Part of my original intention in beginning Oak Ass as an official race was to push people out of their comfort zone and try something new. Evan stepped up big time and I really enjoyed reading his account of the race as well as watching his progress leading up to the race this year. Enjoy!
Oak Ass 50. Evan Koch
Just to set expectations, this won't read like most of the posts I've seen about peoples' Oak Ass experiences, this is more about how I prepared for the event. For some people, doing Oak Ass might not have been a big change, but it was definitely outside my comfort zone and I wanted to share what I did so that other people might be encouraged to give it try. Before I decided to do Oak Ass, the longest distance I had ridden on my mountain bike was 18 miles and the only event I had participated in was the Bump n Grind Cat 3 race. I had seen the name Oak Ass a few times, and when I found out that it was a 50 mile race, I pretty much dismissed the possibility of ever competing. Over the years I've done a bit of mountain biking, but only since March 2014 have I stuck to it with anything close to consistency. I jokingly mentioned Oak Ass to a friend in October who said we should give it a try, theorizing that even we could do 50 miles in 12 hours. Turns out he was right, but it wasn't without preparation.
Luckily I live and work close to Oak Mountain, so it was easy for me to keep trying the course. I hadn't been on the other side of Terrace Dr in years, so it took some time for me to get familiar with the course. I worked my way up to doing the full course - one weekend I did South Trailhead, Seven Bridges, red road, and J&H back to Peavine Rd and stopped. The next week I did that plus the rest of a loop - going up the road, coming down Blood Rock and then Johnson's Mountain. Each time I added more, I was getting a sense for how long the real event would take me. The weekend after that, I did one lap, and got through J&H on the second lap before throwing in the towel - I just didn't have the energy. Which leads me to the next topic…
Turns out I was a bit naïve in the ways of endurance events. I thought I could just throw a few power bars into my water pack and that'd be good enough, and that water was all I'd need to drink. When I spoke with my sister and brother-in-law and later John Karrasch, they said I'd need to take in a lot more calories than that for long rides and mentioned things like Gu, Nuun, and Skratch Labs. This lead me to the Feed Zone Portables cookbook, which does a good job educating the reader about how the body works during endurance events how to properly maintain your energy levels. So two nights before Oak Ass, I was in the kitchen with my wife making the blueberry and chocolate chip coconut rice cakes in preparation (I had planned to test out the rice cakes prior to that, but I had two sinus infections in October/November that limited my ability to do much training).
Most of my riding had been in summer, late spring, or early fall, so I never had to put much thought into what I wore, but Oak Ass was November 22 and we'd already had one period of extreme cold, so I figured shorts and a t-shirt wasn't going to cut it (for me, anyway - I saw people in their kits with arm sleeves on). I ended up with a base layer, softshell jacket, riding pants, and a thermal skull cap under my helmet. I tested this out a few weeks before when the temperature was 38 at the start of my ride and it worked very well, and the temperature at the start of Oak Ass was in the 40s, so I wore the same gear. The jacket would allow me to take off the sleeves if I got too warm and the forecast said it'd reach the mid 60's by mid-afternoon, so I expected to do that or leave the jacket in my car when I made a pit stop after the first lap.
Other people's recollections talk of trying to keep up with people, who they passed, flat tires, etc. - my experience was a bit different. I intentionally started in the back because I knew I wasn't going for the gold; my plan was to stay at the back and not get in anyone's way. Based on my training, I expected the first lap would take me about 3:30 and the second lap would take me more (I didn’t know exactly how much since I had only gotten partway through my second lap before), but I was hoping to be done in 8 hours. I tried to eat a rice cake periodically, which turned out to be a little bit harder than I imagined - not because of the taste, but when I unwrapped the tin foil, it was still fairly mushy, so I ended up stopping each time I ate (every 45-60 minutes). First lap was fairly uneventful but I was tracking pretty well to my estimates - first lap took me 3:36. As I stopped by my car to restock and ditch the jacket, I heard the announcer over the PA say that he expected the race leaders to finish their second lap in the next three minutes if they kept up their pace from the first lap. Second lap went about like the first- I saw a friendly face from BUMP along the camp road, got passed by a few bikers, and then I ran into some girls on J&H who had lost the yellow trail. While I'm fairly familiar with the mountain bike trails, I've never been on the hiking trails, so I gave them my map of the park and cautioned them to watch out for other racers. More friendly faces (Corbin Camp at Blood Rock and John Karrasch at Peavine Rd/Johnson's intersection) helped keep me going and I finished the second lap with a total time of 8:22.
I've proven that I can do it, so next year's about improving my time. I plan to actually read the
Feed Zone Portables book and not just skip to the recipes section, and also figure out what my caloric intake should be while doing endurance events. I also intend to get better at climbing so I don't have to walk up parts of Peavine Rd up to the fire pits trails, because I had plenty of people stop and ask me if I was okay. Knowing the course in advance and having an idea of how it'd take allowed me to be comfortable doing the event - I have no idea how those riders who had never been to Oak Mountain before did it.