Apr 16, 2012

Michaux Trail Cup Race Report - 28 miles

OK, so my first mountain bike race of the season was yesterday. I raced in the 25 mile version of the Michaux Trail Cup Endurance Race at Michaux State Forest in Biglerville, PA just outside of historic Gettysburg. Zach Adams, the race promoter (and a fierce rival from my cyclocross racing days) warned all of the riders that it was a “killer” course, with somewhere around 3,200 feet of climbing but that the actual mileage was only 22 miles. I wasn't too concerned because I'd recently rode 21 miles at Schaeffer Farms and climbed over 4,700 feet. I've also been putting a lot of miles in on the road bike, running here and there, and blasting around Hashawa Park on the mountain bike quite a bit. In short: I felt prepared for what Michaux was about to throw at me. In reality, I had no idea what a suffer-fest this race would turn out to be.

Breakfast was two bowls of Crispix, a cup of Joe and a pint of OJ. I was pretty sure this would be all I'd need. In hindsight I'd wished I'd eaten a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs! I rolled in to the parking lot at 9:30, my race didn't start till 11:00 so I had plenty of time to get my number plate, warm up and calm down. I was pretty nervous.

After a brief racer's meeting, the race was on. The field was a mix of men and women racing together, though categories were segregated by Mens, Womens, and Single Speed. I was running my 1X9 set up and was glad to see that I wasn't alone. Lots of people were riding with only one chainring up front. Anyway, off we go, immediately bottle-necking into twisty singletrack. It had been raining on and off all morning, so the roots and rocks were slicker than snot and my new and unfamiliar tires bounced and slipped off them unpredictably. I wasn't sure if I had too much or too little psi in them. So, here we are now, a train of us, tire to tire, ripping through some of the most difficult terrain I have ridden in years. The rocks were not smooth, they were large jagged shards of granite. Each one, no smaller than the size of a football and most were larger. I thought for sure my sidewalls were going to get sliced. And as I'm thinking about this: PSSSSSS!!!! My rear tire slams a rock and goes flat. Shit! I pull off to the side, drop my pack, rip the rear wheel out of my frame and start prying the tire off of the rim. Meanwhile, racer after racer roll by. Each one saying: You ok? Or You got everything you need? I was all set though, I had packed two spare tubes in my pack and while I was pulling the deflated tube from my wheel I had the valve of my fresh tube in my mouth blowing air into it; just enough for it to take shape before I frantically, stuffed it into the tire. In it went and after about 100 spastic pumps I had it inflated, and my wheel back on the bike.

Off I go. I'm now dead last. Don't worry, I told myself, you've got 21 miles left, it's going to be a long haul. In the next minute I managed to catch two riders and pass them. I was just starting to get into the zone when all of a sudden I pinch-flatted again and heard that dreaded PSSSSSS of air rushing out of my rear wheel again. Shiiiiit! Off to the side I go again, this time, taking my time to replace the tube. I remember working more slowly this time, making sure I put my tools back in their proper pockets in my pack and rocking my rear tire so as not to pinch-flat again. I got back on the bike and told myself; calm down. You're out of spare tubes and if you have to use your patch kit, its' going to be a slow process waiting for your tube to dry before you can inflate it, so just calm down. I had to slow down and float over the jagged rocks and even walk some really jagged sections which was difficult in and of itself. I did not want to flat again and have to quit and walk back to the start area. And so on I went, methodically, picking lines of least resistance. Flow like water, I told myself.

Finally, the trail popped out onto a fire road and there were no arrows pointing which way the course went. I had caught up to about 9 other racers and we were all looking around and guessing which way to go. I decided to climb up the road and they all followed me. It felt great to get on to solid ground and motor for a bit. When I got to the top, I looped through the start/finish area again and popped out near the first torturous loop of singletrack in which I had just flatted twice. A girl with a flag stood at the entrance to this trail and I said “Again? Do we just keep doing loops of this?” and she said “yep”... so I rode the entire 6 mile loop again. This time, when I popped out on the fire road, I saw an arrow pointing DOWN the hill. I cursed out loud. I had just gone 6 miles out of my way and now, was surely in last place, I didn't see anyone behind me, so they must have been spared looping back on ground they already covered. DAMN IT! This has never happened to me. After the race, I found out that about 6 others had also gone the wrong way, and then quit. Apparently the sign marking the way to go had fallen and then been put back up by the time I came out the second time.

For the next 4 hours I rode carefully and gave it gas whenever I could. Each smooth section of trail or road section was a blessing because Michaux is entirely littered with jagged boulders. At times it sounded like riding over piles of broken dinner plates. Every once in a while I'd see a rider up ahead and make them my goal, come on', go get that guy. I'd reel them in and then just keep chugging.

Though we were warned that there was a lot of climbing, and that the course was “killer”, I feel that those words were a gross understatement. This was the hardest race I've ever done. Each time the trail dumped me out on to a fire road, it went up hill and not just for a little while, it went up and up and up for a mile at least. I was in my granny gear more than I'd like to admit and barely spinning the cranks at that. I would see racers up the road ahead of me barely moving and it felt like a snail race. When the roads did level out, it would quickly put you into the woods again, you guessed it; going up a steep rocky incline. I passed so many people pushing their bikes or on the ground changing flat tires. All of them with a good humored exclamation when I came riding by: You ok? “Yep, just doing some classic Michaux maintenance!” Or You got everything? “Where the hell do all these rocks come from?” I passed one guy who was walking back to the start with a flat tire. I asked if he was ok and he told me “Two flats are enough; I'm done.” I didn't have the heart to tell him flatted twice in the first 2 miles and was riding on luck till the end of the course.

