2012 Brunswick Brawl 6-Hour Race, Leland, NC

What could be more fun to do on a clear 72 degree day in early fall than the Brunswick Brawl mountain bike endurance race?! Hosted by Cape Fear SORBA, the event was held at the Brunswick Nature Park in Leland, North Carolina, the sight of the club’s newly improved mountain bike trail system. I know what you’re thinking: “How can you have a mountain bike race at the beach?” Well trust me, you can.

With altitudes ranging from 29 feet above to 135 feet below sea level, it is hardly the Blue Ridge Parkway. While it’s true that the climbs were not exactly like those in Fontana, Tsali, Danville, or ORAMM, there was still more climbing than you would expect for a course at the beach. I was surprised to look at my Garmin file when I was done and see that in seven laps I had a total of 1800 feet of climbing for the day. Who knew?

Teammate Greg Beasley and me coming around after lap two.

Teammate Greg Beasley and me coming around after lap two.

But what the course lacked in climbing, it made up for in other ways. Traction was better than you might have expected given the amount of sand in the soil, but it got looser and sketchier as the day wore on. It was not overly technical but it was the kind of course that was a constant washboard, or series of bumps, just close enough to prevent a good flow, but far enough apart to prevent you riding with any speed.

The net effect of riding washboards is that over time they just beat you to death. It’s not so bad initially, but the only way to take them fast is standing up and six-hours of stand up riding is tough. Most of the trails wound through thick coastal forest, cut just over handlebar width through foliage that was quick to reach out and grab you if you were offline even the slightest amount. That meant staying alert, mentally, through the entire race, which is easier said than done.

I got to experience both challenges early in the race: About halfway through the first lap, I rounded an off-camber downhill turn a little hot, and before I knew what happened, my front tire washed out in dry sand and I dove forward and to the left, doing a 15 mph face plant on the sandy trail while another rider ran over my left leg and apologized as he rode on by. I jumped up and got underway, with only a small abrasion on my left shoulder and sand all over me. I somehow managed to lose only one position which I regained before the lap was over.

I little further into the first lap, while climbing one of the course’s few hills, I had incident number two. Because I ride a single speed mountain bike, most of my climbs are done out of the saddle, hammering my legs and alternately pulling back on my handlebars in a seesaw manner. During the climb, I managed to get offline just enough to smack my right pinkie and bar end on a 2 inch sapling. Ouch! This, of course, whipped my bars offline even more so I managed to take out a few more trees before coming to an abrupt halt and slamming my left knee into the top of my front shock tube.

Fortunately, that was it for injuries, but as I write this report I still have a baseball-sized swollen and bruised spot right above my left kneecap, making my knee unable to bend, a stiff and swollen right pinkie, and a scraped up shoulder, and I’m moving around like I’m old. Oh yeah, I am old! I did manage to get offline once again on lap four and smack a few trees before coming to a halt, but I sustained no injuries.

For the most part, the race was without further incident after lap one, although, there was a point during lap 3 when I rolled over a 4-5 foot long copperhead snake. He was stretched neatly across the trail, and I ran over his middle. When I did, he immediately curled up in pain, and then Greg Beasley, who was on my back wheel, then ran over the writhing pile of snake, yet again. We didn’t stay around to watch so I don’t know what happened to the snake, but I’m guessing he has had better days.

The race was pretty much uneventful after that first traumatic lap as I got better at threading the needle on my bike and more accustomed to the poor traction on the corners. As with any endurance event, the race is really all about survival. The first few hours is simply to wear everyone down to a place where the real race begins. The real race is primarily a mental race, and not just a physical one and it is only after everyone has gotten to that point of physical exhaustion when the real battle begins. Who wants it the most? Who will endure the most pain?

By lap three (or 27 miles into the race) I was ready for my real race to start. It’s weird how you have to race the first two and a half hours just to get to that point. My legs were sending shooting pains to my brain, on the very edge of cramping and If I extended them fully, they would cramp. If I stopped pedaling, they would cramp. The only solution was to pedal right up to that fine line — the edge of cramping — and to keep moving. So from somewhere about two and a half hours into the race until the end, it became a mental battle of not quitting and dealing with the various aches and pains.

There were no dramatic cliff dives like ORAMM. No recurring bouts of cycling tourette syndrome. Just staying in the race and blocking out pain — from leg cramping, to aching shoulders, arms and hands from the non-stop pounding, to hot spots on my feet, to burning quads from standing too much, to a raw undercarriage from sitting when I could no longer stand, to a stiff and sore neck from holding the intensity for six hours. In many ways, it was as brutal as ORAMM. It was the same distance traveled in two less hours, but unlike ORAMM, there were no paved sections nor long gravel roads.

I won’t lie. Toward the end I began to do the mental math, and I knew that I was going to easily make the five and a half hour cut off so I could begin a seventh lap, but there was no way I would finish my seventh leap in time to start an eighth. It was time to be conservative and not doing anything dumb that would break either my bike or my body and cause me to DNF. I was occasionally passing people, and I was not being passed, which is a good sign. I did get passed by the lead solo rider who was lapping me, and by a couple of the 6-hour duo riders, also one lap ahead. Other than that, I passed riders but was not passed.

At the end of the day, I finished in eighth place in the Open Six-hour Solo Men class and had a great time. My teammate and traveling buddy, Greg Beasley finished in twelfth in spite of serious cramping issues that left him lying on the ground beside my Honda for 15 minutes before being able to resume racing. It was a very tough but fun race and we had a great time. Oh — for those of you who have been asking me about my cracked ribs, they seemed to be okay. They were a little sore, but nothing traumatic. Hopefully they will be ready for cyclocross season which starts next weekend.

Here are a few observations from my Garmin file:

Heart rate. I told Greg that I wanted to ride at 80% of my max heart rate or around 140 beats per minute. When I downloaded my data, my average heart rate was 140 bpm. Pretty close.

Power: My power numbers were consistent with most of my other races. Max 20-minute average power of 206 watts, average wattage of 169, and max power of 1105 watts.

Speed: My average speed was 10.8 mph which was not bad considering the terrain.