The first race of 2015 (for me at least) was a dual points race for both the WVMBA and OMBC series. Racers from West Virginia (107 riders), Ohio (95), Pennsylvania (8), Maryland (4) & Kentucky (1) gathered at Mountwood Park near Waverly, West Virginia to push their limits in one of the largest cross country races in the region – The Challenge at Mountwood. The 251 member field had 31 women and was comprised of 69 experts, 115 sports and 67 beginners.
The weather was gorgeous. My Garmin had the average temperature at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the race. The spring sun left a pink glow on every exposed patch of skin.
This trail handles rain really well, but considering how much precipitation we had the week before, it was amazing that the race could still be held. It was obvious that members of RVMBA, River Valley Mountain Bike Association, had put a lot of work into getting the trail ready. There were dozens of small ruts dug to drain the trail. Several new logs and rocks had been added to allow riders to ride over a few muddy sections. I even noticed several new small sections of trail that rerouted the racers around the slop.
I always travel to West Virginia with a little bit of nervous energy. It seems like the WV racers have all the advantages – home field, slightly warmer so they can get outside earlier to train, hillier terrain to practice on. I assume that they are going to completely dominate the podium. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that the top 2 finishers and 4 of the top 6 finishers were from Ohio. The Buckeye state was well-represented by winner Ben Ortt of Fresno, Ohio (1:48:40.5) and Jeff Rupnow of Columbus, Ohio (1:51:13.6). It made me confident that when I’m getting crushed in expert this season, that I am losing to some really talented guys.
West Virginia put on quite an event for it’s out-of-town guests. The park shelter was bustling with activity at registration, but they were very efficient and the line never got too long. Racers got T-shirts and there was a great spread of food afterwards that included Subway, bananas, potato salad and some other stuff that I can’t remember because I was in a post-race delirious state of exhaustion when I was shuffling through the food line.
More importantly though, the trail was the real highlight of the day. My Garmin recorded 3,136 feet of climbing over 22.26 miles for the experts. That makes it one of the hilliest courses in the OMBC series, although with Scioto Trails, Great Seal and Mohican on the calendar, there is plenty of ascending to keep the billy goats happy. (Click here to see the full OMBC schedule and put the races on your calendar now folks.) Sport riders did 12 miles and Novice riders did 8 miles. (Can someone please post their sport or novice GPS stats in the comment section? I would love to know how much climbing you guys did.)
The soil was mostly dry and tacky. Occasionally, there was a patch of mud, which was appropriate for the season. It was just enough to require a post-race bike cleaning, but not a slopfest that clogs your drivetrain and saps the fun out of the day. Creek crossings were full of rainwater, and the temperature was such that you didn’t mind getting a little wet – for some racers it was probably refreshing to get splashed.
Overall, the event had a festival like atmosphere. Friends were hanging out in the parking lot and catching up after a long winter of either being cooped up or riding in less-than-ideal conditions. It was a great way to begin the season.
My First Expert Race
This was my first expert race (technically it’s my second, but that’s a different story). I was starting the day with low expectations. My main goal was to not finish last. I just wanted to see what my limits were, so that I could work on improving them over the course of the season.
Mountwood and Lake Hope have the two largest starts in the OMBC series. Because the age groups in the two series don’t match up exactly, racers start in mass waves so that they are guaranteed to start at the same time with others in their age group regardless of which series they are focused on. That meant that 69 expert racers sprinted off at the same time.
I started near the back of the pack and pedaled hard up the initial stretch of paved road. Mountwood begins with a 1.8 mile doubletrack prologue before racers are squeezed onto the singletrack. This stretch goes quickly and is definitely one of the most exciting parts of the race. There is a lot of passing and positioning and the winding gravel singletrack still takes plenty of skill to ride on at the high speeds that the racers start at.
At this point, I was pleasantly surprised. I was actually holding my own. I wasn’t winning, but I was easily able to keep up with the average expert racer. Before the race, I had called out Scott Young and Jeremy Larson as two guys that I wanted to try and pace myself with. I was completely shocked when the three of us entered the woods within 10 seconds of each other. At one point Scott and Jeremy were the two racers right in front of me – out of 69 racers. What are the chances? I couldn’t believe how well my plan seemed to be working out.
When I entered the singletrack, I fell in line behind a group of about 6 guys. Once again, I felt good about my start because I had no problem keeping up with them. In fact, I felt like I could go faster if they weren’t in front of me. But, it was still early in the race, so I tried to play it safe. I tried to be a content caboose on the singletrack choo-choo while I settled in and let my heart rate drop a little bit. I wanted to save some energy for later.
A mile or two in, I heard a female voice behind me. I’m fairly certain it was Vicki Munnings of Stow, Ohio. She asked for a pass and I let her by, but she was stuck behind the same train of guys that I was. Jeremy Larson was right behind me and told me that he thought she was the women’s leader (she ended up finishing second). I thought that seemed like a good person to pace myself with, so I made it my goal to stay behind her.
We traced the singletrack for almost 10 miles together, trading places a few times when riders in front of us stumbled. (Side revelation for all the sports and novices: Experts fall too. I saw one or two epic wipeouts in the race.) We never said a word the whole time. I would’ve probably started a very engaging conversation, but I was too busy sucking wind on the WV climbs.
