Steve Boyd and I traveled to Amarillo, Texas to represent the UCC/JW Floors mountain bike team at the 2019 Mountain Bike Marathon Nationals. This 350 rider event was held in Palo Duro Canyon.
The course consisted of a 4 mile prologue to sort out the field followed by two unique 20 mile laps. The course had one climb that was steep and technical with about a 300 foot elevation gain. The rest of the course was undulating with a combination of technical rocky sections sprinkled amongst mostly flowy singletrack. The week leading up to the race was quite rainy for the Amarillo area and Texas in general. My wife Suzy and I had our connecting flight from Houston cancelled due to severe thunderstorms and flooding and we had to drive 9 hours in a rental car to get to Amarillo in time. I made it just in time to attend the rider meeting, unpack my bike and get some sleep before the race Saturday morning.
By race day, the rain had cleared. But due to the rain the night before, it was announced that the start would be pushed back 2 hours to give the course time to dry out. There were long lines to get into the race venue and this caused the start to be moved back another 45 minutes.
Once at the race, I met up with Steve Boyd and his cousin Gordy, who lives near the canyon and helped build the trails we were about to race on. After a nice warmup (a recon of the prologue loop), it was time to line up. My group lined up with the 40+ women. The ladies crowed the start line making it impossible for any of those “called up” to the front to take their rightful place. The old guys filled in behind, grumbling a bit like old guys sometimes do.
The course started with a flat paved road section and the ladies pulled our coed peloton. Content to wait for the short road climb, I sat in the group. When we hit the paved road climb I quickly went to 2nd wheel and several of the other 60+ guys jumped to the front, vying for position before the single track began. I slotted into third as we entered the single track. I wanted to be in second so I had a wheel to follow but not be at risk of getting blocked in the tight sections that I knew followed. Mark Kuithe (Dallas rider) was leading with Paul Curley (Boston rider and 30 time (!!) national champion of various disciplines) in second. About 5 minutes into the prologue singletrack, Paul struck his pedal on a stump and flipped his bike spectacularly. Just like that I was in the 2nd position I desired. John Lauck (Utah rider who finished 2nd at True Grit in March) was behind me in 3rd.
We completed the prologue loop and headed into lap 1 with the top 3 riding wheel-to-wheel in twisty narrow single track. After a few minutes I noticed Mark was a bit tentative on the technical portions of the trail so I politely asked “do you mind if I take the lead for a bit”? He was quick to oblige. As I went past I heard him breathing quite heavily. I heard later that my choice of words gave the other guys in the front group the impression that I was not pushing very hard, which was not the case at all. I was actually 10 BPM over my target heartrate. However I managed to move away slowly and gap the others. Within minutes I had lost track of them due to the twisting nature of the course with lots of vegetation to limit the view. At this point I slowly backed down the effort to get my heartrate to “target” as I held about a 1 minute lead. It was encouraging to pick off rider after rider from the earlier groups (55-59, 50-54, and 35+).
After about one and a half hours of racing, I ran out of water with about 5 miles left in the lap. I was concerned that this might catch up to me in the form of leg cramps later. It was at this time that I saw teammate Steve Boyd up the trail and was motivated to catch him and have a friendly to pace with. But Steve had an issue that required he stop momentarily on the side of the trail. Too much pre-race hydration perhaps. I went by him with a quick shout out.
At the end of the lap I stopped briefly to replace my two water bottles and headed into the final 20 mile lap. This was a more technical lap and the challenge took my mind off my slowly rising fatigue level. I continued to work past riders from the other age categories at a steady cadence. At one point I began to work with a younger rider. This only lasted about 10 minutes before he faded back however. Again I noticed that I did not have enough water to finish the race and made a plan to stop at the neutral aide station to fill up one of my bottles.
It was at this time that I heard Steve Boyd behind me. Shouting, he informed me that the second place rider of my category was with him! “His name is Paul and he’s a nice guy” Steve announced. This was the guy who flipped his bike on the prologue loop….the 30 time national champion. “Oh boy, game on”, I thought. So much for cruising into the finish. And so much for the luxury of stopping for more water. I had the ability to increase my pace, which I did immediately. But I was now very concerned about cramping. We were over 3 hours into the race and there was about 6 miles to go. I could foresee a sprint finish as a real possibility.
