I had never been to Great Seal State Park and the word on the street was that it could be a confusing place to ride with lots of horse trails. I was worried I would drive all the way there and get lost on bumpy double track. But, my assumptions about the place turned out to be all wrong.
I met up with Christopher Seeley, who organizes the race at Scioto Trails, and Jamie Sharp, who owns Rivers Bend Sports Company, a bike shop in Chillicothe, Ohio that is hosting the event. They gave me and nine other riders a tour of Great Seal that completely won us over to the lures of this great riding destination.
In The Beginning There Was Barbed Wire
The race will be held at noon on Saturday, May 2nd, 2015. The race starts on private property at the home of Jamie and Chris Sharp. Racers will sprint along a quarter mile of paved road and take a left turn into the woods. You immediately begin the first of two major climbs on the course and you learn very quickly why this is called “The Battle of Barbed Wire.” A barbed wire fence follows the trail up, up, up on the left side.
The climb seems endless. You are climbing for a long time before you can see the peak. However, although this hill is long, steep and grueling, it is also very doable. It’s a constant, mostly non-technical climb, but it saves it’s toughest moment for the last few feet before the pinnacle. At the very end the pitch gets much steeper and you feel like you might spin out, lose your balance and tumble into the clutches of the barbed wire.
The good thing about the climb is the trail is fairly wide throughout most of it, so passing will be possible and it will spread out the group on the singletrack. You will finish the hill 1.15 miles into the race and will then get to experience several miles of fairly flat and fast roller coaster riding. This section is really fun and I’m pretty sure I had a smile on my face the whole time I was riding it.
***SURVEY QUESTION: Some of the photos in my report were taken with my new GoPro Hero 3 Camera. Try to figure out which photos were from the GoPro and then click here to see prices and reviews for the camera. Here is the dilemma… I will be using this camera at the race on Saturday to capture some of the action during the event. Do you think it should be pointed forward to capture the rider’s point of view or pointed backwards to capture the faces of the racers behind me? Please let me know in the comment section. Thanks.***
Another Big Climb?!?
A little over 5 miles in you will begin the second major hill of the loop, the Grouse Rock Climb. This slope unfolds over the course of a mile. It’s longer, but less steep than Barbed Wire. At the top, the sport and expert racers are routed through a rock garden, while novices take a short detour around it. I’d say that this rock garden is a fun technical obstacle for racers, but not nearly as challenging as the rock gardens at Dillon or West Branch. Most riders should be able to clear most of the rocks. The rock garden trail is probably less than a half mile and the main rock garden section is a quarter mile or less.
After that you will see a sign for “Annie’s Trail” and begin your long, gradual 3-mile descent to the finish and/or looping point.
Fruit Loops – The Numbers
Overall, the loop is just under 10 miles long and my Garmin said that their was 1332 feet of climbing. Novice riders will conquer one lap, sport will do two, and experts three. That means that experts will travel almost 30 miles and climb close to 4000 feet. This is 20% more mileage and 17% more climbing than at Mohican. If the average expert time was 2:20 at Mohican and you extrapolate that for the larger effort, the average expert time at Great Seal will be close to 2:48 with many experts finishing over the 3-hour mark.
Sport racers will do about 2650 feet of climbing over 20 miles and will be logging about 20 percent less effort than at Mohican.
Besides the rock garden, there are not a lot of rocks at Great Seal. A few strategically placed stones are set in the trail for jumping, but are easy to avoid for those that like to keep their tires on the ground. I would say that most of the trail is not overly technical. The singletrack is fast with enough of a technical challenge to add to the fun, rather than detract from it. I thought the biggest challenge for some riders would be the short, steep descents. Throughout the loop there are 3 or 4 short drops that made me hesitate for a second before I made the plunge. I rode all of them successfully and they were a lot of fun, but I am glad that I got a chance to see them before the race. Some novice racers should consider walking them if they feel uncomfortable riding them. Better to be safe than sorry.
Even though there is a lot of climbing at Great Seal, the singletrack is built in such a way that you should be able to ride most of it. You may have heard rumors that Great Seal just sends you up one steep horse trail and then straight down another. I can’t speak for the entire trail system, but the race course is not like that all. It is 98% prime singletrack, built by mountain bikers for mountain bikers to optimize knobby-tired fun.
I did see evidence of horses with a few horseshoe marks and manure piles, but that was rare and it didn’t seem like it affected the riding experience at all.
There were a handful of muddy sections, but nothing too bad. The start of the race steered us off the road through a grassy, muddy, almost swampy area before heading up Barbed Wire. This made me question what the rest of the trail was going to be like. For the most part, trails were in great shape when we were there – tacky and fast. There were a couple of slimy downhills. It started raining on our third and final lap and by the end of the ride the trails were very slick.
However, as I write this, the weather report looks amazing. There is no rain in the next 7 days and the temperature is supposed to rise into the 70s on race day. Unless something changes dramatically, this could be our third straight race with ideal weather. I can’t imagine there will be any mud next Saturday.
Once again, as boring as it sounds, the focus will be on pacing. I did much better on pacing at Mohican than Mountwood and my results improved dramatically. This is a long race, and even if I feel like I can go harder on the first lap, I need to save some of that energy for the last lap. Since the OMBC has never been here before, there aren’t a lot of past results to compare times to. I’m aiming to try for a 2:51 finish (let me know if you think that is too fast or slow in the comment section). That is 57 minutes per lap or 10.3 mph. I was nowhere close to that speed on the pre-ride, so it will be interesting to find out if this is an achievable goal.
With the race going almost 3 hours I see no need to sprint out of the gate. I’m not going to win or lose the race in the first quarter mile. My plan is to tuck in behind the back of the pack on the road and save energy. My 1×10 drivetrain doesn’t allow me to go into a granny gear on the big climbs, so I will be spinning a low cadence of 50-60 rpm in my lowest gear and seeing what speed that takes me up at. Regardless of how easy I try and take Barbed Wire, my heart rate will be through the roof by the time I hit the top. The good news is that after that there is a good stretch to recover after the pinnacle of the hill.
I will be monitoring my heart rate and power and trying to maintain what I did at Mohican, which means that I will be doing the same, but longer. I see that as a good way to stretch my limits for my riding.
The Big Picture
This is the first time that an OMBC race is going to be held at Great Seal State Park. I think it’s going to be a great addition to the race schedule. It’s a well-balanced course that has something for everyone. You will be challenged by the climbs and smiling ear-to-ear on the downhills. The greatest danger on this course will be going out too fast too early and burning out too soon. With the adrenaline-soaked sprint on the road fueling you up that first barbed wire climb, you may not be able to help yourself and blow out your quads in the first mile of the race. That could make the final climbs of the course feel brutal …but you did it to yourself.
Hope to see you there.
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