Posts filed under ‘Racing’
Last year, I opened up my season with back-to-back wins at Southern Cross and the Camp Sumatanga training race the next day. This year, I’ve started off the season with a 3rd place time trial podium, 6th place at Southern Cross, and 1st place again this year at the Sumatanga Category A race. The win yesterday at Sumatanga helped ease the sting from Southern Cross where I just didn’t have it on that opening climb and watched the lead group of eight riders ride away from me less than halfway up the climb. Also easing the Southern Cross sting was the outstanding performances by Birmingham riders Chris Edmonds, Jerry Dufour (17), and Reid Richesin (15) who placed 3rd, 5th, and 12th!
SOUTHERN CROSS ULTRACX RACE #1
So let’s start with Southern Cross – amazing again this year. I could finish dead last and while disappointed would still feel like the weekend was worth it. Race promoter and ultra-endurance racer Eddie O’Dea announced before the start that it was the biggest field yet for Southern Cross, and I would go one step farther to say it was also the strongest field as evidenced by the lead group of eight still together well into the Winding Stair climb. New this year was an additional dirt climb out of the winery instead of the traditional climb out via the road. I was really happy with my start able to ride almost everything, including the log drop and the new dirt climb out of the winery. The only thing I had to run was the main run-up, which given the heavy rains from a few days before the race was too wet to ride.
Leaving the winery, the lead group consisted of Thomas Turner (Jamis), Nick Van Winkle (Litespeed-BMW), Chris Edmonds (Infinity), Mike Simonson (616 Fabrications), Jerry Dufour (Team Momentum), Tim Proctor (The Bicycle Station), Gerry Pflug (Rare Disease Cycling), Eric Murphy (UHC/706 Project), Andy Scarano (UHC/706 Project), and me (Friends of the Great Smokies Cycling). There may have been a few more riders behind me, but I was glued to the wheels in front of me and never looked back. I felt OK at this point, but we seemed to be riding really, really fast.
I wasn’t sure about the climb given that we were killing it on the rollers leading into it, but once we started I felt the pace was hard but manageable. Just before the first steep pitch I could no longer hold the pace. It happened somewhat suddenly as the lead group kept motoring and I was unable to stand up and match the pace. I had opted to take my camelbak explorer backpack to make sure I had adequate hydration and tools to combat any flats, but with the extra weight pressing down on my lower back I couldn’t stand up to get any extra torque out of the bars. If it had just been a couple riders left leaving me behind, I would have been OK mentally but as I watched them round a turn ahead of me I counted one, two, three, … eight riders! This was super de-motivating.
I continued on, but as you can see in my heartrate data below I was cracked and dropped back down into Zone 4 sub-threshold. Near the top, though, I looked back to see Gerry Pflug single-speed champ, killing it up a steep section of the climb. I knew that my best chance at getting any kind of result was to hop on when he came by. Sure enough, I dug as hard as I could when he came by with my HR skyrocketing well back into Zone 5. I stuck to his wheel like glue and then dug really deep again to try to hold on to make it to the true top of the climb. Once there, I knew I would be fine until the second climb.
I stayed tucked behind Gerry from that spot all the way until we hit the pavement at which point I took over to set the pace into the next climb. My plan was to simply hold onto Gerry’s wheel all the way up the second climb, but we caught Eric Murphy about 1/4 of the way up the climb. This climb rolls a bit and although I was content to rest, Eric wanted to push the pace a bit harder on the downhills where Gerry needed to coast (singlespeed) so we got into somewhat of a rotation. As we got farther up the climb I spent more time on the front. But as we neared the very top, Gerry came around forced to push the pace harder by his singlespeed gearing. I could barely hold on, but what really helped is that I had drank enough water that I could stand up again without all the weight from the camelbak pressing down right on my lower back.
Somewhere in the middle of the climb, Frank Marrs (Mission Source) came flying by us. No hope of our group latching onto him, and we let him ride away. Towards the top, we were starting to catch him again and then passed him when he had to stop at the aid station for water. A few minutes later, he came flying by us again. I was unable to hold his wheel and he rode away again but ended up flatting on the next fast descent. Gerry and I kept plugging along at a steady tempo and I related to him some highlights from last year’s race as we reached critical points from the previous year.
I led through the descent and onto the road with Gerry pulling up the hills on the road and me pushing the pace on the descents and flatter sections. When we finally made it back to the winery, we could see Jerry Dufour partway up the Montaluce Monster (100% grade beer run-up). This gave me some renewed hope of maybe catching one more rider to crack the top 5, but Jerry was too fast and ended up pulling away. Meanwhile when I was near the top of the run-up, I looked back and saw another racer (Brad Cobb) had already made it partway up the run-up. I was no longer even trying to catch Jerry, but I rode really hard to make sure I stayed away from Brad. It all worked out though with Jerry taking the last spot of the Open Male podium, Gerry winning the single-speed race, and me taking 6th. Brad was actually in the 40+ race where he ended up 2nd as Tim Proctor had already finished 5th overall to take the Masters 40+ race win.
