Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Squish, Wind, and Buffets

My National Ultra Endurance Series racing season started this weekend at the very windy True Grit 100 race in Saint George, Utah. I traveled out to Saint George with my friend and fellow singlespeed competitor Ernesto Marenchin.  We flew into Vegas, rented a car and drove to our hotel in the middle of the Arizona dessert, just below Utah, on Wednesday Night. This hotel location was chosen because many of the hotels in Saint George were either completely booked, or cost a bit more than I wanted to spend.  This choice turned out to be a good one because it also gave me quick access to the bordering Nevada Town of Mesquite and the grand breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets located within the town's three casinos there.

Even though this race is a bit shorter than the typical 100 mile length of a NUE Series race, at a distance of 84 miles, the finishing times are not very fast because of the technical terrain this course covers. Last year I arrived at True Grit prepared to do the race with a full-rigid singlespeed bike.  Luckily, my friend and former teammate, Cary Smith, loaned me a suspension fork for race day, after I learned how technical the trails actually were during my pre-ride of the course.  With my course knowledge from last year, I decided to make my ride even more comfortable this year by trying to make my geared Specialized Epic into a singlespeed bike. 

The True Grit 100 race course is comprised mostly of single track trails and some rough jeep roads.  In my opinion, it has the most technical course in the NUE Series, which is the main reason why I decided to make my Specialized Epic xx1 geared full-suspension bike into a squishy single speed bike for this race.  After completing two days of riding on the course, I was very happy with the creation of the soft and forgiving ride of the bike I have sinced named the xx1X1 Epic.  I must admit that I was a little concerned about climbing over 10,000 feet of elevation gain over the 84 miles distance of the race with a squishy bike, but the Epic didn’t feel any slower on the climbs and it was absolutely faster on the fast, rough descents.  Overall, I think it was the perfect bike choice for this race.

The most technical sections of this course are two separate trail loops called Zen and Barrel Roll.  Last year riders were required to do four loops of Barrel Roll, but we only did two loops of this difficult section on the course this year.  I think this change made the course flow better and a lot more fun to ride.  In addition, the new section of trail added to the course this year called the Lower Bear Claw - Poppy Trail was about four miles of super fast and pump track like single track that was an absolute blast to ride.  These course changes along with better course markings and race volunteer assistance at the checkpoints made the True Grit 100 a much better race this year.

Watching this video from the 2013 race will give you a good view of the technical True Grit 100 riding.

But, even though the course was made a bit easier with two laps of Barrel Roll being deleted, Mother Nature decided to add her own element of difficulty to the course by making the wind super strong on race day.  It was reported that wind gusts blew at 50+ MPH on race day and the National Weather Service even issued a wind warning to the area.  I've got to say that riding into that head wind was brutal! It was even bad when trying to navigate my way through technical rocky trails at a slower pace because the wind would actually push me off my chosen line through the rocks.  On the other hand, when I was able to ride with the wind it was hard to ride any slower than 20 MPH because the blowing wind was like having a turbo booster on the back of my bike.

Another change that happened this year was the starting time for the race.  It was pushed back to 8AM instead of 7AM, which allowed for more light and also for the temperature to warm up a bit.  But, one change I didn’t like with the starting time of the race was that open men were separated from masters, women and singlespeed racers by 7 minutes.  This meant singlespeed racers, and the other classes, could not use the fast draft of the open men at the beginning of the race and also had to deal with catching slower riders pretty early in the race.  As it turned out, though, this was much less of an issue than I expected it to be and probably did make the start of the race much safer.

With nobody to use for a draft at the start, I decided to set a fast tempo right from the gun to see who wanted to come with me.  This fast start gave me a gap over the other riders pretty quickly, so I kept pushing myself to see if I could stay away.  Well, I stayed away alone for about four miles or so until the single track climbing started.  I was then caught by the racer I knew who would be my biggest challenge of the day, AJ Linnell.  Once AJ caught me, we ended-up riding together for the majority of the Zen Loop.  By the end of Zen, I had a small gap over him and decided to push my pace back up again on the climb out of the checkpoint to create as much distance as I could between us.
It was a good thing I created this time gap because before entering the Barrel Roll Trail I felt the need to stop for a quick “nature break” and also started having issues with my gut feeling bloated and tight.  To alleviate this feeling, I grabbed a bottle of plain water at the Barrel Roll checkpoint and decided to ride a conservative pace over the rough Barrel Roll Trails.  Of course, the thought of tearing the sidewall of my tire, like I did last year on this trail, made my decision to ride more conservatively during this time an easy one.  No reason to blow my race by getting a stupid mechanical, I thought to myself.

With my pace slowing a bit, I started to catch glimpses of AJ during the last part of the Barrel Roll loop.  Luckily, my slower pace and water drinking over this time span made me feel well enough to start riding fast again, so I put my pace into hyper speed (helped by the crazy wind) on the fast trails leading back to the Zen checkpoint.  Before actually arriving at the checkpoint, there are a two longer climbs on the course and I thought for certain that I’d see AJ coming up from the rear.  When I never saw him chasing, I began to wonder if he had flatted or perhaps taken a wrong turn.  I wasn't sure what had happened, but I knew my pace could now be taken down to a more conservative effort, especially over the most technical sections of trail where a little bad luck could erase my lead.  I did learn at the end of the race that AJ went off course for a couple of minutes, which is why I he disappeared from my view so quickly before my second passage through the Zen checkpoint

The remainder of the race went as planned and I never did see another SS competitor.  I did, however, catch a ton of geared riders and moved myself pretty far up in the overall results, even with the seven minute starting deficit.  Racing without a competitor in view on a course like this is a lot more "relaxing".  I can ride fast where I want and ride smarter when I think it would be wise.  I followed this plan to the finish and was very happy to take my first NUE Series Race win for the year.  And, I’m quite certain every win is going to be an important one with all the fast riders competing in the singlespeed class for the overall series win this year.

Happy Trails...  Gerry


  1. Congrats. What did you use to tension the chain on the Epic?

  2. Maguire, I used a short cage Shimano ZEE derailleur with a clutch. It works beautifully!