Well, I just found this blog in the depths of my Dropbox. Guess I forgot to post right after the race but better late than never! Happy reading.
After fairing well at the Whiteface 100K in Lake Placid earlier in the summer and pulling off a top ten finish, I decided to see if my legs were, in fact, build for the endurance racing scene. So, on August 6th I took an early morning trip up to Big Bear Camplands to take part in the fun, daylong event that is the Big Bear Ultra. The Ultra is a 50 mile mountain bike race but, unlike Whiteface, it is entirely in the woods on twisty, fast singletrack with only maybe a mile total of fire road. Basically, it is two laps that makes use of every trail Big Bear has to offer. Never having done a trail based endurance event, I was a little nervous considering I am not the strongest technical rider. However, I was hoping my peak summer fitness combined with my moderate handling skills would be enough to get me through.
So after a way too early 5 AM breakfast and a 6:30 AM departure, it was off to Big Bear for a long day of fun. I absolutely hate getting up that early to eat but I tend to benefit from a little extra digestion time so its always worth the lost hour of sleep. The hour drive from my parents’ house in Fairmont where I had been the night before only allowed the anticipation and excitement to build even more and by the time I stepped out of the car in Bruceton Mills I was full of energy and ready to hit the trail.
The start lap sent us on a prologue down through the cracked rock trail (pretty sure thats the name). I was less than happy with this considering it is super technical and I have never made it through with less than at least one goof up. I figured that, being 50 miles, at least I would have plenty of time to catch up after this section. As we dropping down into the trail however, I found myself sitting around 3rd or 4th wheel. Being up front, I knew the pressure was on the pay attention and keep the pace as to not cause a disconnect in the group and subsequent pile ups. We were definitely going way out of my comfort zone but I was handling it fairly well. All of the sudden, Montana Miller made some type of uncharacteristic, silly mistake and went down right in front of me. We were not even 5 miles in and people were already dropping like flies! Luckily, I was able to unclip a foot and scooter bike around him but it totally killed my flow. Sure enough, I made it another 100 yards and, like clock work, went over the bars. No damage done, except to my pride, but it really sucked because all of the crashing was letting people get further off the front of the group. After recovering my bottles from the ground and taking some heckling from teammate Gunnar Shogren, I hopped back on my bike and started back down the trail. Luckily, I was close to the end of the trail section so my chances of biting the dust again were lessened. As we climbed out of the valley that the cracked rock trail laid in, I found myself slightly further back in the field sitting around 10th. Normally, I would be worried about being this far back but, with 50 miles still ahead of me, I was not too worried about taking back most of those spots.
The following 6 or so miles of trail proved to be fairly difficult and I found myself hopping off the bike several times to run a rock garden or squeeze through a tight section. However, I did still manage to move myself up in the field during this time and worked into 5th place. Finally, I popped out of the singletrack and onto the long fire road climb that lead back out of the valley we had descended into. Per my usual game plan, I found my favorite gear and started spinning myself up the climb. As I rounded one of the large sweeping turns in the climb I noticed Michael Mihalic up ahead of me. With my legs feeling super fresh, I started to reel him in. After about 15 minutes or so I had pulled myself up to his wheels. After riding alone all morning it was nice to be in a group, be it only a duo, and have someone to chat with. We cruised along and took turns setting a modest pace for the rest of lap one. Near the end of the lap, we even caught back up to Gunnar and were able to all three ride together.
Around what I would guess was 11:00 AM or so we arrived back at the staging area to begin our second lap. After grabbing some fresh bottles and food from my dad (Thanks dad!) I got ready to roll out for lap two. The Shogren-Latocha-Mihalic trio managed to pick up a 4th man on the way out of the staging area as we were joined by Montana Miller who had just gotten into the feed zone right before us. The four of us rolled out and were having a real blast riding together, chatting, and listen to Gunnar heckle Montana who was doing the pace setting. It wasn’t long however until our happy group began to fall apart. At about 20 minutes into lap 2 Mihalic flatted and had to pull off the group. Then, not even 10 minutes later, Gunnar popped his chain off and had to stop to repair it leaving just Montana and myself to work together. Realizing that I was now in 3rd overall and 2nd in my category, I decided to let Montana set the pace and not take and dumb chances. At that point I was not sure if I could hold Montana off for the remainder of the lap. As we came to the next gravel section however, I saw it as a good chance to use my gears to my advantage and took off. I established a good gap before entering the woods again but, still feeling good, I decided to just stay on the gear and see what unfolded. I couldn’t believe how awesome I felt at the point and sort of just wanted to see how long this groove I was feeling would last.
