A week post-race now, I find myself back in Colorado after a glorious week of traveling, training, and supporting, once again, for Pua Mata at one of her mountain bike races. This wasn’t another “winning is the only option” race, however. This one had a bit of a unique twist to it: She was racing on a 5-person team comprised of high school girls from around the nation. Pua’s brainchild was spawned out of providing an opportunity to promote the sport to junior girls and give them the full race experience. When she asked me to be a part of it, I was immediately on board. For more details on her contest and how she choose the girls check out the CyclingNews article:
She choose the perfect girls: an inimitable blend of personalities and abilities that blended together for a fun, fast 5-person team. In addition to the riders we had our quasi-pro mechanic and Sho-Air team-mate of Pua’s, Cody Phillips. He's a local mtb racer who won all the highschool cycling contests in the area last year, and he knows his way around a bike, so we had a pit crew so the girls could just show up and focus on racing. My role was to offer some advice if needed, take care of the behind-the-scene logistics, and make sure all ran smoothly. This wasn’t the girls' first rodeo, however, so it was rewarding to just dial in some of the finer details, calm the nerves, and make sure they were focused on having fun.
Like Pua, though, ‘just having fun’ wasn't good enough – they were all going for the win too. When you have truly competitive athletes, a coach’s role is to calm the bad nerves, take care of the finer details, and balance out the nervous energy so that athletes still have fun while they're pursuing victory. I think we did that well. Of course, Pua put down the fastest women’s time of the day with 38minutes and change; but her girls weren’t far behind. Forty-five to 55 minutes were the average lap times for the girls, which were just as fast to all other 5-person and 4-person teams. Even some pro’s were only doing 40min lap times!
The race director, Jason, is a good friend of Pua’s and helped us out with the tents, tables, and some other logistics. A great personable guy, he let me go out on the bike and try to keep up with Pua for a lap. I took him up on it, as I got to ride my bike (which never happens when crewing for a race), but more so because I got to see Pua in action, on single track, in race mode, at race pace. Sure, I get to see her power files all the time, and on lapped races I see her come through the feed zone or part of the course; there’s even some YouTube out there where I can watch her race. But, as a MTB coach, you rarely get to tail one of your athletes on the course at race pace. So, I took the opportunity. Luckily, I had the SRM 2×10 power meter so I could see what kind of efforts Pua was putting down. I’ve ridden with Pua enough to know what numbers she’s producing when I see my numbers – and I was seeing lots of high ones! Ugh… it hurt. Let’s take a peek at the powerfile (mine, not hers):
What we see here is… well a bunch of squiggly lines. Yellow is the power, green is the cadence, and I drew horizontal dotted lines in at about my threshold power (300W) and cadence (90rpms).The power numbers are on the y-axis, left side and the time span in on the x-axis at the bottom. Note all of the sharp spikes above that threshold power line – this lets you know I was hurting. Keep in mind this is my powerfile, not Pua’s, but I know that when I’m doing 300+watts, she’s just getting comfortable. In fact, she was pulling away from me on every hill, as she can not only produce some decent high-end power, but she’s lighter (has a great power-to-weight ratio) and she's a very smooth, powerful climber. What I can pull from this file is that she was doing about 4.8Watts/KG for 38min based on these numbers and her bodyweight. That’s pretty good for January.
12hrs of racing is a long time, and each team member was able to get in ~3 laps, so for our girls, it was only under 3hrs of actual racing. But the stressors of a cold wet morning, warm sunny afternoon, warm ups, race laps, cool downs, staying hydrated, staying warm, eating the right foods… it all adds up. Not to mention we all just met each other for the first time that morning and were sharing a small space for all the bikes and equipment all day… but that is why I love mountain bikers. We can all do that and be very ok with it. Some of the athletes’ parents were there, and they were a tremendous help in keeping the mood positive and balancing out that energy. And as we entered in the night laps, we all needed that!
The darkness came and with it came the cold. Luckily we had Tommy from Night Rider hooking up the girls with the best lights on the market. As he told the girls, “Don’t worry about the night, because with these lights, it’ll just be behind you.” Smooth talking Tommy… I love it. Pua always has extra warm clothes (always) and was able to equip some of the young riders so they could stay warm and look "pro" for the chilly laps.
Another smooth talker and MTB legend (and former CTS Athlete coached by Jim Lehman), Nat Ross, was there racing as part of another team. He’s good friends with Pua and came over between laps to hang with the girls, ask how the race was going, and just be easy-going Nat. It was awesome for our small team, because whether they knew it or not, they had some of top endurance MTB racing pros around them all day.
Finally, the clock struck 9pm and the race was over. The girls put down some fast laps, and good enough for a 2nd place in their category. Pua, the parents, and I couldn’t have been more proud of them!
Looking forward to seeing what these girls do at the races in 2012… after some good R&R of course!
Written by Coach Adam Pulford
Senior Coach at Carmichael Training Systems