Training, racing, gear, facial hair styles and thoughts from my push to become an elite cyclist.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Race Report- 6 Hours of Pat's Peak

Last Saturday was 6 Hours of Pat's Peak, and I'm glad it's in the rear view mirror.  The picture above illustrates both the start and how well my preparation went in the week leading up to the race (I'm in the Moots kit in the foreground- notice how far ahead the rest of the field is already at this point).  

All of the other endurance races I've done are the traditional point-to-point format, which is basically one big  50+ mile loop, and although the time on the bike isn't that different for a time-based event, the rules and strategy are.  There are some inherent benefits to doing laps on a 5 mile course, namely that you get to know the terrain and that it's much easier to stage technical support and fuel stops.  There's also less chance you'll go off course like I've done in the Hampshire 100 and the VT 50.  The downside is that you can feel like you're treading ground and it's easier to mentally fatigue once you get accustomed to your surroundings. 

The week leading up the race I was wracked by my usual pre-race existential neuroticism.  Was I ready for a ski area race?  Would doing repeated long climbs really be a good idea?  Was 800 vertical feet per lap going to kill me?  Was I going to get my ass kicked?  Was there anything on the course that suited my strengths?  Would the weather hold out?

And I procrastinated.  It was a busy week with work and training, but I also procrastinated to the point where I was still getting my shit together at 10 PM Friday night.  I made sure the bike was ready earlier in the week, and I made sure I had all of the necessary supplies, but I didn't do much to help myself out otherwise.  Miraculously I got to bed around 11 PM. 

The forecast first called for a high in the upper 60's and a 30% chance of rain.  Then it was high of 65, 40% chance of rain.  Then it was a high of 59, 50% chance of rain.  I had been running the Kenda Karma exclusively, and so far I was happy with its performance in both wet and dry conditions.  With the mixed bag forecast and semi-unknown terrain I decided to stay with the Karma as it's versatile enough to handle almost anything, and it's light enough to climb well.   

On Saturday it quickly became apparent that the question wasn't if it would rain, but rather how much and for how long.  As I drove down to Henniker I was glad that I had packed my PVC rain shell, shoe covers, embrocation and an assortment of cycling caps and other wet weather gear. 

Normally it's important to stay cool during a mountain bike race, and most equipment like helmets, shoes and gloves are designed with that goal in mind.  Fortunately I didn’t have to worry about overheating, but I was a little concerned about how I would stay warm enough for 6 hours riding at endurance pace.  I settled on the usual jersey and shorts combo, but opted for shoe covers, a light wind shell and a cycling cap for my warmup.  Oh, and of course embrocation. 

If you're familiar with the rules of multi-lap endurance racing then you may want to skip down 3 paragraphs, pass "GO" and collect $200. 

The basic rules for a 6 hour are derived from 24 hour race guidelines, and they're an interesting mix of NASCAR-style pit support, Johnny T-era NORBA XC and ultra-endurance.  In a 24 hour race it's likely that racers will take breaks throughout the event to fuel up, fix their bikes or even take a nap- especially if they're competing solo.  Normally the fueling happens at aid stations where prearranged drop bags are waiting for you, and any repairs are done on course with tools you carry or have stashed in a drop bag.  With a 24 you have the ability to setup a single stash for fuel, tools and spare parts, and you can stop on any lap to access it. 

The most notable difference is that you can leave the course during the race, which I've never been able to do for any other event.  As long as I completed at least 1 lap I could leave my bike at my car, take a shower and sleep in the lodge for a couple hours.  The only catch is that you need to be on course when the race ends or you DNF, but how you spend your time between the start and finish is entirely up to you.  Also you need to dismount every lap and walk/run/crawl/trot/skip through the timing tent to record your lap. 

Solo riders were given a baton, which in my case was a small wooden dowel marked with electrical tape with my number written on it.  This baton needed to be shown to the race officials as I jogged through the timing tent pushing my bike.  More on that later. 

The start was a Le Mans free-for-all, with teams and solo racers of all ages, categories and race distances running for their bikes like soldiers in Bronze Age combat, minus the war whoops. 

I'm a shitty runner, as the picture above will show, and I promptly converted a prime starting spot on the front row to the back end of the field.  Most of that was by design- I knew the course was going to wear people down and that this was going to be race of attrition.  I also didn't want to burn too many matches, pull a muscle or god forbid stumble and fall in my superlight carbon-soled race slippers.  Those shoes are wicked light, but they're oil slick sketchy for anything other than being clipped in and pedaling.

So I started up the first climb at the back of the field, which is pretty normal for me.  What I didn't plan on was being behind racers of all abilities (i.e. chuckleheads) being in front of me and slowing me down on the singletrack.   Still, endurance races aren't decided by the holeshot, so I patiently made my way around other racers and slowly moved up. 

