2014 Warda Race Report

Bluff Creek Ranch

The Warda Race at Bluff Creek Ranch in Warda, Texas is the finale in the Texas State Championship series. This particular course is pretty flat and wide open. An all out hammerfest with only minor technical features. Not a course that plays to my strengths.

But it was still a chance to get out and ride my bike with some good and fast competition thrown in. With this being the finale, I had crunched the numbers and knew what I needed to do to defend my 4th place overall in the state series.

There was only one person I had to watch out for. Michael Adams would be bagging his 5th race of the season at Warda and thus, all of his points would count. Michael is a fast rider and I felt pretty sure he’d beat me, but since he hadn’t done Pay Dirt, I was ahead of him in the standings. I calculated that I needed to finish no more than 5 places behind him. Which meant a pretty strong finish if he finished in the top 4-5.

The race was going to hurt, but I was ready to embrace the pain in order to defend my position.

With all of the wide open, and often straight and flat sections of trail, I planned early on to draft as much as possible. I just needed to make sure I set myself up properly for those.

The day of the race, I awoke at 5:30am and began to get ready to head out. It was a fitful night of rest, even with melatonin, but I didn’t feel tired. I have gotten into the habit of making sure I get really good nights’ rest the few nights leading up to the race. As long as I get good sleep the days prior to the race, I don’t feel tired the day of the race even when I don’t sleep well.

I took my time getting ready and heading out. I knew I’d have plenty of time to get out and get ready for my 10:30am start time, or at least so I thought. I get to the venue around 8:30 and still take my time getting dressed, kitted and registered. I’m talking with folks, talking with Chris W. about what to expect on the trail since he had never ridden the course.

While talking with Chris, I hear the announcers say Cat 2 starts at 9:30. It’s about 9AM at this time. I joked that someone had the wrong time, to which Chris and David O. both affirm that our start IS at 9:30!

Oh shit! I don’t know where I got 10:30 start time in my head, but now I’m super crunched! I’m not even fully ready and haven’t even begun to warm up.

I haul ass back to the truck and set about mounting up my GoPro with my KEdge mount. I’m feeling rushed but I feel like I take the time to make sure the mount is nice and secure. I get my water bottle ready by taking the top off and dropping a Nuun tablet in. Then put the lid back on and put it in the bike. I finish final prep, put a Stinger in my back pocket, and head out to try to warm up. It is 9:10 at this point. I am near the first singletrack section which is 3 miles long.

I figure this would be perfect timing so I warm up through the singletrack, catching our series leader, John C. and riding with him through the singletrack. We pop out of the singletrack and it is almost 9:30. Perfect timing! I head over to the start line and get ready.

They are part way through the earlier age group call ups, but we make it no problem. I take the opportunity in the staging area to grab some additional video footage of some of the other racers in our group who have been coming out and getting to know everyone. I get lots of great candid footage that I plan to put into the race video.

I look around our group. A solid 20+ racers and I know about half of them. So that means there’s half that I don’t really know, and surely some fast roadies in this group as well. Also in the group is Miguel A. who is the unfortunate rider who had the high speed crash at the end of last year’s Warda race. Chad B. also is here, and he’s another strong rider. With these 2 and others that I see, I’m a bit worried about my decent finish chances. Ah well, suck it up and ride hard!

We line up at the start and the top 10 are called up. I line up on the far left, with no intention of hammering hard. The start loop is a mile long and into the wind for much of it so I’m planning on playing conservative and drafting until the singletrack.

The gun goes off and the race is on! I had a nice clean start but didn’t hammer hard. John C. and Michael G. (#2 in series) are off the front. I’m #3 but not going hard. I slot in behind Michael with plans to ride him for a bit until someone else comes around for me to grab ahold of. As we come around the 180 degree turn and head into the wind, nobody has tried to make a move so I just keep riding Michael. He and John are humming down the ranch road, pulling hard into the wind.

I’m going a little harder than I like so I look over my shoulder in hopes of ushering someone else around that I can let go of Michael and grab a hold of. But when I look back, we have put in a pretty decent gap.

Ugh! That means I either have to keep hammering to hold onto Michael, or I let off and catch the wind until the pack catches up.

I decide I’ll just hold onto Michael and suffer until the singletrack. After we drop off of the ranch road onto the little path around the pond, I hear something and feel wet on my legs. I look down just in time to see the lid of my water bottle flying off the side of the trail, and my currently very full water bottle sloshing water all around…

As we start heading up a straighter section of the trail before the singletrack, a couple of strong riders come around. Clayton P. (#3) zooms past, followed closely by Dr. Greg D. and Michael Adams. I head into the singletrack in 6th place. I am hoping that I can hold this position.

In the lead up to the singletrack, I was redlined, and in holding my position in the group in the singletrack, I was staying redlined. I’m running too hot and I know I can’t sustain this pace. Chad B. passes me, followed by Travis D. I’m now in 8th, but I think my saving grace is that Michael A. doesn’t appear to be running hard today. As long as I can stay within 5 positions, I’ll hold onto my 4th place overall, which is the goal for the day.

As we near the end of the first portion of singletrack, another rider comes around. He looked like a roadie as he was a bit sketchy through the turns. However, he comes around at just the right time and I grab a hold of the his wheel as we enter the open area with plans to draft the field to Gas Pass.

* Pic from 2013 Race

* Pic from 2013 Race

I am able to hold his wheel for a while, but he’s too strong and begins pulling away. As we go around the pond, I actually let him get even further away. I know Gas Pass is coming up, which is one of the only technical sections of the trail. I think that if he is a roadie as I suspect, I will give him space here so I can flow efficiently and not have to slow down through this section.

Dropping into Gas Pass - Photo by IngotImaging

Dropping into Gas Pass – Photo by IngotImaging

Sure enough, I’ve timed it just right and I catch up to him at the very bottom. I was able to pump the rolls without having to worry about slowing down.

Here is another field and I again attempt to draft. I hold him for a while, but he again gets away from me. Coming up is the only real climb of the course. A short and steep doubletrack ascent called Mule Trace. He blasts up the climb and is gone from my view.

I spin up the climb and make the descent. I hear another rider behind me and look back to see Miguel A. In the next field area Miguel comes around. I grab his wheel and draft as long as I can, but again I cannot hang on and he eventually pulls away.

Up and across Paydirt Bridge, around the tight turns and across the narrow bridges. I’m just riding at this point, keeping it pegged as much as possible. Looking forward to getting a water bottle when I finish the lap.

Pay Dirt Bridge

I ride through the BMX area of the trail, which is pretty fun. I feel much better here than I did at this section last year and I get to enjoy this section a little more, working the berms and pumping the little rollers.

I finally finish the line for lap 1 at around 37 minutes. I figure I need to turn the next lap at least the same speed or better in order to have a decent finish. I’m a little sad that I haven’t been able to push harder, but it is what it is.

I roll through the barn and am relieved to finally get a water bottle. I take a deep guzzle and sprinkle a little on the back of my neck. I look down the trail leading back into the singletrack and don’t see any of my group racers. I’ve fallen quite a ways back…

As I near the singletrack, I look behind and see a few riders, but nobody I recognize so I don’t know if they are in my group or the older group.

In the singletrack I focus on efficiency. I am work on going faster by going slower. No braking, efficiency through the turns. Riding smoothly. This approach works wonderfully and upon reviewing my ride data, while I was just a tad slower through this 3 mile section, I was able to recover quite a bit.

In the singletrack the first of the older group catches up and gets a pass. Another catches me just as I’m about to pop out into the field. Another perfect timing option. He passes and I jump his wheel to draft through the field. With this guy being the #2 guy, I don’t worry about following him through Gas Pass, and sure enough, he rides very smoothly. One interesting thing about this guy, he has his iPhone or something in his pack playing music as he’s riding along. I didn’t think this was allowed, but whatever. Didn’t bother me, just found it interesting.

It was also in this area where my camera mount comes loose and starts flopping around. I try to force the mount back onto the ‘fat’ part of my bar, but once it came loose, the piece of inner tube I had mounted underneath fell out and now the camera has no chance of being tight enough.

It will flop around, rattling and annoying the crap out of me for the rest of the race. Not to mention scar up the finish on my Enve flat handlebar as well…

Berms and Rollers on Gas Pass

Through the fields I keep an eye behind me. Sure enough, here comes someone that has to be from my age group. I shout out to make sure and sure enough, he’s in my group. We are nearing another large field ride section. I slow up a bit, intentionally to either reserve my strength a little, or to get him to come around so I could draft. I’ll find out after the race that this is Gabe A., who I actually met at my 2nd race ever out at Pace Bend.

It is here that the 3rd older group leader comes around. He comes around Gabe and then me. Since I had been reserving a little here, I easily grab his wheel. He’s powering hard, but I hold strong and draft through the field. We drop Gabe and motor on.

As we are climbing Pay Dirt Bridge, there is a younger age group back marker at the top of the climb. We close the gap quickly. There is no safe spot to pass here, nor for a while until we get out of this narrow twisty section with narrow bridges.

The back marker does the considerate thing and pulls over to a stop to allow a pass. He does this right before a narrow bridge.

The leader was right in front of me and as he came around the back marker, he’s a little sketchy on the narrow bridge. This particular bridge has a railing and the rider is delicately trying not to hit the rail. We all know the feeling when you’re just balanced on edge of trying to hold your line or not. The rider manages to hold his line until the very end of the bridge. At this point on the bridge the railing stops, and there is about 3 feet of rail less bridge before you reach the other side.

It is at this final section of railing that the rider clipped the rail and nearly flies over the rail and off the bridge. It is a good 10 foot drop or so. He’s literally hanging OVER the rail. I am stopped and I grab him and pull him back over the rail. I still don’t know how neither he nor his bike went off the bridge.

JP from IngotImaging was right there taking pictures. I can’t wait to see if he managed a shot of the whole affair.

UPDATE, doesn’t look like JP got the shot. Here’s a pic of me right after.

Bridge area at Pay Dirt Bridge - Photo by IngotImaging

Bridge area at Pay Dirt Bridge – Photo by IngotImaging

In the meantime of wrangling him back from the brink of a fall, Gabe catches up on the bridge. Gabe was now right on my wheel and we don’t have much to go.

I’m tired from the effort of holding the leader’s wheel, but there is no time to relax now. Gabe is right with me. I give it everything I have left and push as hard as I can. My heart rate pegs out. I fly through the BMX section and see that I’ve put a little space between Gabe and I, but I keep pushing.

I go as hard as I can and as I reach the final open area around the last pond, I look back to see I have a comfortable gap on Gabe. I hold the gap through the end to finish in 10th place. Lap 2 was also 37 minutes, so at least I was fairly consistent through my two laps.

I am really whipped and I sit after the finish hacking and wheezing for a few minutes. Gabe and I chat a bit. He wanted to catch me and I obviously wanted to hold on to my position. I see Chad and Travis and inquire as to how Michael A. finished. I’m told 6th place, which meant he wouldn’t manage to finish ahead of me in the final standings! I am wiped out, but relieved thinking that I’ve secured my 4th place position.

The final standings are posted, and what’s this? I’m bumped to 5th overall. Travis D. has an awesome race and finishes 5th, which was enough points ahead of me to allow him to leap frog me in the final placements. I hadn’t even considered that Travis would be able to jump me because I had a good lead on him and we typically finish really close to one another. However today he finishes 5 places ahead of me which enough to seal the deal.

I remove my camera and go to take a couple more videos. But when I look down, the GoPro flashes NO SD CARD. Oh feck… Sure enough, the card slot is empty. I use a skeleton housing during races to get more external audio from the race and the skeleton housing does not cover the SD card slot. While the camera was flopping around, the SD Card must have ejected or fallen out.

