Race Report: Capitol Forest Revival

I was in the garage gathering up my biking gear Saturday night when I heard the unmistakable sound of sleet hitting the side of the house. Here we go again. Come morning, I would be making the drive to Capitol State Forest, a notoriously muddy swath of mountains and conifers outside Olympia, to race in what was quickly becoming a reeneactment of the Valentine's Massacre race in February. Forget about April Fool's Day, this was Groundhog Day. Again.

Sure enough, it did snow in Capitol Forest the morning of the race, but I didn't let that stop me. Nor did it stop Kristin and my good friend Eric from coming along to take the photos you see in this race report. We were on the road by 6:30, fingers crossed the rain would hold until later in the morning -- this week the Sport class guys were racing first.

We arrived 90 minutes later to find some sun and scattered rain, but mostly it was just cold. Fortunately this didn't last and the weather actually turned quite nice before the 9:30 start. I brought my road bike and stationary trainer to warm up in the parking lot rather than crud up my bike on the muddy trails before the race even started. I didn't get a chance to pre-ride the course (again!) but I mapped out the elevation profile in TOPO! and knew what to expect as far as hills were concerned.

Me warming up in the parking lot.

After some minor misdirection regarding the proper location of the start line, we were broken into classes and ready to race. As promised after the first race in this series, I took a spot near the front of the starting grid and went hard right from the start. At least for the fifty yards before the tortuously slick climb began.

At the starting line. I should have my swanky
BradyGames racing uniform before my next race.

The trail quickly jogged to the right and began a long, switchbacking climb up a slipper clay-caked trail that had been reinforced with hundreds of cinder blocks. Did I mention that the trails we would be riding today are actually meant for dirtbikes and 4x4 quadrunners? This initial climb, right out of the gate, was very challenging to pedal and walking it even moreso. The two times I had to dismount and push my bike, both saw me slip onto my stomach in the dirt. It was too slick to even stand in some spots. I went hard at the start of the race and entered the switchbacking clay-climb in 6th in my class but soon felt like the whole world was passing me by. I didn't care though because I knew once I got in a groove I would reel them in. Sure enough, as we climbed the trail got a little steeper, but it also got drier and I was able to pedal past several folks pushing their bikes.

After a muddy, puddle-strewn descent we popped out on a gravel road. A false flat. I switched into the big ring and started gaining ground on a couple of guys when I noticed on my altimeter that we were actually climbing. I had to laugh, as I felt like it was a flat section of trail. I eventually dropped into the middle-ring for the remainder of this two mile-long forest road climb that gained about 1000 feet. Joe Martin, an attendee on the Wednesday night training rides I do, passed me at the five mile mark. He started a minute behind me in the 40-49 class and had some words of encouragement before commenting, "There's some fast f***s here today!" Yes. My thoughts exactly. This wasn't the same group from the February race.

I rode alone for quite a while and kept my mind occupied by watching the heart-rate numbers on my cyclopcomputer. I had managed to keep my HR right at about 85-90% of my max for the first 50 minutes of the race and now, as I crested the top of the fire road, it was time to descend. I soon finished a little singletrack climb -- narrowly avoiding a pretty bad wipeout in a clay-slickened turn -- and found myself enjoying a very fun, swoopy semi-technical singletrack descent off the top of the mountain with incredible views overlooking the rest of the forest. It was a great day to be on the bike. I caught a couple guys on the descent who had passed me earlier in the race and soon caught up to Joe at the 10 mile mark. He was having some chainsuck issues thanks to an earlier crash.

I raced ahead, finishing the final noteworthy climb of the day and now it was time to descend the switchbacking clay-coated ridiculousness that we climbed at the start of the day. I was flying. I was pulling ahead from the two guys behind me and finding a nice line through the puddles and moto-gulleys in the trail. I was big ringing my way down this descent and then my day turned sour. As I approached a short steep rise in the trail, I quickly downshifted to an easier cog, inadvertently crossed the chain, torqued it too hard, and snapped the chain roughly 2 miles from the finish line.

I had a spare tube with me and CO2 cartridges. I had an allen wrench set with me. I even had some spare quick-links for a chain. I didn't have a chain tool, though. I quickly worked the chain out of the rear derailleur and began running. It was only two miles, I'm still in this! I was able to coast down what little descent there was left, but the trail was too muddy and rough to not push. So I started running and once I started I didn't stop. All the way to the finish, I went. Funny thing about this is that even if I did have a chain tool with me, I probably would have just ran it anyway. That's what happens when you come from a running background -- two miles to the finish? No sweat! About 20-25 people passed me while I was running the bike in during those final two miles. Each one offered some words of encouragement or sympathy, and I tried not to let it bother me too much. This is mountain bike racing, it doesn't always go your way.

Two miles of pushing the bike isn't the best way to spend a day.
Note the broken chain in my left hand.

That smile is fake.

I ended up finishing in 16th place out of roughly 30 or so competitors in the Sport 30-39 class. Judging by Joe's finishing position in the group that started after us, the number of people that passed me after I broke my chain, and the number of people I caught and passed during the earlier climbs, I feel very confident that I was in the top 5 of my class when my chain broke. I would have minded this misfortune a bit more if I was racing in the full series and really cared about my points. However, that aside, I must say that this was probably my last good chance of the season to earn a top-5 finish. The rest of the events I'm entered in are very long endurance races, in which I will be entering unchartered territory both physically and mentally. This may have only been my second mountain bike race in 6 or more years, but it's something I have done before. I would have liked to be able to point to a top-5 finish, but so it goes...

Aside from the chain breaking and the rain starting up as I hoofed it to the finish, the race went very well. I know what I can handle effort-wise and I felt really strong mentally on the bike, as well as physically. The training with an HR monitor is paying off a lot sooner than I thought, if for no other reason than it keeps you from cheating yourself. I knew what HR I could push and for how long, so I didn't let up on the climbs and that helped a lot in the end.

Special thanks to my sponsors BradyGames and Re/Max on the Ridge for supporting me this racing season -- I hope to receive the uniforms soon! Also want to thank Kristin for coming along to cheer and my friend Eric Floyd for the photos and encouragement.


Frank said...

Awesome job!

Maarten said...

Ohhhhhhh maaaaann! Kudos to you for having the grit to run out your race!

Doug Walsh said...

Thanks guys! It was a fun race, even if I did have to spend 30 minutes chiselling the rock-hard clay off my bike yesterday. ;-)