Very late, but still a good story
Race writeup Dirty Dawg.
The Dirty Dawg mountain bike race occurred several weeks ago. This is a local race held up on top of Mountain Lake resort made possible by the great people at East Coasters and the Mountain Lake Conservancy as well as the Hotel. Kirby, a transplant from the soul capital of agro mountain biking has been promoting some local grass roots events.
The last few years, I’ve cut back a lot on my racing to concentrate on other major focuses such as going back to school part time, work and my family. However, last year I did this race and had a great great time. I had been and still am training to a certain extent with enough fitness to be able to ride hard and have fun for at least a certain length of time. The weather was working out and family activities didn’t conflict with the race and was excited to go up.
The last few years I’ve really missed racing and missed all the energy around the events as well as the minutiae associated with training, dialing in the bike, prepping the bike, planning, obsessing, etc. With so much energy going into school and work I’ve sometimes felt a little lost unsure if the path is the right path. Doing a few races here and there help significantly to re ground me and energize me in general. Every ride reminds me how much I love mountain biking, but races remind me how much I love racing. It’s certainly not solely about the competitiveness, though there is enough there to get me to do stupid things like trying to pass when there is no reason and no good place to pass. While I’ve no doubt that with good training there is potential to do well; It is more about be able to push myself and put it on the line so to speak. There’s a simplicity and purity in racing and it’s just a nice social group as well.
In years past I’d obsess about the race for weeks prior, this time very little energy at all was expended prior to the day before. As we’ll see the lack of technical rigor placed on bike prep finally came around and got me.
The butterflies started to flitter starting the day before. Which is a good thing. Butterflies, mean that your body is getting itself ready. I’d be way more worried if I wasn’t nervous. I’d been going over last year’s course in my mind mapping out nutritional strategy and pacing strategy as well as identifying places to go hard or hold back. It was a decently hard course last year, but imaging my surprise when they said it was a Completely different course than last year.
As the traced the course out on the map my stomach began to knot up. It was similar to a course ran many years ago. That was a bad bad race for me as I recall. This year 2 big loops included the technical Moonstomper course twice as well as a long climb up towards the start/finish. It also included a walk down the stairway to hell which is the kind of rock staircase that is featured on the cover of Bike Magazine with Hans Rey trialsin his way down it.
This course does not have any major big climbs like Dragon’s Back or Douthat, and it doesn’t have super big tech ridgelines like Massanutten or D’back. But after finishing this course, I’d wager that it is one of the most body punishing courses around. The ubiquitous buried rocks, loose shale, roots, steep power climbs, and steep chattery downhills takes a toll on the body. I had short travel full suspension and could not fathom a hardtail for 2 laps.
Part of my problem was diminished technical skill and a lower speed threshold than ideal. That means that the speed at which I was comfortable downhilling was a lot lower than I’d wish. This also means that the slower you go the more you absorb trail shock. It’s counterintuitive, but the faster the go the more you float over trail features. And 9 times out of ten you’ll crash less the faster you go. It’s when you hit the rock/root going slower that your front wheel is more likely to deflect and turn. Hitting the rocks at slower speeds induces more shock.
It also means that I brake more, which really transfers the shock to the body; hitting the rocks while braking is like running into small square curbs all day. The grass was taller this year, and was hiding some rocks. Mentally, this scared me and I went slower which made me hit the rocks harder which wore me down. Ideally, you gotta let it go a little which means that even if you hit them your chances of getting through are better when going faster.
This kind of terrain requires power and lots of it. There’s very little opportunity to just spin up something. And forget about standing up and lightly dancing on the pedals like an angel of the mountains as seen at the Tour day france. The buried rocks, loose rocks, roots, grass, big rocks, little rocks, sissy rocks, rocks with angry eyes on them, etc makes that impossible.
I’ve been doing my riding primarily on the road and on smooth trail. I found that some of the climbs here required a gear higher. It’s similar to the situation where you put a pure roady on single track. They spin like mad and bounce all over the place. I recall an article by John Tomac about using a one to two gears higher than you would on the road on singletrack in order to give yourself something to push against. It was just hard to get into a rhythm.
