2014 Comfort Flat Rock Ranch Mountain Bike Race Report

#selfie

#selfie

The Comfort race falls on a pretty tough weekend for me. The wife and offspring had a 3 day weekend of dance convention and competition that would make it tough to work out what to do with the little 3 year old guy. Due to that, it was very doubtful that I’d make Comfort at all and I didn’t really plan on making it. I figured if it panned out that I could go, then great, but I wasn’t going to worry over it as that just makes it worse when it comes down to the time and I DON’T get to go.

Through some interesting sitter scheduling, it turns out that I did indeed get to make the race. The FIRST sitter arrived at 7:30am to let me get out the door and on my way to Comfort. The SECOND sitter was scheduled to relieve the first at 11:30 and I was expected to be home by 4:30 to relieve that sitter.

A tight schedule, but it meant that I could get out and ride my bike, and that always makes me a happy boy!

So 7:30 rolls around and the teenage sitter arrives blurry eyed, but ready to perform her duties of watching the little hellion for a few hours. I grab the last couple of things, throw them in the truck and I’m off.

I haven’t ridden at Comfort in over 8 years and have no idea what to expect. I spent a little time looking at the elevation profile for the near 20 mile course, but I really didn’t know what to expect. Some long (for Texas) climbs, and some fun looking longer descents as well. Not knowing the course at all, this changed my normal planning a bit.

The race starts off with a fairly long, but not too steep climb. The first 3 miles or so would be mostly uphill. I decided I would take it easy on this initial climb and just check my pace and try to keep my place wherever I felt comfortable, expecting that to be in the 10-12 position range.

Additionally, not knowing the course, I also opted to wear a Camelback for water instead of taking a small water bottle. I didn’t know where would be safe spots to drink, nor how long before the water hand ups. Because of this, I took about 50oz of water, with 2 NUUN tablets added in.

I make it to Flat Rock Ranch by 9:30, ample time to be ready to go for the reported 10:30 staging and start. I don’t waste any time, getting registered, ready, and warmed up just in time to reach the start line at 10:30. Where I’m promptly informed we won’t actually start until 11:20… Well, feck! Ah well, now I have a some time to do a little socializing! And more agonizing because I had left my heart rate monitor at home! I’ve never raced without it, and while I don’t rely on it too heavily, I typically use it to remind myself if I’m ‘dogging it’ and not going as hard as I could be.

I talk with some folks who know the course a little and they try to give me some pointers on various portions of the trail. The initial climb, a couple of the more technical drops, etc. While it all sounded good at the time, I’m not so sure it really helped much, ha!

19 fellas showed up to race this one, including most of the top 10 series guys, as well as a newcomer who was coming off of a decisive win in Cat3 before quickly moving up to Cat2.

We line up and they call up the top 10’s. I check to make sure whoever gets behind me isn’t going to be held up since I’m not planning on blasting up the initial climb. David C. is back, fresh off of a 3 month lay off due to a knee injury. He assures me that I won’t be holding him up, so I feel comfortable with my plan and will just be sure to get out of anyone’s way who is really blasting off before we get to the singletrack.

The whistle blows and we’re off!

And they're off!

And they’re off!

The podium seekers blast off and I quickly find myself in 11th place, right behind Chad B. and Chris W. I figure this is a good spot to settle in for the climb and I grab onto Chad’s wheel.

We’re cruising through the single track at a fairly easy pace. About 5 positions ahead someone is really taking it easy and clogging up the line. There are 6 of us, wheel to wheel through the tight singletrack looking for openings to make some passes and move on. This is the risk of not blasting up the double track for the hole shot, but I’m not concerned. Part of me is a little pleased with the slower pace of the steady climb. Otherwise there’s a good chance I’d be redlining…

Nowhere to go, settle in and conserve

Nowhere to go, settle in and conserve

Eventually the trail allows for some passing and we all get around and start motoring on up the hill.

Get around and let's go!

Get around and let’s go!

I’m still riding with Chris and Chad, but I sense we are getting close to the top of the climb, at which point I am looking forward to a fast and flowy descent. I get around Chad and then look to get around Chris as well.

