The 2nd installment of Bonebender 3/6 hour race was Sunday April 18th. If you'll remember last year's installment was the worst mudfest I've been party to. It wasn't pretty with heavy rains the morning of the race causing all types of casualties to rider, machinery, and trail. This year we had much better luck and what one could definitely call perfect conditions. Temps were cool at the start in the lower 50's and warmed to a sunny upper 60's by afternoon. The trails had a slight watering down on Friday, but were tacky and fast, to almost dusty in some portions. New for this year was an extended rock garden section that included an off camber sideways ledge drop of 12-18". Not that it really mattered what was new this year as I hadn't had the pleasure of riding more than 2 miles before breaking last year so it was basically all new.
Race rig ready
We had a large contingent of Rassy's racers headed down for the show. Maria, Squirrel, Jason and I met up at 5 to head out and arrived about perfectly to get our pit set up, check in, warm up, and have a few minutes to contemplate the pain we were about to embark on. Other than gravel centuries this would be my first foray into enduro style off roading. The 24 hour race at Boone was a little bit of an intro, but being part of a 4 man team, I only raced 45 minutes at a shot and roughly 6 hours total over the 24. The little voice in my head was definitely worried about pacing myself. However, pacing and mass starts with 250ish people are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
As with last year, we lined our bikes up along a paved bike trail and grouped up for a 1/4 mile or so dash ala "LeMans style". I found a nice spot for my bike with a good refence point to be able to pick it out in the sea of other rides and then positioned myself 1 row back from the front for the running start. It was mass hysteria as the starter sent us on our way, but I managed to fist fight my way through and hit the bike in relatively good shape. I was probably in the top 30 riders by the time we hit singletrack with my heart all ready beating at the top of zone 4. I was early enough to avoid the ensuing snarl of riders stopping and starting through dropping into the singletrack, but yet far enough back that I didn't have to crush my heart rate into zone 5 just to maintain pace. All in all, I don't think my start could've gotten much better until I can get more endurance built up this year.
I was constantly checking my heart rate as the lap progressed and growing increasingly nervous as it was sitting in the middle to upper end of my zone 4 which is definitely more suited to short races and not endurance pace. I needed to really drop it by almost 15 beats per minute to get into a comfortable zone. That never happened on lap 1 and I knew it wasn't going to gain me anything come later in the race. I rode very well through lap 1 and was mostly able to maintain position by passing and getting passed. Remember the rock ledge? Well, I was leading a group of 3 or 4 riders up to the ledge area having no idea where on course it was. We came around a bend to see a down warning arrow about 20' up the trail and a group of volunteers nervously watching the riders and waiting for the carnage. I made sure to not disappoint them. I tried riding the ledge and washed my front tire out sideways spinning the bars and spitting me straight forward onto the rocks below. I was still clipped in with my right foot and took a few extra seconds getting that mess straightened out all the while blocking the trail completely. A fw more seconds and I think the guys behind me may have decided to leave me for dead and just use my carcass as a nice step down. Luckily I was able to hop back up, grab the bike and go. I'd lost my chain off the crank in the crash and that took me a few seconds to get spun back on as well all while still blocking the guys behind me. The rest of the rock section was mostly uneventful with the exception of a rock/root combo that messed me up the first couple times until I realized the best line was to ride straight over it in lieu of trying to go around it- score for the 29er!
I was starting to get crossed eyed as we hit the pavement section directly after the rocks, but luckily we were rewarded with some swoop and flow at that point of the trail and I could clear my head a bit. After all of that excitement, we were left with only a few more technical obstacles such as a set of 4 rock step ups of roughly 4-6" each and spaced just far enough apart to not get more than a half pedal stroke between them, a rocky climb with a large logover at the top in a slow section, and what I believe they call "the pulpit" which is a shoulder height rocky outcropping with a hard to pick line and exposure on the right. The rest of the trail had the usual off road obstacles with roots, more rocky rough sections, and a few logovers, but also contained some sweet flowing bermed turns with high speeds and usually some major penalties in the form of looming trees if you failed to maintain control. My GPS was reading the laps off at roughly 11.2 miles with 750ish feet of climb.
As I neared the end of lap 1 my right foot started feeling odd as I turned the cranks. It took about a nanosecond for me to realize my cleat had come loose and I might be in danger of losing it all together as sloppy as the connection was. I eased my way the last mile or so into the checkpoint area.
As I went to dismount, the extent of my problem became fully clear. I couldn't unclip on the right! Not one to flaunt the no riding in the check in area, I stopped long enough to pull my foot out of the shoe and leave it clipped to the bike. Now that I look back, it's the same foot that stayed clipped in and didn't want to unclip during my crash over the ledge. I am begining to think the two issues are definitely related. In any case, I ran through the checkpoint and remounted the bike like a tri rider with my foot sitting on top of the shoe and rode back to our pit. I was a bit frustrated at this point, but kept myself relatively collected and got a new screw dug out from my repair parts as the one was nearly stripped. I tightened the cleat down and tested it out for being in the correct position. All was good so I grabbed a new bottle, a bite of my breakfast cookie and maybe a few cashews before heading back out. I was probably stopped in the neighborhood of 5 minutes but it sure felt like a lifetime as I saw a ton of riders streaming past. I finished the lap at 62:13 with a 175 heart rate average.
