Posts filed under ‘Adventure’
My adventure out west to race 24 hour mountain bike nationals led to a 7th place finish and lots of lessons learned for next year’s Race Across America. Here is all my heartrate data and a map annotating the course as well as a general description of the course. The lap times on my heartrate graph do not include time spent resting between laps, so this gives a better picture of how my legs/body were feeling on any given lap than the official lap times which include time spent in the pit between laps. One of the things I was really happy with for this race is that after an hour and a half of sleep, I put in negative splits on my last four laps. In other words, each of my last four laps was faster than the one before. That is very encouraging for RAAM how my body was able to recover and respond after such a short rest.
Heartrate zone summary
Annotated topocreator map of the entire course. One of the advantages of the topocreator map over Google terrain view is that it is very easy to pick out the high points on a course like this with all its gentle sloping. Click to enlarge. Or you may also download a high resolution version of this map.
This race was so well-organized by the folks at Zia Rides, and one of the great things about the course was having big red mile markers every mile on the course. This meant that you could break the course up into smaller sections and tackle each section independently – super important for a 24 hour race where you are looking for those boosts of achievement when you are super tired … so reaching the next mile marker meant you were one mile closer to the end of the lap. On the topocreator map above, I have labeled each of the miles in black M1, M2, etc…
We started the race out on the wide dirt road so that we would have a chance to sort out positions before the start of the singletrack. I had been worried all week that we would start in the campground under the finishing banner, which would mean a very short dash of 100 meters or so to the start of the singletrack before the dirt road. This singletrack was a climb through the campground followed by a descent to a bridge with a 90 degree turn entering and exiting the bridge – then more descending down through a cow field before a gentle climb up to the dirt road. When they announced during our pre-race meeting that the start would be on the dirt road, this was a huge relief that I wouldn’t be pressured to going really fast through the opening singletrack.
Opening singletrack through the cow field … storm approaching on Friday’s ride.
Still, it is tough to get everything organized for a 24 hour race and I didn’t hop onto my bike to ride over to the start at 11AM until after 10:30AM. Jake Wade (friend from ultracx racing) and I rode over past the start together and then out to the start of the singletrack and back as warmup. Even though we were back at the start by 10:45, there was already a ton of people lined up. So I started in the third or fourth row thinking that it was going to be tough to make up much ground before the start of the singletrack. Fortunately, I was on the righthand side and there was a 30+mph crosswind blowing from the left. I passed a ton of people and settled into line somewhere in the top 10 before the start of the singletrack.
The opening singletrack dropped down briefly before climbing steeply for about a quarter mile. Then it rolled along the side of a hill eventually making a 90 degree turn to head back down into the valley. But before hitting the valley, the trail went straight up a rock ledge. This was totally rideable as long as you had some momentum. I was worried that if you weren’t far enough forward somebody would goof this up and everybody behind would have to walk. I’m not sure if that happened or not because I was far enough forward that everybody could ride it. Dropping off the ledge on the other side was a dip down to a bicycle-specific cattle guard to take you into the long climb to the top of the course.
Collage of pics from my first ride on the course after arriving on Wednesday.
This climb started out very steeply but then rolled a bit before settling into a gradual gradient for several miles. The gradual climb was easy and non-technical except you did have to pick your line carefully to avoid riding over some big rocks. Those rocks were also rideable, but for a 24 hour race you are looking to save every ounce of energy and save your body from as many rock-jolts as possible … so you wanted to ride around those rocks instead of over them. The climb was about half-way over by the time you made it to the cat-tail pond where the junior course split off to the right.
The cattail pond between mile 5 and 6.
After the pond, the course continued to climb through miles 6 and 7. Topping out for the first time shortly after mile 7, there was a gentle fast downhill with lots of sandy turns before a gradual climb up through mile 8. This process repeated itself several times through the rim trail until you finally made it to mile marker 10 which was the high point on the course and the start of a long gradual descent peppered with a short steep climb at mile 11 and a few other small rollers. The climb at mile 11 started out with a short rock slab section followed by a turn straight up a steep hill. I rode it every lap except lap 8 where I was so exhausted I walked the whole section (including the flat parts) just to change up the pace a bit and give my hands a rest from gripping the handlebars.
One of my favorite parts of the course was shortly after this short steep climb – the singletrack continued climbing for a bit before diving back down one more time into a gulley followed by another steep climb on the other side. I figured out in my pre-rides that even with the rocks and roots on the climb, your best bet for this was to fly down the hill and hit the gulley at full speed. You popped up over the rocks and were more than halfway out of the gulley before you even had to pedal. Almost immediately after this, you rode straight towards a property line fence. The singletrack followed the fence very closely for about a mile. Each lap I looked forward to this fence because it meant you had about a mile of easy, smooth, fun riding before the rocky section of the downhill and then the long “berma” section of downhill. I didn’t get any pictures of this part of the course in any of my pre-rides because I never wanted to stop to take one.
