My cycling career began all the way back in 1994 with mountain biking. While I love racing road, mountain biking has always seemed familiar and inviting. A way to be one with nature. I recently caught the mountain biking bug again and had been doing quite a bit in the off season to cross train for road. Friends and fellow racers were talking about this 6 hour endurance race, Something Wicked 6 Hours of Cathedral Pines, and asked if I was interested in signing up as well.
To be honest I was a bit skeptical. Mountain Bike races are traditionally much shorter in duration so the prospect of being out for 6+ hours seemed a bit nutty…so of course I agreed and signed up. I decided if I was going to do this, I am going all in and training properly for it. I spent many weekends out in Middle Island, Long Island riding the course and getting a feel for bike set up, nutrition, lap times, etc.
Having dialed everything in to my liking and completing roughly 21 laps on this course alone in training, I felt confident going into the race. Perhaps not confident enough to win, but a podium spot was certainly obtainable. I arrived at Cathedral Pines at 7:15am for the 9:00am start, ensuring I had enough time to get a good spot on the course to set up my feed zone. I opted to go without a camelbak and instead set up bottles filled with raspberry Skratch Lab for hydration with Allen Lim’s rice bars and LG’s Energy gels for sustenance. The morning air was certainly colder than I expected but I still decided to go ahead with just LG’s Speedzone vest and arm warmers. While it was cold, I did not want to overheat and went with being less restricted.
Lap 1 – 48:18
We all line up at the base of the park in the trailhead parking lot. There are roughly 300 racers lined up, all category/gender/age group, about 50 wide waiting for the start which immediately turns left onto the park’s main road. Positioning is critical as this paved/gravel road section is about ¾ of a mile in length and then there is a 180 degree turn into the single track. Get stuck too far back and there is a long wait to enter the woods. That coupled with a tight twisty course allows for minimal passing room once on the course.
The gun fires and we are off. I am about 20 bikes back trying to get closer to the front without blowing a gasket 2 minutes into this all day race. As we approach the entrance to the woods, I spot an opening and gas it…2nd into the woods!
I quickly pass the guy that was first into the woods and for the first mile of single track I am leading the entire race. Having trained on this course excessively, I knew the pace I wanted to sustain so I pull back a bit and let riders pass as they come up on me. With a race this long its all about maintaining a consistent pace and keep enough in reserve. I had done some research on the 30-39 CAT 2 results from 2011 to determine a necessary pace for a high overall placing and to see if any of those guys would be back in this race. Sure enough the guys that finished 2nd, 3rd, and 5th in 2011 were once again racing in this same category. Clearly all with victory in mind. My lap times in training had been in the 51 minute pace but the longest ride I had done consecutively here was 5 laps.
After the fast start and into the woods in an ideal spot, I settle in and just start turning over the pedals. The course is fairly pedestrian with maybe 130 ft of climbing per lap and no rocks. However what it lacks in climbing and rocks it makes up for in turns and roots. Accelerating out of every corner and getting tossed around by the roots certainly wears on you after a while. Lap 1…48:18.
Lap 2 – 49:14
The first lap was quick and I knew I would need to settle down a bit more to have some energy in reserve. I grab another bottle, rice bar, and gel and head off again. I’m feeling really good at this point, perhaps 20th overall and no idea where I’m at in CAT 2 though. A few more pass me but still around 30th or so. Lap 2…49:14
Lap 3 – 50:03
Its at about this point that my back starts aching. I’m nearly 2 hours in on a hard tail and my body is starting to get worked. I manage to grit it out and continue with a smooth pace on yet another lap. Lap 3…50:03
Lap 4 – 51:33
Since this is a time based race and not a distance race, you keep going out on the 10 mile laps as long as you cross the finish line before it hits 6 hours. At 5:59:59, you can go out for another lap, if you actually want to do that to yourself. At 6:00:01 your day is done and you wait for the results. I’m about 2:45 in on my 4th lap now and I start doing the math to see how close I will be to the six hour cutoff at the end of my 7th lap. I know 7 laps is happening, but how close will I be to an 8th lap and will I actually do it. I had been losing a minute a lap so assuming that trend, I am borderline on whether 8 laps will happen or not. Its looking less likely if I keep hemorrhaging time. Lap 4…51:33
Lap 5 – 51:29
Lost another minute on lap 4. I am definitely starting to get tired after over 3.5 hours and although I have an outside shot of making the 8th lap, I’m not sure my body will cooperate. I would only be a little past the half-way point now if I did 8. Head down, keep pushing! Lap 5…51:29
Lap 6: 51:36
Wow, last lap was actually faster than the one before. Ok, I guess I’ll just plug away and see what happens.
