1993 – Before my first mountain bike race – the 1993 Cumberland Classic at Sewanee, TN. 6th in the juniors and 25th in the beginners (there were 100 people in the race!). The bike pictured is a rigid fork mongoose alta with reflectors still on the wheels.
Picture this – the year is 1993. Parked outside Berry High School in Hoover, Alabama is a 1984 red chrysler fifth avenue with a mountain bike crammed inside it. The 3:00 bell rings, and a crazy bike finatic teenager races out of school to be the first out of the parking lot before flying down I-65 to Oak Mountain state park to do a lap of the bump trail before it gets dark. That teenager was me 20 years ago, and back then the trail ended at the camp road at the end of seven bridges (although I never heard that name until this year … not sure if it had a name back then). That’s where I liked to park because I didn’t have to do the extra drive up to the picnic area all the way to the parking lot.
I’d have my bike out in just a few minutes and taking off backwards up the seven bridges singletrack, connecting on the road through the parking area to the start of the bump trail (Mr Toad’s and Foreplay – again I believe these were not named until more recently). I would fly through these sections and then up Johnson’s Mountain all the way to the park boundary before flying down through the pine forest through the steep drop-off back down to the road. After a short jaunt on peavine road, you hit the trail again and started up the quarry climb through blood rock eventually spilling out onto the fire road. You could take the fire road all the way across the top and then down out to the main park road where the north trailhead is now. I would ride the road back to the starting point, and that was the entire loop. The connecting trails wouldn’t be created until a year or two later.
Fast forward 20 years, and now there is a 16+ mile mostly singletrack loop and nearly twice that much trail in spurs and connectors hosting two national/international level biking events (Bump ‘n Grind and Xterra), as well as running races and an amazing six hour race put on by Chainbusters. Add to that list an epic 100 miler – the brainchild of John Karrasch who set out to create a 100 mile race that would showcase as much of the singletrack as possible. The original idea was three 33 mile loops, but in the end some of the spurs were cut out, and a 25 mile loop was designed allowing for both a 50 mile and a 100 mile race.
Huge thanks to years and years of work by BUMP (Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers) http://bump.org/ and to John Karrasch for the initiative to put this race into action, and to Kenny Griffin and the entire Chain Buster crew for putting on an amazing race — hopefully the first of many, many more to come!
As soon as the race was announced, I knew I wanted to do it. My singletrack skills have deteriorated quite a bit from what I used to do on a 26″ mountain bike so I also knew that I would need to get out there and ride the trails more and try to get some of that skill back if I wanted to have any shot at all of doing well in the race. That was several months ago and fast forward through a busy life and busier than normal racing schedule (I haven’t written a blog in almost three months!) to this past Saturday where nearly 100 people lined up to race the Oak Ass 50 and Oak Ass 100.
I was running late but squeezed in on the front row next to Jacob Tubbs (Infinity Med-I-Spa). Kenny was driving the pick-up for the dash to the singletrack. We flew around the paved picnic area, and I tucked in close behind Jacob. We hit a hill and Jacob started to slow a bit given that he had been in the wind the whole time. I decided to hit it hard to get a few seconds advantage going into the single track. I looked back after a few seconds and both Jeff Clayton (Super Sport Athletic Wear) and Brian Roggeveen (Momentum Racing) had come with me. I swung out to the side right before the single track to let them around and then try to keep up with them through Seven Bridges. This worked GREAT as I followed Jeff and watched all his lines.
I had come off Jeff’s wheel and let another rider around towards the bottom of Seven Bridges but when we popped out on the Boy Scout road, I nailed it and was able to bridge back up to the small group. Entering the singletrack in fourth position behind Brian, Jeff, and one other rider I drilled it hard and was able to hold Jeff’s wheel through the rest of the single track. The rider I had let around crashed on one of the descents so that put me in third through the section of single track which climbs past the BMX track. I was nervous about the next section of singletrack after the climb, but I had Jeff’s line to follow and ended up holding his wheel all the way to the red trail.
Once we hit the red trail, I told Jeff I was going for the KOM and took off up the red trail. Brian was initially out of sight, but after a minute or so I could see him up ahead. The red trail is hard to go hard on not because it is steep but because there are medium sized unavoidable rocks diabollically placed at the exact spot where you have just gotten up to speed. These rocks bounce you up in the air and you lose all that momentum you worked so hard to create. I knew I was digging really deep and wasting lots of energy but I really wanted the KOM so I hit it hard finally catching Brian just before the steep section to the bridge. I didn’t want to take any chances with a dirt sprint so I hit it hard going past him and was hoping to get enough of a gap holding it to the top. I was pretty much blown with a quarter mile left to climb, but I had enough of a gap to hold on for the KOM.
