Race Report: 2013 Barn Burner

Two weeks ago, I had my first bike race win at Gnar Weasels Cometh. This also happened to be my first MTB race in over 20 years.

Fluke? Luck? I needed to find out.

Despite appearances, I have no idea what the hell I am doing. 'Murica.
The next race on the local calendar was the "Barn Burner" in at Adams Farm in Walpole, MA. The race was generating very good buzz on the twittosphere and elsewhere, much of it by way of major NECX bike racing cheerleader, Chip Baker.

The race was being put on by the Blue Hills Cycling Club who also host the venerable Blue Hills Classic road race, so I knew things would be done right. First thing they did right: mark the course well in advance of the race which allowed A LOT of pre-riding.

I did A LOT of pre-riding of this course. I rode this course on FOUR separate occasions before race day for a total of 32 miles of recon. My race was only to be about 10 miles.

I interspersed those Barn Burner course inspections with rides elsewhere and, true to form, no matter where I rode, I was finding new ways to entertain those who were riding with me.

I was just taking a little sip and suddenly...
Four days before the race Carrie and Abel were heading down to Adams Farm, this would be my fourth ride of the course. Serendipitously, as we were prepping, Matt Aumiller pulled up to do his assessment of the course. After a few minutes we made our way up the gravel road towards the single track portion of the holeshot.

Having already logged so many miles there, I let my pride get the best of me and rode a little too boldly for the conditions, still damp after some overnight showers.

A small wooden bridge, probably only slightly more than 20 feet long with a 2 foot rise at the top, that I had zipped across cleanly several times before, loomed ahead. "I'll show the others how easy it is to cross this," I confidently thought.

Things were going well until I just passed the top of the bridge, when suddenly, my bike disappeared from beneath me and I womped down on my right side and slid to the bottom of the bridge into the dirt.

No one said, #dontridethatruss
My companions, taking the more sensible route, rushed around the bridge and cautiously approached me, unsure of what carnage they might find. I got up pretty quickly and, endorphins flowing freely, proclaimed my resilience. Then, I felt a little tingle down my leg, working it's way UP my leg. And it didn't stop when it got to the cuff of my bibs.

Cautiously, I pulled the leg of my bibs up to reveal a rather angry looking scrape on my upper thigh that ran halfway onto my ass-cheek.

I looked up to be greeted with grimaces and shudders from the others. Quickly, I covered it back up and got back on my bike, hoping that if I just got my legs moving again, the sting/burn would go away. I also rode away thankful that there were no exposed nailheads on that bridge. I would have one more "incident" later on that same lap, but it was minor in comparison. By race day, my ass-cheek took on the color of an eggplant. I guess I'll have to put off that tattoo for a while...

Race day!

I thought I got up early enough to prep/load/caffeinate leisurely but when I saw Carrie tweet that Chip had already left his house (and he lives only 6 miles from Adams Farm), I panicked a little. Chipmunk scurry mode engaged, I loaded up the car and tooled down to Walpole.

Seemed like I got my act together pretty well on the drive but as soon as I got out of my car, I walked around to the back to open the trunk and discovered that my first victim of the day was not another 50+ MTB Novice racer but a little snake. There were many others around the parking lot which made me wonder if it was really a bike race I'd arrived at or not.

And the Lord said, "Whack ye all the serpents which crawl upon their bellies, and thy town shall be a beacon unto others."
Grab my number, set up bike, respectfully kick snake carcass under my car and I was ready to do a quick pre-ride. I only rode the first leg of the course which seemed to be enough to wake my legs as well as get a sense of what effect the more recent rains had on the terrain.

As I rolled to the gate that led to the course, I crossed paths with Andrew who was sporting a sadface because he reshaped his derailleur hanger during his PRE-RIDE.

Minor adjustment needed.
Bleh. Got another hanger, dude? "Yes, I have THREE. In my toolbox. AT HOME." Triple bleh.

A horde of Cat 2 and Cat 3 racers coalesced near the start, got sorted out and, field by field, were unleashed upon the course.

When they called the 50+ Cat 3's to the line, I rolled right up to the official and stopped. I looked to my left and right and saw no one. I looked back. The other 12 guys were all at least a half bike length behind me. I don't think of myself as intimidating, I have no idea why no one else rolled all the way up.

Whistle blows and I stomp on my pedals up the gravel road for 1/4 mile or so to the left turn into the single track. I am breathing very hard but I'm thinking I need to start passing the slowest of the field ahead of me. I knew I would probably encounter some of those folks very soon: a dodgy section of the course was within the first few hundred feet of the single track.

A slight descent with a 6" log across it followed 15 feet later by a small gully crossing that featured two basketball sized rocks side-by-side down in it. Just beyond, a fan of tree roots with deep, muddy spaces between their clenching fingers. I'd cleaned this nearly every time before but knew on race day, people who'd not seen it before might simply stop to walk across. I was prepared to either walk myself or barge, politely, right through if I could.

Luckily, there was only one person there, so politely barge I did and made my way up the climb that immediately followed.

Much of the first half of lap one consisted of stomping along for a while, running up to the back of a slower racer, poking along behind them for a bit, then either asking to pass or finding one of the rare spots along the single track where it was even POSSIBLE to pass.
[I'd love to get some feedback on the proper way to overtake a slower racer from the field ahead of you. I've not run into any trouble with either calling out a warning if I'm coming up on somebody FAST or making a polite request if I am on their wheel for some amount of time, but others must have already established the protocol for this.]
My mood could be described as "intent but anxious." I was trying to keep moving fast but cautious not to make any mistakes that would either cause a flat or crash me out. Any time I heard the buzz of a freehub behind me, I assumed it was someone in my field breathing down my neck and would push a little harder.

