Monday, September 21, 2009

Seven Oaks 24 hour MTB Race

-Chris Caleb Joe -

Labor day weekend I got in way over my head and signed up for the Seven Oaks 24 hour mountain bike race near Boone Iowa. Four or five years ago I ventured onto the dirt several times a year and competed in a few races. In the last couple years my mountain bike has been relegated to the gravel roads and snow. When I stumbled across the information for this race it seemed like a nice change of pace from all the road riding I had been doing this year.

To get ready for the race I got my Schwinn Homegrown tuned up and race ready. I did some test rides around town and through Weed Park and was really enjoying the change of pace. Toward the end of August we had to make a trip to Ames so I used the opportunity to check out the race course. I only had time to ride one loop of the course. The 8 mile loop took 70 minutes and about killed me. My back, shoulders and arms felt like lead. I was not sure how I was going to be able to ride 24 hours or this. The bad part was I had already signed up for the race. To make matters worse the boys had signed up for the two person 12 hour. Chris is a great mountain biker and in great shape. Caleb has only ridden about 5 times all year let alone off road. It was setting up to be an interesting weekend.

The Friday before the race we packed a ton of food, four mountain bikes, camping supplies and anything else you would need for a 24 hour race. The plan was to arrive the night before and set-up camp. Connie would be the main support person with Chris's girlfriend Kelsey helping. Since the race did not start until noon on Saturday we would have plenty of time to get the bikes ready and ride part of the course.

The rules for a 24 hour mountain bike race are little simpler then the road. There are no light or clothing requirements and drafting is allowed. We started with a Leman style start. You lay your bike on the ground, back up about 200 yard. When they start you "run" to your bike and start the race. AFter mounting your bike we climbed a very large hill on a gravel road before heading into the woods.

Chris did the first leg for the boys so we started together. That was the last I saw him on the bike until he lapped me during my fourth lap and thier fifth. I started easy and just wanted to survive as long as I could.

Mountain bike riding is a lot different then road bike riding in that you never get a chance to relax while you are on the bike. Most the time you have to hang on with both hands so even getting a drink is a problem. A camel back is great for the water but there is no way to eat while moving or take electrolyte pills. I could only take e-caps when I was stopped. This turned out not to be that big a deal since there was many times each lap that I had to get off and push up hills or over tree roots.

I got my first cramp at the beginning of the fourth lap about 5 1/2 hours into the race. I had been doing laps in about 1:10 to 1:15 but that lap took me 1:35. There were many times during that lap I had to completely stop and stretch out the cramp. The last half of the lap I pushed my bike up any hill and was only able to ride on the flat and downhill sections.

After that lap I took a 15 minute break to drink a ton, take in more sodium and eat something. Heading out for the fifth lap I was a little worried about how the rest of the race was going to be. But during the next two laps I felt great. It seemed like I was getting the hang of the course and was able to clear a few of the sections that had forced me to dismount the first four laps. I still had a couple small cramps but they seemed to be in control and I was actually having a good time. I was currently in 7th place of 15 and pretty happy with that . Then it got dark.

I like riding at night. I have ridden off road a few times in past so felt pretty confident as the sun went down. That lasted about 10 minutes. This course was tough enough when you could see the obstacles approaching. Now in the dark it was way hard. I had a light on my helmet plus one on the bike. They were OK lights but nothing like the guys that were passing me had. When they came up behind you it looked like daylight. Most of them had one super bright light on the bike and one on there helmet. As I finished the lap I had made up my mind to pack it in for the night and start again in the morning. I was able to see the boys finish thier race as Caleb completed the last of the 10 laps for them at 11:20. He was the only one of us that rode two laps in the dark.

As I was putting things away for the night I noticed there was a problem with the tread of one shoe. As you can see from the picture I did so much walking that I tore the tread right off the bottom of the shoe. To me this was a sign that there would be no more riding at this event. So the next morning we packed things up and headed for home. I was able to ride 9:20 minutes for a total of seven laps of 56 miles. My riding time was right at 8 hours for an average speed of a whopping 7 mph.

Looking back at the race I really had a good time even though it was extremely challenging. If I ever try this type of race again I would definitely do more off road riding and either invest in a really good light of rent one for the night. I underestimated my sodium and water needs for the first four laps and would have to develop a better plan on how to handle that problem.