The course was actually pretty well laid out, and for a ski area it was not just the typical uphill grinding climb then puckering descent.  There were definitely two major sections- one up, one down, but the course was broken up enough to be interesting.  It didn’t feel at all like I was just climbing, which is a compliment to the course designers. 

Through lap 1 I was mainly just trying to get my bearings and stay upright while keeping the balance between passing riders and not burning too many matches.  My lap 1 time was alright, but it was clear that it was going to be all mud, all day long. 

My first trip around the course was a little unnerving as everything was slick.  I was also a little anxious about the dismount/run/wave baton/remount routine necessary for each lap, but it went fine and the timers didn't seem to care whether or not I could find my solo racer baton- merely the act of fumbling for it was enough. 

On lap 2 I kept a steady tempo and rode slightly more smoothly over the obstacles since I could actually pick my line and wasn't riding in traffic.  There were still some other riders around, but I was starting to settle in and find my groove.  I stopped briefly and grabbed to 2 full water bottles and filled my jersey pocket with GU packets.  I caught a rider on the climb whom I'd passed on the climb on the previous lap.  He'd then passed me on the downhill, and I was reeling him in on the uphill.  What surprised me was how much time he put on me on the downhill, but also how quickly I motored by him on the climb.  That's right- "how quickly I motored by him on the climb."  I never thought I'd write that sentence comparing myself to a mailbox, late alone another cyclist. 

As I headed out on lap 3 I could see that the course was really starting to degrade, and sections that had been muddy but rideable were taking progressively more effort with each lap.  Amazingly enough I was catching riders on the climbs, and I suppose that's mainly because I had settled in on riding steady on most of the course but would go into the pain cave on three distinct short uphill sections per lap.  It wasn't that I was even climbing well, but I was mentally ready for the effort and knew where I could recover.  I also let some air out of my tires and went from being mostly kinda OK on the slick stuff to feeling like fucking Spider Man.  Not Turn off the Dark Spider Man, but the legit web-slinging hero from comic books of yore.  It made an immeasurable difference on the downhill. 

My fueling plan was to grab 2 bottles every other lap, which meant that I cruised out on lap 4 without stopping.  The course itself was slowing down dramatically, but I felt the best on laps 3 and 4, and had the conditions been stable I bet I would have turned in my best lap times then as well.  Lap 4 was otherwise unassuming- I was alone for all of it.  I passed an Embrocation rider when he flatted just moments after he'd motored by me. 

What's cool about the solo category is that people are very supportive.  I had some questionable interactions with some team riders who were out for blood with their hairy legs and 5" travel bikes, but the solo guys were all fit, relaxed and respectful.  

My quick pit stop included a quick bike check, and I doused the drivetrain with some water to clean it before applying some T9.  I grabbed my new bottles from the cooler, chugged a Red Bull, stuffed 4 more Gus in my pockets and took off. 

It all came apart on lap 5.  The fatigue set in, and I felt like I was cracking.  I had to walk a few sections that I had been riding, and I just felt empty.  I kept pushing, and had to walk more than any other lap.  The pain caves were brutal, and I didn't think I could keep it rolling. 

As I bumbled down through the descent and onto the finishing stretch I looked at my watch and thought that I could get another lap in, so as soon as I did the dismount/wave/remount/sprint shuffle I locked out the fork and pinned it to get to the top of the first climb. 

I'd been pounding GU trying to fuel back up, and I knew that the course was only getting worse, so my goal was to ride the technical sections as smooth as possible and to ride all of the climbs no matter how much they hurt.  As I made my way to the top of the second climb the Embro guy caught me.  He wasn't quite motoring, but he was riding quickly enough that I couldn't stay on his wheel.  It was still raining, and he was still not wearing gloves, though honestly I was getting pretty sick of mine at that point as well. 

My lines were smooth and I rode every technical section smoothly, except one.  The wet, sketchy, dual fall line (off-camber) downhills ate my lunch all day, and they continued to frustrate me to the end.  I have no idea how anyone got down them with any speed without being scared shitless.   

As I apexed the corner at the bottom of the last turn I jumped out of the saddle and surged up the short hill towards the finish line.  In my head it was like Rocky, but to the spectators on the side of the trail it was probably more like watching sea turtles coming out of the water and up onto the beach. 

I crossed the finish line 6 minutes too late for my last lap to count, so I only got credit for 5 full laps.  If I had managed to trim off 6 minutes (which over 6 hours is very possible) I would have been 7th rather than 10th. 

Given the terrible conditions and unsure of my form I think 10th is a solid result.  My bike was in rough shape, but the chain is still usable and the brakes still worked.  Remarkably I didn't have a single shifting issue all day, which is a testament to the engineering of SRAM's 10 speed offroad drivetrain. 

The RSL performed beautifully and gave me a stable platform and predictable handling to navigate the very slick parcourse.  Whenever the bike slid it was always controlled, and I felt very confident. 

Maybe I wasn't going fast enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment