Wednesday, August 11, 2010

end of an endurance season...

okay, that post title sounds a bit melancholy.  sad, perhaps.  The Big Bear Ultra was my last endurance race for the year - I'm skipping a few upcoming races to prep the legs and lungs for cross.  We went to this race simply for fun.  I was meant to be done after Fair Hill, but wanted one more and couldn't have chosen a better race.

I googled and googled before this race, looking for last year's race reports, Garmin files, anything to tell me about what the course was like, elevation profiles, really much of anything.  But it's West Virginia.  As you'll see in the next post, they do things differently there (yes, the weekend requires two posts - this race report and a summary of the local entertainment).  So I couldn't find much.  I could guess the elevation was less than the Stoopid 50 but who knows by how much.  And the trails in WV can be hard or easy.  So who knew.

Race day, the promoter Mark looked at me like I was crazy when I said I wanted to send out a drop bag.  Turns out, they had plenty of PB&J's, gels, etc at the aid stations and we didn't need anything I'd put in the drop.  But since they were pretty much out of food at the late aid stations by the time I got there, if I'd needed it...

After a mass start around the campground, the field worked into some tight singletrack with a few wet, mudholes and lovely rocks.  I dabbed a bit, got passed as usual by some guys that I would see again later, but was really just out to ride my own race and have fun doing it.  I settled into a pace a bit slower than I've been hitting it for these long races.

Next up was a crazy chimney rocks section.  I walked it - barely handlebar width with walls about 10 feet high of rock.  A sharp right hand turn and a few more feet to a 3 foot drop off.  Needless to say, glad I was already pushing the bike.

A couple of sketchy downhills and some lovely bermed turns through the trees later, I was back at the start for the mid-race pit stop at mile 23.  Some coke, a full camelback and a water bottle change later, I was back on the horse.

Now, I should say that for about 15 of the first 23 miles Farmer Steve was behind me.  Chatting and crashing.  Breaking his already not-in-great-shape drivetrain.  I didn't expect to see him again - he claimed a broken shifter cable had caught him in the big ring.  But a familiar Southern Ohio accent came up again, and there he was.  Turns out, he found a full suspension 29er to borrow and finish the race.  Sorta fun having someone to ride with.  I did almost all of the pulling and pace setting for 30+ miles, but I could tell by the little gaps and yo-yoing that Steve was doing on some of the climbs that I really wasn't holding him up.

We got through a creek bottom and headed up - I passed Matt who was in rough shape, cramping, and kept going. Up, up, bottom bracket creaking, up some more.  This was pretty much the biggest climb on the course.  Another rider was cramping too.  I felt bad - this climb had the potential to be demoralizing if you were already having a tough time.  But I kept going.  Pushing harder as the race went on.  Finding familiar territory in the other direction through the pine trees.  Riding technically better than I have in a race in a while.  Hopping logs, rolling through rock gardens, even surviving only about 5 minutes of I-don't-feel-like-racing-anymore bonk.  Down a long doubletrack with loose rocks and a few switchbacks.  Jarring, forearm-bashing downhill.  The only one on the course but almost everyone took note of it.

All of the sudden, we were in a grassy section near the end.  I got my head up at the right time and saw the arrows in the trees where a fair few riders missed the only marginally marked section of the course.  Steve's friend Joe saw me and followed me into the trees, having taken a detour to talk to a few of the locals.

I rode past the pit - Shea was in his shorts still and cheering me on - it was great to see that he'd finished his first endurance race - he's had more than his share of mechanicals this year.  I was a little sad to go through the finish.  I could've taken another 5 miles of that piney section in the woods.

Turns out that only 2 women came for the Ultra distance.  So I won.  In a time much slower than last year's winner, but it's a win nonetheless and who knows how fast or slow I would've ridden given a bigger field.  I scored an awesome beer/flower stein and some moola for the effort.

Oh yeah, we'll be back next year.  Don't let their course description (38 miles of singletrack, 10 miles roads) fool you - the way that other races in the Mid-Atlantic count singletrack, this course is 100% singletrack.  That's 48 miles.  The only vehicles making it down the "roads" - read as washed out fireroads from 25 years ago - have two wheels. 

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