I had originally told people after the race that Brian caught me across the top, but now that I think about it I also remember being the first into the bump connector with so many leaves covering all the rocks thinking that I was at a bit of a disadvantage not being able to see the trail clearly and wondering after 100 racers passed through if the lines would be easier to pick out. So I guess Brian caught me somewhere in Jekyll or right before the turn onto Jekyll. I don’t remember exactly where but I think it was early because Scott Staubach (Team Momentum) also caught me in Jekyll when I goofed up one of the large rocks before the rock shelf drop-off and that was after Brian had already passed me.
Scott was flying, though, because when I exited the technical section of Jekyll I could still see Brian but Scott had already passed Brian and was nowhere to be seen. I rode fast down the flowy part of Jekyll keeping Brian just barely ahead in my sights and thought I would catch him towards the bottom of the Peavine road. Brian was riding super well, though, and it wan’t until near the top of the second step that I finally caught him. I drilled it really hard again wanting to put as much distance between me and everybody else before the CCC singletrack and blood rock. I flew through CCC and was surpised to still have a lead heading into Blood Rock.
There were several people there so I tried to ride the whole thing not wanting to be a wuss and walk it. I made it past the blood rock and the tree, but decided to unclip and go down with one foot off for stability and then endoed when I hit the mud at the bottom. Super slow motion wreck, but my left knee got wedged between some part of the frame and the ground. And my right brake shift lever had rotated around the handlebars so that it was up on top of the bar. Whatever caused that also hurt my wrist because it was hurting then and still sore today (Monday – more than 48 hours after the race has been over).
Brian came flying past me while I was on the ground and I had a good vantage point to see how it was supposed to be done. I was laughing a bit and frustrated b/c if you look at it and see someone else ride it, you realize that the whole thing should be incredibly easy to ride but when you are there in the moment looking at the rocks, the trees, the water, it doesn’t seem easy at all. I was able to twist the brake levers back around the bars and take off again – but Brian was long gone putting a lot of time into me on the quarry descent. I’m sure I made up some time on Johnson’s Mountain but I never saw him again until over halfway through the next lap.
Before that happened, I was surprised not to get caught by anybody on the rest of that lap or even through seven bridges and the next section of trail before the BMX track. But then when I got to the BMX track, I looked back and saw that Jacob Tubbs was catching up to me. I figured he would catch me on the singletrack after the BMX climb – but as it turns out he ended up crashing. I didn’t know he had crashed so I was getting a lot of confidence from not getting caught on one of the singletrack sections that had worried me the most before the race.
I popped out on the fire road again still in third place behind Scott who would be over 5 minutes ahead of me by Jekyll according to John Karrasch who was stationed there all day at a spot where the course intersected itself briefly. Brian on the other hand was much closer ahead. In fact, I had caught Brian just before the top of the fire road but decided not to pass him since I knew he would be faster through the next sections.
I stayed about 50 meters behind him and ate and drank across the top of the climb. During the fast descent on the fire road, I noticed that my Garmin mount had come loose and was dangling on the underside of the bars. Fortunately, my Garmin was still connected to the mount so I pushed the whole thing back on top of the bars and then tried to slide it up closer to the stem where the bars are thicker … tapered bars drive me crazy! But the mount straps naturally wanted to pull back down the “bar slope” and loosen again. I was fiddling with this trying to make a last minute adjustment right before the entrance to the bump connector when I hit some loose rocks and went down hard unexpectedly.
I was not even halfway through my second lap and already crashed hard twice. This crash was high enough speed that I slid on the ground a bit. Nothing hurt bad but I was too afraid to look at my arm b/c it felt like skin was hanging off of it. I rode the bump connector refusing to look at my arm just in case there was actually skin hanging off. Turns out it was a bunch of leaves that were mixed with blood and sticking to my skin. They eventually fell off – but I was pretty disheartened wondering how I was going to survive without breaking any bones.
The thing that kept me going, though, was knowing that I was in the lead. Both Scott and Brian were doing the 50 mile race. This kept me motivated not to give up. I think if Jeff had been in front of me at this point, I would have just given up, gotten more cautious, and not even bothered to try and chase him down. But with a shot at still winning the race I kept pushing on hard. I thought my confidence would be wrecked for Jekyll but I ended up clearing the entire top half of Jekyll and only dabbing once on the bottom half. This was a big confidence booster for me so I nailed it hard again and was still able to see Brian at a few points on the flowy part of Jekyll.
