When I signed up the logic went like this: Now that I am doing expert-level XC mountain bike races of around 30 miles, my “long rides” need to be even longer – at least 4 to 4.5 hours. If I do a 6-hour race then that would lock me into getting that nice long workout. So I showed up to Hueston Woods State Park for the first race in the Tri-State 6-Hour Series without a plan or the proper training. I just had this vague concept that I was going to ride my bike for a long time and I would get a good workout. I had no idea how I would perform because I generally prefer much shorter events.
Joe Worboy picked me, Nahum Burt, and Christopher Boyle up at my house at 5:15 am. We are all on Team Breakaway Quickdirt, which is sponsored by Breakaway Cycling in Delaware, Ohio, and we were meeting our teammate Shannon Williams at the park.
The race was scheduled to run from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm – 6 hours of “fun”. The goal is to log as many miles as you can before the 6 hour time limit runs out. The lap was about 9.8 miles in length and you had to finish the entire lap under the time limit for it to count as part of your mileage for the day.
I looked at the mileage of the finishers from the Tri-State 6-Hour Series from last year and decided that my goal was to try and finish 5 laps, which would give me about 50 miles. I thought it would be possible based on the times I read, but I had no idea how my body would actually hold up to the abuse of the trail.
At about 8:50 all the riders rode slowly from the staging area for about a mile down a gravel road to the starting area. It was a light-hearted atmosphere at the line with people shouting jokes and having a good time. Some of the fast guys and the relay teams jockeyed for position on the line, but most of the crowd was content to line up in the back. They knew it was going to be a long day and it wouldn’t be won or lost on the line.
We started at 9:00am. The bikes sped down the gravel road and I was surprised at how easy it was to keep up. I had heard there was a sprint start to get to the woods, but I wasn’t sure how fast it would be. I could’ve gone faster, but I chose a position about a quarter of the way back in the pack. I figured most of the people ahead of me would be competent riders that could handle themselves in the woods and not slow me down too much. My only goal at this point was not getting caught in traffic.
When we entered the woods I had no problem keeping pace with the pack of riders around me. In fact, it was a fun speed. We were making good time, but it wasn’t fast enough to be stressful or taxing. Once again, I could’ve gone faster, but I opted to follow the wheel of the rider in front of me. A few people even offered to let me pass, but I turned them down to keep my speed slower to save energy for later in the race.
The only time I did move up was when someone crashed in front of me – and this happened way more than I expected. It was epic too. These guys weren’t just stumbling. They were going over the bars and getting scars. Several bikes tumbled into the woods. I was amazed at the amount of carnage I saw early in the race since I didn’t feel like the pace was pushing us to the limits. Luckily, I don’t think anyone I saw got seriously hurt and I was able to ride by most of the wrecks pretty easily.
It was a beautiful day in the woods. Even though temperatures were in the 80s for most of the day, the temperature in the woods ranged from 70 to 74 fahrenheit for most of the race. We finally got a break from the rain in Ohio and the trails were able to dry out. It was obvious the trail crew had done a ton of work to get the trail race ready. My Garmin recorded about 900 feet of climbing per lap. Most of the climbs were fairly gradual. There was nothing too agonizing. In fact, in the first lap I didn’t really notice any big hills. The hardest climb came at the beginning of each lap and covered about 90 vertical feet. Overall the course was fast with plenty of room for passing.
Perhaps the hardest obstacle was a steep uphill switchback that got greasier as the day went on. I was able to conquer it on two of my laps and walked it the rest – partly because towards the end it just wasn’t worth the energy it took to try it.
The first lap was fast and fun. I felt very energetic. I did the first lap plus the prologue in 58 minutes and I felt great. I settled into a groove with two riders – Matt Becher and Dave Farnham. We entered the team tent area together and all stopped to refuel. I was the first one back on the course, but the two of them caught up quickly and passed me on the gravel road section near the group campgrounds. After some light chit-chat, Dave pulled away and left Matt and I in his exhaust. This became a theme for me throughout the day. Each lap I would stop in the team tent area and when I started riding again Dave would pass me. He said he just liked to sit and rest between laps. I didn’t even know that was an option. I imagined him sipping on a cappuccino and lightly nibbling on a croissant under the dappled shade of a river birch.
The second lap went very well. I finished in about an hour with an average moving speed of 9.8 mph. Still easily on target to finish 5 laps.
