Archive for June, 2014
My adventure out west to race 24 hour mountain bike nationals led to a 7th place finish and lots of lessons learned for next year’s Race Across America. Here is all my heartrate data and a map annotating the course as well as a general description of the course. The lap times on my heartrate graph do not include time spent resting between laps, so this gives a better picture of how my legs/body were feeling on any given lap than the official lap times which include time spent in the pit between laps. One of the things I was really happy with for this race is that after an hour and a half of sleep, I put in negative splits on my last four laps. In other words, each of my last four laps was faster than the one before. That is very encouraging for RAAM how my body was able to recover and respond after such a short rest.
Heartrate zone summary
Annotated topocreator map of the entire course. One of the advantages of the topocreator map over Google terrain view is that it is very easy to pick out the high points on a course like this with all its gentle sloping. Click to enlarge. Or you may also download a high resolution version of this map.
This race was so well-organized by the folks at Zia Rides, and one of the great things about the course was having big red mile markers every mile on the course. This meant that you could break the course up into smaller sections and tackle each section independently – super important for a 24 hour race where you are looking for those boosts of achievement when you are super tired … so reaching the next mile marker meant you were one mile closer to the end of the lap. On the topocreator map above, I have labeled each of the miles in black M1, M2, etc…
We started the race out on the wide dirt road so that we would have a chance to sort out positions before the start of the singletrack. I had been worried all week that we would start in the campground under the finishing banner, which would mean a very short dash of 100 meters or so to the start of the singletrack before the dirt road. This singletrack was a climb through the campground followed by a descent to a bridge with a 90 degree turn entering and exiting the bridge – then more descending down through a cow field before a gentle climb up to the dirt road. When they announced during our pre-race meeting that the start would be on the dirt road, this was a huge relief that I wouldn’t be pressured to going really fast through the opening singletrack.
Opening singletrack through the cow field … storm approaching on Friday’s ride.
Still, it is tough to get everything organized for a 24 hour race and I didn’t hop onto my bike to ride over to the start at 11AM until after 10:30AM. Jake Wade (friend from ultracx racing) and I rode over past the start together and then out to the start of the singletrack and back as warmup. Even though we were back at the start by 10:45, there was already a ton of people lined up. So I started in the third or fourth row thinking that it was going to be tough to make up much ground before the start of the singletrack. Fortunately, I was on the righthand side and there was a 30+mph crosswind blowing from the left. I passed a ton of people and settled into line somewhere in the top 10 before the start of the singletrack.
The opening singletrack dropped down briefly before climbing steeply for about a quarter mile. Then it rolled along the side of a hill eventually making a 90 degree turn to head back down into the valley. But before hitting the valley, the trail went straight up a rock ledge. This was totally rideable as long as you had some momentum. I was worried that if you weren’t far enough forward somebody would goof this up and everybody behind would have to walk. I’m not sure if that happened or not because I was far enough forward that everybody could ride it. Dropping off the ledge on the other side was a dip down to a bicycle-specific cattle guard to take you into the long climb to the top of the course.
Collage of pics from my first ride on the course after arriving on Wednesday.
This climb started out very steeply but then rolled a bit before settling into a gradual gradient for several miles. The gradual climb was easy and non-technical except you did have to pick your line carefully to avoid riding over some big rocks. Those rocks were also rideable, but for a 24 hour race you are looking to save every ounce of energy and save your body from as many rock-jolts as possible … so you wanted to ride around those rocks instead of over them. The climb was about half-way over by the time you made it to the cat-tail pond where the junior course split off to the right.
The cattail pond between mile 5 and 6.
After the pond, the course continued to climb through miles 6 and 7. Topping out for the first time shortly after mile 7, there was a gentle fast downhill with lots of sandy turns before a gradual climb up through mile 8. This process repeated itself several times through the rim trail until you finally made it to mile marker 10 which was the high point on the course and the start of a long gradual descent peppered with a short steep climb at mile 11 and a few other small rollers. The climb at mile 11 started out with a short rock slab section followed by a turn straight up a steep hill. I rode it every lap except lap 8 where I was so exhausted I walked the whole section (including the flat parts) just to change up the pace a bit and give my hands a rest from gripping the handlebars.
One of my favorite parts of the course was shortly after this short steep climb – the singletrack continued climbing for a bit before diving back down one more time into a gulley followed by another steep climb on the other side. I figured out in my pre-rides that even with the rocks and roots on the climb, your best bet for this was to fly down the hill and hit the gulley at full speed. You popped up over the rocks and were more than halfway out of the gulley before you even had to pedal. Almost immediately after this, you rode straight towards a property line fence. The singletrack followed the fence very closely for about a mile. Each lap I looked forward to this fence because it meant you had about a mile of easy, smooth, fun riding before the rocky section of the downhill and then the long “berma” section of downhill. I didn’t get any pictures of this part of the course in any of my pre-rides because I never wanted to stop to take one.
