Monday, June 16, 2014

6 Hours of Pats Peak 2014: smooth really is fast!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

When I signed up for this race back in the winter, my only hope was that the course would be relatively dry on race day. Of course, when the forecast showed the potential for 3 inches of rain in the two days leading up to it, I freaked out a little bit.

And by freaking out I mean that I thought about riding my singlespeed because I figured I’d be walking anyhow or my cables would be so destroyed with mud that I wouldn’t be able to shift. 
There was some mud, but there also wasn't
photo cred: Pats Peak Facebook page

Fortunately, the thought of railing that downhill on the Kona Hei Hei kept me sensible through that moment of temporary insanity; I wisely chose gears and suspension.

On the morning of race day, the sun was shining, and the temperature was perfect. I rode the first mile of the course as a warm-up, and I was delighted to find that even though the course was damp, it wasn’t as bad as it’d been in previous years. Plus, it was supposed to be nice all day, so I was hopeful that it would continue to dry out.

Climbing happened a lot
photo cred: Pats Peak Facebook page
I ran into Leslie Timm just before the start – she’d been pre-riding the course for Sunday’s XC event, and she told me that everything up at the top of the mountain looked really good as well and was completely rideable. I was pumped. Plus, I was stoked to see her smiling face – I miss my TSEpic pals! Later when I was out on course, I came across Gary Hoenhe with a cowbell and a "Liz A is my hero" sign. 

The race went off right at noon with a short Le Mans start, and we were instantly climbing.  I wanted to get into the woods ahead of some of the pack (there were 6, 12, and 24 hour racers taking off) so I went a little hard at the beginning but never hard enough to feel a burn or suck wind (you know what I mean, right??).

I didn’t want to waste any energy by riding poorly, so I relaxed and just kept my legs turning smooth steady circles. As it turned out, steady and smooth also meant pretty fast for a 6-hour race. I finished the first lap at around 46-47 minutes (I can’t be sure on actual time because I forgot to hit the lap button on the Garmin and remembered a couple minutes into the next lap), and at that rate, I was pulling faster times than I had in the XC race in 2013 (and it felt almost effortless).

Behold, the post TSEpic legs have arrived, and they are GOOD.

Going into the race, I was hoping to go fast enough to get in 7 laps. But as the hours ticked by, it quickly became apparent that I’d have the option to do an 8th lap. That wasn’t something I’d even considered until I was cruising along on lap 6.
Thank you, Clark Brothers Racing and Moat Mountain

There were a few things that sealed my decision to wait on course having a snack until 6pm rather than set out on an 8th lap: (1) hamburger and beer – we’d set up camp by Clark Brothers Racing and their magical cooler full of Moat Mountain Brewery’s finest assortment of beverages, and I wanted one so bad; (2) I was planning to ride at Kingdom Trails on Sunday and wanted it to be somewhat enjoyable; and (3) I had lapped my competitor a few times already and didn’t feel the need to risk doing it again.  And as I said already, (4) I was mentally prepared to do 7 laps.

Dereck churning butter on the ski slope
photo cred: Pats Peak Facebook page
So I milked the clock by waiting around for approximately 13 minutes, and with 3 minutes to go, Dereck came blasting by me all excited saying, “one more lap!!” He was heading out for his 7th, which would mean a 4th place finish him in the solo men’s 6-hour. I instantly felt like a chump for standing around when I could have been grinding out one more lap, but then I thought about that
hamburger again…

The course was in terrific shape considering all the rain it had seen in the days prior to the race, and a steady breeze all day Saturday meant steady drying. I imagine that by Sunday it was riding pretty fast.

Dereck descending
photo cred: Pats Peak Facebook page
Last year, many of the switchback climbs were just too slick to ride because the mud resembled something like peanut butter; this time we were gifted with mud that was tacky and firm (with the exception of a few water run-offs on the ski slopes). I found myself relaxing and riding some of the singletrack that I hadn’t even been able to ride in 2012 when the course was bone dry.

On each trip around the course, I rode different sections better (and sometimes worse) than the lap before, and I think I was able to ride just about every inch of the course at one point or other (with the exception of one or two awkward spots).

The Kona’s full suspension allowed me to sit and spin up the steep rooty sections and retain traction even though the roots were super slick in spots. And descending on that bike was amazing. I’m glad I didn’t fool around and ride the singlespeed (especially after watching those racers who were painfully grinding up the climbs in one gear). 

I’m really happy with how the day went, and maybe next year I’ll be more competitive with the guys since there’s a chance I could have placed in the top 3 there… if only hamburgers and beer didn’t exist. 

The hours after the race were spent cleaning up, eating hamburgers, drinking beer, and hanging out with the Clark Bros crew. We camped just at the edge of the course and were soothed to sleep by the random sound of 12 and 24-hour racers cruising by the tent. After a quick and hearty breakfast of spinach, eggs, and brats, we were off to VT to get a ride in at KT. 

Bone-chilling mountain water, a pumpkin roll,
and a hot black coffee
Poor Dereck took my suggestion of a 5-hour ride to heart, and I think he got a little nervous before we started riding that I was indeed going to keep us out on the trails for a full 5 hours (yeah, not really a pleasant thing to look forward to after a 6 hour ski resort race). Luckily, I tend to plan bigger than my legs will allow sometimes, and after about 3 hours on the trails, we rolled back to town to recover in the icy cold river for precisely 8 minutes and eat sweets from the general store. 

I’m really enjoying 6-hour races. They’re long enough to require some endurance and short enough to ward off a complete mental breakdown.

Next on my agenda is the infamous Patapsco 100 – destroyer of souls. This year’s goal is to finish that beast in less than 13 hours, and I’m really looking forward to my first hundred on a full suspension.  Two week’s after that, I’m racing the Carrabassett Back Country Challenge up in the middle of nowhere Maine, and I’m tempted to follow that up with 12 Hours of Millstone the weekend after (because they are both part of the New England Endurance Series – NEES). I’ll make that decision later. 

In the meantime, the quiet little tri-state area of MA, CT, and RI has a whole lot of fun MTB race stuffs going on. Team NESS has been putting on a summer-long MTB TT series, Team Bums have been doing something similar, and there’s a short track race series happening in Mass (I think all three of these events are on Tuesday nights). What a great community of off-road racers we’ve got in this area! 
Top step
photo cred: Gary Hoenhe


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