This season's opener was the Spa City 6hour in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I missed this race last year due to a crazy reaction to some antibiotics I took for a chest cold, so I was happy to be back in "The Natural State".
This trip it was just Larry Kintner in the mtb wagon. We lit out after work on Thursday, bunking up partway in Joplin where we hooked up with the Wixons who were on a family spring break trip, and the race was their first leg.
Weather reports on for the weekend were not looking ideal for those of us camping. I did a mental check of my gear which took about 2 seconds because I knew I didn't bring anything for wet weather. On top of that, I didn't bring my pajamas so a trip to Walmart scored me a pair of jammy pants with bikes on them and the only rain jacket I could find was what looked like a trash bag with a hood but it would beat being wet, I figured.
We pulled into Hot Springs around lunch time and went to a well known eatery called 1217 Cafe. The food was delicious. Five stars and a rare healthy food option in the land of BBQ and gravy covered everything.
After lunch, we headed for the venue. It's a great place to bring the family. It has a playground and a giant wooden fortress for kids to play on, with a bridge that goes over the finishing straight. Bike wash station, picnic shelters, RC car track, and lots of camping options. We pulled up in a little nook lined with large boulders, perfect to use as tables or seats. We unloaded and prepped for our recon ride. Time to see what my Trek Superfly 100 was capable of since I only rode it a couple of times back home and felt it had yet to tell me its true magical powers.
The trails anywhere in Arkansas consist of rock with a little bit of dirt. It should be called "Rockansas". This race would be no different. We rode the entire ten mile race loop which consisted of punchy climbs and some fun descents on what were mostly contour cut single track trails through dense pine forest. I was pretty happy with how the SF100 performed. I didn't make any adjustments afterwards aside from a bit more air in the tires because they seemed to be leaking an excessive amount of sealant around the rims.
After the ride we set up camp and got ready for the race. I got a chance to chat with Lorraine, a woman I have had to battle at many races in this area the last couple of years. She's super cool and just puts out a great energy and has a genuine enthusiasm for the sport, especially when it comes to other women competing. Girl power!
We ended the night properly, around a camp fire discussing all things bike and feeling good to finally be riding single track after the winter we continue to have. And as we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags, we said a silent prayer for a dry course.
As most race mornings go, we were up before the sun. We couldn't see any stars so clouds had moved in but no signs of rain so far. Temps were in the high 40s and no wind. We started the water for coffee. Last weekend I tried a new meal before heading out on a long training ride, inspired by local long distance racer, Rafal Deloto, a.k.a The Polish Punisher. He eats rice with a couple of fried eggs mixed in and it worked great for me so I decided to make it again in place of my usual oatmeal with fruit and nuts. I had bought some pre-made rice so all I had to do was warm it up, fry my eggs. Easypeesy. I also found these really tasty all natural energy bites at the Natural Grocers on Dodge St. They taste a lot like Lara bars and are already cut into bites and in ziplock bags. That was to be my solid food during the race. I put them into a paper cup we snagged from our hotel and put it all in jersey pocket. It worked like a champ. I think next time I'll use a plastic cup though.
Food down. Coffee down. We filled bottles last night so all that was left was kit up and getter bike ready but somehow that always takes longer than I plan and suddenly it's rider meeting time and I haven't even sat on my bike. But, for a six hour race all i really need to do are some high cadence openers to spike the heart rate so I did that instead of the meeting. Ryan already scoped out a spot on the bike racks to place my bike for the Lemans start, which was at the bottom of a grassy slope. As we waited for the start, we were all doing jumping jacks or running in place. Everyone but Ryan who did push ups and then danced around like he was tweekin' at a rave.
I totally suck at running. Add on top the lumpy ground and it was comical. But I got to my bike easily enough and found myself probably in the top 50, and right behind Lorraine. The parade loop took us onto pavement then around the start field which had a few mud bogs to deal with. I went by Lorraine before we hit the hole shot. Once into the single track the pace was good. Up the first switchback climb, not too crazy then down some twist-turny stuff and suddenly I found myself on the ground. Not a root or rock around. I jumped right up as I the train of racers yelling rider down! The guy immediately behind me helped me up and a quick assessment told me bike and body were ok and off I went.
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The pace was high as they always are at the start but manageable. I could hear people talking behind me and I was working so I knew I was probably working too hard if these people were chatting. Once they went round, Lorraine was right on my wheel. About 3/4 into the first lap she went by and said jump on! but going harder was not the plan at only :45 into a 6hr race. I let her go in hopes that her effort now would bring her back to me later. I rolled into the timing table just a few minutes over an hour. The guy at the table told me I was in 2nd. I swapped bottles and was off.
