“Stump Jump” XC Race

The fourth race in the Southern Classic Series was held this weekend at Spartanburg, South Carolina. It was the second of three races that comprise the South Carolina State Championship: Sumter (race 1), Spartanburg (race 4), and Columbia (race 5 next week).  A good finish at Stump Jump would mean I have a good shot at the SC State Title, having already placed 4th at Sumter prior to being mandatory upgraded to Cat 1.

2012 Cat 3 Podium

2012 Cat 3 Podium

Last year as a new Cat 3 rider I had won the race and I really liked the course.  There was nothing overly technical and there was plenty of climbing, which favors my small size and relative power.  As a fairly new rider I tend to lack the technical ability of some of the more experienced riders, but fortunately, I’ve always been able to make up for that with my ability to climb well.  This course minimized my weakness and maximized my strength, or so it seemed.

Being nearly 5 hours away, however, made pre-riding the course impractical.  No big deal, right?  Wrong!  Many of the courses we race use the same trails for Cat 1s, 2s, and 3s, just giving more laps to the more advanced categories.  For example, at Sumter, Cat 3s did one lap, Cat 2s did two laps, and Cat 1s did three laps.  Other courses, like “Bouldergeist” in Sanford, NC, have additional and more advanced sections of trail for the more skilled riders.

As luck would have it, Stump Jump has a different course for Cat 3 riders than for Cat 1 and 2 riders.  And since I was a Cat 3 last year, over half of the course would be brand new to me.  Not pre-riding could be devastating, but I wouldn’t be able to pre-ride this year.  I would have to “pre-ride” the course virtually, on YouTube watching videos of the expert sections and hope, that coupled with last years race, it would be enough.

So that’s the backdrop.  A South Carolina State Championship shot, and no chance to pre-ride.  Add to that the fact that this would be my second race ever on a geared bike.  I don’t mind telling you, I was nervous.  More nervous than normal.  I needed a good finish.  Talk about pressure.  In fact, the pressure was so high, I completely forgot to start my Garmin at the start line and didn’t realize it until I finished lap two and wanted to see my elapsed time before beginning my third and final lap!

At the starting line I met my competitors, one of whom, Harry Mathis, I later learned was a “local legend” and previous State Champion.  I didn’t know that at the time.  All I knew is he was sitting aboard a brand new $10,000+ Specialized S-Works bike, not exactly the sort of bike you see casual riders race.  So I asked him how long he’d been racing and he told me he started in 1989.  Awesome.  I’ve been racing just over a year!  No pressure!

The whistle blew and we were off, everyone initially pretty close with Harry in the front as had been expected.  Now let me take a minute to tell you about this course.  It is one of my favorites.  The scenery is breathtaking as nearly half of it winds around the side of a mountain overlooking Fair Forest Creek which feeds Lake Craig.  Views are spectacular.  They would even be better at a slower speed and with time to actually look at them.

From the beginning the race goes across a field with deep grass, turns right up a gravel road for 200 yards, crosses a paved road, turns left and parallels the paved road for another 200 yards, turns right onto a rutted, red clay jeep trail, first up, and then down for a quarter mile before entering the woods and single track trails.  After that, much of the first half of the course is smooth and winding trail through some of the most beautiful forest you can imagine.  Every possible shade of green with a thin, dark, loamy snake-like trail breaking up the canvas of greens.

This section of trail could be ridden almost flat out, weaving in between trees, across dips and streams, while the bike stuck to the rich, spongy, loam trail like it was on rails.  Unlike last year when this section was wet from the overnight rain and so slippery it was almost unrideable, this year it was like riding on carpet. Traction was perfect.

Slowly the trail transitioned out of this picturesque forest floor and began climbing, and as it did, the trail became very rooty.  In fact, roots everywhere.  Roots and short steep climbs and corresponding drops.  Picture one of those haunted forests where the trees have faces and giant roots are everywhere, making all the climbs and descents much more difficult.  Slowly but surely, all the non-stop beating from traversing the roots begins to take its toll on your hands, wrists, forearms, upper arms and shoulders.

