I am now back home after eight straight days of racing my mountain bike. Yes, I am tired and am thankful I took today off from work to rest. I just woke up from a much needed 2 hour nap. I should be writing about the Trans-Sylvania Epic
because that is where it all started but I am going to write about the last race in those eight days.
That is right, I left Pennslyvania Saturday evening once a winner was crowned for the 3 Beer Derby
and headed to New Jersey. It was hard to leave but part of me really wanted to do this event. History has shown I get stronger as a stage race goes on (Last year's Brek Epic is an example). That is why I signed up for a 50 mile race the day after the Trans-Sylvania Epic. During TSE I thought this was foolish and was wondering where I'd find the energy to complete a 50 mile race. In the end it paid off.
I originally wanted to camp out at the start/finish of the Bearscat50 so I could get some sleep and not have to travel before the event but there was no available camping as the event was in a state park (Waywayanda) and all the campsites were full. Alas, I wound up staying at my parent's house that evening and had an hour or so drive in the morning. It allowed me to catch up on some laundry, pick up my dog and get a decent night's sleep (6hrs worth).
I have not ridden nor raced at Waywayanda since the Highlands to Hudson series race there back in 2006 (or was it 2005? I forget). I completely forgot how to get there as I didn't drive last time. The race information contained no address for me to use the GPS so I wound up going to the NJ state parks website and took a guess that the main entrance of the park was where we would be. My guess was correct upon arriving at the park around 7:30am.
Quickly took the dog for a walk and picked up my number. Said hello to Roger Foco and Monte. Also saw Sean, Frank and Johan from Bethel Cycle as I was walking back to my car. They all knew I just finished Trans-Sylvania and told me I should be home sleeping. Something I agreed with but said I already paid for this race so I might as well give it a whirl. My expectations were to, at a minimum, complete one lap (25miles). I also had no intentions on going hard at the start but rather just 'riding my bike in the woods' yesterday.
Hmm. two 25mile laps with a few aid stations. I was guessing 4-5hrs and Monte snapped me into reality by suggesting probably closer to 5hrs to complete all 50 miles. Building off of my water and food intake at Trans-Sylvania I opted not to use any drop bags as I could get through 25 miles with whatever I had on me. In a jamb, I could stop at the aid stations for more water. This allowed me to carry two bottles of electrolytes on my bike and a third that had two scoops of Perpetuem and some Hammer Gel in my jersey pocket. I also had a flask of Hammer Gel and some misc gel packets at back-up. My primary source of food would be the third bottle and my gel flask. I left three of the same bottles at the finish (also the start to the 2nd lap) along with a cooler that had some cold Coke in case I wanted something different. I also left Omega tied to a tree right near my stuff while I was racing. It was nice and shady so I figured he'd be okay.
There was no beer on course or at the start/finish. I forgot that you can not have alcohol in NJ State Parks. After drinking one or two beers after every stage last week this was kind of a let down. I didn't have any with me so I wasn't too bothered by this. Guess I'll be all 'pro and stuff' and not have any alcohol...
The Open Men and 45+ Men went out ahead of the singlespeeders. It turns out no one was listening at the racer's meeting for half the 45+ Men class left with the Open Men. The remainder of the 45+ Men left a minute back and us Singlespeeders left 5 minutes after the 45+ Men.
My plan was to start off easy and if I felt good I could pick up the pace otherwise I'd just ride at one pace the entire race. A nice and easy pace. Physically I felt tired at the start, which prompted an easy start on my behalf. Mentally I was ready for this no matter how much everyone said I was crazy and should be resting after TSE. In my head it was just another day on the bike like the previous seven. You get into a rhythm in stage racing (race, eat, rest, eat, sleep, do it again the next day). The only difference here was the travel the night prior and the morning of.
We started shortly after 9am and I found myself in 4th place following Dave Lyons who was on Cavanaugh's wheel who was on Foco's wheel. There was no sprint start but a casual pedaling across the field. I liked this and the pace was exactly what I needed. When we got out of the field and into the woods those three started pulling on me but I maintained my pace and let them go. After all, I just wanted to ride and not worry about who's winning. Even my pace was enough to pull away from the rest of the field, whom I never saw again until the finish.