The first major jump on the downhill section came right before mile 14 (red mileage marker visible in the middle of this picture) and was followed immediately by a 90 degree turn. Early on when you were fresh you had to make sure to keep your speed under control so that you didn’t endo on the landing.
The strava segment for this long downhill is called “Berma” presumably because after the jumps you have a number of partially banked turns. The dirt was quite loose so you had to get your line right or risk having your wheel washout. I had a couple close calls during my pre-rides, but by race day had nailed it down pretty good. Once you hit the bottom of Berma, you basically had a 4 mile rolling climb to the finish. The rollers were pretty steep (both up and down) so you got to do a lot of resting on the downhill parts which made the uphill sections more manageable after you had been racing for a long time.
The last mile was some narrow, bumpy singletrack alongside a beautifully paved road. No paved road for the race course, however, with 18 miles of single track and just over a mile of dirt road for a grand total of 19.15 miles per lap. In this picture the righthand side is looking up towards the campground / finishing area and the left side is looking back down the final mile of singletrack alongside the paved road.
That takes you through a single lap of the course. I was fortunate to pre-ride the course four times during the week leading up to the race and then twelve times during the race for a grand total of approximately 325 miles of singletrack — easily surpassing any kind of all-time personal record of number of miles of singletrack ridden in a single week. The course was perfect for a 24 hour mtb race, fast, diverse, safe, fun, and challenging. I’m very sad that USA Cycling is dropping this event off the national championship calendar, but the event was so well run we are definitely going to have to make this a future family vacation sometime in the next few years … maybe even next year!
“Finished, 23:01, 12 laps, about 230 miles of singletrack”
Amazing race, awesome adventure. My race was quite the roller coaster. I started out well sitting in 2nd or 3rd place through the first 100 miles (6 laps). Eventual winner Josh Tostado was flying and had a 5 minute lead on me by the end of the second lap. But even as early as the third lap, I was starting to struggle with breathing. I’m not sure if it was the altitude or the dust from the 30 mph sustained winds with all the racers on a very dry course. But I dialed my pace way back starting at Lap 4 and that didn’t really help much. By the end of Lap 7, Tostado had lapped me and I had slid back to 5th. The picture below is right before I started my 8th lap and pretty much says how I was feeling by that point.
“About to head out on lap 8. Just got lapped by Tostado, but I think I’m still in top 5. Fading…”
Lap 8 was the culmination of everything – unable to breathe, unable to put any power into the pedals even though my legs felt fine, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I was passed by so many people – of all ages and genders. When I would see headlights coming up behind me, I’d pull over, stop, lean over the handlebars and wait/rest. Then I’d sit there for 30 seconds or so to let the dust settle (dust at night is similar to fog at night in terms of headlights and visibility) until the next rider came. That lap ended up taking over 2.5 hours – almost twice as long as my fastest lap. Speaking of laps, here is my timing breakdown:
Lap 1 - 1:12 (17.5 miles, started us out on course) Lap 2 - 1:20 (19.15 miles for all subsequent laps) Lap 3 - 1:27 Lap 4 - 1:33 Lap 5 - 1:40 Lap 6 - 1:39 Lap 7 - 1:59 (about half lap was at night) Lap 8 - 2:32 (night lap, exhausted lap) Lap 9 - 3:59 (Slept for 1.5 hours before starting this lap) Lap 10 - 2:06 (night lap) Lap 11 - 1:51 (only the first couple miles with lights) Lap 12 - 1:40 Total time: 23:01
Towards the middle of Lap 8, I had thoughts of just quitting after that lap since I couldn't hold onto the handlebars very well and just felt miserable getting passed by everyone. When I'd see someone's headlights come up behind me, I'd pull over to the side of the trail and just rest for a few seconds until they caught up to me. By the end of the lap, I knew I didn't want to quit but I also knew I needed to rest for a long time. So I sat in the chair, propped my feet up on the ice chest, and covered up with a big towel (temps were already down into the 40s). I didn't fall asleep, though, I just laid there watching racers go by -- including Tostado who lapped me for a second time. I got so cold after maybe 15 minutes like this that I moved everything out of the way and crawled into the back of the car to escape the 5-10 mph wind that was still blowing.
Joe Coffelt, who was helping me and whose wife got second place in the women's race - see thank you section below, asked me what time I wanted him to wake me up. I told him I'd like to do 12 laps total, which meant four more laps. We calculated that 2AM would be a nice safe time to wake me up with enough leeway to get ready to ride again and have enough time to finish the last four laps. He ended up letting me sleep an extra 15 minutes - probably because I looked so miserable in the back of the car - but those 15 minutes may have been really important for me to finish the race at all. When I woke up, I had to change back into cycling clothes and then get ready to ride. I was so stiff I couldn't imagine being able to complete another lap, but by the time I had made it to the top of the campground I was feeling tons better than before I went to sleep. Perhaps those extra 15 minutes were just enough to let my body and mind recover.
