Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Six Hours of Pat's Peak Report

Also known as, the six hours of cold, rain and mud. It had been two years since I'd attended the Pat's Peak MTB festival last. That year I competed in the Elite XC MTB race, which is held on Sunday. The weather in 2009 was easily summed up in one word, wet. It rained constantly, the entire season and the entire year if I recall correctly. The race itself was brutal and I flatted on the first lap thanks to the stupid 'Ramp of Doom', or rather my stupidly hitting the 'Ramp of Doom'. The course is hard in and of itself, with a lot of climbing and some solid technical challenges. Compound this by the weather and much of the course became a slog-fest through sucking mud-pits and 'Romancing the Stone' like mud-slides of epic proportion.

Fast forward right past 2010, which saw the pain of 2009 still too fresh in my mind despite the fact that the weather and conditions were actually dry, and right to last weekend. For some reason I've been in the Sunday races suck but Saturday races are much better mindset of late. I guess I'm sick of blowing Saturday and only getting to do a half assed opener ride and feeling compelled not to booze it up so I'm fresh for Sunday. Typically I end up having to mow the law on Saturday anyhow which isn't the best pre-race activity either. I much prefer to get the racing over with on Saturday so I have Sunday open for a fun ride and to mow the lawn and do chores.

Anyhow, the weather forecast was mixed all day on Friday. There were glimpses of hope which, at the very last moment, I decided to believe and registered for the six hour solo race, which was on Saturday. I figured six hours isn't that long, I've done tons of six plus hour rides. Plus, all around good guy Pete S. is racing it well. Game on, this could be fun as I like racing Pete. As soon as I registered I saw that Dylan M., you remember Dylan from earlier in the week when he crushed me at the Rumpus, right? Well, he registered too. Great. So now we had a serious race on our hands. And then the rain started.

I awoke Saturday to temperatures in the 50's and overcast with a light mist. This didn't seem that bad as it hadn't rained that much during the week so as the course may be OK. On the drive to Pat's Peak, however, it started to pour. The rain never really ended that day, though it did subside for the last hour or so of the race. Cathy, who had not pre-registered, decided wisely to sit this one out and luckily for me, performed as crew for my race keeping me fed and hydrated as well as keeping em as warm and dry as possible with glove and arm-warmer changes mid race.

One thing to note was that there were some course changes from the last time I raced Pat's Peak. They did a ton of reroute work at the very top and completely redid the old, mainly fall-line descent back to the base. It was now a serpentine mass of tight and twisty rolling trails. They were extremely well laid out and made use of numerous natural features to add some very technical sections as well as some fast flowing sections and twisty power sections. This was a vast improvement and the trail appeared to be much more sustainable as well, judging from how it looked at the end of the race vs. the start. The only real trail complaints are the use of the old, bombed out single-track to the far left of the mountain that ends up being a mud/water catch basin when it rains. This is the section where you soon turn and start the cross slope ascent. Speaking of that cross slope ascent, that is the worst. Wet, swampy grass is the worst way to climb in the world. It's tough on equipment and tougher on people. It was just miserable.

The race started promptly at 12PM Saturday Lemans style, with a short, mass start with the 6/12/24 hour racers running to their waiting bikes. From there it was a jockey for position. I settled in behind Pete who settled in behind Dylan. The pace was high but nothing crazy. It wasn't long until things settled out with only a select few choosing to continue the pace. At some point I got by Pete and when Dylan made a wrong turn I settled at the front. Coming into some of the more technical sections I was able to open a little gap but when we hot the first real climb Dylan was able to catch me. I caught back up on the next descent and held close back up the top but he put a good gap in before we started back down. Again I was able to close and we finished the first lap in about 38 minutes with me only a few seconds back.

The next lap played almost exactly the same with me getting gapped hard on the hills and regaining on the descents. At the end of lap two we were only an hour and fifteen minutes in and I realized that this effort would never scale for the next five hours. Time to back it off a bit and be realistic. So from there I chose to ride my own race, alone in the cold, wet mud. The next few laps were a blur of cold, pain and the onset of fatigue. The nearly constant need to be using really high power to get through the mud and up the climbs left my legs reeling and on the verge of cramping. I'm not a great climber, especially on the mid length climbs. Short power climbs I'm pretty good with and the longer, steady sustained stuff I can find a rhythm and survive but the ones that are a few minutes long and vary in degree kill me. This course saw a couple of those very climbs. I never saw Dylan again but the gap went out to 3 minutes and then 5 minutes and then settled somewhere this side of about 10 minutes.