GoPro Skeleton Housing

I am quite possibly more disappointed in that than anything else =/

5th Place Overall

5th Place Overall

I can’t be disappointed in my race series finish. I’m happy for Travis. And I’m actually proud of my final placement. I never would have dreamed that I would have managed a top 5 in my first year of racing Cat2. Of course it was only possible because the consistency of racers showing up in this group was pretty low. There were really only about 6-7 of us who showed up to many of the racers. All it really takes to place well was to get your 5 races and do Pay Dirt.

The one thing I was a bit disappointed and discouraged with was how my performance arced over the season. I’ll go into that in a future post, but I had honestly hoped for better returns on the level and consistency that I trained at this spring.

And that’s a wrap! The Texas State Championship Series is over! The Texas Fall Cup Series starts Labor Day weekend, but for now it’s time to get out and hit some dirt and have some fun!

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 158 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 9:30AM
Nutrition: Oatmeal and banana, 1 honey stinger 15 mins before race, 1 water bottle in 2nd lap
Weather: Perfect, 80’s and partly cloudy
Dress: Short sleeve base layer, short sleeve jersey, bibs
RPE: Felt good throughout
CTL: 49
TSB: 9.1 (rising)

Strava:

2014 Prayer Mountain Pedal Mountain Bike Race Report

Last year at Big Cedar I had a bit of a breakout race. I had a pretty bad start, but then somehow managed to make up a large number of positions, power up the climbs and bag a surprise 4th place finish.

I was hoping to have another breakout race this year and place strongly, helping to cement my standings in the state series. Going into the race I was hoping for a top 5. That may have been a bit ambitious given that I didn’t know many of the local names that were pre-registered for the race.

But hey, gotta have goals, right?

At any rate, the week prior to the race, I had been living in a household of sick family members. I was fighting off what felt like the onset of a head cold and early in the week I began popping Zicam like candy. I don’t usually buy into things like that, but I was willing to give it a shot just in case it might help.

Whether the Zicam made a difference or not is unknown, but the cold never progressed to a full blown cold and instead was just annoying sinus pressure. I felt that I had perhaps dodged the bullet.

With the race taking place on Saturday, I drove up on Friday to get in a pre-ride. I invited my very green cousin to ride with me, not really remembering how technical the trail was. My cousin is really new to MTB, and the Big Cedar course was very challenging for him. I was planning an easy circuit anyway, so it gave me time to burn various sections into memory.

After the pre-ride, we headed out for dinner and a couple of beers. No carbs tonight as burgers were what the eatery had to offer. Beer and burgers… not ideal the night before a race, but I wondered how much it would really matter anyway.

Saturday morning was the usual. Grab some breakfast and head to the venue. All was going well. Weather was great, warm ups went well and I was feeling good.

Not wanting to have the same fate as last year, I lined up with a clear lane and planned to hammer hard to get to the singletrack around 4th or 5th place. And it was to be my goal to hold that position for the duration of the race.

Big Cedar

Hammering off the line

It was quickly apparent that I wasn’t the only one wanting to get a decent position into the singletrack. It was a mad dash and lots of folks were hammering hard, with more right on my heels.

I manage to hold onto Travis D.’s wheel as we enter the singletrack and I enter in 5th place. Before the race Travis mentions that he has family nearby and that he rides here frequently. Travis is one of my rival competitors (in that we are typically pretty evenly matched) so I adjust my plans a bit to ride his wheel, or another local if that doesn’t work out.

We make good time through the first bit of tight twisty, up and down singletrack. One of the leaders does bobble on section that causes a little pile up, but it is fairly inconsequential.

Big Cedar

Pile up and forced dismount

I’m like a rubber band on Travis, sliding back a bit, catching back up, sliding, and so forth. I’m keeping on his wheel well enough though and feeling good. However, I do hear Troy A. right on my wheel and he asks for a pass, letting me know this is his home trail and he knows it well. That could work too, so I ease over to let him around and he says “Grab hold!”.

Big Cedar

Troy A. comes around

Which I plan to do, unfortunately I can’t quite keep up and he drops me before long. He knows the turns and he’s railing corners at much higher speed than I am able with my unfamiliarity with the trail.

As we finish up in the tight and twisty bits and pop out onto Ranger’s Romp, it is now time to put away the brakes and let ‘er fly! This portion of the course is a long straight slight decline where you can push speeds into the upper 20’s without too much effort.

Troy must have also gotten around Travis because I catch back up to Travis here and I again plan to hold his wheel for a while.

Big Cedar

High speeds down Ranger’s Romp

I take a quick glance back and see 3 other riders right on my heels. I don’t recognize them so I assume they are some of the local speedsters. I mention to Travis that we’re being tailed by speedy locals as we enter the next tight singletrack section.

We’re making good time and then for some reason I notice my chain has dropped. Oh crud!

Big Cedar

Dropped chain!

I picked up a Race Face Narrow Wide chain ring back in July and have been running flawless for almost 1,000 miles of all kinds of trail conditions. Rough, smooth, bumpy, you name it, and not one chain drop. Until now… I’ll have to check the ring for wear and make sure chain is good as well…

Anyway, I pull to the side and get the chain back on. It only takes a few seconds, but I lose Travis’ wheel, and also the 3 local speedsters also come around.

I get back to pedaling and getting down the trail. At this point I’ve been riding pretty hard the whole way, but I feel like I’m okay. In one of the straighter sections, I take a glance back and notice another local guy closing in. He actually asks for a pass, but as he does I put some power in and put in a gap. I think the message was understood as he doesn’t ask to get around again. No offense, but you’re in my group, you’ll have to earn this pass!

We’re riding pretty hard again and I’m pushing the pace. He fades back a ways and I feel like I may have dropped him for good.

It is in this area that my camera has some problems and stops recording for a bit. At least that appears to be what happened. When I get home, one of the video files is corrupt and I am missing about 30 minutes worth of footage. I go ahead and order a new memory card in the hopes that some of these recurring issues are due to an issue with the card.

I’m motoring on through more tight and twisty as we head towards a new portion of trail they added this year. The trail actually goes through a storm drain. It is about 60 yds or so long and it is very dark. It is also a bit shorter than I am tall, so I have to duck down a little when riding through. It’s interesting but I question the sanity of including something like that in a race situation.

Big Cedar

Storm drain tunnels

The other side of the tunnel has a fun loop. A tight climb and then a fun, but short, descent before more flowy twisty trail and then you go back through another storm drain alongside the first one.

After exiting the tunnel, it’s now time for steady, steep climbing through the end of the lap. Including a very steep climb call the “Brick Climb”. Through all this climbing, my legs are burning, but I feel I’m still holding strong. Apparently my pursuer is fairing better however as he catches up with me on the climbs and stays with me.

Big Cedar

Brick Climb

When we reach the Brick Climb, I know I’m already too torched to climb the hill. I dismount towards the bottom of the hill and he and I both walk our bikes up. This is a bit demoralizing as I actually was able to climb quite a bit of the Brick Climb last year as a Cat3! I’ve just been pushing really hard this whole lap and my body is on the brink.

In the pushing, Chad B. catches up as well. We all 3 crest the hill together but I am hurting and sucking wind the likes I haven’t seen for a very long time. I’m hurting and hurting bad, even WITH having pushed my bike up the hill. I’m completely blown up.

Chad B. and my pursuer quickly mount their bikes and pedal off. Oof…

Mentally I’m trying to push, but my body is hurting. My legs are burning and I’m nearly hyperventilating. I’m trying to calm my heart and lungs.

I pedal onward, albeit quite a bit slower than I’d like. I suffer along, thankful that this portion of the trail is pretty tame. I head towards the finish line area until the trail turns back away and heads down ‘Texas Sunset’ which is a technical, tight switchback descent down to the bottom of the hill. And once you get to the bottom of the hill, guess what? You gotta climb right back up it. A tenth of a mile up a 9% average grade asphalt road. Ouch!

I roll across the lap line pretty drained. My body is NOT liking all this climbing today.

Big Cedar

Crossing the lap line

I take a water bottle hand up and pour the cold water all over. Oh man, that was nice!

I then proceed on, and begin lap 2. It isn’t until about another mile and a half before everything starts coming back around. I finally start feeling a little more recovered and am able to start pushing it again.

At this point I am passing back markers left and right. And single speeders… oh my, the poor single speeders. I couldn’t imagine doing this course on a single speed and I’ve been passing up single speeders trying to catch breathers on the side of the trail left and right. Mad props to those guys, beast mode for sure!

The second lap feels smoother than the first. I do eventually catch one of my own age group riders and make the pass but I never catch site of anyone else, either in front or behind me. I keep chasing back markers and then trying to hold wheels of the few older guys that come around.

Kirby catches me at the tunnels, but he’s hurting as well. I actually end up gapping him for a while, but he eventually catches up and then passes me at the top of the Brick Climb. He’ll go on to finish 6th in his group, getting passed at the line to miss out on 5th.

I suffer through the rest of the lap, and as I pop out onto the asphalt for my final climb, I drop my chain again… bah!

At least it didn’t cost me a position. There is nobody to be seen so I painfully diesel up the climb and cross the line in 10th place.

I am disappointed with the placement, but I am exhausted. I haven’t felt this tired at any race finish this year. Travis, whom I have finished right with all season finishes a minute and a half ahead and Bobbit gets me by 2 and a half minutes. I should have been in the mix with those guys, contesting at least the 7th-8th placements.

Several variables were at play for me to point fingers at. I had been fighting a cold. I’ve been training hard ever since the beginning of January and I am due a rest/recovery week. I didn’t really eat right the days leading up to the race (no carb loading). I did go with Camelback so it wasn’t hydration at least.

In the end, I can’t be too disappointed. I’ve been doing much better this year than I ever thought possible. It will be interesting to see how the next 2 races play out. I am in the running for a top 5 overall, but that depends highly on who shows up to race the next 2 races, and if (and how) I do the last race of the season at Warda.

Race Video


YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTM-svjvEpo

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 158 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 11:00AM
Nutrition: Hearty breakfast, bacon, eggs, biscuits, 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, 80’s and partly cloudy
Dress: Short sleeve base layer, short sleeve jersey, bibs
RPE: Started out feeling good. Climbs hurt more than usual, blew up on ‘Brick Climb’
CTL: 56.1
TSB: 2.2 (steady)

Strava:

Redemption, or how Abilene Buck Trails Got Their Balls Back

After my displeasure with the route decision for the course last year, I had all but written off making the trip up to Abilene this year. After hearing they had added some technical sections back to the route, I decided to make the trip up.

Assuming some of the good techy stuff had indeed been added back to the course, making it less of a hammerfest and more of a balanced trail, I figured I would have a decent shot at a strong finish. Abilene is typically a lighter raced venue so with the lower numbers, and a course that favored my style, I knew I could have a good result with a smooth ride. Who knows, maybe a top 5 would be in the cards?

I drove up to my Dad’s on Friday which is just an hour or so away. On Saturday I drove over to the venue to check out the course, planning to pay particular attention to the trail on any extended southerly facing sections. Forecasts were calling for 20+mph winds out of the south at race time and I wanted to start planning any possible effort savings with possible drafting sections.

As I started my pre-ride, one thing was very apparent. The trail was very, very loose. The dry, loose soil lead to some sketchy corners that would put handling skills to the test. Additionally, the route now included a good portion of nice technical sections in both rocky climbs and descents. During the pre-ride, I couldn’t help but smile ear to ear with how enjoyable the course was. Buck Creek Trails got their groove back, yay!