After the race, I talked to Jerry and Chris to find out how the race had played out up front. Jerry was the only one who could match Thomas’s pace all the way up the Winding Stair climb. But across the top, Thomas put in some surges that eventually saw Jerry falling back to the chase group behind. The chase group got smaller as people flatted or dropped off the pace eventually leaving just Nick, Chris, Mike, Tim, and Jerry in the front group. Jerry came off this group on the road section while the rest of the group went into the finish together. The only reason why we saw Jerry at all is because he missed the turn back into the winery. Fortunately, he realized his mistake quickly enough so that he didn’t lose any places because of the mistake. Chris and Nick sprinted it out for 2nd place behind Thomas who had finished about 3 minutes earlier. Last year’s ulta-cx winner Mike Simonson raced strong and ended up 4th behind Chris and Nick in the winery course.
Very proud of the Birmingham results this year – Chris Edmonds (3rd), Jerry Dufour (5th), me in 6th place, and 15 year old Reid Richensin finishing 12th. Also, Pat Casey took 2nd place in the singlespeed division, and Hardwick Gregg took 4th in the Men’s 50+. Maybe next year we can aim for a podium sweep! I’m already looking forward to it.
Having won the race last year, I was interested in a side by side comparison of all the data from last year and this year. Basically I was 4 minutes slower this year with a heartrate average of 1 bpm lower. Given that it was really cold last year, I think that probably works out to 2-3 bpm lower than last year if the temperatures had been the same both years.
|Southern Cross 2014 – lower HR average overall but 10 additional minutes in Zone 5||Southern Cross 2013 – higher HR average with quite a bit more time spent in Zone 4|
CAMP SUMATANGA TRAINING RACE
A large strong field showed up for the first GSMR training race up at Camp Sumatanga. My former team Infinity Med-i-Spa had the largest team, but there were also two strong military team riders (Kurt Page and Chris Cundiff), as well as strong teams from Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and a number of other fast riders without teammates. I figured given the strength of the field, that the strategy was to let Infinity do as much work as possible bringing back moves. They scored a major coup though getting two teammates (Wes Douglas and Kevin Pawlik) up the road by themselves! It was still early enough in the race, though, that people from other teams in the field were motivated to chase. After about a lap, we brought them back. In the meantime, it got confusing with the Cat B field catching the A field. The combined fields rode a lap together before the officials stopped us at the start/finish to separate the fields.
Will Hibberts (Infinity) had just rolled off the front so he was given a 10 second start. A couple of us attacked immediately upon restart and killed it all the way up the hill, but it all came back together. Shortly after this, Wes (Infinity) and Pat Casey (Team Momentum) got away. I tried to attack on the backside hill to bridge up to them, but there was enough people strung behind me to keep it all together. When we crossed the start/finish with two 10 mile laps to go, I knew that we had to try to get away on the front hill or Wes and Pat would have too much of a lead to close by the end of the race. Near the top I attacked hard and only Mark Fisher (Village VW) and Jamie Alexander (Infinity) were able to go with me. Towards the end of the next-to-last lap we finished the bridge up to Wes and Pat.
I was worried that the field would catch us because our pace was not very fast at all in the merged group (everybody was trying to save up for the finish). When I looked back and could see the field not too far behind us, I figured the best bet at staying away was to shrink the size of the group. I tried attacking three or four times, but I could not get our group to shrink at all. The good news, though, was that our pace did ramp up as people also counter-attacked. Eventually, though, we came into the last couple miles as a still in tact breakaway of five. Wes attacked with 2 miles to go, I covered it and Mark led the rest of the break back up to us. Mark kept right on going hard and ended up leading all the way into the start of the sprint.
The order coming into the start of the sprint was Mark, Pat, Jamie, me, and Wes. Pat started the sprint with maybe 300 meters to go. Jamie kept his wheel and I kept Jamie’s wheel. As we got to about 200 meters, Jamie started to go around Pat to the right and I started to go around on the left. Right as both of us pulled even with Pat, he gave it one more surge! Fortunately for me that was still with 100 meters to go and he couldn’t hold that surge to the line so at the very end I was able to continue on past to take the win. Pat held on for second with Jamie in third, Wes in fourth, and Mark having led our group for the last 2 miles of the race finished fifth.
UNION GROVE TIME TRIAL
I headed up to Huntsville for a 20 mile time trial making the podium on pace for a 57 minute 40K TT, about two minutes faster than my previous best time trial. The key difference, though, is that my legs did not feel great for this race and instead I had a time trial bike, disc wheel, and aero equipment to shave two minutes off my time – even coming near the end of a 430 mile week on the bike. I’m looking forward to later time trials where my legs feel fresh, and I’m able to push the pace even faster! I paired one of my Martindale 6.0s with a Zipp disc wheel on Mike Olheiser’s old cervelo TT bike (see setup below – it was really, really fast, love those Martindale wheels!)
I look forward to writing this post every year, and this year I’ve got a new tool to help me – the veloviewer charts which compare stats from year to year. The three charts above show a comparison of elevation, distance, and time from the past five years. Note that I only used a Garmin in 2008 from Thanksgiving until the end of the year. This is the graphical version of the tables that I’ve been accumulating at the end of every season and which I continue to use in the rest of the post below – although the veloviewer charts are based on calendar year instead of my training/racing year.
