Last year was the first year for the Oak Ass 50 and 100 mile race and went really well. I didn't race so I could work the crazy split section between Jekyll and Hyde and the BUMP trail. Everything went fine but it was a tricky section to ride AND work with constant vigilance needed to keep track of who was coming from where and help resolve any issues that oxygen debt and fatigue tend to bring out from people racing bikes. That sentence was too long for any decent book but that was the deal...
This year I had accepted again I would not race and stand in the cold all day at the same spot. As a course designer people getting lost on your course is generally a bad thing which I did not want to happen. A week before the race Pete Foret offered to cut a quick connector trail from the Firepit trail to Blood Rock. This made my day. I was free to race! Kind of. Volunteers were still needed and I wanted Lee Neal to be able to race also so we set on doing the 100 mile Duo and switching off volunteer stations when we were not on course. This was all tentative and I still was ready to work all day if needed.
I put a lot of work into this race going well with the most time consuming part being the course marking. The loop is 25 miles and crosses over itself near Johnson's Mountain meaning course marking is a long process. I took the Krampus (the Krampus is Surly's 29Plus format bike. Mine is setup as a rigid singlespeed with 29x3.0 tires and all sorts of nice stuff...full post on it to come) out Friday for 5 hours to cover the whole loop again and tie up any loose ends. I am glad I did since I ran into the fella from Southeastern Trail Runs who was doing a 50K run race at OM the same day as Oak Ass. We had a nice chat and went on our ways. Oak Ass is a fun loop but the pack full of tools and marking supplies really zapped my energy stores. The climbs were an all out event and the descents were fun but a bit awkward.
I have lost hope of ever having a night before a bike race that is well suited to racing a bike well. Couple too many brews and up a couple hours too late but I felt fine race morning aside from general exhaustion from course marking Friday. I should mention here that Oak Ass is the only bike race I have done in 2014 and my longest trail ride this year was the 25 mile ride the day before the race! Not the best prep but I'm pretty stoked with how I rode given my ill prepared state. To anyone doubting their ability to do Oak Ass or the like without "enough miles"...you can do it, it just hurts!
"Well, that was a mistake," I mentioned to Chainbuster racing honch Kenny Griffin as I entered the 7 Bridges opening singletrack. I spent the first mile of the race lollygagging on a singlespeed and earned myself spot number 122 of 125 racers going into the singletrack. I was not set on any real competing as Lee and I were the only 100 mile Duo racers and I really just wanted to get an idea of my course from a racing perspective. Mistake made, I settled into the line and bided my time.
I was more careful than normal making passes. No need to be an ass during the race I help put on. Making passes was wearing me out but by the top of the climb I seemed to be settling into a good spot in race traffic. I found myself with Michael Long, who I rode with most of the race on and off. Michael was also on a SS and the guy behind the 5 Points 50 race in TN. I made up some lost time and made it through all of Jekyll and Hyde clipped in. I knew the climbs would hurt me so I just made a goal to ride all the tech stuff clean during the race, which I managed fine thanks to the 3.0 tires on the Krampus. Talk about increasing your margin of error.
I wasted a good bit of time stopping to chat with folks during the race and fiddling with the seatpost on my bike which I could NOT get to stay in place. Such is life racing a bike with only a handful of rides on it. My bread had been thoroughly buttered and I was now eating it. I was 17 miles into the race when I realized ,"Wow, my body is beat." The ride time Friday was rearing its ugly Fatigue Head and made me pretty cautious pacing myself up Peavine Falls Road. Riding a bike to work a few times a week and training to race are two different things and I had done not enough of the latter.
I had a good rip down Blood Rock and finished out the first lap in 2:25. Meh. Not great but not awful either. I had clear trail to ride the next lap and had a great time just riding the awesome trails at Oak Mountain. I am still getting used to the handling of a semi fat bike so more ride time was just what I needed. My legs and back were really starting to complain and I worried I was too tired to ride Jekyll and Hyde safely. As soon as I entered Hyde I passed another singlespeed fella and suddenly got back into my zone. I was wide awake again and felt great until it was time to head up Peavine Falls Road again. This was a real test for me to make it up without walking and I searched my brain for helpful sayings or mantras to easy my pain. I took in another Snickers bar and a view from the top of the mountain which lifted my spirits. I have done lots of racing and have nutritional stuff fairly dialed at this point, which kind of sucked since I had nothing to blame my dead legs on except lack of fitness and WAY too much riding the day before racing.... I had been in this place of unhappiness before and was happy looking forward to how good it would feel to be finished.
I realized during this lap how freaking hard the Oak Ass course is. This course is tough! You are either climbing or descending something technical. It is fun and challenging but it is for sure a tough 50 or 100 mile. I finished with a ride time of 4:50 and an actual race time of 5:06 that thoroughly reflected my time wasting out on the trail. I was honestly just happy to finish the 50 out as bad as I felt that last lap! Lee went out on his laps and not long after came walking up to Pete Foret and myself at mile 17 with a broken chain. He politely declined my offer to finish out the race on the Krampus and called in our DNF. We had a great time hanging out on the side of the trail and yelling at everyone that came through. This race really made me appreciate folks encouragement while I was hurting. Thanks everyone!
We ended up as a DNF but after some staring at the results sheet I would have landed on the podium in the 50 mile SS category. Not bad for a lazy commuter. I'm really happy with the Krampus so far and thing it has some solid potential for a race bike.
I can say with confidence what I heard from numerous others after the race - "Oak Ass kicked my ass!"
Thanks again to everyone that helped with the race and came out to test themselves on course. See ya next year.