At the 11 mile mark we passed the split where sport racers veer off to the finish.
“Wow,” I thought, “if I was still in sport I would be close to finishing. That sounds downright pleasant.”
I’ve never really aspired to ride more miles. I didn’t avoid expert to evade losing. I put off moving up because I tend to like shorter races. The shorter sport racers, 10 to 12 miles, were some of my favorites. I’ve never seen endurance as “my thing”. I’d be perfectly content if my race only lasted an hour.
But, now I’m racing expert and an inevitable consequence of that is more mileage. Endurance is going to have to be a bigger part of “my thing.”
I already knew this, but it became even more evident around the 14- or 15-mile mark of the race. My quads started barking loudly at me. I was on the verge of cramping. I could feel my muscles start to seize on every short steep climb. I had to back off.
My pace slowed and I tried to give my muscles a chance to replenish. I took it easy on the climbs, even walking on some of the steeper ones. I lost sight of my pacers, Jeremy Larson, Scott Young and Vicki Munnings. I was a little over two thirds of the way through the race and the dark thoughts started entering my brain. Is this the end? Was I fooling myself to think that I could compete on this level? Am I destined to get last and not achieve my only goal of the day.
It felt like the climbing was getting harder and more severe, but fatigue could have been biasing my opinion. Over the next couple of miles several racers passed me and I felt like my fortunes were declining.
“Quickdirt? Is that you?” I heard from behind me just as I approached a daunting climb. I hopped off the saddle to walk my bike and Kenny Kocarek passed me. “You’re going to look awfully pretty in that skirt!” Kenny was recently featured on Quickdirt in an article entitled “MTB ‘Skirt of Shame’ Champion Kenny Kocarek.” He and his buddies have a running contest where the slowest rider has to wear a dainty little ugly skirt for the rest of the day. Kenny was making me an honorary participant in the contest that day. The way my legs were feeling, I knew I had a good chance of “winning” the Skirt of Shame.
So, I did what any desperate guy would do in that situation. I put a stick in his spokes and pulled him off the back of his bike by his camelback tube. After punching him in the gut, I threw his bike down the slope into a giant patch of poison ivy.
I didn’t do that. …but I wanted to. …but I was too tired.
I only had a few miles left and I was in survival mode. I was trying to ride as efficiently as possible so that I wasn’t losing any speed unnecessarily. The miles ticked away and I reached the final stretch of road. I put my head down and pedaled as hard as I could. There was a racer right on my tail and I was determined not to let him catch me. If I beat him I knew I wouldn’t get last. I pedaled hard in one last desperate attempt to achieve my goal.
I crossed the finish line and dropped my bike. My legs could barely muster a good saunter to the food table.
“Did I get last?” I shouted to Kenny who was smugly waiting at the finish.
“Not even close!” he replied.
Then I punched him in the face and threw his bike in the creek near the finish.
I didn’t do that. …but I wanted to. …but I was too tired.
I was 53rd out of the 69 experts that started – the 23rd percentile. Not too bad for my first expert race. At least I’ve left myself plenty of room to improve. 🙂
Jimmy’s Stats (According to GPS)
P.S. I’ve thrown in a few extra stats for Jeff Rupnow because I know he loves them. He just started a new coaching business. You should ask him about it sometime.
- 16th out of 20 in Expert Veteran 35+
- Distance: 22.26 miles
- Time 2:25:39
- Average Speed 9.2 mph
- Max Speed 25.7 mph
- Elevation Gain 3,136 ft.
- Calories 1,448
- Avg Temp: 74.7 F
- Avg Heart Rate: 151
- Avg Power: 192 Watts
- Max Power 738 Watts
- Normalized Power 236 Watts
- Intensity Factor .787
- TSS: 149.6
- FTP Setting 300
- Work: 1681KJ
- Avg Bike Cadence 75 rpm.
And in Conclusion …as if I haven’t said enough
This race was a really great learning experience for me. It gave me a lot to think about. Even though I am probably the healthiest and most physically fit I have ever been – I was not in great MTB race shape yet. This was only my second time riding my mountain bike in 2015 and I could really tell. You cannot simulate the trail experience while you are training in your basement.
The one thing that I need to work on the most are my low-cadence, high-power, hill climbs. My 1×10 gearing forces me to really crank slowly at high power on the hills. This is something I haven’t even tried to simulate over the winter. More riding outdoors will definitely help, but I also hope to incorporate some more low cadence intervals into my midweek workouts.
Last year my riding position was defined by a lot of standing. Despite the fact that I tried to stand on my spin bike this winter, I still found myself getting sore and fatigued in the standing position. My upper body and several muscles on the back of my inner thigh were very tired and need some work. I’m only planning right now to mountain bike once a week. Hopefully that’s enough to work on that weakness.
Lastly, my endurance just wasn’t there. Although I felt comfortable with my skills and speed for the first 12 miles of the race, the final 10 was a struggle. I need to get in some long rides to work on my endurance. I’d like to put in some long days at Mohican, Great Seal and Chestnut Ridge to build up a little stamina.
Overall, I am satisfied with my performance. I know I have room for improvement and I look forward to getting faster throughout the season.
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