I entered the 2009 season with a good feeling for a couple reasons:
1) I joined HAC
2) I knew I was moving to the bottom of the next age group - thus improving my odds for some podium time.
Having had a string of top-five finishes - but never a podium in the hotly-contested 45-49 age groups in '08, I put-in more hours on the trainer feeling motivated. Goal-one was to do the first WORS race as a benchmark for the season ahead, knowing I cannot commit to the entire series with all the travel involved.
It was a rough start to the morning, as some "bug" was making its way through the Thom family, and my turn came knocking at 4:30 a.m. I was however committed, so I thought I'd hit the road and see how it goes. Another couple "unplanned" stops along the way, and I was getting worried. However, once I got to the Bump-and-Run ski hill and ran into "Jason Henry,":http://henryj73.blogspot.com/2009/05/wors-1-iola.html my spirits were at least positive. I got suited-up, went out to warm up and ran into Jason for a quick spin. Never been to Iola before, but a look at the ski jump gave me an indication some climbing would be involved. My pals from the Wheelfast team filled me in that the first two climbs set the tone.
Got to the line a little late and was about three rows back in my age group...no biggie, but I'd prefer to be closer to the front. The first 5 waves go off with the all-to-familiar Goooooooooo, and its our turn. I get a good clean start and immediately, and surprisingly start picking off all the 40-ups in my group. Per usual, I am always looking at the age group on the number plates, and I don't see any 50-54's as we burn up the first climb. Another turn, another climb, then the sand trap. Using the limited cx skills I have acquired, I magically blow by a half-dozen guys without losing a beat - hmm. We bomb down into the bowl, and start the next good climb, and there he is - the first 50-54 plate I see - his breathing is labored as I cruise by, then I ask myself - why does this seem too easy? I figure I better back-off a bit so I don't burn out, and sure enough, 50-54 flys by me on the next downhill. However, we immediately hit the next climb and I take the mark back. I reckon I best put my head down and dig in and immediately put a good gap on him.
We work our way up and down some great hilly singletrack, and I realize for the first time ever, nobody is passing me (other than 50/54). I am beginning to pick off 35-39's, then 30-34's, we turn left - and shiiiit...another big climb! I pick-off 3 on the way up the hill, then once I crest, the first urge to puke hits me, followed by the first feeling of an uncontrolled "movement" - damn. My first fears of a DNF start to hit me, then, after settling in to a "safe" pace, we hit some sweet, loamy, sweeping pine-needle-laden singletrack that reminds you of what this is all about. Unfortunately, I am being held up by as couple 20-somethings that I dispose of in the first slight clearing. As we approach the end of the first of three laps, I am somewhat perplexed that I continue to keep passing guy-after-guy in younger age groups yet see nobody in my own. Considering how crappy I feel, I get inspired in the fact that I must be near the front, so I keep my head down, and dive into lap two. Pretty-much a repeat of lap one, where I keep passing on the climb, sail through the sand, pick up speed in all the now familiar singletrack, and now we got some guys pushing their bikes up the hills - hell, I thought I was gonna drop out, and now I have 19 year olds saying "good push dude" and "great job" as I say "coming-thru" on the climbs...oddly, I am still suppressing urges to "lose" fluids, but I am still immensly motivated...at the end of lap two, I see my buddy Lee who had to drop-out due to an asthma attack, and he yells "go Al - I think you're up front!"
Wow - lap three starts and same drill - but a bit weaker. I am still passing on the climbs, blowing through the sand and passing guys, and yet as ill as I feel, nobody has been knocking on my door?!? I chill through the hilly center section, just trying to maintain what I have left, and I save some energy for the last loamy section. I actually burn three-more guys leading into the pines as I don't want anybody in the way of my fun, and in all the excitement, I actually almost bite a tree from over driving. A couple-more turns and finish! Lee is at the stripe, and he's pretty sure I won my age group. I'm elated - yet whiped-out.
Being a beer guy - anybody that knows me knows me will tell you a lot of my motivation during a race is for the post-race cold one and trading war stories. Hell, I felt so decimated after this one, that I couldn't even stomach the free spaghetti dinner, let-alone some of our namesakes craft brew - especially after a win! regardless, it was a great start to the season, and hopefully an indication of things to come - its all about the dirt!