Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2010 Ouachita Challenge race recap

This weekend mountain bikers from all over the country descended upon tiny Oden, AR (population 212) for the 9th annual Ouachita Challenge; a 60+ mile race over some of the most technical terrain Arkansas has to offer.  It is an epic event drawing many pro racers like Jeff Kerkove, "Fuzzy" John Mylne and Garth Prosser.

I almost wasn't one of the lucky 250+ riders toeing the line because I waited until after 8am the day registration opened to sign up and by then all the available spots were taken.  But I put my name on the waiting list and luckily I was able to purchase a couple spots from a guy named Barry that wasn't able to make the race.

On Saturday Jared, Jessie, Cory, Lori and I made the 5 hour drive from Springfield to Oden.  When we arrived we set up the pop-up camper in the church parking lot across from the start/finish area, picked up our race registration packets and ate a pretty good spaghetti dinner supplied by the event organizers in the Oden elementary school cafeteria.

The Ouachita Challenge has the race on Sunday, but they also have a non-competitive tour ride over the race course for 275 entrants on Saturday.  So while we were eating dinner most of the tour riders were in the cafeteria eating spaghetti after their long day on the trails.  We talked to a few people including Luke Kuschmaeder of Kuat racks, and they all had very positive things to say about the condition of the course.  All the good vibes were making me more and more excited about the race. 

At 6 o'clock the race organizers did a raffle for 3 bike frames, a top of the line Kuat rack, some ergon grips and a couple free vacation stays at a nearby resort.  Cory won one of the vacation packages and I won a badass E.M.D 9 Niner frame.

After the festivities we hit the sack pretty early with an alarm set for 5am.  I actually slept pretty well in the pop-up and woke up before the alarm anxious to get started.

When we walked over to the cafeteria for breakfast we were the first riders there but the event staff were on top of things getting set up and already had lots of strong coffee on tap.  I paired the coffee with my usual pre-race meal of oatmeal mixed with peanut butter and after a large bowl headed back to the camper to prep my bike and mix my bottles of perpetuem+endurolytes.  I drank one of the bottles during the last hour leading up to the race.  The plan was for Lori to support us by getting our various hydration/nutrition supplies to each of the 4 aid stations along the race loop. 

The temperature was a little chilly but I didn't want to wear any unnecessary bulk, so I settled on my bib shorts, my Revolution Cycles Racing Team jersey, a long sleeve Nike base layer shirt, regular gloves and thin socks.  I put 2 tubes, a patch kit, 2 large CO2 canisters, and a gel flask with Hammer Gel in my jersey pockets and headed over to the starting line where a large group of riders were gathering.  

It was a pretty intimidating group.  Going into the race I had a goal of a top 20 finish, but seeing the riders crowding the front made me start to question it.  They all had "the look" of elite racers and that little voice in the back of my head was telling me I didn't have a chance.  Luckily I rarely listen to that voice.

After a short speech by one of the organizers, he lead us out to the course at 8am on a recumbent bike.  Our instructions were not to pass him until the course turned to a gravel road a mile or so away.  Riding in the a pack of 250+ riders on the 2 lane road was wild.  We were pretty much coasting and people were jockeying for position trying to be near the front.  When we made the turn to the gravel road the pace picked up quite a bit and we were riding 5 or 6 wide repeatedly passing and being passed by the same people.  After a couple miles there were a few hill climbs and a group started to separate from the main pack.  I hung on and was near the back of the lead pack when we finally hit the trail.

The guy right in front of me was wearing a WSU jersey and I made a vow to myself that I was not going to let him beat me (go bears).  It's funny how the mind works during a race.  I didn't know how many people were in front of us but we were riding a pretty good pace in a group of about 6 riders with the WSU guy leading us.  Unfortunately he had a few issues when the terrain got a little technical and was slowing us down from time to time.  The best line I heard all day was from a guy behind me that yelled "I'm from Iowa and I can ride this shit!".  After that comment I pulled over and let the Iowa guy and the others pass and stayed with the WSU guy.  Then a mile or so later I passed the WSU fellow and not long after caught the Iowa guy riding slowly up a hill and passed him as well.

