Roll The Bones

Rare action photo where I am leading another rider in competition
Photo: Riverside Cycles

The last time I raced a proper mountain bike race, on an actual mountain bike, was sixteen years ago and you’re all overly familiar with that experience at this point.  I will as well spare a retelling of tales from the two mountain bike races I participated in last year while riding a cyclocross bike.  And I won’t get bogged down in the logic of why I decided to race again this year.  Let’s just get into the meat of it: first singlespeed mountain bike race ever, first time back at it since 1996, HOW DID IT GO.

I had never raced Weeping Willow before, or even ridden a bike a Willowdale before.  All I knew is that people say “it’s fun!”.  Sounds fun enough.  I like fun.  I’m in.  21 miles, singlespeed, whatever.

Except I have never been in a mountain bike race this long in my life.  So it was time to FIGURE SHIT OUT.

First, how long would it take?  I perused last years SS results, which demanded only 17 miles.  For this year’s 21 mile effort, I estimated that it would take me between 2 – 2.5hrs.  If I’m having a great day, the former.  If I shit the bed, we’ll need the two and a half.  I didn’t do any kind of mph estimates or anything like that; this was purely guessing.

So then, what the hell do I eat?  That was tough.  I knew what to drink, and I knew I needed to drink A LOT. It was going to be hot as hell, and this is where I am at my very worst.  So it was time to do some Allen Lim-inspired math.

I had to make some assumptions.  For one, that I had only 1500 calories stored as glycogen, because I’ve done almost no training.  Two, that I would burn an estimated 1,000 calories per hour hauling a singlespeed 29er around at race pace.  Thirdly, that I would be on it the entire time, tapping nothing but carbohydrate for energy, and that heart rate would never settle to a point where we were fuel-mixing with fat stores.  Fourth, because the heat destroys me, I would have to drink a hell of a lot.

Next, I start with a zero amount of fueling, and work north from there until I figure out what I need.  With no food at all, we weren’t even getting to our stretch goal, so now we add some energy input.  Bottles of 80 calorie Secret Drink Mix.  A bottle an hour wasn’t going to get us there either.  Up the fluid rate, add some gel, and we barely get there.  Any longer than two hours and we’re in the hole.  But how could I reasonably consume any more than that.  It had to be good enough.  Maybe the burn rate would come down.  Maybe there was a little more glycogen store.  Let’s find out!

So we’re off.  A good sized group of 20+.  Inside a minute I realize my gearing choice (the only one I can run on this bike without a tensioner) is not good.  This place is fast, and my 32×19 is basically a Yugo as described by Samuel L Jackson in Die Hard 3.  The field is all but gone.  My only hope is that once things get technical and vertical, I can regain some ground.

Problem is, Willowdale isn’t like that.  There aren’t long, sustained ascents where you can tap into “hill climber mode” and pull back time on people who are suffering a lower cadence.  It’s up and down, and there is plenty of momentum to be had.  And even if I was climbing more efficiently, if that was even faster to begin with, harder gears had to be pulling back so much time on the miles of fire road.  I guess we’d just have to settle in and see how it shook down in the end.

Right away, I felt awful.  So tired, right out of the gate.  Stella had been up at 3am all week long, and I was definitely feeling it.  If only this race had been about a week earlier.  I didn’t think I would feel quite this bad this early.  Hopefully I would shake off the nerves, loosen up, and things would come around.

On brand new tires I didn’t yet trust, and having never ridden here, my first lap was super conservative.  I also neutralized a lot for riders outside of my category that started behind me.  You’ve gotta do that, even if it means pulling off and stopping for a few seconds.  A 50 minute first lap, and I was thinking, alright – that’s a little off pace, but we’re in the ballpark of our estimate.

Lap two and now I’m getting the hang of it.  Things are thinned out, I don’t have anyone behind me for a pretty long time, I know the course better, and these tires are definitely working.  I felt better, I was drinking a ton, and now it’s about time for our first gel.

The thing is, my stomach doesn’t seem interested in this.  I don’t know if it was the heat, or just working really hard with no real bike fitness, or nerves, or what was up.  But I didn’t feel like good things would happen with gel swirling around in there.  And that’s no good, because with the third lap looming, I am looking to be pretty fucked by then without food.

So I figure.  I figure with all of the fire road riding, I’m nowhere near the 1,000 calorie/hr burn rate.  And I figure maybe I’ve got a little more in the glycogen tank than 1,500.  So I roll the bones.  Let’s go the whole way on Secret Drink Mix and see what happens.  Who.  Gives.  A.  Shit.  I’m just out here to build some fitness.  So I keep drinking in earnest; so much in fact that I am burping every now and then, so I know something is happening in there, and it’s not for a lack of intake.

