Race Report – 2017 Big Frog 65

https://www.strava.com/activities/963340081

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How was the race?

Oof. Cohutta is always so hard. This course destroyed me. Legs were done, cramps, foot pain and just crushed. My upper body was also beat up. I fell off a cliff on a huge rock slab but even without that the descents down Big Frog are so fast and rough it’s like being in a blender. My chain snapped in the first singletrack section and I lost 7-8 minutes fixing it, probably 3-4 getting back up the cliff. So in short, it was hot and hard and expensive. I’m really glad I went.

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How was the course?

Ridiculous. You ever seen doubletrack that is 10-15 feet wide, flat and literally side-to-side roots? For several hundred yards? Some of the singletrack was amazing. Obviously there’s a lot of climbing a lot of descending and a lot of traffic. I got stuck behind two racers on the singletrack again but it didn’t matter really I guess. Still think with a little more smart racing I could have taken 15-20 minutes off my time. Following someone else on singletrack is always harder than just riding alone.

It was hot and the course is set-up so that you do the bulk of the climbing on the way back when it’s the hottest and hardest. I went out too hard on the gravel and paid later with blown legs. I think next year I’m just going to leave my big ring at home. Seriously it just kills your legs later. Better to sit in on the downhill. This course is also heavily favored for flat-bars. I lost a lot of time riding drop bars as the descents are technical and you need a lot of leverage to move laterally on the road at speed to avoid roots, rocks and ruts. Next year I’m just riding a mountain bike.

What did you ride?


Same bike but it really let me down with the broken chain and I think also the derailleur hanger is bent as I had chain skipping issues as well as shifting issues pretty much all day. It was also creaking up a storm on the singletrack, not sure if it was the saddle, seatpost clamp or BB but it was annoying and kinda embarrassing.

Gearing?

39/26 with 11-34 9 speed. It worked great. Never ran out of gears but really worked the 26/34. There weren’t any large/loose sections so I was worried for nothing.

Tires?

Continental Race King 2.2 in the rear and Michelin Wild Race’r 2.25 in the front. I actually really liked the Wild Race’r on the single track. The instant grip worked well. I was had a lot of negative things to say earlier but I think the tire is a good MTB tire.

What’d you eat and what’d you drink?

Same breakfast as always. During the race I drank as much water as I could stomach, a bunch of Heed from the aid stations as well as probably 20 ounces of coke, a handful of pretzel bites and four cliff bars. I need to take some mustard packets as I had severe cramps during the last two hours. I was never hungry but if there were less aid stations or they were more spread out I would have been in trouble as I had to stop and get water at each one. I only had 46 ounces of water on my bike. I’m not sure if I’d be faster carrying an additional 3-4 pounds of water but I bet I would be. I peed once at 7:50am and then not again until 6:00pm – it was really hot.

How was the week leading up to the race?’

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Lots of rest and walking/hiking. My legs felt great on Saturday. I hiked the hills everyday but Friday where I just walked the flat trails down by the Chattahoochee. I felt a lot better than at Shake ‘n’ Brake.

Where’d you start?

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Like 3/4 of the way back. It didn’t matter but it would have been nice to plan better and hit the singletrack alone or behind some male racers.

How’d you do?

Suffered some setbacks but managed to finish. I’m not sure 6+ hour races are for me. I hated everything after about hour 4 but was happy to finish and am really happy now and feel like I should do another one.

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Notes for the Big Frog 65

3 miles or so paved climb right at the start.

16 miles of single track on the way out

38.5 miles of gravel roads

10 miles of single track on the way back

2-3 miles of pavement to the finish

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BF is approximately 15 miles of trail at the beginning and end with a 30 mile hilly gravel grinder in the middle. I did it 2 years ago when the weather was perfect. Might try again this year.

2017 Shake ‘n’ Brake Race Report

https://www.strava.com/activities/953430681

How was the course?