Roger and Cavanaugh were pulling on Dave while I was sort of on Dave's wheel. We came to an offcamber right turn littered with rocks and Dave went down with a front flat tire (it looked harsh but Dave assured me he was okay). I kept going and caught up to Roger and Cavanaugh as they got caught in traffic. We had to dismount and run many times in the first 5 miles just to get around people. This was both annoying and a godsend. Annoying because we were riding at a much faster pace then the back of the 45+ group but a godsend because the lapped traffic let us get out ahead and everyone behind us had to deal with it as well.
I managed to get around people with some smart moves while Roger and Cav pulled away from me. Third place sounded pretty damn cool so I figured I'd just hang out here and maintain my pace to see if it will manifest a 3rd place finish. I'd spin my ass off on some of the short doubletrack and fire roads to pass a bunch of people on the first lap. It meant I'd go harder than I wanted to but my body felt okay to do it as long as it were a few short bursts and I could recover thereafter.
I settled into a nice pace with a gentleman named Will (I think that was his name). I liked his pace and it allowed both of us to chat with each other. Knowing I could carry out conversations on the first lap meant I was easing myself into this race which is what I wanted to do. I didn't want to yo-yo back and forth like I did all week at Trans-Sylvania (I'll explain that in later posts) but wanted to be consistent from one lap to another. In a 50 mile race of nothing but rocks, being consistent meant starting slower. Starting slower is always a difficult thing to do but thanks to Roger's starting pace and my ability to let he and Cav pull on me when they picked up the pace I felt comfortable with my riding.
Maybe around 20 miles in I came around a turn and saw Cavanaugh changing a front flat tire. I was not expecting to see him and kind of bummed he's messing with a flat. With as many rocks the course has I certainly didn't want to be messing with a flat tire. Sean said he had everything and was pounding some food to use the wrappers to cover up a giant hole in his sidewall. I mustered on realizing Roger was the only singlespeeder infront of me.
After 2 hours of riding I was beginning to wonder where the finish of the first lap was. It was starting to mess with my mind. We then turned onto a fire road and that fire road did not end. After ten minutes of riding the fire road I was wondering if I was still on course. I could barely make out any tire tracks and didn't see any trail markings. The good news is that all the side trails were marked with a big 'X' and had sticks laid across them to tell us we weren't riding them. This told me I needed to continue down the fire road. Guess my complaint is there could have been more arrows periodically on the fire road but I eventually figured out the fire road would take us back to where we started and also end the lap.
I was able to ride just about the entire lap with the exception of where I had to run around lapped traffic. There weren't really any long big climbs that would kill you. Some of the fire roads we rode on had some climbs but they weren't long. My definition of long could be jaded as I just spent a week in PA climbing fire roads that would last miles and miles and were so steep that my 34x20 required me to stand and turn a super low cadence. I didn't have to do that at Bearscat. The most I did was stand up but the cadence was still high. The climbs are where the races were won last week but the Bearscat race was won with fluid riding through the technical rock gardens. Something I really enjoy and tend to think I am pretty good at doing.
When I finished the first lap my legs felt pretty good. I went through all three bottles and some of the gel in my gel flask. I stopped and switched out my bottles and decided to keep on riding. Cavanaugh didn't catch up to me yet so technically I was still in 2nd. Might as well keep going.
As I left my empty bottles behind and started off on my second lap someone stopped me, pointed at my front wheel and told me to check my mileage. I had no idea what they were talking about and replied with something like this.
"What are you talking about? I don't have a computer. I'm just out riding my bike."
as I rolled off to start my second lap. I later found out after finishing the race that people were missing a turn which shortened the course by a few miles. I don't recall missing any turns and over 2hours to ride 25 miles sounded right according to my analog wristwatch (I only ride with a wristwatch and just keep track of time. This allows me to make sure I eat and drink every hour).
I rode most of the stuff on the second lap where I had to dismount and run around lapped traffic on the first lap. I also came around a corner and saw Roger and one other individual on the side of the trail doing something. I stopped and asked what was a-matter. Turns out Roger broke one of the bolts that holds his Superfly rear drop-outs in place. You can't ride the bike without all the bolts in tact as the drop-outs would move. I quickly did a mental scan of what I had in my Oakley parts bag in my pocket and recalled I don't carry an extra 5mm bolt. I also looked at my bike and realized I had no spares to give up. Not being able to help him I kept on riding.
Wow, this race was really destroying people's equipment. First Dave's front tire minutes into the race. Then Sean's front tire 20miles or so into the race and now a broken bolt on Roger's bike? It was a war of attrition.
