Friday, April 19, 2013

Riding hard and smart at Austin Rattler 100K

Pre-race posing. Lots of black for a 70-degree day.
Whether you run or ride dirt trails, there's a good chance you've heard of the trail races in Leadville, Colo. The most vaunted of the races are the 100-mile trail run and mountain bike ride. Not just anyone can compete in these ultimate endurance challenges.

The Austin Rattler 100K, set at Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville (42 miles southwest of ATX), was the first of this season's qualifying races for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. Outside of watching trail clips riders posted on YouTube, I had very little knowledge of the course. I heard it was hilly and that sections were technical; but I entered the race only knowing that I had to ride the 15.5 mile loop four times in fewer than 7 hours if I wanted to qualify for the Leadville lottery.

The Friday night before race day, TPG drove us to our weekend home base — Bastrop State Park, just about 13 miles from the race course. For those who don't know, a wildfire ravaged 96 percent of the park in 2011, burning thousands of loblolly pines. We saw acres upon acres of charred pine trees at the park. But there also were pockets of green sprouting from the ground that made us hopeful that in a couple of generations' time, the park would be returned to its stunning glory. The weather was ideal for camping — just cold enough for a sleeping bag, but not too chilly (or windy) to be uncomfortable. Best of all, no rain!
Straight outta the gate. Hook 'em!

On race day, we headed to Smithville with bikes in tow — my fat mountain bike invading the personal space of TPG's svelte tri-bike on the bike rack. With Ironman Texas just about a month away, the race location afforded her plenty of hilly, pave options for a good 3-or-so-hour training ride.

I estimated it might take me 6 hours to finish the race. I didn't like not knowing the course, but what can you do? So when the race began, it was all fresh trail to me. And it was awesome!

I hadn't entered a mountain bike race (excluding gravel grinders) since 2005, but my recent training has been predominantly on trails. So I was confident from the beginning. The first half of the trail was mostly jeep and fire roads — plenty of room for all the riders to avoid each other and avoid logjams. These were the sections where I excelled, especially up the hills. And there were plenty of hills. Many were separated only by 50 yards or so of flat or downhill relief. So it seemed like we were constantly climbing.

But we weren't. There were some fun and fast downhills. I confidently flew down these sections, many littered with fist-sized rocks and featured puddles from recent rains at their bottom.

The start/finish line was awesome. An announcer
calling your name and spectathletes yelling and
ringing cowbells can boost the spirits. The
organizers of the Leadville Race Series clearly
know what they are doing. 
Overall, the singletrack sections weren't incredibly technical. Compared to Big Cedar or even Rowlett Creek Preserve, the course didn't have quite as many switchbacks as I imagined it would. The first lap of these sections, however, were painfully slow. There were a few bottlenecks where racers struggled to climb and descend, which slowed the rest of the field. This didn't concern me too much. The slower pace the first go-round afforded me more time to get comfortable with the terrain. So comfortable, in fact, that during one of those bottlenecks I plunged into the dirt when gravity won its battle with balance. No harm, no foul. I collected myself and pedaled onward. 

The trickiest section of the course was about 5 minutes from the start/finish line. I haven't a clue the name of this section, but the three whoop de doos, two with bridge crossings, made for an exciting race. (The first and second loops, I conquered them; the third and fourth loops, they returned the favor).

The first lap, I clocked in at about 1:15, significantly faster than I anticipated. I expected at least an 1:30 for the first lap.

The second lap was mostly uneventful. My confidence was elevated since I knew the course. The humorous race volunteers at one section of the course blasted late '90s and early '00s rock and rap (I recognized Cypress Hill and Limp Bizkit) and good-spiritedly mocked/motivated riders to pick up the pace. And that's exactly what I did on the second lap. I pedaled fast through the flat sections, passed anyone in front of me on the hills and conserved energy as I sped downhill. The sun poking through the pines and beating down on racers in the open sections of the course became a factor on the second loop. I had to stop for a two-minute Camelbak refill. Even with that delay, I crossed the line in 1:15.

Such a fun time splashing in the puddles. I think in this photo I am actually saying "Yeah, yeah, yeah!!!"

The third loop was the toughest one. My quads started cramping, and I couldn't attack the climbs quite like I did the first two times. I focused on engaging my hamstrings and glutes as much as possible — leaning my core forward and grabbing the bar ends of my Ergon GP2 grips. That made a big difference. I only hopped out of the saddle and relied on my calves two or three times the entire race, practicing my strategy for enduring 24 Hours in the Canyon in June. My pace was slower — not quite sure exactly, but at least 1:20.

This angle does the whoop de doo no justice. It was steep and fast. Oh, and the most fun you can have on two wheels
in Smithville.

Entering the fourth loop, I figured finishing in under 5 hours was going to be impossible, but, barring a complete meltdown or a mechanical problem I would finish well under 7 hours. I pushed and pedaled fairly hard, but not full effort until the end of the race. I enjoyed the final loop — soaked up the scenery and the spirit of a fun race. Approaching the final segment of the race, the crowd started cheering hard. as I approached the finish line. I thought that was pretty damn cool. And then I heard cheers of "Go girl!" and the like. As soon as I realized those cheers weren't for me, a speedy female racer blazed past me. I tried to catch her in the final 400 meters, but she had more in the tank than I did. I crossed the finish in 5:11, felt the sense of accomplishment when I heard the announcer call "Robert Tracy, Dallas, Texas, and rolled to the aid station where I congratulated the woman who passed me on an impressive finish.

Livin' Dangerously Fast. Proud of my race and the kick-ass badge/bottle opener. Muchas Gracias to TPG also for making a killer post-race sandwich and being the best Sherpa a racer could ask for. 

Overall, it was a great race. I performed well, didn't injure myself, felt great on the bike and could have ridden even longer. All of that's a great thing, because I have entered the buildup in my training for 24 Hours in the Canyon. This weekend, I will return to Palo Duro Canyon State Park for the first time in over two years to get in some solid miles and hours on the race course. It's supposed to be a perfect weekend for it, too. Great weather for riding and camping.

Final note 

My finishing time qualified me for the Leadville lotto. Fifty spots were up for grabs, but I didn't hear my name called. That 100-mile race won't happen this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if 2014 is my year to compete in Colorado. At the very least, I would gladly race Austin Rattler 100K again, and I recommend it for anyone who is looking for a well-run race that offers a good challenge and fun atmosphere.

1 comment:

That Pink Girl said...

Oooh, those are some great action shots! So glad you had SO much fun all while kicking some serious ass on the course! You're on FIYAH, Mr. T!