Climbing up the Peavine road, I looked back to see Randy Kerr (Team Momentum) catching me. Brian was just ahead and here I was in the middle. I was closing on Brian, and Randy was closing on me. My memory is a fading a bit now, and I can’t remember exactly where Randy caught me but I ended up catching Randy again with less than two miles to race. He was having some sort of mechanical but hopped back on the bike when I passed. I let him pass me again shortly before the family trail and tried to keep up with him but he dropped me like a bad habbit.
I was starting to feel tired on my third lap and had run out of food towards the end of my second lap. I decided to slow down a bit and focus on my lines more and try to eat and rest up some on this lap. I still ended up setting three PRs on that lap (garrett’s gulch, quarry mtn descent, and johnson’s mountain) which just goes to show you the importance of technique over raw power in mtb-ing. I managed to clear both the top and bottom of Jekyll with no dabs but still a few seconds short of my PR from the 9 hour race last fall (I really feel like the top part of Jekyll has gotten harder to ride over the past year). The bottom is the about the same possibly slightly easier, but the top seems like it is definitely trickier to get your lines right without having to dab once or twice.
Even having tried to take the third lap easy, I was starting to deteriorate by the end of the lap having run out of food again. I don’t know why I hadn’t grabbed more when I stopped at the end of the second lap! I got a psychological boost, though, because when I came out of the family trail onto the road – there was my son Josiah on his mountain bike ready to ride with me past the water fountain to the start/finish. Kristine helped me get organized with food/gatorade/lights for the final lap. Then Josiah took off beside me and made it all the way through the parking lot before I headed out on the main road back down to start my final lap.
I had drank a coke and gulped down two powerbar gels while stopped so I took off like a rocket along the road down to seven bridges. I also tried to hit seven bridges, garrett’s gulch, and the bmx single track as hard as possible thinking that whoever was behind me would be putting time into me on the last lap. I had taken three or four more powerbar gels with me for that final lap. So I had lots of sugar to propel me through the first half of the lap, but I had gone through all my nutrition by the top of the fire trail with all of Jekyll left, the peavine road climb, blood rock, and Johnson’s Mountain still to go. I started to fade pretty bad towards the end, desparately looking for the mile number plates, and also thinking about the stew that would be waiting at the end. I was pretty sure of winning by this point, and I was having a ton of fun on the singletrack feeling much more confident so that helped me get through quite the sugar crash with 10 miles to go.
Josiah was waiting for me when I popped out of the family trail onto the road, and he road that last bit into the finish with me crashing as he turned around to join me. He hopped right back up, though, and we made it to the finish together where Kristine was waiting. Pete Foret grabbed my bike as I was pretty exhausted and I started to recap how everything went down at the inaugural oak ass 100 mile mtb race!
Jason Childre and Jeff Clayton would battle it out for 2nd and 3rd behind me never separated by more than a couple minutes. Kudos to everyone for lining up to tackle such an epic course – what an epic day!
Here’s my annotated heartrate data … there are so many speed spikes I decided to take them out of the graph so you can see the elevation data a bit better. You can see how hard I was pushing it for the KOM on that first lap.
The inaugural oak ass 100 mile mtb race podium. Left to right – Jason Childre (Yeti/Childre Nissan), Brian Toone (FGS Cycling), Jeff Clayton (Super Sport Athletic Wear), and Van Mixon (Super Sport Athletic Wear).
I was freezing cold and under-dressed – hence the hoodie. Here’s one without the hoodie while holding the giant trophy – triceps hurt so bad couldn’t even lift the thing all the way up in the air.
Oak Ass 100 mile mtb race – 1st place – with Kenny Griffin on the bullhorn
Once again, huge thanks and shout-out to BUMP for their amazing work creating world class singletrack right here in Birmingham. Also to John for not just dreaming up this race, but also hanging out for more than 9 hours in cold conditions at the Jekyll/Blood Rock split cheering everybody on, guiding people which way to go, AND giving time splits. Huge thanks to Lee Neal, too, who volunteered all day at the hot wheels smash spot where the course intersected itself. Plenty of visiblity though so no danger at all, but I’ve always wanted to race on a course that intersected itself at a 90 degree angle. I believe this is a first for me in 20 years of racing. And finally, thanks again Kenny for putting on another amazing race. Looking forward to the next one!