As we approach one of the final switchbacks, I decide this is the place to go. Chris is swinging a bit wide so I look to cut the inside corner. Unfortunately I mistimed my move a bit and as I swing through, my front tire catches Chris’s rear tire, turning my bars 90°, promptly sending me to the ground.

It’s not a bad crash so I hop up, dust off a little. Chad came back around while I was adjusting so now I’m behind he and Chris again. I notice that my GoPro got hit when I went down and is now facing downward. I reach to tilt it back up and in doing so I also hit the front button, and with a ‘BEEP’, I no longer know what function the camera is on. The top light is not flashing red so I know it isn’t recording anymore. I play with the buttons a bit, trying to figure out if it is recording or not and finally give up on it. Ah well, no video for this race =(

All of a sudden Chris is pulled to the side of the trail, working on his chain. Looks like it has come off the rear cassette on the outside somehow. Chad and I come around and keep going.

Chad leads through the first descent, showing that he can ride his hardtail Niner with some good handling skills. As we near an open area, he ushers me around, and I put on the gas a bit. I pour into the remaining downhill section, having a good ole time.

As the trail starts going back uphill, I settle in and just start steady pedaling back up. I look back and see Chad not too far back and fully expect him to catch up with me on the climb, but he never does.

I was feeling good and putting some power to the pedals. The climb went by and on the way I pass Troy A. on the side of the trail with a severely torn sidewall. He’ll DNF today.

I keep catching glimpses of a black Gold’s Gym kit just a bit ahead. It is a tantalizing rabbit and I work on catching him. It is Cesar F. and I finally grab his wheel. He’s riding strong and I’m just trying to hang on for now and recover after a bit of hard effort in catching his wheel.

It is near here that the trail starts coming back out into the open again and the wind starts being a factor. I start doing all I can to catch a little draft here and there and manage to utilize drafting quite successfully for a long time. I rode close to Cesar’s wheel, often closer than comfortable as it meant I had a hard time seeing what was coming on the trail. Doubly bad since I have absolutely no idea of anything that’s coming!

I manage to keep a keen eye out and ride smoothly given that I can’t see much of the upcoming trail sections.

Hospital Hill drop

Hospital Hill drop

I follow Cesar all the way back through the end of the first loop and through the water hand ups. Going through the hand up, I don’t need the water due to having the Camelback, but I grab one anyway and gush nearly the whole bottle over my head, neck and back. I was a little warm, and the drench of water felt great. It energized me and I just kept riding Cesar’s wheel, letting him pull in the windy sections.

I felt that I was about at my max riding effort riding behind Cesar so I didn’t attempt to pass. I was content to sit in for the time being and I knew that there was another sustained climb coming up. My plan would be to just ride his wheel all the way up the climb, across the windy top, and then attempt a pass before the big fun descent to the finish.

This strategy worked out wonderfully until right near the top of the upper loop. It was here that the leaders from the later age group finally caught up with us. There were 3 of them, including Kirby rocking it in 3rd place. It was about now that I started to realize just what kind of effort the day was turning out to be. Here we were, getting fairly close to the end, and I’m just now getting passed by the 45-49 leaders. Usually these guys catch me sooner than this… hmm…

The leaders finally get around us once we get to a safe passing area and they start to motor on. Cesar seizes this opportunity and grab’s Kirby’s wheel. We’re still climbing, and have been climbing pretty hard for the last couple of miles. My legs are fatigued although my cardio is feeling okay. I look down for a minute to catch a break from the wind and when I look up, the leaders and Cesar have put a sizable gap on me. I put some power to the pedals in an effort to bridge back up before we pop out on top and into the wind, but the legs informed me they were done for now.

With a sigh, I watch them increase the gap and disappear over the crest.

I know what is awaiting me. It has been pretty windy today and I’m about to pop out up top of the upper loop, out in the open, with no draft protection this time. As I crest the climb, the winds hit me full force and work to break my drive. I put my head down, sit back in the saddle a little, engage my hams and glutes, and just try to motor on as best I can. I know that once I get across the top, it will be a rip roaring descent to the finish. I just gotta get the bike pointed downhill.

