2013 Brunswick Brawl 6-Hour Race, Leland, NC

Last year I raced the first annual 2012 Brunswick Brawl 6-Hour Race in Leland, NC (basically a suburb of Wilmington).  It was an awesome event — the staff was top-notch and the course was great.  I’ve raced a couple of hundred bike races so I have a rather seasoned perspective.  Many races while fun, are all about the promoter making a living putting on races.

The Brunswick Brawl is different.  It stands out, like Shiner’s Revenge as being a different kind of race.  In both cases the promoters have gone out of their way to simply put on a great event.  Staffs are incredibly helpful and upbeat.  Races are well organized.  Great prizes and great food.

I was so impressed last year that while this weekend would have been my only weekend off before Thanksgiving, I chose to race it again, just to support the event.  If you’ve ever considered doing a mountain bike race, choose one of those two races — you won’t be sorry.

Cape Fear SORBA is a great example of what a cycling club should be.  They’ve spent hundreds of hours working on their trails and it shows.  Last year they were good, but you could tell some were new and a little rough.  This year they were in great shape.  They’ve added many more berms to allow for faster cornering and they’ve thinned out some of the underbrush and improved the trail markings.

The weather was for the race was perfect.  My Garmin showed the average temperature was 60 degrees and while it was overcast, it never rained on us.  Rain earlier in the week had made the trail surfaces just about perfect in terms of traction.  The course was nearly identical to last year’s course and was a nice 9-mile loop through thick woods with a mile or so running along the Cape Fear river.

Starting near the back of the pack I managed to move to the front group by the time we entered the woods.

Starting near the back of the pack I managed to move to the front group by the time we entered the woods.

The race began at 10 o’clock sharp and I decided to race in the six hour open Single Speed class this year as opposed to the 40+ age bracket class.  I had been planning to race with rigid fork and cyclocross tires but on Thursday of last week I had three flats riding that setup and was spooked.  I decided not to risk it for a six hour race, so I put the fat (2.2”) tires back on but left it rigid.

I also chose a slightly lower gear than last year’s 2:1 ratio (1.89:1).  Gearing is always a trade-off.  Last year having the top speed was nice but as the race wore on, the higher gear got harder and harder to push on climbs.  As it turns out, this year I chose the perfect gearing with a 34:18 or 54.3 gear inches on my 29er.

I also chose to use the rigid carbon fork not remembering how rooty the course was. As it turns out, the rigid fork nearly beat me to death until just holding onto the handlebars became a major ordeal.  I guess the Fox Terralogic fork I ran last year did such a great job soaking up the bumps that I didn’t realize how rough it was.  I doubt if I will ride it rigid next year since my hands and arms are still sore three days later.

Unlike last year, I managed to stay in the front group in spite of the long flat start and my single speed.  That turned out to be a good thing because I didn’t spend the first two laps trying to get around slower riders who happened to just out-sprint me because they had gears.  I was able to almost immediately settle into a nice fast tempo and just whiz the woods.

By lap three I had managed to pass a few riders and was leading a three bike pace-line through a very tight and twisty section of the trail known as Copperhead.  As I was flying through the thick trees, I managed to barely clip my left bar end on a tree, setting off an immediate chain of events. Clipping the left end of the handlebar effectively pushed it backwards into my left knee striking right at the top of my kneecap.

This is a condition known as "tree knee" that is common among mountain bike racers.

This is a condition known as “tree knee” that is common among mountain bike racers. As you can see, this is not the first case I’ve had.

The bar then bounced off my knee swinging me across the trail where I clipped my right bar end and repeated the injury to my right knee.  The second time was a little harder and catapulted me over the bars onto the trail, craping up my right knee.  Perfect — just as my knee was healing from the last injury, I managed to open it up again.

The two riders who were immediately behind me rode around me and were out of sight before I was back on my bike.  When I did resume, I had what I call “stingers” — severe charlie horses where the electrical impulse to the nerves have been interrupted, leaving me with what amounts to rubber legs.  I continued to race but it was probably 20 minutes before I began to have normal feeling in my legs and felt as if I had full power again.

When my leg function finally returned, the adrenaline rush from the crash was messing with my timing and I felt like a total spazz for another half hour.  Eventually I was back to normal, albeit somewhat weakened.  My first stop was after four laps where I refilled my hydropack, drank a 20 ounce soda, ate a Cliff bar and some kind of Gu gummy blocks.  I also changed my socks and gloves, both of which were soaked and starting to cause blisters.

About halfway through lap six I began to have some cramping issues in my left leg whenever I exerted a max effort on a climb.  I dialed back the power a bit and rode through the cramps until they subsided about 15 minutes later.  When I went through the pits after lap six I grabbed a couple of mustard packs and shoved them inside the legs on my bibs in case the cramping returned.

"Why did I decide to enter a six hour race?  WTF?!"

I love this photo. It is like was was rubbing my head thinking, “Why did I decide to enter a six hour race? WTF?!”

For the rest of the race I rode steady but was careful not to go 100% on any climbs lest I start another round of cramping.  I was mentally prepared for eight laps but ultimately missed the cut off by six minutes and wasn’t able to begin lap eight.  Last year I finished lap seven at 6:01 and this year I finished in 5:36 so I was 25 minutes faster than last year.

My finish was fast enough to give me 4th place in a field of 9 strong riders, missing the podium by 2 minutes to a young riders in his twenties who was very fast.  I was happy with that.  Here are my numbers for both this year and last year:

This year:

Avg HR:  86 % of Max

Max HR:  106 % of Max

Avg Power:  173 W

Max Power:  1,278 W

Max Avg Power (20 min):  209 W


Last year:

Avg HR:  85 % of Max

Max HR:  105 % of Max

Avg Power:  169 W

Max Power:  1,105 W

Max Avg Power (20 min):  206 W

As you can see, I’ve improved all the numbers as well as beating last year’s time by 25 minutes, although as much as I’ve raced I would have hoped for a bigger improvement.  Still, riding at 86% of max HR for 6 hours is pretty good and finishing 4th this year is better than 8th last year.

Unless I find another that I just can’t resist, this will likely be my last mountain bike race for the season.  What a great race to finish off a great mountain bike season!  It was awesome!  Next weekend the North Carolina Cyclocross Series begins and runs almost every weekend through the middle of January, so off with the fat tires and on with the skinnies.