2014 January Mountain Bike Marathon

According to the event flyer, “This is a training event on trails and roads. Riders will be scored and assigned a placing. All Classes will start at the same time and be scored in the categories below. Use this event for early season training. This ride is longer than a normal XC race and it could be very cold.”

“The middle portion of the course will be on lightly traveled, paved and dirt roads that are open to vehicle traffic. No traffic control will be provided. Participants must obey all state traffic regulations. Riders will need to dress accordingly for the weather and pace and feed themselves accordingly for the longer distance…”

The course was an out-and-back lollipop with a mountain bike loop on each end.

The course was an out-and-back lollipop with a mountain bike loop on each end.

It’s not a race, right? Right!  At noon we had a short riders meeting explaining the course markings and generally common sense items pertaining to the race ride — one lap of the 6-mile singletrack mountain bike course, a 30-mile “lollipop-shaped” out and back combination paved and gravel road ride, and finally another 6-mile lap of singletrack.

The meeting was at the entrance to the parking lot at Governor’s Creek mountain bike trail head, and when it broke, we all descended a quarter mile down to the bottom of the hill on a paved portion of Underwood Road.  As we were riding to the bottom of the hill I looked around and the average bike was a carbon fiber $4,000+ race bike.  Was it a “ride”? Technically, yes… but everyone sure brought out their race bikes.

After the riders' meeting we all rode down to the starting line getting ready for the pain to begin.

After the riders’ meeting we rode to the starting line waiting for the pain to begin.

Having ridden it twice, I gave the ride a great deal of thought.  Two years ago I rode my hardtail mountain bike with a suspension fork and fat tires.  I did okay but nothing to write home to mom about.  Last year, I rode a much lighter version of the bike with carbon rigid fork and fat tires.  My thinking was I would give up some speed on the singletrack parts (the first and last 6-mile loops) but I would more than make up for it with a faster road split.  My results last year were much better and I won my age bracket by over 11 minutes.

This year I decided that I would do more of the same.  I am riding an even lighter bike now, and I decided to go with much narrower “cyclocross” tires that had a fast rolling middle section.  I again used a rigid carbon fork — essentially my cyclocross version of my mountain bike.  The total weight was only 17 pounds 6 ounces.

The 17lbs 6oz flat-bar "gravel racer" iteration of my cross country race bike.

The 17lbs 6oz flat-bar “gravel racer” iteration of my cross country race bike.

I thought, again, I’d give up a couple of minutes in the woods but more than gain them back with a faster road split.  Have you ever overthought something?  That’s what I did.  In the woods, I was slower and on the road I was no faster.  My choice to use gears this year gave me a little more energy for my second mountain bike split, so I lost two minutes on the first mountain bike lap, my road split was a wash, and my final mountain bike split was three minutes faster.

The result: I was just under a minute faster than last year, and that was only good enough for third place this year.  My age group winner, Alex Hawkings, a very fast cross country racer just turned 50 and beat me by a time zone.  Second place rider Peter Hollis, a year older than me, beat me by 8 minutes.  He had a great ride and was smart enough to use a mountain bike.

Almost halfway through the race on a mile long climb.

Almost halfway through the race on a mile long climb.

I was a little disappointed with my results, but I still felt like I had a good race. Regardless of bike set up those both Alex and Peter would have both beaten me — both had faster road splits on mountain bikes and I was (at least theoretically) optimized for the road section.  Makes me wonder about the “advantage” of cyclocross tires on the road section.

This year my road split was actually 23 seconds slower than last year even though this year I had less weight, gears, and narrower tires.  Physically, I rode a stronger race and I finished a minute faster but I had hoped to better my time by 10-20 minutes.  That’s what I get for over thinking the race.  Oh well, there’s always next year, and you can bet it will be on a mountain bike.

Some interesting Garmin data for both races:

2014 Race

  • Avg HR: 92 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 199 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 228 W

2013 Race

  • Avg HR: 90 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 192 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 221 W

I am amazed at how consistent my own numbers are.  I rode at threshold last year and marginally over threshold this year.  My average power, both overall and best 20-minutes, was up 7 watts year over year.  As much as I’ve trained I would have hoped to improved more than that, but age is pulling me in the opposite direction at the same time.

Howard Rhyne (right) just finished bridging up to catch me before the mile long climb.

Howard Rhyne and crew bridged up to catch me just before the mile long climb.

It was a fun race and I got to see and ride with many of my friends.  It was good to see Howard Rhyne back on his bike after being off for quite a while from an injury.  My friends Tom and Mary Florian, both randonneurs and ultra-racers on the road both came out and had a good time riding their first mountain bike endurance race.