I ride up a hill, I ride down a hill…wait a sec I’ve been here before! I always forget how much climbing there is here. It’s just a constant up and down. The course is exhausting, lots of small loose gravel with some very fast downhills. A few leg-breaking uphills that feature large and loose chunky gravel or bermy dirt. They’re short but steep. The first loop section of the course is a killer, this is where all the bumps and rocks and puddles are and it’s always hard and fast.

What did you ride?


Same ol’ Charge Cooker Hi 29er. Worked fine, I think I like it better as a flat-bar mountain bike but I dunno really.

Gearing?

39/26 with 11-34 9 speed. Some of the gravel was large and loose enough that I was really working the 26/34 – made me kind of nervous for the Big Frog 65 next week but we’ll see.

Tires?

Continental Race King 2.2 in the rear and a brand new WTB Nine Line 2.25 in the front. I changed the front tire the day before because I really don’t like the Wild Race’r’ that was on there. It was too aggressive and just not what I wanted. The Nine Line is really great, rolls fast and is slightly smaller and less aggressive – good gravel tire. I didn’t have any tire issues, especially because the course was entirely gravel or pavement, no singletrack this year.

What’d you eat?

Same breakfast, same clif bar half hour before the start and then only 2.5 clif bars during the ride. I though I didn’t bring enough food but the race was shorter than I expected so I was fine. I did have a whole bottle of Torq after the third aid station which was so great even if a weird flavor – strawberry/mint?

Hydration?

Fine, I had two bottles and stopped to refill at the first and third aid stations. Now the question is, did I lose more time (~1 minute) stopping to fill up versus just riding with a camelbak? The start of the race was very hot but by the halfway point clouds and a breeze had moved in so I was ok overall. Had it stayed sunny I think I would have been in a little trouble and need another bottle.

How was the week leading up to the race?

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Too much hiking. Like an idiot I hiked almost an hour and a half the day before the race. I felt ok just couldn’t sustain the knife-edge efforts like I usually can if really well rested. Note to self, walking the day before needs to be flat and easy. Not hiking downhill for 20-30 minutes! I also rode four days in a row from my last race – this is too much. Need to take the day after a race (or two) off and then pick up before the next race.

Where’d you start?

At the back with the old southern couple that rolled up in a golf cart with their dog to watch the start. It didn’t affect me at all but I got all caught up in the spirit of back of the pack racing and went out way too hard. Blew my legs for most of the climbs on the first loop.

How’d you do?

In the money! Which means 5/7 in the male open! Same as usual, fastest slow guy. Overall I felt like I had a good race but was just not as sharp as normal, kinda tired and felt like wearing a hat is making me overheat on the climbs. The first hard climb during the top loop was a killer, felt like I was on fire. What’s got me really interested is that I was a little slower on most of the gravel sections (too hot cuz hat) but way faster on the last paved section. Hmm.

 

Race Report – 2017 Skyway Epic 60

Strava

How was the course?

Oh man. Amazing. This is the premiere gravel race for the southeast (I know it’s really at MTB race but whatever). The course has everything. The beginning single track section is smooth and flowy with just enough rocks, roots and elevation to make it interesting. After that it’s well groomed forest service roads – gravel with some nice elevation – very fast. Hit Husky Mt Road/607 and the elevation really starts. This section had some very loose fresh gravel so climbing standing was very difficult and generally a waste of energy as my rear wheel kept slipping. Some very nice views and then I’m at the aid station. From here the Skyway starts and it is mind-blowing. Rocky, rutted and with sections of huge lane-wide mud puddles at the top. And the rocks, rocks are everywhere. Loose rocks, embedded rocks, rocks flying around from my tires. Tiny pea sized rocks to rocks the size of a car tire. The worst are the softball sized ones that pop up at the bottom of a deep rut. I’ve never seen anything like this road  – it was really cool.

