Two Nicks and a Carl report from the Capitol Hill 50-mile mtb race.
Or How Not to Train for a Mountain Bike Endurance Race
When I saw teammates this summer, they always asked “What have you been up to? Where have you been?” And they were good questions because I didn’t spend the winter and spring riding and racing my bike. Instead, I focused on staying active and having fun. I went cross country skiing a ton. I skipped a bunch of racing in May and June to go motorcycle touring, hike across England, and attend the Isle of Man TT. I went to Northwest Tandem Rally and did a very nice overnight bike tour to Harrison Hot Springs.
Really, a great summer.
None of this helps you be a dominant crushing force in bike races.
When I noticed the Capitol Forest 50-mile mountain bike race was the next weekend, I waffled for a minute, asked my wife if I could borrow her dual suspension mountain bike, and signed up. I hadn’t raced a mountain bike in well over a year, but I was as prepared as I could be with only a week’s notice.
Carl Hulit and I drove down on Friday night and slept in the grass at the Evergreen Sportsman’s Club. I spent the night listening to howling coyotes and hoping I wouldn’t oversleep. Morning dawned cold and foggy. We met up with Nick Adsero, dropped our bikes in the grass along the dirt road, and lined up for the Le Mans start. The run to the bike went well, and after executing the only cyclocross re-mount of anyone I saw, I was off and pedaling, sitting in about twentieth place as we rolled up the road to the single-track.
My plan for this race was to keep moving quickly while avoiding unnecessary exertion until I was on my own, when I would simply ride my own ride. This worked out well. For a while.
The first section of single-track went well, as I moved past some slower riders and generally settled into my groove. The bike felt great, I felt great, and I was looking forward to the day. The first long single-track climbs were a bit of a handful on a long-forked trail bike. I eventually got on top of the bike’s wandering ways, and soon arrived at the first aid station. I grabbed a banana chunk and stuffed a bottle of Nuun in my jersey pocket and was off. Again riding my own pace, happy to let faster riders by me, I dropped the people I was riding with as the trail transitioned to gradually climbing rollers. Soon I was on my own and free to crash as much as I wanted without losing places.
With plenty of food and drink on board, I rolled right through the Mile 19 aid station and hit the trail again. I passed a few more people on the single-track climb and really started to move. When we emerged from the woods and began a short fire road climb to the next section of trail, a hand patted me on the back – Mike Rolcik. He and the woman on his wheel moved in front of me and hit the trail first. I managed to hold their wheels for about eight minutes until an overwhelming sense of fire and sluggishness hit my legs. I tried standing up, shifting gears, and humming party songs to myself, but to no avail. Twenty-five miles into the race, I was cooked. I went from feeling awesome to legs in pain in about five minutes.
I kept eating and drinking and doing what I could to keep moving forward while minimizing losses. As tired as I was, I didn’t lose anyone else on the single-track. What killed me was the long fire road climb. It was supposed to be eight miles, but I swear it was more like fifteen. I climbed forever, with each pedal stroke feeling like I was driving the bike through a pool of flaming molasses that was splashing on my legs. Lots of people passed me on that road climb: single-speed guys, Nick Adsero, fat guys with hairy legs. I caught up with Nick A at the Mile 31 aid station, where we were told we were the forty-sixth riders through. Still way up the field, so it wasn’t all bad. I downed some water, a banana and a gel, and kept on moving.
After a year or two of additional climbing, the course finally dropped back onto the Green Line trail. I reached between my legs and flicked the shock back to “full cush downhill mode” and pointed the Yeti down. As tired as I was, I still passed a few more people on this descent. But I positively crawled up the ensuing small climbs. At one point, I simply got off the bike and walked after I misjudged a root in the middle of a tight, uphill switchback. It was easier, and I didn’t lose any places. I did that a few more times. It felt really good to walk.
Before long the trail started to look familiar. I was on the trail we rode out on and the finish was near. I rolled back into the sportsman’s club to sounds of gunfire as the firing range and the trap shooting range were in full Saturday afternoon swing.
This was enormously punishing for me, but still really fun. The race was very well organized, and the other participants were all really nice and supportive. The overall atmosphere was one of friendly competition, where
everyone gets a burger and a beer at the end. This is my kind of racing, and I need to actually train for it next year.
My race felt similar to Nick’s, if a bit further up the field. The Le Mans start demanded a good long run, probably two minutes or so which got the heart racing, but thanks to strategic bike placement and some effort I was in the front group going up the fire road, and I was able to hit the single-track in second place. The eventual winner set a faster pace than I thought prudent, and he soon left me behind to pace the chase group. I set a moderately hard pace through most of the first climb until a spinout while crossing a fire road put me back into the middle of a group of six riders.
After the climb, we entered some nice wooded single-track where I could recover; the two riders in front let me and a few others by, and I opened up the pace again. I worked to keep this solid pace until about halfway through the second big climb around mile 20, when I let Matt Lynch and Trevor from team Mafia go by, with the intention of following wheels for a while. My body had other ideas, so Matt and Trevor were quickly up the road; I started to bonk when the pitch steepened a few miles later, and two more riders came by.
I hit the fire road in sixth place and started to cram down as much of my pbj and gatorade as I could while suffering up the hills. Halfway up the neverending road I was cramping badly, and yet another rider caught me as I was dreaming of beer and ibuprofen to make the pain stop. When the Green Line descent finally came, I rode conservatively down the trail to minimize mistakes, and the constant jarring actually eliminated the cramps. I caught one rider back at the bottom of the hill, and set about trying to drop him on the remaining rollers and climb, blowing through the last aid station on the memory that it was close to the finish. I was running on fumes, just trying to keep the pedals turning as fast as possible through the last climb in the knowledge that I had riders on my tail.
With one mile left, I was out of water and food. I came off the single-track onto the finishing road and briefly relaxed, glad to see the trail markers indicating the end was near. But as I was rounding the final corner I noticed a rider closing on my tail, so the chain jumped down the cogs and I threw everything I had left into the final sprint, crossing the finish line to collapse onto the grass.
I was able to hold out for a sixth place, lower than I had hoped for but still requiring lots of suffering, and I knew I’d given up all I had to give. Like Nick, I find this racing very enjoyable, and I spent most of the afternoon eating, drinking beer and hanging out with fellow racers. Maybe next year I will be back on the real training plan so I can make the hurt end sooner.
I took the first thirty miles fairly easy before starting to push hard over the last twenty. I was passing a lot of the fast starters and moved into thirty-something place. With ten miles left, I went for it and started picking up quite a few spots. With my Garmin showing forty-seven miles down, I was coming close to Mike Rolcik, and I’d moved up into a placing in the mid-twenties. But with less than a mile to go, I took that last right when I should have gone left, and that started me on the first loop again. Since my Garmin was off by a couple of miles, I didn’t know I was off on another loop.
To shorten a long story, I did sixty-six miles and lost 120 places. It was my fault for getting too pumped up at the end and not paying attention to where I was. That made it a long and very hard day.