After seeing so much carnage and also realizing that I was now in first place of the singlespeed field I pulled back the throttle in some of the very rocky sections. I needed to be smart for if I flatted or broke something I just cost myself the win. Throttling back would help me conserve energy and I also knew both Roger and Sean would not be throttling back as they were both on the chase once they got their bikes fixed. This would either force them into more tire/bike problems or they would fade after the 4hr mark The only thing I could do was make sure I motored up any of the climbs we had. If I didn't slow down on the climbs then I could make up extra time where I throttled back in the rocks. If I felt good I also picked up the cadence a lot on the fire roads to pick up more speed.
This seemed to work well for me on the second lap. I paid close attention to eating and drinking and didn't really come close to cramping at any point in the race. I tried to maintain pace with fellow riders I encountered but they would eventually fade and I wasn't so I'd then bridge up to another group of people and ride with them for about 10mins or so before they would fade. This, ultimately, left me out there by myself after the 3.5hr mark. I was able to remember the trail and pinpoint sections of trail with how long it took me to get there on the first lap. Doing the math in my head I was figuring I'd finish around 5hours. Backing out 5 hours told me also where to eat and drink to not fade.
At some point I did come across a female rider. I wasn't sure if she was riding or racing but she assured me there weren't too many people ahead of me. I didn't believe here as I figured there was at least 10 guys ahead of me but I thanked her for the information and kept on riding.
The 4 hour mark came and went. Things started getting hard. Hard from the standpoint of my shoulders were fatiguing. My lower back hurt (but I knew how to fix that and was doing a good job keeping that pain at bay). My feet were starting to really kill me. All that pounding from the rocks was taking its toll on my feet no matter how thick my wool socks were. My legs felt okay so I kept telling myself that its just another hour and I'd finish soon enough. I did slow down here and there and reassured myself it was okay to slow down or to walk a section rather than muscle through it. Everyone was probably getting tired and I could only guess I had a couple of a minute gap on whomever was behind me so I could give up a few seconds here and there for 'active rest' by slowing down or walking a section.
By now all I could think about was that damn fire road at the end. Not because it sucks to ride on a singlespeed but because I knew that was the end of the lap and the end of the race. The 5 hour mark was coming quickly too so I knew I was close. I drank the rest of my Perpetuem and finished my gel flask in anticipation for that fire road. By the time I got there the food would be somewhat digested and I'd have enough energy to pick up the pace to the finish.
Right turn onto the fire road and there I went. Long fire roads and no signs of anyone ahead of me or behind me. Feeling pretty good I now rode as hard as I could, the hardest I rode all race. Each rise on the fire road I'd wonder if I'd see the white ribbon telling me to make a right into the last straight-a-way to the finish. 15 minutes later those ribbons were in sight and I pinned it to take the singlespeed category win.
My wristwatch had me at around 5hrs. The results
show me at 4hrs 54minutes. My second lap was about six and a half minutes slower than my first lap. Pretty consistent if you ask me. More consistent than the Open Men. Surprisingly, my time would have put me 4th in the Open Men class. I didn't realize I was that far up in the overall. Monte did tell me that there is little difference between a geared bike and a singlespeed bike on these trails. The geared guys certainly made up time on the fire roads.
Open Men Results
Myself in 1st, Roger in 2nd, Sean in 3rd.
If you ask me today how I pulled that off I still do not have an answer. I went out easy and felt good. Mentally I kept telling myself I was just riding my bike and not worrying about who's who in the race. Perhaps that helped? Perhaps a week on the bike in PA helped despite such a rollercoaster of a week (which I'll get into later this week)? In the end, I did what I was trying to do all week: ride consistently.
This was a lot of fun and I met some awesome people while out there on the trail. The trails and the course are something I fully enjoy: super rocky east coast technical trails. The small amount of doubletrack and fire roads was just enough to break up the course. Any longer and I wouldn't have been as fun in my eyes. I need to come out and do more NJ/NY races as everyone is so friendly and its good to see people I don't get to see too often.
If this race is back next year I highly recommend it. I do need to go back and ride Waywayanda and Ringwood more.
For those of you local to me this race can be likened to doing a 50 mile race at Case or Pennwood. For those of you at Trans-Sylvania last week, it can be likened to 50 miles of RB Winter's State Park (the mini-xc day, stage 5). I know Elk
would like this race as he loves RB Winter.