The trail was so much fun.  At times I was worried that I was going too fast but I felt really good and I was passing people so I went with it.  A little later I was riding with a couple guys and one of them endoed right in front of me; he never even clipped out of his petals.  As I was riding by he jumped up cussing at himself.  He passed me while going downhill not long after.  Then when he was crawling up the next hill the other guy with us said "Man, if you could climb like you descend, you'd win this thing".  We then passed him and I never saw him again.  At one point I was passed while climbing a hill by Fuzzy John, then later passed him back as he was fixing a flat on the side of the trail.  I saw so many people fixing flats.

When I got to the first aid station there were tons of people standing around and as I pulled in they all started pointing towards Lori; it was awesome.  I was able to pull up, hand her my empty bottle, take the full one and head out.  It was perfect.  Then came Blowout mountain.

Blowout mountain was crazy.  The climbs weren't that bad.  My legs felt good and I was riding strong, but there were rock gardens unlike anything I've ever seen.  There was no way I could ride them.  I'm talking about 20 to 30 foot sections of picking up my bike and trying to cross boulder strewn sections and not falling on my ass.  On one of those sections I must have moved the cleat on my left shoe because I had trouble clipping that foot in the rest of the day.  I caught up to one guy on Blowout that I'd overheard at the starting line saying that this was his first time on singletrack this year.  He was like 6'5" and looked really fit but I swear he would jump off his bike like 6 feet before any rocky section.  Watching him was making me really nervous that I was even attempting to ride over some of them.

I finally made it to the aid station after Blowout mountain and since we'd planned for Lori to skip that one and meet us at the next check-point I blew right on through it.  Then I started climbing what people were calling Suck mountain.  It wasn't a technical climb but it was steep and it was long.  I passed lots of people walking up the hill which really surprised me.  It wasn't an easy climb but it was doable.  I was a little worried I was expending too much energy but I didn't want to walk.  At the top I started riding with a 918XC rider out of Oklahoma.  We talked quite a bit and he was pretty pissed off.   Apparently he was riding really well in 3rd, then got 2 flats and was now feeling wasted.  He then left me and pulled away.  I guess my idea of wasted is a little different.

At the next check-point I got another full bottle from Lori and one of the race officials said I was in 15th place.  That shocked me; I had no idea where I was in relation to the other riders but I told myself I just had to keep from being passed by 5 people and I'd make my top 20.  After that checkpoint we had a pretty long gravel road section and I could see a rider about a hundred yards ahead of me.  I tried as hard as I could to catch him on that road.  I was tucked in like I was on a road bike and I was riding as hard as I could.  I couldn't catch him but I didn't let him get away.  At the end of the road I got another bottle from Lori and turned onto the singletrack again.  After a few minutes I caught up to my rabbit and he was one of the Ergon riders.  I asked him if he was feeling good and when he said yes I told him I'd like to work together.  We rode for a while, up on a really cool bluff overlooking Ouachita Lake.  Then on a flat section I was feeling really good and I passed him figuring he would ride my wheel for awhile, but he didn't.  When we pulled out on 27 and crossed a bridge over the lake he was back pretty far and I could see 3 riders ahead of me.  At that point I was in 14th and started thinking about a top 10.  I was able to catch the 3 riders and pass them on a hill climb when we got back on the trail.  They were going pretty slow and didn't seem to mind me going by and all of a sudden I was in 11th.   Then I caught back up to the 918XC rider and after riding his wheel for a bit passed him and another rider and put myself in 9th.  That was a great feeling.  I finished that section of trail and came to another gravel road section.  I was able to catch and pass another rider which put me in 8th.   That road section was tough.  There was a heavy head wind and I was starting to feel some fatigue in my legs.  I pushed myself as hard as I could and when I got to the final aid station I couldn't see Lori.  My bottle was empty and for some reason I didn't stop and get water.  I just kept going and got on the trail.  There was only 15 or so miles left and I didn't want anyone to catch me.

