Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Double Header

There were two endurance races near home this weekend that I really wanted to do. On Saturday, the first annual Hilly Billy Roubaix was held in Morgantown, WV and the Wayne Ultra Endurance MTB Race was held outside of Marietta, OH on Sunday. I have never done two back to back endurance races, so I figured why not give it a try.

The Hilly Billy was the first race of the weekend and it was a 72 mile on and off road adventure through the hills of northern WV. The recommended bike for this race, according to the course designers, was a cyclocross bike because of the mixed terrain and the lack of anything truly consider technical. Without currently owning a geared cross bike, I decided to register in the single speed race. I have used my single speed cross bike for muddy cyclocross races, but I must admit the idea of doing a long on and off road mass start race with it was a little intimidating.

In addition to the tough terrain of the Hilly Billy, the hot weather also added to the difficulty of the race. But, even with nearly 7000 feet of climbing ahead and the temperature rising quickly, the race still had a very fast start. I had to draft and spin my butt off to hang with the geared guys until the first gravel climb a few miles after starting on the pavement. The climb almost immediately started to split the pack up. While struggling up the steep climb, I started wondering if I could push the big gear I had chosen through out the rest of the race.

The pack thinned out even more to a group containing me and just a handful of others after heading down the first loose gravel descent and then entering the first of many muddy sections on the course. They race promoter said everything we rode during the race was a WV State Roadway, but this “road” was at best a quad trail with many 2 foot deep mud pits. The nastiness of this trail changed my mind about my decision to use a single speed, as I could only imagine the noise and problems a muddy chain and derailleur would be making all day.

It seemed as if the majority of this race was either climbing up steep gravel climbs or descending back down the other side. Occasionally, there would be a fast road section or some muddy stuff to go through, but the majority of the race was all about climbing, which always seems to be good for me. At times, I wondered if I was going to be able to keep my big gear turning up all of the steep climbs without blowing up. But, it seemed to be working for me and by the halfway point in the race I was all alone in the front and leading the race overall. I never thought that a single speed bike would be the best tool to use for this type of race, but it certainly seemed to be helping me with my job. It gave me no choice but to ride hard, really hard.

I continued to climb hard and spin out the occasional flat section as fast as I could for the remainder of the race. By the time I finished the race, I had a lead of over 11 minutes over second place and by over 20 minutes on third and forth. I was completely amazed at how well I did with only one gear. Winning a race overall on single speed against 100 other racers almost made me feel like superman for the day. The following day, however, my superman thinking quickly disappeared at the Wayne Ultra.

I felt fine on Sunday Morning and was really psyched to go back to the Wayne Ultra after being the overall winner of the race last year. The trails at the Wayne Ultra are super tough. They are technical and constantly shoot you up and down steep trails. The distance of the Wayne is only 45 miles, but because the trails are slow riding, technical trails finish times are four plus hours. Anyway, feeling good about my win at the Hilly Billy and being the past winner of the Wayne, I didn’t think I would have any problem pulling out a second win for the weekend at this race.

The race started on a paved road and headed up a big climb to the first section of single track. I felt good up the first climb and stayed directly on the leader’s wheel, entering the single track in second place. I knew it was a long race and the heat was already feeling more than uncomfortable, so I let the lead rider go and a couple other riders also as I tried to find a more comfortable endurance type pace. The pace stayed pretty face, though, and I didn’t want to drop back too many positions, so I stayed on the gas. I don’t think I could have felt any hotter than I did during that time. Sweat had completely soaked through everything on me and my body was definitely not happy about what I was asking it to do. I started making stupid mistakes on the trails and seemed to be going backwards faster than forwards by about the midway point of the race. I had also gone through the majority of my liquids and was not feeling comfortable about pushing myself to the point of complete exhaustion after the effort I gave only a day earlier. I am not one to pull the plug often, but I came to realize that if I continued on with this race, I might be paying for it for a long time.

So, I made the hard decision to DNF. I then rode back to a fire road I saw off the course, looked at my GPS and decided to ride east because I knew that it would eventually get me back to the starting area. I rode for maybe a mile more, most of it up a long fire road climb, and then had to get off the bike and just sit in the shade for about five minutes to rest. Eventually, my heart rate and all finally seemed to calm down, so I got back on my bike and rode about 10 miles back to my car. When I saw that the temperature gauge in my car had hit 95 degrees, I understood better why my body was starting to shut down during the race, especially when the humidity was also so high. I figured that doing two hard endurance races in two days would be a hard thing to conquer, but with the weather adding an extra level of severity, it became too much for me to achieve my goal.

I am still glad that I attempted doing both races. I definitely had a blast at the Hilly Billy and even though I did not finish the Wayne Ultra, I did have fun riding about 20 miles of The Wayne Single Track Trails up to the point where I pulled the plug. I would highly recommend both races to anyone interested in doing them. They are well promoted, well marked and well supported by all the race volunteers. But, if I can make one request to both promoters, please consider coordinating your calendars, so that each is on a separate weekend. Doing double header endurance races is something I don’t want to try again soon. Happy Trails, Gerry

Thank to Benjamin Stephens for the photo above and to see more of his work from the Hilly Billy, checkout this link: Ben's Flickr Page

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