At this point in the race everyone has pretty much settled into the pace they’ll keep for the remainder of the race. You’d be hard pressed to up the pace at this point. I basically decide to switch into auto pilot and just survive the next 2 laps and let the 8th lap be a last minute decision. Also at this time, I start chatting with the fellow racers out on the course, trying to get a feel for what CATs are around me. Oh, you’re a CAT 1 you say, well lets pace each other. Have you met the relay guy over here, we can all ride together.
About halfway through the lap a guy rolls up on my back wheel and I start chatting…”what class are you in?” “CAT 2 30-39” he responds. “On your 6th lap?” “Yes.” Crap! The idea of settling in and surviving has shifted at this point. He asks if anyone is in front of us and I respond saying I have no idea but I do know that the guys that finished 2nd, 3rd, and 5th last race are racing again. He says yeah I know, I finished 3rd. “How are your times this year vs. last time?” I ask. “A bit faster”.
Now at this point I still have no idea where we are position wise, but if he got 3rd last time and his lap times are faster, there is a strong possibility we may be 1-2 on the trail. After he sits on my wheel for a bit I ask if he wants to pass knowing that I am running on fumes at this point. “No, I’m dying back here”.
That’s all I needed to hear. I knew I didn’t want to ride with him for the next 2+ hours and on this course its extremely easy to get out of sight with the twistiness of it, and out of sight = out of mind. I start hitting the gas a bit and look back to see him a turn behind me, then 2 turns, ok now its time to go. I put my head down and start hammering. I need to get out of sight. Lap 6…51:36
Lap 7: 51:51
This was to be my last lap, well until I knew another guy in my class was right behind me, and I figured he would be going out for 8 if he had time so I would most likely need to as well. My last 3 laps had all been within 7 seconds so I knew my body was in the zone and had reached my optimal pace. The prospect of leading the race certainly gave me that little bit extra to keep going. I know that I will have around 6 minutes left on the clock at the end of this lap, so an 8th lap will be coming my way. Crap! Lap 7…51:51
Lap 8: 52:58, Finish time: 6:47:05
There was the clock…5:54:07…I’m going for another lap.
But wait, I only set up nutrition for 7 laps.
As I pass my car I get off quickly and grab a bottle that I had thrown earlier that still had a bit of fluid in it. There is another rice bar there so I am in luck. OK, settle down, ride smooth, and don’t get passed. You’ve got this. I keep telling myself this over and over. Just finish, you’re less than an hour away.
After 6 hours and 71 miles in the saddle you definitely start becoming delusional. Everything hurts and you just want to stop. The last lap is like a last ski run, you really shouldn’t do it as you’ll probably go down and break something, but you go ahead anyway. The thought of hitting one more root is the most appalling thing at this point, but you do it because this may be for the win. I suffer through the last lap and cross the finish line…6:47:05. Lap 8…52:58.
After Six Hours and 47 Minutes of Racing
Did I win? I am not sure. I go to the car to get changed and put the bike away. I can barely see at this point, my eyes are cloudy. I go to the results area and see Mike, JJ and Daghan… “You won dude!” I check out the results and sure enough…my first mountain bike win ever! It turns out that I also ended up finishing about 5 minutes ahead of the guy in second place.
I cannot say enough about the people involved in putting on this race. They were unbelievable!!! The whole event from start to finish was top notch! They were all over the course shaking cow bells, cranking Iron Maiden over the PA at the start/finish. After I finished I swore that race off for good, luckily however I have a short term memory and today I can honestly say that I can’t wait to race it again next year! Thank you to everyone involved, you are the best! Also special thanks to Jennifer Carlson, Liam Hesse, and Jeff Martz for the incredible pictures!