NW Epic Series – Cap50 Race Report

tl;dr version

I finished in just under 6h.  Seconds to spare really.  Great course, though painful.  Nice mix of fast singletrack, speedy forested rollers, gnarly technical downhill, and painful climbing that just. wouldn’t. end.  I am now much more sensitive to any race organizer describing a section of fire road as “fast” – it was miles and miles uphill.  Very well run race, with great on course support, minus the nit due to lack of drop bag support.

Long Version

I’m not sure what I was expecting going into the 50 mile Capitol Forest mountain bike race.  The longest distance I had ridden on a mountain bike prior to this race was 30 miles, and that was in May, at a race in the same series.  I finished that race in about 4:15 and thought I was going to die.  I wasn’t prepared mentally or physically for that race enough to be a strong finisher, much less finish at all.  My one race in between was a race in Roslyn that was 12 miles of suffering I won’t be repeating.  I wasn’t brimming with confidence coming out of that race.

In the months since the Stottlemeyer 30 miler, I really focused on my training.  Specifically on moving my fat ass up hill, and hard interval riding, which is mandatory for strong mountain bike riding.  Luckily I have had the good fortune to hook up with a local set of guys who have a team (Project 529), and riding with them has allowed me to do a few things.  First, really focus on my suspect technical riding skills.  I am a tri-guy coming to mountain riding very late in life.  Second, having a group to ride with on those hard rides makes you ride harder and faster, which makes your physically and mentally stronger.  Lastly, having people who would miss you if you miss a ride makes you not miss rides.  It really helps.

By the numbers (thank you Garmin for having such a great web/data integration), since Stottlemeyer, I have had 56 activities, totaling 941.57 miles, taking 92h27m, gaining 56,398 feet, and burning 51,262 calories.

If I look specifically at mountain biking, the numbers are 33 activities, 338.48 miles, 54h53, gaining 33,617 feet, and burning 28,079 calories.  All told, I have lost close to 15 pounds since Stottlemeyer, down to 174 now, hoping to get back into the 160s by the start of next season.

I think the real key for me in this training was the amount of time I spent on my road bike, doing repeated climbs in and around where I live, as well as commuting to work.  18 rides, 22,781 feet in elevation gain over 553.78 miles.  I can feel the difference in my climbing, and confidence in my climbing, as a result.  In fact, I now look forward to them.

The other item I’d like to call out which no doubt contributed to a happy finish at the Cap50 was my new bike.  I am 100% certain I would have had a crummy time trying to complete that race on my Stumpjumper FSR 26er.  That much climbing would have sucked.  I think I would have had more fun on that bike for the downhill sections, with more travel on the front and rear, but pulling that weight uphill would have been awful.  The new Epic Expert 29er is a bike that made me faster than I probably deserve to be.  No question.

Preparation paid off for this race, as did a proper taper as well.  During my training I wanted to focus on repetition.  Same meal every morning when I had a training ride, getting up at the same time, getting sorted in the same way.  I wanted to remove my usual pre-race anxieties, and having the patterns and repetition made a difference.  I was extremely loose going into the starting area.  At no point during the race did I panic or worry about whether or not I was prepared.  I wish I had focused on this level of repetition during my triathlon training.  It’s part of the process now.  I read the book, The Power of Habit, which clued me into things I guess I already “knew” but never abided by.  Good book, quick read, some great stories.

The Cap50 started minus the Le Mans start we were promised, which is probably for the best, but it was a bit of a shuffle to get all those bikes through the initial half mile or so until we got to the trail head.  I’m not a huge fan of the slow sorting out that happens when you get to the single track under race conditions.  Overall, the singletrack on this course was meant for one bike.  Very hard to get around people without a coordinated “hey, let me through.”  I don’t have a better answer other than to get more confident in my riding and get to the front first.  This will be a focus for me in the Budu races coming next spring.

The first part of the race was a lot of uphill.  I like this in the sense that it gives you a chance to get your heart rate under control, settle into your own pace and rhythm, and not blow your top too early.  Unfortunately, because of the difficulty in passing, and many people being reticent to be passed, it made for some frustrating miles in the early going.  My race plan was to hang on the back wheel of a friend of mine who I know is a better rider and faster than I am.  I had hoped to hang on long enough to get me past the line of doubt of whether or not I would finish.  He set a great pace and was attentive to the fact that I was chasing.  Never really dropping the hammer, and also in constant communication.  In fact, when I got stung by a bee around mile 10 (yes, a bee – more on these pesky buggers later) and was yelling obscenities on course, he slowed up and asked that if I did drop back to let him know so that he could inform workers at the aid station.  Big ups to Chris for doing that.  He didn’t have to, and it showed class and character.  It also made it it all the more difficult to leave him a few miles up the course when he went into, as he put it, “survival mode.”  He was having bad cramps and they weren’t abating.  He urged me to go on without him.  I let the folks at the aid station know he was coming, and to watch for his number plate, and to have something for muscle cramps ready if they could.  The next time I saw Chris was when he crossed the finish line – I’m psyched he finished.  Class, character and heart.  Good combo.

Once over the first climb, the race character changed.  The throttles could open up a bit, and we were motoring through heavy canopy forest.  Some of that time found us riding on heavily exposed clear cut areas, and the quality of the surface was quite a bit degraded.  Loads of loose pack and movement in the surface.  I was going so fast at one point that I snuck a look at my watch and saw I was at 18mph.  That was a solid 10 minute section of fast single track.

