Sunday, June 12, 2011

Echo Valley Race

Date: June 11th, 2011
Distance: 31.2 miles
Time: 3 hours and 3 minutes
Song of the Day: Nutshell - Alice in Chains

Race day. The first thing I should explain is that the "valley" part of the Echo Valley race is a misnomer. There isn't any racing around the valley at all. All of the racing is done up on Echo Ridge. The only thing in the valley is the start of the race. From there it is a 2.3 mile climb up the fire road. I had sacked out in my van at the top parking lot, so when I got up I had to bike down to the start. I was glad the finish was at the top though. Racing down the road would have killed me I think. Hairpin turns on gravel roads while going super fast do not make a good combination for me.

I watched the 60 mile group head off at 9:00, and waited for the 30 mile group to show up. Roger, the guy putting on the race, gave us our instructions. Once the race started, we would make our way to the top. From the upper parking lot we would do two loops around the various trails. The finish would be all the way at the top near the main aid station. In total we would be doing about 30 miles.

At 9:30 the pack of knobby tired cyclists was off, and what a blazing start it was. Right uphill! The climb wasn't as bad as I thought it would be though. The pack started to spread out pretty quickly. I even found myself passing a few people. So I thought things were going well. I was worried I was going to go too fast and end up bonking somewhere along the way. Whenever I felt like I was struggling though, I just thought it couldn't be as bad as getting to Nkuringo.

Once at the top, the race course spread out all over the ridge. Some of it was single track, some double. In most places the path swept over the shoulder of each slope. The sky was almost cloudless and you could see the valley laid out below for miles. It was a beautiful day to be riding. I don't think my thoughts about Nkuringo were far off either. The place really reminded me of my time in Southwest Uganda.

The only section that I thought was tough was the trail known as "The Shoe". It was all single track, so all the little bushes and plants were whipping me in the legs. Plus there were a few points where it got pretty technical. Also one point where it was basically too steep to ride. I am sure a few of the racers did it, but everyone I saw was pushing their bike up that section. Not that I really minded having to push. That is all part of the challenge as far as I am concerned. The thing that got me was that this portion of the trail began and ended at the same place, so the net elevation gain was zero. For some reason though it just felt like so much more uphill than downhill. It didn't help that once you climbed back up to where you started the section, you still had to go half a mile back to the upper parking lot to begin the second lap.

I did stop for a couple of minutes at the aid station. I drank up a whole ton of water and Nuun. I also ate half a Clif Bar. It was a good thing I did, but I probably should have done a bit more. About half way through the second lap I felt the energy draining out of me. I did have the rest of the Clif Bar, but trying to eat one while riding along on overgrown dirt roads is not easy. I think next time it would be better to get one of those gel packs. After a few minutes the energy did start to kick in and I was able to keep going.

I even felt really good climbing out of The Shoe and racing to the top. I even passed a few people on the way. Making those climbs is hard, but apparently I am good at it. I finished the race with a time of 3:03. I am pretty happy with that. Sure, it isn't winning any awards, but for only a week's notice I don't think it is too shabby.

After finishing I then spent the next ten minutes sampling all of the food and drink options at the aid station. I was parched and ravenous. A big thanks to the volunteers who were helping out. That stuff was a big help in making me feel normal again. Another big thanks to Roger and the guys for putting this on. I had a blast and I hope that there are many more races to come.


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