I guess if I was going to sum it up, fast single track, fast gravel roads, super technical climbing rocky dirt road, super technical descending rocky dirt road, fast gravel, fast single track. It was a little wet as the area had 2-3 inches of rain in the span of a few hours 3 days before the ride but overall it was dry.

What did you ride?

Charge Cooker Hi 29er converted to 9 speed and drop bars. The bike was great but my seatpost slipped at somepoint descending the Skyway and I came back almost 1.5cm lower – it didn’t cause any problems I guess.

Tires?

I’m not happy with my current tire choice. Continental Race King 2.2 in the rear and Michelin Wild Race’r in the front. The rear is ok but a little too narrow for the rocks and the front is too aggressive under hard cornering. It’s a classic MTB tire in that it was designed for 17mm wide rims and when mounted on a wider rim and ridden aggressively tends to give moderate traction until the side knobs hit and then it’s instant grab that makes the front dive into a hard decreasing radius turn. Oh well the tires were fine, just not ideal. Next year I want to go tubeless with at least 2.3 width.

Gearing?

Worked so well I hardly thought about it. Ran the 26 ring exclusively on the single track and switched as needed on the gravel. 39/26 with 11-34 9 speed. Had more than enough gear for the climbing.

What’d you eat?

So much caffeine. In order:

  • chocolate brownie clif bar
  • 7.5 ounce coke at aid station
  • power bar
  • 2 fun size snickers at aid station
  • mint clif bar with caffeine
  • 7.5 ounce coke at aid station

I had a lot of caffeine but not enough food – could defnitely tell at the end as I was getting frustrated. I should have eaten another clif bar as I rode the entire singletrack (45 minutes) without eating. I didn’t have an appetite but I need to power through that and put something into my stomach.

How was the week leading up to the race?

Boring – but I’ve been having lower back issues so I’ve been aggressive resting, stretching and monitoring my back. It seemed to work ok. During the race whenever the course was clear and open I would stretch my calves, my shoulders and arms and move around a bit. My back was borderline hurting for the first half but after that it was fine. The last section of singletrack I had no pain. Part was probably the accidental lower saddle height and part was the stretching.

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Where’d you start?

I was really nervous about getting stuck behind someone on the single track as well as being the slow one in front of fast people on the single track since I was the only person on a drop-bar MTB. So I equivocated and just kind of fell in at the start – at the middle-end. This was a dumb choice as I got stuck behind two riders wearing peachtree bikes kit that lacked the technical skills to ride the single track at a fast speed. Braking for every corner, no flow, won’t pass etc. It sucked but I guess it was a good 20-25 minute warm-up. I blasted by them at the first dam, passed another rider and then I’m ok. The other people I passed during the race I would have passed no matter when I started, the people ahead of me I would never have caught. So I guess my start position didn’t really matter. I’m like the fastest slow guy or the slowest fast guy – always.

How’d you do?

Uh…like 5th or 6th open male, 10th or 11th overall? I think this is one of those races where if you didn’t come in top 3 you don’t really get a result. My time was 6:01 something, I was pretty happy. 7/11 open men, so not bad I guess.

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I did think this was interesting.

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Southern Cross 2017 Race Report

https://www.strava.com/activities/887662209

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What bike did you ride?


Same as last week but I removed the 11t cog and added a 34t since I was worried about the climbs – Currahee was hard in 26/30 so I wanted to make sure I was ok for the significantly more climbing at Southern Cross. I think I had too much fork pressure too, I added some Thursday night and took it too 85psi but I think that’s too much. I’ve been riding at 70 for months.

Gearing?

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36/26 & 12-34. I was geared perfect for the climbs. Felt amazing and had a great range of gearing for the varied terrain and grade. However, I was actually undergeared on the road sections and the descents. I know I said not to pedal the descents but man it was eye-opening seeing how much faster other riders were. My top gear was 75 inches and it just wasn’t very much. Got passed like I was standing still on the pavement. But the funny thing was that I caught and passed most of the riders that passed me on the descents later on the climbs and never saw them again. So I guess it worked out ok? I’d be happier with a 11-34 I think but that’s ok. I used my 26/34 a few times but I never needed it. Wouldn’t do this race without it though, my legs were exceptionally good this day and I could easily see a little worse prep or just a bad race being too hard for 26/30.

