Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Son - The Bike Racer







As mentioned in a previous post, My Son - The Cyclist, I described in mind numbing detail how my son Ian has progressed as a rider. I also mentioned that he started racing a bit and would detail in a later post. Well, this is that post. I'll humor myself that someone actually reads this blog and they've been patiently staring at their monitor waiting for an update. I also believe in the Tooth Fairy and Members Only jackets will make a come back.

Okay - after a few kiddie races at some local 'cross and crits - 8 year old Ian wants to do some "real" races. He really liked longer rides, didn't have super technical skills or knew how to jump - so I ruled out BMX. Most of the junior class racing appeared to start around 10 years of age, and we also watched these kids race at some 'cross races. Ian wasn't old enough for that quite yet. I then find the Seatac Shuffle mountain bike race - and they have a class for kids 10 and under. I email the folks and find out the kids do one lap of the real course and I can ride behind him during the race. Perfect-O. On top of that, kids race free. What a country.

Race day rolls around we head down to Seatac Park - or whatever its officially called. It's located at the end of a runway of Seatac airport. You could bounce rocks off the belly of planes if you had a strong enough arm. Ian is excited and nervous about the race. The race mechanic, that be me, decided to install new brake pads the day before. I tell Ian the brakes are a little grabby, but they'll wear in. As we're warming up and checking the course out, Ian crashes twice due to the much stronger front brake - once with a slide out, another time with a full endo - his first ever. Yikes. I feel stupid for swapping the pads out, concerned about him getting hurt, and he's upset and now worried about using the brakes. All this about 5 minutes before the start of the race. I loosened the front brake enough to be impossible to lock up and ask Ian if he still wants to race. Yes - he does.

The kids line up - all 8 of them - and away they go for the 1 lap race (about 4 miles). Riding behind them was a blast and a front row seat to the action. I moved up behind Ian to keep him in sight and to offer encouragement. He's about mid pack and doing okay. We didn't pre-ride the entire lap, so didn't know exactly what was ahead. On a short, steep downhill, Ian knifes the front wheel in and flips down the hill - with the bike bouncing behind him and landing on his back - ouch. A collective gasp from some spectators adds to the effect. I jump off my bike and run down the hill - pull his bike off him and ask if he's okay. He seems to be and takes off - to cheers from the crowd. When I catch back up to him about 30 seconds later, he's not doing well - upset and having trouble catching his breath. We stop for a bit to calm down. I remind him this is all for fun and you don't have to do this - no problem. As we talk, the kids behind all pass us.

After a few minutes, he's better - but said he's embarrassed to come in last and wants to quit. I explain sometimes just finishing a race is an accomplishment, but we can skip this and that's okay. Bike racing is not easy. As a dad, I wanted this to be a positive experience and didn't force anything. I said we can ride back to the car - the shortest way - or stay on the course and just treat it as a fun ride. He decides to ride the course and after a few minutes is cranking again. I pour on the encouragement and try to keep the fun side up.

Then I flat my rear wheel - crap. I tried running and keeping up with him - no way. He waits for me at one point and I could see he's dying to take off. I ask what he wants to do - wait or go. He instantly says go and I tell him just follow the course - you'll do fine. Boom, he's gone. I pull off a record time tube swap and hammer off like a lunatic after him.

Near the end of the course, through the trees, I could hear the race announcer call his name as he crossed the finish line. We head back to the car and he's upset again. What are you upset about? The brakes? No. Crashing? No. Racing itself? No. He was upset about coming in last. In his ever innocent 8 year old mind, he was convinced he was going to win this race. After some consoling and letting him know he did great - asked him what he wanted to do right now. Go for a ride. We wound up riding the course again in-between races and he rode like his usual self - and faster then the actual race. A much more positive way to end the day and a real world learning experience as well.

At home a few days later, I check online for the race results and show Ian his name. The Seatac Shuffle was race # 1 in the 7 race Indie Series. I also checked the previous year results and discovered so few kids race the 10 and under class, by just entering every race - you could potentially win the series overall. So Ian's last place finish, 8th place, still scored him series points. I could almost see the little light bulb appear above his head. He then wanted to do the entire race series. I told him we'll give it a shot.

Race # 2 was the Whidbey Island Mudder, located on Whidbey Island (what a concept). We made this race a family affair with mom and sister attending as well - that would be Lori and Amy. Nice ferry ride over to the island, complete with a whale sighting. Arrived early enough to be stress free and parked right at the start line - perfect family base camp. Pre rode part of the course and it looked great. Eight kids once again in Ian's class and away we go.

This race was an actual race for Ian. While in 5th place, he caught the kid in 4th place for a nice battle. They eventually caught up to the kid in 3rd place. During the race, I once again rode behind Ian and watched everything from a front row seat. I also encouraged all the kids, not just Ian alone. I passed the 4th place kid's dad along side the trail and yelled out how great they were doing. They all crossed the line almost together. So Ian scored a 5th place finish, but was very close to doing as well as 3rd place. He was psyched and really had a good time. A very different experience from the first race. All positive and fun.