I finished up my pre-ride and rejoined my family at a local eatery. Being in west Texas means one thing is going to be on the menu for all meals. Beef, and lots of it. I did my best to temper the burgers and steaks during my stay and tried to supplement with plenty of potatoes in lieu of other carb sources.

Race time was to be 8am on Sunday morning. With my Dad’s place being an hour away, that meant I needed to be up and out the door no later than 6am. Not that it really matters as my typical race night routine was in full effect meaning there was no need for an alarm clock. I was up, wide eyed at 4:30am.

I rolled out of bed and began my routine, with the pre-race adrenaline already starting to trickle in.

I arrived at the venue well before daylight. I felt like I was the first one through the gate. It was still pitch black out and it was pretty quiet other than the wind whiping the tents of the campers nearby. Even at 6:30 in the morning, the wind was already making its presence known.

I had plenty of time to prep and ride the start loop a few times to warm up. We lined up at the start line right on time and with a short countdown, we were off!

Granata and Weckworth leading it out

Granata and Weckworth leading it out

The start heads out with the wind at our backs, but will shortly make a hard turn into the wind for a bit before we dip into the single track where the barely budding mesquite trees provide a little respite from the wind. I have no plans of being the lead out person here and with speeds in the upper 20’s, I’m definitely going to find a good wheel to draft off of before we get into the twisty bits.

Granta really charges off of the line and by the time we get to the single track, he’s already way ahead of the pack. With no sign of J. Cantu at the race, it means Granata’s only real competition today will be Clayton. I’m happy to hold back for now, planning to repeat my rabbit chasing as I had in Comfort two weeks prior. I hit the single track in 5th place, behind Chris Weckwerth.

I’m a little ancy at this point as I see the lead riders starting to pull away. I would like to have a shot at 3rd place today and the new face currently in that slot is an unknown to me. I want to at least give him a run for his money.

We are weaving through the tight single track and there’s not really any clean spots to pass without a big effort. I’m still very much hedging my bets for now.

Drafting in the open areas

Drafting in the open areas

Any time the trail turns towards the south and into the wind, I suck up to Chris’s wheel and do my best to draft and conserve energy. It’s pretty obvious this is working as I’m able to freewheel quite bit while I see Chris really having to put power to he pedals. In the open areas, the 20mph winds coupled with cruising at 15+ means there is quite a bit of wind resistance.

Waterfall Climb is a nice rocky technical climb

Waterfall Climb is a nice rocky technical climb

On the Waterfall Climb, the lead to the next group is recovered. There’s now 5 of us riding together, with Clayton and the new face just in front of Chris. However not long after the climb, they start pulling away again. I’m wanting to keep them in sight, and keep us in the mix if possible.

Finally, after 15 minutes, I come around Chris and tell him to grab my wheel. My intention is to give us a pull to try to make up a little time on the next guys up.

Coming around Chris

Coming around Chris

I pedal onward with Chris and Travis right behind. We’re cruising pretty well and finally come to the ‘Wimp Hill’ climb. This short climb is right into the wind and has a steep end point to it. The good thing here is that you can see quite a ways up. I even spot Granata up ahead, but not as far ahead as I thought he would be.

Wimp Hill Climb

Wimp Hill Climb

I estimate that Clayton and Mack (new guy) are roughly 20 seconds ahead. Fortunately, after the top of the leg furnace Wimp Climb, you have a fun little downhill that terminates with a small tabletop gap jump with a ladder bridge. I came really close to clearing it this time around and one of these days I’ll make it the whole way, ha!

Almost cleared it!

Almost cleared it!

I just work on pedaling smooth and working hard. I want to close the gap if possible and just keep riding well. I enjoy the Bobsled downhill, and catch some air at the little jump at the bottom. On the 2nd lap, I catch too much air here and nearly wind up flying off the course airborne…

At this point, the route takes you through several rocky technical sections. That’s good for me, right? Usually, I would say yes, but today I haven’t been on my A game. The perfect ‘flow’ just isn’t there. Eventually, I wash out in one of the loose corners, but am able to jump up and run and remount to avoid losing a position.

Buck Creek Trails

Cactus, it’s what’s for dinner (and breakfast and lunch and snack)

At any rate, I’m still leading out, with Weckwerth and Davies holding my wheel. I haven’t caught sight of Mack in a while and I start to worry that he may be getting out of reach. I motor on, suffering as much as I risk at this point in the race and enjoy the ride.

As we are approaching some of the bigger boulder crawling, I miss my intended line, lose my front wheel and down I go. It wasn’t an overly hard crash, but I bang my forearm on some rocks. My arm was just now getting healed up from my spill at Comfort! Additionally, my bars get knocked off center and I’m in a narrow part of the trail. Chris and Travis come around and I pedal forward a bit to find a safe spot to straighten my bar.

Buck Creek Trails

Down I go, AGAIN!

I’m a bit dejected and not working with urgency. I suppose I was a bit rattled. I pull over and fix my bars, and now suspecting I’m a bit behind Chris and Travis, begin my work to make up the time.

Buck Creek Trails

Love the boulder section

As I am nearing the end of the lap, I see Chris and Travis and spot time them to be about 45 seconds ahead. That’s going to take a lot of effort to make up. I finish up the lap and grab a water bottle through the feed zone. I’m again opting to wear my camelback so I take the bottle and gush it over my head, neck and back, and finish off with a big swig of water.

I start the second lap by downing a Honey Stinger and reminding myself to stay focused. “The Lull” was not allowed to make an appearance and I wanted to make sure I kept my head in the race. I worked on smooth pedaling and trying to ride efficiently. There’s another 10 miles to go.

I spot time Chris in a double back portion of the trail and they are now about 30 seconds up. I’ve made up some time, but still have quite a bit to go.

As I near the Waterfall Climb for the 2nd time, Gary Hanna, the points leader of the 45-49 age group is on my wheel. He takes the pass on the climb. I know he is making better time than me so I decide to try to use him as a bit of motivation to catch up with Chris and Travis. I decide that I’m going to ride his wheel as long as I can to use him to get me up the trail a bit.

Buck Creek Trails

Riding Gary’s Wheel

Gary is on a hardtail and he flys up the little climbs. I’m lighting up matches left and right trying to keep up, but I’m bound and determined to pace him until I catch up with Travis and Chris.

We’re eating up the single track, drifting through the loose corners, running at maximum output. Finally, thankfully and mercifully, I catch sight of my prey. We have caught up to them and I am gassed. I let Gary go as he gets around Chris and Travis and I sit in, looking to just hang on while I recover a bit.

I suspect that 3rd place is now out of reach so I decide that now the race is between the 3 of us for 4th place. I’m sitting in sixth and gassed with less than half the lap to go.

I start planning out how this needs to go. There are not a ton of passing opportunities and the sprint finish is out of the question as the sprint distance is barely 30 yards. Whoever makes it out to the finish run first is likely to be the winner so I have to get around before we get to that point.

I struggle to hang on to recover. I’ve burned several matches making up that time. I was worried they would gas it here and get away before I could get recovered, but they didn’t and that works out well for me.

Buck Creek Trails

Struggling to hang on

I manage to hang on and start feeling my legs and lungs recover a bit. I’m holding the wheel strong now and there is about 3 miles left. The time to make a move is coming up soon.

Travis makes his move first. Chris slows a tad on a short climb and Travis gets around and stands on his pedals. I can’t hesitate so I jump around Chris as well and hold onto Travis.

Camera mount is loose at this point, but here's me coming around Chris again

Camera mount is loose at this point, but here’s me coming around Chris again

I am a little worried that either of them has been sand bagging a bit to build up for the final push. Travis continues to push the pedals but I hang on. I look back and see that Chris has dropped off. I guess he wasn’t sandbagging as we have now put a decent gap in..

A glimpse of Travis's wheel through the boulders

A glimpse of Travis’s wheel through the boulders

We are about 1.5 miles to go. I’m feeling good and feel that I have plenty to give when the time comes. The trail is tight and twisty but I know a passing opportunity is coming up before too long. I sit in on Travis’s wheel and ready myself for the final push. 1 mile of all out, about 4 minutes at these speeds. I’m feeling good and confident I can do it.

In my eyes, 4th place is mine for the taking, I just need to not screw it up.

As I keep looking for the passing lane, suddenly an unexpected opportunity arises and I jump. Legs are primed and I’m ready go to. I punch my card and get to work. When I go, I go hard. I come around Travis and shout, “The race is on!” I am assuming that Travis has gas in the tank, just like me and this was going to result in an exciting finish.

Coming around Travis

Coming around Travis

It doesn’t take long for that assumption to prove false. On my hard jump, Travis does not respond and I leave him behind. I want to make sure it sticks so I don’t let up and keep the pedal on the floor.

Up ahead I see Gary Hanna again, the 45-49 point leader. He’s holding his left leg and I figure he’s cramping up. Sure enough as I get to him, he says he’s cramping. I don’t dawdle and ask for a pass. I get around, tell him to grab my wheel if he’s able and motor on. We’re very close to the finish at this point and into the final twisty parts Travis is nowhere to be seen. This one is in the bag.

I cross the finish in 4th place! Come to find out I was only 20 seconds out of 3rd and perhaps I might have made a run for that under different circumstances. A satisfying finish to a hard fought race.

4th Place Finish!

4th Place Finish!

Throughout the last half of the 2nd lap, my camera mount had come loose. I had forgotten to install the piece of inner tube under the mount that I usually do and did not tighten the clamp all the way. As such, the camera ended up pointing at the ground towards the end of the race. It’ll make for an interesting race vid at least =)

Camera mount was f'd...

Camera mount was f’d…

So with 3 races to go in the series, I am sitting in 4th place overall. Which is kinda silly but is a testament to the lack of consistency in the racers in our group. With a strong finish, I can end up in the top 5 overall, which is higher than I was ever ranked in Cat3. Funny stuff!

Race Video

Some outtakes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWOWeYXfGos

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 160 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 8:00AM
Nutrition: 2 serving oatmeal, 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 overcast
Dress: Short sleeve base layer, short sleeve jersey, bibs
RPE: Felt good, spent some time burning matches bridging gaps, sat in a bit too much on recover, pushed hard at the end
CTL: 59.7
TSB: -1.7 (rising)

Strava:

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:

2014 Pace Bend Race Report

After Mellow Johnny’s Classic, I felt that my body was needing a break. So for the next 2 weeks, I pulled back on my training a bit. I suspended intervals, did a couple of ‘fun’ rides, and then did one hard ride the Tuesday before the race. You wouldn’t really think that I’d be encroaching on any sort of overtraining with my training load, but also remember this is the most structured workout/training I’ve done in a long time. Probably since high school, and even then I’m not sure that I was working as hard as I feel that I have been now.

At any rate, the whole first week after MJC my chest remained tight and I told myself that I’d either not ride at all, or at least not do hard rides until that tightness lessened. By the following weekend I was feeling more myself so I allowed myself to start getting back to it.

So far this season one thing I have been battling is hitting a wall around 1 hour to 1:15 into each race. I’ll hit this lull where I’ll feel pretty crummy. I’ll feel like I have no energy and my mental side will completely check out. I’ll enter that ‘why the hell am I doing this/this isn’t fun/screw this racing crap’ phase.

Oddly, it will only last 5 minutes or so. I’ll dial back my effort, not out of choice but out of necessity. And the next thing you know, I’ll be feeling 100% again, rearing for action and back to having fun. After that, I’ve found I have been able to finish strong, going way harder than I was before the ‘lull’.