Also, there is no point in imagining how I might have done if I hadn't slept at all. There's no way of knowing whether my lap times would have continued to get slower and slower until I was forced to sleep either out on the trail somewhere or back in the pit area. That is what I think would have happened - although how epic would that have been to have pulled my bike off the trail, made a nest in the pine straw, and gone to sleep in the middle of the race. Or perhaps my body would have eventually recovered while riding. I'd like to think that I made the best choice I could have made given the circumstances. Those last four laps were the funnest of the whole race! I finally figured out all the sandy turns and was hitting those much faster and just generally enjoyed more of the course. I had expected that my last night lap on Berma (3 mile descent with jumps and fast turns) would have been my fastest because I hit everything perfectly, but it must have just been the illusion of descending at night that made it feel faster as it was only my 4th fastest time of the day.
Also, during that same lap I caught the 2nd place woman a mile or two before she caught the 1st place woman. I was in no hurry so I asked if I could just ride behind her for a while. Shortly before catching the 1st place woman, she surged and dropped me on the climb and attacked the woman who had been in first. I eventually caught the now second place woman and tried to encourage her before passing her with about a mile to go on the climb. It was really cool to see what I thought was the battle for first and second in the women's race play out in the middle of the night. But as it turns out, one of the women had problems with their eyes on the next lap and had to stop, which moved my friend Laureen Coffelt, whose husband was helping me in the pit, up into 2nd place by the end of the race. I didn't see Laureen the entire race until about mile 4 of the last lap when we were both on our 12th lap. I encouraged her and then raced on by imagining that 9th and 10th place were catching up on me and would boot me out of the top 10. As it turns out, though, I caught and exchanged positions with 7th place sometime during that last lap -- although it's impossible to know exactly when since there were teams, women, and singlespeed riders still out on course - and I passed a lot of people on that last lap.
I uploaded a higher res version of the results below - there were about 60 solo males that started the national championship race, so I was happy to finish 7th in my first 24 hour mountain bike race.
Huge thanks and shout-out to Joe and Laureen Coffelt (and Scott Kuppersmith for connecting me with them). Joe was supporting his wife, Laureen, who got 2nd in the women's race. It worked out awesome that we were never in the pit at the same time, and Joe took complete care of everything (greasing the chain, refilling my camelbak, getting me food, drink, and coaching me through my first 24 hour race to a top 10 finish with some really strong guys here!) Also, a big shout-out to Kyle Taylor who inspired me to do this race early in the season when he invited me to do this race as part of a four-man team. But then I had my crazy bike-car accident which left me in the hospital for a week only six weeks before this race. Nobody, including myself, thought I'd be able to do the race which threw everybody's plans for the race into confusion. My jaws were still wired shut a little more than a week before the race. I had to beg the doctor to cut the wires off, and was still ordered on a strict no-chew diet - but this race officially ended that. If I'm able to survive a rough 24 hour mountain bike race with no impact to my jaw, I think it is safe to eat again! My jaw and accident may have impacted my performance a bit - one very positive way and one very negative way. The positive way is that I essentially had 6 weeks of altitude training with me having to breathe entirely through my nose. I believe this really did help with the altitude (the entire race was above 7000 feet, and maxed out at 8300 feet). But the negative impact was my nutrition. I am a powerbar kinda guy. I like to eat bars, and that is how I have raced for years and years. For this race, I mixed up 10 bottles of a meal replacement drink and put them into my bottles to drink between laps for calories. This worked OK, but I was hungry and I started eating stuff after Lap 8 - chocolate chip cookies, snickers bars, whatever I could find at the aid stations. And I think my exhaustion by Laps 7 and Lap 8 may have been because of a calorie deficit. No excuses, though, because my altitude training may have offset the calorie deficit so that it all worked out even in the end.
I'll upload more data and comment more about the course and event when I get home, but I just managed to lose this entire post and had to type it in a second time so I've left out some of the fun details of the race. Also, I'm in Albuquerque, New Mexico and for RAAM training for next year I'm going to go get back on the bike even though I'm very sore and climb Sandia Peak - should be fun!
24 Hours of Enchanted Forest
I’m happy that my first post back after my bike-car collision six weeks ago is from New Mexico where I am getting ready to race 24 hour mountain bike nationals near Gallup, NM. Everything has healed up great including my jaw, but I’m still being super careful with a limited chewing diet. I split the 1400 mile drive up into two days doing 1000 miles the first day to Amarillo, Texas and then 400 miles the second day to Gallup, New Mexico. Wouldn’t want to cross such a vast chunk of the country without doing some riding, so I stopped for some riding adventures along the way.