Paul passed teammate Steve and got onto my wheel. Several times he got so close that he bumped my rear wheel with his front wheel. Paul was riding aggressively and definitely not like someone who was tiring. He jumped in front of me on a short trail bypass section that I did not even see, but the main trail brought me back to his rear wheel. I was content to ride his wheel for a while and see the pace he set. It was a pace I could sustain, but knowing that he had already crashed once in front of me, I decided to go back to the front. Past the neutral aide station we went; without stopping. I had about two swallows of water left.
Locked together, Paul and I clicked off the miles to the finish. I stayed in front and Paul stayed on my wheel. I contemplated trying to ride him off my wheel, but each time I started to accelerate hard, I could feel the twinges in my legs. So I resigned myself to a sprint finish. As we entered the finishing area, there was a 50 yard uphill on asphalt, a sweeping left turn, and a 100 yard flat straight section to the line. I needed to guard the inside. When we entered the finishing area, the cramps came on. Distracted by the cramps I didn’t stay tightly to the left as I wanted to. Paul powered by me on the inside and easily accelerated away to a 0.9 second margin at the line. We finished 1st and 2nd with a 9 minute margin on 3rd (John Lauck) and 4th (Mark Kuithe).
Came very close to my goal, but no stars and stripes jersey for me. Paul Curley now has 31 national titles.
Steve Boyd finished in 9th place in the large 50-54 men category.
Rough week leading up to Barrio nursing a strained quad. I wasn’t even sure I could race it. Well within the 3k marker to go on the final climb at SLR I went from a for sure top 10 being in the final group of 8 up the hill to having to practically stop pedaling as my leg cramped/seized. I couldn’t straiten my left leg. Was awesome watching a lot of people come by me for 22nd. Ha! Rode Sunday and new something wasn’t right. Got an MRI on Monday and turns out I had a slight upper quad strain. Spare you the finer details, but was told to take it easy. Took a couple of days off the bike and the rest of the week easy (as far as intensity goes) skipped all the usual rides. Felt good enough for some crit action.
Barrio Logan I Raced in the CAT 3/4 and Masters 45+.
CAT 3/4 Result: 10th. 62 entries! Was really hard to stay up front. Sketchy with all those people. Marked some moves, tried to make some moves and then missed the final break of 6th 😊. About 8 laps to go when they got away and I didn’t think it was the right one -wrong! We were keeping them about 100 yards away so I wasn’t panicking – mistake! So when the lap cards came out with 5 to go I figured it was time to get the peloton motivated and try to get it back. Went upfront and took a pull, wiggled the arm and a junior came around me, but no one else so I followed him, took another pull, wiggled the arm and another guy came around. That happened for a lap and a half. Then I took a pull and wiggled my arm and no one was coming around so I swung out wide looked at the group and said so that’s it were racing for 7th ? – Crickets. Got 4th in the field sprint.
Masters 45+ Result: 9th. A lot smaller field, but they raced the 35+ with us. Again, I missed the break (shocker) that happened early about the 3rd or 4th lap. There were 4 in the 45+ and 3 in the 35+ in the break. I was just too far back when it happened. I tried to bridge solo – Mistake! Oh so close, but then turned into the wind and cya later. Was way too windy and I didn’t have the horse power or fitness. Went back in the group. Then Greg Kogut went hard around the half way point and I went with him. We got a big gap and made up some ground, but we couldn’t do it. And since he had someone in the break I wasn’t even sure if he was trying to bridge or just make another break happen. I bailed and went back to the group which was the best decision I made all day between both races because we caught Greg with a few laps to go. In the field sprint hard to say exactly where I was, but it was definitely up front and in the mix and got 9th.
Great event and great day of racing. Injured leg was a non-factor.
