My "A" race for the season this year ended up being the Dakota Five-O. Of course, I think thats a bit of a misnomer in itself as I usually try to treat every race I'm going to pony up cash to participate in as an "A" race. If you're not going to give it your all, why are you on the line? I digress, it was still my most looked forward to race of the year for multiple reasons. A number of friends have headed to the wilds of Spearfish over the previous years and come back to tales of how undeniably awesome this race was. Add in that it would be my biggest race ever in respect to the number of participants, my first big race on the singlespeed, racing against a bunch of friends and you've got a serious recipe for wanting to have a great race.
Iowa peeps representin'
As luck would have it, my wife and girls were able to join me for the trip and turn this into our family vacation as well. We took off Thursday so we could make an overnight trip out of the 12 hour drive so the girls wouldn't get too cooped up in the car. I was planning to get there Friday in time to do a solid pre-ride for part of the course and then go back out on Saturday for a light spin of the legs and a little more recon. For me, it proved to be the perfect plan. Friday, I got dropped off at the Tinton trailhead opting to skip the opening 3ish mile gravel climb that would be part of the start. I've got plenty of gravel experience so climbing 3 miles worth of it wasn't going to gain me anything over driving it. I really wanted to check out this sweet singletrack I'd been hearing so much about.
Race prep had me looking at various elevation charts and distances to time stations, etc. I figured a good warm up would be to ride to the first aid station from the trail head and then downhill it back before meeting my ladies for dinner. I saddled up and hit the dirt to find a mix of dirt, limestone rockiness, short steep climbs, longer power climbs, and rolling terrain through some breathtaking scenery.
Crows Peak backdrop:
I rolled through my pre-ride toward checkpoint 1 with very little descending and a good chunk of climbing. The steeper sections were a good workout, but not overly difficult in this section, but the real treat for me were the extended gradual grades. With my gearing at 34x20, I could power through them at a good cadence and not overtax myself. After topping out at the checkpoint, I was looking forward to the ripping descent that awaited me. I pointed the bike back down the trail and was grinning ear to ear as I flew down the trail in what can best be described as a speed not recommended for having your big race in 2 days... I let it hang pretty far out as I was having so much fun.
Finally I hit the gravel back towards town and was planning to meet the girls somewhere on it. I ripped down one hill, then another, and then another. Sensing I didn't recognize the scenery, I whoaed up and realized in my zeal to fly back into town, I'd headed down 1.5 too many hills and missed my turn. Ooops! I turned back around and grunted my way back to the turnoff where my chariot was awaiting to run us back into town for some dinner.
I felt really good on the pre-ride and was starting to really look forward to having a good race. After all my skimming and researching, I was thinking I'd shoot for a sub 5:30 hour ride time as a good goal for having a solid race. I felt pretty confident I could hit that time and maybe a little better. As Saturday rolled around, I hit packet pick-up and sent out the call for another pre-ride and easy spin that afternoon. Tom and Maria answered the call and we decided to head further up the trail and pre-ride part of the course starting at Aid 1 since I could give them a preview of what was leading up to that part.
We got a pretty nice and easy spin in and turned back just before the big drop into Iron Creek drainage and the subsequent uphill known as "Cardiac Climb". The course was shaping up to have pretty much every type of terrain and track you could imagine. I was really stoked about racing at this point. Tom and I chatted a bit more about the race and he'd been geeking over numbers and reports even more than me. After that, he shared his race goal with me and laughed at mine thinking I was pretty handily going to be able to beat that effort and I should up the anty a bit. I think I stepped it up to something around 5 hours as my goal from that discussion. We killed off the rest of the day and I tried to hit the hay relatively early, but sleep wouldn't come easily. I was excited and nervous about such a big race and being a first timer. I really wasn't sure what to expect from myself, my fitness, or my race plan. Only time would really tell.
Just a gentle reminder it's going to suck at some point (Sometimes "fun" hurts pretty f*ing bad):
The morning rolled in damn chilly with a low 40's start temp forecasted. I got bundled up with a coat for the 3 mile downhill from our hotel to the start since the girls would be sleeping in versus getting up at 6 with me. I kept going through my race plan in my head to keep myself focused on what I needed to do and help forget about the chill in the air. As I lined up for the start I stripped down to just arm warmers in addition to my Rassy kit. I ended up stage about 6 or so rows back from the start and had a good view of all the horsepower sitting on the start line. Finally, Smokey the Bear dropped his arm and we were off for our "neutral" start. I was almost instantly spun out for the neutral roll out at close to 20mph.
I wasn't anticipating such a fast start for sure. I'd done a small warm up, but had been sitting on the line for close to 20 minutes and my legs weren't going to be able to really respond without overstressing them. I spun fast, but watched probably 50+ riders surge away as I struggled with the pace. It wasn't a great omen for the opening neutral mile of the race, but I stuck to it and kept as quick a pace as I could. Just before the neutral section comes to an end is Hill street. It's a 90 degree left into a steep uphill. As luck would have it, being back a bit in the field, I had an open enough line that I could carry a ton of momentum into the hill. Tag that along with singlespeed climbing power and I quickly passed back a good 20+ people inside of a block. Maybe it wasn't going to be such a bad day after all.