The first major jump on the downhill section came right before mile 14 (red mileage marker visible in the middle of this picture) and was followed immediately by a 90 degree turn. Early on when you were fresh you had to make sure to keep your speed under control so that you didn’t endo on the landing.
The strava segment for this long downhill is called “Berma” presumably because after the jumps you have a number of partially banked turns. The dirt was quite loose so you had to get your line right or risk having your wheel washout. I had a couple close calls during my pre-rides, but by race day had nailed it down pretty good. Once you hit the bottom of Berma, you basically had a 4 mile rolling climb to the finish. The rollers were pretty steep (both up and down) so you got to do a lot of resting on the downhill parts which made the uphill sections more manageable after you had been racing for a long time.
The last mile was some narrow, bumpy singletrack alongside a beautifully paved road. No paved road for the race course, however, with 18 miles of single track and just over a mile of dirt road for a grand total of 19.15 miles per lap. In this picture the righthand side is looking up towards the campground / finishing area and the left side is looking back down the final mile of singletrack alongside the paved road.
That takes you through a single lap of the course. I was fortunate to pre-ride the course four times during the week leading up to the race and then twelve times during the race for a grand total of approximately 325 miles of singletrack — easily surpassing any kind of all-time personal record of number of miles of singletrack ridden in a single week. The course was perfect for a 24 hour mtb race, fast, diverse, safe, fun, and challenging. I’m very sad that USA Cycling is dropping this event off the national championship calendar, but the event was so well run we are definitely going to have to make this a future family vacation sometime in the next few years … maybe even next year!
“Finished, 23:01, 12 laps, about 230 miles of singletrack”
Amazing race, awesome adventure. My race was quite the roller coaster. I started out well sitting in 2nd or 3rd place through the first 100 miles (6 laps). Eventual winner Josh Tostado was flying and had a 5 minute lead on me by the end of the second lap. But even as early as the third lap, I was starting to struggle with breathing. I’m not sure if it was the altitude or the dust from the 30 mph sustained winds with all the racers on a very dry course. But I dialed my pace way back starting at Lap 4 and that didn’t really help much. By the end of Lap 7, Tostado had lapped me and I had slid back to 5th. The picture below is right before I started my 8th lap and pretty much says how I was feeling by that point.
“About to head out on lap 8. Just got lapped by Tostado, but I think I’m still in top 5. Fading…”
Lap 8 was the culmination of everything – unable to breathe, unable to put any power into the pedals even though my legs felt fine, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I was passed by so many people – of all ages and genders. When I would see headlights coming up behind me, I’d pull over, stop, lean over the handlebars and wait/rest. Then I’d sit there for 30 seconds or so to let the dust settle (dust at night is similar to fog at night in terms of headlights and visibility) until the next rider came. That lap ended up taking over 2.5 hours – almost twice as long as my fastest lap. Speaking of laps, here is my timing breakdown:
Lap 1 - 1:12 (17.5 miles, started us out on course) Lap 2 - 1:20 (19.15 miles for all subsequent laps) Lap 3 - 1:27 Lap 4 - 1:33 Lap 5 - 1:40 Lap 6 - 1:39 Lap 7 - 1:59 (about half lap was at night) Lap 8 - 2:32 (night lap, exhausted lap) Lap 9 - 3:59 (Slept for 1.5 hours before starting this lap) Lap 10 - 2:06 (night lap) Lap 11 - 1:51 (only the first couple miles with lights) Lap 12 - 1:40 Total time: 23:01
Towards the middle of Lap 8, I had thoughts of just quitting after that lap since I couldn’t hold onto the handlebars very well and just felt miserable getting passed by everyone. When I’d see someone’s headlights come up behind me, I’d pull over to the side of the trail and just rest for a few seconds until they caught up to me. By the end of the lap, I knew I didn’t want to quit but I also knew I needed to rest for a long time. So I sat in the chair, propped my feet up on the ice chest, and covered up with a big towel (temps were already down into the 40s). I didn’t fall asleep, though, I just laid there watching racers go by — including Tostado who lapped me for a second time. I got so cold after maybe 15 minutes like this that I moved everything out of the way and crawled into the back of the car to escape the 5-10 mph wind that was still blowing.