Tires?

Still excellent but I think I had too much pressure. It was significantly warmer and I just wasn’t thinking and went with 31f/32r. Would have been better on 25f/27r I think. This might have caused my back issues. Otherwise good grip on the rocks, dirt and singletrack.

Nutrition?

Same breakfast as last week – Mocha starbucks double shot and 5 sourdough pretzels at about 8am. I lounged until around 9:30 then ate a clif bar and rode around until right before the start. On course I ate a pack of gels about an hour in, then at the aid station I had two cups of coke and half a cup of peanut m&ms. Sometime in there I ate a clif bar too I think. 3 hours in I half a power bar and at 3:35 I had two more cups of coke. Ate the last half of the powerbar around 4:00 and that was it. I felt really good all race and I bet that was mostly due to caffeine timing. Need to keep up with this in the future.

Where’d you start?

In the back, like literally 3rd from the last person. Made no difference, I passed everyone I needed too and had a great race. Felt strong and mostly good all race and only got stuck behind slower riders on the single track but it didn’t matter as I blasted by them on the road later. It was like having a forced rest.

What was the course like?

Dry and mostly firm. The climbs are mostly dirt with some integral rocks and occasional loose dirt/gravel mix. Single track section was rooty but firm. Descents were often the same as the climbs but had more loose gravel in the turns and washboarding.

  • Winding Stair Climb is long and has a few “wall” sections but this year it felt easier than ever before. Not easy really just not so “I’m going to die” as last year and the year before. I was never in danger of walking and passed a bunch of people. Had some fairly loose sections but overall was firm and rocky.
  • Hawk Mountain my back was killing me here. I was trying to stretch and trying to ride smart with my front fork and body position but I was getting crushed. I was stretching all my lower body on the descents and finally I hit on my calves. I stretched them several times and it seemed to help. The second half I was finally able to put out some power. This climb is mild with some kickers but it’s also really scenic, the roads turn from red to grey, the forest becomes dense and lush and the road winds up and up right next to a bubbling, flowing creek. It’s really nice.

How’d you handle the descents?

Better than last year! Which, going from wide flat bars to low drop bars seems like it means I’m getting better. Really tried to trail brake and watch my body and respect the corner apex. It was a lot of work but my times were better and I felt better and more secure. A few sections were competitive and it felt so good to blast by other riders. I think wider would have helped here but maybe been more limiting on the climbs. I think my current 50-52mm tires are a good compromise.

How’d you do overall?

I had a ton of fun. Starting at the back makes me feel like  badass since I end up passing pretty much 2/3 of the field. I mean really, I started at position 318 and ended up at 110. That’s a lot of passing and a lot of feeling pretty good. Not sure if that’s what “racing” is but it sure feels great! I guess that’s partici-racing. But man,  I was standing and just flying up the climbs, comparatively. Of course looking at the segments and seeing what Lance Armstrong was getting done on his bike is mind-blowing. A rigid cross bike with what looks like 38-40mm tires and he’s not just crushing the climbs but also nailing the descents. Really illustrated how different the levels are and that being a world class cyclist is not just riding fast in a straight line.

Notes for future self?