One mistake I definitely DIDN'T make was trying to cross that bridge again. Went right around it like a champ. Later I'd heard that there was a fair amount of carnage there from folks attempting to go over.

The far side of the course is called "Enough with the turns" on Strava. On the side of a slope, it's a very twisty, up-and-down but fairly flowy section that allowed me to approach and pass a number of other riders, I saw a lot of familiar faces as I went. Somewhere along here, I also noticed that my saddle was slowly working its way downward. The seat stem had already descended about 3/4 of an inch into the seat tube. Now I had to be careful not to slam my butt down hard on the saddle, worsening the problem.

Out of the turny bit and onto a half mile downhill Jeep road then right into a straight bit of woods then out onto an L-shaped very narrow single track section through a field. I risked locking out my fork for the benefit of being able to push a little harder on pedals without all that squish, remembering to flip it back the other way well in advance of reentering the woods.

The next section hurt a bit as it was a bit climby/rooty/rocky and I was beginning to feel like maybe I went out too hard. I decided that I would notch it back more than bit on the climbs but keep the pressure on for the flats/descents. I also knew a very tricky feature was ahead.

A short rock strewn uphill to a smallish log, that required you to take a 90ยบ turn immediately into a dense rock garden of about 30 feet in length. On pre-rides, I managed to suss out a navigable line from the jumble of stone. Today, it was plainly obvious which way to go, because nearly everyone who'd been there before me figured it out too and left a nice trail of mulch showing the way.

As I exited the rock garden, there were a few guys there watching on the side of the course, one of them reached out and gave me a butt-pat. All righty then!

Another short Jeep road section, a knobby rock garden and then out in the open again to do a loop through the start/finish along a wood-chipped path and finish lap one.

At this point, I had the opportunity to look back over my shoulder to see if I recognized anyone from my field riding behind me. Didn't see anyone.

Lap two was largely spent managing my remaining energy, I had no idea how far ahead I was of the others in my field and didn't want to squander the lead I had built up. Fatigue was causing me to fumble many of the obstacles I easily cleared on the first lap. I was pretty sure my new, lower, saddle position was contributing to some cramping on the climbs. Otherwise, I just tried to keep going as smoothly as possible.

When it came to passing, I wasn't nearly as anxious about getting by the people ahead of me. A couple offered to move over as soon as I approached, but I was happy to sit on their wheel a bit and recharge my batteries a little.

Out on the L-shaped field this time, I spied some poor guy shouldering his bike, who multiple flatted and had to walk the rest of the way out. Yeesh, I counted my blessings: I had smashed my tubed tires into quite a bit of stuff and was surprised I hadn't flatted.

The last time out of the log/rock garden combo (which I fumbled and had to walk this time), I popped out on the Jeep road to find Mike Wissell wrapping up his pre-ride. I was grateful for the encouraging words he offered, they gave me a little boost right there at the end when whatever spark I had left was fading quickly.

Final rock garden cleared and again out onto the wood chips for the last leg to cross the jersey-adorned finish. I dropped my bike and sat down on the ground exhausted amongst a small but quickly growing clutch of similarly afflicted racers. Yet every one of them seemed totally jazzed by what they'd just done.

Millie Milton, Michael Weiler and Chip Baker (click to embiggen)
Moments later another guy rolled up, dropped HIS bike and sat next to me.

"Uh, dude, your arm!" I said to him. He held it up and said something about crashing on the Jeep road and that it didn't hurt too much. I snapped a photo and suggested he get it looked at - if he could only SEE it, he'd take it more seriously. That was some righteous gnar right there.

Saw him later with a bandage on it (good) and a couple days after that, he told me an ER visit left him with a handful of stitches too.

You're only smiling because you haven't seen it yet.
Even though I was pretty sure nobody passed me AT ALL during the race, I felt that it was best to remain somewhat humble and say that I THOUGHT I'd won until the results were posted. The Harpoon Beer Garden seemed to be the best place to both wait and observe the Cat 1's as they made their way past.

(Here's one suggestion to BHCC for next year: see if the Adams Farm folks will let you trim the foliage on the other side of the fence that separated the beer garden from the racecourse so that folks in the beer garden could more easily see - the race was largely obscured except for a few places).

"You beat a Rock! Wow!!!" - actual quote.
Woah, that's quite a gap to 2nd place! I collected my medal and Pedro's merch (just in time: I'd just run out of Green Fizz) and awaited the inevitable: two decisive wins in two races meant that I was now a provisional sandbagger. And so it began, I may have sparked the fire myself...
Needless to say, an upgrade to Cat 2/Sport is in the works. Up next... Hodges Dam?


Colin R said...

My go-to phrase for riders from other categories in singletrack is "passing when you get a chance." I am generally lapping people when I say this so it might be more effective, but I can honestly say in my entire career I don't think I've EVER had someone who didn't move within 15 seconds.

It could be totally different in cat 2 though.

Cathy said...

What Colin said. In my experience, I am usually getting lapped by the men in my race. Letting me know you are there (which I can usually hear anyway), and letting ME choose where you will pass, works wonders. Yelling "racer back" will get you nothing from me :)

Nice work on the win! BTW - I was with Mike W in that rock garden - you made nice work of it.

Unknown said...

Cathy: I definitely recall you issuing a hearty cheer as I came out of the woods onto the wood-chip path towards the start/finish. Thanks!

20PoundSkull said...

Nice work and write up, Russ. Good job with the win. Now welcome to doubling the length of your race!