I started settling into the pack and could see a big mass of riders moving up ahead stretching for a couple blocks already as we hit the end of the neutral start and opened up the racing. The gravel climb started and it was a bit of a relief for me. My plan was to hit the gravel progressively harder as we climbed and I warmed up and topping out somewhere in the midst of Z4 when we got to the singletrack. I'd already passed a couple teammates at this point and was tailing a few others. I began picking off a number of people as the gravel steepened and I warmed through. A few riders got past me, but for the most part I was gaining positions much faster than I was losing them. I could now see the "fast guys" group had separated and was a solid 1/4 mile up the road with a pack of 20ish guys duking it out. I held my plan and all too quickly I found myself at the end of the gravel and ready for the singletrack attack.
Get all the spots you can:
I tried to sneak a couple more spots as we hit the singletrack figuring the slinky effect would be full on with this many riders. Sure enough, there was a definite drop in pace as everyone filed into the narrow stripe of dirt. I'd dug a good bit into my heart rate and the slow down was actually a good chance to get it back under control for a bit and something I'd halfway counted on happening. I figured a race of this size, entry into the track would be paramount, but I was also hoping I could place myself far enough up to avoid having to actually stop and wait. I ended up right on for placement and I figure I was roughly top 50 into the singletrack at this point.
Having ridden this section of track, I knew we were going to be pretty limited in passing for a bit so I made sure to keep my pace steady and avoid trouble as much as I could. As luck would have it for me, I'd gotten into the track just a couple spots back of local singlespeed stud Kent Carlson. I cued off of him and shortly was on his wheel as the couple riders separating us had bobbles that I could get around. All of a sudden, Kent was on the ground and I was slamming my brakes to avoid him. Luckily we were on a pretty slow paced section of trail and he was able to jump right back up and keep rolling without any riders getting by. A scant 20 yards or so down the trail though and it sounded like shotgun going off as his front tire blew off the rim. I slowed for a few seconds trying to ascertain my options of stopping to help or sticking to my own race. I hollered to see if he had everything and Kent seemed a bit rattled at this point saying he didn't know for sure. I knew he didn't appear to be hurt and hoped he had everything he needed in form of tube, CO2, etc to get him moving again so I decided I needed to keep rolling.
I got back on the gas and tailed it up to the chain of guys we'd been following prior to the crash and blowout. The going was still fast and slow as people of different riding styles and skills were working their way through. We finally got to some double track climbing areas and I put the pedal down hard making my way past 5-10 riders in just a couple sections. I also took advantage of a couple open meadow sections to further my position. Quicker than I was anticipating, Aid station #1 came upon us. I decided to use bottles for this race figuring the aid stations were close enough to make quick stops at each and not have to deal with the excessive low back pain from my camelback. I hopped off the bike and tossed a packet of Accelerade in my half empty bottle before a worker quickly topped it off. I was stopped less than a minute, but close to 10 guys probably passed me like a locomotive in that short period.
Rolling into aid 1:
I hopped back on and grabbed a few shot blocks as I hit the easy section right after the aid station. After Aid 1 the sections start to blur together with a few notable exceptions. The downhills leading up to Cardiac climb were awesome being a mix of open pasture type track and wooded downhills. With suspension on the front, I could let it rip pretty well wide open on the downhills without too much worry. Cardiac Climb itself kicked my butt. I rode the first section or so, but as soon as the grade really pitched up over 10%, I got off to walk. I walked steady, but still pretty slow. I think I could cut a decent amount of time just by picking up my pace to a faster walk or even a slow jog. I will say that the walking was a nice break from the constant turnover of the pedals and I felt pretty secure in the fact that not too many of the SS guys were going to be riding all of the climbs without expending serious amounts of energy.
The section to Aid 2 definitely had more downhill than section 1, but I think it still had just as much climbing including some pretty serious steeps that had me off the bike more than once. I rolled into aid 2 with just over half a bottle gone again and about 2:15 or so off the clock. I remembered Tom had told me most people can double their time to aid 2 and add about 5-10 minutes as a good way to figure out their finishing time. I did the quick math in my head and realized how good of a day I was having on the bike. I still felt pretty strong and even though I didn't know for sure what lay ahead, it shouldn't any worse than what I'd already been through at this point since we had to start back down eventually.
Still grinning at Aid 2:
After aid 2, it was definitely looking better as there was less climbing and more descending. My speed picked up a bit in this section as I was able to let it roll. I also spent less time walking my bike! It was a short hop to Aid 3 and it caught me by surprise how quickly I rolled up to it knocking just over 30 minutes off the clock. Again, I had barely touched my bottle, but opted for one more refill.
