Monday, July 14, 2014

Stewart Super Six Pack 2014 ...

SS Podium at the Stewart Super Six Pack
This weekend, I headed up to NY for the 4th Annual MTBNJ Stewart Super Six Pack. Now, I've had a "rough" time at this race the last two years to say the least. In 2012, I had to sit down after four laps when the heat became too much for me. I was cramping pretty badly and didn't want to experience a full meltdown, so I sat down and played support crew for my friends Chris and Mitch. In 2013, I was determined to ride all the way to the end and suffered the consequences of less-than-ideal fitness and crippling heat. I cramped up on my third lap but kept it going for an extra two laps. At the end of my fifth lap, I suffered severe cramping that ultimately turned out to be a bit of rhabdo. I was forced to sit down int he woods not 300 yards from the finish line and wait until I could move again. It was a terrible way to end a long hard day and one of the toughest days I've ever had on a bike. But that experience wasn't entirely bad in that it served as kind of a wake-up call to me. It made me realize that I had to make a choice. For a while, I had sort of straddled the line between riding for the pure fun of it and racing for results. Either choice would be fine, but what I couldn't do was continue to expect myself to ride with the stronger guys in my class while not putting in the time and effort it takes to make that possible. Over the last few years, I've come to rely on riding for more of my overall fitness, so it seemed reasonable to at least try to make a go of being as fit as possible on the bike. Even though I'm sure I'll never again race as regularly as I did a few years ago, I would like to put my best foot forward when I do line up. Whatever that equates to in terms of results, at least I'll know that I gave it my best effort.

With that in mind, I set a goal this year to once again race the Shenandoah Mountain 100. It's been a few years since I've done that race and I really suffered the last time I did it. With the benefit of time to forget the pain, I decided it was time to give it another go. And I've been spending a lot of time on the bike this year, and doing mostly longer rides and races on the weekends in an effort to get as fit as I can for it. So with that in mind, I headed up to Stewart hoping for a better day than I had the past two years.

Racing along
photo credit: GT Luke

About 20 of us were registered in the SS class, and we went off at a few minutes after nine. I jumped early with a group of three other riders and we took off down the dirt road. The pace felt a little too hot for me considering we were going to be out there for six hours, though, and as we turned into the first section of single track, I had to back off a bit and let the others go. As I did, I looked behind me and there was no one there - we had already left the rest of the field behind. I really thought we had gone off too hard, though, so I just settled into my pace and kept rolling.  I rode alone for the first lap, but kept a pretty good pace all the way around the  nearly 11 mile loop (the course has been slightly lengthened each of the past two years), finishing in just about 50 minutes. I felt good and decided that as long as I didn't feel like I was about to blow up, I'd try to keep up the same pace. And I pretty much did - my second lap time was about the same as the first, and on my third lap I caught up with two of the guys from our original four. One of them, Matt, I rode with down the last dirt road section. Really nice guy -- it was nice to have someone to ride with and talk to for a while. But after we reached the pit area, he had to stop to refuel and I headed back out right away after a quick bottle switch.

Holding pace
photo credit: GT Luke

At this point, since no one had passed me, I was sitting alone in second place. I had no idea how far ahead the one other SSer was and I didn't even know what I was looking for. So I just decided to leave it to fate and continued to ride my pace. I was feeling good - really good - and wasn't feeling any of the leg twinges or cramps I'd dealt with the least two years. One fact or that contributed to that the sun really wasn't shining all day. It was pretty hot after the first couple of hours - probably mid-80's - but we didn't have to deal with that brutal July sun. My pace stayed right around 12 1/2 mph on each lap - my only hiccups happened on my fifth and sixth laps. On the fifth lap, I had to stop and beg some Ibuprofen in the pits because I was starting to get a pretty nasty headache. I'm not sure if it was due to the heat or allergies, but my head was pounding as I came through the finish line at the end of lap 5. Luckily, a really nice lady supporting the team that was set up next to my pit area had some and gave me a couple. I popped them down and took off and the headache went away after about 5 more minutes. Then, later on in lap 6, coming off one of several rock drops, I lost my water bottle. I knew it was too early in the lap to make it all the way back with no bottle, so I had to stop and look for it. As I was doing so, my friend Shoogs from Long Island, who was acting as the one man heckle pit on the course, offered me his only bottle as a replacement. I was all set to take it when I caught site of my own lying in the undergrowth. It sucks to have to stop on a course, but it's nice to get a chance now and then to see just how cool the folks involved in this sport are. Shoogs is a class act and one of the nicest folks you can meet in the eastern mountain bike scene.

