Wednesday, March 20, 2013

2013 Spa City 6-hour Marathon MTB race

I was only 10 minutes into what was a 6-hour mountain bike race, and I found myself on the side of the trail, disentangling myself from a tree I just clipped.  Meanwhile, three of my competitors took advantage of my misfortune to pass. Luckily, my minor crash was at a slow speed, so nothing was hurt, except my pride.  I REALLY wanted to shout out to everyone around me (who was probably wondering what this "noob" was doing) that I was a skilled mountain biker, and this only happened because I lost focus for a brief second.

Let me back up.  

So one of my goals this year was to complete each of the 4 Arkansas marathon mountain bike races.  The first race in the series took place this past weekend at Cedar Glades Park in Hot Springs, AR - the Spa City 6-hour marathon MTB race.  It was the same site as the Medi-O-Core triathlon I had raced at only a month ago, and the Attila the Hun XC mountain bike race I raced at in the fall.  I have always wanted to do a 6-hr mtb race, and eventually maybe a 12-hr or 24-hr race.  So this one was perfect to kick off the mountain bike season.  Riders would ride as many laps of the 10.4 mile loop as they could, and the last completed lap must be completed within 6 1/2 hours to count.  A minimum of 5 hours had to be ridden to count as a finisher.  

Before the race started, barring any mechanicals, I was pretty confident that I could complete 4 laps.  If I was having an exceptional day, I was hoping for maybe 5 laps.  Prior to this race, the longest mountain bike ride I had done was only 5 hours long, so this was forging into new territory.  I wasn't quite as concerned with my finish placement, and considered this more of a training ride than a 'race'.  I had two primary goals: 1) To stay out as long as I could & finish between the 5 and 6 1/2 hour mark, and 2) To eat and drink often and keep my body adequately fueled.  I've had issues with #2 in the past, getting so wrapped up in riding that I forget to eat/drink as much as I should.  I vowed to do better this time around.

My plan was to ride the 1st lap at a relatively easy pace, and then try to improve on my lap times.  The race (which had sold out) had drawn a huge field, some close to 200 mountain bikers.  That was going to be a lot of bikes vying for position on what was mostly singletrack mountain bike trail.  Just prior to the start, we had to stage our bikes on top of this huge grassy hill, and the start of the race was on foot at the bottom of the hill.  At the start, we had to run (or walk as some chose to do) up the grassy hill, find our bikes, and then ride onto the race course.  It was quite a different start than I was used to, but I thought it was pretty neat all the same.  

This resulted in a huge line of mountain bikers for the first couple of miles, and there were a couple of bottlenecks where we had to wait our turn to ride across narrow bridges and water crossings.  So it was slow going until the first significant climb on the course which finally allowed people to spread out some.  Like I said earlier, I hadn't even reached the first creek crossing before I had clipped a tree in a moment of inattention which made me look like an amateur.  

Reaching the 2nd bottleneck at the creek crossing, I watched in disbelief as two mountain bikers dismounted their bikes, picked them up, and then slowly and deliberately made their away across while trying to keep their feet dry.  Are we racing or what?  I stopped and allowed for the line to thin out and then rode through the water crossing like a True Mountain Biker.

Still feeling strong on the first lap!
My first two laps were pretty uneventful - I passed seldomly and got passed a whole bunch.  There were also several relay teams in the field so those riders could ride harder than I could, getting a chance to rest in between laps.  I finished the first two laps in close to 3 hours - I was definitely on pace for 4 laps, but 5 was going to be tough unless I could somehow ramp up my effort.  By the start of the 3rd lap, it was definitely getting very warm and I ditched my hydration pack to lighten my load and to make it just a bit cooler.  

Up until this point, I had been eating and drinking well according to plan (at least I thought).  But the warm temps, and my body's unusual ability to sweat like it's going out of style put a damper in my bid for 5 laps halfway through my 3rd lap.  Once again, my legs cramped up, and I had to stop until the cramping subsided.  Of course after that happened, I was worried about it happening again, so I definitely had to decrease my level of effort.  I managed to make it back to the feed zone at the finish just in time to cramp as I stopped at the team tent.  

