“6 Hours of Santos” Endurance Race

One cool thing about racing endurance races is that they are generally not broken into as many, if any, subdivisions so unless you are a young, elite rider there is virtually no pressure except what you might put on yourself. Another cool thing is that you learn a lot about yourself.

Whether a half or full marathon, a century ride/race, or an epic like ORAMM (Off Road Assault on Mount Mitchell), the first two-thirds of the race is just to get you to the point that counts — that place where every sane person would quit. In a marathon, it’s called “the wall”. In a six-hour mountain bike race, it’s about hour four.

The Santos race is located in north-central Florida in a sleepy little town called Ocala about an hour north of Orlando. Now if you are like me, the first thing you think is mountain bikes? Really? And like me, you’d be wrong. The Santos endurance race is held in and around an old rock quarry. Let me paint you a picture.

About five of the eight and a half mile loop is very mild winding trails through the forest floor thick with vegetation of all sorts, from pine trees to palm trees. There is plenty of wildlife as well. On lap three I ran over a black snake who was having a bad day. Most of this section was shaded, wind-free, and easy to ride, feeling like you were on carpet.

But the other three and a half miles was what is known as the “Vortex” trail. What is a vortex?

Vortex – (noun) “any situation that is or can be messy, disastrous or dangerous.”

In this case, the vortex trails are trails weaving through boulders, up and down the rock walls of the quarry. If you were a goat, it would make for tough climbing. If you are on a mountain bike… well, you get the idea.

The horn sounded and the race began at 10AM with about 150 people in a LeMans (running) start trying to run in their mountain bike shoes up a one lane slippery rock road for about a third of a mile to where their bikes were waiting. Then the mounted mob rode another half mile down a gravel road to the trailhead, a sharp left turn that allowed only one bike at a time.

That turned the race into a parade of mountain bikes for the next two laps while the herd thinned, with very few opportunities to pass. It was slow in the mild sections but it was excruciating on the vortex trails where many of the riders just got off their bikes and walked leaving anyone behind them no option but to follow suit. Mercifully, after one lap of constant traffic jam, and a second lap with traffic jams on the tough parts I finally managed to get in front of most of the slower riders.

Then it was five miles of cruising and three and a half of brutality for the duration of the race. We all raced together — those doing the twelve hour solo, the twelve hour team, the six hour solo, and the six hour team — making it impossible to see where you were in relation to other riders you with whom you were competing.

My race was relatively uneventful. I chose to ride my rigid single speed mountain bike, and in retrospect that was probably a bad call. It was fine on the smooth parts but it was a beating on the vortex trail sections. By the end of the race I could barely grip my handlebars, my arms and shoulders ached, and of course, my legs were smoked. Everyone who races has 20:20 hindsight, and if I race this event again, I will change a few things:

6 hours of SantosI would gear slightly lower. My 34:18 was fine for the first 4 laps but after that, it was getting a bit hard to push. I would definitely use the suspension bike next time as well. Last, I would not use the Q-ring on the front. I lost my chain eight times before pitting and over-tightening the chain just so I wouldn’t lose it any more.

Those mechanicals, as well as the five minute pit stop while tightening the chain, cost me at least a place in the open single speed rankings, from 4th place to 5th. I ended up placing 42nd in the Sport (Cat 2) class which put me in the top third, which again included all ages. The results don’t show ages so I have no idea how I did in my own age bracket, but I suspect I did okay.

I was happy with a few things: 1) This race helped me make the tough decision to ditch the Q-rings on my mountain bikes. Lesson learned. 2) My fitness is good to start the cross country season. I completed the 6 hour event with an average heart rate at 85% of max and a maximum effort at 104%. My IF (Intensity Factor) of 0.921 was very good for a six hour effort. 3) My riding is consistent, if not fast. My lap times were all plus or minus 2:10, which given the length of the race and the conditions was very good.

As a final bonus I realized that had I registered elite, I would have placed 13th and not 42nd. Wow! Seems to be a lot more competition in the Cat 2s than the Cat 1/Elites. And when I uploaded my race results to Strava, I had the 2nd best times on 5 sections of the course and 3rd best times on 6 sections and finished the race ahead of at least 5 elite riders. Now how cool is that?!

Final note: 34t Q-rings are now swapped back for the standard RaceFace 32s. The SRAM PC1 chain is replaced with KMC10 chain, and the 18t cogs are swapped for 17s — overall, a savings of 78 grams (about 3 ounces) per bike and no more chain drops. Let the season begin! (Photo is one of 4 camp sites at Santos.)