Sunday, January 20, 2013

So you want to be an endurance mountain bike racer?

Storm the Beach 2012 was quite nearly the "perfect storm" of characters from San Diego State University Cycling circa 2008 - 2010: Danimal, Logan Freaking Fiedler, Clodfelter and myself, all of us having made the transition to: a) racing 'cross occasionally and beating the shit out of people and winning (Logan), or b) racing 'cross occasionally and having fun with it (Clodfelter and the Danimal), or c) racing 'cross every fucking weekend, treating it like a second career and getting shit for results (Hello!).

Storm the Beach
It was on this day that another event was taking place.  This event, of course, was the November 10th running of SoCal Endurance's 12 and 6 Hours of Temecula.

"Poor Lily," I thought to myself, "sitting all alone in my room while the Spooky gets aalllll the love.  A spontaneous, ill-advised purchase to erase a breakup.  She's just sitting there with nothing to do.  Curse you spontaneous purchases!"  

Lily (for those of you who don't know) is my totally cherry, totally sweet Pivot 429.  Like my Spooky Supertouch, she came to me in the "Heart of Darkness" anodized black.  The color roughly translate to:  "I kill you."

Lily is, quite simply, a downhill-rocket-ship-climb-crushing-quick-and-nimble-Imperial-Walker-par-excellence.  A bike that, when delivered in size large, is indeed far more than a jamoke like your humble narrator could ever ask for.

Plans were set.

"I will ride the 6 Hours of Temecula....solo.  And it will be good."

It started like this:

Let's take a brief moment to notice that the Danimal was the first one to jump on the wagon.

From there it was a progression through a series of misguided, silly, and downright ridiculous assumptions about what was in store for me on January 19.

1. I've been doing 6 hour road rides throughout December, many of them over 100 miles.
2. It's JANUARY!!!  The cool weather will be in my favor!  
3. While I'm not a downhiller, my affinity for all things two wheels (motocross, cyclocross and mountain biking) will mean that I will descend safely and not waste precious energy.
4. I've been climbing like a beast.  My rides in Alpine all broke the 1000 feet/ 10 mile rule...easily.  I'll be fine if I climb at pace.
5. I will be riding for a long time, but after a long cyclocross season, I've got plenty of high-wattage bursts stored up.  I'll be fine on all of those quick, vertical grunts that are littered throughout the course.

The thing I should've been worried about was eating. 

Good morning Starshine, the Earth says 'hello!'

4 am hit me like 4 am should, and not because I was up until midnight making almond butter sandwiches and watching the Australian Open.  I could taste the blood of the course and my competitors.  They were scared, I was prepared.  The feast was sure to be succulent and filling.  I had paid my registration and, therefore, was overly-prepared for the race.  There was no doubt in my mind that three almond butter and strawberry jam sandwiches, water, and some sweet n' salty bars would propel me into the top 15.  

Danimal, LFF, and one soon-to-be suffering dog.

Lap 1
At ease, laughing and joking, we rolled up to the start area with a bit of shock: people.  People everywhere.  So many people about to indulge in the pain.  It was clear to Logan that we would need to move up further towards the front, so we did.  But the people, I couldn't get over how many racers were in attendance.  The series and promoters have obviously done the right things because there were newbies to the scene (us) and die-hard enduro-vets alike at this event.  Rolling through the camping areas out to the first climb, it was clear that SoCal Endurance has something going. 

Up we went.  The climbing started immediately and we went up quickly.  12 hour racers, team or solo, were on course at the same time as beginners, one lap riders, and 6 hour riders with or without a teammate waiting.  Everyone had a different pace but all I knew to do, being the complete amateur, was to pin it.  Fire road turned to double track turned to your typical desert trail about two bike-lengths wide.  With plenty of room to pass, riders made their way forward and backward, settling into the rhythm of the day.  

The course continued to wind up before a short, rocky descent took riders into a nice sandy wash.  Another quick grunt up the hill, a little down, a little up, some longer down, and then, as if out of nowhere, switchbacks.  SWEET SWITCHBACKS.  Technical, higher-cadence climbing.  Before you could breath there were two more steep, short, pitches.  People were off the bikes on the first lap pushing.  It was 9:15 in the morning.  5 hours and 45 minutes left.

Not shortly after, riders had to negotiate a very risky bit of single track with this super scenic, super killer drop off to the right.  Killer, as in, if you make a mistake, you'll probably fall for awhile.  Or maybe you'll be impaled by a root of some sort.  Either way.  Don't fall.  Around the corner and riders found the high ground, 1700 above the ocean.  It's the exact moment when your brain tells you that it must be all downhill from there.  

"Oh brain, how silly you are.  I'm looking at my Garmin and we're around 400 feet of vertical.  According to the race promoter, it's around 1200 feet per lap.  But never fear, legs, as 1200 feet is merely an appetizer.  We'll be fine."

You drop from the top down a series of awesome ridgeline descents.  Again, nothing too technical, but the penalty for a mistake was high.  As such, the descents became extremely technical.  On the first two laps alone I saw three different riders lugging their bikes up from 30 feet down the cliff.  They were fine, but there is something to be said for the uncanny ability of a pilotless bike to fall much further than the pilot.