End of the season statistics
The statistics below all run from October 29, 2012 until October 27, 2013 – 364 days worth of riding and racing. I define my racing/training season from the Monday closest to Nov 1 of the previous year to the Sunday closest to Oct 31st of the current year for all of these statistics and reports. Normally, this would include all of my racing for the calendar year. This year included an extended foray into mountain bike racing, which has more fall races, so the date range does not include two 2013 races (the November 23rd Oak Ass 100 mile mtb race and the November 30th Gravel Grovel ultracx race) and the associated training leading up to those races.
October 29, 2012 – October 27, 2013
|Weekly training time (hours)||27:47||34:23||19:05||1445:04|
|Weekly distance (miles)||394.1||586.1||264.2||20,494|
|Ride distance (miles)||37.0||184.4||0.3||20,494|
|Workouts per week (#)||11||17||6||554|
|Weekly climbing (feet)||42,221||70,036||10,682||2,195,525|
For eagle-eyed observers who note that the climbing total is lower than that reported on Strava, I will give the same explanation that I gave last year: I am generating these reports from my Polar Protrainer software. I wrote a converter that converts Garmin .FIT files and .TCX files into the .HRM format that Polar expects. The Polar Protrainer software then applies a smoothing filter when it is calculating total ascent and other statistics, but I can’t figure out how to turn it off so that the statistics match up with Strava, which doesn’t apply any smoothing filters.
Comparison to past years
All years run from the Monday closest to November 1st to the Sunday closest to October 31st. This should result in about 365 days for each year give or take a day or two.
|HR avg (bpm)||137/165||139/161||136/176||131/178||123/156||122/162|
Racing Season Summary
The highlight for the racing season was winning my very first race of the year — the Southern Cross ultracx season opener in Dahlonega, GA. I knew I could do top 3 in the race, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to win, especially the way it all shook out. This win dictated my season a bit as I decided to pursue the ultracx series overall. Also, the new Southeastern Regional Series was on my radar from as soon as it was announced so I put all of those races on my calendar as well. By the time the season was all finished at the end of November, I managed to place 2nd in the overall for both series. The UltraCx series was really close, but it came down to a single point separating me from winner Mike “Simonster” Simonson. The SRS series was not quite as close with Winston David turning out a phenomenal year and me a distant 2nd. More fun was the KOM competition, which was my pre-season goal for the series, and I chased it hard but Andy Scarano was just too strong for me and I ended up starting out strong in the KOM points but fading to 3rd behind Andy and Winston. It looks like after checking the results I also ended up 3rd in the sprinter’s jersey competition as well!
Another highlight for the season was Tim Hall’s Nashville to Natchez ride. I think this really gave me the bug for ultra-endurance cycling, and I’m already planning on tackling a 500 mile race in 2014 as well as RAAM in 2015 and then possibly the Iditarod Trail Race in 2016. This led to a number of adventures this year documented in these blogs summarized below (click on each heading to go to a blog describing the adventure) -
NASHVILLE TO NATCHEZ (AND THEN ONTO BIRMINGHAM) – 444 miles on the Natchez Trace followed by another 418 miles home to Birmingham in the middle of summer. Tim Hall invited me on this fundraising ride for Team Red, White, and Blue – an organization helping veterans returning from deployment reconnect to communities through social and physical activity.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY AND CLEMSON FOOTBALL – I never did get a chance to write up a blog on this one, so I’ve linked to the strava activity. We had an awesome family weekend for the Clemson game against Boston College. This was my first Clemson game since graduating 15 years ago. It was my kids’ and Kristine’s first Clemson game. We tailgated, the whole 9 yards, and then Kristine and I stayed a couple extra days for me to get in a 184 mile ride from Clemson up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and take a new route across to Caesars Head. Found an awesome gravel road climb and descent a bazillion miles into the ride.
NASHVILLE TO BIRMINGHAM – a little bit of an arctic adventure in the deep south. I’ve always been fascinated with point to point rides so when the opportunity came for me to ride from Nashville back home to Birmingham after the Andrew Peterson concert, I jumped all over it. I wasn’t expecting temps hovering around 11 degF for an hour, though, and ended up having to cut the ride about 60 miles short. It still made for a 210 mile epic adventure. Technically this adventure will fall into next year’s training year but I will forget to write about it then so I’m including it in this calendar year.
RAPHA FESTIVE 500 – likewise, this adventure technically should go with next year’s season summary but since it happened this calendar year I’ll go ahead and include it. This was easily the hardest Strava challenge I’ve done and ended with one of the hardest bike rides I’ve ever done.
Finally, the graphs and charts!
CP curve – back down to 293 watts. Several efforts over the year caused Golden Cheetah to refit my data at a lower threshold. The black line in this pic is from my Whitewater Falls ride in October where I set the KOM on the Cat 2 climb (setting a 25 minute power record of 325 watts). (click to enlarge)
2013 – time spent in heartrate zones … I pay special attention to my heartrate … ideally I’d like to be in Zone 1 or 2 or Zone 5. It’s hard to put that into practice though. It is nice to see a significant drop in Zone 3 during the racing season and corresponding increase in Zone 3 during the off season. Explanation for this is that during the racing season, I spend a lot of time riding at very easy pace to recover from previous weekend’s races.
These three graphs are the ones that I pay the most attention to both during the season and afterwards during breakdown analysis. Also, the critical power curve is very helpful for KOM efforts and time trials where you can gauge the average power that you know you can sustain for a particular duration climb. Then, the next step becomes guessing what your time will be so you can know what wattage to target and weigh that against how tired your legs feel.
