Monday, October 12, 2015

RME Battle the Bear

Way back in the early part of the year, Sam had been looking for local(ish) races as training for participation in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. Because he knew at the end of summer last year that he'd be entering Leadville again this year, he was trying to get a jump on some rides that might help. He came across the Rocky Mountain Endurance series and the Battle the Bear race that was scheduled for spring time, but just as he was preparing to sign up we received a lot of rain which flooded and muddied local trails.

At that point, organizers decided to cancel or postpone the ride (depending on what became of weather and ground conditions). When Sam realized it had been rescheduled for early October, he decided to go for it, even though it wouldn't be training for Leadville as he'd originally hoped. Instead, it would act as kind of season closer, of sorts.

I had assumed that he'd go alone to the race because (at least compared to other endurance races he's done) this one is fairly short distance-wise, and only about an hour and a half from home. Additionally, it's a lap race, so he'd be coming back around to aid every 10 miles, so I kind of figured I'd just be a useless body standing around for no real reason.

But, he requested my presence, so I ended up standing at the start/finish line watching riders come around each lap. The announcer was actually fairly entertaining, so that helped with keeping the watchers somewhat energized, and there wasn't too large a crowd riding so it was pretty easy to spot specific riders as they came through.

Rather than boring you with my stories of self-entertainment while waiting for Sam, I figured it would probably be more entertaining to hear his side of matters [Hint: I do a lot of jumping jacks when it's cold to keep warm or I attempt to lure strangers into conversation when it's not so cold], so here is his take on another new-to-him endurance ride.

Why do I do these random end-of-season things?

I had originally planned to participate in the RME series Battle the Bear race in May, but it had been rained out. My mom found and reminded me that they'd rescheduled for October 4, and I reluctantly registered for the event - and then quickly forgot about it.
The weather and a small portion of the course
Battle the Bear was supposed to be the second race in the RME series of 4 races. It was originally a 6-lap, 60-mile race with about 800 feet of climbing each lap; however, they ended up shortening it due to the change of schedule to a 5-lap, 50-mile race.

The week prior I hadn't tapered or really rested. I was viewing this event as a season closer and an opportunity to test out my "new geared" bike, and to get it dialed in just the way I wanted.

The park was a good venue that was clean with nice people running the show, but it was pretty quiet. There wasn't the buzzing that has been typical around the Leadville series I've been more involved with riding.

We arrived plenty early. [G.E.'s note: Much to my dismay - both because I missed out on sleep and I don't do well standing around for too long a time.] I checked in, got my designation and my AGE marked on my left calf. This was a strange thing to me. I don't really want to know the age of everyone because then I KNOW that I'm competing against them directly.

It was cool outside and very overcast, and it would stay this way all day. [G.E.'s note: It was very cold, I'd say. Maybe not for Colorado winter, but certainly compared to the weather we'd been having.]

An hour passed and it was time to get setup and ready to ride with the Endurance group. [G.E.'s note: This particular series has different categories and ride lengths that starts with the Endurance group, then the XC group, Appetizer, and finally juniors with each division riding fewer miles on the course.] The Endurance group started with the single speeds, the pros, and then in age group waves starting with the youngest and heading to the oldest. I'm getting older for these races, so I waited a bit to get going, although they did start each group fairly close together with all groups headed out in under 15 minutes from the start.
The pros starting their first lap
I didn't think that I would be caught in such a fast event. Whoa, did they start and maintain quick speeds. I spent the entire first lap getting passed over and over again, and I couldn't keep my eyes off the "calf markings," and realizing how many were passing me. The majority of the course was comprised of single track with a small amount of wooded area, a stretch of sand, a public park, a dirt path on the side of the road, two water crossings and three climbs - one very small one, one steep and short, and one reasonably long and steep climb right toward the end of the laps.
Lap 1
I'm dying. I'm convinced of it. I found myself caught up chasing a group. I have no idea why I do this, but it seems to be consistent whether riding or running. I nearly blew out my lungs the first half of lap one. The first half felt like a gradual climb until the half way point, after which there's some up and down. At about mile 7.5 there's a 1.5 mile climb that is 4%+ grade, and in between everything were many, many goat heads, some sandy points and a water crossing in the last half-mile stretch of the course that continued to get deeper throughout the race.

At the end of this lap, I was not feeling well, but I stuck to my plan and didn't stop to re-fuel as I came around to start lap two. I had all the GU I needed and I was sipping my water/energy drink mix while riding, so G.E.'s attempt to hand off a fresh bottle went unrewarded as I went on to the second lap. [G.E.'s note: I think I'm getting better at the hand-off though - even if you don't need/want it.]