With a huge relief, I see the hill drop off in front of me and now I know the fun is on. This is really the first time I’ve had nothing but open trail in front of me, and although I’ve never seen this trail before in my life, I let ‘er fly as best I could seeing as how I was riding blind.

My legs let me know they are ready to play now so I start pedaling hard on every chance I get. Up ahead I see Rick D. and close the gap on him. He’s suffering and I hear some all too familiar mutterances as I come around. Something along the lines of ‘F*ing WALL!’, and it is here that I am reminded that my previous 3 race nemesis has failed to make an appearance today. ‘The Lull’ has been completely absent and will be a topic of discussion later.

At any rate, I’ve now gained another position and I feel that perhaps somewhere down there another is available. I keep pushing, reveling in the downhill. It’s great fun! I blow through a couple of corners and ride some sketchy edges, but it all works out okay. I can’t wait to come back and ride some of these segments again when the trail will be a bit more familiar.

I do finally encounter the one technical drop that I had been thoroughly warned about. Here comes that triple down arrow, ‘Don’t go right, go down the middle’, but alas, not having seen the drop, I was pulled right. I slow down and unclip a foot and dab the drop. Better safe than sorry!

OMG SO SKETCHY!

OMG SO SKETCHY!
Photo cred: J. Michael Short

Of course there is a photographer here to catch me pussy footing down this apparent inconsequential drop. Let’s just say this drop looks way more sketchy from above, and the trail actually cuts hard right just outside the bottom frame of the picture so the proper line is very important here, as this group can attest to:

At any rate, I power on to the finish, giving it a good ole sprint at the end, again, just me and my shadow. I finish 13s behind Clayton P. (5th) and never caught sight of him. Cesar went on to finish 4th.

I somehow manage to roll across in 6th place. I had no idea where I finished, but I suspected it was top 10 given the people I had seen along the way. I am very pleasantly surprised with this finish and couldn’t have asked for better given the circumstances.

6th Place! Photo cred: J. Michael Short

6th Place!
Photo cred: J. Michael Short

However, the biggest victory for me was that I did not experience the dreaded ‘Lull’. The question is, why? Perhaps it was hydration and electrolytes? With the Camelback, I drank more fluid as well as had electrolytes for both portions of water, whereas usually I have only 1 bottle with a NUUN tablet, instead of 2. Even with the Camelback, I still ran out of water about a mile from the finish. So I know I drank way more than I typically do in a race.

Was it mental? I kept looking for signs that it was coming. I wanted to be ready for it so I could try to ‘handle’ it.

Was it being in the race? The previous times I’ve hit ‘The Lull’, I’ve been riding alone, possibly for a while. In this race, I rarely raced alone and was often giving chase to someone for nearly the entire race.

Was it pacing? Being completely unfamiliar with this trail, I didn’t have a clue what to expect, so I really took it way easier than usual. Additionally, I had forgotten my heart rate monitor, so I had to go by ‘feel’ alone and no numbers on how much effort I was putting out.

And perhaps it was something else? I paid close attention to my week workouts as well as what I ate in the days leading up to the race. I typically eat pretty healthy, but I don’t typically eat a lot of carbs. I specifically ate big pasta dishes in the 3 days leading up to the race.

In the end, I was super stoked with the finish. I had a great time at the race and on the trails and look forward to getting back out to Comfort again sooner than the last time. Perhaps I’ll be able to make this year’s Zombie Goat Enduro in October?

Since the GoPro crapped out pretty early into the race, I instead got the idea to throw something fun together. I coerced folks to help me with some pics while at the race and put this little fun piece together. Enjoy!

Next up, Abilene?! (Hopefully)

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 160 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 11:20AM
Nutrition: 2 serving oatmeal, cup of yogurt, 1 water bottle with Nuun before race, 1 honey stinger 15 mins before race, ~2 water bottle during race via Camelback, 1 stinger halfway through
Weather: Perfect, 70’s and clear
Dress: Short sleeve base layer, short sleeve jersey, bibs
RPE: Felt great, refrained from redlining much
CTL: 59.5
TSB: -3.4 (rising)

Strava:

About TC

Long time mountain biker, recent mountain bike racer. Borderline unhealthy obsession with mountain biking, constantly drawn to hit the dirt and share my experiences.

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