And finally many thank you’s
This is probably the first season in a long time that has not been my new “best season ever”, but it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of support. I owe so many people so many thank you’s far more than can fit here, but here goes – first to my amazing beautiful wife Kristine who has put up with many hours away from home on the bike and traveled to many races this year. Likewise, my kids are amazing and are quite adept at making an adventure out of what could be a lot of boring times on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere at a bike race. Plus, they have all put up with many miles in the car together as a family.
If you have ever wondered what kind of bike mechanic can deal with the crazy bike situations I find myself in, there are several in Birmingham from every shop in town who are certainly up to the task (what an amazing city we live in), but Craig Tamburello at Brick Alley opened up shop a couple years ago in Hoover just a couple miles from my house, and he has been amazing finding solutions to problems caused by all the insane rides my bike components have to deal with every year.
My new teammates from FGS Cycling, John Hart, Kurt Page, and Jeff McGrane welcomed me onto their team and helped me plunge into Tennessee racing including several new-to-me races this year (Hell of the South, Berry Peddlar, Rockabilly Classic, and Roan Groan). Awesome guys … thanks and I’m looking forward to next year!
Also, a big shout out to Mark Fisher who has challenged my climbing records and pushed me to dig deeper than anyone else has ever pushed me. Indeed, he has already passed me, and this year’s state road race was quite perfect. The two of us broke away on the second lap, and then Mark dropped me a little more than halfway up the climb on the final lap. I stayed with him longer than I expected I could, but as he rode away from me I was already thinking “this is fine, I’m happy to pass the torch of ‘Alabama’s fastest climber'” onto Mark. It’s cool, though, that we are still close enough that I can give him a run for his money in the end-of-the year strava shootout. We almost tied again this year … only 1 second separating us on the final climb!
And finally, to the entire Birmingham cycling community, wow. If you were to rank cycling communities the way they do football polls, there would be at least one #1 besides Birmingham. There is very little infrastructure (but not none, e.g., CommuteSmart has done some good work) to support cycling here, but my goodness there are a lot of amazing and dedicated riders who brave the car craziness and the hills and make it fun to ride to Birmingham. It is the riders themselves who have stepped up to replace what cities and communities have not done — made Birmingham a great place to ride.
Wow, this will definitely be a season to remember. I battled hard in two season-long race series’ (is that the plural of series???) and ended up in 2nd place in both of them. On the road, the inaugural SRS (Southeastern Racing Series) was a phenomal series of five races spread across five states – Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Fields were really large averaging maybe 75 riders or more in the Pro/1/2 fields.
On the mountain bike, I started off my season with a surprise win at the Southern Cross ultra cx kick-off event. I started to look a bit deeper into the series with the aim of seeing how well I could do in the whole series as I was planning out my season. The seven race series was scored based on your best four races with points assigned based on your placing (1 point for 1st, 2 points for 2nd, etc…) Lowest point total wins. Three out of the seven races conflicted with my road racing schedule — including two which fell on weekends of SRS races. I came very close to winning it but fell short in a somewhat spectacular fashion. Skipping straight to that moment in yesterday’s Gravel Grovel race in Indiana, I came into the final cyclocross barriers (shown in the pic below from my pre-ride on Wednesday) with a shot at winning the race and the series if I could only outsprint the rider with me. But the rider with me was a skilled cyclocross racer, Andrew Messer, who dismounted his cross bike, hopped both barriers, and was completely across the bridge by the time I was across the first barrier. With less than half a mile to race after the bridge, there was no way I could catch him.
Finishing the race anywhere in the top 3 was still good enough to give me the series win as long as there was at least one rider between me and the current series leader, Mike Simonson. But it wasn’t to be – Mike was riding so strong and a couple minutes later he emerged around a bend in the road, crossed the final creek, and crossed the finish line exactly one place behind me giving him the series title by a single point. Had he been one place farther down, we would have been tied on points with me winning the tie-breaker of the placing in the series finale.
The outcome of an entire season of racing came down to the final moments of the final race. Both moments – my getting dropped at the barriers and Mike’s successful creek crossing on a cross bike – capture an essential part of the essence and beauty of the ultra-cx race series. Ultra-cx races are gaining popularity so rapidly because they represent the perfect marriage of all the core disciplines of cycling (road, cross, and mountain biking). Plus, the courses picked are epic — stretching the road racer’s technical handling on gravel and trails, stretching the mountain biker’s time trial and solo mentality with the strategy of drafting and stretching the cross racer with the endurance of a four hour event instead of a 60 minute event. I’m hooked.
We spent the night in one of the cabins right there at the Midwest Trail Ride hosting the start of the race. This was super convenient and a bonding experience for our family of four taking up the two bunk beds in the cabin as the temp dropped down into the upper teens early in the night before starting to rise throughout the night to the middle 20s by morning. By the start of the race the temp was in the 30s and rapidly rising. I realized within five minutes of the start of the race that I was way overdressed.
