Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Winter XC 30 miler report

Ok. I'm finally going to sit down for a few minutes to get this sucker written before every last memory twitters away and you're left with "I raced in snow and finished." It may not be well written but at least this monkey will be off my back!

First, since it's been about 15 weeks since my day 1 post, it is probably best if you read the first two installments. Day 1, Day 2.

So, we rolled out Saturday morning shortly after 8 am. I was running one of only a handful of single speeds so I was quickly shuffled to mid pack on the quick parking lot loop around the VFW (the home base for the race festivities). Once we hit the first snow section, about two minutes in, I quickly picked most of those spots back up as people floundered in the mealy snow. It was no cake walk for me but with my snow experience and the combination of 29'er wheels with 2.35 Panaracer Rampages I was able to maintain a fairly straight line and pick off a few folks. It was at this point though that it became apparent that fat tire bikes (like the Pugsley's and Steve's Carver) and ski bikes were going to have a huge advantage because the snow conditions, at least at the begining, were not good.

The first snow section was soon followed by a two mile stretch over Lake Memphrenmagog (once again, not joking). A very fast section that the race organizers had plowed the night before. During the first mile of the ice stretch I managed to dangle near the back of the lead pack of about 8 riders but being the only single speed in the group, I was quickly spinning like mad and maxxing out my heart rate. Wisely, I decided it was too early to cook myself so I dialed it back, let them go and hoped I would reel them back in once back on the snow. By the end of the ice the leaders had a sizeable gap, at least a few minutes, on me.

Once back on trail I tried to slowly bring back the guys and one woman (a trek pro) who had passed me on the lake. Once back on the trail though it became apparent that my gear choice was wrong, the 19t was just too difficult to push given the conditions. The snow was so meally that you needed lots of finesse to pick your way through, much more than I was able to atain with a steep-ish gear (for the conditions at least). Of course, instead of pulling over and changing to my 20t right there, I held out hope that the trail surface would improve (the race director warned us that the first few miles would likely be the worst conditions) so I stuck with the 19t and hoped things would get better.

Time to take a step back. During some long races last season I learned some tough lessons about not drinking/eating enough early in races and suffering mightily for it during the later hours. So my plan for this race was to start eating/drinking right from the start.

By the first aid station I had picked off another 3 or 4 riders and was now sitting somewhere around 5th or 6th. I skipped the first stop knowing I had a full insulated bottle of coffee/hot chocolate and a bladder in my Ergon BD1 pack full of Perpetuem but soon found I was in a bit of trouble. I had planned on keeping the bladder tube from freezing by blowing air back into the bladder each time after drinking to be sure all the liquid stayed in the slightly warmer pack but at some point some liquid had stayed in the tube and frozen solid. At first I thought I was totally screwed and destined for a day of eating snow and fighting off cramps but thankfully I was able to thaw the head by keeping it in my mouth for a few minutes (no jokes please!) which is really hard to do mid-race and then tucking it into my jacket after each drink.

Soon after leaving the first aid station I started to wonder if I should change my gear ratio, the snow wasn't improving and I was struggling to maintain enough momentum to keep plowing through the snow. Unfortunately, I found myself in a yo-yo struggle with two other riders with us regularly swapping the 3rd, 4th and 5th place spots and I was afraid that if I stopped to make the change I would never make contact again. It was a stupid thought process because I knew that it was better to make the change early giving me plenty of opportunity to make up the time but regardless, it kept me from making the gear change.

Over the next hour or so, we continued to yo-yo back and forth, me falling behind at the aid stations (since I would stay and stuff my face for a few minutes, remember I was hell bent on staying properly fueled) and catching back up on the trail only to fall behind again at the next aid station. Finally, after one hard struggle (probably about 2:30-3:00 into the race) where I caught up to the 3rd place rider I decided (finally!) to change my gear since I was no longer to climb any hills in the 19t. After a few minutes of fumbling around changing the chain length and adjusting the bb I was off and feeling better.

After the gear change I was able to catch back up to 3rd and 4th place fairly quickly (hmmm, maybe I should have made the change soon...) and we got back to our yo-yoing.

After the final aid station myself and the guy who had spend most of the day in 3rd were able to pull away. He was on a 29'er ski bike, a ski up front and a fatty 29'er tire in the rear, and was definitely able to negotiate the soft conditions better than I. I struggled to stay with him as my front tire would continually wash out and finally, in one particularly nasty section, watched him ride away.

From there to the finish I went into damage control. My legs were tired, I knew I wouldn't be able to bridge back up to 3rd and I had a sizeable gap back to the 5th place rider so I eased up a bit and tried to enjoy the last few miles of the race.

Finally, after about 4:15 on the trail I was back on Lake M. and in the final 2-ish miles of the race. When I first hit the lake I thought I'd be happy because it meant nice firm conditions and easy pedaling but after a long day in the saddle (for me this time of year at least) spinning 100+ rpm for the lake stretch really took its toll and I started to cramp. At this point all that I could imagine was me, less than two miles from the finish, being passed as I struggled to stay moving. Thankfully, I had enough of a gap that I was able to get across the lake unchallenged, struggled up the final wall of a climb and roll across the finish line. Boy was I glad to be done.

I finished 4th on the day behind two Pugsley's and the ski-bike dude but because one of the Pugsley dudes didn't race the Friday night crit I ended up 3rd overall for the weekend. Not bad considering I had no clue what I was getting into and that I'm an idiot for running too hard of a gear for so long. In hindsight, even riding the single speed was probably a mistake because there were many sections that I could have ridden if I had been able to shift to a lower gear to finess the nasty snow. That being said, when I go back next year, I'll probably still go ss but run a wiser gear and also see about running some even wider tires.


Hilton Meyer said...

Sounds like a bit of a tough one. I'm not a single speed racer but I've seen the guys whizzing along at 500rpm. Well done on the result and not to shabby seeing as you were not only with ski's but also on a SS.

Jason said...

Great report (finally). Congrats on the finish. SS was prob the best choice. Better to have one good gear that works rather than risk a frozen up rear derailleur in a suck gear.

THANK GOD you said "no jokes". I think my fingers were already typing a response to "thaw the head".

Congrats again. Now get back to work!

rick is! said...

thanks guys. I had thought (ahead of time) that ss would be good since I wouldn't have any mech issues to deal with but I didn't hear of anyone having shifting problems.

bikemike said...


Nice report, I agree with Jason, single speed was the way to go. Derailluers have problems on a warm, dry ride if you land on it the wrong way.
I have strange question, how would a rider with no clue or experience prepare for a 12 hr event?
Something like Bradbury in September.

rick is! said...

I'd say that the biggest prep would be to learn what your stomach can handle for food and drink for a really long ride like that. It doesn't matter how fit you are if your stomach goes into revolt after 4 hours like mine did. Of course, I know what works for me, I'm just an idiot and didn't stick to the nutrition plan. The good thing about a 12 hr multi-lap race is that you're never far from home base and can keeps lots of stuff on hand to keep the stomach happy. I've found that cup of soup always settles my stomach as long as i get it down early enough.