“Uwharrie XC Festival” Race at Troy, NC

The first Sunday in June was the Southern Classic Series race # 7 held in the Uwharrie National Forest near Troy, North Carolina.  The Uwharrie National Forest is a federally designated national forest located in the Uwharrie Mountains with a total area of over 50,000 acres.  The thick canopy of pine and oak make for a lot of shade but also hold in the humidity and stop any breezes, making for a steamy race.

The Uwharrie trails are some of my favorite trails anywhere and have a great mix of technical elements, climbing, and long stretches of rutted jeep trails where you are either grinding up slow, steady climbs or bombing down long gradual descents.  The trail surfaces range from hard packed dirt, to loose gravel, to a couple of sections that are just slabs of mostly flat rock.  One of the cool things about this trail is that it is mostly natural and not overly manicured.

Randy Shields (left) leads the way. I'm still in 3rd place prior to my mechanical. Jim is gone!

Randy Shields (left) leads the way. I’m still in 3rd place prior to my mechanical. Jim is gone!

I’ve ridden this trail several times before today and have always enjoyed it, probably because I like the climbing (4243 feet in 30 miles) and because the technical sections are good but not over-the-top.  I’ve been looking forward to the race because I really like the course and because it’s only a couple of hours away, making it one of the closest races on my calendar.  (Last week was 6 hours away!)

If you didn’t get to read my race report from last week, I had mentioned that, “…I felt flat.  Dead legs.  Nothing in the tank.  It seems the lack of sleep coupled with the pre-ride Saturday was coming back to haunt me…”

My friend Jim Frith, a monster on a mountain bike and a veteran of many years of racing, read my report and reached out and after talking suggested a few changes in my pre-race routine.  I was all ears.

He suggested I eat breakfast earlier on race day — optimally 3 hours before race time.  He also suggested I eat some oatmeal with fruit instead of one of my normal McDonald’s breakfast burritos.  Because Jim is much stronger and much faster than me, I was quick to take his advice and did exactly as he suggested.  I also went to bed at 9PM Saturday night so I would get plenty of sleep before my 4:30AM wake up.

I also continued my new experiment of riding some trails for about 20 minutes before the race to get my muscles and reflexes warmed up and my body dealing with lactic acid.  I timed it so I finished my warm up and went right to the start line with only a few minutes to wait.  While at the line several of us discussed whether we would prefer riding two or three laps — a choice I would later regret.

Our race had been scheduled for three laps just like the pros and other experts, but many of the races have the 50+ experts race one less lap than the younger guys.  Howard Rhyne, the race organizer was willing to change it if we all agreed to race only two.  At the line everyone was ambivalent although at least three of us were secretly hoping for two laps.  Nobody cared that much so we left it alone and decided on three.

The whistle blew and the race was off.  I was fourth of five into the woods and managed to move into third during the first real climb.  I built a good lead as we continued to go upward, but soon we were headed down and Peter Hollis, the fourth place rider was able to retake me.  When the trail turned up again, I quickly caught him and at the first opportunity passed him again.  The second climb is long and brutal and I used that to build a couple of minute gap.

As I was riding I started to notice that my saddle height seemed a little bit low.  Then it seemed a lot low.  Pretty soon it felt like I was on a BMX bike.  Then it hit me.  I had replace the seat post collar.  When I first bought my new frame and built my geared bike, I searched for a blue seat post collar.  I happened to find one on eBay and made a ridiculously low offer and ended up buying it for $7 including freight.  This week I finally got it and installed it.

I assumed (my dad always said, “When you assume, you make an ASS of U and ME”) that a clamp is a clamp.  For those reading who are unfamiliar with a seatpost collar, it is a clamp that goes at the very top of the seat tube and clamps down on the seat post that is fitted into the frame seat tube, preventing the seat post from moving.  Clearly, my new seat post collar was not working.

Since I had managed to build a couple of minute lead on Peter, when I reached the top of the second big climb (about 3 miles into the race), I decided to stop and fix the seat post.  It took me about 3 minutes to get the seat adjusted to the right height and get back underway and during that time, Peter passed me once again.  No big deal, I had another 27 miles to go and I was feeling great.

I set out to catch Peter and started flying.  Much of the next section is rutted jeep trail with long grinding climbs so I was sitting.  Little by little, the saddle started dropping again.  I was furious.  No problem, I thought.  Catch Peter and then fix it again, only get it tight this time.  Good plan.  I started to hammer, and soon I had Peter in sight.  I continued to reel him in and when I got close I started looking for a good place to fix the bike.

It's light, it's blue, and it's broken!

It’s light, it’s blue, and it’s broken!

I stopped again, got out my multi-tool, and went to adjust the saddle.  This time, however, I would make sure to tighten it well.  What a great idea.  But as I was tightening it this time, I heard a loud snap — the collar had broken.  Now, instead of having a slowly descending saddle I could occasionally rest on, I had a saddle that dropped to the lowest position and because of the set back in my seat post and the carbon fiber frame, I couldn’t put any weight on the saddle or I would risk breaking the frame.