On the third lap, long after Dave Farnham had passed me again, my legs started to feel the effort a little. Towards the end of the loop my quads started cramping a little. Uh-oh. I was barely past the halfway mark to my goal and I knew that I was going to start digging deep soon.
I stopped at the team tent once again, but this stop was a little slower than the previous ones. I didn’t exactly have my nutrition plan dialed in, so I had several options waiting for me on a folding table that I had set up along the race course. Several riders teased me and called it my “race buffet”. The night before I went to the grocery store and picked up a few items that sounded like they might taste good during a race – bananas, Clif Bars, gels, PB&Js, bottles of Heed energy drink and sugar cookies with a thick layer of strawberry frosting on top. Of course, I reached past the healthier options straight for the cookies. Mmmm… they tasted so good. Were they the best option for endurance mountain biking? I wondered that as I thought about how the rest of the race was going to turn out.
I hopped on my bike to start lap number 4 and on the first climb of the lap I realized that my power was draining quickly. I pedaled down a gravel road past the group campgrounds. I put my head down and peaked into the pain cave, staring intently into the darkness, pondering the effort that I was going to put in to finish this race. My legs were John Henry sledgehammers pounding the pedals into the ground repeatedly and a marching cadence started playing in my head…
Was that the voice of God? Some sort of trail fairy?
Oh. Someone is really saying my name. I yanked myself out of my zombie state.
I looked over my shoulder and realized that I had missed my turn. Dave Farnham had caught up to me a fourth time and saved me from disaster. He’s my hero. I must have had some large blinders on because the trail was clearly marked. How far would I have ridden if the trail fairy hadn’t saved me?
Once I was back on track I continued my slow trudge through the forest. My moving speed dropped to 8.1 mph. How low would it dip? How many miles would these Walmart cookies carry me for?
I survived lap 4 and stopped in the team tent area. My first stops had been rushed. I didn’t want to lose time in the pit. But this time my refuel was much more labored. I sipped slowly. I started to eat another cookie, but the sun had warmed it up and the taste in my mouth was repulsive. I dropped the cookie in disappointment. My depleted body craved nourishment, but was too bloated and over-heated to receive it.
The tough thing about a 6-hour race is that it tempts you to quit every lap. I imagined how nice it would feel to sit in my chair under the tent and sip on a “recovery beverage”. I resisted the urge and crawled back on my bike.
Pedal, pedal, pedal… Must keep pedaling.
I had 1 hour and 40 minutes to finish the final lap and it felt daunting. My average moving speed dropped to 7.4 mph. That makes for a really long lap time.
I like mountain biking a lot, but at this point I started pondering the merits of what I was doing. Why was I pushing myself to exhaustion? Why was I riding but not getting anywhere? Why do state parks not allow a post-race beer? How could cookies no longer taste good? Would the stars in the sky burnt out before I crossed the finish line? The mysteries of the universe swirled in my head.
Once again Dave Farnham caught up to me. He still seemed spry and energetic, fresh off of his fifth rest break. I hated that. He said something like “Blah, blah, blah…” I don’t know. My ears were too tired to hear. I let him by and he zoomed away like a bullet-train. Go eat another croissant you trail fairy jerk! Needless to say, my attitude. was starting to deteriorate.
The little hills from the first lap started to feel like mountains and I even had to walk a few of them. Every once in a while a photographer would take a photo of me and I would try and put on a tough face, but those efforts were fleeting.
I calculated the time I would finish, how many calories I had burnt, my bike repair bill for the year, the number of frosted sugar cookies that one athlete could tolerate – anything to take my mind off the punishment I was dishing out to myself. I could’ve stopped after 4 laps, but I didn’t. I wanted to finish my goal, so I continued my slog through the woods.
Finally, I finished my fifth lap, 49 miles total with 4593 feet of climbing, in 5 hours and 40 minutes. I was drained of energy and baked in the sun. I dropped my bike and staggered around in the heat looking for cold water. I had finished 13th out of 37 solo male riders and 27th out of all 87 riders and duos. I was happy with that. Finishing in the top third and finishing my goal seemed like a good end to my first 6-hour race.
I plan on doing the next two Tri-State 6-hour races at England Idlewild Park in Kentucky on August 9th and Versailles State Park in Indiana on August 23rd. Will these races push me to my limits as well? Or, will I adapt to this new longer format. I’m looking forward to finding out.
I hope to see you there testing yourself too.
Kent Baumgardt took a ton of great photos. You should click this link and check them out – https://www.facebook.com/yabpp/