On Saturday April 20 I dipped my toe into road racing. I’ve been doing quite a bit of cross training on my Tarmac and enjoying it. My racing license only allowed me to register in the Men Open Cat 5 or Men Masters 45+ 4/5 road race, so I registered in the 4/5 race. Two dozen riders lined up and we took off in a neutral start down a long descent. The first couple of laps were uneventful. The group kept a moderate pace on the rollers and there were no effective break away attempts. My heart rate was fairly low for what I knew I could hold in a two hour MTB race, so I went to the front on the climb back to the start and pushed the pace. We dropped a few riders, but the peloton mostly stuck together as a couple of us took turns at the front. This continued for a couple of laps. I thought a large group of R5Ciclismo riders from Orange Country might be able put something together, but nothing materialized.
At the turn into the last lap it felt like the race was suddenly on. A big-boned rider that had proven to be strong on the flats took off on the descent and quickly put a big gap on the peloton. We were already at 40+ mph and let him go, but we reeled him in within a few minutes of hitting the rollers at the bottom. Everyone was jockeying for position. I have been riding with a strong group of riders at lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays that includes several UCC racers. The routes include Torrey Pines, Calle de Oro and Three Witches and I have become pretty confident in my ability to hang with just about anyone on long climbs, so I was stoked that this race ended with a long climb to the finish. I thought about attacking at the bottom of the hill to see if I could outlast the group for the three miles to the end and separate myself from the sprinters, but the pace had already picked up considerably. Riders jumped off the front a couple of times and I chased them down, hoping to work with someone to get a gap, but their efforts didn’t last long and they didn’t keep up when I took the lead, so the peloton would catch back up. I felt I was pushing at about 85-90% and knew I had plenty more to give should something happen. At the 1 kilometer to go mark I thought again about attacking but held off. As soon as I saw the 500M sign ahead, I attacked and hoped to surprise the group. The hill flattened out for a bit and I could feel riders coming up on either side of me. When the grade pitched up again I knew it was time to dig deep. We rounded the last corner and could see finish line ahead. I hoped the competitors were tiring out and I gave it all I had. I could hear them close behind, but was able to hang on for the win.
It was a great feeling to come out on top in a sprint finish. Greg Twitty come in 9th in the Masters 45+ Cat 1-3 in what looked like a blistering race with a 24 mph avg overall pace and stacked field and Greg Fenton podiumed at 3rd in the Masters 55+ Cat 1-4 race.
Pisgah Stage Race by Dan Mahlum
I was coming into the Pisgah Stage Race just over 4 weeks after the True Grit Epic race in St George where I had crashed and fractured the Transverse Processes of my L2-L3 vertebrae and had swelling around my sciatic nerve. The first week after my crash I tried to get a refund from the Pisgah Stage Race promoter but it was beyond the refund deadline so after getting declined I was going to eat the entire registration. I cancelled my flight and car rental sure I would not be in shape to ride the 5 extremely technical stages of Pisgah. Two weeks after the crash I started with a couple of short rides on the trainer and realized it was helping to loosen up my back and legs. Physical therapy was helping but getting back on the bike started helping even more. With Park City still covered in snow I remembered that Pisgah was more than just a race and was also an opportunity to ride new trails in a new place with a lot of like-minded new people. Three trainer rides and a week of going up and down the Olympic Park paved road across from my house and I was headed to Pisgah. Rather than treat this as a race I approached it like a training camp with the primary goal being to end the week with no new injuries and a solid deposit in the fitness bank.
Only one of the five stages at Pisgah did not include any hike-a-bike, even for the pros. This rainforest is loaded with the most technical trails I’ve ridden on a mountain bike. The stages were loaded with very steep climbs and descents covered in wet rocks and roots. I rode the first 4 stages very conservatively pedaling the climbs at a solid tempo pace and descending cautiously taking minimal risk. After those first 4 days I was happy to find myself in the top 10 of the Masters 40-49 group that started with 47 participants.
Going into stage 5 I was sitting in 6th place a little over 5 minutes from 5th place. The morning of Stage 5 I was feeling better than I had all week and decided I would “race” this stage and see if I could snag a podium spot or move myself up in the GC to come out of the week with some positive motivation to ride into the season.