I used to start eating the full carbs several days out. For the past few years, I’ve followed an eating strategy outlined in Performance Cycling and echoed in …… X# of grams/kg body weight. With the goal of being done 4 hours prior. Some contend that this influx of carbs is too much and enables too much water weight gain. I contend that it works very well for me. But it is also very hard to do.
The number just doesn’t do justice to exactly how much food this is. There’s no way for me to accomplish this without liquid supplementation (link to ensure). I haven’t been doing mega rides or races lately so haven’t rebuilt tolerance for this type of eating. I almost hurled this time. Right afterwards I go comatose and crawl in bed for a little while. I eat NOTHING more except drinking water until the start.
From the start on I sip on Gatorade out of the camelback, and if longer than 2.5hrs I eat something else.
But listen to me now believe me later. This eating plan has made a huge difference in my racing. It gets me through 2.5hrs w/o bonking if I’ve eaten enough. Planning on adding some fat like turkey bacon to the mix too.
I also hit the sport legs (link), and timed them to perfection. Call it a crutch or a secret weapon, placebo or whatnot, but I’ve suffered lock up leg cramps in races forever and this is the only thing that has ever worked for me. Maybe with better training I’d not cramp, but going into a race with so little miles under my legs made me need them that much more. They take about 50mins-1hr to kick in after swallowing. (note then stick in your throat so take with lots of water.)
5 on the start line, 5 at 50mins, 5 at 1:40. Typically I’d not take the 3rd dose but I ended up extending my stay at the resort and needed that extra.
The start was off the horse barn. Onto some sweet single track with a little bit of rocks. I got behind some guys and the adrenalin was flowing and just had to try to pass. I hit a low hanging branch and my helmet visor almost came off and was flopping around. Worthless waste of energy as we just ended up popping out on a fire road climb that provided plenty of room for passing.
I’ve got my self all turn around with regards to the course by this time, as we went opposite of last year and hit toejammer going the opposite direction. It’s actually much easier to ride this direction. But no less hard when under race conditions. I walked a bit, and rode more than expected. Also ended up jamming the front wheel into a crevice and doing a flip but luckily did not land any bones onto any rocks.
Climbing out after the downhill was really brutal. We got ourselves back over towards the golf course road and I was riding pretty well keep near some other riders. After going back into the trees I was on the brakes hard, as I know that there is this dip at the end of the downhill that just eats people and spits them out. I practically crawled through it at walking speed. This guy was standing next to it and I’d thought he’d just got a flat as he said “looks like my race is over” Turns out just seconds before he’d supermanned it over the bars and landed about 15 feet from his bike. His wheel was tacoed. We’ll revisit him later in the story as he’d performed the wack-a rim move against and tree and got back into it.
I was cruising along feeling pretty good and climbing back up to the start when my rear freebody spun out. It was toasted again. In a way, I was relieved a little. I could walk to the finish and say that I gave it a good old try and was riding pretty well. And I wouldn’t have to go through the real pain and face the potential of failure. Sure a little disappointed but not as much as you’d think.
Walking all alone till near the finish and I saw CB from East Coasters. He offered me his rear disc wheel and I said what the heck, but his tire was too wide to fit into my frame so I said no problem, we tried. Then I saw Scott from work and he said try my wheel. So I did and it worked. And off I went. No shifting problems, no braking problems. Now for the fun. I figured I was going to be out there for ½-1hr past when my food stores would take me.
It was definitely a hard slog, and so lonely. I contend that one doesn’t know true loneliness until they are on a forested singletrack with no one in sight/sound in front or behind. One time I hit the golf course fire road where you have extended line of sight visibility for ½ a mile and I didn’t see a soul. Finally I came upon a guy crawling. I mean I was going slow and he was virtually standing still. Hey man, you gotta gel or anything. I handed him my ancient save for a rainy day gel from the bottom of my camelback. But I told him that if it came down to the finish line that he’d have to let me win. This was the same guy that had tacoed his wheel earlier.
Finally made it home to the finish. Quite glad that I endured to the end, and this race will be remembered long after any of the other few that I actually won or did well in. The promoters were kind enough to go deep in to the expert ranks for prizes and lo and behold, but what was waiting for me on the prize table? A rear wheel.