A ride down Texas memory lane – Tuesday
I met my wife during the summer of 2001 when I was volunteering in the Mercy Ships IT department outside of Tyler, Texas. Two years later after a long distance relationship, we were married in Wisconsin and then moved to California. So driving across the country is not something new for me, but it sure brings back tons of memories. I did a nice two hour easy ride around Van, Garden Valley, and the Mercy Ships headquarters remembering back to that summer 13 years ago. Although I did go hard up Moon Hill trying to get the KOM figuring that surely someone had made a segment, but my 37 mile ride didn’t match up with any segments on Strava! Imagine that – 37 miles of segment-less territory in East Texas. I did create two segments – one for Moon Hill and one for a road through some oil wells. Towards the end of my ride, I almost biked right past my friends Heather and Michael Drown who still work for Mercy Ships and were just finishing up a VBS planning meeting at the Garden Valley Bible Church. I saw them in the parking lot, though, and stopped and said hi for just a few minutes before finishing the drive out to Amarillo … Texas is big!
Amarillo Cross Fun – Wednesday
I just purchased a used cross bike and brought it with me specifically to tackle a climb in Albuquerque, New Mexico after the 24 hour race – but I also wanted to get some training on it for some upcoming ultra cross races … where I’m hoping to move up one step on the podium for the overall series by the time it wraps up in late November. I was looking for some good dirt roads with some hills using Google Maps even before leaving Alabama when I stumbled upon a street view image of some sort of bike park. So after sleeping in, I decided to go explore it on my cross bike. There was a few sandy spots where wider tires would help, but otherwise everything was totally rideable. Plus, there was a cool powerline paved trail running north of town that I also got to explore before hopping in the car to drive 400 miles across pretty much all of New Mexico to do my first pre-ride of the 24 hour race course.
Enchanted Forest Night Ride – Wednesday
I arrived just before sunset, but by the time I got everything ready to ride on my mountain bike it was just past sunset. The wildlife was amazing at that time of day even on the drive up from the interstate. Lots of cows running across fields (and the road), lots of deer, lots of bunny rabbits, one cool hawk (or owl), and not much else. I checked around with a few people who were already at the campground and found out where to head to find the course. I rode by one of the volunteers who was putting up the last of the arrows for the course, so it was completely marked by the time I started my ride at 8:30PM. I rode the first half of the course with no light under a rising full moon and lots of afterglow from the sunset. This was good because with the white dirt/sand trail the line to take really stood out. Eventually though it got dark enough that I was afraid I would miss an arrow so I used my light at its lowest setting. I wasn’t exactly flying, but I had no problem negotiating the entire trail with low setting. It was awesome riding in the dark under a full moon with a tall pine forest surrounded by nothing but the occasional deer or rabbit scurrying across the trail. I ended up my ride at 10:30PM back at the campground which was eerily silent with most everybody already asleep.
Enchanted Forest Day Ride – Thursday
I headed back out to the Ciobala National Forest to ride again today in the daytime. The trails are just amazing – super fast singletrack – you could probably big chainring the whole course, but there are a few places where it’s probably more efficient to dump it down into the little chainring. The primary difference between the singletrack here and what I’m used to riding is how smooth the course is — very few rocks and even less roots. Plus, a lot of the trails just go straight for a long time instead of lots of tight turns trying to maximize trail distance over a smaller area. It really is the perfect course for a 24 hour race – fast and fun, I think the time will just fly by.
Gallup Exploring – Thursday
I mapped out a Cat 2 climb using terrain view and satellite view up to the towers shown in the top half of the instagram pic above, but when I was doing the climb I discovered that a lot of the roads on the map were private, so I had to turn around. Still, it was some beautiful roads and the moon rise over church rock was amazing. The tailwind on the way out was incredible … I was going 37 mph on a flat road at one point with at least a 30 mph tailwind. Thankfully it had died down a bit by the time I was heading back later, but it was still tough just riding along a flat road straight into the wind. Can’t wait for tomorrow!
“Family sunset walk tonight”, Sunday @ 6:44PM
Quick summary: the cycling community is amazing, the Samford community is amazing, the UAB trauma center and all the workers there are amazing. My wife is incredibly amazing. My friends are amazing. I have determined from this one accident that I am officially the luckiest person on the planet based on the collection of family and friends that are in my life. I’m thankful to be alive and already on the mend, although my jaws are wired shut for the next two weeks. I was in a bike-car collision this past Monday, April 28th on my way home from work. I do not remember any of the details of the accident so rather than trying to speculate/make guesses about what might have happened, I’m just going to take you through a run-down of what I remember.
The timeline is out of order below to reflect the order in which I started remembering things.
- Monday morning – teach two classes. spend third class and lunch working with seniors on their projects.