I think this is leaving Aid 3:
The next section to Aid 4 was arguably one of the most fun of the whole course as it was dominated by a nearly 2 mile high speed downhill on some fire road. Coming out of Aid 3 was a short climb and I looked back to see a Rassy jersey closing in. I was pretty confused as to who it might be. I'd been having a great day on the bike so either someone else was having an even better day or something was afoot since I hadn't seen another team rider since Kent flatted back at the start of the singletrack. Jed came ripping past me just as we were nearing the top of the climb and getting ready to fly down the doubletrack. I'd later find out he and a train of 8 or so guys had taken a wrong turn and got about 4 bonus miles in. Ouch!
Between Aid 3 and 4?:
The fire road downhill is hard to describe, but it was flat out screaming fast, exhilarating, and scary all at once. I was coasting much faster than I was geared for so I tucked into an aero crouch and I passed a number of guys on this section by letting it all hang out. The dust from the front runners hung in the air making it nearly impossible to see what was coming up in time to prep for it at those speeds. The best you could hope for is to watch someone in front of you and see how smooth they looked and hope for the best. I hit one washout spot and felt the bike go sideways under me for a split second before gathering it back up. That was really the only super scary spot of the run, but it was more than enough to leave me shaky. All too soon though, we had flown through that section and were now into Aid 4.
At Aid 4, I had only taken a few sips off my bottle so I didn't need anything other than to gulp a quick cup of water. I had plenty of water on board to make the final sections considering I had yet to touch my second bottle. Hooray for carrying an extra few pounds through the entire race... Aid 4 is strategically placed at the base of a nasty climb. I didn't even think twice before walking my bike over to the climb and starting up on foot. I knew salvation lay somewhere at the top of this climb though. The fabled bacon station was the next (and last) stop available. I won't lie, a nice cold beer sounded pretty damn good at this point in the ride. I mixed riding and walking in here as there was pretty much nothing but climbing in this section. I got passed by a few people, but overall, I still was holding pretty tight to my overall position figuring I was somewhere in the top 100 or so pretty easily.
As we climbed and climbed, I could start to hear loud music and people hollering about. Pretty soon, it was bacon station time. As I rolled in the festivities were in full swing with all the people partying and carrying on. I wasn't too sure about the bacon handups since I still felt pretty good and didn't want to mess things up. The ice cold PBR was a different story though as I slammed a cup of that tasty nectar. I rolled in less than a minute and soon found myself in the most technical section of the course. The trails turn to rocky technical singletrack here with lots of pitches, drops, and tight sections. I passed a few riders balking at this section with my decent technical skills. Finally, we rolled into some downhill, but I did find myself off the bike at least once in this section as we crawled up a high point with Crow Peak as a spectacular backdrop. I actually stopped here and waited for my phone to come to life so I could snap the picture I posted up top with the peak in the background.
As soon as that was done, it was pretty much business from here on out. The last climb of the day was another forest service road grade that I was able to hit pretty hard. I put some time into the few guys I was riding with at this point and soon found myself alone again. About the time I thought we'd be do for some more climbing, I was rewarded with a sign noting it was all downhill from here. I was pretty stoked at this point knowing I had the opportunity to turn in a great time and gave it all I had left. I attacked the downhills just on the razor edge of safe and kicked it pretty hard on the few short steeps that were left to go. We were back onto the Tinton trail at this point and having ridden it a couple times now, I felt pretty good about opening it up.
A couple guys still got by me, but for the most part I was on my own and flying. Finally, I hit the gravel downhill to town. Having plenty of gravel experience, I put everything I had into tucking low and flying for all I was worth. I caught a geared bike and drafted him to slingshot around. We also had a SUV try to pass us, but I wasn't about to let that happen and suck his dust all the way to town so I swung wide as he was waiting for an opportunity to get by. Of course it helped that we were running over the speed limit at this point as well. I think he got the hint though and backed off to let me and the geared guy feed off each other as we went down. I finally got a bit of a gap just before we hit the pavement and as we climbed the couple small hills back to the finish line, I just powered through them like I was big ringing it putting him a ways behind.
Heading down that finishing shoot with hundreds of people lining the street was something new for me. I just had a pure rush of adrenaline come coursing through my body as I smiled from ear to ear. Having my girls there cheering me on made it so much sweeter as well.
Waiving to my ladies:
To say I was riding high as I finished would be completely understated. I was excited beyond belief and knew I'd just had one of my best races ever. All of my equipment performed flawlessly, my ride plan was near perfect, my training was spot on, and it all came together in perfect harmony. I can't say enough for everyone from my family, my riding/training buddies, and all my support from Rasmussen Bike Shop, Ergon International, and Genuine Innovations. I ended up 8th in the singlespeeds and roughly 50th overall. For those that haven't had the chance to do this race, it needs to be on your must do list. I can't say enough good things about how fun the course is, how great the people are, and the overall atmosphere.