Several of my Team Spokes teammates were at the tent, taking their own breaks, and I convinced Anthony to go out with me for one more lap once I was ready.  Riding with a teammate proved to be a great motivation - we were able to keep encouraging each other to keep riding, despite our weariness and the pain we were feeling.  We managed to stay together for about 2/3 of the 4th lap until my legs decided not to cooperate and I told him to keep going until I could get my cramping under control.  I cramped once more on a climb and then managed to ride the rest of the way in.  

I finished with 4 laps, 42 miles in just under 6 hours.  While I would have liked to have gone out for another lap had I had the energy and time (just for training purposes), I was satisfied with my effort and finish.  It was one of the most difficult races I had ever done, and I'm proud to have stuck it out to the bitter end.  Like I told one of my teammates, "we just have to keep setting that bar a little higher every time."   It was not easy, I was hurting bad for part of the race, but damn, did it feel good to be done, and what a sense of accomplishment.  

Again, somehow I lucked out in the Cool Race Plate Number (TM) department (I had number #1000 for the AMBCS last year) - with #360.  Fortunately for me, I managed to avoid any 360s during this race.  Next up will be the Leadville of Arkansas - the Ouachita Challenge.  No goals for that race except to finish!!

Oh, and one more thing - some of you mtb'ers out there need to learn to clearly distinguish your right from your left!  When you say "passing on your left," I'm going to move to the right to make room for you.  Please don't bump tires with me and then yell out, "your OTHER left!" when passing me!  And when announcing you would like to pass, please give me a moment to process that information and wait for a suitable spot for me to move over instead of assuming I have razor like reflexes and I can instantly get out of your way.  Thank you for listening.  This Public Service Announcement has been brought to you by Things You Learn in Kindergarten and the Law Offices of Patience & Virtue.  

Friday, March 8, 2013

OC Lite Training Ride

What's better than mountain biking on one of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) designated Epic trails?  Mountain biking on one of those trails in good company, with knowledgeable guides and the promise of a great post-ride party!  I've always said, "it's awesome to ride on some of the best trails in the world.  But it's even better to share the experience with others."  On Saturday, February 23rd, 2013, I had the opportunity to do just that.

With the Ouachita Challenge (OC) marathon mountain bike race coming up in a few short months, Spokes Little Rock decided to host a training ride on the Womble and Ouachita Trails.  The Womble has been designated by the IMBA as an epic, making it one of the best in the world.  Todd and Suzanne Henne, members of the Spokes mountain bike team, graciously allowed the use of their property (Womble Getaway) as a staging and meet up area.  Some of us even elected to camp overnight the night before, which provided a great opportunity to get to know each other better.

One of the goals of the ride was to grow the sport, so all skill levels were encouraged to come out.  There would be several groups of different levels so no one would be left behind.  The weather was perfect, and the trail was in great condition.  Even though the ride wouldn't be on any of the OC race course, we were told that the terrain was very similar and it would give us a great idea of what to expect during the actual race.

As people arrived and started to get ready, some took advantage of the pump track that Todd built on his property.  Denny Hess and David Bowen showed their pump track expertise while others tried it for the first time.  In all total, we had 30 riders with varying levels of experience and representing several different teams/groups.  That's one thing I really like about the mountain bike community - we can be competitive while racing, but off the race course, we're all friends and content to hang and just chill with each other.

Just before 10am, everyone was ready, and we gathered together for a group photo before everyone set off on their own adventure for the day.  There was a fast 'A' group which took off like a bat out of hell.  There was a 'B' group led by Micah Patterson which made up of the bulk of the riders.  There was a 'C' group led by Suzanne for those who were there more for a social ride pace.  And then there ended up being smaller groups which formed during the ride which were strung out in between the various groups.

The A and B groups ended up doing a 40-mile loop that included the Womble and Ouachita Trails.  The rest of us ended up doing a 32-mile out and back along just the Womble.  Returning to the Womble Getaway, we were greeted by Blake Martin grilling up a storm, and a table spread full of snacks and goodies.  The ride was challenging for most, but I think everyone still enjoyed the ride, despite their own personal challenges.  As we sat around the campfire chowing down on the delicious food, we shared our own personal stories and adventures during our rides, and commiserated with everyone's pain.

Huge thanks go out to Mat and Regina Seelinger from Spokes for making this all possible, Todd & Suzanne Henne for playing the gracious hosts, Micah and Sarah Patterson for doing the bulk of the organization, and Blake and Mischa Martin for taking care of the food and cooking!  Look for more rides like this in the future - you won't want to miss out on the next one!