- Monday afternoon – wake up in the emergency room, doctor trying to stitch my forehead, me saying “I don’t remember anything,” “I don’t remember anything,” “I don’t remember anything,” over and over again. Then I remember saying something like “I was coming home from Samford”. In what seemed like very little time, I started piecing things back together to fill out the missing time between the end of my classes and waking up in the emergency room.
- Monday shortly after 1pm – leave Samford out the back entrance. Straight across Saulter to merge with my normal Homewood – Smyer – Vesclub route. Do my normal route all the way until Rocky Ridge Rd where I decide it would be nice to do some easy climbing over in Georgetown so I’ll take an easier flatter route to get over to S Cove, then out the back of that neighborhood to get over to Georgetown.
- Monday @ 2:29PM – I take a picture from the Vestavia Hills High School parking lot of all the cars – presumably because Vestavia was in the process of letting out early. If I had not taken that picture, my phone would have been locked and Kristine wouldn’t have found out about the accident until much later.
- Monday about two or three minutes later – I turn left onto Panorama. At the South Cove stop sign I turn left. I remember making the left turn and then my memory abruptly stops. No recollection at all of anything between that moment, the accident which happened about 20 seconds later, and then waking up in the emergency room maybe an hour later.
What I have been told by others is that I only lost consciousness very briefly at the scene. I was awake, confused, and agitated, but I don’t remember any of that. I took a direct hit to my face somehow cutting open my forehead and cracking my jaw in two places on both sides of my jaw but no damage to my nose or chin. There is some deep annoying road rash on my neck and two sore (but not broken) elbows. I had lots of neck damage, the bruising right now a week later is insane – my body is yellow from my chest up to the top of my neck. I consider myself very, very fortunate.
My friend Boris rode back out there on his way home from work the day of the crash before the rain started and found half of my Di2 shifter, two of my sunglass lenses, and blood splattered on the ground. Also, one of my shoes is lost – no sign of it. Think it might be stuck in an EMT vehicle somewhere. I don’t think the impact was enough to knock me out of my shoes.
Monday night I was mostly out of it from pain meds. By later in the day Tuesday, I was starting to feel better – still a lot of neck and jaw pain. Heading into surgery on Wednesday, the plan was to screw two plates into my mouth — one either side of my jaw to keep the jaw bones in place to allow the two cracks to heal. This went well on the rightside of my mouth, but during the surgery the doctor discovered that the crack was much higher and farther back in my left jaw. This would have meant coming in from the outside through my left cheek – a much more invasive surgery. The alternative was to wire my mouth shut and let the bones heal on their own. They had mentioned this was a small possibility that they would have to do this during surgery, but me being my optimistic self assumed that it wouldn’t happen.
What now ranks as the absolute scariest moment of my life was waking up from that surgery to find my jaws wired shut. The doctor explained to me later that I woke up fighting like a teenager. What I remember is waking up and being unable to breathe. I realized very quickly what had happened, but I was still in a panic because I do not breathe through my nose very well. Plus the surgery involves placing a breathing tube through your nose so there was all kinds of blood and junk still in my nose. I remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I was fighting for breath. But I was also very tired, so I remember falling mostly asleep again – then waking up in a panic – falling asleep – waking up in a panic – over and over again. I heard one of the doctors say that my heartrate kept going from low 40s up into the 80s – that was me falling asleep, waking up, panicking, and falling asleep again in somewhat rapid succession.
I think I eventually communicated that I didn’t breathe well through my nose, and they got me calmed down. I remember being awake some and then asleep some throughout the day eventually spending 8 hours in the recovery area. They asked me at the end if I wanted to stay in recovery or go back to my room, and I opted to go back to my room — primarily because of the frustration of trying to relax enough to pee into a bottle while laying at a 45 degree angle and lots of activity nearby.
The one good thing about the jaw surgery is that I no longer felt any pains anywhere in my body other than the Level 10 pain in my teeth and jaws. Imagine grinding your teeth together as hard as you can – not for just a second, but permanently. This is how tight my jaws were initially clamped shut. I think the wires have loosened a bit, but I have also lost all feeling in my lower lip and lower jaw and teeth thanks to unavoidable nerve damage during surgery that should heal up fine.
Wednesday night was horrible because I couldn’t sleep well, being in one position on my back for nearly 24 hours a day was just making my back and skin hurt everywhere as my jaw and teeth pain started to die down. I took this picture and posted it to instagram with a lot of help from Kristine who was there with me all night. This pretty much sums up how Wednesday night went.
“Status update, please send me as many well wishes and rayers. Only way to communicate is to write or type maked it difficult to reposition since I can’t move myself.”, Thursday morning @ 4AM typos uncorrected
Things started to improve a lot on Thursday because I was gaining a tiny bit more mobility and able to reposition myself. Prior to that I was entirely dependent on other people to move at all – which is bad in itself, but when you also are dependent on the right position to breathe well and not gag, it makes it really, really scary as noted on the clipboard I was using to communicate with Kristine. Many people visited on Thursday and Friday – and that was a huge help too as I started to move around a bit more and realize that I was no longer constrained to a single position or asking other people to help me move.