I haven’t figured out what it is yet. Originally I figured it was racing nutrition. First race I did my Honey Stinger at 45 minutes into the race and the lull hit about 1:10. The next race I did the stinger at 30 minutes into the race, and still hit the lull at about 1:10.

This led me to speculate that it was training oriented, in that my body is just not used to pushing that hard for that long and I started considering if I needed to adjust my training.

I have been following Carmichael’s Time Crunched Training Program, which is typically about 1 hour of intervals, followed by a little more endurance mileage. My normal Tuesday/Thursday rides are about 90 minutes in length. Of that, I usually warm up for about 20 minutes, then ride pretty hard for the remaining 70 minutes, which comes in right at 1:10. About the same time as my ‘lull’ timer.

Anyway, it’s all speculation at this point.

To that end, I took the opportunity to do a one on one coaching session with Nathan Winkleman of WINKELMANN TRAINING FUNDAMENTALS. Nathan is a really great guy and I’ve always respected his approach to racing and coaching. I haven’t worked with him much on the coaching side of things so I didn’t really know what to expect, but I fully believe that he’d be helpful in whatever we could put together in an hour long session!

So we rode. We rode hard and Wink punished me. He was attempting to teach me a lesson in pacing, and I hope it set in =) What I took from the lesson was to try to keep a bit more steady pace. Attempt to recover when I should be recovering, instead of pushing in those spots too. And to attack with those saved reserves when I needed to.

Specifically to me, this translates into taking it a bit easier on the downhills and pushing harder on the uphills. Typically my strategy has been to push hard on the descents because those are my strong points. And then I’d suffer for it when the trail turned upwards.

This discussion, coupled with my real world expectations for the race, led me to restrategize my plans for Pace Bend a little.

Instead of hammering hard out of the gate to get a top hole shot so as not to be held up in the mostly downhill first section of trail leading to The Rock Garden of Greatness, I would instead take it a bit easier, be okay with going into the singletrack around 5-7 and then conserve energy with plans to push harder from RGOG up to the top of Well Worth It and The Hill.

I would then work to hold my pace such that I’d have more in the tank into the 2nd lap, and even halfway into that, and then if I still had plenty of gas, I’d put the pedal down and wring it out from there.

So yeah, that was the plan anyway…

We lined up and the top 10’s were called up. I have managed to squeak into the top 10 overall so I got the luxury of a front line start. The whistle blew and off we went. The top 3 jumped off the line and I kinda just pedaled. I didn’t go pokey or anything, but I wasn’t planning on blasting off either. After we got a little ways up the double track I looked back to make sure I wasn’t blocking anyone and we had already put in a bit of a gap.

Not 10 seconds into the race and I was already facing my first decision. Either pedal harder to stay on #3 for the draft, or really let off. I decided I’d just pedal to see what happened, but keep everything in check.

And they're off!

And they’re off!

And what do you know? I was able to keep on #3 with no problem. I FELT like we were not pushing very hard up the road to the singletrack. I kept looking back expecting someone to come charging up, but nobody did. It wasn’t until reviewing my Strava data that I was able to see that in actuality, we were hammering up the road at a pretty good clip. First draft is a success. While I handily PR’d the start segment, I reached the singletrack feeling like I had gone maybe 80%.

Additionally we had actually put a decent gap on the next group back. We dropped into the singletrack and cruised on.

At this point, drafting no longer mattered, so I planned to just let the top 3 go. Prior strategy meant no hammering this section, just ride it smooth and steady, eating up the trail and being as efficient as possible.

Wellll….. I guess I’m just more efficient in this section than I realized, especially when I try NOT to hammer it. I managed to keep the top 3 within view, and often right on their wheels, all while NOT hammering… I literally felt like I was still going a bit below threshold. I have to admit, that’s a pretty darn cool feeling =)

Of course all fun and games must come to an end, and this part of the fun was to be over once we reached the low point at RGOG and the trail starts pointing every so slightly upward. While it’s not steep, it is steady, and uphill, for the next couple of miles. This has always traditionally been my slower spot. I pushed as hard as I dared, but keeping in mind that I wanted to make sure to save more for lap 2.

A couple of guys finally caught up and came around. Travis D, whom I am closely matched, was one of them. Of course, I somehow manage to do a slow motion wash out with Travis on my six. Travis was directly behind me when I went down at MJC as well. He’s now 2 for 2!

Slow speed wash out

Slow speed wash out

As I come to the wide open into the wind section of trail, I see one of the guys who had just passed me just ahead. I burst up and grab his wheel, ready to draft off of him for the next section of trail which also happens to have a stiff 20mph headwind today.

Splendidly performing my roadie drafting impersonation

Splendidly performing my roadie drafting impersonation

It works perfectly. I grab his wheel and deftly draft the entire course of the wide open windy section. This is leading up to The Hill so I was looking forward to having a little more steam going into the climb.

Redline climb

Redline climb

I ease into the climb, holding on the lower section and conserving strength to make sure I could make all the step ups. And I did. While I didn’t break any speed record/PRs on the climb, I reached the summit and felt… great! Usually I top out on this climb cross eyed and hurting bad. For once, I actually felt okay! This meant that I could now focus on the little loop before the super fun descent.

The loop goes without incident and I come upon my favorite part of the course. A rip roaring fun descent with a couple of small ledge drops, plenty of rocks to crawl and just generally a good time.

I again discipline myself not to hammer too hard and work more on flow and efficiency. Even in not hammering, I still manage to PR the segment. Hrmmm… think this Wink guy might be onto something?

With what feels like good energy, I motor through NXNW, again focusing on conserving, efficiency and riding smooth and steady. In the meantime, I bag yet another PR on the lap.

As I pop out of NXNW, directly ahead is none other than the guy I drafted in the earlier wide open section. Guess what, another wide open, into the wind section is coming, so I tuck in and do another roadie impersonation through this section. I take this opportunity to also take my Honey Stinger and down the rest of my water in anticipation of a hand up through the feed zone.

I feel I put in a strong lap at 48 minutes. If I can manage that time again, I’ll be sitting pretty!

While I feel I’ve held off, I can still feel fatigue setting in. Going up the start loop the second time, I find myself alone and no easy drafting this time around. I pedal up, much slower than the first time. From here I ride alone for pretty much the whole lap. I only see my draft puller once but he washes his wheel out and I don’t see him the rest of the race.

Strangely enough, the section from the start to RGOG is one of the more enjoyable parts of the trail, and strangely it was here where my nemesis popped up. The melancholy attitude crept up. I lost power, lost will and generally decided racing was for the birds. I was riding alone, not having fun, and not riding fast. THIS is what I have GOT to figure out and cut off at the pass.

Even though I held back, worked on pacing, focused on nutrition and all other factors. Here it was again, The Lull. Fuck… At the time I don’t have the mental fortitude to see it for what it is and it is crushing. It takes the fun out. I lose The Flow. Riding isn’t fun, racing isn’t fun and all I can think about is saying screw it. It’s really strange…

Oddly enough, here is where I lost most of my time in my race. This first, usually very fast, section of trail, I ride over 2 minutes slower the 2nd time through than I did the first. The rest of my lap was pretty comparable, only being off by a few seconds here and there. But this part, The Lull, it cripples me, and really lessons my chances of improving my placement and puts me at risk of losing more places.

The good news is that I am cognizant of it. I know it for what it is. While I’m wallowing in misery, I’m telling myself, give it 5 minutes, I’ll be back to normal and it’ll be fun again.

And sure enough, that happens. 5 minutes or so later, I pull myself together and it’s back to the race.

The dreaded Lull

The dreaded Lull

I’ve got to figure this out. Maybe it’s pre-race nutrition? Something that I’m losing about 1 hour into the race? Is it pure mental? What could it be?

My plan for the next time it happens is to just do all I can to attack it. To look it in the face, know it is trying to drag me down and just pound out the next 5 minutes or so as hard as I can. This may do nothing but delay it or make it worse, or I may fail altogether. Usually, I’m so out of energy and out of it mentally, that I can’t do anything. Or so it seems looking back.

At any rate, it sucks and I need to beat this!

The rest of my lap finishes out pretty uneventful. I keep catching glimpses of Travis and I want to beat him. We’ve finished +/- a position of each other in all 3 races, and I really want to finish ahead in this one.

I manage decent time through NXNW, and when I pop out, I tell myself it’s time to wring it out. I put it all on the table and hammer it home from there, but never catch sight of Travis. In the process I put up another PR for the day on the final effort to the finish. I even throw up a final sprint on the road to the finish line, just me and my shadow, because hell, I actually have the energy to do it.

I finish and feel pretty good. Too good to be honest. My body tells me I had more to give. I needed to start wringing it out sooner. Race and learn…

Comfort is 2 weeks away. The one thing I’d like to get a bead on is The Lull. I’ve got to figure this bitch out…

In the end, I finish 9th of 21 starters. My first top 10 in Cat 2!

My GoPro decided to crap out about halfway through the final lap, so I’ll have less footage to work with, and no finish line. Ah well, shorter is probably better anyway =)

Race Videos
Youtube – http://youtu.be/XDHXKTy7MZ8
Vimeo – https://vimeo.com/90033597

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 162 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 11:00AM
Nutrition: 2 serving oatmeal, cup of yogurt, 1 water bottle with Nuun before race, 1 honey stinger 15 mins before race, 1.5 water bottle during race, 1 stinger halfway through
Weather: Started off cool and overcast, turned out to be perfect temps
Dress: Short sleeve base layer, short sleeve jersey, bibs
RPE: Went a slight notch lower than all out in attempt at better pacing
CTL: 57.0
TSB: 5.9 (rising)

Strava:

2014 Mellow Johnny’s Classic Race Report

Photo by Ingot Imaging.

Photo by Ingot Imaging.

Mellow Johnny’s Classic is the Austin area’s biggest mountain biking event. Being the first race in the US Pro XCT Cup, all of the national big dogs come out to cut their teeth on our local trails.

It’s a great event and it is a lot of fun to experience all of the festivities with all of the national teams and sponsors in attendance.

This race falls at the end of week 7 of my training plan and hence I am starting to peak in my training plan leading up to my primary A race in two weeks at Pace Bend.

I can definitely feel the peak coming on and I’m feeling fast and fit on the bike. It is a fun feeling to have and I hope I can hold onto this for 2-4 weeks before it begins tapering some. I need to ride well at Pace Bend and Comfort before the balance shifts further from technical riding that I am strong at.

At any rate, pro races on Saturday were a lot of fun to watch. During the men’s race, I ran around the course collecting video footage, planning to put something together for my YouTube channel. This might not have been a smart plan as I ended up doing quite a bit of hiking a jogging around, not exactly kicking my feet up the day before my race.

Race Day

Our staging time was at 8:45am, so I was up and out the door in time to get to the venue by 7am. I arrived in plenty of time and made sure to get prepped in plenty of time. The weather was still pretty nice, around 68 degrees and overcast. The forecast was that temps were going to be falling and a chance of rain, but I believed the front was not going to blow through until after we finished.

At the staging, we were called up and I was on the 2nd line. As we moved up to the start line, a gap opened and I rolled up to the first row. This suited me fine and played to my start strategy.

In a sign of things to come, as we were lined up at the start, awaiting the start whistle, a shockingly cold wind blew in from the north. In a near instant, you could tell the temps dropped 5-10 degrees. Before the end of the race, temps would be in the 30’s and it would be lightly raining.

Blasting off the start

Blasting off the start

With the changes to the start loop, there was the chance for some bottlenecks in the beginning and I wanted to make sure I avoided any chance at something like that. There was also a grind of an uphill climb right off the bat which I had decided I wanted to really rocket up rather than potentially getting caught in among the field and having to grind up it.