About half way around the course, there was a water station manned by a few of the MTBNJ volunteer folks. They do an awesome job all day, and my friend Chris was there for each of my last four laps. He was giving me updates on the guy ahead of me. He told me the guy was running about two minutes up, but was running a larger gear than I was so there was a chance he'd get tired out. After hearing this for three laps in a row, I was thinking this guy was really strong and I probably wouldn't catch him. And I had lapped a couple of SSers over the course of my last few laps, so since I didn't know what this guy looked like, I had no idea if I'd even know if I saw him that he was my rabbit.  As it turned out, I did catch him right at the very end of my sixth lap. I came around him in the very techy rock gardens and didn't know it was him I was passing. But I started to get an inkling that this was the guy I was chasing when he charged after me and half-wheeled me down the pit area. So I grabbed a quick bottle and took off for lap 7. And sure enough, he charged out of the pit area in pursuit.

He was still right behind me by about a hundred feet or so when we entered the first single track section, and I took quick stock of how I was feeling to get an idea of whether or to I even had the chance to survive a full lap of head to head. And to be honest, I was still feeling really good. So I came up with a quick plan: knowing that I had an easier gear, I decided to attack the hills. If he could outrun me on the climbs, I figured I didn't have any chance on the flats since I'd be spinning just to keep up. And so on the first climb, I jumped and took off. He has been sitting behind me by about the same 100 feet or so since the dirt road, but when I came through the climb and into the short, steeper techy climb that immediately followed it, I took a quick look back and couldn't see him. And at the point, I knew that the best thing to do was keep it that way. I figured that if he couldn't see me, he may lose the impetus of the chase. So I put my head down and took off. I was feeling good enough to charge every corner, and when I popped out at the rest stop, I think my friend Chris was even more excited than I was - he started yelling, "You're up! He hasn't come through yet! Go!" I thanked him and said I thought the guy was right on my tail. I hit the next climb and went as hard as I could to keep my distance.

The rest of the lap flew by and when I hit the long fire road section before ht final rock gardens, all I could think about was staying out of sight -- the last thing I wanted to do was have to fight it out in the rock garden. I just didn't trust my skill there to pull it out. I kept looking over my shoulder and no one was coming, so I kept the speed up and rolled into the final section optimistic that I'd pull it out. But I wouldn't let myself even smile until I had cleaned the rocks and was heading into the last turn before the drop to the finish line.

A very cool trophy homemade by the MTBNJ crew!

Ultimately, I crossed the line with 7 laps for about 76 miles in 6:07, and took the win by about four minutes. It was an awesome way to end an incredible day. Honestly, I think that was probably about the best I've ever been on a bike, not just for the way I rode but for the decisions I made along the way. I raced my own pace, but didn't let myself slow down when I was feeling a little tired. I trusted my training and stayed consistent in my nutrition and pace. If I can make the same kind of decisions and keep my fitness up for the SM100, I think I'll be happy no matter what he clock says!

Done and happy with the win!
photo credit: Jeff Martz
This race is just a crazy roller-coaster, super-fun event that's run really, really well by the folks from MTBNJ. Just a class crew putting on a killer event. Huge thanks to Norm and the rest of the crew for giving us all such a great time!


  1. great work Martin. well deserved. Great write up too... so amazing that a 76 mile race comes down to 4 minutes and the last lap...

  2. Awesome job on the win! You totally crushed it! Hopefully I'll see you at Cathedral Pines. Get in touch if you're ever up in New England.

    Matt...from Boston