Stage 5 was billed to be the fastest pace stage of the week with no hike-a-bike sections so it fared well for my current cautious riding. The stage was 27 miles with 2300 ft of elevation gain with most of the ascending coming from 2 gravel/double track climbs. The start of the race headed right into the first gravel climb and after some jockeying I found myself in the 3rd of 3 groups that had formed. I noticed that 3-4 riders from my category (Masters 40-49) were in the 2nd group about a quarter mile up the climb. This group included my category’s race leader and also containing the current 40-45 Marathon XC champion. This is when I decided to push off the front of the group I was in and close the gap to the 2nd group. My legs were feeling good so I was able to close this gap over the next 1-2 minutes and joined the 2nd group that did include 4 riders from my category and 2 from Open class. I took in some nutrition and decided to push the front of this group to liven things up. Not knowing the course, I didn’t realize that we were about to head into a tighter trail covered in roots that had 1-2 preferred lines so being at the front worked out to be a good move as I was able to pick my lines and push the pace. This ended up dropping one of the Masters riders and one of the Open riders off the back and now our group was down to 5 including 3 from my category, 1 Open rider and me.
We then crested the first summit and dropped into a tight, rooty descent where I allowed the other riders to go ahead so I could ride cautiously down the descent that was still pretty wet and sloppy from the previous day’s rain storm. I made it down without any incidents but lost 20-30 seconds to the group so started to push my pace again just as I came around a corner to find one of the riders had crashed and was now off the side of the course. He was the Masters Marathon XC national champ who also happened to be a local and the winner of the last 3 Pisgah stage races for the Masters division. I checked that he was OK and continued to push on. In this process, I was joined by the 2 guys that we dropped on the last climb and the 3 of us worked back up to the rest of the group just as we passed the aid station and headed into the second long climb. This climb hurt! It was about a 30-minute climb up a gravel road that turned to double track for the second half of the climb. Our group was now 6 riders including 2 open class, 3 from my category and me. If I could hang on and beat out one of the Masters men I would make the podium. Several of us traded blows on the front trying to wiggle any of the riders loose but everyone was pushing hard and the group stayed mostly intact. I checked the segment on Strava after the ride and my estimated power for the 30-minute climb was about 320 watts which I was happy to see because I was getting some of my pre-crash power back and could sustain it for 30 minutes.
Having no expectations going into this week I was satisfied at the top of the last climb to be with the leading group from my category. This is when I decided to let the other riders enter the final descent (also the Enduro segment for the day) ahead of me so I could ride the descent conservatively and finish the week in one piece. At this point I had already accepted 4th place for the day content with potentially moving up 1 spot in the GC. Half way down the descent I found one of the 3 riders from my category on the side of the trail fixing a flat tire. Wait, this means I could get onto the podium if I finished without letting anyone else catch me. I pushed a little harder and finished the descent smoothly, maintaining my position. I crossed the line 3rd on the day in the Master Men’s category and later found out that I had put 7-8 minutes into the guy previously sitting in 5th place so I had moved into 5th place on the GC.
It was great to end the week on a high note and leave Pisgah with no injuries or mechanicals. I had a great time experiencing new trails, in a new place meeting some great new people. I also enjoyed relaxing in the evenings with Ken and his wife. Pisgah was an awesome experience and Ken and I are already talking about going back next year.
The Pisgah Stage Race has some of the best mountain bike trails in the USA, and this five-day, fully supported endurance event delivers an unmatched sampler platter of some of the best singletrack in the country. The stage race course includes the Eastern United States’ most rugged trails. Located in a rain forest, the rooty and rocky trails are often times slick and treacherous. I entered the 60+ class, packed up my bike and flew to Charlotte and drove to Brevard, NC.
Sharing the VRBO rental with me was my wife Suzy and teammate Dan Mahlum (40-49 class). Suzy hiked each day while Dan “did training camp” and I “raced”. For those of you that may not know, Dan had crashed hard at a race in early March and was off the bike for several weeks to heal up. He was using this event to get back to racing form. He was still very fast though
During the pre-race meeting I ran into a friend Lennie Moon from Alabama. I raced with Lennie at the 2015 and 2016 Breck Epic. He had come with several friends from Alabama including one he immediately “warned” me about: his Alabama friend Hartwick Gregg. Hartwick was the returning 60+ Pisgah stage race champ and 2015 cyclocross national champion for his age group. When I later was introduced to Hartwick his reaction let me know that Lennie had similarly “warned” him about me. It was going to be a fun week!