The second aid station came before the “fast” fire road, cough, climb.  That climb was painful.  Painful because of it’s location in the race (middle), painful because it had some pretty steep parts.  Painful because it was heavily exposed to the sun.  Painful because of the damn aggressive bees which kept buzzing me.  One even got inside my helmet at one point.  That was fun.  And painful because there was another aid station at what you would think was the top, but wasn’t.  Keep going that way.  Uphill.  For a while.

Upon cresting this fire road, we started what I will call the second part of the race.  The tone and tenor of the course completely changed.  Completely.  All of the sudden we were headed downhill, quickly, with a high number of what I’ll call “high-penalty corners.”  Some were sharp 180s with steep fall offs (like, oops, missed the corner, and you crash into the top of a 40 foot tree just 5 feet over), sharp drops (maybe 1-2 feet, but being on a new bike, and 100mm of travel versus the 140m I am used to, and the speed on a never ridden course, it was sketchy), and blind corners of the variety I have never seen.  Part of the downhill was on the side of a mountain.  I could see “everything” and yet the trail seemed to be cut into the mountain, meaning I could not figure out where it was going.  It was like riding on a bob sled recessed into the ground.

On one such section, I found the deck.  Hard.  It was around mile 30, and the front washed out in a hard corner.  In the 5 or so minutes I took to compose myself, check for bleeding (right leg and arm cut up), and check the bike (front wheel bent, but not bad enough to abandon), I saw three other crashers in the same corner.  Good times.  The downside of the crash was it served the dual purpose of reducing my confidence in general, and causing me to worry that my front wheel was going to come apart at any minute.  20 miles of “please don’t break” is no way to ride a race.

Before I know what was happening, I was at the aid station at mile 42.  Miles 28-42 seemed to have gone by in a flash.  I love the volunteers who work to make these races possible.  I always make a point to thank them, profusely, especially in the aid stations where they hold your bike, get you whatever you need, etc.  That said, to the gentlemen who described the next 8 miles as “an easy 1 mile climb and it’s all downhill from there,” we are no longer friends.  The data from my Garmin says it was 2 miles and 700 feet of climbing.  That may not sound like much, but it sucked.  I had someone I was able to ride the back wheel of for most of it, and she completely obliterated me on the downhill sections.  This was a climb that took a lot out of me at the end of a long day, and I got to the point where I was thinking “ok, I’m done climbing today.”

Not having a sense of distance or having never ridden the course causes you to do what in hindsight appear to be dumb things.  The last climb came off a downhill section, and I didn’t hit it right, and, legs weary, I hopped off to take a moment, grab my Sport Leg pills, do a Gu shot, and soldier on.  I took several minutes to do all this.  When I got back on I was psyched to “crush this dang thing.”  20 pedal strokes later, and I was over the top, left chiding myself for having take so much time to overcome this ripple in the course.  Had I known it was only a couple hundred feet up the road to the summit, I would never have stopped.  However, in that moment, when I unclicked, and was staring up what appeared to be a wall, stopping seemed like the only reasonable choice.  Amazing what fatigue can cause you to do.

Upon turning onto the road, I knew I was close to the finish.  I stole a glance at my watch, and saw that I was still under 6h, but only just.  I put my arms on the handlebars in full time trial mode, and started to hammer on the pedals.  For the last little section, I was up around 19.5 mph.  When I crossed, I had 3 seconds to spare.  I was elated.  It’s been a long long time since I have crossed a finish line happy, and in a state where I felt like I could keep going.  A long time.

I can’t say it enough – this is a very well run series.  The crew is great, the course was incredibly well marked, the aid stations were well supported, and the ever present search and rescue built confidence.  Will I do this race again next year?  Maybe.  Depends on how it fits with my overall race goals for next year.  I am eyeing Leadville as one possible outlet, to returning to half Ironman distance, to perhaps even Xterra tris or trail running.  I like to do things that are off the radar, or seen as “crazy.”  Having a goal or target makes training easier.  However, I would, without reservation, recommend this race series to anyone.  I will most assuredly re-assault the Stottlemeyer 30 miler next year in the hopes of improving on the experience and my time.

Big ups to Gerk’s Ski and Cycle for their consistently great service.  Jeremy and Mike in the Redmond shop are great, and always have things ready when they say they will.  Also, big thank you to that team for securing one of the first 2013 Epic Expert 29ers for me to race at Cap50.  They are so new, the Specialized corp site still doesn’t have the sheets up.  You can read my first impressions of the bike here.  The only thing that I will change of that report is that I really do love this bike.  It completes me.  Now I have to work on my logo.  I settled on ED 209 is the bike name, and while I was riding, I realized that I could make a clever logo with:

SpecializED 209er.

Hopefully Specialized won’t send the lawyers after me.

Big thank you to the Project 529 guys for tolerating me on their rides, and helping me get faster.  Without riding with guys like Raman, VB, Sergei, Mayo and others, there is no way I would have completed this ride.  Alex, it goes without saying that without you pushing me (even worse now that you are on Strava), and doing all those early morning rides with me, there’s not a chance in hell I would have had the heart, lungs, or confidence to complete this race.

Lastly, the fam – KT, chickpea, poo poo mcgoo, and thunk.  You guys allow me the opportunity to chase crazy life goals.  To pursue these challenges.  I hope I can be an inspiration to my kids as they get older and begin to comprehend what daddy is doing on those Saturday mornings.  I love you guys.