Down to the bottom heading South followed by a quick turn North again.  Up again.  South, North etc etc.  After lap one, the picture was clear: when facing North, climb.  Southbound equals happy times.

Lap 1: 48 minutes

Lap 2
Pretty much the same but less people.

Lap 2: 48 minutes

Lap 3
In the scoring area before starting lap 2, I made no stop for water.  This is because, for the first 9 mile lap, I was enacting a top secret strategy: DO NOT DRINK WATER.  Water equals weight i.e. water weight.  Based on what I've heard from past-girlfriends, this is to be despised.  Therefore, it was my goal to avoid extra water weight.  Cyclists tell me all the time that 'weight' and 'extra' should never go together.  

Lap 3 started with a quick pit stop from the one, the only, Sara Hanson.  Sara Hanson is an anomaly of sorts.  She's rather unassuming because she's super nice, super sweet, super helpful, super smart, and has a dog that is actually a human trapped in a dog's body (Harlan the Destroyer).  She also happens to be the Danimal's better-half.  Little do people know, she can rip legs off and descends like Nicole Duke.  

So Sara was nice enough to hand me a bottle and I was nice enough to say thank you. I didn't ask about Logan or Dan because I wanted to appear calm and otherwise indifferent.  Full bidon, sweet n' salty bar, and I'm gone in 30 seconds.  I figured that after 100 minutes of riding I should eat, and I did.  Instantly, the bar dried my mouth out, as they tend to do.  It took me a full mile to get the bar down when I realized, "Hey asshole, you just killed your entire bottle.  Happy trails!"

With two miles to go, the cramping started.  Subtle, but there.

Lap 3: 55 minutes

Lap 4
Lap 4 was doomed from the beginning.  Not learning from previous mistakes, I took a bottle and one of my super-sandos and sped off.  Again, at the end of mile one, I had finished the sandwich and my water.  WONDERFUL!  Then the cramps hit, and I was forced to walk portions of the switchbacks.  NO LONGER SWEET SWITCHBACKS. The bitch of a climb after that sucked.  My drivetrain was a grinding mess.  The bottom bracket had completely dried out ("skreek, skreek, skreek").  For the remainder of the lap, feel free to revert back to the Lap 1 summary.  Replace the words "quick" with "hellish," and you'll get the idea. 

Lap 4: 61 minutes

Lap 5
Lap 5 was a proper slog.  I made sure to spend a minute with Sara at the finish line in an attempt to calm my nerves and ease the cramping.  I dropped more water (it was too late) and ate a bar (it was far too late).  I was cramping because I didn't eat or drink enough.  Everything sucked.

The switchbacks sucked.  They sucked because, as I cramped, I couldn't help but let out a loud, "WOWZUUHHHH!" To my disbelief, one rider took pity on me and threw a Pickle Pop my way. 

"Warm pickle juice, you say?  Why, yes.  Let me partake in this pickle-y goodness."

You mean warm pickle juice tastes good??  And how!  Never would I have assumed that warm pickle juice was as good as it was on that dusty hill but, if I could do it all over again, I'd ask him for another.

Ride.  Cramp.  Stretch.  Ride.  Cramp.  WOWZUUHHHHH!  Stretch.

Lap 5: 75 minutes

There's no telling if I could've made a sixth lap (which was my goal).  Best case scenario, a 75 minute lap.  The short, punchy climbs turned into short, punchy, bastard, evil climbs.  The downhills were no longer fun and, instead, became the proverbial waiting room for suffering: at some point, I knew it would end, and that I would have to go uphill again.

Logan lapped me on lap 5.  That made me a sad Matty.  Logan declared that it was "really hard."  That made me a less-sad Matty.

I arrived to the finish line at 1:50 p.m., which left only 70 minutes to get in another lap.  The writing was on the wall.  After lap 2, my splits were negative.  If I went out, I'd miss the 3 p.m. cut.  

Logan Freaking Fiedler - 6th place, 7 laps, 63 miles and 9,411 feet of climbing.

Danimal - 14th place, 6 laps, 54ish miles and probably 6,000ish feet of climbing (start your Garmin on time please).

 I came in 29th place, 5 laps, 45 miles and 4,852 feet of climbing.  The field size was rather large, at nearly 60 riders, but the result stings.  Danimal and myself have decided to rethink our goals of doing a 24 hour mountain bike race this coming summer, but I'm already looking forward to June's 6 hour race.

Next time, Margarita Cliff Blocks.  Or, on second thought...


  1. Thank you! It's good for documentation purposes: hopefully it will stop others from being as naive as myself!

  2. Good report Matt. Lets do it again sometime soon :)

  3. Hey Matt, great writeup. If you are around this weekend, you should come out to the race we're putting on at Lake Hodges called Quick 'n Dirty. It's a lot easier on the legs than a six-hour solo! Here's all the details. Hope to see you out there.

  4. Alright! We'll see if we can make it out! I think the next 6 hour will be quite successful as long as I don't forget about eating and drinking!! But hey, who needs that stuff anyways???