Friday, we got the quite unexpected news that I was ready to go home – we figured at least one more day, and instead I was home after spending all week in the hospital. Things have continued to improve since I’ve been home with my neck and knee starting to be the dominant pain. Enough about that, though, I’m thankful to be alive, which is why I’ve started with all the good pictures first and then included those closer to the accident at the bottom.
“Beautiful sunset walk with @ktoone”, Saturday @ 7:30PM
“Welcome home from the kids”, Friday @ 8PM
“Me and luc during my hot lap. @rapha @strava”, Friday @ 1PM. Luc had come down to visit me on one of his PT walks after being involved in a bad crash in the Tour de Blue over the weekend. I set that as my goal to return the favor – just barely caught him as he was about to be released!
“Ready for a hot lap around the 9th floor tomorrow I’m going to @strava it!”, Thursday @ 12:30PM
“On my way into surgery this morning. Little did I know how rough things were about to get.”, Wednesday@ 10:30AM
“Me and my beautiful wife @ktoone at UAB in a lot of pain but hanging in there. But in a lot of pain.”, Tuesday @ 11:39AM
Knee injury – my knee is in this picture somewhere towards the middle. Tuesday @ 11:39AM
Damage to my neck and face – Monday @ 7:40PM
ABC 33/40 news footage showing the bike and the car. Monday after I was on my way to the hospital
First responders – the car I ran into was driven by a doctor. I believe that is him on the left in scrubs attending to me from the beginning. This picture was on my phone taken by the person who called Kristine to let her know about the accident. Monday @ 2:45PM
2014 Cohutta Men’s Open Podium (left to right) – Brian Toone (8th), Garth Prosser (6th), Tom Burke (4th), Rob Spreng (2nd), Jeremiah Bishop (1st), Chris Michaels (3rd), Andy Rhodes (5th), Andrew Dunlap (7th) – not pictured German Bermudez (9th – off screen to the left), and Ben Richardson (10th – off screen to the right).
I never thought I’d be able to do this race because it is the same day as Athens Twilight. But this year was different because Kristine was out of town all week for work and to run the Big Sur marathon today in California. I wasn’t as excited for all the crazy awesomeness of Twilight without having Kristine to share it with. So I figured this would be as good a year as any to race Cohutta, and I was not disappointed. What an amazing race course and race!
Update – Kristine and her BRF Kim Moon (I think that stands for Best Running Friend) finished her marathon – see instagram pic below
My race went really well – attacked from the line and entered the singletrack with a good 15 second headstart on the rest of the 225 rider field. I figured I would get caught within the first minute of singletrack, but I held onto my lead all the way through the first singletrack — mainly because it wasn’t technical and it involved a climb. When we shot out onto the Boyd Gap overlook after 2 miles of singletrack, I let Jeremiah Bishop and a few others including single speeder Gerry Pflug pass me before the long singletrack descent back to the Ocoee Whitewater Center.
I hopped in front of the next few riders because there was a small gap and stayed out of their way until the hairpin switchback where I shot wide (partly on purpose) to let them by. I think three or four more people came by and that was it. I didn’t get passed by anybody else the rest of the day until really late in the race when German Bermudez (Rare Disease Cycling) caught back up to me in the final singletrack shortly after I passed him on the final climb up to that singletrack. I then followed his wheel all the way back down the final singletrack with the confidence of seeing somebody in front of me I had no problems keeping up. I then passed him on the final road section to finish 8th place.
But before all that … after the course crosses the Ocoee on the forest service bridge pictured above, it enters another long singletrack section but on a somewhat substantial climb. I had no problems staying in front of anybody coming up behind me. In fact, I started to catch two riders on the steeper sections of singletrack. They were not too far ahead of me when we exited the singletrack onto the first forest service road about 16 miles into the race. I thought “sweet” I’m going to start catching and passing people any minute. Well, the forest service road starts out with a long descent and those guys could fly on the descents. Even though there were a few really steep climbs in the middle, you are basically descending for 8 miles with some tricky switchback descents in the middle.
My first sign that I was starting to catch back up to them after what seemed like an eternity was Andrew Dunlap (Rare Disease Cycling) pulling out of Aid Station #2. We chatted and rode together on the flat section, and he mentioned that the two guys I had been chasing had been crushing the descents, but were just ahead. I saw them riding together right after Andrew fell off my pace at the first or second steep section of the long climb to Aid Station #3. It took a couple minutes but I caught up to them near some of the construction areas on the forest service road. I figured they would hop right on and draft me for a bit, but I think they came off pretty quickly. I wasn’t looking back, though, for fear of being discouraged that they were keeping up with me.