Lap 2
Someway, somehow, I actually felt good. Everyone who was going to pass me had gone by and I was with racers going similar speeds and who would likely have similar finish times. One in particular was stationed about 50 yards in front of me for most of the race. I would refer to him as my "pee buddy." We'd actually had a conversation at the porta-john prior to the race start, hence the nickname. And I wonder why I don't have friends. Anyway, the lap was going well.

I felt good and I was putting up consistent speeds and starting to get used to where everything was on the course.

What I am not used to riding is a suspension fork. Normally I ride with a rigid fork on my single speed and I found that the ride felt squirrely the entire time with the added cushion. I'm considering dropping the squish because it didn't make my hands feel much better.

At the end of lap two, I stopped briefly, didn't say much, [G.E.'s note: Nor would I expect you to - you're racing!] swigged the rest of my bottle and swapped for a fresh one.
Lap 3
So, I'm feeling pretty good, chasing "pee buddy," and maneuvering better as each lap goes by. At this point, I could anticipate what was coming next, how to handle it and so on. It was actually kind of nice and I was thinking that I wish the race were a bit longer.

I had not flatted like many others had (as I would hear later) [G.E.'s note: The announcer had made several comments about the course having a ton of goat heads and stated that a few who were expected to win ended up dealing with flats because of these darn thorns.], the bike was doing great, and I had grown somewhat used to the squishy front end.

As the lap wrapped up, I was getting tired, but feeling positive with just two laps to go.

Lap 4
Half way through this lap, I started to get the I-don't-want-to-do-this-anymore feeling. I was starting to drag (not bonk - I actually never bonked). It was just the reality of realizing that there was still 15 miles to go and it's all going to look the same as what I've just ridden.

This time, chasing him up the big climb, at mile 7.5 I caught "pee buddy." He had tapped out while climbing and just pulled over.

Sadly, by this point I was being lapped by guys with the "P" written on their calves, and the demoralizing part of the race was back. Once or twice I pulled over to just allow the pros to pass on climbs. Yes, it slowed me down a bit, but I didn't care because I knew I wasn't going to come close to winning with such a swiftly moving group. [G.E.s note: They were a really fast moving group! The professionals were actually finishing before many had even completed their third lap.]

Lap four was coming to an end, and I was tired. But, at least there was only one lap left. I stopped briefly one more time to re-load water and I was off for the final round.
Lap 5
I happen to hear the announcer talking about the woman riding through the lap with me, who is a local Cross champ. I decided I would chase her and that would probably put me in a pretty good position to finish.

She was fast, but not crazy fast. Through the first four miles of the final lap, I stuck within 40 yards of her.... and then, we came to the small first water crossing.

There was a slower rider coming up. The Cross racer was prepared and passed the slower rider on the inside of the mud hole, but I wasn't close enough to make it by. So, the slower rider proceeded to sit in front of me for the next half mile so that I couldn't get around.

Finally, he bonked out, but it was too late at mile five for me to catch my rabbit.

I pushed hard up the last climbs and felt decent ascending up the final climb at mile 7.5. As I started to head down the last descent, I took a peek at my front tire. I was getting my first flat on a mountain bike in three years! I was not happy. At this point, I was hoping it would be a slow enough leak to get me through the last mile of the race. But, as I descended, things were not looking good.

With about a half mile left in the race, I had to stop and make some sort of fix. Using my CO2 cartridge seemed like the quickest fix because it would take a bit of time to swap the tube or patch it on the race course and I was almost finished. I still probably killed about three minutes here, but I was back in business.

I rolled through the now three-foot deep water crossing and right into the finish... and for some reason, kept pedaling. [G.E.'s note: It was rather amusing because the announcer said, "Dude! You're done. You can stop pedaling now!" I think Sam was just getting his second wind and was ready to go for another lap. :)] The announcer made a comment about stopping, but I'm not sure why I kept going.
The Finish
04:06:XX was my finish time. It was pretty fast given my recent history, lack of training, and so on, though certainly not anywhere close to finishing with the fastest riders. I averaged over 12 mph and got my first MTB flat in quite awhile.

It was a fun day. It didn't have the enthusiasm of the Leadville series, and people were less prone to chit-chat, but perhaps that was because it was a "make-up" race and the day had been super gloomy throughout?

I would consider doing this one again, and possibly the whole series of races next year. The registration costs were reasonable, it was a distance that is easily traveled from home the morning of the race, and it was pretty fun.

Maybe I'll even be fast someday!


  1. That sounds really fun. I kind of like the idea of a ride with laps of about 10 or 15 miles. I can see where it might get boring, but knowing where and when you'll come back to an aid station might be nice. Well done on the ride!

  2. You must be very fit, Sam. It sounds like a proper event - a real endurance feat. Congrats for doing so well!


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