I had never done the TerraFirma Racing Dirty Dozen mountain bike race, although I had considered it in the past, but life always seemed to get in the way, kids’ soccer, wife’s tennis, work and travel. But this year I had time, which was weird. The question then became, would I do the 12 or 6 hour race? I decided the 6 hour would be best. Why? Due to lack of fitness, non-existent training (few night rides here and there) and not wanting to feel wrecked for the next couple of days after, it seemed like the choice to make. Six hours away from the real world is always good and I was out riding for fun, to finish and not to finish last. In that order.
I like the Warda trail with a nice twisting woods section to start with, then a few fast sections in the pastures, a fun down hill and several flowy sections. For a multiple loop race this is actually an ideal trail and one reason I also always try to ride the “Blazin’ Saddles” races on this same trail. They’re the same basic principle, to see how many laps you can get done in 6 hours. The only difference is that the Blazin’ Saddle race is a night race which starts at 6pm and finishes at midnight at the end of August. Night mountain biking is a whole different animal!
Dirty Dozen Race Day:
Having to get up at 5am Saturday is never fun, and to be greeted with rain as you load the bike (2106 Specialized Camber Comp), causes the enthusiasm level to drop quickly. But since I had never done this race before and had already paid, I had a “hell yes I am going” attitude, after all, it was just rain. It wasn’t too cold and Warda isn’t too bad when wet compared to other trails which would tear up your bike. So I finished packing up and headed that way. It would take about an hour and a half to get there from Austin.
For loop races in the past, I would set a lap goal and plan to replace my sports drink bottles every lap. This usually meant that I ended up wasting a lot of sports drink. I would either end up not using them or just not finishing them, so I decided to change it up for this race. I planned on doing 6 loops, so I prepared 3 bottles with sports drink and took another 3 bottles filled with water and had sports drink packets to add. I knew that if I needed the other 3 bottles then there would be precious time lost in the feed zone, but I was here for fun and to finish and I wasn’t looking to podium. If by chance the opportunity arose, then I would go for it, but the probability of that was not very likely.
Upon arrival, the rain had stopped so I parked, and set off to the registration and check in. Once signed in there was time to visit with some of the other Bicycle Sports Shop crowd out there, the two 12 hour relay teams Blood, Sweat & Granny Gears with Dan Pedroza, Todd Musick, Sierra Pedroza, Leigh Busby and BSS Crusher with Bill Swinford, Jerome Saint-Orens, Allen Zolondek, Amy Michalewicz and then John Russell (check out his blog: keeponrolling-johnny.blogspot.com/) doing the 12 hour solo accompanied by his support crew, Laura. I’m happy to report that John was a beast. He ended up winning the solo race with 17 laps. He lapped me twice during my 6 hour race.
As with all races there are always lessons to learn or things you forget. In this case “Remember to be ready to go at the race meeting.” I wasn’t. I had shown up at the race meeting at 8:45, and the race was set to start at 9 am. They had decided on a Le Mans style start. This means that you actually start the race running to your mountain bike which you had to drop off some distance away. Crap! This bike drop off area was totally opposite to where the 6 hr race gear was. So I had to run to get my bike, grab my gear, sprint to the bike drop point and then run up to the start line. Just as I reached the start line the starter had already started his countdown. I took a few seconds for a breather and then ran back down to the bikes.. Damn, I was exhausted already.
My strategy was to pace myself. With the rain having stopped and with the first section through the woods, I knew it would be slippy and muddy and there would be a lot of braking, so I just settled in and followed the crowd. The plan was then, if they were too slow, to pass them when out of the woods and in the first pasture. This worked well, so I was then onto the downhill with a walled banked turn. This turn was bermed or banked to a certain height and then there was a wooden wall above it. The idea is that with plenty of speed, you can use centrifugal force and ride up on the wall. Because there was so much traffic on the hill, I was not able to get enough speed to hit the wall, maybe next lap. I continued the rest of the first lap at a comfortable pace with a few tough spots here and there.
With first lap over, I was back to the feed zone to grab my gloves that I forgot in the rush to get to the start. I stocked up on M&Ms and gummy bears, which I had also forgotten. Because I still had half a sports bottle left, I skipped the sports drink. Then, onto lap 2 with a similar strategy, to catch up with riders in the woods, then pass in the pasture. It was during this second lap that I had to start allowing some of the team racers to pass. They were fresher, and they had their own races, so whenever they came up behind me at high speed, I would move over and let them pass, and then continue on at my own pace.
My original goal was 6 laps, and that was what I was aiming for, but after the first 3 laps, I figured I could probably get 7 or 8 laps in, but needed to get 6 in first.
Lap 4 was a fun lap. The trail was dry and I was able to get enough speed on the down hill to take the walled banked turn. I had already planned to stop at the end of lap 4 to refuel and then text Sarah to give here an update, but as I was coming through the gate, I happened to look up to see Sarah looking around. She says she was looking for me, but I think she was really checking out some of the bikes out there 😉 I stopped, said hello and got a quick kiss, grabbed some food, took a picture and then back out for lap 5. Nice surprise.. But now the rain started again, which sucked as the trail was starting to dry out and feel good again, but ah well. Because of the trail conditions, and slick roots and rocks, I dropped the tire pressure and off I went again.
The start of lap six I felt well, and was thinking, “Yep I could get a 7th lap in and maybe an 8th if I was lucky”, so began to up the pace. But then, the stomach cramps kicked in. Not good. I had something similar happen in the last race I raced here in the Blazin Saddles races and I had to spend a long time in the bathroom. So now, I had to slow down, and was constantly having to look around and pick places, in case of emergency well off the trail. Not fun, and doing the math the chance of getting a 8th lap in was dwindling fast. I even had to wonder if a 7th lap would be possible. It was a struggle, but I made it to the end of lap 6 and straight to the bathroom. It’s the reality of the race.
Once out of the “rest stop” I saw that I had just enough time for one last lap, but was I ready to do it? Ah, hell why not? So back on the bike, and off I went. Sarah got out of her car as I passed so I shouted, “Can’t stop have to knock the last lap out before 3pm”. The stomach was still squirrelly in the woods, but settled down when back in the pasture again. Even with the wet course the 7th lap was fun… or was that because I knew it was the last lap?
I finished mid pack, but I finished, wasn’t last and had fun until lap 6. The soreness kicked in once I got off bike and got the Solomon pack off. I started to feel the stiffness in the shoulders and lower back and the legs tightening up. Yep, I was really glad I wasn’t doing the 12 hours. Then when trying to get the socks off my feet, I started to cramp. Damn, I hadn’t had foot cramps in years. Sarah was just laughing at me. She was hurling abuse about me getting old. No sympathy in this sporting family!
As for the water bottle strategy, I ended up only using 3 bottle of sports drinks. So not filling up the other 3 worked out well in this race, and I saved some sports drink powder too.
Next time, I’ll shoot for the full Dirty Dozen