So anyway, lap two.  Nearing the end of the lap, there’s a big guy in a gray t-shirt standing in the fire road.  I’m going pretty good as I pass him, and he’s yelling at me.  Something something fucking something goddamn something brakes fucking something.  He was bullshit, that much was clear.  I rode another hundred feet or so, up a short rise, and something wasn’t settling with me for some reason.

So I stopped, waited for a few riders on my tail to pass, turned around, and went back.  I kind of wanted to know what that was all about.  So I slowly roll up to the guy, who has a cell phone glued to his ear, and he restarts his tirade.

Can’t you fucking see you’ve got an injured rider back there and you fucking guys are flying by with no brakes.  That was the essence of his point.

I look him square in the eyes and tell him I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.

“Is there an injured rider back there?”


“Alright then (mumble mumble can’t remember)”  He seemed like he had no fucking idea what he was doing, especially raving at participants like that, and now I was slightly aggravated.


I felt the beautiful, proud irony of admonishing someone for swearing while swearing myself.  I turned the bike around and off I went.  Time to embark on lap third.

Fucking guy.  I had seen plenty of crashed out participants that day, but I hadn’t seen one for a really long time at that point. And had I seen one in tough shape not already being assisted, I wouldn’t have just flown by like a fucking jerk.

Lap three.  My back is not feeling too hot right now.  Since I’m spinning out anyway on the fire roads, I sit up and ride no handed for long stretches, which provides some relief.  I’m still on track for about 2.5 hours, and I know in another 20 minutes or so, I should be bonking.  Well, if I were following my plan I would be bonking.  I’m “off plan” of course, so who knows what’s going to happen.  I still don’t feel like eating anything.

I am starting to get slooooooooooow.  I can rail the swoopy stuff fairly confidently now, and when I have to put in a good mashy effort, I’ve got it.  But the lights get really dim while I recover.  Sometimes I feel like I’m barely moving, just meandering about.  We are now in honky bonky land.  Hello familiar friend!  I have a caffeinated gel in my pocket for this very occasion, but I figure with only another 20 minutes left of this, it’s not really worth it.  I’ll suffer along and just pull this thing in.

Around this time, someone comes up behind me, and I automatically pull over for them and let them pass.  When I realize it’s actually another singlespeeder, I can’t believe it.  IDIOT.  I was giving way to elite and pro traffic for so long, it didn’t occur to me that I was actually still ahead of riders in my own category.  I get a little charge out of this, pick it up, but as he disappears, my will to fight returns to nothing.

Then it happens again.

So dumb.

It’s sure going to suck if those two guys were the only two guys behind you.  Of course, as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened, and I ended up 16th of 21 starters @2:35; the other five probably spontaneously combusted.

I finish up, and go straight to the car.  I was happy enough with the way it turned out.  I had the balls to enter and the guts to finish.

So that was a good food lesson.  I think part of the problem was not eating enough beforehand.  It’s just not like ‘cross, where I’m up three hours before the race, eat right away, and then I’m all set.  I have a baby now, and I’m up much, much earlier, and always starving when I wake up.  And with races like this, I need to eat several times in the six hours I’m awake before they start, not just once.

As well, I need to find a way to eat during these efforts.  I hadn’t factored on not feeling like eating.  Maybe the next time, when I’m more relaxed, that will make a difference.  The drinking was fairly successful though.  I plowed through that stuff (4-ish bottles all told), and I had not so much as a spec of salt on my face afterward.  That never, ever happens.  Clearly the sodium content of SDM is on target for what I need, so this is pretty encouraging.

Also encouraging was that my estimates were good, and that I either didn’t work as hard as I thought, or I had more in the glyco tank than I thought.  I bonked after I thought I would with 200 calories less input.  It’s somewhere to start.  Cross is a no-brainer – onboard fueling is useless.  Time trials are progressive efforts and easy to calculate for.  This is a new beast for me.  If I spend this year figuring it out, maybe next season, when I actually have time to ride again, I’ll know what I’m doing.  I don’t feel like I’m that far off; just some simple missing pieces.

One thought on “Roll The Bones

  1. *%$# the calorie math

    I felt the beautiful, proud irony of admonishing someone for swearing while swearing myself. I turned the bike around and off I went.

    love it!


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