“Six Hours of Shiner’s Revenge 2013” at Woolwine, VA

Near the end of cross country mountain bike season last year I decided to try my hand at some endurance events.  I raced ORAMM (Off Road Assault on Mount Mitchell) and did well, so  I thought I would try the Six Hours of Shiner’s Revenge, a brand new race, being hosted by my friends and fellow racers, Eric and Betthney O’Connell.  You can read my full report on last year’s race at: http://weightweenieblog.com/?p=611

Having won the open 50+ race there last year, I automatically put it on my calendar for this year.  However, as the race approached I happened to notice that Eric had lowered the age bracket to 45+ to increase the size of the field.  Last time I gave up seven years but this year I would be giving up 13.  That’s a lot of age, but my endurance is pretty good so I decided to give it a try in spite of my age disadvantage.

As the race weekend approached I watched the weather reports since last year had been the premiere mud-fest due to the 4” of rain that fell the day of the race.  The venue, Woolwine, Virginia is located in the beautiful mountains of Southwestern Virginia, just across the North Carolina border and about one hour from the nearest AT&T cellphone coverage area.  When you go to Woolwine, you are unplugged, literally.

Nothing quite like red, clay, peanut butter mud.

Nothing quite like red, clay, peanut butter mud.

Last year I camped with my friend Bart Wellisley, but this year I decided to make the drive up in the morning.  Since the weatherman had been calling for overnight rain I was left trying to decide between a warm, dry bed and an early wakeup call versus a wet, cold sleeping bag and probably not much sleep.  I am old.  I opted for comfort.  Of course that meant missing the Saturday night party at the racecourse, but I’m afraid sleep won out over the great times.

I packed up the Honda CRV on Saturday night, got up early Sunday morning, and was on the road by 4:30AM for what was supposed to be a 3.5 hour drive.  With the race starting at 9AM that put me there an hour early — plenty of time to check in, put on my number, get my gear ready, get kitted up, and make it to the line.  That’s assuming the trip was uneventful, and I assumed it would be since I had raced there for the SERC series race only a month before.

Well last time, Google Maps led me right to I.C. Dehart Park.  This time, apparently Google had decided to update their maps and I ended up somewhere else at about 8:10AM.  Fortunately I was near the town of Woolwine, so I drove back to town and found a store that was open and asked the proprietor for directions.  Thankfully, the race was a pretty big deal for the small town of Woolwine, and following his directions I arrived at the racecourse by 8:25.

By this time, Dingo had been in the car for nearly 4 hours and I needed to let her out.  We checked in, got my number plate and started getting everything ready for the race. I was still getting everything ready when the mandatory riders’ meeting started at 8:45, but I made it to the bathroom and to the starting line with 4-5 minutes to spare.  I was already having a good day!

The average temperature was a perfect 59.6 degrees (in August!?), and even the continual mist was nice.  Unfortunately, however, it had poured for several hours the night before, so it was destined to be another mud-fest.  Again, I was glad not to have camped like last year.  But was I ready for the mud?  Yes and no.

One thing I’ve learned about racing in adverse conditions is that it becomes a battle of attrition.  Everyone is miserable and the race becomes much more psychological than fair weather races.  See Rule 5 and Rule 9.  There is just something downright demoralizing about trying to race in rain and mud when your wheels are constantly slipping and every pedal stroke seems like it is half wasted.  So, as a veteran of the Army’s 82d Airborne Division, I can suffer with the best of them, and that made the rain and mud a plus.

On the other hand, mud is very hard on bikes.  Woolwine mud is impossible.  Red clay mud with the consistency of peanut butter.  Not the good ol’ homogenized Jif peanut butter, but more like that expensive, health food peanut butter that has big chunks and must be stirred just to eat.  Now imagine that packed into every crevice around your chainrings, around your tires, in your derailleurs, etc.  It makes your 20-pound hard tail weigh 40 pounds and ride like the brakes are dragging.

