May 15, 2010 marked the day I would jump back into the realm of 8 hour mtn bike racing after a few years off. This is a funny distance, as while 4 times the length of a standard Cup series race, the pace is really only slightly slower, unlike 24 hour races in which the pace is markedly slower.
After a good early start to the season remplete with a good result at the Clarence-Rockland Classic and an equally good performance (until the untimely flat) at Almonte-Roubaix I was excited to delve back into my profound relationship with endurance mtn bike racing. I clearly had no idea what to expect in terms of competition or even the course and terrain, as it had been 4-5 years since I ever raced at Mansfield, but I seemed to recall it was similar to Albion, which suits my riding style well....fast and flowy !
As usual I arrived late on a crisp chilly night at about 11:30, had a bite to eat, set up tent, read a bit and went to bed. The mtn bikes had been relatively untested as of yet this year....better not to worry about it now...just go with whatever cards come my way. The next morning brought me to the solo pit....I could not believe how many people where there, I was expecting maybe 50. Ran into TTTeammateTanya and she said “um ya Mike this race is really popular and competitive..”. OK - no big expectations or pressure - just get in there and have a good race. Met up, and set up with common friends of mine and Tanya’s, Matt and Rick. Rick is a hilarious big tank of a guy from the AR world and Matt is his bikin’ bro-in-law. Matt is also an endurance guy and has really focussed his training the past couple of years and has finally put some race-day nutrition demons behind him....he is going for overall podium.
Solos were supposed to start 5 minutes after everyone else, then at the last minute this was changed....leaving me trying to clamour into the start gate with the 90 or so other solos and all the team riders....a less than desirable position to start ! The start was a hammer up the gravel road /double track, dust was a flyin’ as wheels were a spinin’ ! Made up a bunch of places early - going anaerobic of course with my 5 minute pre-race warm-up, then held a solid steady pace for the first lap. The course here is SUPER FUN, just the right mix of twisty single-track interspersed with some shorter and longer double track to either pass or stretch out. There is climbing, and while I would certainly not call this a hilly course, Matt seemed to think it was a lot of climbing....I guess it is deceiving, a few longer gradual climbs that you barely notice and some short steep pumpers - which I typically like to stand and mash up, even in a longer race....at least for a while.
At each lap I was asking friends - “how far up is Matt?”, and each time the response was 30-40 seconds. I was going 2 hr race pace trying to catch him at about 31-32 minutes per 10.7 km lap....how come I could not close the gap? After four laps of this my head finally told my body to settle into a reasonable pace. Not having any feeders or support I was taking advantage of the neutral feed halfway though the lap, this was a god-send as a couple of times my bottle was running on elvis. After about 5 laps I stopped to grab a few bites of my favourite short endurance race foods, chocolate raisins, gummies, Doritos sweet chilli heat chips, and of course...pepperoni, ya I think there was some healthy bagel with PBJ and another with turkey in addition to the junk calories. Matt’s mom told me “you are looking good, in first place over 40"....I was kind of stunned, had no idea, so that got my competitive juices going and I hit the dusty (literally) trail on a mission for podium bling! Having not done a race longer than 2.5-3 hrs this year I had no idea how long I was going to last or at what pace I could push, but I know that mentally I have the tenacity to push though a fair bit of pain when motivated. The laps were counting down and while some of the team racers seemed to be getting faster (relatively speaking) I did find some good folks to ride with at times, made some smart tactical moves, and generally enjoyed playing in the single-track, hammering the double-track, attacking the hills and working on skillz. I passed Tanya at one point around lap 4 or 5 but that was the only time. She was cheerful and enjoying the ride as always and must have held a good consistent pace throughout the race. I felt myself slowing towards the 10-12th laps, and was feeling some real back and wrist pain down a horribly rutted 70 meter downhill section, as the fork seemed to be packing in a bit and had me wondering if I was riding a rigid. Even started to count down the number of climbs as it became more apparent that 13 laps would be the magic number. There is a steep little single-track climb I think after “Pete’s Playhouse” that I managed to middle ring til about the 9th lap, and another tight technical rooty climb that I finally introduced to granny maybe one lap later, this one was actually better to power than to grind. O2 debt is a steep pitch at the end of a long gradual climb....needless to say there was a lot of grunting and groaning on this but I was certainly happy to still be riding and even passing people here so late in the game.
Halfway through the 12th lap, I saw a solo come up to me going real fast and appearing to be an old dude like me. I asked him his age ...and shyte...he just snatched the lead from me ! Had been riding with this really great female tag-team rider, and she ordered me to push and not loose him. I have no idea how this guy got so much speed after 12 laps, seemed to be going the same speed I was in the 4th or 5th. After hanging with him for most of the rest of that lap he eventually disappeared....I resigned myself to second place. Coming in to finish the 13th lap at about 5:55 I was quite happy to be done, saw Tanya had just completed her last lap a few minutes prioor and, unbeknownst to me at the time, the guy that had passed me on lap 12 went through about 20 seconds after me and out for another lap ! Crazy...cut off time was 6:30, no way he was going to do a 14th lap in less than 34 minutes ! Anyway I never even knew I had the win til they called second place to the podium...shoot they must have made a mistake - I was supposed to be second. When I enquired Chico says...”um you won Mike”....mass confusion on my part for a while as I had no idea how the other dude got behind me, but hey I’ll take it !
All in all a great race day with some good results from myself and friends, Tanya taking a solid 2nd female solo, (For the Vegan Vagabond’s report on her awesome race and podium pics click here), Matt taking second overall solo (and a blistering 15+ minutes ahead of me), and Ben Dawson taking 3rd in tag team.
Coming up: 8 more hours of pain at Hardwood Hills July 24, followed by a hundred miler in PA the following weekend....not exactly ideal timing for recovery, but whatever doesn’t kill ya !!