Race #3 - 04/10/10Michaux Masher (Open Men)
Lap Splits: 1:20/1:15/1:11
The 4hr Michaux Masher MTB race was the most exhausting race I have ever done. Considering a bare-bones MTB and only a few months of MTB experience I was happy with my finish. I consider this race the capstone of my base training and I'm happy with how far I've come this year. Most of all, it's great to go into my road season knowing I can push myself to very edge of my abilities.
Before I start my long-winded narrative I need to drop some thank you's!
- Mel M. for letting me borrow her CamelBack
- Geo, Gehling, Claire C., and Karl for general MTB advice and encouragement
- Ryan for reminding me DBAP
- Alyssa for long-distance racing advice
- Tank and Dr. K for general training and cycling tips and encouragement.
I found it really hard to write this report. I found I couldn't quite describe the experience. I have worked harder, been more uncomfortable, more scared, more tired and more dead in other races and in training. I never wanted to quit, slow down or walk. I had a great time. But somehow this race was just ... harder. More exhausting. It demanded more of me than any other race or workout I've ever done.
This is how it went down.
After waking up a little late I used up ALL my kamric driving points hauling ass the ~120M to the race for the 9am start. As I got close to the park I saw the hills looming the distance and I began to get an idea of what I had gotten myself into. Michaux State Park is infamous as some of the hardest trails in the mid atlantic - I had heard stories but this has to be ridden to be believed. It makes Patapsco look like a velodrome.
Once there I reg'ed, changed, attached the most inappropriate number plate ever, mixed some Cera Sport (team sponsor), packed my food and dropped off my stuff at the feed zone. I didn't have time for any warmup. Chatting to some of the other riders as we were getting our final instructions I looked around and didn't see many single speeds or any rigid frames at all (in the end I think there were about 6 single speeders and only 1 other rigid SS bike).
After a freezing rollout down a dirt road to the start line we had the most anti-climactic start to a bike race ever:
"Uhhh, I think everyone's here so lets go."
And then we rolled.
The course started with a 5 min section of rolling uphill dirt road that spread things out before we got the main course feature. Canada Hollow. Canada Hollow took me 10 minutes to climb. As I walked my bike over the top I had already been riding uphill on my heavy-ass scromoly frame with temps in the 40s without a warm up in for 15 min.
Needless to say I was already wondering if I could actaully do this for 4 hours as we started some very technical single track.
At this point I should mention that Michoux State Park is rocky as all hell. Even in the middle of the trail there were softball sized rocks (baby heads) to bounce over, a few bigger ones (tombstones) to swerve around and tiny little ones (death cookies) to make sure it felt like you were sitting on a jackhammer. [Thanks to Dr. K for the new slang.]
The trail itself was punctuated by downed trees. I would say about 15 per lap of varying size and angles to the trail that needed to be jumped.
And to call what we rode on a trail might be a bit of an exaggeration. A few times every lap I would run into a bush, look around and realize that I had lost the trail, squint a little bit and then finally find the faint dirt smudge of the trail and resume riding.
I'm absorbing all these things 20 min into the race as I realize I'm working pretty hard and not really rolling through any sections.
And then I realize it's because we're still slowly going up hill.
Finally, after over 40 min I break onto a dirt road that marks the top of the first (entirely uphill) section. Then I'm treated to a freezing dirt road decent followed by a long false flat. This is the first time I can take my hands off the handlebars to drink some water from my Camelback and start to dig around to find some bars.
About a mile later I see some riders ahead of me approaching a corner guard on the road and then turn left into the woods on to a trail. As they disappear into the woods I see their bikes drop down at a 60 degree angle before they disappear.
Great, this must be the downhill.
It was then I learned that the downhill sections at Michaux are just a slow the uphills. Again, they are littered with rocks, in some sections there is no dirt, just rocks. There are more fallen trees over an equally illusive trail that is sometime just barely wider than my handlebars.
Here I start to discover all kinds of new riding considerations. Suddenly I'm wondering if my bottom bracket will clear rocks, I put my bash guards into a few logs as I was rolling over them, my cranks and shoes start to hit rocks as I pedal.
Then we start to go uphill again (somehow).
Here we are treated to a 50m long uphill rock garden I have to run up, followed by a 20m section of just pure rocks. It sounded like an avalanche to ride over. Then after picking through more narrow single track I finally start the last descent.
And it was nasty. Just 5 min of squeezing the brakes to navigate greasy hairpin turns, weaving between trees and over more of the afore mentioned rocks -- tombstones big enough to chuck you over your handlebars.
Finally we drop back down onto the road we started on. It's now well past an hour into the race and I still haven't had the chance to eat. I quickly drink some more water and use some carefully cultivated bike skills to keep riding while I take off my camelback, take off my vest and then put my camelback back on. I munch on a Nature Valley bar and then roll through the finish line to complete my first lap.
9 miles in 1'20". That's 7 mph. That means I was biking 8:30 min miles. I might have been able to run the course faster. Not really, but still.