Joe Coffelt, who was helping me and whose wife got second place in the women’s race – see thank you section below, asked me what time I wanted him to wake me up. I told him I’d like to do 12 laps total, which meant four more laps. We calculated that 2AM would be a nice safe time to wake me up with enough leeway to get ready to ride again and have enough time to finish the last four laps. He ended up letting me sleep an extra 15 minutes – probably because I looked so miserable in the back of the car – but those 15 minutes may have been really important for me to finish the race at all. When I woke up, I had to change back into cycling clothes and then get ready to ride. I was so stiff I couldn’t imagine being able to complete another lap, but by the time I had made it to the top of the campground I was feeling tons better than before I went to sleep. Perhaps those extra 15 minutes were just enough to let my body and mind recover.
Also, there is no point in imagining how I might have done if I hadn’t slept at all. There’s no way of knowing whether my lap times would have continued to get slower and slower until I was forced to sleep either out on the trail somewhere or back in the pit area. That is what I think would have happened – although how epic would that have been to have pulled my bike off the trail, made a nest in the pine straw, and gone to sleep in the middle of the race. Or perhaps my body would have eventually recovered while riding. I’d like to think that I made the best choice I could have made given the circumstances. Those last four laps were the funnest of the whole race! I finally figured out all the sandy turns and was hitting those much faster and just generally enjoyed more of the course. I had expected that my last night lap on Berma (3 mile descent with jumps and fast turns) would have been my fastest because I hit everything perfectly, but it must have just been the illusion of descending at night that made it feel faster as it was only my 4th fastest time of the day.
Also, during that same lap I caught the 2nd place woman a mile or two before she caught the 1st place woman. I was in no hurry so I asked if I could just ride behind her for a while. Shortly before catching the 1st place woman, she surged and dropped me on the climb and attacked the woman who had been in first. I eventually caught the now second place woman and tried to encourage her before passing her with about a mile to go on the climb. It was really cool to see what I thought was the battle for first and second in the women’s race play out in the middle of the night. But as it turns out, one of the women had problems with their eyes on the next lap and had to stop, which moved my friend Laureen Coffelt, whose husband was helping me in the pit, up into 2nd place by the end of the race. I didn’t see Laureen the entire race until about mile 4 of the last lap when we were both on our 12th lap. I encouraged her and then raced on by imagining that 9th and 10th place were catching up on me and would boot me out of the top 10. As it turns out, though, I caught and exchanged positions with 7th place sometime during that last lap — although it’s impossible to know exactly when since there were teams, women, and singlespeed riders still out on course – and I passed a lot of people on that last lap.
I uploaded a higher res version of the results below – there were about 60 solo males that started the national championship race, so I was happy to finish 7th in my first 24 hour mountain bike race.
Huge thanks and shout-out to Joe and Laureen Coffelt (and Scott Kuppersmith for connecting me with them). Joe was supporting his wife, Laureen, who got 2nd in the women’s race. It worked out awesome that we were never in the pit at the same time, and Joe took complete care of everything (greasing the chain, refilling my camelbak, getting me food, drink, and coaching me through my first 24 hour race to a top 10 finish with some really strong guys here!) Also, a big shout-out to Kyle Taylor who inspired me to do this race early in the season when he invited me to do this race as part of a four-man team. But then I had my crazy bike-car accident which left me in the hospital for a week only six weeks before this race. Nobody, including myself, thought I’d be able to do the race which threw everybody’s plans for the race into confusion. My jaws were still wired shut a little more than a week before the race. I had to beg the doctor to cut the wires off, and was still ordered on a strict no-chew diet – but this race officially ended that. If I’m able to survive a rough 24 hour mountain bike race with no impact to my jaw, I think it is safe to eat again! My jaw and accident may have impacted my performance a bit – one very positive way and one very negative way. The positive way is that I essentially had 6 weeks of altitude training with me having to breathe entirely through my nose. I believe this really did help with the altitude (the entire race was above 7000 feet, and maxed out at 8300 feet). But the negative impact was my nutrition. I am a powerbar kinda guy. I like to eat bars, and that is how I have raced for years and years. For this race, I mixed up 10 bottles of a meal replacement drink and put them into my bottles to drink between laps for calories. This worked OK, but I was hungry and I started eating stuff after Lap 8 – chocolate chip cookies, snickers bars, whatever I could find at the aid stations. And I think my exhaustion by Laps 7 and Lap 8 may have been because of a calorie deficit. No excuses, though, because my altitude training may have offset the calorie deficit so that it all worked out even in the end.
I’ll upload more data and comment more about the course and event when I get home, but I just managed to lose this entire post and had to type it in a second time so I’ve left out some of the fun details of the race. Also, I’m in Albuquerque, New Mexico and for RAAM training for next year I’m going to go get back on the bike even though I’m very sore and climb Sandia Peak – should be fun!
