“SERC #8” XC Race at Woolwine, VA

The Southern Classic Series, the Virginia Off Road Series, and the South East Regional Cup (SERC) schedules all intersected this weekend at I.C. Dehart Park in Woolwine, Virginia.  For those unfamiliar with Woolwine, it is located about 15 miles across the North Carolina border due north of Winston-Salem.  Google Maps says it is a three hour and thirty-nine minute drive, but given the back roads and bad directions, it was more like four hours.

Riders meeting is about to start..

Riders meeting is about to start. Bike is still clean and there is no suffering to be seen.

The race course was 8.5 miles in length and was a figure eight course with the first section being 3.5 miles of some of the steepest, “gut-busting-est” climbs you’ll ever ride looping back and overlapping the same trail with a  very cool “fly-over” bridge that leads you into the second and larger 5.0 mile loop which has every bit as much in the way of climbing but it also has some technical elements thrown in to make it more challenging.

Several rock gardens, a four foot tall rock pile, and several short rocky climbs make for interesting, if not challenging riding.  And as luck would have it, just as the course was drying out from two weeks of daily rain storms, the night before the race we got a fresh soaking.  In fairness, the trail conditions were nothing like they were for the Shiner’s Revenge 6-Hour race I did there last year, but then that may have been the muddiest race in the history of racing.

Most of the trail surface is a hard-packed base with about a one inch layer of red clay on top.  In dry conditions this makes for a very fast rolling course, but when it gets wet, the red clay mud gets super slippery and somehow gummy at the same time.  Think peanut butter mud.  And when carving a turn, little red clay mud ribbons would fly up and like those little decorative chocolate curls on fancy desserts.

Speaking of food, Eric and Betthney O’Connell, and their staff of volunteers hosted an absolutely stellar event.  They had breakfast, lunch, and even dinner available for anyone wanting to eat.  I saw pancakes in the morning, burgers, chicken and beef k-bobs, and lots of desserts after the race, and only because I had a four hour trip ahead of me, did I not stick around to see what dinner was, but I am quite sure it was good.

In my two years of racing I’ve done lots of races — 29 year to date — and I can tell you, most have been well run and overall great experiences.  That said, Eric and his team have gone out of their way to make their races exceptional, and I believe they have succeeded, always going the extra mile in raising prize money, swag, food, and volunteers.  When I raced what would otherwise have been an absolute disaster (Shiner’s Revenge last year), the team going the extra mile and trying so hard to put on a great event somehow managed to make it fun.

Part of why they do such a great job is that both Eric and Betthney are racers themselves.  I think that gives them a slightly different perspective from promoters who haven’t raced for years or who do race promoting as a job.  Eric, besides being a race promoter has a day job in law enforcement.  I’ve heard (this is strictly a rumor) that Eric even used guys he’d arrested from his jail to help him build these trails — sort of work / rehabilitation project.  Now many of them are his friends and have a passion for mountain biking.  All I can say is the trails are awesome and if he figured out a way to use free jailhouse labor to help build them, I’m an even bigger fan!

flyover 480

This is the only mountain bike race I’ve done with a flyover bridge. Very cool!

Now about the race.  The mud made the course sticky where it should be fast, and slippery where there should have been traction.  That alone made for a much tougher than normal experience.  The climbing — all 3,724 feet in 25.5 miles — made it tougher as well, since nearly every climb was slippery and required twice as much pedaling than if it were dry.  Add to that the fact that humidity was nearly 100% and that we had to race three laps like the pros and you have one serious workout.

In the end, I was able to pull out a 5th place finish in a field of 9 riders.  Trust me, there are no slackers in this group.  To give you an idea of the level of competition, here are the podium finishers:

1st Place. Jim Frith — Now Southern Classic Series leader (he just passed me and leads by 4 points).  Jim recently took 3rd place at Sea Otter competing with the top riders in the world.

 

2nd Place. Mark Gilliam — Current points leader for the South East Regional Cup (SERC)  / US Cup East  Series.

 

3rd Place. Mark Perri — Just won the Georgia State Cup and is in second place in the South East Regional Cup (SERC)  / US Cup East  Series.

This finish moves me down to second place in the Southern Classic Series (behind Jim) and up to fourth place in the South East Regional Cup (SERC) / US Cup East Series.  Next week I get to choose between races:  Either I race in Ft. Payne, AL in the South East Regional Cup (SERC)  / US Cup East  Series or I race in Greensboro, NC in the Southern Classic Series.  Obviously I can’t do both.  I am leaning toward the Greensboro race simply because it is closer and the following week I travel to Nationals.

Here are some of my numbers from the race:

  • Avg HR: 90 % of Max

  • Max HR: 121 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 215 W

  • Max Power: 1,967 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 210 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 231 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.893

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 188.2

  • Work: 1,832 kJ

Here are the numbers from my last race:

  • 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

My average heart rate is back where I want it to be (over 90% of max) which is very good considering that is over two and a half hours at threshold heart rate.  Max heart rate looked high.  My max 20-minute power and my normalized power were better than my last race, as were Intensity Factor and Total Stress Score, so overall I felt pretty good about my numbers.

I have only one more race before traveling to Bear Creek Mountain Resort at Macungie, PA for the 2013 Cross Country Nationals.  I’m nervous and I’m excited.  Nervous because it is a very rocky course and rocks are my least favorite thing on a mountain bike, probably because they hurt to land on and they are the least predictable.  Oh well, it is what it is.  I am hoping I don’t embarrass myself too badly and would be thrilled with a top-ten finish considering the caliber of riders I will be competing with.