We took off out of the horse camp and out the paved road heading towards the first climb of the day up to the hickory ridge fire tower. The pace was much faster than I was expecting, but I managed to work my way to the very front by the time we hit the gravel. The field of 205 quickly dwindled down to a group of maybe 25 riders still contesting the race by the time we reached the fire tower. By the time we made it to the Story Inn checkpoint 1/3rd of the way through the race, there was only about 10 of us left in the lead group. We pacelined on a very flat road at speeds approaching 25mph. After we made the turnaround, we could see the entire race behind us as they passed us heading out to the checkpoint. There were two fast groups behind us. It was hard to see the composition of the groups as I was trying to make sure no gap opened to the rider in front of me as I was spinning out my 38×11 on the flat road.
I had gotten stuck behind a couple of the cyclocross riders on the first short section of singletrack so I wanted to try to get the holeshot for the second singletrack after the Story turnaround. Mike Simonson and Tim Proctor and just about everyone else in our group had the same idea so there was a bit of jockeying for position through the short parking lot leading into the singletrack. I entered third and had no problem keeping up. Tim dropped his chain and I went around content to just follow Mike up the trail. Tomasz Golas, who like me was also riding a mtb, was having none of it though and wanted to get around me even though I was keeping up just fine with Mike and going as fast as I wanted to go. The singletrack was quite narrow with only one good line which I was not going to give up to let him get around me. About halfway up the climb, though, there was a widening of the trail where it flattened out a bit and I let Tomasz around me. I believe he also went around Mike. When the singletrack kicked up again I took a bad line and ended up in a deep rut I couldn’t ride out of. I had to unclip and the rest of our group passed me before I could get going again.
In fact, I was off the back a bit by the time I got back up to speed and just barely managed to chase back on by the end of the singletrack. The next section was a long road section that eventually turned into a gravel climb. We hit the bottom of this climb at exactly 30 miles into the race. Having pre-ridden the course on Wednesday, I discovered that the fast line up the climb was in the leaves off the side of the road. The gravel was so loose and bouncy, you were much better off riding over the leaves and sticks on the side. Surprisingly some people chose to ride right up the middle of the gravel road expending a lot more energy than I was over on the side. I took this as a confidence booster knowing that I was conserving energy while other people were wasting it.
At the top of the climb we made a turn and then headed straight back down a fast paved section. I had pre-ridden so I knew the turns and wanted to see if we could hit 50mph in the race … didn’t quite happen but we came close – 49.4 mph. Our group was down to just five riders by this point. We continued to rotate and work well together, although there were a few attacks here and there. Unlike a road race where that would just kill the cohesion of the group, we seemed to dive right back into rotating and working whenever one of these attacks failed. I led the way into that singletrack because it came at the top of a steep hill. I hit it as hard as I could not wanting the people behind to get antsy and want to come around and I ended up dropping everybody through the muddy descent back out onto the gravel road.
I certainly wasn’t trying to get away at this point knowing how strong everybody in the group was riding. So I took the moment to eat a powergel and wait for them to catch back up. Then there was an attack that saw Tim Proctor ride away from us. A panic set in and we all chased eventually catching him before the tiny two house community of Tennessee, Indiana. On the “Polk Patch” rolling descent, Andrew Messer drilled it hard and our entire group flew down the long, gradual, rolling descent. I was at the back and really suffering the entire descent in heartrate ZONE 5. At the bottom high speed point, I got a little off balance and was heading straight for a chair one of the volunteers helping to manage the intersection had setup. I managed to slow down and get back in control of the bike but in the process of doing so came off the back of the already extremely fast paceline.
Keep in mind that the entire descent was on large gravel rocks with very little firm ground. Across the flat road at the bottom of the descent, the gravel continued and I had to chase really hard to get in touch with the group. In fact, I was just barely onto the back of the group when we hit the next hill. It was super steep and surprisingly this was much easier for me. I really feel like my mountain bike disc brakes were rubbing hard whenver I was hitting bumps at speed on descents and even the flat roads. But on the climbs, the brakes weren’t rubbing so the climbs were so much easier for me than the fast, bumpy sections on the gravel where my rear wheel was just bouncing all over the place. Thankfully, there was one more large climb and even though I was already hurting pretty bad, I went to the front to try to set a fast pace that would discourage any attacks.
It almost worked. My pace up the final climb was fast enough to gap the other four riders in our group, but it wasn’t fast enough to discourage Tim Proctor from attacking. He came flying by me like a rocket. I thought “well, that’s the end of my race” because there was no way I was going to be able to catch onto the back of the group. After a second or two when no one else came by, I looked back and saw that I had a good 50 meter gap on the rest of the group. At this point I was confused because I was expecting to be dropped and instead had dropped everyone in the group except for Tim.
My legs were screaming bloody murder because the section where Tim came by was flat and I just felt like my bike wasn’t moving anywhere nearly as fast as the amount of effort I was putting into the pedals. Still, I hit it as hard as I could and looked back again to discover that only Andrew had bridged across to me leaving Mike and Tomasz chasing not far behind. I had renewed hope again that perhaps I could still win the series, but I had given up winning the race b/c Tim was clearly on another level. Little did I know that he was actually in the Male 40+ race so Andrew and I were still racing for first place in our race (Male Open).
