It turns out that I wasn’t the only that decided to register in the opposite gender’s race category this past weekend. A colleague in women’s coaching sent out a survey regarding motivation factors in relation to racing and it left both of us with questions – and a similar plan of action. What might I be missing by racing only with women, specifically, the same handful of women I ride with and see at every local race? I didn’t know, but now after racing with the guys, I only know that I need to do it again.
Definition: Super D
There are some unique qualities in this specific race that lent itself to the decision to change my race category from a combined Women’s category to Sport Men: Super D and downhill racers are timed individually to quantify bike-handling skills. Age, gender or fitness categorization would seem to be futile, at least as far as the start is concerned. As Super D racing includes 80-90% of time spent descending over the course of about 15-20 minutes, it shares some similarities with Downhill in the terrain, but on a smaller scale that doesn’t often engage the fight vs. flight response. Where it parallels cross country is that you have to pedal some, and maybe even climb a bit on a contour line, so you can’t let bike weight get to out of hand in either direction. Everyone rides the same course. It really comes down to skills – a potential game changer for racers.
Theory: Gender Classification in Racing
Here’s where I start to get really experimental with my hypothesis. I considered one of the common reasons for splitting men and women’s categories tends to be difference in physiology – specifically muscle development and oxygen uptake rates, which is a game changer in cross country and road racing. Further, there are also differences in fight vs. flight response in men and women, which could affect performance in a downhill race while scanning extremely technical trails. You have to be very familiar with your capabilities in order to be competitive with Super D, but I don’t think the demands are gender specific. I wondered if having a field of more than a handful of competitors might change my race goal. Would I ride faster, harder, or finish the race in better spirits? Would my female competitors feel snubbed by my decision not to race with them? Would they question their own race goals? Would my boyfriend find it undeserving that I was racing in his category? Would I find out that women are less skilled riders, as a rule? Was this all a very BAD idea?
Analyses: Race preparation
I decided not to talk about it before the race, to protect others from all the questions that did, in fact, haunt me throughout the race. As I suffered through a harsh warm up and some significant breathing problems, I realized that pre-ride would have helped me to understand that more than half of my time would be spent climbing, and I actually needed a warm-up and/or some kind of mountain biking in the weeks before. The lag gave me plenty of time to curse my lungs and watch as the female competitors passed me by. I was also gifted a handful of trailside mechanicals (chain drop 3x and packed down/no rebound suspension fork), and to offset the time I lacked in preparation. Still, I managed to finish the descent with what I thought was a respectable pace.
Observation: Trail/Course Design
My thoughts drifted to trail design at this time, since I didn’t know what to expect with the 3 technical alternate routes that would be coming, I knew that there weren’t a lot of mountain bike trails in the area to begin with and Month of Mud‘s first “Super D” style race. This solo time on the trail allowed me to quit thinking about gender politics and imagine a sharp and steep ladder-bridge drop with a transition landing full of hungry piranha rocks. I probably would’ve ridden it if I’d had the chance to look at it, but I didn’t hesitate to ride the long go-around which is where I managed to throw and twist my chain in some fluke double shift uphill fenango. After looking at photos, I don’t think the go-around options planned as options to the “skull and crossbones” sections were really necessary, after all. I also think the grassy vs. gravel access roads could be much more limited. READ: swoopy, fast Star Wars style trails are my favorite. Overall, I think the course could be much shorter and later in the day to accommodate out-of-town racers in pre-ride opportunity. Upon racing the course, I think it ended up more like a point-to-point cross country race than the Super D races I am familiar with. Not that it wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t exactly what I was prepared for, with what little preparation I did have.
One of the things I am learning as a result of this experiment is how different women’s goals for racing can be. My experiment is a philosophical one : I really feel that the institution of racing is built with a framework catering to the status quo, male-dominant psyche that do not necessarily apply to everyone’s needs – and might actually be intimidating women from riding, racing and even vocalizing their needs. I plan to continue my research. Race preparation for myself and the bike is mandatory, regardless of gender – and I fell short here. The amount of apparent work and planning that went into the race that carried on without a hitch spoke to the potential of more trails and better riding opportunities close to home. That’s enough reason to have my support and I really hope that others appreciate it as much as I did. The great crowd, fall colors and warming temperature really made for a special race day near the river in Ohiopyle.
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