons now. I’m about effing done with the “lessons.”

Taking the Monsters to a Mountain Bike Race

I love having my kids at races.

Most of the time they love coming to mountain bike races.

They don’t get to come a lot because the weekend races mean really long drives, early wake ups for the race, and then a long drive back.

I’m not around to hang out with them at the venue (I’m either racing, practicing, or resting). Plus they don’t get to see much actual racing.

My wife ends up trying to entertain the kids long enough to see me start and then find a place for them during the race.

But they usually go to Nationals because we spend a few days in the same spot and there’s usually plenty to do.

So We’re Living Here In Allentown

This year was really a different locale for a mountain bike national: Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Kudos to getting it back on the east coast. But Allentown was not a great National.

This is not a knock on Allentown. The people were as friendly as I can ever remember anywhere, and all the time. And there was a lot to do.

I took the kids to the Crayola Experience and the farmer’s market in Easton. We went to the Blueberry Festival in Bethlehem. And we let the kids run at some local parks.

But we had to drive everywhere.

Accommodations at the actual venue were limited. That meant a 20-minute drive from the hotel, each way.

The closest accommodations available were typical interstate hotels. There were a lot of racers in those rooms at the Comfort Inn and adjoining hotels near the I-78 exit in Trexlertown.

At Nationals I’ve attended in previous years (Sun Valley, Mount Snow, and Granby-Sol Vista), there were always plenty of hotels around the venue that weren’t necessarily part of the venue. You could ride your bike to practice, there might be hiking trails out the back door, and if you had to drive anywhere it was generally only 5 minutes.

There was lots for the kids to do, it was easy for my wife to take them on a walk or go out exploring, and she didn’t need the car.

But back to Allentown: there wasn’t a whole lot to do at the Bear Creek venue. The kids ended up picking wildflowers when I was practicing the XC…fun but you can’t do it for four days.

When I went over for Super D practice in the evenings, they didn’t go along. That meant I had the car for an extended period.

While I was gone my kids were losing their mind stuck in that room at the Comfort Inn. They were bouncing off the walls. My wife’s eyes could have burned holes through my skull when I got back.

So I’m the dad, and that means I have to manage the kids.

Not just then but on the trip up, too, and when I’m not practicing.

Because I have no place to let them run (say in a backyard playground), I have to drive them to a playground and pay really close attention. Which means I’m not really resting.

Am I Bitching Or Just Observing?

I’m not really bitching. Being a parent is much more important than anything else I do.

Having the kids bottled up in an Interstate hotel was not a factor I was considering while preparing for Nationals this year.

I didn’t realize how much more active parenting I would have to do this year as opposed to past years.

The kids were rambunctious because they were cooped up; that is normal. As such I used a lot more energy parenting and I got a lot less rest.

I was also a bit distracted because I knew my wife was coping with the same and I wanted her to have a fun time (or at least not a bad time).

And so it went!

Lesson four: consider the amount of time you’ll be parenting at a race, and consider the accommodations.

What did I write earlier?

I’ve been racing for eight full seasons now. I’m about effing done with the “lessons.”


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