I continued to pass people and when this happened on fire roads, we struck up short conversations about the pain and suffering we were enjoying. Many of the people I passed were doing the 50 mile version of this race and I couldn't even imagine such a thing. Even more impressive were the 50 milers I passed riding rigid singlespeeds! Yowza.

At about mile 20, I had eaten my three Gu packs and was fizzling out. I looked down for my fourth and last Gu pack I had tucked under my shorts on my leg only to see that it had fallen out. This was a crushing blow. I had drank almost all of the 2 liters of water in my pack and was starting to hit a wall. There was supposed to be an Aid Station somewhere on the course but I hadn't seen one and every person I passed asked me if I had. I was hoping to see it around ever corner. Just when I was thinking of pushing my bike up a steep section of fire road I saw a blue tent. YES! I pedaled on and dumped the bike at this oasis of carbohydrates. There were all sorts of snacks ripped open and strewn about. I grabbed at an open package of Keebler M&M cookies and shoved them in my mouth, then grabbed one of the 2 liters of coke and glugged a few big gulps down. A hand full of Lays potato chips were next. Ahhhh, salty goodness! And then more coke. I shoved two Keebler cookies in my back pocket and took off. I instantly felt energized.

I ducked back into the woods onto some great singletrack, feeling better mentally but only a little bit better physically. I was exhausted and my coordination was suffering. My reflexes were slow and my lines were bad through the rocky sections. I had to ride smart if I wanted to avoid flatting and walking the last unknown length of the race. I had no idea how far I had left to go. My odometer read 21 miles. I knew I had more than a mile to go, but how much more?

I continued at a steady pace, passing a rider here and a rider there. I was beginning to think that I might actually be close to a top 5 finish, despite the 6 mile detour at the beginning of the race. Just then, the trail pointed down hill. Steep, and rocky downhill. I got back behind the saddle and pointed my toes to the sky, with both brakes nearly locked up. It was so steep that I was kind of steering with my rear wheel, like a rudder of a boat while large rocks and boulders tumbled down the trail next to me. My forearms and hands were so tired from squeezing the brakes, and my calves were screaming from standing in the pedals. When is this going to level out? Down, down I went, nearly pitching myself over the bars more than a few times. When the trail leveled out it was extremely rocky and I wanted to sit on my seat to rest my calves but I couldn't risk flatting again. This race is killing me! Eventually I popped out onto another fire road and was glad to be able to recover and spin the cranks for a while but I was just crawling along.

I crossed a deep river section and was greeted with a huge steep hill, up a section of power lines. Ahead I could see two riders carrying their bikes and walking very slowly up the hill. I got off and stood next to my bike, swaying back and forth. My odometer read 26 miles. I began to push my bike and thought for a moment, I can't go on. But, I've never quit a race and I didn't want to start now. Up the hill I went, like a slug on a salt lick. I reached the top and entered more rocky singletrack. It was really rough going, I could barely sustain forward momentum. It was a constant, start, stop, start, stop...

The next 2.3 miles were spent in a state of delirium. I was so close to bonking and each steep climb broke my heart. My legs were going through spasms and I felt a charlie horse coming on any second. Still I rode, even when I was going just a tad faster than walking speed. This has to end soon I kept thinking. Suddenly, I saw colors through the trees, reds, blues... I heard music and an announcer. A burst of adrenalin kicked in and I sped forward! This is it! The end! Yes! Out of the woods I popped and out across the finish line I rolled. Hallelujah! I crossed the line and dumped over on my side. I just laid there on my back, panting, motionless. What an incredibly hard race that was. After a few moments, I sat up and flipped through my cycle computer to see my stats: Mileage was 28.3 (I went 6.3 miles out of my way – due to a fallen trail marker), time was 3 hours and 58 minutes, average speed was 7.1 mph.

As I finish typing this, it is now the morning after. I'm sore and I'll spend the day recovering. I'm a bit upset about the trail marker and my extra mileage. I feel confident that I would have placed in the top five, but what can you do? I didn't want to complain to Zach, the promoter, because there really isn't anything he can do about it. It happens. It's OK. I am curious to see where I placed but the results are not posted at Bikereg yet. As painful as it was, I am proud I finished and I got one hell of a good hard day of training in. Next weekend is a much easier race at in Elkton, MD; the Bike Line Spring XC Race.


Zach said...


recumbent conspiracy theorist said...

Great race report phattire! Sounds brutal. Bummer about the sign deal. Like you said epic day of training though.

Wayward Son said...

Bikes and pain...What a combination! Nice ride phat!

Dave Pugh said...

I was the one who said "just doing some classic michaux maintenance "!! Good Review. Should def look up the michaux endurance series. I just did the Maximus 20 miler today. I did the 50 trail cup and lets just say i would not have wanted to do the maximus 40 ouch.