Just when you think you can’t take much more of a beating, you pop out of the woods, turn right along the same asphalt road you paralleled at the beginning for 200 yards, turn right again, down the gravel road you went up when starting, make a left turn at the bottom, looping through the start line and begin the circuit again.  It was on my second time through that I realized my Garmin was not started so I turned it on in time to at least capture my numbers for the third lap.

With one exception most of the race was uneventful.  However, toward the end of lap two, nearing the end of the rooty section of climbs and drops, the trail has a fast descent with a right turn near the bottom. As you begin to turn right you can see a makeshift bridge of flat stones sloping down to the right at about a 30 degree angle.  The “bridge” leads to the beginning of a steep climb that starts with an eroded root and dirt wall about eighteen inches tall that you must get over to begin the climb.

My first time through I rode across the bridge, popped my front wheel over the root wall, and hopped the rear end of the bike up and over, and continued to climb up and out of that section.  My second time through, my timing was off just enough so that when I attempted to pop my front wheel up over the wall, it caught the top root and bounced off, stopping the bike in its tracks.  Of course, I didn’t stop quite so fast, and in the blink of an eye was catapulting over the bike up onto that first ledge, scraping my left knee, and hitting a root with my lower thigh muscle.

There were two riders on my tail as it all happened and both said, “Dude!  Are you okay?!”, almost in unison.  I told them I was fine and they rode on past as I tried to gather my wits and scramble up the remainder of the hill, dragging my bike with me.  At the top I mounted the bike and realized that my left leg was rubberized, having that “asleep” feeling and at the same time a sharp, shooting pain.  Everything in me wanted to quit pedaling if only for a minute.  I willed myself to ride through it, and in about two miles, it was feeling normal albeit somewhat weakened.

As I write this report, I still have a knot above my left knee but the swelling is going down.  This morning my run was very slow, but by the end my leg was feeling about normal.  This evening I went out for an easy couple of laps at Smith Lake and my legs were dead. Tomorrow will be my rest day, and Wednesday will be my hard training day, and by then hopefully my leg will be 100%.

2013 Cat 1 Podium

2013 Cat 1 Podium

As for results, I finished third and actually won some money in the process (one benefit of the mandatory upgrade). Third in a field of four.  The good news is I was 8 minutes off the winner, and I was 7 minutes ahead of the 4th place finisher, so I am pretty much mid-pack in terms of speed.  Not bad considering I’ve been upgraded twice in less than a year.  And racing with the faster guys will only make me faster.

My lap splits from the promoter showed that my second lap was almost a minute (56 seconds) slower than lap one, and that included my crash and two miles of rubber-leg.  My third lap was 27 seconds slower than lap two.  Clearly I need to increase my endurance so I don’t fade in a race of two-hours or more, but in fairness, losing 30 seconds in a 40 minute lap is not that much of a fade (only 1.25% per lap).

My Garmin file, or what there was of it, showed my heartrate was off my normal race-pace as was my power.  I like to see my heart rate over 90% and my max average 20 minute power around 220.  For those that care about the numbers, here they are:

  • Avg HR: 88 % of Max

  • Max HR: 104 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 189 W

  • Max Power: 876 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min):    193 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 199 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.996

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 69.7

  • Work: 484 kJ

I wonder how much of the results are because this is only lap 3 data and not inclusive of laps 1 and 2.  I also wonder if any of it has to do with riding a geared bike instead of the single speed that I’ve ridden up until last week.  I really haven’t been riding gears long enough to have a reliable base line.  Oh well, it is what it is.  I gave it my best effort and was happy when it ended.  Flat out for two plus hours is a lot of work.

As for the South Carolina Championship, I understand that according to the rules, half of my points transferred when I was upgraded.  That would mean I’ll keep half of my 54 points from the Sumter race, or 27 points.  Add them to the 100 points I got for finishing 3rd in this race, and I am in the lead for the Cat 1 Grand Masters South Carolina championship.  That being the case, I think I’ll go to the Columbia, SC race next week instead of the US Cup #3 race in Winder, GA.  Who knows… I might just win the South Carolina State Championship again!