The next 10 miles were hell.  There were only a couple climbs but they were the hardest of the day; I felt like I was crawling and it was all I could do to turn the cranks.  I didn't have any water and was sweating pretty hard.  I tried drinking my hammer gel but it was so thick it didn't help.  At one point at the top of a climb I looked back and saw a rider in the distance.  It gave me a bit more motivation and after a really fun descent I came out on a road where the volunteers directing traffic had water.  I was SOOOO happy to see them.  They filled my water bottle and told me it was only 4 miles to the finish so I took off.  I was kind of taking it easy because I was dead tired and was thinking I had 8th in the bag.  Then I looked over my shoulder and saw a rider behind me.  Crap, I was going to have to keep racing.  I tucked down and gave it everything I had, then looked over my shoulder and saw he was gaining on me.  It wasn't long until he passed me and it was the Ergon rider that I had rode with earlier.  As soon as he passed me he slowed down and was riding about 15 feet in front of me.  When we made the final turn onto 88 there was a short hill climb to the finish.  I decided I was going to sprint to the finish and pass him.  My sprint lasted about 3 seconds and my legs gave out; that was all I had.  I finished in 9th, a few seconds from 8th, for a total ride time of 5 hours, 15 minutes and 44 seconds.  My Garmin (which I forgot to stop at the finish) said the total distance was 64.7 miles and included 5,906 ft of elevation gain. Here's the link to my Garmin data.  For the most part I felt pretty good.  I couldn't feel my toes but everything else was fine.  My race preparations were spot on and the perpetuem+endurolytes were perfect.  Aside from missing that last bottle, I never bonked and didn't have any cramps like I had at the Spa City 6 hour.  I'm definitely going to stick with that combo for my endurance events.  I am so happy with the way my bike performed and I know I wouldn't have done nearly as well on a different one.  I love my Epic!

I haven't seen the final results but I'm pretty sure the winner finished with a 4:45 time.

While I was standing around at the finish line the 918XC guy came up to me and apologized for being so "negative" during the race.  He said he felt bad about it.  I understood.  After awhile I headed to the gym for a shower and saw Cory.  He made it to the 2nd checkpoint before dropping out.  This was his first mountain bike race and he did really well for not knowing what he was getting himself into.

The showers were hot and even though my feet turned a strange purple color the feeling returned.  Once I cleaned up Cory and I started packing the pop-up and Lori came by saying she got a call that Jessie was at the last checkpoint; he'd missed the cutoff by 3 minutes and needed to be picked up.  So we climbed in the truck and drove out to get him.  She kept apologizing about missing me at the last aid station, and must have missed me by minutes, but she was such a HUGE help to me all day there was no reason to apologize.  If I'd had my wits about me I would have stopped and filled my bottle when I didn't see her.

When we got to Jessie he was bummed that he didn't get to complete the race but he was pretty exhausted and glad his race was over.  He had a few mechanical issues during the day and the course took it's toll on him, but he made it 50 miles in his first endurance event on one of the toughest race courses he'll ever see.  He did really well.

After we got back to Oden we found Jared; he'd finished the race while we were gone.  It was his first endurance mountain bike race and his goal going in was to finish.  He did a great job and was very glad Jessie talked him out of bringing his single-speed.

Then we packed up, headed out and stopped at Outback in Ft. Smith so I could have a steak dinner.  Man, that was a good steak.

Thanks to Lori for all the help and thanks to the event organizers and all the MANY volunteers for putting on such a wonderful event and building such fun trails.  I did much better than I expected and if I can get a spot I'll be back for 2011!

UPDATE:  Results have been posted.


  1. Nice work. Sounds like you had a great race. That sure was a fun day on the bike.

    I'm the tall guy that was jumping off prior to the rocks. By the time we were riding together I had already endo'd twice on the first stretch of singletrack and was nursing a slow leak in the rear tire. Didn't want to chance it. Ended up flatting three times. Bad luck, I guess.

    Those trails are wicked. Don't have anything like those up in Nebraska. Definitely will give it another try.

    Good luck with the rest of your race season.

  2. this is from the british arkansas guy you gave a ride to with jessie thanx again and good job on your race.
    Come back next year .

    Roger Smith.

  3. Impressive results Mark, great write up.

  4. Great write up. I was another whole hour behiind you finishing. Very impressive stuff, you must be stoked about the placing.