  • Lower back pain can be caused by tire pressure (both front and/or rear), fork pressure, hamstring tightness, calf tightness and saddle height. Experiment with everything! This race I managed to stretch my calves and it was bearable but I lost a lot of time before I figured it out.
  • Dose caffeine over the race, 25mg every hour or so is better than 100mg right at the start.
  • Eat conservatively, it is better to be hungry (all you have to do is eat something) than over-full ( you want to die and cannot digest anything). I spit out 75% of a mouthful of m&ms and although this seems minuscule I think this 150 calories was the difference between too much and just right.
  • Undergeared is better than overgeared. Walking is death, better to sit in on a descent and climb like a rocket.
  • Any time lost on singletrack can be made up on the road. Just relax and rest in line.
  • Line up at the back (the “chill-zone”) and don’t stress.
  • There are few things better than passing everyone on a climb while wearing cut-off shorts and a white t-shirt.
  • Dress for the weather on the ground and pack for the elevation. It was warm enough to stand around in a t-shirt at the start so I packed only gloves and my 2.5 rain jacket. I didn’t wear either one since it was so warm on the ridge-line but 5-10 degrees less and I would have needed them.

Assault on Currahee Mountain 2017 Race Report

9 miles of pavement on a 35 mile course.

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But it’s still pretty fun.

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What bike did you ride?

Slightly too large Breezer Thunder Comp 26″ hardtail with 36/26 chainrings and a 11-30 9 speed cassette. Tires were Michelin Wild Race’R 2.25. I was happy with how my bike rode – everything worked and the gearing was about perfect.

Gearing?

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I need to ride more intelligently in the future. Use the 36 for the flats and mild climbs, the 26 for steeper climbs and all singletrack. The 36 is just too much with such a closely spaced cassette for singletrack – it really wore my back out pushing bigger gears on that terrain.

Tires?

Impressive! The Michelins felt great on both the dirt and pavement. Solid connection with the ground,  a lot of grip and they handled bumps and oblique impacts really well. Felt fast on pavement, which was especially helpful as the last 5 miles was on pavement into a stiff headwind! I did notice the aggressive corner knobs had some serious flex on the downhill into Lake Russell, more an issue with cornering a mountain bike tire down a winding descent at 30 mph than anything else I suppose.

Nutrition?

Breakfast was a Mocha starbucks double shot and 5 sourdough pretzels at about 8am. I lounged until around 9:15 then ate a clif bar and rode around until right before the start. Lined up at the back and just rolled out – seems to help to stay active, even if slowly until it’s time to start riding. On the ride I ate a pack of shot bloks, a power bar and a clif bar. I never felt hungry, fatigued or irritated. All signs I ate well. I only drank about a bottle and half of water even though it was pretty warm. I think this is a combination of being well hydrated before the start and creatine loading the day before. It seems to make my body retain some additional water which keeps me hydrated better.

What was the course like?

Fast, loose and dry. I’ve climbed currahee when it’s been a cold muddy mess, when it’s damp and tacky and now when it’s loose and dry. There was a lot of newer gravel on the course and overall everything was pretty dry and dusty. The two main climbs are very different.

  • Currahee Mountain is in your face from the start and just kicks your ass the whole time, you switchback up these steep climbs and then there is just this wall in the last 400 yards that destroys your motivation but if you keep spinning you’ll make it. Lots of walkers but lots of positive vibes from all the riders. There was a section of chunky loose gravel right about halfway that required some finesse but overall I was ok with my 26/30 gear.
  • Pumping Station Road is the real killer. It’s late in the race, no one is around to tell you good job and smile at you. The road goes up and down, the gravel is large and chunky and it comes after a creek crossing. I was a little bit more on edge here but still managed to get all the way up without walking. This is the climb where bigger tires and smaller gears really shine. You can brute force up Currahee with 700x40mm cross tires but that won’t fly on the 600. I made some serious late race gains here against the rigid cross/gravel bikes.

How’d you do overall?

My race was a wash, a racer crashed and smashed his face into the ground directly in front of me about 40 minutes in so I stopped to help. After about 25 minutes I was able to get back underway but I knew it was just for fun (I guess it always is?) from then on. Still it was fun to pass a bunch of people, attack the climbs and take pics when I felt like it. I certainly wouldn’t do anything differently. I had a lot of fun. The weather was great, my bike worked awesome and the post race meal was delicious.