My plan was simple: Pace myself for a long, long day, and don’t burn too many matches early in the race. Hold a nice tempo pace.  For those unfamiliar with the term “tempo”, I’m referring to a level of intensity right below a normal race pace.  Think a fast group ride — not all out, but not chilling out.  Zone 3-4 or 80-90% of my max heart rate.  Minimize the stops, stay hydrated, and protect my equipment. Simple.

The race began and I was immediately in fourth place.  By the time we got to the woods I was in third, but first and second were riding away.  Was I riding too hard?  No.  Just about right.  I could catch the leaders, but I’d have to burn too many matches.  Tempo.  Six hours is a long race.  I decided to let them go and maybe they’d burn too many matches in the early laps.  If they could hold that pace, they deserved to win.

The course was… well, muddy.  How many ways are there to say muddy?  In fairness, it is a great trail when it’s dry, but unfortunately, I seem to be racing on muddy days.  I felt badly for Eric and Betthney because they’d poured a ton of work into the race, recruited a lot of sponsors and volunteers, and now, for the second straight year were having a lower turnout because of weather.  Inspite of the lower turnout, they were awesome and upbeat.

Let me take a minute to say a few words about Eric and Betthney.  They are the kind of people you want as friends.  They’ll do anything for you and not expect something in return.  Honest, hard-working, straight-talking, fun-loving, salt-of-the-earth folks.  We could solve this nation’s problems by just having 20% of the population like them.  I didn’t feel like racing Sunday, I knew it was going to be a mud-fest, and still, I went and raced — just to support them.  That’s the kind of people Eric and Betthney are.  If you only do one mountain bike race, do one they put on.

Lap one and Chip is starting to ride away.  Not a mile into the race and look how muddy it is!

Lap one and Chip is starting to ride away. Not a mile into the race and look how muddy it is!

Okay, now back to the race.  The first lap was uneventful.  I passed a number of riders from earlier groups who had gone out fast, only to slow down.  Was I going too hard trying to catch the leaders of my group?  No.  In fact, I was feeling great.  Somewhere near the end of the first lap I started feeling like I was warmed up and in the zone.

As I rode by the scoring station completing lap one, I was told that I was only a minute and a half behind Chip Harris who was in second place.  Should I stop or try to catch him?  I stopped at the bike wash station, and took the pressure washer to my drivetrain and tires, trying to reduce the rolling resistance and minimize any damage to my chain and sprockets.  In and out in about two minutes.  Staying with my plan: protect my equipment.

Lap two was more of the same.  With all the riders and the continuing light rain, the trail continued to get worse — slicker and slicker, making climbs harder and cornering slower.  I reminded myself that it was hard for everyone.  Race of attrition.  Stick with the plan.  Don’t burn too many matches.  About halfway through lap two, I caught and passed my friend Chip when he had a problem caused by mud locking up his front derailleur on a climb.  I reminded myself how nice it was not to have a front derailleur.

Instead of a normal 2 X 10  or 20 speed drivetrain, I had opted for a 1 X 10 when I built my bike.  One of the reasons was that it eliminated one of the primary sources of drivetrain problems: the front derailleur.  All season long I’ve ridden past people who’d dropped a chain or, like Chip, locked up because of a front derailleur issue.  At least three times during the race I passed people for exactly that reason.  I’ve raced over 20 races this season and never dropped a chain.  Good call on the 1 X 10.

Are we having fun yet?  Hell yeah! Check out the wheel drift!

Are we having fun yet? Hell yeah! Check out the wheel drift!

I stopped again after lap two long enough to wash the mud off my drivetrain and tires, and off I went.  By this time the leader was only a minute ahead.  I caught up with Paul Sullivan, the leader, about halfway into lap three.  When he realized I was in his group, he put out a Herculean effort and gapped me once again.  I let him go.  I was planning on six laps, not three.  Stick to my plan.  Don’t burn matches.

About two-thirds of the way through lap three I came to the flyover bridge where the trail crosses over itself.  By this time enough riders had ridden up the steep bridge that the planks were covered in slick, red clay and my bike spun out and stalled trying to make the climb.  I dismounted and attempted to push the bike up the remainder of the climb, only to have my feet slip out from under me, sliding me off the bridge and onto the ground four feet below as my bike slid back down the bridge.

