"Riding a singlespeed is the closest to Jedi anyone can get on a bike." - Heather Irmiger (Women's Single Speed World Champ)
Yesterday was May the Fourth. All the Star Wars references seem appropriate with the above quote as I headed to Scioto Trails State Park to race with OMBC. I had not ridden here before but only heard that there were three large climbs and that the course was fairly non-technical. I thought to myself, great, this could lean towards my strengths. So, I packed up the truck and headed toward Chilicothe, arriving in time to register, change, and relax before the start. I did a short warm up after chatting with a gentleman and his 11 year old son who was riding in the junior class. I was going to ride over this log pile, but then I saw the painted sign (STAY OFF PILE).
Back to the start. Ryan asked how many expert single speed riders there were. Turns out, only two of us, so of course we got bumped into the open expert class (the fastest group of riders there). No big deal, I wasn't expecting to place, but rather was there as a warm up to the up coming Wayne Ultra in two weeks. He sent us off and down the dirt airport (logging) road to the start of the first single track section. This worked out well and the geared riders got through the first bottle neck so I was able to ride it with a clear trail. Other than pinning my heart rate a little higher than I wanted, the first single track section went well. The trail then crosses a creek and out into the open field followed by another creek crossing with a crazy steep drop into the creak bottom. From there we climbed. And climbed. And climbed up the forest access road. The grade isn't terrible but it was climbing for nearly 3 miles with about 3/4 mile at 6%. OK, even on my single speed, I can ride this three times I thought. Finally at the top and a very nice volunteer points me into the woods.
Straight down. From here until I drop out onto the airport road again the trail is either straight up or straight down except for a short section of road about mid way. Crazy steep, no, stupid steep if you are on a single speed, made even worse by the constant giant water bars and horse hoof beat trails. I hit the bottom, through the creek, and the second climb looks like it is about to fall over on me. One half mile at 12%. I am walking. A few of the riders are pedaling their way up, there must be something wrong with them though. Finally made it to the top with my calves burning (stiff XC shoes may be good for pedal efficiency, but not much for hiking). Some ridge top trail and more forest road follows until we are back in the woods for some more brake smoking, water bar hopping trail to another creek crossing and climb. Another half mile, 11% climb (walk) followed by a rolling ridge of water bars and another super steep down and onto some multi-use (horse) trail before popping out onto the road.
Lap one done. 61 minutes.
Over the next lap, I intentionally slowed. I was already at the back of the expert field and had a few of the sport class rides catch me. I knew what was coming and that I needed to make three laps. I was able to get some GU gel down, but the electrolyte mix in my Osprey pack wasn't going down well. Thankfully, the course worker had some bottled water which I pounded as I started down toward climb 3.
Lap two done. 69 minutes.
Two laps equal to 2 hours, 10 minutes. Just happens to be the time of the first place open expert rider. That's right, he finished all three laps in the time I spent on two. I made my turn in the trail for my final lap and it got lonely. Like, I could die out here and they wouldn't find me lonely. The third trip up the forest road climb was hard, but nothing compared to what was about to happen with climb #2. As soon as I hit the first water bar, major cramp in my left calf. I am talking, toes pointing down, how do I get off this bike, yelled out loud painful cramp. Cramp worked out, now I have to carry myself and bike up this crazy hill. It got real slow from here. I couldn't climb anything without that painful twinge in my muscle. I did my best to get all the fluids I could down, though I was not feeling dehydrated. I can also say that if John Lefelhocz had been on the back side of the trail selling a full suspension geared bike, he may very well have sold it. Climb three was a slow walk trying to keep the cramps away. Finally the top came and down the front side for the final time.
Lap three done. 76 minutes. Total race time, 3 hours, 26 minutes even. 28.8 miles, over 4200 feet of climbing. Near as I can tell I was the last to finish the men's expert field. Though, once we left the airstrip road, I never saw the other singlespeed rider. So, I guess that means I got first (Men's Expert SS), and last (Men's Open Expert).
This is one of those races that you only enjoy the day after. Not sure I would race it again on my singlespeed. But, that's racing I guess.
So, why race? This is a legitimate question I have started asking myself. Not sure I have found the answer yet though. For the prestige? It is an amateur racing series with little to gain from finishing at the top. Not that I could. With kids, jobs, family, church obligations, there is little time to effectively train to be a top contender. For the fun? Yesterday was not fun, it was pain. I certainly enjoy pushing myself, yesterday was beyond the line. For the comradery? I drove up by myself, rode by myself, watched the podiums by myself, then drove home by myself. Race myself? Yes, I can see this. I do enjoy pushing it but really can only race myself and race days always push me harder than I would on my own. Now I have to decide what to do with the Wayne Ultra.
Happy Riding you will.