Tuesday, June 02, 2009

1st Race of 2009 - Markatråkket Marathon MTB XC

I have finally done my first race of 2009 here in Norway. After finally working out how to sign up, get insurance, and all the particulars that go along with racing mountain bikes here in Norway, I finally got it together to race in the Markatråkket; a 60km mountain bike race through the trails out my backdoor in Strindamarka.

Since being in Norway, I have been struggling with what the mountain bike scene is really like here. As a bike fanatic, I constantly look at what people are riding whether it is a simple old steel singlespeed communter or a race bike, I'm looking. One thing I have noticed is that it is like stepping back in time when you see all the mountain bikes here (expect these ones have fancy new components and carbon here and there unlike the anodized aluminum of days of yore). In short, everyone is riding aggressive geometry hardtail race bikes with long stems, straight bars, big saddle to handlebar drop, and 80mm of suspension at most. When I first saw this phenomenon, my only thought was that the trails here are mostly untechnical and that the riding would be sub-par. However, after the snow has melted, I have discovered that this is just not the case at all. There are a number of very technical trails here interspersed among wide doubletrack gravel paths.

So, why is it that there are all these sweat trails and yet everyone has old school XC bikes? Is it that everyone is just really good on these things and they don't need rear suspension or higher or wider bars? No, I found out that that's not it.

People here just don't ride technical trails!

Yep. That's just how it is here. In fact out of the two races this past weekend, one would have been certainly called a cyclocross race back in BC. Yes, a cyclocross race that you must ride a mountain bike on. This was a sad sight as I watched the top riders holding the brakes down a steeper but not very technical slope and struggle over a rocky section (which was technical but the top riders were not even cleaning it). This, and the fact that the race consisted of nine 3.3km loops, really made me hold my head down in sorrow.

Now don't get me wrong, there are many really strong riders here that can easily destroy me on the bike... as long as there's a lot of asphalt and gravel paths. So, that's what people do here.

So, somehow, I talked myself into racing the marathon race on Sunday as there was going to be some singletrack, and at least I didn't have to go in loops until I got dizzy.

The start of the race had about 40 elite national riders start, then a 2 minute gap followed by over 200 general class riders. I was in this 2nd group and was determined to try to bridge the 2 minute gap so that I could hook onto a faster group for the 'road ride' that I would be faced with after some mountain biking. I was feeling strong, well rested (maybe a bit too much so) and thought I was ready to race hard. The gun went and before we knew it, we were off.

I pushed to the front and held on to the 3rd position until we started to get into the harder climbing. The start of the race literally had you start to climb, and you just kept going until you gained about 400m on a wider gravel road which got steeper and more washed out as you went. I went out a bit too hard and was started to suffer early on as I could just not get my heart rate down.

As I haven't raced in awhile, I just wasn't used to pushing so hard off the line and I was paying for it.

Even still, I managed to top out the climb in about 10th in the 2nd group before we started the descent down to the road where there would be an aid station. I was feeling good at this point but knew that my main issue that I would face for the rest of the race would be with cramping.

The weather was full on blue skies and the temperature felt hotter than the 22 degrees or so that it was. I was sweeting a lot, was using some new fuel I had not tried before, and only had a limited number of Thermolytes that I had brought over from BC. When I filled up with the aid station energy drink and took a swig, I knew that this was not going to be enough.

The next section of the course consisted of rolling terrain along asphalt and gravel roads. It was very nice scenery but, we were on asphalt in a mountain bike race! What's worse is that the route was taking us over to some actual trails, but instead of going right there, we would wind our way around unnecessarily on pavement. It was ridiculous but, it was what it was and I just hung in with the pack I was in, took some pulls, and looked at a lot of peoples drivetrains while I drafted. Awesome!

By the time we hit a climb up at Vassfjellet mountain, I knew that my legs were going to start seizing up on me. It is a terrible feeling when you know you have the energy but without enough electrolytes, you are absolutely screwed! I had downed all my E-tabs at this point and with 1/2 a course left to go, I was going to be in deep trouble. I had to let the pack I was in go as I teetered with cramping in my inner hamstrings and calfs.

I topped out on the climb and started on some really nice technical singletrack going down. As I didn't have to pedal much, my cramping subsided and I started to let things go as I easily reeled in the next rider, passed them, and repeated.

Back on the road, we had to ride back to the first aid station that we hit, and then do the first section of the course in reverse. The road actually treated me ok as my cramps were mostly under control and I was able to put out a decent pace; albeit, by myself with no help from a group. I held off all the riders behind me which seemed to tell me that at this point, everyone is starting to hurt. While I felt a bit 'out of the race' since the cramping started, I couldn't help but think of Gary in the last MOMAR and how hard to pushed to make it back up to 2nd overall. I needed to push through this and finish strong. I upped my pace, hit up the aid station with some energy drink, and was off on the last major climb of the ride.

I started to pick off some riders and was feeling good as my cramping doing ok and I was able to maintain a good pace despite them holding me back a bit.

All was good, until I heard a loug snap...

My Gravity Dropper seatpost, which had held up so well over the time that I have had it, decided enough was enough and self-destructed. I got off my bike, looked at everything is disbelief, and then realized that I would now have to do the next 300-400 m of climbing standing.

What ensued next was what I expected would happen... although much, much worse! I got back on the bike and within a few hundred meters of seatless climbing my legs had had enough and turned to full cramped blocks of wood.

I had to walk every climb for the rest of the race and even walking at times I would be turned into a hopeless wreck of iron legs. At one point, I thought my inner quad was going to explode as it was so contracted and simply would not let go. I've only ever experienced cramping like this once before in my life and that was at the Robothem Ramble (Parksville). Obviously, my 'race' was over and now it was just a battle to get to the line in one piece. It literally took me 1/2 hour to move about 3 kms at the end of the race as even downhills would present an issue since just the action of getting on the bike would put me into full cramp mode. I would never wish this on anyone. I finally finished the race is 3:40 minutes putting me back in 8th place in my division.

Another weird thing that happened, and has happened four times to me now, is that my aluminum nipples on my real wheel that I built are deciding to self-destruct just like my seatpost. The spoke is fine, it's just that the nipple head is snapping off in the eyelet. My spoke tension is not too high so I don't know if the nipples are just crap or what. This is literally the fourth nipple that has done this so it looks like I may have to rebuild using brass nipples.

So, my nipple, seatpost, and legs all self-destructed and turned my race into a slow motion finish. Can't do much about the bike mechanicals but for the legs, I will never, ever, race without a good electrolyte supply again. Being forced to slow down or stop due to cramping just sucks. Don't let it happen to you!


garobbins said...

Wow, unbelievable that they don't take full advantage of the riding they have access to over there!
Great race report, shitty to hear about the cramping...been there, not fun...and hopefully I'm never going there again!
When's your next M.B. race? I'm really looking forward to seeing how you do with proper nutrition and a bike that isn't cracking at the seams!

Anonymous said...

Hey Todd,

Great race report. Maybe you should run a race over there and introduce them to technical riding. Your cramping issues are exactly what I experienced in Squamish this year. OUCH!

Racing FMIJ this weekend, will be thinking of you and Gary.


Anonymous said...

Todd - Gr8 report. Too bad about the seat post; been there, done that and it ain't pretty. Your nipples (bike that is) seem to be a bit of an anomaly - I had the same thing happen, but with some spokes - turns out they were a bad batch from the supplier.

Are you pumped for Explore Sweden?

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous" above = Doug D