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Atlanta Gravel Cycling Course Notes

Course notes for gravel events around Atlanta, GA

Dry Course Notes:

Assault on Mt. Currahee

Cross bike is definite advantage due to paved descent at the start and the 10 minute paved climb at the end. Overall course is compact and smooth. Some washboarding, some chunky loose gravel but overall not much advantage to having suspension. There’s a short singletrack section with some sand and a creek crossing but right after is a steep hill that seems to wipe out any advantage gained from these two sections.

https://www.strava.com/activities/503692889

Southern Cross

Mountain bike has a huge advantage if you can handle the descents. Lots of climbing on smooth dirt sometimes studded with smooth boulders embedded in the surface. A few sections with loose gravel. Descents are generally gravel/dirt and sometimes loose and sometimes with significant washboarding. Best strategy seems to be to coast the descents (again COAST THE DESCENTS) and rest to attack on the last rolling section back to the winery.

https://www.strava.com/activities/509381483

Shake ‘n’ Brake

Mountain bike has a moderate advantage depending on road surface. Rolling course seems to have consistent deep chunky gravel. But also some dirt and a singletrack section long enough to gain real time with an MTB. Moderately long paved section comes so late in the course that cross bikes generally cannot gain back.

https://www.strava.com/activities/554619392

Raider 48

A few sections of rough dirt and very chunky gravel. No clear advantage to either style of bike as there are long smooth sections and moderate paved sections. Most likely significant time could be gained back on the last long paved section. Small turnout and not a real competitive event in 2016.

https://www.strava.com/activities/561128354

Red Clay Ramble

Cross bike with 35mm-40mm tires. MTB is at a severe disadvantage as there are no real descents and the gravel/dirt is very smooth with small aggregate. Paved sections are moderate and there are few deep/chunky gravel sections. I’ve done MTB & Cross and the MTB was not very fun.

https://www.strava.com/activities/682881571

Sac o’ Suds

Cross bike has mild advantage. Rolling course with smooth gravel & dirt but some deep/chunky sections. Moderate singletrack/powerline dirt section but it’s unclear if an MTB can gain any time here as it comes before a moderate paved section.

https://www.strava.com/activities/766758020

Standard Deluxe Dirt Road (Metric) Century

Cross bike has an advantage. Rolling course with smooth dirt & gravel and moderate paved sections. Very little large/deep/chunky gravel. A few dogs and bring a turn by turn GPS.

https://www.strava.com/activities/768052459

Wet Course Notes:

Assault on Mt Currahee

Lots of mud, sections of dirt become soft and narrower tires tend to sink. Recommend something with wider spaced knobs. Climb up Currahee is very slippery when wet as it turns to mud and is spilt 30% to climbing and 70% to descending. Would also expect to run slightly lower gearing if available. 46/34 11-34 would be a good choice.

Southern Cross

Mud, slippery rocks and some sections of soft road. Also large potholes filled with water. Same as above, recommend a more mud-focused tire. Long descents and mud/dirt may tax brake pads on disc brakes so either run fresh or bring spares. I’ve seen more than one person trying to walk to the SAG after destroying their pads. Dirt on body/bike is more sandy clay. 22/34 low gear is nice to have – lots of walkers with cross bikes.

Shake ‘n’ Brake

Moderately long sections of road become soft and become similar to riding quicksand with 40mm and smaller tires. Recommend wider tires with moderately aggressive knobs. Some mud, can get very slippery. Dirt on body bike is silty clay and exfoliates quite nicely. Every year I’ve given up and walked a bit, even when I had a 22/34 low gear. Mentally this has been my toughest course because I’ve always ended up so isolated for so long. Dirt on bike/body is silty and exfoliates very nicely.

Sac o’ Suds 50

Singletrack section is very slippery due to leaves, overall course is not too affected by wet weather but there are a few sections with large deep potholes that will fill with water. I’d use the same bike as in the dry and plan to lose time on the singletrack that can be made up on the paved section immediately after.