Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Darkhorse 40 Race Report

I've been asked by a few for a blow by blow of the race so they can sucker punch me next year. So without further adieu:

The temperatures anticipated for the DH40 were to start hot and get hotter with a peak of around 95F. There was no wind to speak of, humidity was high as was the sun in the clear sky, and the bugs, lurking amongst the shadows, were in paradise. In the sun, shortly before the 9am start time, it was already uncomfortable. Sweat beads started pouring while standing still. The start line was very crowded and unorganized with 389 racers piling in to a grassy area. I was among the first group to start, and since I have zero experience with these short races I was unsure how to start although I was guessing we would hammer it out to the single track. Obvious, I suppose, but ya never know. I was ready to gun it, and my 36-18 gearing on the 29er was more than capable of hanging with all but the fastest geared riders. At 9am, we dropped the hammer. The start was on a gravel road and the dust was flying. These are the days that help remind me I need to pony up the $'s for some lasik. Fortunately, I just had a few run-in's with some dust, but nothing debilitating. The start was an all out sprint. I began in the middle of the pack, and near the end of the gravel road portion where it all turned to single track, I had managed to move up to near the front, but not as close as I had wanted. I was stuck behind some slower geared riders, but I was the first single speeder although I didn't know this at the time. We held a very high pace for the first 4 or so miles and that's when people started dropping like flies. After the high paced weeding, I was in the clear and settled down in to my comfortable pace. Since I was pushing a pretty tall gear, and I was, after all, riding with only one gear on nearly all single track, this comfortable pace basically meant going as hard as I can for the remainder of the race. And that I did. I was confident I could red-line, or time trial as some people like to say, for the entire 40 miles, since I've been doing just that and more 6 days a week for most this year. The temperature made things a bit tricky, and the tight single track confounded it even more making it incredibly difficult to get the proper hydration. Add to that the abuse suffered on a 2.25" tire with a rigid fork over nearly constant rough terrain, and you have some major issues to deal with to simply finish the race!

I was riding with only one bottle filled with two scoops of Heed. I had decided to forgo the electrolyte pills since I figured I'd only be out for a little over three hours. I had no issues throughout the race, and can't say if the pills would've helped or hurt me. I definitely would've been able to pop a few during the gravel road section at the end of each lap. To supplement the heed I was chomping on Clif blocks when I had the chance. I managed to down a little less than one pack a lap. On each lap my wonderful mother stood alongside the gravel road and handed me a fresh bottle after I tossed the used bottle down near her. Thanks! She did an amazing job and even tolerated me grabbing it at a pretty high speed without dropping the bottle!!!!

On each gravel section I hammered as fast as I could trying to catch that mysterious SS'er I thought was in front of me. In retrospect, I suppose it's good to think you are never in first place and push harder and harder trying to make up time!

After the gravel section, it was a hard left in to a double track dirt path that had some mud scattered about for good measure, and shortly after the double track it was mostly single track for the remainder of the loop. By the 2nd lap I was starting to catch the slower sport riders and 'rider back' became my mantra. Passing them was tricky since the trail was so narrow and generally bordered by trees. I hit a few passing people, got some scrapes from some nasty bushes, and generally had a blast getting bounced all over, screaming out to pass, crashing through shrubs, and then hammering it back on to the trails. By the fourth lap, I started to feel the pain in the upper body from the constant jack hammer abuse my arms and hands were suffering. It felt as if my gloves were welded to my palms. It wasn't so bad as to be distracting. It was just noted. It's weird how that works. My legs kept saying what's wrong with you wimps, keep it up!!! It's very obvious road cycling does not transition smoothly in to rigid single speeding on rough trails. This is something I must address!

Near the end of the fourth lap, and the finish for me, there's a smooth and flat double track before hitting the final section of the gravel road to the finish. I saw a fellow NYC mtb'er I met at the Wilderness 101, we'll call him Seabass, ahead of me on a geared 29er, and I knew he was on the same lap as me so I thought I'd have a little fun. I was already going pretty fast, but now I had decided to max out my RPM's on my 36x18. To those that don't know, that means pretty damn fast on a 29er with 175mm cranks. So, I sprint. I blew past a few slower riders on lap 3, scaring the crap out of one of them I learned later, and then flew past Seabass like he wasn't moving. I heard him say something, and turned around and saw him try to catch up. He told me after we finished he thought we were competing for the fastest overall cat 1 and he had just lost $200. It turns out his fears were unfounded since we were in separate categories, and he still got his booty. Shortly after I passed him, I hit the gravel section and stood up and gave it 110% the last 500m's or so to the finish line. I was flying as I crossed the line, and Seabass rolled in about 10 seconds later looking rather spent. I had a wave of nausea pass through me from the very high effort I had just given, but it quickly dissipated and I was back to feeling like I could do a few more laps!

I rolled over to the finish line and that's when I learned I got first place. What a surprise!

So, what's to learn and what could be done differently? The gearing felt a little steep for the climbs, and I don't think I would've lost much, if any, time with 36x19 or even 36x20. I never felt like I couldn't handle the tall gear, but having to really grind it up the climbs probably slowed me down a bit. Nutrition was spot on. A suspension fork would probably be the best gain. I would've gone a heck of a lot faster on some sections with a squishy front! Fox, rock shox, dt swiss, ya hear me!??!


Erin said...

Congrats on your win, Sean! Are you still trying to qualify for the Race Across America? I haven't seen any posts about that in a while.

Sean Smith said...

Thanks Erin. It's in my mind, but on the back burner this year. I've been enjoying the shorter (ha!) 100 mile endurance mtb races and have been focusing more on making myself faster which pays off for the RAAM type events too. It's working thus far and I plan to do more shorter racing next year but may return to the RAAM at some point. I'm also going to start road racing next year.