As the day wore on, the bike took more and more of a beating. This of course resulted in degradation of the drivetrain due to mud and wear. The course was such that I was spending a large portion of the time in my granny gear up front, which on my 2x10 drivetrain is a 26 tooth chainring. I have an 11x34 cassette in the back which when combined with the 29er wheels, a stiff, soft, muddy climb and really sore legs didn't seem nearly as low as I'd hoped. Worse was when the persistent chainsuck started in. When the chain is dry and caked with mud and the small front chainring is also full of mud, the chain likes to stick to the teeth on the ring and overpower the tension applied by the rear derailleur cage. The result is that the chain rides up and onto the chainstay or wraps back around the chainring and stops things in a hurry. When you hear it happening, you can often backpedal and it will release, but inevitably will likely happen again. The last couple of laps I stopped and hosed the bike down which provided temporary relief but by the time the climbs hit, the bike was a mess again and the chainsuck had returned. The last lap I was forced to use the big ring, which meant more running. Even if my tired legs could push it over, the torque required when coupled with a dry, beat up drivetrain could easily spell disaster in the form of a broken chain or blown hub.

Speaking of the last lap and broken chains, I came through the checkpoint for lap number 7 at about 5:15 for what was going to be my last lap to find Cathy cheering and handing me food and drink as she had so graciously done all race but also to her and our good friend's Chris and Jill from Root 66 saying that I was now leading. It seems that the conditions had taken their toll on Dylan's equipment and he had destroyed his chain. Unable to obtain a replacement and choosing not to run the final lap, he withdrew after having completed 7 laps. I can't blame him, running a lap with a bike would probably take nearly an hour and a half. However, speaking from experience, on a course like this you can run the flats and ups and coast the downhills, of which there were many, and you're not actually that much slower. I did this at the Putney race a few years ago for 1.5 laps.

Anyhow, Chris graciously hosed my bike off for me as I slammed some PBJ into my face and headed back out for lap number 8. I rode this lap cautiously, trying to take it easy on the fragile equipment knowing that I just needed to make it back around. On the course I passed other riders who were wrapping things up, chatting and basically happy to know that the end was in sight. For me, besides the chainsuck and having to resign myself to using the big ring, the lap was uneventful. My nearly nonexistent at that point in the day brake pads still maintained enough purchase to keep the speed in check on the descents, though I'd been trying hard to use the brakes less.

I finished up at a handful of minutes after 6PM, cold, tired and caked in mud and grit but glad to be finished. I know that Dylan was the stronger racer that day but also know that resource management is part of racing. Cathy was waiting at the finish as were Chris, Jill and Pete. Congratulations flowed and we took some pictures then went off to clean and change before hitting the pub for some food and the awards ceremony. We had all though that Pete was sitting in 2nd place but as it turned out, there was one other rider, Brandon from Bikeman, who had snuck ahead of Pete when he'd flatted mid race and remained secretly ahead of him, finishing just behind me with 8 laps also. It was still a podium though and a great run. Many thanks to my wife Cathy and friends Chris and Jill for their support. All in all, a good day of suffering spent with great people. In hindsight would I do it again? I'll get back to you on that.


Hill Junkie said...

Nice job toughing it out. I did the VT50 two years ago in pouring rain, and I wouldn't want to repeat that experience again.

It seems to me that chainsuck keeps getting worse as chains get narrower. I recall very few chainsuck problems with 7spd and 8spd drivetrains. When 9spd came on the scene, drivetrains became very temperamental in muddy conditions. Your bike is still pretty new. Did chainsuck issues surprise you? I'm holding on to my 9spd setups as long as I can.

mkr said...

I was surprised by the chainsuck given that in all of the mudfests I did with the old Epic, which had 9spd XO, I never got chainsuck. That said, I never raced 6 hours in the mud. The suck didn't really hit until more than half way through the race, which is well past the scope of a normal XC race so ... I do agree that the more gears we add the more temperamental the system is. That said, 10spd road is balls on dead accurate.

rick is! said...

nice job and thanks for the link to the new but unreleased bikeman site...

mkr said...

Thanks and too funny. The site was a direct hit on a Google for Brandon.

Matt said...

How'd those superlight rotors do in the mud? Any pad left? I'd considered running some Ashimas but was worried about accelerating pad wear.

I also did Pats Peak and finished well behind you in 10th. Really glad that one's in the rear view mirror.

mkr said...

Brake pads were gone by the end. Had to replace both sets. I went with metallic this time rather than organic though. Will see how they work out.