There was still over 9 miles left in the race, and I tried to work with Andrew, but it wasn’t going well. I drafted him close on the downhills and flats but was still struggling on my mountain bike on the gravel. And then every time it kicked up I would come around him thinking I could pull and he would immediately go off the back of my wheel. Then later, he attacked me twice and I was able to catch back up thinking “ok, that’s it I’m done pulling”. But then I would remember that Mike was somewhere back there and I needed to make sure that we stayed away. When we made the final turn back out onto pavement heading for the bridge, Andrew put in one more attack and gapped me. It took about 30 seconds for me to close the gap back down, and then I put in a counter-attack. I didn’t fully commit to it, though, when I saw that he grabbed my wheel right away. So I sat up to strategize again but by this point we had made it to the bridge and I’ve already described how that went down. In retrospect, my last hope at winning the race would have been to fully commit to that final attack and reach the bridge first with just enough of a gap to get over at least the 1st barrier and then we would probably be coming neck and neck into the finish so who knows how that would have turned out. But I essentially lost the race at the moment I eased up after attacking. A moment’s indecisiveness really staining/ruining what otherwise was a great season.
Still, huge shout-out to Mike for racing consistently throughout the season and especially yesterday at the Gravel Grovel. If he had faltered at all, then I would have taken the series from him. And he traveled to six out of the seven races placing really well with podium finishes in all but one of the events, whereas I only made it to the bare minimum of four races. So even though it felt like a lot of work, travel, and expense for this Alabama native to travel up to Indiana, Pennsylvania, and deep into the mountains of North Carolina (that drive was just as long as the Indiana drive!) Mike has put a lot more work and time into this so he truly is a deserving champion.
Here’s my heartrate data and the podium pictures -
You know a race is going to be epic if the pre-ride of the course is six hours long through amazing scenery like that shown in the pics above. We drove up from Birmingham late Tuesday night, and after sleeping in I set out to ride the whole course estimating it would be five hours at most. After getting lost in the national forest a couple times and bushwhacking a bit through what I’m 75% sure is part of the course, my pre-ride ended up being nearly six hours long. I ran out of food and water with nearly two hours left – so completely ravenous and bonked for the last climb and descent. The description for the race course is perfect – mix of road, mtb, and cross specific sections. This really is the perfect finale for the ultracx series. I mainly wanted to write a blog b/c I couldn’t instagram any of my pictures during the ride … too cold! Speaking of cold, the average temp for the ride was 25 degF starting out in the teens. This was a shock to my Alabama system as we really haven’t had any cold weather yet. 20 minutes in and my nose was burning from the cold wind. 20 minutes later though and I was climbing up a 15+% hill and fine for the rest of the day – except my second water bottle was drunk as a slushy four hours into the ride. Here are the rest of the pics I got:
1993 – Before my first mountain bike race – the 1993 Cumberland Classic at Sewanee, TN. 6th in the juniors and 25th in the beginners (there were 100 people in the race!). The bike pictured is a rigid fork mongoose alta with reflectors still on the wheels.
Picture this – the year is 1993. Parked outside Berry High School in Hoover, Alabama is a 1984 red chrysler fifth avenue with a mountain bike crammed inside it. The 3:00 bell rings, and a crazy bike finatic teenager races out of school to be the first out of the parking lot before flying down I-65 to Oak Mountain state park to do a lap of the bump trail before it gets dark. That teenager was me 20 years ago, and back then the trail ended at the camp road at the end of seven bridges (although I never heard that name until this year … not sure if it had a name back then). That’s where I liked to park because I didn’t have to do the extra drive up to the picnic area all the way to the parking lot.
I’d have my bike out in just a few minutes and taking off backwards up the seven bridges singletrack, connecting on the road through the parking area to the start of the bump trail (Mr Toad’s and Foreplay – again I believe these were not named until more recently). I would fly through these sections and then up Johnson’s Mountain all the way to the park boundary before flying down through the pine forest through the steep drop-off back down to the road. After a short jaunt on peavine road, you hit the trail again and started up the quarry climb through blood rock eventually spilling out onto the fire road. You could take the fire road all the way across the top and then down out to the main park road where the north trailhead is now. I would ride the road back to the starting point, and that was the entire loop. The connecting trails wouldn’t be created until a year or two later.
Fast forward 20 years, and now there is a 16+ mile mostly singletrack loop and nearly twice that much trail in spurs and connectors hosting two national/international level biking events (Bump ‘n Grind and Xterra), as well as running races and an amazing six hour race put on by Chainbusters. Add to that list an epic 100 miler – the brainchild of John Karrasch who set out to create a 100 mile race that would showcase as much of the singletrack as possible. The original idea was three 33 mile loops, but in the end some of the spurs were cut out, and a 25 mile loop was designed allowing for both a 50 mile and a 100 mile race.
Huge thanks to years and years of work by BUMP (Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers) http://bump.org/ and to John Karrasch for the initiative to put this race into action, and to Kenny Griffin and the entire Chain Buster crew for putting on an amazing race — hopefully the first of many, many more to come!
As soon as the race was announced, I knew I wanted to do it. My singletrack skills have deteriorated quite a bit from what I used to do on a 26″ mountain bike so I also knew that I would need to get out there and ride the trails more and try to get some of that skill back if I wanted to have any shot at all of doing well in the race. That was several months ago and fast forward through a busy life and busier than normal racing schedule (I haven’t written a blog in almost three months!) to this past Saturday where nearly 100 people lined up to race the Oak Ass 50 and Oak Ass 100.