When the whistle blew, I was off like a rocket, perfectly geared and smooth pedaling. I clipped in perfectly and pulled into the lead. I pedaled hard around the building and through the ‘car port’, up the first little burst of a hill and pedaled hard up the pipeline climb.

Once around the turn, I gave a couple of strong pedal strokes and blasted down the first descent, catching some air on the final little bump and then heading into the first little bit of single track. My starting strategy had worked perfectly and I was still out front through the initial single track.

At this point, there was some more climbing and some double track before the proper single track started. I eased off a bit at this point to ensure I didn’t blow up.

As expected, several guys came around me on the next climbs. I was expecting that and was fine with it. My plan at this point was to get up the hill, stick with the lead group and try to hold wheels. My goal for this race was a top 10 finish so at this point I was about where I wanted to be and just wanted to hold and fight for position.

As we cruised through the first section of single track, I was feeling good. Legs and lungs felt good and I was looking forward to a strong race. When we popped out for the first short descent, I opted for the alternate line, just for kicks. It is a little faster, but given the distance between the guy in front of me, it meant I could not get around him safely without completely cutting him off.

Alternate line!

Alternate line!

It was uneventful leading up to the biggest effort climb of the loop. Previously Strava had been present and issued a Strava KOM Challenge for this hill. It is mostly doubletrack, but it is loose and fairly steep. Fortunately it is a fairly short effort at around 2 minutes. I suffered up it, giving up a couple of positions I had made up in the singletrack, but I was fully expecting that.

Fighting and suffering up The Hill

Fighting and suffering up The Hill

I made a quick pass at the top and powered onward to a flowy and technical descent that leads to the creek crossing. I was held up a bit by those less comfy on the technical downhill, but I took the opportunity to try to get some recovery in.

As expected, the creek crossing and the immediate technical climb and switchback was jammed up so no chance at clearing it. I dismounted near the top with everyone else and we ran our bikes to the next pedal opportunity.

A great technical challenge section, clearing this climb and the next segment of trail without dabbing is a nice accomplishment

A great technical challenge section, clearing this climb and the next segment of trail without dabbing is a nice accomplishment

We navigated the next bit of tricky technical area without incident. Sadly, it was this point that I knew that nearly all of the rest of the lap wasn’t going to play to my strengths. The rest of the lap is much less technical, with a fair bit of climbing. I could also tell that temps had to have dropped below 50. While I wasn’t cold, the cold air was constricting my bronchial tubes and my lungs were barking at me. When it is really cold, I suffer a bit from EIA (excercise induced asthma) and I could tell that it was having a bit of an impact that was only going to get worse as time went on.

I tried to settle into ‘diesel mode’, which is just constant, motor on output, interspersed with the more intensity required efforts on step ups and punchy climbs. The longish gradual climb wore on me and worked to deplete my energy.

Grinding my way up the loose, false flats

Grinding my way up the loose, false flats

It was in this section where I came upon some poor guy who was carrying the limp corpse of his broken bike. As I was riding to him I kinda wondered why the guy was carrying instead of pushing his bike. When I got closer, I could see that his bike was broken in two. The head tube and down tube had broken.

Broken frame!

Broken frame!

Finally the longer slog was over, and now it was back into some fun little descents, the water crossing, and then finally back to the finish/lap line. My legs were feeling tired and every higher intensity effort resulted in major burning in the legs. This did not bode very well as I still had another lap to go!

I managed to make it right to the lap marker before the first of the older grouped came around. This was much better than Rocky Hill as I felt I was constantly getting passed by the older group, early on in that race. On the flip side, I had been passing back markers of the earlier group for quite a while.

The rain was also starting to become a factor. Rocks were getting slippery and a crash was becoming a very real possibility.

Another little hiccup here was that the water hand ups were not very obvious and I went right through the feed zone without getting a new water bottle. I was going to need more water as I had already gone through my one small bottle already.

"Yeah, this is gonna suck" - Heading up the pipeline climb the 2nd time

“Yeah, this is gonna suck” – Heading up the pipeline climb the 2nd time

Lap 2 was to be more of the same. The bonus of the 2nd lap is that the field is more spread out and I have no excuses for being held up on the downhills. Well, being jammed up is no excuse. However, being fatigued and tired did come into play and I felt too tired to be able to go full bore.

Second time up The Hill was very painful. My legs were burning like fire and it felt as if someone had thrust searing hot daggers into my thighs. As I reached the top, in pain and sucking wind, I managed a water hand up from my buddy Todd, thankful that he happened to be there and able to help.

Feeling tired, I make a mental note to myself, asking if I should back off to recover some so I could ride stronger, or just keep the pedal down. I noted how sloppy I was riding, in not holding it in turns and generally just not riding well.

That, coupled with wet, slippery rocks and roots, came to a head soon thereafter. There is a particular rock/root combo, that provides a couple of lines. The most direct cuts the root at less of an angle, and is the usual way I handle this obstacle. When dry, this is no problem, but wet, this poses a very real problem. I realize too late that I should take the safer approach, and feel helpless when my tire hits the root and is directed off course, dumping me on my side. I bang my hip, shoulder and knee a bit, giving a bit of a blood offering to the trail gods.

It takes me a bit to regain composure, and in the process I lose two more positions. As I head towards the creek crossing, one of the older group leaders catches up and asks for a pass. There’s nowhere to give a good pass here so I ask him to hold on a sec, hit the gas and clear the climb only to look back and see that he has bobbled it. He gets the pass a little further down the trail once he catches back up.

The two that passed me are a couple of guys who raced at Rocky Hill that I had finished ahead of. I wanted to catch them again if at all possible. I pushed as hard as I could, but finding that my fatigued legs just were not responding. It was taking more effort than I had to push when I needed to, and that sucked!

I caught a glimpse of Kirby in a part of the trail that doubles back on itself and I yelled words of encouragement to him to catch me. Something along the lines of him being a little bitch or something…

I guess those words of wisdom worked as he caught me on an upcoming punchy technical climb.

I tried to latch on but I knew it was a losing proposition. I rode with him for a little bit and then bid him farewell. I mistakenly thought he was in 3rd or 4th around me, but he was actually in 7th and would finish in 7th.

Hanging onto the pink as long as I can

Hanging onto the pink as long as I can

Kirby pedaled on and I continued struggling. On the brutal false flats, Chris W. caught up with me. A short distance further on a punchy climb, my legs give out and he gets around.

Chris W. comes around

Chris W. comes around

I grab his wheel and we ride together for a bit. He is now the 3rd that I had beaten at Rocky Hill that was ahead of me. I was bound and determined to claw some of those positions back if at all possible. I hang with Chris and finally on one of the painful steep step ups, I take an inside line and make a pass.

Chris is a strong and consistent rider and he’s always going to be a strong competitor.

I’m still hoping to catch a couple more folks in my group so keep pushing. I finally close the gap on Travis D. and get around him on a climb. He grabs my wheel and sticks to me. I don’t want to open myself up to a draft/sprint so I ease off a bit and let him back around. At this point, my plan is to hold his wheel and then attempt to out draft/sprint him to the finish. All I need to do is ride smooth and clear the few remaining step ups.

Unfortunately my exhausted legs didn’t cooperate and I stalled out on a step that Travis cleared. He got some space on me and by the time we hit the sprint area, he was too far for me to catch. I pedaled hard to the finish, resigned to my fate.

One of the final step ups that I usually clear with ease, stalled out and lost my chance

One of the final step ups that I usually clear with ease, stalled out and lost my chance

I cross the finish in 12th place. Better than I had in Rocky Hill, but top 10 still eluded me. Perhaps Pace Bend in 2 weeks!

12th Place Finish

12th Place Finish

By the end of the race, the temps had dropped to 38 degrees and we were wet with rain and sweat. It didn’t take long before chills started creeping in so I headed for the truck and some warm, dry clothes.

At the end of the day, I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. My legs were very fatigued at the end and were not responding. Gotta keep the training up!

Another thing of interest was that I FELT like I was pegged out the entire race, but upon reviewing my Garmin data, my heart rate was well below threshold for most of the race. In particular in the 2nd lap, even with my legs very fatigued, my HR was way below threshold. I don’t know if the cold was the culprit, or the prior days hiking and running around the trails had taken more of a toll than I anticipated, but in any event, I believe I should have been able to push harder.

Race Videos
Youtube – 2014 Mellow Johnny’s Classic Mountain Bike Race
Vimeo – Vimeo – 2014 Mellow Johnny’s Classic Mountain Bike Race

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 162 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 9:00AM
Nutrition: 2 serving oatmeal, 1 honey stinger 15 mins before race, 1.5 water bottle during race, 1 stinger halfway through
Weather: Sudden drop in temps, on line at 70, finished below 40 and rainy
Dress: Short sleeve base layer, short sleeve jersey, bibs. With the drop in temps, was cold at the end
RPE: Felt strong and at maximum effort throughout
CTL: 60.3
TSB: -11.8 (rising)

Strava:

A Long Day in the Saddle

84.6 Miles

That’s a new distance PR for me. Not since my Durango to Moab day 2 50 miler ride (http://www.strava.com/activities/20542419) have I put in this many miles. And even then, it was only 50 miles.

Very rarely to I get time to put in basically a whole day on the bike. As it turns out the wife and kids were out of town this weekend, which afforded me the luxury of such a ride.

gran-fondo-1-v1That and the Strava Gran Fondo Challenge kept staring me in the face every day that I uploaded my ride data to Strava.

With the wife and kids away, I began thinking I could go for a nice long ride, shooting for a possible century ride. I briefly tried to see if there was anyone else doing a big ride that day, but as I didn’t set up anything before hand, I didn’t get any bites. So I sat down, planned out a route using Strava’s Route Builder and set out to complete the challenge and possibly more.

The weather was to be pretty much perfect with temps in the 60’s and low to no winds. What little wind there WAS supposed to be, was to be out of the south east, so I planned my route such that I would be heading home with a slight tailwind. As I don’t ride this kind of mileage regularly, I also looked for less elevation in climbing.

With those two thoughts in mind, I came up with a route that would take me through Austin and south east towards Lockhart. I wouldn’t quite make it all the way to Lockhart before turning around and heading back home by way of Buda. My plan was to stop in Buda for lunch before returning home.

I woke up, had a good breakfast, saddled up and headed out around 10AM. The ride across Austin was uneventful but interesting as I had never ridden my bike across Austin before.

2014-01-19 10.32.03

After getting through Austin, I turned south near the airport and continued along low trafficked back roads. It was a beautiful day and this portion of the ride was easily my favorite. There were very few cars and it was nice to see the farms and pasture lands scattered around the area.

2014-01-19 11.50.01

The first pit stop came around mile 33 at a convenience store. It was perfect place to stop and refill my water bottles. I also had a Coke and a 5 Hour Energy.

I then continued my south easterly course towards Lockhart.

2014-01-19 12.40.46

I did hit a couple of stretches of dirt/gravel roads which I wasn’t expecting. It wasn’t a big deal really and I was able to navigate the roadways without issue.

I eventually made the turn and started heading towards Buda.

Up to this point I had been making sure to ‘eat’ a gel, power bar or other quick energy food at least once per hour. Even still, I could feel my resources draining and I was looking forward to stopping in Buda for lunch at Subway.

At mile 55, I started sensing that I was running really low on reserves. I wasn’t sure how much farther I had to go, but assumed it was only 15 minutes or so. It turned out to be closer to 30, but that last 30 minutes as I made my way to Subway was tough. I was struggling, mostly mentally, and even while riding through the Cabela’s parking lot, my mind was wandering and I was solely focused on getting to Subway for some real food and a break.

