“The Flood” XC Race at Ducktown, TN

The fourth race in the US Cup East also known as the South East Regional Classic (SERC) Series was held this weekend at Ocoee Whitewater Center near Ducktown, Tennessee.  Having never heard of Ducktown, I didn’t know what to expect.  All I knew was it was a tiny town right across the Tennessee state line.

As it turned out, this was possibly the most scenic venue I have ever raced.  The Ocoee Whitewater Center was built specifically for the 1996 Summer Olympics and was the site for the whitewater slalom competition.  The natural Ocoee riverbed was narrowed and many of the large rocks were cemented into place to make the course.  It is clear that no expense was spared.

In the foreground, the bank of the river at low level like it was on Saturday.

In the foreground, the bank of the river at low level like it was on Saturday.

Picture Jurassic Park in the Appalachian mountains, minus the dinosaurs.  Pristine.  Beautiful.  Unbelievable views, really.  Okay, do you see it?  Now, add 4 inches of non-stop rain in a 24 hour period, and as Emeril Lagasse would say, let’s add a broken flume in the dam to “kick it up a notch”.  This provided the perfect backdrop for Sunday’s race.

Sunday morning we arrived at the course to learn that part of the course was under water and that the National Park service was evacuating part of the venue.  Promoters David and Terri Berger  of GoneRiding.com, scrambled and rerouted the course.  Because the original start/finish line was under water, and making a complete circuit was impossible without a boat, everyone would be racing only one lap.

The course loop is 11 miles long, and the pros and younger experts (Cat 1) were scheduled to ride 3 laps, expert masters (Cat 1), open and sport (Cat 2) classes were set to ride 2 laps, and beginners (Cat 3) were to ride 1 lap.  Sounds easy enough but don’t be fooled.  Given the rain and the trail conditions, there were not many riders complaining that our race would be cut short.

That single 11 mile loop still had 2,923 feet of climbing, and since it’s a lap, starting and finishing at roughly the same elevation, it really means that half the time you were descending, not climbing.  So it’s really more like 2923 feet in 5.5 miles or 532 feet per mile.  That is a lot of climbing, particularly in steady rain and running water.

To put it in perspective, let’s compare it to some other races:  Last week’s “climbing” race at Columbia, SC was 103 feet per mile.  My “hill repeat” training ride to Southern Pines and back averages 97 feet of climbing per mile.  Shiner’s Revenge in Woolwine, VA averages 108.  Even Tsali, in Bryson City, NC, that is notorious for its climbing has an average of only 251 feet of climbing per mile.  In other words, Ducktown had over twice as much climbing per mile as Tsali, and that’s a lot of climbing.

Do your legs hurt yet?  Mine do.  To say Ducktown is a climbing course is like saying that the Pope is a Catholic.  But as the old song once said, “What goes up, must come down…” and that is certainly true of Ducktown.  Just as it has some enormous climbs, Ducktown had some incredibly fast descents.  There’s only small problem: the rain.

As the race course wound itself up above the clouds to the very top of the mountain, maximizing suffering in the process, the rain continued to fall and the mountain continued to runoff.  That created small rivers running down the trails.  So much so, in fact, that for much of the race I was riding through 2-4 inch deep water, even while riding down the center of the trail.  Amazing!

The new "makeshift" start line was at the end of this bridge.

The new “makeshift” start line was at the end of this bridge, going up an to the right.

Needless to say, riders were not setting course records.  Instead we were just trying to finish and get off our bikes.  And riding in driving rain and running water is tough, but doing it when the average temperature for the race is 46 degrees adds one more degree of toughness, “kicking it up another notch”.  Thanks, Emeril. But in spite of all this, once could not help but be taken back by the beauty of the race course.  It truly was a sight to see.

Unlike my recent 2-3 hour efforts, the weather limited this race to only an hour — 58:47 to be precise.  The winning time in my group was turned in by Van Council at 53:42.  Van has been racing at least 9 years and hails from Woodstock (Atlanta), GA.  I finished seventh in a field of eight strong riders averaging 11.2 miles per hour.  The winner averaged 12.4 so I have some improving to do, but my Garmin numbers looked better this week than last.  I’m not sure how much was because of the shorter duration of race, though.

Here are this week’s numbers:

  • Avg HR: 91 % of Max

  • Max HR: 105 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 204 W

  • Max Power: 908 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 203 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 213 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.821

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 64.2 (* time adjusted 138.5)

  • Work: 704 kJ (*time adjusted 1,520)

Last week’s numbers:

  • Avg HR: 88 % of Max

  • Max HR: 109 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 187 W

  • Max Power: 1,003 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 215 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 202 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.781

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 145.8

  • Work: 1,610 kJ

*I have to adjust last week’s Training Stress Score and Work by a factor of 2.16 since that race was 2:26:40 instead of 58:47 in length.  

Comparing the two races shows me that my overall numbers are very similar although my average heart rate is back to where I want it to be (over 90% of max).  Average power is up somewhat, although max power is slightly lower.  That’s probably because yesterday’s climbs were steady and continuous as opposed to shorter and super intense.

The 20-minute power number is much lower this week, probably because instead of consistent trail conditions for over 20 minute periods, this week was either really tough (climbing) or really easy (descending) from a power perspective.  My intensity was slightly higher this week although again it may be due to the shorter effort.  Time will tell.

All things considered it was somewhat discouraging finishing near the back of the pack, even if I wasn’t in last place.  Nearly everyone on the American Classic / Cycleworks race team was on the podium this week and I felt like I let the team down although everyone on the team was very encouraging.

Next weekend I get a much needed break as there is no race on Mother’s Day.  I wonder if that’s because race promoters love mothers or if they don’t want to force riders to choose between mom and racing!  I think they know in their hearts that although we love racing, mom will always get our vote.