I drop my vest at the feed zone and head up Canada Hollow again. This time I'm feeling strong though. I'm warmed up, the temps have come up a bit and with fewer riders around me I can see all the lines. This time I make it all the way to the top before needed to clip out on the last meter to get over some rocks.
The next gradual uphill still sucks but now that I know the course I regulate my pace much better and have an easier time with the obstacles. I hit the road section and take the time to eat another nature Valley Bar but I'm starting to get worried that I'm playing catch up as I'm already now just under 2 hours into the race.
At this point I begin to see the technological shortcomings of bike. Ironically on the climbs I'm OK. I am strong enough to push out the climb in my one gear. But on the road sections people were flying by me as I spun out. Also suspension was key. Without any shocks I frequently felt like I wa sitting on a jackhammer. My rigid fork was bouncing me all over the place as I tried to keep the bike under control and on a line.
Everything on the course was still hard but I was starting to get the hang of the terrain and I put in my 2nd lap in 1:15, 5 min faster than my first.
Now I had been trading places back and forth with a few guys I had caught during my 2nd climb up Canada Hollow. Up till this point I had been doing the race as a hard training ride but my competitive nature got the better of me and I decided that I was NOT going to let them catch me this lap and I was going to finish ahead of them.
I dropped my my now empty CamelBack and picked up a Cera Sport Bottle and headed off onto my last lap.
Canada hollow was now noticeably harder. I was starting to drift off lines a bit and some of the steep kickers really slowed me down but I made it to the top without walking, reached the last rocky meter and swung wide and managed to hit it with enough speed to get over!
Now I was feeling good and grinning as I hit the single track.
But things were staring to get harder still. My arms were starting to get tired from pulling my wheel up over logs. My legs were getting tired of lifting my butt up every few seconds to avoid a rough bump. I noticed I was taking poorer and poorer lines, bumping into more rocks.
I realized I was gradually loosing control of the bike.
I came onto the dirt descent and took down about 2 gels in one big gulp. Exactly what I needed. By the time I got off the road I felt perky again with a ruch of new energy. No one had caught up to the dirt road and I was looking to keep them off.
But as I hit the next section of single track with less than an hour to go I knew I was fading. I was not feeling perked up and I realized I was not bonking - food had nothing to do with this. I was falling apart from every angle.
And here is where my race report really beings. This is where Michaux, both as race and a location, really began to take shape for me.
Everything was hard now.
Either I was going up hill or going over rocks, or losing the trail, or striking rocks with my pedals. I start bumping into trees. I veered off the trail. I would have to put a foot down and then immediately get thrown the other way hitting a rock as I tried to start up again. I would try again and veer into a bush.
Nothing was coming easy. I just wanted to be able to RIDE - to make it hurt. But it was much more complicated then that - which I guess is the piont.
And all this while I'm frantically trying to keep the pace high. I'm actually going faster than before but with less control. I was hurdling myself over rocks and logs as fast as I could with a rapidly deteriorating ability to control myself just to duke it out for what at this point I figured were probably the last 5 places.
Well, that's racing.
Going into the last half hour I start panting continuously. With about 20 min to go I started making little whining and grunting noises with every effort. I sounded like death but I didn't care; I was hell bent on getting to the line as fast as possible.
Finally on the last long technical downhill I started to crack. My legs were shaking from standing as I descended. My arms were shaking from pushing my body back as I gripped the brakes. My brakes started to slip from my 3rd knuckles to my 2nd knuckles as I bounced over rocks and roots at 20 mph.
As my exhausted brain was trying to push me through lines as fast as possible and then I started making a new sound. It was kinda of like a low humming.
I realized I was trying not to scream.
I wasn't in pain, I wasn't scared, I wasn't frustrated but I was near the edge of what I could endure as I litterally clung to the bike for the last bits of the race.
My brakes slipped to my finger tips and I realized I no longer had the power to bring the bike to complete stop as I picked along the hair pin turns. Everything was tired. Everything was shaking.
Then the I'm-trying-not-to-scream sound stopped and my vision blurred. Something I had never, ever, expected was happening.
I had started to cry.
I didn't "tear up" - my breath came in gasps and my chest was heaving.
I was full-out crying.
After about 30 sec of this I reached the end of the descent and pulled it together by the time I passed the corned gaurd back onto the same dirt road we started on and I gassed it with everything I had left.
No one caught me.
Lap 3 was my fastest lap in 1'11". I came through in 3'47" -- plenty of time to start a 4th lap which would have got me a few more places. And I'm pretty proud of myself that I even considered continuing. But even my ego couldn't convince me to start another lap. I knew I had barely made it out of this one.
As I hung over my bike coughing and weezing myself back together one of the volunteers came over.
Holy shit, you did that on a rigid single speed?
How was it?
It was ... it was tough.
The funny thing is that after a few minutes I was fine. I rode a cool down, ate some food and drove home. The next day I was back on my bike. I guess while I didn't destroy myself I reached the absolute limit of what I could do that day.
And that's it.
Thanks for reading.
[Most image taken by: http://singlespeeder.smugmug.com/]
[Most image taken by: http://singlespeeder.smugmug.com/]