I thought to myself, I am totally screwed now!  I have about 26 more miles to ride and nothing to sit on.  I am going to have to stand up for the next two-plus hours!  Oh. My. God!  Are you kidding me?!  Yes, I’ve spent a lot of time on a single speed bike and I can stand and ride for a long time, but two hours?  Not a chance.  My mind was racing trying to figure a way to secure the seat post, meanwhile, Peter’s three minute gap on me was getting harder and harder to make up.

Then it hit me.  Last week my teammate, Chase Dickens, had stopped to help Robert Marion who had crashed.  In doing so, he basically lost enough time he could never catch up, so after they hauled Robert out in an ambulance, Chase waited on the trail for the leaders to come by and then rejoined the race.  I asked him why he was sitting on his bike on the side of the trail when I rode by and he said he needed the leaders to lap him so he could jump in and finish and not get a DNF (Did Not Finish) and no points for the series.

I figured I would stick it out, riding standing up, for two laps.  Then I would stop about 200 yards from the finish and wait for the leader, Jim Frith, to go by after his third lap.  When he did, I would ride the last 200 yards and be done with the race and get credit for a fifth place finish and not a DNF.  Sounded easy enough.  I would get 76 points instead of 0 points for the race.

So when I finished my second lap, as planned, I sat on the side of the trail for a long time and talked to my friend Michael Julio who was waiting to hand a water bottle to his girlfriend Erica Chard when she came by.  About 20 minutes after I stopped, the fifth place rider, Kerry Shields, rode by, but I continued to wait for Jim Frith.

Here I am, waiting for the leader to lap me so I can finish and not DNF.

Here I am, waiting for the leader to lap me so I can finish and not DNF.

According to my Garmin file, I waited there for 31:59, and then Howard Rhyne walked up and said, “WHAT are you doing?”  I said I was waiting for Jim Frith to pass so I could ride in and not get a DNF.  He said, “Dude, that is only cyclocross.  You have to ride all three laps or get a DNF.”  I told him that wasn’t how it worked last weekend.  He told me to go ask Jim Smalley, the USA Cycling official, so I did.  Jim told me if I wanted to get credit for the race, I needed to ride all three laps.  Wonderful!

So off I went, crossing the finish line and starting lap three.  I was now a full ten minutes behind the now fourth place rider.  Could I catch him?  I stood up and hammered the climbs and kept standing for the descents.  On and on I rode, my legs screaming for most of the way.  I was determined I was not going to get a DNF.  Soon after the first big climb of lap three, I caught Kerry who kindly gave me room to ride by.  On and on I hammered.  My legs were at the verge of failing but I had many more miles to go.

On and on and on I rode, standing up the entire way.  I have never been happier to see a race come to an end.  I finished fourth of five, at least not last.  In the end, my mechanical and my long wait had only cost me 12 points.  That’s a lot better than racing and getting zero points for a DNF.  My legs were totally smoked, but I had managed to minimize the damage.  At the end of the day, my $7 seatpost collar cost me a $35 payout for third place.

I learned two valuable lessons today:  First, never race on a new component that you have not ridden on first.  Missed the podium over a $7 seatpost collar!  Dumb.  Second, never assume you know the rules because you saw it happen a certain way.  Who knows, had I continued on and not stopped to wait to be lapped, I may very well have caught Peter Hollis again.  If I take 32 minutes from my time, I would have beat Peter by a minute, but I’ll never know.

Oh well, a tough day of learning.  It was and is a great course, and it was a great race.  In retrospect, I wish I had never replace the seatpost collar, and even if I had, I wish I had just sucked it up and rode the three laps without stopping.  Instead, I wussed out.  I had two chances to be on the podium today and missed them both.  At the end of the day, I have nobody to blame for the loss but me.

As for my numbers, there are a few things that are encouraging:

  • Avg HR: 86 % of Max

  • Max HR: 136 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 188 W

  • Max Power: 1,196 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 224 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 226 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.873

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 197.2

  • Work: 1,752 kJ

Here are my incomplete Garmin numbers for last week’s race:

  • Avg HR: 89 % of Max

  • Max HR: 120 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 193 W

  • Max Power: 1,592 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 217 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 210 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.81

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 92.9

  • Work: 1620 kJ

My average heart rate is lower than I want it to be (over 90% of max) but I expect that my 30-minute break probably factored into that lower number.  Max heart rate looked good.  My max 20-minute power was higher than last week, as was my normalized power.  IF and TSS were both higher as well so I felt pretty good about my numbers.

I’m still leading the series but not for long.  Since they are only counting your best nine races, I expect Jim Frith and Randy Shields will finish ahead of me after we do a few more races.  I think I have a decent shot at third place, but time will tell.  All I know is that I am having a great time racing against some really good riders and it is helping me to get better.  Maybe I won’t make any dumb mistakes next weekend at Hobby Park in Winston Salem, North Carolina.