At this point, I figured based on the number of people I had passed and the number of people who had passed me that I was well inside the top 10. I kept hammering the climb all in the big ring for fear of shifting into the small ring and easing my pace. I spent a lot of time cross-geared or close to it, but it felt good to stand and roll instead of spin. Also, it really forced me to concentrate on finding a good smooth line since I was standing and needed the traction. I think this was really important on the climbs because there was a lot of loose gravel and you would waste a lot of energy bouncing on the rocks if you didn’t find the sweet spot of pine straw or dirt.
The next person I caught was a Toyota rider. A few minutes later, I caught his teammate. Then after another 10 minutes of climbing, I caught eventual third place finisher Chris Michaels (American Classic/Kenda/Tomac). This was shortly before the top of the first really big climb. Not too long after passing him, I got a small stick in my rear derailleur. I pulled over to stop thinking it might take a few seconds to pop out of the pulley wheel and that Chris would catch back up to me, but it came right out as soon as I stopped and pulled on the stick. Oh, if only it had taken a little bit of time to come out, it would have saved me 24:32 minutes in the race because I would have been with Chris and I don’t think we both would have missed the turn. Instead, I hopped right back on, crested the top and proceeded to ride 2.8 miles off course down into a saddle off the wrong side of Potato Patch mountain and then halfway up the climb to Little Bald Mountain (see annotated Strava screenshot below) I started getting suspicious that I made a wrong term when I couldn’t see another rider that I had been catching after passing Chris. Then eventually I stopped two different cars and asked if they had seen any cyclists. Both said no, so I turned around and headed back. The turn that I missed was marked with blue paint on the ground instead of the SRAM banners and arrows that I had been following. I don’t know why there wasn’t somebody stationed at the triangle there telling people to turn as it was in the middle of a fast descent where the natural direction is to go straight to carry your momentum up the next hill after it. I was going over 30 mph when I missed the turn.
After turning around and riding for a few minutes I knew for sure that I had missed the turn because all the people I had passed should have caught up to me. My first instinct was to cry knowing that I was racing essentially a perfect race up to that point and already in the top 3 or 4 about halfway into the race. My second instinct was to hit it hard to try to make up time. I think if I were younger I would have probably done the second, but having raced now for 20 years I knew that my best bet was to stay calm and just continue as if what I was riding was actually part of the course … continue to take in nutrition and eat as normal and don’t lift the pace at all. I did, and I was hoping to get the KOM on the reverse direction back up the climb with my steady Zone 4 effort as a reward for my being off course, but I missed it by a few seconds. Another reward, which I didn’t miss and greatly tempered what could have been huge disappointment was the absolutely fantastic view of Fort Mountain from partway up the Little Bald Mountain climb where I was off course. Fort Mountain will always be significant to me for a lot of reasons but especially because it marks the start of my foray into ultra endurance cycling. Read about Fort Mountain at the end of this post and towards the middle of this one.
Back to the race, I knew I had made it back to the race course when I saw two guys coming down towards an intersection. I saw the blue paint on the ground and knew that I had missed the turn. They were confused, too, as were many racers at that intersection. Most racers ended up missing the turn and hitting it on the other side of the triangle. But at least one other poor soul who I met when I climbed back up to the same spot 20 miles later had missed the turn and gone up and over the ridge like I did. I had the unfortunate (and somewhat ironic) opportunity to tell him he had missed the turn and had to go back down the hill I was climbing up. I was just ahead of those two guys on the start of the correct descent. There was another person just ahead of me on the descent and another person ahead of them. I immediately dropped the two guys and flew past the guy in front of me — I was guesstimating that my ability to drop people on the descent meant that those people were well outside of the top 50 of the race, and that was discouraging. I tried really hard not to think about the blown opportunity and what might have been and instead thought about 24 hour mountain bike nationals, how this was all good experience for future races, and man did i mention the course was awesome??? I think I passed four or five more people on the descent. I was out of water so I had to stop at Aid Station 4, even though it was not quite the bottom of the descent (hate losing all that momentum – my original plan had been to stop there on the way back, but going 24 minutes off course changed that plan!) The aid station workers there were super fast, and I got a bottle and was on my way in just a few seconds. I passed more people (perhaps some of the same) on the rest of the descent.
Then we hit a gravel road to start the long, never-ending, inferno of a Cat 2 climb (just a tiny bit short of Cat 1) back up Potato Patch Mountain. Initially, I was passing people somewhat constantly. As soon as I passed one person, there would be another person just up ahead on the climb. I would guesstimate I passed 10-15 people through here during the first 20 minutes of the climb. I had to stop at Aid Station #5 about 25% up the climb because I had gone through all my gatorade and the bottle I had in the back I hadn’t drunk out of and I knew it would be warm. I dumped that bottle on myself to get some cooling from the water and then refilled my big bottle out of the pump which was ice cold water. This was super helpful because the climb up Potato Patch Mountain from that spot was hell. My Garmin shows that temps were only in the upper 70s, but it was full sun in a lot of spots and you were only going 3-5mph at a hard zone 3, low Zone 4 effort. Sweat pouring. Eyes burning. One thing that really helped me towards the top of the climb was a rider I didn’t end up catching until many miles later – James Wiant (Peachtree Bikes, Atlanta).