I was running late but squeezed in on the front row next to Jacob Tubbs (Infinity Med-I-Spa). Kenny was driving the pick-up for the dash to the singletrack. We flew around the paved picnic area, and I tucked in close behind Jacob. We hit a hill and Jacob started to slow a bit given that he had been in the wind the whole time. I decided to hit it hard to get a few seconds advantage going into the single track. I looked back after a few seconds and both Jeff Clayton (Super Sport Athletic Wear) and Brian Roggeveen (Momentum Racing) had come with me. I swung out to the side right before the single track to let them around and then try to keep up with them through Seven Bridges. This worked GREAT as I followed Jeff and watched all his lines.
I had come off Jeff’s wheel and let another rider around towards the bottom of Seven Bridges but when we popped out on the Boy Scout road, I nailed it and was able to bridge back up to the small group. Entering the singletrack in fourth position behind Brian, Jeff, and one other rider I drilled it hard and was able to hold Jeff’s wheel through the rest of the single track. The rider I had let around crashed on one of the descents so that put me in third through the section of single track which climbs past the BMX track. I was nervous about the next section of singletrack after the climb, but I had Jeff’s line to follow and ended up holding his wheel all the way to the red trail.
Once we hit the red trail, I told Jeff I was going for the KOM and took off up the red trail. Brian was initially out of sight, but after a minute or so I could see him up ahead. The red trail is hard to go hard on not because it is steep but because there are medium sized unavoidable rocks diabollically placed at the exact spot where you have just gotten up to speed. These rocks bounce you up in the air and you lose all that momentum you worked so hard to create. I knew I was digging really deep and wasting lots of energy but I really wanted the KOM so I hit it hard finally catching Brian just before the steep section to the bridge. I didn’t want to take any chances with a dirt sprint so I hit it hard going past him and was hoping to get enough of a gap holding it to the top. I was pretty much blown with a quarter mile left to climb, but I had enough of a gap to hold on for the KOM.
I had originally told people after the race that Brian caught me across the top, but now that I think about it I also remember being the first into the bump connector with so many leaves covering all the rocks thinking that I was at a bit of a disadvantage not being able to see the trail clearly and wondering after 100 racers passed through if the lines would be easier to pick out. So I guess Brian caught me somewhere in Jekyll or right before the turn onto Jekyll. I don’t remember exactly where but I think it was early because Scott Staubach (Team Momentum) also caught me in Jekyll when I goofed up one of the large rocks before the rock shelf drop-off and that was after Brian had already passed me.
Scott was flying, though, because when I exited the technical section of Jekyll I could still see Brian but Scott had already passed Brian and was nowhere to be seen. I rode fast down the flowy part of Jekyll keeping Brian just barely ahead in my sights and thought I would catch him towards the bottom of the Peavine road. Brian was riding super well, though, and it wan’t until near the top of the second step that I finally caught him. I drilled it really hard again wanting to put as much distance between me and everybody else before the CCC singletrack and blood rock. I flew through CCC and was surpised to still have a lead heading into Blood Rock.
There were several people there so I tried to ride the whole thing not wanting to be a wuss and walk it. I made it past the blood rock and the tree, but decided to unclip and go down with one foot off for stability and then endoed when I hit the mud at the bottom. Super slow motion wreck, but my left knee got wedged between some part of the frame and the ground. And my right brake shift lever had rotated around the handlebars so that it was up on top of the bar. Whatever caused that also hurt my wrist because it was hurting then and still sore today (Monday – more than 48 hours after the race has been over).
Brian came flying past me while I was on the ground and I had a good vantage point to see how it was supposed to be done. I was laughing a bit and frustrated b/c if you look at it and see someone else ride it, you realize that the whole thing should be incredibly easy to ride but when you are there in the moment looking at the rocks, the trees, the water, it doesn’t seem easy at all. I was able to twist the brake levers back around the bars and take off again – but Brian was long gone putting a lot of time into me on the quarry descent. I’m sure I made up some time on Johnson’s Mountain but I never saw him again until over halfway through the next lap.
Before that happened, I was surprised not to get caught by anybody on the rest of that lap or even through seven bridges and the next section of trail before the BMX track. But then when I got to the BMX track, I looked back and saw that Jacob Tubbs was catching up to me. I figured he would catch me on the singletrack after the BMX climb – but as it turns out he ended up crashing. I didn’t know he had crashed so I was getting a lot of confidence from not getting caught on one of the singletrack sections that had worried me the most before the race.
I popped out on the fire road again still in third place behind Scott who would be over 5 minutes ahead of me by Jekyll according to John Karrasch who was stationed there all day at a spot where the course intersected itself briefly. Brian on the other hand was much closer ahead. In fact, I had caught Brian just before the top of the fire road but decided not to pass him since I knew he would be faster through the next sections.
I stayed about 50 meters behind him and ate and drank across the top of the climb. During the fast descent on the fire road, I noticed that my Garmin mount had come loose and was dangling on the underside of the bars. Fortunately, my Garmin was still connected to the mount so I pushed the whole thing back on top of the bars and then tried to slide it up closer to the stem where the bars are thicker … tapered bars drive me crazy! But the mount straps naturally wanted to pull back down the “bar slope” and loosen again. I was fiddling with this trying to make a last minute adjustment right before the entrance to the bump connector when I hit some loose rocks and went down hard unexpectedly.
