The Set Up:
At the end of last year I started a fitness program with some members of our local bike team. The goal was to improve fitness, strength, speed, and endurance during races. Many of the work out crew were specifically focused on mountain biking as a discipline. I had been talking about participating in a mountain race since I moved back to Normal, and I credit our local trail (for ripping off the derailleur on my then bike) for getting me involved with BCF and their race team.
I was really dedicated to the program, and enjoyed the twice weekly sessions, even if they were punishing and I had trouble walking the next day.
Given the results I was seeing, and my love of mountain biking and CX, I made a lofty goal to race more mountain bike races in our local series to keep my stoke thru the summer and increase my fitness for the Fall CX season. Plus, shredding on a MTB is fun!
In an effort to reach my goal and encourage more MTB racing, I signed up on New Years Day 2016 for Chequamegon, a 40 mile MTB race in Northern Wisconsin. The race starts in downtown Hastings, and connects a series of fire roads, cross country ski trails, and single track to Cable, culminating in a massive downhill from the top of Telemark Mountain, at the Telemark Ski Lodge. It is the largest mass start mountain bike race in North America. It has been described as a mountain bike time trial.
I purchased a used hardtail from a teammate and then, stopped riding almost all together. I never quit lifting at the gym, but my riding dropped of significantly. I was basically only bumming around town on my single speed and running some errands.
40 miles is potentially quite rough if you have never raced you mountain bike before, and especially if you have not been training, or riding your mountain bike. Needless to say, between vacations to Canada and Alaska, and my lack of mountain bike training, I was not super stoked for how I was gonna feel or place when I raced.
I had already sunk costs in the bike (which is superb and rides like a dream) and in race fees. I just had to suck it up and do it. Experiences are everything, and I was not going to miss this one because I was lazy and unfocused.
On the van ride up with the team, I asked questions about what was a good time to finish in, what the course was like, what I should expect, etc. Clearly, I was unprepared, but my team members (some of who I was just getting to know), were confident I would/could finish in under 3 hours. I settled on targeting a finishing time of under 3 hours, and focusing on riding smooth and as clean as possible (no falls, mechanicals, or stops).
We arrived two days before the race and were able to pre ride part of the course during a break in the rain on Friday. We rode a total of 10 miles, half of which were the last 5 miles of the race course. This was crucial for morale on race day. This was the longest ride I had been on with this bike in months. I felt good.
Here is a video of the staging area before the start of the race.
I was staged in the last gate, #7. The start was chaos as people start fighting for the front to avoid people who would be bottle necks later in the race. I brought a Camel back with 2 liters of Scratch and 6 gels tucked into my short elastic, and quickly tried to pass as many people as possible. I rode well, all things considered, and ran a few sections that I was unable to ride due to volume of people backed up trying to crest the hills. I had a few mechanical issues, but felt really good the for 90% of the race.
One thing missed out on was recovery and fitness. The dudes who have been riding their bike and racing hard all year finished in 2:15 minutes-ish. A few of those same.folks left that night and raced twice at a CX race back home the next day! That’s a new goal to arrive for and really impressive.
Highlights of my race or things I learned:
- Riding my bike more often would have helped
- I cramped a bit at mile 36, and did my best to stretch on my bike on some of the downhills, and flats in between sprints. No matter how much water you bring, take all the hand ups at the nutrition stations.
- There were pirates on one of the hills who offered up free rum! I gladly took a free shot and kept pushing. I didn’t regret it.
- I could have pedaled harder.
- I climbed really well
- All the rain really added to the fun of the race!
- 40 miles on a mountain bike is really tough
- A Narrow wide chainring without a clutch derailleur is kind of silly and potentially cost me my sub 3 hour goal.
- Chocolate Cliff gels are the worst of the flavors. They are a thicker consistency than other flavors, and extra hard to process with little to no water.
- Mini Cans of Coca Cola would be nice to have mid race – Rocket Fuel.
- Flow is everything, carry the momentum.
- There is a point beyond some types of pain, and sometimes it is blissful.
Final thoughts if you are visiting the area:
- There is fly fishing and canoeing galore on the St Croix river.
- Hastings, WI has a brew pub called the Angry Minnow and its beer selection is primo. The pork tacos are delicious.
- I may have become intoxicated and said I would participate on a team at the 2017 24 hours of Old Pueblo…we’ll see….
- Check out the American Berkie, also hosted in Hastings. It is an international XC ski race.