Stage 1 - 21 miles, 4042 ft elevation gain: The days prior to the event it rained frequently so the trails were wet and slick in many spots. My plan was to hold back on this stage to save energy for the rest of the week. I tend to run down like an old battery during stage races! For me this translated to a target heart rate of about 120 BPM. At the start of the stage I looked for Hartwick and latched onto his wheel as we started up the shallow grade on a long fire road. Within a couple minutes I decided I could handle a higher pace so I set off to find another wheel. I would not see Hartwick again for the remainder of the stage. As the road continued uphill and steepened, I settled in with a group of about 5. When we turned onto the first singletrack, the grade got very steep and the roots were wet and plentiful. The combination caused many riders that were in front of me to get off and hike but I kept pedaling. I managed to pass about a dozen racers on this section but my heartrate was up to 150 BPM (this is about my max). So much for holding back! After cresting the top, I entered the first big downhill of the race, a technical featured enduro section. I was a bit apprehensive since I was not yet familiar with the Pisgah technical terrain, but I managed to hold my position and ride all the technical bits. I was glad I brought my down country Epic with 120 mm fork, beefed up rear rim, and dropper post.
I started the long climb up the mountain again as my anxiety was starting to build for Farlow Gap, the most infamous trail of the race. If you’re curious you can Google it! I was joined on the long climb by Jacob and Lennie from Alabama. Jacob and Lennie had been down Farlow Gap twice and this fact gave me comfort. I stayed with my newly acquired trail guides and got my heartrate in check as we climbed at tempo pace uphill and crested the top. Noisy course workers in wacky outfits signaled the top of Farlow Gap. It was rocky, wet, rooty, (did I say rocky) and getting steeper as the “trail” descended the mountain. I was loving my dropper post at this point. Jacob eventually stopped and climbed down a nasty drop. What Jacob did, I did. We alternated riding and “climbing down” or “climbing up”, or tip toeing across streams for the next 10 minutes. We had dropped Lennie. Following Jacob I gained confidence and then confidence turned to impatience. I hiked past Jacob then pedaled/hiked/pedaled away from him.
Twenty more minutes of navigating Farlow and I was back riding fast on fire road and sane singletrack to the finish. I won the stage in my category with a time of 2 hours 40 minutes, about 15 minutes ahead of Hartwick. Presented with a blue leader jersey to wear on stage 2 was icing on the cake.
Stage 2 - 29 miles, 3878 ft elevation gain: It was the only sunny day of the week, but still wet from overnight rains. There was a 4 mile neutral start on asphalt as the 175 rider peloton worked its way through town. Racing started on a wet fire road uphill which soon turned to a forested singletrack. While descending on the singletrack my front tire slipped out from under me on a snotty wooden water bar placed diagonally across the trail. Remarkably, this would be my only crash of the week. I was up quickly with only a scraped knee. After my slow-ish start on the fire road climb, I slowly began to pass other riders on the singletrack. I allowed my heartrate to drift up to 135 BPM for brief periods. As the race progressed I slowed down to keep a more sustainable heartrate and as a result got passed a few times. I felt fatigued as the stage reached the final 2 mile descent of Black Mountain, a rugged and pounding upper portion followed by a rather flowy bottom section. I finished first in category with a time of 3 hours 2 minutes, about 25 minutes ahead of Hartwick in second.
Stage 3 – 29.5 miles, 5800 ft elevation gain: This was considered the queen stage and after my mini swoon midrace of stage 2, I was concerned how my body would respond. This was the driest of the days, with no overnight rain. I employed more discipline in my pacing and kept my heartrate around the 120 BPM target consistently all day. I was happy with my pacing. The route had 4 big climbs and 1 smaller climb with two nice long technical downhills. I found myself riding much of the stage with Lennie and another Alabama guy, Michael. The three of us managed to pass the current 40-45 National Marathon champ and last year’s masters men race winner (wearing a prominent stars and stripes jersey). I chatted briefly with him as we pedaled past and he explained that he had gone out too hard and was cramping. I would see him mid race again the next day as he had decided to save himself for a run at a stage 5 win. The last technical downhill was the same as the prior day’s final descent. It felt great to bomb it with a confidence that came from familiarity! I finished the stage first in category with a time of 3 hours 52 minutes, about 42 minutes ahead of Hartwick in second.