Around mile 30 or so I got a time split from a volunteer of about 3.5 minutes. Still feeling great, I decided to see if I could reel back in Tim Carson who had been off the front alone for most of the day. I figured with no one to relay his gap to him, he would most likely have trouble making sure he held a fast enough pace to stay away. I started to ramp it up at this point and was sort of impressed with myself and how well I was handling the terrain. I had decided at the beginning of the week to take a break from the road bike to get ready for the Ultra. So instead if my usual regimen of hill repeats, sprint workouts, and intervals around town, I spent 12 or so hours of solid time on my mountain bike riding Cooper’s Rock and the like. The time spent on the trails was now paying dividends in the way I was able to speedily get through the rough terrain.
At the next aid station I stopped to get a bottle filled and grab a gel. The volunteer there had been keeping accurate splits and had a time of 2:13 up to Tim. He told me I still had 13 miles left which I figured was more than enough to close down the gap. Not wasting any more time, I clipped back in and blasted down the trail. I was still being amazed at the lack of fatigue in my legs and continued to push myself faster than I generally do.
As I passed through the final aid station, I knew I only had about 5 miles to go. At that point, my hopes of catching Tim were diminishing. To my surprise as a rounded the next turn, Tim was right ahead of me and he was eating a PB&J. Two things went through my head at that point. 1st, what should I do strategically? 2nd, why is Tim eating a sandwich with 15 minutes left in the race? The second though I let go and figured I could ask him personally later. I snuck up on his wheel and stayed there for a minute or so before he noticed me. As soon as he peaked over his shoulder and saw me, it was on. Tim ramped the pace up and started crushing it down the trail. I was having no problem staying with him but was getting a little out of my comfort zone on the more technical stuff. Rather than play it safe and back off a little I decided to just stay on the gas and hold his wheel at all cost. As we crossed the last open section before the final technical trail section, I realized I could most likely take him in a sprint as I was all over him and could tell he was really hurting. We plowed into the final section and, rather than slowing down, Tim just held the speed. We were going 20+ mph through some twisty, moderately technical double track and I was in way over my head. I though about trying to pull through and slow things down but the speed was just too high. However, as we railed it toward the finish, I was thinking of how awesome it was that I was actually holding this speed in the woods. I had never ridden this fast before and was really impressed with myself. Little did I know, I should have been paying more attention to the trail instead of daydreaming. As we entered the last half-mile of trail, we came to a small, easily crossable ditch. Normally, I am used to coming up the trail and hitting the ditch as 8-12 mph. Now I was preparing the gap it at 20+ mph. I launched off of the approach side perfectly. Unfortunately, my landing was less than ideal. My front tire landed slightly before my rear on a wet rock. With that, the tire shot out front under me and I was in the dirt. I instantly knew that my hopes of winning were gone. We were too close to the finish for me to get back up and try to sprint Tim down never mind the fact that my hip felt like someone had just taken a baseball bat to it. I slowly got up, gathered my glasses and gear that had ejected onto the trail, and headed towards the finish. Still taking 2nd, I can’t complain but I was most upset that I had the win in my grips and lost it over a silly mistake. Oh well though, that’s bike racin’! Tim knew my weakness and capitalized on it perfectly. Fitness wise, I have to say I felt awesome. I have to throw a big thank you out to coach Rob Acciavatti for all of his coaching this season. Without him, there is no way I would be where I am in terms of fitness this year. He was able to tap the unknown potential in my legs and I owe him big time for that one! Also, of course a big thanks my dad for getting up way too early to go up to Big Bear just to stand around and make sure everything went well for me. After doing two endurance events this season, I have to say I think I am just more built for the longer events. My engine doesn’t seem to get running until about and hour in but, when it finally quits back firing, it can run for a long time.