I even pulled out in front of a car in the parking lot. Fortunately it was a non issue, the guy honked at me. I can understand his irritation, but at the time I was too out of it to care. In all honesty, I was riding in a very unsafe manner at this point and I will need to make sure I don’t get to this point in the future.

At long last I made it to Subway and settled in for a large lunch.

2014-01-19 14.23.43

After Subway, I had about 25 miles back home. I was running short on time so I knew that it wasn’t likely I would be able to tack on any extra mileage to try to reach 100 miles for the day.

I tried to follow my planned route back home, but I didn’t like some of the roads that were being suggested. I ended up nav’ing another route home via Google Maps and followed that home. I have since reviewed my route made some adjustments for the ‘next time’.

The ride home was uneventful but again interesting to ride through some of the south Austin neighborhoods. When I finally made it over to familiar territory in Rollingwood, I got to do the triple hill climb on Rollingwood drive. This final climb was a bit of a kick in the nuts after having put in nearly 80 miles for the day.

At any rate, I rolled on home to complete the ride with 84.6 miles. Completing the Gran Fondo challenge and adding a new distance PR for myself. It was a great day in the saddle and a fun little solo adventure.

My ‘tweaked’ route – http://www.strava.com/routes/141449

My actual Strava ride:

Reveille Peak 100k – Race Report

Terra Firma Racing Reveille Peak 100

Terra Firma Racing Reveille Peak 100
Photo by Reveille Peak Ranch

Reveille Peak Ranch, our own little mini-Moab nestled right here in the Texas Hill Country is a truly unique riding experience, particularly here in Texas. While there isn’t a lot of elevation, the trail itself climbs and saunters over granite slick rock the likes you cannot find for a thousand miles. It’s pure fun!

I love riding out at RPR so the opportunity to do a mountain bike race there made this a must do event!

100k of riding RPR solo is pretty much out of the question for me. I tapped Kirby W. to duo the race with me. We talked early in the year about doing this race and I held him to it!

Leading up to the race, we had both agreed that we would go into the race ‘for fun’ with just wanting to have a good time and an enjoyable experience. Neither of us had ever done a race longer than a typical Cat 3 XC race so we really didn’t know what to expect from turning 2 15 mile laps. Four times longer than we had ever raced before.

As we are both moving up to Cat 2 next season, we wanted to use this race to work on pacing and just see how well we would hold up.

Two weeks prior to the event weather in Austin was beautiful. Mid 70’s during the day and just gorgeous riding weather. You can’t ask for better weather!

As we entered the middle of November, a blue norther started threatening the forecast. 10 days out the forecast was calling for cooler temps in the 50’s with a chance to rain. The forecast continued to deteriorate right up until race day, settling in with a call for temps in the 30’s, 20 mph winds and a 60% chance of ‘ice pellets’… That did not bode well…

The Thursday before the Saturday race, I went out for a ride in sunny, gorgeous 80 degree weather. 24 hours later it was in the 30s and raining. Oh boy!

Kirby and I spoke on Friday and discussed our options. We decided to at least head out to the venue and see how the weather turned out. If it was too cold or too wet, maybe we’d just hang out and drink all day while heckling the poor bastards who decided to race.

We were up and out heading for RPR by 7AM. It was super wet and/or rainy almost the whole way there. Until we got to Marble Falls, where the wet seemed to stop. We arrived at RPR at 8AM and while it was cold, it was dry. They had had a little rain the day and night prior, but very little standing water, and no new rains had happened for several hours.

Well, that settles it, we’re racing!

Our strategic discussions basically were completed in the 10 seconds while in line to get our race kits. Kirby would go first and I’d head out for laps 2 and 4. We briefly talked about possibly doing our 2 laps back to back and Kirby would make the call as he rolled into the pits after his first lap. The thinking being that once you’re warm, you might want to continue on.

The race start was a mass start. Everyone was cold and eager to get moving to have a chance to warm up. Kirby was bundled up and ready to ride. The horn went off and the racers were off!

Kirby starts the race

Kirby starts the race

With Kirby out riding, I was left with what to do with myself for the next hour and a half or so. I headed to the nearest fire pit and hung out for a while keeping warm by the fire. With about 30 minutes left, I got dressed and made sure everything was ready. I then headed back to the pit area and the warmth of the fire.

The first couple of riders started showing up around 1:28 in. As we had talked about ‘taking it easy’, I didn’t expect to see Kirby for another 5-10 minutes. I continued to enjoy the warmth of the fire…

Roughly 1 minute later I hear people yelling ‘COOPER! COOPER!’. Oh shit… Kirby is here! And I’m hanging out by the fire! I start running towards the pit, remember my bike is laying behind me, run back, grab the bike, run to the pit.

Clock in…
Try to turn on Garmin…
Fumble with bulky gloves…
Take glove off…
Turn on Garmin…
Pull glove back on…
Forgot to turn on and put GoPro in housing…
Fumble with bulky gloves…
Take glove off…
Turn on GoPro and put in housing…
Put glove back on…
Chuckle at my absurdity…
Pedal off…

I probably cost us a solid 90 seconds by not being ready. Turns out Kirby is the #4 guy back to the pit area in 1 hour, 28 minutes. Holy smokes that was cooking! WTF happened to ‘take it easy’?

Anyway, I get to pedaling. It is cold. I am cold. My legs are like numb stumps somehow turning pedals.

Someone passes me, I pass someone else. One guy was likely a solo rider as he looks warm and riding hard. The other looked like a duo rider, likely in our age group, but there is no way of knowing.

Loving RPR trail

Loving RPR trail

I pass another guy, this time a younger kid. Definitely one of the under 21 duo riders. A couple of minutes later Nathan ‘Certified Bad Ass’ Winkleman of WTF comes around me. He mentions having already flatted twice and he’s got some time to make up on the solo leaders.

Nathan of WTF

Nathan of WTF

15 minutes go by and I’ve been keeping my HR in my ‘warm up’ zone, being careful not to go too hard. I’m still nowhere near warmed up. My legs still feel dead, but at least my upper body is starting to feel better.

As I make the approach to the Epic Trail climb, Marcus comes around. This guy is definitely in our age group. We make the Epic climb, riding when we can, hiking when the rock turns too vertical for it to make sense to put forth the heavy exertion of climbing.

Marcus climbing Epic

Marcus climbing Epic

At the top of Epic, I try to push to keep up with Marcus. A long loose descent, surely I can manage that? As much as I try, my body feels too cold to be as loose as I need to be through the loose turns and Marcus puts more time on me. I lose him into the singletrack and don’t see him for the rest of this lap.

At this point it’s just ride clean without over exerting. My upper body has warmed by this point, to the point where I am hot on top and cold on the bottom. My legs just cannot get warmed up and I feel I cannot push, or even ride as smoothly, as I know I can.

Hill Country Slickrock

Hill Country Slickrock

At about 45 minutes into my lap, my legs finally feel like they are coming around. Which is good, because one of the most demanding portions of the route is coming up. The sadistic designer of this course has decided to have us ride the Flow Track. Oh, UP the Flow Track. Not only that, but with the damp, this is the muddiest, tire suckingest portion of the whole trail. Getting up and over each jump is highly demanding. I feel like I’m going in slow motion. Getting over one rise, thinking I’m nearly to the top to only see another three jumps up the trail ahead of me.

Flow Track Uphill

Flow Track Uphill

It was slow going, but I willed myself to the top. Fortunately, from here, there aren’t anymore brutal climbing and it is just time to ride fast! I know the end isn’t too much further so I push as much as I can without red lining too much. Gotta make sure I keep gas in the tank for lap 2!

Riding hard, having fun

Riding hard, having fun

As I neared the lake, I give up another position to someone I suspect is in our age group. I try to grab his wheel, but my legs are having none of it. It’s my own pace or nothing…

I roll into the pit area and yell for Kirby. He checks in, grabs his bike and he’s off.

I venture a glance at the leader boards and only now do I see how things have really played out thus far.

Kirby turned in a screamer of a first lap, putting us in first and 3 minutes ahead of the next in our age group. My slow transition cost us at least half of that lead. My lap was 7 minutes slower than Kirby’s and I gave up 2 positions, putting us 5 minutes out of first and about 30s out of 2nd. The reality that we could actually be contenders in this race sets in and I start thinking and priming myself for a good 2nd lap to give us a chance at placing.

From here, there isn’t much for me to do for the next hour and a half except try to warm up, dress more appropriately and get some food and fluid in me.

I head for the truck and crank up the heater to full blast. I change my top half, going for a bit cooler top as I was overheated on the top last lap, but never did get my legs warm. I eat a PBJ and down a couple of bottles of water and a 5 hour energy. I remove my socks and dry them on the heater. I start getting pumped up to turn a much better 2nd lap.

As the first riders start showing up for the next lap, I start getting ancy, wondering where Kirby is. His 2nd lap isn’t shaping up to be quite as good as his first and I am just hoping that I can at least help us hang onto 3rd.

I see the now 1st place team come through and make the transition. Marcus heads out for the final lap. About a minute later, I see Kirby in the distance. I head for the transition, determined to have a fast switch. I am thinking we’re in 3rd, and I want to hold that position or make better on it.

This time around at least I am fully warm all over. I am more evenly layered and I am feeling good. I pedal hard off the bat, but still making sure to keep it below the red line. I’ve got another 15 mile lap to go here.

Epic?  Yes it is!

Epic? Yes it is!

As I approach the bottom of the Epic climb, I look up and see who I thought think in 1st at the very top, Marcus, about the top. I spot his location and make a mental note of time.

Rider 3 mins ahead

Rider 3 mins ahead

When I get to the top, I check my Garmin. He’s about 3 minutes ahead. That’s a lot of time to make up, but anything can happen, and I feel like I’m riding much better and faster than my first lap.

This time, I tear down the doubletrack descent, bound and determined to make up some time on my strong suit. I feel that I make it down in good time and head into the singletrack hard and heavy, keeping my HR under control and just under threshold pace.

RPR, a REAL MTB Trail

RPR, a REAL MTB Trail

I feel that I’m riding smoothly and hitting lines much faster than I did in lap 1. I’m feeling good and pushing hard. A few minutes into the singletrack I catch a glimpse of someone on the side of the trail up ahead. As I near, I recognize him as Marcus and one of the leaders in front of me. He’s flatted and is working to tube his front tire.

Marcus flats

Marcus flats

As I go around, I utter ‘Aww man, flats suck!’ and I do mean it, but inside I am devilishly thankful for the chance to not only gain a position, but put some time between him and me. I pedal on, working on being smooth and hoping to ward off any mechanicals for myself! A quick glance at the Garmin tells me I have about an hour to go and it looked like Marcus was close to finishing changing his flat and he would be riding hard to catch me.

I pedal onward, believing I am currently sitting in about 2nd place, thinking I know who is now in first and keeping an eye out for him. There are a couple of places where the trail comes close to the trail going in the other direction and as I pass him, I again mark my time. Believing this is who I had posted at 3 minutes at Epic, I now see that the gap is about 2:30. Still a lot of time to make up, but I feel it is possible.

I still feel like I’m riding much better than my last lap, and I start having visions of turning a 1:30 lap. That would be averaging about 10mph and so I started keeping a close eye on my average speed.

One thing started to become apparent though. As I progressed, my average speed wasn’t any better than it had been in the first lap. But I’m feeling much faster and stronger? What gives?

At 1 hour in, I popped a Honey Stinger and worked to bring it on home. I kept looking over my shoulder in anticipation of seeing Marcus or someone else closing in. While I felt I was riding much faster than my first lap, my Garmin was telling me otherwise. My pacing was pretty much on par with the first lap, which was bugging me.