I was not even halfway through my second lap and already crashed hard twice. This crash was high enough speed that I slid on the ground a bit. Nothing hurt bad but I was too afraid to look at my arm b/c it felt like skin was hanging off of it. I rode the bump connector refusing to look at my arm just in case there was actually skin hanging off. Turns out it was a bunch of leaves that were mixed with blood and sticking to my skin. They eventually fell off – but I was pretty disheartened wondering how I was going to survive without breaking any bones.
The thing that kept me going, though, was knowing that I was in the lead. Both Scott and Brian were doing the 50 mile race. This kept me motivated not to give up. I think if Jeff had been in front of me at this point, I would have just given up, gotten more cautious, and not even bothered to try and chase him down. But with a shot at still winning the race I kept pushing on hard. I thought my confidence would be wrecked for Jekyll but I ended up clearing the entire top half of Jekyll and only dabbing once on the bottom half. This was a big confidence booster for me so I nailed it hard again and was still able to see Brian at a few points on the flowy part of Jekyll.
Climbing up the Peavine road, I looked back to see Randy Kerr (Team Momentum) catching me. Brian was just ahead and here I was in the middle. I was closing on Brian, and Randy was closing on me. My memory is a fading a bit now, and I can’t remember exactly where Randy caught me but I ended up catching Randy again with less than two miles to race. He was having some sort of mechanical but hopped back on the bike when I passed. I let him pass me again shortly before the family trail and tried to keep up with him but he dropped me like a bad habbit.
I was starting to feel tired on my third lap and had run out of food towards the end of my second lap. I decided to slow down a bit and focus on my lines more and try to eat and rest up some on this lap. I still ended up setting three PRs on that lap (garrett’s gulch, quarry mtn descent, and johnson’s mountain) which just goes to show you the importance of technique over raw power in mtb-ing. I managed to clear both the top and bottom of Jekyll with no dabs but still a few seconds short of my PR from the 9 hour race last fall (I really feel like the top part of Jekyll has gotten harder to ride over the past year). The bottom is the about the same possibly slightly easier, but the top seems like it is definitely trickier to get your lines right without having to dab once or twice.
Even having tried to take the third lap easy, I was starting to deteriorate by the end of the lap having run out of food again. I don’t know why I hadn’t grabbed more when I stopped at the end of the second lap! I got a psychological boost, though, because when I came out of the family trail onto the road – there was my son Josiah on his mountain bike ready to ride with me past the water fountain to the start/finish. Kristine helped me get organized with food/gatorade/lights for the final lap. Then Josiah took off beside me and made it all the way through the parking lot before I headed out on the main road back down to start my final lap.
I had drank a coke and gulped down two powerbar gels while stopped so I took off like a rocket along the road down to seven bridges. I also tried to hit seven bridges, garrett’s gulch, and the bmx single track as hard as possible thinking that whoever was behind me would be putting time into me on the last lap. I had taken three or four more powerbar gels with me for that final lap. So I had lots of sugar to propel me through the first half of the lap, but I had gone through all my nutrition by the top of the fire trail with all of Jekyll left, the peavine road climb, blood rock, and Johnson’s Mountain still to go. I started to fade pretty bad towards the end, desparately looking for the mile number plates, and also thinking about the stew that would be waiting at the end. I was pretty sure of winning by this point, and I was having a ton of fun on the singletrack feeling much more confident so that helped me get through quite the sugar crash with 10 miles to go.
Josiah was waiting for me when I popped out of the family trail onto the road, and he road that last bit into the finish with me crashing as he turned around to join me. He hopped right back up, though, and we made it to the finish together where Kristine was waiting. Pete Foret grabbed my bike as I was pretty exhausted and I started to recap how everything went down at the inaugural oak ass 100 mile mtb race!
Jason Childre and Jeff Clayton would battle it out for 2nd and 3rd behind me never separated by more than a couple minutes. Kudos to everyone for lining up to tackle such an epic course – what an epic day!
Here’s my annotated heartrate data … there are so many speed spikes I decided to take them out of the graph so you can see the elevation data a bit better. You can see how hard I was pushing it for the KOM on that first lap.
The inaugural oak ass 100 mile mtb race podium. Left to right – Jason Childre (Yeti/Childre Nissan), Brian Toone (FGS Cycling), Jeff Clayton (Super Sport Athletic Wear), and Van Mixon (Super Sport Athletic Wear).
I was freezing cold and under-dressed – hence the hoodie. Here’s one without the hoodie while holding the giant trophy – triceps hurt so bad couldn’t even lift the thing all the way up in the air.
Oak Ass 100 mile mtb race – 1st place – with Kenny Griffin on the bullhorn
Once again, huge thanks and shout-out to BUMP for their amazing work creating world class singletrack right here in Birmingham. Also to John for not just dreaming up this race, but also hanging out for more than 9 hours in cold conditions at the Jekyll/Blood Rock split cheering everybody on, guiding people which way to go, AND giving time splits. Huge thanks to Lee Neal, too, who volunteered all day at the hot wheels smash spot where the course intersected itself. Plenty of visiblity though so no danger at all, but I’ve always wanted to race on a course that intersected itself at a 90 degree angle. I believe this is a first for me in 20 years of racing. And finally, thanks again Kenny for putting on another amazing race. Looking forward to the next one!