Tuesday, September 04, 2007
The E100 - A Day of Mass Carnage
It's time to finally get my report up, so here we go. The E100 is one of the hardest single-day mtn bike races in the world. Its profile looks difficult enough on paper, with 100 miles and somewhere between 16,000 and 18,000' of climbing, but the true difficult is the nature of the racing. It's almost all single track. Much of it is winding and technical and slow. Over the 100 miles course there are only a few short points where you can relax on your bike. Mainly, you're paying close attention the entire time. It’s not ultra technical, just enough that you need to pay attention. It’s also fun riding. Really really fun.
The bike decision
All summer I'd been riding my 29” single speed. However, I didn't feel like I could finish 100 miles on it, at least not this particular 100. The week before the race I did two loops on the most technical part of the course on my Rig (ss) and my light, geared, 26" Fetish Seduction. I was much faster on the Fetish. Furthermore, I felt like I was using a lot less energy. I purposefully chose the section of the course that would suit gears and small wheels but, still, the advantage seemed significant. Most importantly, however, was my concern over my knee that I’d injured in a similar race two seasons ago. I’d ride the little wheels.
I’d helped the race organizer, Boris, mark the course the week before. Unfortunately, construction had closed many of the trails used in prior years so we wouldn’t be riding on Deer Valley. This meant that two sections of the course would be done twice. The “full” course was now 100k, which was an option for the race.
These laps meant that we’d climb Spiro four times. Spiro is a nice climb. It’s technically easy but a steep grind. On two of the laps we’d continue beyond the top of Spiro for another 1,000’ nearly to the Wasatch Crest. As we finished our work we ran across a guy who was prepping for the race. His comment “I think four laps on Spiro is going to cause some problems” would turn out to be prophetic.
At 6:00, in the dark, we set off up the mile-some-odd steep dirt road that was used to sort the field prior to the single track. I spun up this at a fairly easy rate knowing we had a long day ahead. I passed a bunch of single speeders and wasn’t missing my Rig yet.
The next section, Billy’s Bypass and John’s, are quite technical climbing. I’d never cleared this section on my own and, at race pace, I didn’t even try. It was easier to just get off and walk during some sections as opposed to riding anaerobic.
As we hit Mid Mountain I felt pretty good. The long ride to The Canyons was a section I was familiar with but it sure went a lot faster with all these folks out here pushing me along. As we neared Red Pine Lodge I thought I felt a twinge in my knee. “It couldn’t be,” I thought. “I must have clipped a bush or something.” I took it somewhat easy down Holly’s into the transition where I ate, stretched, and re-filled my pack.
This stage begins with a long rocky climb back to Mid Mountain. I took it slow and steady. A couple of single speeders had passed me on MM and as I passed them going up we chatted about the difference in a race like this. Even though I was passing them, I missed my other bike.
My knee was definitely hurting. It wasn’t bad, yet, but it was certainly exactly the same thing that had knocked me out of the 508 two years ago. I kicked it into a very small gear and soft pedaled the best I could. At the top of the climb I stopped, let a bunch of people past me, and stretched.
I passed some people on Mid Mountain and finally settled into a small group. We passed a few people already hurting. On guy said he was done, even though he was riding the 50 mile version. This was on the downhill section, so I think he was thinking about his last climb up Spiro. I rolled into the checkpoint still feeling hopeful. I got rid of my lights, re-fueled, but didn’t take any anti-inflammatories. I want to feel my knee. If it got bad I’d back out. It wasn’t worth another 6 month rehab process just to finish this thing, which I was started to wonder about the prospect of even if my knee wasn’t hurting.
The climb up Spiro was obviously bothering people as I passed riders at a regular rate. I sat and spun the best I could, trying to conserve energy. My knee felt fine for a while. In fact, it felt fine through the hardest section of the climbing. Near the top it all changed. It began to hurt, exactly like before. I could stand and it would go away, which confirmed that it was the same issue. I began to wonder about my future as an endurance cyclist.
On the last section of the climb, up Mid Mountain, I knew my ‘race’ was over. There was no way I could survive this climb three more time without risking some serious time off the bike. It was irritating. I wasn’t suffering enough to quit, so I began to think of a way to earn my day. I was cautious on the descent. No reason to risk anything, like hitting a tree, going down John’s. I’d done this trail a lot, but never too fast. I don’t even know how to do it fast. By this time the leading racers were passing me on their second laps of stage 3 and it was cool to see how fast they could negotiate this terrain. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to ride like that and it made me wonder how I could possible suck so bad at something. I then came upon a guy being rescued who’d obviously hit a tree. He didn’t look well. I’d remain cautious.
We were supposed to do stage 3 twice but by the time I got to the transition I had a plan: to finish the course. This meant I’d do stage 4 instead, which would get me a 100K finishing time—though it would be unofficial. I asked Boris about it and he encouraged me to finish the 100 miler. I had time, he said, so even going slow I wasn’t doing too badly. But it just wasn’t an option. I was 100% sure I’d get injured, if I wasn’t already. I now just wanted to finish the course, tick 100 of something, and not have to stay off my bike through the fall.
5 minutes later I realized this was going to be a longer proposition that I’d hoped. I was walking. Last lap I’d ridden all of Spiro without a break. Now I could hardly pedal without pain. All I had was about 5 miles and 3,000’ of elevation gain to go before I could ride. It was going to suck.
For a while I tried to ride the flatter sections but as soon as the pain began to radiate to the back of my knee I bagged this idea. I’d have to walk the entire climb. Yikes. I took at break at the Mid Mountain transition with an official and a guy who was hurting, too. There was carnage everywhere. Most people were walking and turning into their second lap of stage 3. By this time they had no hope of making the time cut.
Like an adventure racer, I walked with my bike. The race official at the lake asked if I needed medical help. I told him I was fine, just injured, and was going to finish the course no matter how long it took. Finally, I arrived at the top. From here it was 12 miles, most of it downhill, to the ‘finish’. Except for the few short up hill sections it was pretty uneventful. I felt like I’d made the best out of the situation. It was a good day of riding—even the walking part.
Here’s another report I found. This guy finished 80 miles and didn’t make the cut. From the data it looks as though the 100k was 69 miles. It’s got a lot more detail than I provided. He also has pictures, which is what he did when his race went south. They were the only pics of the course I could find. Too bad. The course is stunning.
In the end, only 22 people finished the 100 miles. And not one of them was on a single speed. NOT ONE. Crazy. And only two women finished. This was far worse than in previous years so, apparently, those laps on Spiro took their toll. I was about the last person after lap three who still had a chance, time wise, so the carnage had begun fairly early. As I sat at the finish sipping beer and icing my knee people were coming in after stage 4 just cooked. No one seemed bummed about missing the time cut. “I’m done,” was the common sentiment. I didn’t hear one person ask to be let out for their final lap, and quite a few were only minutes off the cut-off time. It was/is a hard race.
After talking to a bunch of people I’m pretty sure my bike caused my knee problems. It’s too small, for one (I’ve never had a proper mtn bike fit like I do for my road bikes, which I’m gong to change) but I think it’s mainly the slight suspension bob and the continuous seated pedaling. On the ss you are constantly stressing different muscle groups because you can’t sit and spin. I talked to a few single speeders who have experienced the same problem.
If I could do it again I’d opt for the 100k on the ss. However, my goal for next year is to finish the 100 mile on the ss. I’d better start training now. I think I’ll begin with some rehab and then a solid off-season of weight training. I’m going to need stronger legs.
This race is awesome. I can’t wait to have another crack at it. See ya out there next year. Start training now.