Wednesday, April 6, 2011

2011 Ouachita Challenge recap

This weekend was the 10th annual Ouachita Challenge.  It was my second time doing the race and coming off a solid effort at the spa city 6 hour 3 weeks ago I hoped I'd do well.

The race was Sunday, so Saturday morning I got in a nice hour and a half ride on the womble trail.  I felt really good, like I was floating over the trail.  When I crossed one of the gravel roads I came upon a couple of women that gave me a confused look.  When I said I was pre-riding the trail they said the race wasn't using the trail I'd just left.  It was going to come from the road and enter the trail on the opposite side I was riding.  I was a bit confused since I'd ridden that trail the previous year, but I continued on, eventually turning around and heading back to the cabin.  For the afternoon I was planning on riding brushy mountain, which is used at the start of the race, but I decided against it so I'd be fresher on race day.  Instead I did some sight-seeing.  That is such a beautiful area.

Saturday evening I went to the pre-race dinner/raffle and looking at the race course I found out the reason the volunteers I'd talked to that morning said I wouldn't be riding the eastern part of the womble.  They changed the course and weren't doing the section from the previous year that went on the other side of Ouachia lake.  They were sending us through sims and doing more of western part of the womble.  Looking at the map it seemed significantly shorter than the previous years course, but you can never really tell since the scale of the maps have the trail looking like a straight line when they are never straight.

Sunday morning I woke up at 4:45, unable to sleep due to the nervousness and excitement for what lay ahead.  The start time for the race was 8am so I spent my time eating a huge bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter, banana, raisins and maple syrup.  Then prepping my bike for the race.  

Eventually we drove to the elementary school that is the staging area and start/finish of the race.  I knew the race would have a several mile rollout before hitting any singletrack so I didn't worry about warming up.  I just rode around talking to people I've met a various races and then positioned myself on the front row for the start.  Actually I positioned myself where the start line would eventually be.  I was the first one there but once I planted myself next to the tree people starting riding over to claim their spot.  I ended up between 2 very good riders, one of which recognized me from spa city.  On my right was Aaron Elwell from KS and on my left was Chris Renshaw from OK.  Chris finished 3rd at spa city (I was 6th) and Aaron has beaten me several times, most recently at the KC Cup race at Swope Park last September.  Behind me was Chris Ellis from KC who beat me at the Tour de Tick last year.  Other notables I've raced against were Cornbread from NE, Noah Singer and Hap Seliga from AR to name a few.  I love racing against talented people and I was surrounded by talent.  It was going to be a good day.

The race started with a different route to Brushy than last year.  We still had to ride behind a gentleman on a recumbent bike for a half mile or so, but we weren't on HWY 88 which meant we could take up the entire width of the road.  When we were given the go ahead to race I was hugging the center line sitting about 3 rows back in a huge mass of riders, with 2 or 3 on either side.  It was like I was in a vacuum being pulled forward.  We were going about 20mph on asphalt and I was coasting as much as pedaling.  It was a pretty cool feeling.  

When we made the turn to gravel the pace didn't really pick up any and I was worried the crowd would be too big once we reached the trail, so I rode to the front of the pack and started to ride away.  Of course they weren't going to let that happen so everyone caught up to me and I jumped back in the draft.  We were now racing.

There were 2 lines of riders, one in each lane of the narrow gravel road.  There were a few short hills and people were jockeying for position on the rough gavel in the center of the road.  As the lead of each line changed you would see that side surge ahead but overall we were staying pretty equal.  I was feeling pretty good sitting about 10 spots back when we came to a pretty big hill and the paceline fell apart.  2 riders broke away charging up the hill.  The first one was Wiley Mosley from TX and Elwell was on his heels.  I made a small break with 3 or 4 other riders chasing them.   I figured the start of the singletrack must be near and didn't want to be behind too many riders when we got there.  After cresting the top of the hill Wiley continued to ride away and Elwell dropped back to join our small group.  On the next big climb you could see the volunteers at the top signaling the start of Big Brushy trail.  Elwell took off and when we got to the trail I was in 4th.  

Charging up that climb left me pretty winded, but Brushy didn't let me off the hook because it also starts with a climb.  To make it better there's a nice little rock garden at the top of the initial climb that you get to negotiate while drooling on your top tube.  Overall Brushy isn't that technical, but there is lots of climbing, some steep descents and lots of rocks lining the trail.  I was passed by a few riders and passed a couple others so when I rolled into the first aid station to swap bottles I was sitting in 5th.  Several people didn't stop and flew past me.  I would see them often on the next section of the course; blowout mountain.

Blowout mountain is what the Ouachita Challenge is all about.  Big climbs, screaming descents and crazy rock gardens.  My racing style is about 1 thing; consistency.  Don't go too fast at the start, don't go too fast on the descents, keep a steady tempo on the flats, try not to slow down as the race progresses and climb as fast as I can.  I felt like I was riding well on blowout mountain.  I'd pass a few people going up hill, get passed going downhill and ran across a lot of the rock gardens.  On one of the downhills I pass Elwell as he's fixing a flat on the side of the trail.  I knew I'd be seeing him again soon.  Then near the end of Blowout, as I was going down a hill my left pedal struck a rock and it threw me into a tree on the right side of the trail.  My shoulder slammed into a tree and it felt like I broke something.  But I didn't and the pain went away.  I refilled one of my bottles at the aid station between Blowout and Chalybeate Mountain then started on the longest sustained climb of the day.  

