My first Mountain Bike race in MANY years, and what a great time I had. Though my approach these days is much different than back in the day, when I was lined up on the front row, and expecting to finish in the top several riders. Today for me, this was just ‘ a group ride with numbers’. Fun though, and I’ll be doing it and others like it again.
The Hammerhead 100 mile mountain bike race is mostly single track trails on the Santos Trail system at Ocala, FL. I was using it as a long training ride, working toward my main goal of the year, the Great Floridian Ironman Triathlon in October. I’ve been having a great time on my Kona Hei Hei mountain bike on these trails for the last couple months, and though I was not really conditioned to ride 100 miles on dirt I thought best case, I could finish in 10 hours, average pace 10mph. The course is 25 miles long, 4 laps, and I hope to do each lap in about 2:30, and figure I’ll have a little down time. I also expected this to be very difficult, as my longest training rides have not been anywhere near this long.
To my surprise, I find out race morning that there is a 7 hour cutoff at the end of the 3rd lap, mile 75, for starting the last lap. So my ‘best case’ of 2:30 loops (and I expected it to be a little more), wasn’t going to work. That became my new focus of the day, to TRY to be under the 7:00 hour mark at mile 75.
Weather was great, recent rains had the sandy trails in GREAT condition, and off we went. I was riding good, but realized quickly that I have WAY overinflated my tires. I was slipping badly on every root or rock, nothing like I was used to. I don’t know what made me put an extra few pounds of pressure in both tires that morning, too many years of road riding I guess. Several near falls has me losing confidence in my tires, but I really hated to stop and lose my position on the single track trails this early.
This grew much worse in the Ern n Burn section, which is a pretty rough section with limestone rocks and roots, steep ups and downs and sharp turns. I had to tip-toe around some of these, but still I didn’t want to stop to reduce the pressure, and lose so many positions in the line of riders. I had two minor fall overs in this section due to the rider in front of my stalling out at the top of little inclines, but nothing serious.
First lap finished in 2:04, I was VERY happy with that, I felt great and with the traffic now spread out, I could get in a rhythm and cruise at a little slower pace. Finally, in the Christmas section (I think), I had enough of slipping all over the place, and stopped to let some air out of my tires. Learned a few lessons here! Front tire was fine, but when I started unscrewing the Presta valve on the rear, THE WHOLE VALVE CORE WENT SHOOTING OUT OF THE STEM! I quickly clamped my finger over the stem to stop the rush of air leaving the tire, ( no, I did not have a pump with me, that won’t happen again!). Now I’m sitting there on one knee, finger pressed against the open stem, looking for a tiny valve core on the forest floor. Finally I see it, just out of my reach, as I make the move to get it, my finger slips off the tire thats holding air, and that’s it, my rear tire is flat, and I have no pump.
I start running with my bike to the next aid station/road crossing. It takes quite a while before riders start coming along, but thankfully, someone finally comes by with a pump in his pack that I can use. I quickly get it from his pack, pump the tire up to what feels right, and send him on his way. As soon as I put my weight on my bike, I realized I had not put enough air in the tire. There was SOME, but it was JUST enough to not have the rim on the ground. Thank goodness I am running a tubeless setup, but still, it was rolling side to side and I KNEW it was going to come off any moment. Every bump had the rim hitting the ground. I had to stand and put my weight over the front tire to unweigh the back, and ride as 3 mph or so, basically walking speed, limping to the aid station. FINALLY (according to STRAVA, this section of trail was 15 minutes slower than on my other loops), I got to the aid station, a real floor pump, and was able to precisely set my tire pressures. GOOD TO GO!
I start Ern N Burn section on good tires, and they are performing exactly like I’m used to, I was riding good, passed a few people, and things were flowing great. Toward the end of that trail, in a fast rolling section I hit a big rock, which knocked my bike into an unmoveable tree, and I go flying. I landed hard on my hip and shoulder. Had to sit a minute and survey everything. Bike seemed ok, knee was bleeding pretty good, but no major damage, back on the bike. The 2nd half of this loop was uneventful, I was still riding well and felt good.
Final time for 2nd loop was 2:29. I’d lost 15 minutes to the tire fiasco and a few more laying in the dirt at Ern n Burn, but felt confident I could ride another loop somewhat faster.
Good thing about the next loop, NO time or energy wasted falling down. I was riding comfortably the first half of the loop, but after making the turn back onto the road at the end of Ern n Burn this time, I could tell my legs were VERY tired… weak. My gear selection and speed was pretty pathetic on a section of road where I should have been going quite fast.
I felt ok, but I was feeling the fatigue as the rest of the loop wore on. I still knew I could finish another loop, but I also knew I would be taking my body into that territory where I’m doing more damage than good.
Decision time, I could finish loop 3 under the cutoff and call it a day, feeling good having completed 75 miles with nicely fatigued but not destroyed, legs. Legs that would be ready to work out next week, and much stronger in 2 or 3 weeks. Or I could go out and do one more loop, another 2 and a half hours of riding, and be absolutely exhausted, with it taking me a couple weeks to get back to doing decent workouts. The Dave of a few years ago would absolutely have gone back out and finished 100 miles regardless, but the wise old Dave of today rolled into the finish at 6 hours 53 minutes and told the race director he wouldn’t be going out for a last lap. I’d done the 3rd lap in 2:18. This wasn’t supposed to be a ‘”Do or die ‘A’ race”, it was supposed to be a great, and a fun, training day. That’s exactly what it was.
Best decision I could have made. Two days later, I’m sore and my legs are tired, but in a good way, the sore you get when you know you’re getting stronger. I was able to do a nice 3 mile run on Monday and it felt good, I expect the same from an easy spin on the bike today.
GoneRiding.com did a super job on putting this event together. Thanks to them and all the volunteers. I’ll certainly be doing many more of their events, likely making them priority race events for me next year. I’m loving this mountain bike stuff!