24 Hours of Enchanted Forest
I’m happy that my first post back after my bike-car collision six weeks ago is from New Mexico where I am getting ready to race 24 hour mountain bike nationals near Gallup, NM. Everything has healed up great including my jaw, but I’m still being super careful with a limited chewing diet. I split the 1400 mile drive up into two days doing 1000 miles the first day to Amarillo, Texas and then 400 miles the second day to Gallup, New Mexico. Wouldn’t want to cross such a vast chunk of the country without doing some riding, so I stopped for some riding adventures along the way.
A ride down Texas memory lane – Tuesday
I met my wife during the summer of 2001 when I was volunteering in the Mercy Ships IT department outside of Tyler, Texas. Two years later after a long distance relationship, we were married in Wisconsin and then moved to California. So driving across the country is not something new for me, but it sure brings back tons of memories. I did a nice two hour easy ride around Van, Garden Valley, and the Mercy Ships headquarters remembering back to that summer 13 years ago. Although I did go hard up Moon Hill trying to get the KOM figuring that surely someone had made a segment, but my 37 mile ride didn’t match up with any segments on Strava! Imagine that – 37 miles of segment-less territory in East Texas. I did create two segments – one for Moon Hill and one for a road through some oil wells. Towards the end of my ride, I almost biked right past my friends Heather and Michael Drown who still work for Mercy Ships and were just finishing up a VBS planning meeting at the Garden Valley Bible Church. I saw them in the parking lot, though, and stopped and said hi for just a few minutes before finishing the drive out to Amarillo … Texas is big!
Amarillo Cross Fun – Wednesday
I just purchased a used cross bike and brought it with me specifically to tackle a climb in Albuquerque, New Mexico after the 24 hour race – but I also wanted to get some training on it for some upcoming ultra cross races … where I’m hoping to move up one step on the podium for the overall series by the time it wraps up in late November. I was looking for some good dirt roads with some hills using Google Maps even before leaving Alabama when I stumbled upon a street view image of some sort of bike park. So after sleeping in, I decided to go explore it on my cross bike. There was a few sandy spots where wider tires would help, but otherwise everything was totally rideable. Plus, there was a cool powerline paved trail running north of town that I also got to explore before hopping in the car to drive 400 miles across pretty much all of New Mexico to do my first pre-ride of the 24 hour race course.
Enchanted Forest Night Ride – Wednesday
I arrived just before sunset, but by the time I got everything ready to ride on my mountain bike it was just past sunset. The wildlife was amazing at that time of day even on the drive up from the interstate. Lots of cows running across fields (and the road), lots of deer, lots of bunny rabbits, one cool hawk (or owl), and not much else. I checked around with a few people who were already at the campground and found out where to head to find the course. I rode by one of the volunteers who was putting up the last of the arrows for the course, so it was completely marked by the time I started my ride at 8:30PM. I rode the first half of the course with no light under a rising full moon and lots of afterglow from the sunset. This was good because with the white dirt/sand trail the line to take really stood out. Eventually though it got dark enough that I was afraid I would miss an arrow so I used my light at its lowest setting. I wasn’t exactly flying, but I had no problem negotiating the entire trail with low setting. It was awesome riding in the dark under a full moon with a tall pine forest surrounded by nothing but the occasional deer or rabbit scurrying across the trail. I ended up my ride at 10:30PM back at the campground which was eerily silent with most everybody already asleep.
Enchanted Forest Day Ride – Thursday
I headed back out to the Ciobala National Forest to ride again today in the daytime. The trails are just amazing – super fast singletrack – you could probably big chainring the whole course, but there are a few places where it’s probably more efficient to dump it down into the little chainring. The primary difference between the singletrack here and what I’m used to riding is how smooth the course is — very few rocks and even less roots. Plus, a lot of the trails just go straight for a long time instead of lots of tight turns trying to maximize trail distance over a smaller area. It really is the perfect course for a 24 hour race – fast and fun, I think the time will just fly by.
Gallup Exploring – Thursday
I mapped out a Cat 2 climb using terrain view and satellite view up to the towers shown in the top half of the instagram pic above, but when I was doing the climb I discovered that a lot of the roads on the map were private, so I had to turn around. Still, it was some beautiful roads and the moon rise over church rock was amazing. The tailwind on the way out was incredible … I was going 37 mph on a flat road at one point with at least a 30 mph tailwind. Thankfully it had died down a bit by the time I was heading back later, but it was still tough just riding along a flat road straight into the wind. Can’t wait for tomorrow!