Since the race last year I switched my bike to 1x10 gearing with a 38t front chainring, so while the biggest gear in the back is a 36t, I don't have a true "granny" gear where I can slowly spin up a hill.  While I won't say I flew up Chalybeate I rode pretty well having to stand several times to keep my momentum up and relieve some of the burning in my legs.  After that big first climb Chalybeate is a pretty fun trail.  There are more hills but they aren't bad and the trail flows really well. 

Next was about an 8 mile road ride with a strong headwind that lead us through Sims and on to the womble (where I'd seen the 2 ladies the day before).  That road section was pretty tough.  It would have been nice to be in a group to have someone to draft off of, but there was no-one in sight so I tucked down to get as areo as I could and rode hard.  At Sims I swapped bottles and continued on.  

When I finally got to the womble I said hello to the volunteers, put the offered zip tie on my handlebars and took off.  Womble is a great trail.  It wasn't as effortless as it had felt the previous day, but it was still pretty fun.  Pretty soon I was caught and passed by Elwell, then not long after saw him on the side of the trail again fixing another flat.  He looked pretty frustrated.  As I rode on I was having fun, but I had this nagging feeling.  I was feeling good and I know I was riding faster than I had the previous year, but I was sitting in 9th place, the same as last year.  I felt like I should be in a better position.  Then while I was contemplating life, I was caught by Cornbread.  I didn't try to run from him.  

Endurance racing is weird.  Most of the time you aren't racing anyone but yourself.  You are alone in the woods and you just go as fast as your skill and fitness will allow.  All kinds of thoughts go through your head.  When you're feeling good it's all fun, when you're fatigued or injured it's all bad.  Climbing starts to suck and descents start to be blurry.  But on the rare occasion you see another rider, all that goes away; you're racing someone!

I hate running from someone during a race, I'd much rather chase.  When you're running you feel your own fatigue and in your mind the other person is feeling awesome.  When you're chasing you can see if they are struggling or not and you can attack appropriately.  Maybe you need to let them go and hope to see them again, maybe you need to hang onto them and push them out of their comfort zone until they tire enough to want you to pass them and go away.  Maybe you should try to blow by them and get out of their sight so they think you're feeling good.  That's what makes the racing fun.  I like to push myself and see what I'm capable of, but I like the competition just as much.

When cornbread passed me I hung on.  I rode behind him for awhile and at the top of the biggest climb on the womble he pulled to the side of the trail.  I'm not sure if he was cramping or having a mechanical issue, but I took the advantage and rode away as fast as I could.  

Pretty soon I started catching other riders who were all having cramping issues.  I was tired but physically fine so I was pretty happy to be moving up.  Then right before leaving the womble I caught up to Noah Singer.  As we popped out onto a gravel road I wasn't sure if there was more trail or if we would have road the rest of the way.  I told Noah that I'd just passed 3 people and he said "well lets put some distance on them".  So I jumped to the front and he drafted behind me.  Then after a couple minutes we traded places.  He was riding pretty hard so I told him to not dig too big of a hole and let me pull every couple of minutes.  Then before we could switch we rode up on another volunteer directing us to singletrack.  

I rode behind Noah for awhile and then he pulled over and told me to go on.  I think he was cramping.  It was a pretty hot day, over 80 degrees and lots of people were cramping.  When I passed him I rode hard to get out of his sight and soon popped out on a gravel road where the volunteer said it was 10 miles to the finish.  I didn't believe him since I was over 50 miles in at that point, but I was sitting in 5th and wanted to be done with the race.  So I rode on the last big climb of the race, a big switchback road, on one of the turns I saw someone behind me.  I attacked that hill, rode past the water station and soon couldn't see the rider behind me anymore.  

When I got to the pavement I knew there were only a few miles to go so I tucked down low and tried to ride fast.  I looked over my shoulder and someone was about a hundred yards behind me.  Crap, just like last year.  I  pushed harder, looked again and he was closer.  Pushed harder looked again and he was right behind me.  It was Elwell again.  As he passed me I told him I wasn't going to fight him for it (as if it would have made a difference).  I said he earned it.  So I cruised to the finish in 6th covering 60 miles in 4:57.  7 minutes behind the winner Wiley Mosley.  I'm happy with that.

After the race I ate some pizza, hung around, and had a good time.  Thanks to all the volunteers that support this race and the racers.  They are amazing.

Here's a link to the results, and here's a link to my garmin data from the day.  I saw several people taking photo's during the race so if I find any galleries I'll update this post with a link.

I had a great time and will hopefully be back next year.

4 comments:

  1. 4:57... give yourself some credit!

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  2. Nice report, Mark, and fine racing. See you in Mountain View!

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  3. Mountain View looks to be a mudfest. Will still be fun though.

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