“Tiger Rag” XC Race at Clemson, SC

On June 23, 2013, race 9 of the Southern Classic Series intersected the US Cup East / South Eastern Regional Championship  Series (SERC) #7 at Clemson South Carolina.  Now throw in a Georgia State Cup make up race and you have lots of the best riders throughout the southeast showing up ready to compete.  Essentially, anyone who is still in the points race for any of those three series was likely to be in attendance.

No, the helmet is not on wrong… my head is just warped.

Now about the course:  Last year I raced it as a Cat 3 (or beginner) rider, so I did one lap.  Since that time, USA Cycling, in their infinite wisdom has decided that I needed to be upgraded — not once, but twice — to Cat 1.  After all, I have been riding a bicycle for a whopping two years and am only halfway through my second season racing mountain bikes.  These people are idiots.  I digress.

So I am now racing Cat 1 and we were slated to race four laps or 27.2 miles.  I’ve raced longer, but 27.2 miles is a long race.  How long?  Try two hours and forty-five minutes long.  Way too damn long to be at your lactate threshold.  Knowing it was too long the promoter allowed the Cat 1 Grand Masters (think old guys) to vote at the line to reduce the length of the race from 4 laps (like the pros) to 3 laps, since after all, we are at the brink of life-support anyway.

Not during the riders’ meeting but while waiting our one minute interval between starting waves, the question is posed to the riders:  “Who wants to race three laps instead of four?”. Four of us voted for three laps.  Most abstained, not wanting to be publicly seen as a “wuss”.  But the question was, “Who wants to race three laps instead of four?”  so abstentions inadvertently counted as “no’s”.  So we raced four laps.  Ridiculous.  I’m in pretty decent shape, but nobody can stay at their peak for nearing three hours.

The whistle blew and the race began. There was a fifty-yard sprint to a left turn that only allows for a single bike to enter.  From there the trail winds up some super-tight, super-bumpy single track with no place to pass for half a mile.  Since I don’t want to be “that guy” that sprints to the front only to hold everyone back, I just let everyone go at the start.  I figured I had four laps to catch all that I could.

I assumed I would have plenty of opportunity to catch riders since I climb well and this course had lots of climbing.  Unlike most trails where there are short, steep, punchy climbs, this course had two separate one-mile-long climbs on double track jeep trails.  Not overly steep, but steep enough to totally smoke your legs.

Of course there were also the more ordinary climbs scattered in between the two majors for a total of 6211 feet of climbing in only 27.2 miles.  That puts the rate of climbing to the second highest climbing course I’ve ever raced — second only to Ducktown, TN, but then Ducktown was a one-hour race while this one was nearing three hours (my “official” time was 2:42 although the time on my Garmin was 2:36).

Whatever my time actually was, it was a long, hot race with lots of climbing.  By the end of the first lap I had passed two riders, one “officially” and another that had been racing with us but must not have finished.  I finished in 6th place, not great but considering the field it was okay since I have never beaten any of the top five riders.   They are just really fast guys on mountain bikes.

Wow! I guess there was some level ground after all!

When the race was finally and mercifully over, I was totally spent and somewhat discouraged.  I just didn’t have enough to move further up the pack.  I was careful to eat well, hydrate, and taper my training starting Thursday morning, and I even warmed up before the race and was careful not to kill myself on my Saturday pre-ride.  I rode my best but in this field it was just not good enough.

At the end of the day, in the Cat 1 50+ nearly everyone is in great shape and most have been racing for decades.  I shouldn’t expect to catch up in only a couple of years.   Logically, that’s easy enough — emotionally, well that’s another story.  As for my numbers, there are a few things to be encouraged about:

  • Avg HR: 88 % of Max

  • Max HR: 104 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 186 W

  • Max Power: 948 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 208 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 201 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.777

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 157.7

  • Work: 1,754 kJ

Here are my numbers for last week’s race:

  • Avg HR: 92 % of Max

  • Max HR: 116 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 210 W

  • Max Power: 1,224 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 219 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 223 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.861

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 143.0

  • Work: 1,464 kJ

My average heart rate was below my goal of 90% and lower than my last race, although that’s likely due to the length of the race — the longest cross country race I’ve ever done.  Sure, I’ve done ORAMM (8 hours), several 6-hour races, and Charlie Storm’s January Mountain Bike Marathon twice, but never a cross country mountain bike race.

In endurance racing, it is normal to hold back some in reserve so you don’t try to go all out from start to finish.  It’s not really realistic to maintain threshold heart rate for over two hours, since it is by definition your maximum effort for one hour.  Max heart rate was also slightly lower than usual and my guess is that it was due to the nature of the climbing which was long, slow grinders as opposed to shorter, steep climbs.

Currently I am sitting in fifth place in the US Cup East (SERC) Series and still barely hanging on to first place in the Southern Classic Series.  Next week is the SERC series race in Helen, GA followed by the Southern Classic and SERC race in Woolwine, VA, and Ft. Payne, AL before the 2013 Cross Country Nationals at Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Macungie, PA.