Lap 2 brought on my real pacing plan. I backed down to what felt like a much more manageable pace, but the heart rate monitor kept saying otherwise. Slowly but surely, I made myself slow down even more, but I could tell the early pace had all ready done some damage and I was merely 1.5 hours into 6. At the start of the race, I calculated that the winners would most likely get 7 laps in and I might be borderline on getting 6 or 7. As my pace slowed, the calculations fired back up. Now I was shooting for 6 laps and wondering if I could reach that goal. Soon enough I found myself again leading a train of 4 guys as we hit the rock section. The start to this section had 2 trees tight together with the singletrack running right through them. You hit them with a bit of speed and a turn at the same time. I managed to hip check the tree on the right pretty hard, yet was going fast enough that I was a good 10 feet past by the time I yelled out from the pain. As I learned in Colorada last year I seem to do pretty well with the rock garden sections and slowly strung out the group behind me. With only 1 or 2 guys back, I offered up to let them go if they were planning to ride the ledge. I calculated losing 10 or so seconds was a much better outcome than possibly eating it again. They took me up on the offer only to find a traffic jamb where we were all walking it again. This lap finished up pretty uneventful with 67:06 on the clock and a heart rate of 168.
I pitted again to grab some more food and another bottle at the start of lap 3. My legs, back, and upper body were starting to really give me fits at this point. I snagged some ibuprofen and loaded up with 2 bottles in lieu of just 1 for this round. As I started back on the lap, I hit that point of questioning why I was doing this to myself. Why didn't I just sign up for the 3 hour race? Why was I even pretending that I could be a contender in the open class? Lots of questions and the only answers lay ahead on miles of rough terrain. Lap 3 was the worst for me. I felt every bump, root, and rock in the trail and my body began that process of shutting down. I don't remember much of the lap beyond hurting. I could only turn in a 72:44 at a 159 heart rate.
As I got back to the pit after my 3rd lap, I began contemplating the drop. I wasn't sure if I had any more laps left in me. I sat down in a chair, popped a Coke and grabbed a Snickers bar to contemplate my situation for a few minutes. I probably took a solid 10+ minute break at this point before deciding I had no good reason to not give it at least one more round and see how things went even if I rode really slowly. That's pretty much exactly what I did, I started hydrating more and let my heart rate stay as low as it wanted. Surprisingly, I didn't drop much time over lap 3. I think part of that may have been due to teammate Jason catching me towards the end of my lap and he looked strong. I'd seen him a few spots earlier in the lap and he had reeled me in. It looked like he was determined to get a gap going as well with the way he came cruising past. I was actually content to let him go, but I managed to put forth enough effort to hang onto his wheel until we hit the checkpoint. I finished out with a 74:46 and a 148 heart rate.
Jason and I talked about doing a brief pit and then heading back out for lap 5 together. I wasn't quite ready to go and was still setting and enjoying my other half a coke and more snickers bar when he tore out of the pit. Squirrel and I both noted how strong he looked today and I figured that was the last I'd see of him. I finished up my stop and headed out a few minutes back. Surprisingly, my legs were showing some signs of life. Though my back and body still hurt, I felt good enough to start cranking over the pedals a little better. I figured that this would be my last lap so why not put out whatever I could and see how I faired even if I blew up.
The cramps were really edging their way into my focus by this point with the first twinges having starting clear back on lap 3. As I cranked up the pace, they were ever present in the fringes of my effort. I focused on bombing the downhills about as fast as I had all day and then cranking the uphills with as much momentum as I could. All in all, I felt really well about how I was rolling. I finally got passed by several of the leaders on this lap and every once in a while I caught a glimpse of Cam methodically hunting me down to lap me as well. Just past the rock garden I saw a rabbit. It was Jason back within my sites. I knew he'd be trying to stay away as soon as he caught site of me and I think that helped both of us to notch up the effort one more level. It became clear that I was definitely rolling the downhills faster than him and as we came around to an extended climb, he shifted down to start spinning it out while I was standing and methodically cranking away.
Cam had caught us by this point as we pointed him by. I followed suit and decided it was now or never to see if I could create a cushion over Jason. I upped the effort a little higher and soon enough lost track of him. Knowing he was lurking close back, I kept trying to keep my pace up without overcooking a turn or messing up in any of 1000 other possible ways. Just as I ws thinking to myself I might have it in the bag as long as I didn't have any major mistakes, my left foot came unclipped and I bobbled a few pedals strokes as I straightened my line and got clipped back in. That was a bit too close for comfort and I backed it down just a shade through the remaining couple of miles of singletrack. As I hit the final section of paved trail back to the checkpoint it was time to have a bit of fun.
I put everything I had left into cranking over the pavement. Seeing as our pit tent was at the end of a straightaway with a 90 degree turn to the left, I threw the bike into a couple of longer sideways skid with the second one laying it out almost 90 degrees as I shot around the corner.
I cranked it back up to the checkpoint for the last time finishing out my last lap in a pretty respectable 67:33 which was almost back to my 2nd lap pace. I clocked in and just missed going out for a 6th lap by a shade over 6 minutes. At that point in time, I'm not certain whether or not I'd have done another lap if I'd had the choice. Its a funny thing how fleeting the rememberance of the actual pain and suffering the body feels during race conditions is. I think its a 50/50 prospect looking back now. I do know that after 5 laps I was done and then some.
I was done...
Photos borrowed from here, here, and here.