Dan and I had a post-race routine each day: eat at the finish line (free Clif recovery shake, two or three scones left over from free breakfast offered by the race promoter, a banana, a few orange slices, and a few potato chips), drive our muddy bikes and muddy selves to the VRBO rental where I would take a shower (complete with my muddy riding clothes to wash out the mud spots everywhere). We would then do laundry, wash the bike, prep the bike for the next day, eat a late lunch out in town, check our Strava while using our leg compression devices (aka leg squeezers), and go to the Brevard Music Center (race headquarters) for post-race dinner, awards, race video viewing, and get intel on the next day’s stage. After stage 3 and 4, I managed to get in a massage too prior to dinner.
Stage 4 – 21 rain shorted miles, 3000 ft elevation gain: The day started with a rainy warmup but once the race started at 9 am, the rain pretty much stayed away. The trails were very greasy in spots however. So greasy that the promoter decided to shorten the course for “safety reasons”. The revised course consisted of about 8 miles of mostly flat gravel road, followed by a 2500 foot climb up Laurel Mountain which is the highest point of the race at 5000 feet elevation. After the big climb came (you guessed it) a pounding rock and root infested descent of 2 miles and 2000 feet elevation called Pilot Rock. This descent contained two infamous sections that can be seen on many a YouTube video…..and we were going to ride it in the wet! The start was rather faster than I was comfortable, resulting in me yo-yoing off the back of the large lead group (a peloton of about 50 riders). But I managed to stay up with this group to the foot of the Laurel Mountain, at which time I climbed for the next hour or so at a comfortable pace near my target heart rate. As the elevation increased, the trail got wetter and greasier. Many times I found myself hiking the bike and sometimes almost scaling up boulders with my bike. It was foggy and misty. Then out of the mist came those noisy course workers in wacky outfits signaling the start of the Pilot Rock downhill. The Pilot Rock “trail” was cut onto the side of a steep and wooded mountain and contained a plethora of rocky switchbacks. In between the switchbacks were many roots and rocky steps caused by erosion between the roots. My bike, mind, and body took a relentless pounding as we navigated trail hazard after trail hazard. At one point I pulled over to let a faster guy go by me only to see him go over the bars about 30 seconds later. After that he stayed behind me! With little warning I came across the rocky switchback I had seen in the YouTube videos and although it was wet, I cleaned it without drama. But due to the relentless pounding, my hands were starting to suffer and arm pump was setting. Maybe ESI Super Duper Extra Chunk grips would have helped! It was at this time that I rode into the second infamous section: an extended rock garden with lots of large wheel catching rocks waiting to send someone like me OTB. I managed to ride all but a short section, which (I like to think wisely) walked. I completed the descent in one piece and headed into the final 4 mile stretch of wet and relatively flat gravel road. I found myself working in a small drafting group containing Alabama Mike, the Open Women leader, on one other from the 40+ category. The four of us took turns pulling at high speed all the way to the finish line. I finished first in category with a time of 2 hours 17 minutes, about 19 minutes ahead of Hartwick in second.
Every day a new race video was created by the race staff. Here is a sample from stage 4 that will give you an idea of the awesome trails used for the race. Stage 4 video - Pilot Rock.
Stage 5 –27 miles, 2300 ft elevation gain: On a dry day, all racers did a neutral group ride of about 3 miles through town to the starting line. The course consisted of two 900 foot gravel road/double track climbs each followed by fun descents. No hike-a-bike on this day! No teeth rattling descents either; just mostly fun and flowy stuff with only a few miles of roots to navigate. With a big lead in cumulative time and not a lot of energy left in my tank, I kept the pace moderate. Several riders from other categories that I was able to beat on the previous stages stayed ahead of me all day including Lenny, Jacob, and Michael from Alabama. However I managed to keep Hartwick a comfortable 14 minutes behind me by the time we finished the stage, giving me another stage win and the cumulative 60+ category race win.