Lap 2 I had a visitor. A guy latched onto my wheel and chatted me up. Usually I am not much for chitchat while I'm racing, but I obliged and held up my end of the conversation. I caught glimpses of Lorraine when the trails were stacked so I knew I wasn't too far back. I learned that my visitor owned a lawn service in Springfield, came in behind Lorraine at last years BTEpic, this was the first race on the bike he was on, it was a snowy winter in Southern Missouri, and on and on. But, the good thing, I stayed on pace and came in just as fast as lap 1.
Lap 3 I was back by myself and found myself missing my friend who took my mind off my growing back pain. A single speeder who was with us lap 2 was in front of me so I started to pace off him until he waved me on. After that, I was solo, so speak. I finished lap 3 in over three hours and some minutes. When I rolled into the pits I grabbed half a banana and switched from carbo rocket to water so my stomach wouldn't get upset. Though don't take in as many calories when I do this, it's a trade off so my stomach can get a break.
Lap 4 was uneventful. I kept the suspension in descend mode most of the lap because my back was rocked. It still performed surprisingly well on the climbs. I made a decisive choice to back off this lap so I could have something in the tank for laps 5 and 6. When I rolled in I downed half of a red bull. As I left for lap 5, it began to drizzle.
Lap 5 took a little longer than I wanted. The greasy rocks had me riding a tad more cautiously. Finally though at one point I was fed up with slipping around and my hands hurt so I stopped to take some air out of my front tire. Not sure it really helped. I also lost my tire lever on a descent and then about a half mile later my spare tube fell to the ground. So I stopped to pick it up, figuring it would be harder to bum a tube off someone if worse came to worse. I wasn't about to waste time folding it up all nice so I smashed it into by jersey pocket and was off. By the end of lap 5 I almost caught Larry but he put on the after burners and disappeared. I rolled into the finishing area around 5:16 and I could see him just ahead. When I got to the timing table the announcer was calling out cut off times for those who planned to go back out. He looked at me and said I had 1:14 to make it back or the lap wouldn't count.
Red Bull shot #2 and it was on. The drizzle had stopped and I was seeing red. Though I knew I could make it back, it was about catching carrots. Every person ahead of me was a race within itself. I was hoping one of those was Larry or Lorraine but that was not in the cards. On the bright side though, my extra effort did put about 3 minutes into Lorraine who finished only about 2 minutes ahead of me. We chatted afterwards and she wanted to go out hard early, which she normally doesn't do, to see if she could hold the pace. She doesn't stop in the pits either, so that plus my stops on the trail, crash and pit stops, it made sense that she was faster on the day. But I was pretty pleased overall. I made up time and was as fast on the last lap as the first so I couldn't really be bummed.
As I always say, my favorite thing about racing is being done. I could barely stand up when I finally hopped off the bike after 6 hours of pounding, rocky singletrack. Seriously, I looked like I was 90. It took a good 5 minutes of just walking before I could stand up straight. Everyone in the group finished and was smiling. It was a good day for all.
The awards presentation was comical. The rain we had all prayed for to stay away couldn't hold it any longer so the director had us all huddled under this small outdoor stage where the podiums were placed.Once all of the hardware was passed out, we hit the road. We had planned on camping the whole weekend but got a hotel in town due to the cold and rain. We each got to shower and warm up before the big chow down.
Now I don't know about you, but 6 hours of bike racing, I'm sure I burned through 5000 calories. So what does one do when they are down 5000 calories and in the land of BBQ? Stuff face, that's what. We looked up the famous BBQ joint that is a fan fave of the former President Clinton. It's a hole with standing room only in the aisles. It was our lucky day. We got a table right away and even luckier (well, it WAS St. Patty's Weekend!) we were the last people to get ribs. And not only some ribs, but like a pound each of baby back ribs, completely hidden by the mounds of fries on top. I felt like I was on Man VS Food. Which, I have to say I came in second to my plate of food, unable to eat the last rib and fries. But that only meant I'd have room for dessert! Later that night, we hit up a local place that made ice cream from scratch and then topped that off back at the hotel with a few beers we had planned to drink by the camp fire.
The ride home was misery. Long and slow, we had to make our way through every type of snow, sleet and rain as we made our way north. Add on top the pain of soar legs and back. We get to do this two more times this spring...