Home stretch!

Home stretch!

As I rounded the final bend that opens up to the lake, and the wind, I pushed with all I had left while keeping a close eye on any potential sprint competition. Nobody ever showed and I rolled across the finish uncontested.

As I clocked in the official says ‘Congrats, first in your age group!’. Surprised, I responded ‘Really? Wow, awesome!’. Kirby was nowhere to be seen so I had nobody to celebrate with. I found him a few minutes later hanging by the fire, already on his 3rd post race beer. I told him that we might have won and we both laughed at the surprise finish.

It turns out that the other guy that I thought was ahead of me was in the Under 35 group, and although I closed the gap to 2 minutes, I never caught up, but I never needed to either!

First place, baby!

First place, baby!

I headed to the truck to change and had a nice cup of hot chocolate thanks to Nathan Winkleman’s wonderful mother. That hit the spot, thank you! After that, it was time to knock back a few of my own post race beverages, which for that day was Austin Beerworks Black Thunder, which was perfect!

There were some super sweet items being given away so we definitely were going to brave the cold and hang out until awards and such. Sadly, neither of us won the awesome Kuat NV Rack or the killer Trail LED lights. We did score some sunglasses as prizes for our finish as well as a couple other swag items during the raffle (multi-tool and water bottle).

I’ll finish by saying that this may be my favorite mountain bike race to date. First of all, Reveille Peak is a mountain bikers dream. It’s technical, it’s flowy, it’s fast, it’s fun, with some double track breaks thrown in at just the right time for a chance to grab a drink and get a little recovery. To me, THIS is what mountain bike racing should be like. Not like racing wide open on flat boring nondescript trails. Fitness is important, but so is bike handling and technical skill. You have to have both in order to succeed here.

Terra Firma Racing put on a fantastic race. The organization and running of the race was spot on. The organizers were extremely friendly and went out of their way to talk to you, see how you liked everything and make sure you had a good time.

There was only one thing that I would have liked to have done differently and that was actually knowing who we were racing against. Leading up to the race I had no idea who was registered and at the race you had no way of knowing who was racing against you. It was only by careful inspection that you might guess if a racer is in your group or not. Probably easily remedied by just getting to know more people.

The group of folks at this race were a bit different than I’m used to seeing at the TMBRA races, although there were definitely lots of familiar TMBRA familiar faces about, just not many that I knew.

Given all that, this race will definitely remain on my MUST DO race for the future. And I’m seriously looking at future Terra Firma races as well. These guys put on a fantastic, fun race. Sadly their other MTB specific races are at Warda and Rocky Hill. While I enjoy Rocky Hill, Warda ranks right up there as one of the least technical MTB trails around and is one of my least favorite trails. Still, given the way this race went, I’m still contemplating hitting the Dirty Dozen at Warda in February as a warm up for the TMBRA races.

Some lessons learned:
1 – Anytime doing a team event with Kirby, he rides first. Kirby is a beast and will keep up with carrots very well. The whole reason he killed that first lap was because there were power riders for him to feed off of.
2 – Careful of dress in this kind of weather. I had never dressed for these kinds of temps. I think I nailed it on lap 2. In Lap 1, I wore some heavier gloves which did keep my hands warmer, but my hands grew tired dealing with the added bulk, and I didn’t like the ‘feel’ on my brakes with the added bulk. Regular long finger gloves worked fine.
3 – I wasn’t able to take my Honey Stinger on lap 1 because I couldn’t fish it out of my pockets with all the extra gear. I taped it to my top tube for lap 2
4 – STAY WARM! I was completely cold during lap 1 because I was hanging out in the cold. I think I fared much better in lap 2 due to staying in the heated truck as much as possible.

Lap 1 Kirby 1:28:25
Lap 2 Cooper 1:36:38
Lap 3 Kirby 1:35:42
Lap 4 Cooper 1:36:15

Race Video:
YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXHianZiwhQ
Vimeo – https://vimeo.com/84320445

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 164 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 9:00AM
Nutrition: 3 serving oatmeal and 2 eggs for bfast, 1 honey stinger 15 mins before race, 1 water bottle during race each lap, 1 stinger halfway through 2nd lap
Weather: Overcast, 35 degrees *COLD*, precipitation threatening all day
Dress:
Lap 1 – Too hot on top : Thermal base layer, jersey, thermal vest, wind jacket, tights and thermal bib knickers, toe warmers, skullcap, heavy gloves
Lap 2- Just right: Short sleeve base layer, long sleeve jersey, wind jacket, tights and thermal bib knickers, toe warmers, skullcap, regular long finger gloves
Week lead in: Normalish week, had been sick, less than normal riding 4 weeks prior
RPE: First lap couldn’t get warm, 2nd lap felt good, but legs were fatigued
CTL: 34.5
TSB: -14.8 (falling)

Lap 1:

Lap 2:

ADDENDUM: It wasn’t until I got home and was able to closely compare my laps that I saw the differences in my lap performances. While my overall times for each lap were near identical, I felt that I was riding much better and faster in lap 2. Turns out, I WAS riding faster and smoother in lap 2, as long as the trail wasn’t going uphill. The second there were climbs, my lap 1 self would catch up with my lap 2 self. I was MUCH slower on nearly all climbs in lap 2, pointedly showing that my legs were definitely fatigued after much more riding than I’m typically used to.

Tyler Speedwaves Race Report – 2013

The state series finale was to be held at Tyler State Park outside of Tyler, Texas. I didn’t know anything about the course but I knew this was my last chance at a podium spot before I ‘cat up’ to Cat2 next year. Once I’m racing in Cat2, my chances of a podium are going to be extremely diminished for a long time to come.

With XC racing, fitness plays a huge role in race outcomes. Fitness is primarily gained through training, and to a lesser extent, genetics. I know I don’t have the natural genetics to give me any advantage, so it all comes down to training for me. And my training time is already maxxed out. I won’t be able to devote any more time to training than I do currently so my chances of being ‘competitive’ in Cat2 will be greatly diminished for the foreseeable future. My only hope is that my consistent around the year training will eventually build up to get me back into a contention spot in Cat2.

Anyway, so this weighed heavily on my last Cat3 race. My original goal for the year was a top 3 finish in the state series. It quickly became apparent that was going to prove to be a lofty goal for this year. There are many strong riders out there and making my way into the top 3 overall was going to be tough.

As the year moved on and race after race went by, my best finishes were a 4th place and a couple of 5th place finishes. I *REALLY* wanted to get up onto the podium at least once! When that didn’t happen in Huntsville, I set my sights on Tyler.

Between Huntsville and Tyler, I had 4 weeks to really train hard. I primarily did road based intervals. Painful all out efforts. 3 weeks through and the pain was paying off. I was seeing some of my best times ever and my ‘estimated’ power numbers on the road were soaring.

The cast was drawn and the stage was set. Tyler would be it!

Knowing nothing about the course at Tyler State Park, I planned early on to head up the day before the race to pre-ride the course to get an idea for what was in store. I headed up on Saturday and arrived at the park. I rode with Steven C. who had locked up the #1 spot in the overalls and had already catted up to Cat2. When we got to Tyler, a storm had just blown through, dumping over an inch of rain and downing trees and powerlines all around.

We questioned the sanity of headed out onto the trail in such conditions, not wanting to completely gunk up our bikes and drivetrains the day before the race.

After reviewing the radar one last time and gambling that the storm system just to the south of us would not come north, I turned to Steve and said, “We came here to ride, so let’s ride!”.

While the trails were indeed a little sloppy in places, overall the trail had handled the deluge just fine! The soil here is very loamy and the added moisture just helped the soil to compact and hold your tire even more than I imagine it would when totally dry.

By the end of our first lap, I was doing all I could to really push my limits with the soil and my tires and was having no problems. We were ripping some of the sections while trying to reign in overall enthusiasm for being on some new trails that were a blast to ride!

In the end, the storm continued directly east and did not hit us. We stayed dry and the trails were fantastic! The bikes were a little gritty and grindy but a quick bike wash and lube, and all was well! We were ready to go for Sunday!

We camped at the venue, which was a first for both of us. Let me forewarn anyone, you might want to be vigilant about where you set up camp. Just because you are an early to bed type, doesn’t mean your nearby campers will be! We turned in pretty early, but our nearby neighbors were up carousing long after we had turned in.

We awoke around 6AM as other folks started milling about and some vehicles started rolling in for the 8AM juniors start and the 9AM Cat1 start.

I had my usual of oatmeal and enjoyed the stress free, no rush time before my 1PM start. We watched some of the other racing before beginning our own prep work for our respective races.

Steve and the other Cat2 guys looked great and I cheered them on before getting into my warm up routine and race preparation.

Our group rolled up for a 1PM start. I lined up with all too familiar faces, as well as one other ‘new guy’ who I recognized from Huntsville. This Dark Horse (DH from here on) was brand new (to us) at Huntsville and scored a 3rd place finish. I knew he was going to be one to watch as he obviously had it in him to place.

The whistle blew and we were off. Sean M. charged off on his sexy new green Pivot with DH in tow. Chris W. was in the mix as well and I initially settled in behind Chris while on the short pavement section before the singletrack. I went around Chris as the road turned uphill and rode behind Dark Horse.

Time to draft!

Time to draft!

I had no intention of jumping out front today. Anytime I have done that I have always blown up a little so I was content to settle behind DH and ride his wheel. Which I did for nearly the whole first lap.

As we were cruising through the A loop where you can see everyone behind you further up the hill, I noticed that the 3 of us had already formed a pretty sizable gap on the rest of the field. I was feeling good and did not feel in danger of blowing up so I continued riding DH’s wheel.

A ride in the woods

A ride in the woods

He was riding a hard tail so I knew he would have advantage in uphill and flats so I really worked on really flowing on the downhill sections so I would be sure to have the extra energy to chase up the hills. He was proving to be a strong rider, both in climbs as well as looking solid on the trail. He wasn’t sketching out on the descents which was good as it allowed me to just flow and not have stop & gos.

We’re cruising along at a comfortable clip, but Sean is starting to gap us. He’s really been riding well this fall. I’m sure he put in some hard work over the summer, and we all know sexy new green bikes definitely help too! Being that, and I was already running as hard as I felt I should, I didn’t give chase. If he was going to be able to continue to ride that hard the whole race, there was no sense in my burning trying to run him down now. I would have to just hope that he’s running hot and might crack at some point.

DH is riding well and showing some skill

DH is riding well and showing some skill

While we were riding well and had a good gap formed, I knew Miguel Alvarez could close that cap and catch us if he got rolling. It was a constant fear in my mind that he’d come out of nowhere, as he often does, and blast by me like I was standing still. I kept a vigilant watch behind me to hopefully be alerted to his approach.

Draft on the double track

Draft on the double track

DH and I were making good time and passing a steady stream of back markers. The downhill segment at the start of B loop is a real blast, but it is also the pre-cursor to the dreaded 1/2 mile uphill segmentat the end of B loop.

As we were nearing this uphill, we started getting bogged down behind some back markers. For whatever reason, the slowed pace was really killing me on one of the climbs and I took the opportunity to make a pass around DH and several of the back markers. DH wasn’t willing to let me just get by so after I cam around him and was passing a back marker on the right, he was attempting a pass of the same back marker on the left. We did this past 2 back markers on a steep pitch with me in the lead at the top of the hill.

Time to make a move!

Time to make a move!

There was a little time to relax before the true hill started, but it turned out to not be enough. I had really pushed it to make those passes and about halfway up the big climb I cracked. I slowed to a crawl and DH came around. He motored on up the hill and I never saw him again.