After a brief bout of Tourette’s Syndrome, I picked up my bike, made sure it was in one piece, and got back underway.  The fall reopened some scabs on my right knee, added another to the collection, scraped my right shoulder, and bruised my right glute. Ironically, this turned out to be my only crash of the race: right in front of a crowd of spectators but thankfully, not a photographer.  I was having a good day.

I was nearing the “halfway point” of the race and the conditions were beginning to take their toll on my body.  My plan was to stop after four laps for dry socks, shoes, and gloves.  My hands were beginning to blister from the soaked gloves and my feet were starting to chafe as well.  I managed to hang on through four laps and stopped for my dry gear.  That was a huge pick-me-up.  Amazing how much the little things affect your spirit.  I again washed my drivetrain and was off for lap five.

The fifth lap was more of the same.  Mercifully, the mist had stopped and the trail was actually getting slightly better in some places.  Of course the slick, wet mud was becoming thick, sticky mud and was sucking that much more energy.  Keep moving.  I got to the bridge and opted to walk it this time, without incident.  Where was Paul?  Was he holding that faster pace?  I was pretty sure he couldn’t but I should have passed him by now if he wasn’t.

As I neared the end of lap five, my friend Josh Miller was along the trail and he told me I was leading the race.  How could that be?  I didn’t pass Paul on the trail.  Maybe he was stopped and I passed him in the pits.  I hoped Josh was right.  As I started lap six I rode up to the bike wash and there was a line.  I decided to skip it and ride on.  One more lap and I was starting to feel the wear of the long day, the muddy conditions, and six long, eight-and-a-half mile laps, each with 1270 feet of climbing.  Time to dig in.

I again walked the bridge, and finished the race nearly as strong as I began it.  In fact taking out the pit stops, my lap times were 54, 54, 53, 57, 57, and 60 minutes or a fade of only 10% inspite of the diminishing trail conditions. When I finally finished I learned that I’d actually ridden a lap more than the rest of my group who had not finished lap five before the 5:30 cutoff.  I’d stuck to my plan and I’d won the race!  I was ecstatic!

After pressure washing the mud off my bike, my gear, and my body, I got into some clean clothes and flip flops and headed for the pavilion for a great post-race meal of lasagna, salad, bread, and about ten desserts, all prepared and served by Eric’s mom.  Did I say these are some great folks?  When it was time for the awards ceremony, I’d forgotten to bring my camera or make arrangements to capture the moment so I had to sell my soul to Chip for some photos.

Chip Harris "assists" Gramps onto the podium.

Chip Harris “assists” Gramps onto the podium.

One picture was of Chip dramatically “assisting” the old guy up onto the podium.  The deal I struck with Chip was that if I wanted the rest of the podium pictures, I had to post the “assist” photo on my blog, and I was happy to agree.  I guess when I think about it I was pretty tired — apparently that extra lap took a lot out of me, Chip.  And I guess, come to think of it, it’s also a little harder to climb all the way up to the top spot on the podium.  ;-) So, Chip, thanks for the photos and for the help!  It’s not everyday I get to beat up on 45 year olds.

Here are some of my numbers from the race for those of you who are interested:

  • Avg HR: 86 % of Max

  • Max HR: 129 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 176 W

  • Max Power: 1,938 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 222 W

  • Normalized Power (NP): 197 W

  • Intensity Factor (IF): 0.76

  • Training Stress Score (TSS): 325.7

  • Work: 3,583 kJ

Six laps, 51 miles, and 7612 feet of climbing.  My average heart rate was lower than the 90%HR I shoot for on a normal cross country race, but still pretty strong for a six hour effort.  Power numbers were amazingly good.  I still have one more race in the three-state Southern Classic series but I’m a mathematical lock for 2nd place behind Jim Frith, and I’ve more than completed the required number of races, so I may just skip it and call it a season.  I can use the rest to get ready for cyclocross that starts in a month.