Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Douthat Preview

The Middle Mountain Momma held at Douthat State Park is one of the classic Virginia races. It is one of the most anticipated races of the year.

Over the years this race has decimated me, and once again I'm looking to bag a good race here. While it lacks the real technical rocks of Dragon's Back or Massanutten or Rowdy Dawg, it more than makes up for it in sheer volume. This is a pedalling course and it wears you out.

The overwhelming memories of Douthat are of the 99.9% to die for single track. But mountain biking memories are selective, and don't be fooled, this is a rough place. The lower slopes can be very rocky and in some cases old creek beds. There is also a fair amount of just plain Virginia chatter, those embedded rocks and roots.

I'm going to give my perspective on the race course.

The start.
The start is on a flat gravel road. The road only lasts for a few seconds before the group has to funnel down to get through a wooden gate. There is a short grassy field before the wide single track of Blue Suck Trail.

Blue Suck
Blue suck is a rough rough trail. There are a few stream crossings that can be slippery. It starts to get pretty steep with a fair amount of rocks. This start is the classic environment for me to burn all the matches at the beginning. The lead experts are just GONE. I mean, blink your eyes and just gone.

My goal is to just go steady here because it is oh too easy to totally blow up, and if I blow up here well let's just say that it's a long long race still to go.

Blue suck finally comes to a Y and you veer to the left onto Locust Gap

Locust Gap
Locust Gap is a sweet trail. It is big ring single track that runs along the contour line. In a past year I tried to be aggressive and pass here and dropped my front wheel off the edge of the trail and cartwheeled. It took about 5 minutes of non-stop riders before a gap opened up and I could get going again. While it's tempting to try and get around someone here, just wait a few seconds because the real climb is about to start.

Remember the big ring part of this trail, because the end of the race brings you back the other way. And it is certainly not big ring going that direction.

Locust Run will T into the Stony Run Trail and you go Right.

Stony Run
Elevator Going up.

This is the epic climb that Douthat is known for. The first part of the climb isn't too steep but it is chattery. You drop into a creek bed which can be pretty slippery to cross. The other side is very steep so be prepared to hike-a-bike if you slip.

After this steep out of the creek the climb isn't too bad. It is just long. The switchbacks are rideable and I often find that going to one gear higher helps to keep the front wheel down and maintain traction.

My goal for this climb is to just ride steady. Find the sweet spot and kick it up a notch at the switch backs and then return. If possible stay with some one's wheel or get by someone quickly before turning in to a lemming. When chasing someone, I'm going to focus on the trail and look up to check progress occasionally and am not going to focus on the person. When I do that I'll just ending up matching their speed and the gap will never decrease.

Up and Up and Up, finally you come to where you think it should be done, but no. You must veer straight and left and go all the way to the top. The middle mountain trail

Middle Mountain Trail
This is kind of a plateau. It's really fun with brush on both sides of you. It will start to drop down hill slowly and then will really drop down into the Pine Tree Trail and Salt Stump Trail.

What goes up must come down. This is a fast fast downhill, with some steep switchbacks. The upper parts aren't too rough but still there is a lot of chatter and there is some fun off camber combined with leaves. Fun as in really narrow with a sidehill drop off.

The Salt Stump Trail levels out some
but gets more curvy and rough. As you drop down towards the campground it gets even rougher with some rocks.

Road to Ross Hollow

You dump out through a campground and usually there is water passed out here. You ride the road for a little ways to the start of the Ross Camp Trail. It's funny, every year I have started to cramp or at least get a cramp twinge when I hit the road and stand up to hammer.

Ross Camp
This is a very steep climb. Ross camp is more straight. The hardest part is right at another trail junction and then it levels off again.

Leading to the Mountain Side and mountain Top trails are some very steep sections. I'm not sure if it's worth trying to ride them or to just walk them.

Mountain side/top trails
I'm not sure if we are being routed on the Mountain Side Trail or going around to the mountain top trail. If we go to the top it is more climbing. There are some very steep sections that typically turn into a hike-a-bike. I've been specifically practicing my jogging up steep hills with my bike the last few weeks.

These trails are very fun. Combination of side hill climbing and downhilling. Sometimes you start going way down and think that you might be done but then you'll go right back up. At one time the trail kicks to the left going the opposite way of the park and you have wonder if you're off course.

Naturally there is always climbing and some tough switchbacks. One year my legs totally locked up at one of this switchbacks. The kind of lock up where you are brought to tears and are squatted by your bike and cannot move.

Ride some more of Virginia's Finest and finally get to the top of Brush Hollow

Brushy Hollow

Very very fun downhill. Side hill trail then it starts coming down into some gullies. A few switchbacks to concern yourself with. Keep your head up so you don't go blowing through them.

The lower part dumps you through some old creek beds and this is by far my favorite place on the course. It's fast and rocky and has some good curves. It dumps you out the creek with the suspension bridge.

If the water is low enough you can ride across, otherwise you have to hoist your bike up to the bridge and walk across.

You'll ride a very flat but still slightly chatter fire rode section before cross the main entrance road back to the beginning or stony Run Trail

Stony Run back to the Finish
Mentally this is the toughest time in this rice. You think you've made it past the two big climbs and the two big downhills and that you're on the last stretch home. The last few miles are the LONGEST on a mountain bike ever, maybe a second to the ridge on Dragon's Back.

It just goes on and on. The first part of Stony Run is rough with several stream crossings. You then turn on to Locust Gap where you'd come in on so many hours ago when you were full of gusto and power. The terrain creates sort of false flat and you desperately want to be going faster but just can't.

Finally you'll round the corner and the downhill to Blue Suck will start. And as your final prize you get to go down one of the roughest sections of trail. The same one that killed you at the start. Lots of small drops that stream crossing, big rocks...

And finally dumping you back to the field and the staging area.

I'm going to try the hardtail out for this race. An XC dually is an excellent horse for this course given all the chatter and lower rough sections. But lately, I seem to be feeling faster on the hardtail given all the climbing. The dually really didn't help me much on these types of downhills last year so I'm not losing much by going hardtail.

I am concerned that the cumulative fatigue from the constant chatter course will start to wear down during the last section and the run in to the finish is going to be especially rough. Post race fatigue is probably going to be much worse but overall fastest time is the highest priority.

My goal is sub 2:30 but will be prepared for 3+. My classic Modus Operani MO applies. Get to steady state and hold it there. Go outside of it as need to get through techincal sections... Ride the downhills as best as possible in control. Start smart and finish on heart and tears while pinballing all the way the last downhill.


At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tear up that mountain fool and make T proud!
Don't go too hard, but don't be a wimpy man either.

I had to ditch a few chains last time I climbed those hills, they had little pity on me.

I believe in the Golden Rule — The Man with the Gold . . . Rules.
- Mr. T

At 2:07 PM, Blogger BB said...

Have a great race and don't leave anything out there on the trail. ;-)

That looks and sounds like a nice course. Here's to good weather and no crashes.


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