I cracked on The Hill and DH came around and dropped me

I cracked on The Hill and DH came around and dropped me

I was a little demoralized, but there wasn’t time for that. Upon a glance behind me down the hill, I couldn’t see anyone else in my group. I was currently sitting in 3rd and I needed to keep the heat on to make sure it stayed that way and possibly catch DH and/or Sean if they happen to crack as well.

Always on my mind was the possibility that Miguel would catch me and that fueled my pace.

The next half lap turned out to be pretty uneventful. I never catch a glimpse of the leaders, nor anyone on my 6. The way was often clear and I felt that I was making good time, pushing hard, but not too hard, keeping my effort in check.

Most of the 2nd lap was a solo ride in the forest

Most of the 2nd lap was a solo ride in the forest

A bit after the bottom of the B loop descent I hear someone a bit behind me. I hadn’t passed anyone recently so I was keenly interested in who it might be. As I glanced over my shoulder, my worst fear was realized as Miguel was bearing down on me quickly.

My heart sank. Miguel blew by me as he always does. He was a freight train and hauling ass.

Freight train, aka Miguel Alvarez, coming through!

Freight train, aka Miguel Alvarez, coming through!

I nearly broke for good right there. I cursed under my breath and almost threw in the towel. Something inside wouldn’t quite let me do it. Even though I didn’t want to, I dug deep and pushed my pace to keep Miguel in sight. My only chance would be if he mis-handles some place in the remaining couple of miles, giving me an opening to get by him again. My only thought was not to let him get too far ahead.

Demoralized, I almost let him go completely

Demoralized, I almost let him go completely

I pushed hard. I knew we had about a mile to go, but some of that is some rock and root gardens that can be a little tricky to navigate.

It turns out, my gut was right. In on particularly tricky rooty area, Miguel goes down. I hate to take advantage of his misfortune, but this is my only chance. After quickly making sure he is okay, I put it all on the line. This is IT. My last chance at getting onto that 3rd place step. This has to be it, all or nothing, no regrets, no excuses, no whining.

One man's misfortune...

One man’s misfortune…

I put as much into the pedals as I can and hit the end of B loop climb with all I have left. I get about 1/2 way up and I am dieing. I am sucking air like never before and my legs are burning with an intense lactic acid bath that I had never felt.

I’m sure the people cheering racers on at the top of the hill probably thought I might fall over and die. I risked a glace over my shoulder back down the hill and could see Miguel maybe 10-15 seconds behind me. Given the amount of trail left before the finish, that is not much. Miguel can close that with ease.

3rd Place is in sight!

3rd Place is in sight!

I’m not sure where I got it as I was already pushing as hard as I possibly could, but I pushed even harder. I gave it all I had, bound and determined, come death or high water, to not give Miguel a chance to catch me.

As I near the final turn onto the pavement to the finish, I risk one last look and see no sign of Miguel, he’s not close enough to sprint me to the finish. I cross the line, almost unaware of exactly where the finish was. I rolled to the end and nearly fall over. I did it!

"Please let this be the finish..." - Me

“Please let this be the finish…” – Me

While my overall goals for the TMBRA season were a bit out of reach, I had finally met my goal of getting a podium in a TMBRA race and it took every ounce of my being to make it happen.

After months of training, both on the road and off. Strenth training, conditioning, diet and psychology, I finally got onto the step! I was elated and completely exhausted.

My view from the podium!

My view from the podium!

Turns out DH managed to close the gap on Sean M. and pass him up as well to finish about 30 seconds ahead of Sean for the 1st place finish. Perhaps we’ll see him join the ranks in Cat2 and get to know him a bit. I finished 50 seconds out of first and 20 seconds out of 2nd. Miguel rolled in 7 seconds behind me for 4th. I had managed to fend him off and felt great to overcome so much personal pain for that 1 position.

Been a great year competing with these guys (and the ones not pictured too!)

Been a great year competing with these guys (and the ones not pictured too!)

Race Videos:
COMING SOON!

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 164 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 1:00PM
Nutrition: Oatmeal, 1 honey stinger 15 mins before race, 1/2 water bottle during race
Weather: Overcast, 72 degrees
Dress: Bibs and short sleeve jersey
Week lead in: Light week
RPE: Rode hard, felt great, 100%. Most post-race wrecked I’ve been all year
CTL: 45.5
TSB: 9.1 (steady)

Huntsville State Park Race Report – 2013

It has been nearly 4 months since my last TMBRA race. I was unable to make Camp Eagle over Labor Day weekend so this would be my first test to see if I had made any improvements over the summer.

I’ve been riding regularly for about the last 5 weeks and have seen some pretty significant gains in some of my times on my fun and training rides. I was looking forward to seeing how those might translate into the race setting.

Nearby Sam Houston Statue

Huntsville State Park is, as you may guess, just outside of Huntsville, Texas. It’s a fun course through the tall pines around a small lake. The trail itself is very sandy and rooty, only broken by numerous bridges over marshy areas.

The sand can be problematic and the roots add to the trail to give it some technical handling requirements. There isn’t much elevation gain at about 650ft per lap, with the climbs being mostly longer gradual climbs. The downhill segments are only technical in that you can gain a lot of speed quick, and they often terminate into hard turns in deep sand.

I wanted to make this race as I am still working to get my 8 ‘counting’ races for the state series. This would be my 8th counting race and would give me a good indicator of my final state series placement.

I was also excited to make this race as I was hoping my gains would give me a shot at a podium finish. The podium has eluded me all year and I’m still working on landing on a step before the year is over.

To help me possibly get onto the podium, 5 of the top 5 series racers are no longer making the races. 3 of them have catted up to Cat2 and 2 others are not racing in the fall. This meant out of the ‘regular’ guys who show up to race, I would have a pretty good shot at getting on the podium if I have a good race.

I made it out to pre-ride the course the week prior and was glad I did so. I managed to learn some good lines and experiment a bit with handling in the deep sand. I quickly learned to make sure I had dumped my speed before the turns to make sure I was able to take the most inside, most shallow of the sand corners.

I had contemplated if I should look at getting a higher volume front tire, but after pre-riding opted to go ahead and keep the 2.1 Maxxis Ignitor up front. This is the same tire that I have been running all year and have been generally happy with it under most conditions with the exception of the very muddy Rock Hill Ranch race back in February.

Our start time was slated for 1:30PM, which meant I had plenty of time to drive down the day of the race. This allowed me the opportunity to get to ‘sleep’ in my own bed before the race. I say ‘sleep’ because I rarely sleep well the night before a race…

The day of the race I woke up at 7AM and started my routine. I had already loaded everything into the truck so it was just a matter of final preparations. Breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, getting ice and drinks together and heading out. I was on the road by 7:30.

I headed straight for Huntsville where I did a pit stop at Subway for a sandwich for lunch. Then on to the Park.

I putted around a bit, visiting with folks I hadn’t seen since May. Took my GoPro and filmed the Cat2 starts and went to the feed zone to cheer on the guys I knew who were racing.

Warm ups went well and everything was lining up great!

I got to the staging area and they lined us all up. Unfortunately, for some reason, the start times were running about 15 minutes behind schedule. It would have been nice of them to let us know that so we could have known… Sitting in the hot sun at 1:30 in the afternoon isn’t optimal for being ready to race. By the time we actually got to the line, I was halfway through my water! Fortunately I was able to get a quick refill from a friend standing nearby.

The ‘start loop’ for Huntsville is basically about 1/2 mile of doubletrack before it drops into a mile or so of fast, mostly downhill singletrack.

I didn’t particularly want the hole shot, but I definitely did not want to get too far back. When the whistle blew, I just pedaled. Not too hard, but just how much I wanted. Low and behold, I’m in the lead with the hole shot and I didn’t really even want it! (I’ve said that before!)

Hole Shot

Hole Shot

We were flying through the singletrack. This first segment is a lot of fun and I was pushing pretty hard. There were about 4 of us in a pack and we had gapped the next group already. The riders with me were urging me on so as not to lose the gap.

I was running hot and I knew I couldn’t keep up this pace. I let one of the guys around and cooled a little. Miguel A was behind me, asking for a pass towards the bottom. I knew the bridges were coming so I called out a ‘Not now’ but it was enough to take me out of my zone. A slight mental lapse as I hit the bridge and my wheel slid out. Down I went…

Crash!

Crash!

Crashing on a bridge is a scary thing… Fortunately it turned out alright. I banged my hip and it took me a couple of seconds to locate my sunglasses, but I was able to hop back up on the bridge and keep going. The gap we had was now gone, but I was still in 2nd as the group I was with had to stop. My bike was on the bridge and Miguel had dropped his chain.

I jumped on the bike and kept going. The adrenaline from the crash really spiked my heart rate and as it started to wear off, I knew I was going to have to really dial it back for a bit. Once off the bridge and onto a little climb I eased over and 8 guys came around. From 2nd to 9th in 3 seconds time.

In 9th Place

In 9th Place

At this point I’m redlined and had been a while. Which meant I was going to have to recover a bit, and here I was at the bottom of one of the long climbs. I settle in and just start working on smooth, relaxed, efficient pedaling to give me a chance to recover.

Beach balls make fitting warning signs for upcoming sand traps

Beach balls make fitting warning signs for upcoming sand traps

I give up another place and find myself in 10th. The good news is that by the time I crest the climb, I have my heart rate a bit under control and I’ve recovered somewhat. The next section of trail is again mostly downhill. I take this opportunity to further recover, but make good time as well. Again focusing on efficiency more than being too concerned with place and effort.

I stick with the last couple of places that had passed me and once the trail begins climbing again, I start reeling them in. I make up a couple of positions and continue to work on closing the gap to the next ones.

Hard left coming up!

Hard left coming up!

Another downhill segment, more rooty and technical than others and I really open it up, laying off the brakes and just letting the Niner run. I quickly close the gap on a couple more positions and get around one in the long “Fenceline” doubletrack climb.

Reeling in Michael C

Reeling in Michael C

As we drop back into the singletrack, we’re about 2/3rds of the way done and I’m starting to feel pretty good. This is how I could have been feeling the whole race if I hadn’t gone out a little too hard in the start. Need to pay attention to that for the next race!

"You've got to be kidding me!!" - Jeff J

“You’ve got to be kidding me!!” – Jeff J

I make another couple of passes in the last gradual climb and know that all that is left is the final downhill segment. 4ish minutes of sandy, rooty, twisty, turny downhill. A real fun segment! I concentrate on riding cleanly, but riding hard as well.

There is one final gut check punchy climb at the very end. Wanting to get the pain of that one over as quickly as possible I light up my remaining matches and blast up the powerline climb with all I have left. After that, it’s a little more downhill to the finish which I focus on riding cleanly to avoid any possible crash at the end.

I roll across the finish in 5th place. I was really hoping for a podium but the late addition of some unknown Houston ringers and strong rides by Sean and Miguel bumped me to 5th. I was disappointed, but it was a fun race. While Huntsville is very sandy and there aren’t really any major technical features, the trail as a whole is a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the ride!

Race Videos:
Vimeo
YouTube

Race Day Recap:
Weigh In: 167 lbs
Bike weight: 26.5 lbs
Race Time: 1:30PM
Nutrition: Oatmeal & coffee, 1 honey stinger 15 mins before race, 1 water bottle during race
Weather: Humid and overcast, 91 degrees
Dress: Bibs and short sleeve jersey
Week lead in: Normal Tuesday and Thursday Interval workouts, Saturday Openers
RPE: Rode hard, felt great, 100%
CTL: 44.4
TSB: -4.1 (steady)