My daughter Amy, then 4 years old, did the kiddie race on her Pink Specialized bike - with training wheels. On the way home, we stopped for lunch in Langley and goofed around by the water. Another ferry ride home and the day was done. An all around great family experience.

We elected to skip the Leavenworth event, race # 3 of the series. I heard it was a pretty technical course with lots of climbing. By coincidence, I ran into Matt, the kid who organized the Whidbey race (I'm now old enough to legally call anyone in their 20s a kid) on the Burke-Gilman Trail riding to work. He confirmed it was a tough course, especially for an 8 year old. Ian was disappointed, but I wanted to keep this as safe and fun as possible.

We also skipped race # 4 in Winthrop, mostly to avoid the expense and hassle of a multi-day trip. Winthrop is out there in eastern Washington. Maybe another time.

Race # 5 in Bellingham was on our agenda. Another family affair with all in attendance. Another stress free early arrival, checked the course out a bit and Ian was ready to roll. The kids were supposed to do a shorter version of the adult course, but for whatever reason - they elected to have them run the real deal. The decision was made right on the start line. I heard someone ask, "What about the drop offs?" "Uhh, we'll have people posted there". Yikes.

A lot more kids at this race, 15 in Ian's class alone. Very cool. A run to your bike LeMans type start - with Ian losing his bike in the confusion - and we're off. I follow him once again for this race and can tell he's not really digging it today. It's hot, there's quite a bit of pushing up hills, and some tricky technical downhill sections. A great course, but a little tough for an 8 year old - I think. I see one young girl riding while crying. Ouch. I coach Ian on and he grinds it out, complaining a bit at times, but finishes. He pulls a 12th place out of the deal. At the end I ask him if he enjoyed the race. He said it was okay. In my eyes, he did a great job. We're still talking about 8 year kids here and mountain bike racing is not easy for any age. It's fun, but its tough.

As a side note. Dear old dad - that be me - raced 45+ Sport class as well. My first race in 15 years or so. I'm there to have fun with Ian and ride with him, but the schedule at this event allowed me to race as well. The first lap was a reminder how much racing hurts. On the second lap, I crashed heavily into a log, landing on my thigh - direct impact. I suffered through lap 3, then DNF'd. Wound up getting officially hurt with x-rays the next day, nasty swelling and bruising and 3 weeks off the bike. Nothing broken - but felt like it. I couldn't even walk correctly for about 2 weeks. The most painful injury I've ever had. Loads-O-Fun. Still, until I bailed, it was great to race again.

Race # 6 in Roslyn - we skipped due to some family scheduling conflicts. My daughter Amy had a dance recital that weekend, filling up parts of Saturday and Sunday. You can guess how exited Ian was to skip the race for a dance recital. Hey, all is fair. It was Amy's weekend to be the center of attention and another life lesson for Ian.

Race # 7, The White River Revival, the final event in Greenwater - near Mount Rainier. Full family affair for this event as well, including kiddie race for Amy. Only 7 kids signed up for Ian's class. Awesome course - the real deal - long climbs, singletrack, stream crossings - big fun. Ian did great on one long doubletrack climb - passed some kids, as well as two adults racing in another class. Great job. Kids passed on the climb, passed Ian on the downhill singletrack sections - not Ian's strong point and some of those kids are pretty quick. Not a problem to me. At (by now) 9 years old, its all about fun and not getting hurt.

Ian scored a 6th place for this race and had a great time. We had a total blast on this course and Ian still talks about it today - his favorite course of the series by far. Mine also.

Since this was the final race of the series, the overall winners were announced. By being Mr. Consistent, Ian pulled off a 3rd place overall for the series. Even got to raise his arms on the (log) podium - just like the Tour. He was very excited to nab 3rd place and only missed 2nd place by one point! Really nice way to end the series for him.

After the race we drove up to the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier and hiked around for two hours. A very full day and a reminder how cool it is to live in the Pacific Northwest.

Overall, the Indie Series was awesome and we'll hit some events in 2009. I am amazed at the low amount of kids that race mountain bikes. There's a few hundred adults at each race and just a few kids. You would think a ton of kids would be into this - not the case. It does get my wheels turning to somehow get more kids involved with this great sport. I have a few ideas. We'll see if my daughter Amy expresses any further interest in racing. I may need a team bus soon.

After being away from mountain bike racing for 15 years, I was expecting it to be a super serious scene with zillion dollar bikes and attitudes. Not the case. Sure - there are some super fast guys and girls, but mountain bike racing still remains a grass roots scene with supportive people all around. For 2009 Indie Series info, check out: www.indieseries.com

See you out there.

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