I was closing in on him towards the top, but I didn’t catch him. He went over the top ahead of me maybe 15 seconds ahead and was maybe twice that far ahead by the time we made it to the next steep hill. This process repeated itself through all the steep cat 4 climbs across the top of the mountain. Each time, I would be a little bit closer until I actually caught him maybe close to 10 miles later on the last kicker before the longer descent down to aid station 3. I think he was pretty tired by this point because by the time I made it to the crest, I had put enough time into him that he didn’t catch me on the descent. That descent was particularly long and bumpy – it was one of a few later in the race where I was struggling with cramps in my hands. I would take one hand off the bar so I could stretch it and then alternate back to the other hand. I also spent a lot of time riding no-handed on some of the smoother sections of the course either in an aero position with my elbows on the bars or sitting upright stretching. I think that is really important in these long races otherwise you get to where you cannot hold onto the bars anymore.
After I passed James, there was nobody for quite a while – until close to the bottom of the 10 mile descent down to aid station #7. I passed two people in short succession, who then proceeded to pass me back when I stopped at the aid station. I had gambled with water by not stopping at aid station 3 and had been out for about 5 miles of the descent. In fact, some of the longer flatter parts of the descent I kept motivating myself that the aid station was just ahead, got to make it to the aid station for water, got to make it to the aid station for water. I was glad that I was well-hydrated up to that point and ended up drinking about 120 oz of gatorade and water in total for the day. That may not sound like a lot for an 8.5 hour race, but you have to remember that the first 3 hours of the race were quite cold with temps in the 30s and 40s in the valleys. It was definitely hot by the end, though, with temps climbing into the upper 70s and lower 80s.
At the aid station, I was told by the awesome volunteers who were also very quick (very proud that several of the volunteers were Samford students!) that there was one guy about 30 seconds ahead and a small group ahead of them by maybe another minute. I knew that there was only 14 miles to the finish, but I figured I could make up a minute on them – the question would be could I hold any kind of lead through the singletrack. At this point, I had still not passed any of the people that I had passed earlier in the race before going off course so I am imagining that I am sitting somewhere in the top 25. As it turns out, I was probably in 12th position at that point because I passed four more people (the group the aid station volunteers had told me about). This group had shattered on the final forest service road climb to the singletrack, so I passed them all one-by-one up the climb.
German was the first rider I caught, but he was the only one to catch back up to me in the singletrack. So that makes me think that he was the lone rider behind the group and was in fact catching the group when I first caught him. I mistook him for Andrew and said “hello again”. He asked what happened to me? And I told him I had gone 6 miles off course. It was very cathartic to finally tell someone that I had gone off course, but more importantly catching one of the leaders meant that I was well inside the top 25. Also, I caught one of the Toyota riders I had passed earlier. Still, I wasn’t convinced that I was anywhere close to the top 10 because I figured they were just having a bad day. As it turns out, I was having an amazing day but ended up adding 24:32 to my total time going off course. I wasn’t the only one, though. Singlespeeder Gerry Pflug was leading until he went off course at mile 95 and rode an extra 30 minutes of singletrack. Nathaniel Cornelius was in 3rd place and missed the same turn on the singletrack and ended up riding even more singletrack than Gerry. Fourth place finisher Tom Burke also went off course in about the same spot.
Even with the course snafus, this was a really well run event with some great volunteers. Any time there is a course problem, unless it is sabotage, it is ultimately the racer’s responsibility to know the course. That’s a bit harder for 100 mile mtb races where you’ve never ridden before, but still I could have spent some more time memorizing and studying the detailed maps on the website (I memorized the whole 500 mile route for the Heart of the South 500 mile race). Also, I could have pre-loaded the course into my Garmin. Normally I would do that, but I wasn’t sure about the battery life and whether the Garmin would crash if it were trying to follow such a long course. Live and learn!!!
Huge shout out to Greg Schisla, friend living in Murphy, NC who let me stay with him and also met me Friday after pre-ride for dinner at a very nice local Mexican restaurant. He was doing well in the Big Frog 65 in second place when he had major mechanical end his race (freehub body stopped engaging). It seems like even with perfect weather this year, the bad luck gremlins were out in full force at this year’s Cohutta! Maybe next year will be the year of perfect weather and good luck for everyone.
2014 Cohutta 100+ heartrate zone summary