I was back on the dirt this past weekend at the Woolly MTB Race in St. Croix Falls, WI where I raced the Marathon 4 hour lap race. This was the season opener race for the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series. I did 2 of these 4 hr races 3 years ago when I was getting back on the bike and things went much better this time around. I think I barely survived the Woolly Marathon race 3 years ago and this year I managed to stay on the lead lap, finishing 10th and less than 21 minutes back from the winner after 4 and half hours of racing. Anyways, here is the report…
Woolly MTB Race Course Layout
The course included all of the Woolly MTB trails except for Riegel Park singletrack, which is where the rock garden is at. Most of the race categories skipped the section of trail, known as West Ridge on the first lap to make sure the field was spread out before sending everybody into the singletrack.
My original elevation profile showed 4,200 feet of climbing throughout the race, but after hitting the elevation correction option in Training Peaks it now shows about 2,700 ft of climbing over the 7 laps that I completed with a single lap elevation gain of around 630 feet. Strava still shows around 4,200 feet after hitting the elevation correction there, so who knows which one is correct.
It didn’t feel like we neccesarily left the shoot that fast, but things seemed to continue ramping up as we made our way around the soccer field and crossed the start/finish line. As I mentioned above, we skipped West Ridge (more technical) on the first lap. 1 guy immediately took off the front in a break. I do not believe he is the one that actually won the race though.
There is a road crossing when you hit the paved bike path and on the other side of the road crossing there happens to be a narrow driveway that parallels the bike path. All of a sudden we realized we were on the driveway instead of the bike path, but luckily found an opening in the brush seperating the 2 and was able to hop over to the bike path. From what I could tell, it was everybody in front of me and more following.
By this time, we were on the hammer hard and it certainly didn’t feel like we were setting off on 4 hours of racing… We stayed on the gas all the way around the field, up the ski trail and right into Wissahickin. I heard a couple guys in front of me commenting on this being a bit of a high pace for 4 hours of racing left. I wasn’t redlined, but my heart rate was up in my threshold zone and dancing with going over on occasion.
I knew I couldn’t hold this pace for 4 hours, but I was feeling fairly good was interested to see how this would play out. I was sitting about 8 back with a couple guys behind me and could see that we were putting a little gap on the rest of the field through the switchbacks of Wissahickon. I figured I’d stay with the pace for awhile and see what happened.
You would have thought we were sprinting for the finish line when we popped out of Wissahickon and hit the Gandy Dancer. I gave myself a little space in front of me when we hit Erratic Rock, knowing that it was uphill for awhile and we might stack up anyways. I know that trail entrance well now and if you have open trail, momentum will take you up the first short section to the first left hand turn where the climbing continues.
The pace seemed to dial back a little bit by the time we were coming back down out of Erratic Rock and was more long term manageable. Still a little more than I was going to be able to stick with for the next 4 hours, but much more comfortable. We flew through Big Oak and were on our way around the soccer fields to finish the first lap. I dropped off the back of the front 10 a little bit as we rounded the soccer field and figured I’d give myself some space as we hit West Ridge, which is the more technical section of the Woolly Bike Club Trails.
I actually set PRs on just about every section of trail during this first lap. I was either getting a lot faster or there would be some suffering later…
I felt good hitting West Ridge and was glad I gave myself a little space as we did stack up a little bit in a couple of the switchbacks where I ended up back on the wheel of the guys in front of me. I felt the leg burn on the hills leaving West Ridge and let the guys roll out in front of me a bit on our way to the next trail section, but kept them in sight. I could see the guys out in front of me a short distance for most of the second lap and could see a few in the gap behind me as well. It was time to settle into my own pace as I had another 3 and a half hours in front of me.
Somewhere in lap 3, I felt some tightness in my legs as if some cramps might start up. I was feeling the effects of the harder start and dialed back some more. I think I was also carrying some dehydration with me into the race. I think it was lap 3 as well that I saw Jason from the Woolly Bike Club working his way up behind me through the switchbacks. I think my lap time dropped off by nearly 2 minutes on lap 3.
Leg cramps hit real heavy at the start of lap 4 through some of the switchbacks in West Ridge. My legs basically locked right up on me as I crested one of the really short hills. I think this is where Jason starting catching me and was close enough that we exchange a little short conversation. I remember coasting through one of the sections with my pedals parallel and legs locked right up. I wasn’t quite sure what to do and was afraid to try and pedal. They relaxed just in time to hit the hill and I was able to crank up, but they started locking up again near the top. They were extremely painful leg cramps.
I think I ended up riding most of lap 4 on and off with Jason. This was good, as he is a machine in the singletrack and kept me pusing hard. I was able to maintain my pace through most of the lap, aside from some of the moments of cramping up. I ended up dropping another minute off my pace.
My pace dropped off significantly on lap 5 as the leg cramps were extreme through most of the lap. I just remember cranking my pedals through the painful cramps in both legs and it almost felt like I was just tearing my muscles apart with every pedal stroke. It was not comfortable to say the least. I decided to guzzle down most of the CarboRocket that I had left in my hydration pack and downing as much extra water with it as I could. I stopped and filled up my water bottle at one of the aid stations as well.
I think lap 5 is where Jason ended up out in front of me coming out of Wissahickon and then I eventually lost sight of him. I knew I was within the time frame to be able to get a 7th lap in, but my leg cramps were the worst I’ve ever had and figured if I didn’t dial back some more and get the fluids digested, that I wouldn’t be able to finish the 7th lap anyways. My lap time dropped nearly 3 minutes off from my previous lap.
This was my slowest lap of the race. I new at this point that I was easily going to make the 4 hour cutoff to start another lap and I wanted to have a strong finishing lap 7. About mid way through, I had a sense that the cramps were lightening up a little bit. Maybe I was starting to rehydrate or something. I had now finished off 2 liters of CarboRocket, 2 large water bottles and the random water cup handups throughout the race.
I hit west ridge knowing this was going to be my last lap and wanted to leave everything I had left out on the trail. I was kind of stacked up with some of the comp class racers, but was pacing through most of west ridge at about the same click. I heard a couple of them coming up behind me when we hit the bottom of the first hill and I didn’t want to get in the way, so I hammered down to not get in the way. That’s when the leg cramps hit hard again…
About halfway up the second big hill in West Ridge I ended up letting a couple of them by as I was struggling to pedal through the cramps and they had more legs than me at this point. There were still quite a few of them back there, but not gaining any ground on me, so I stayed on the grind and made my way out of West Ridge.
I felt fairly good through most of the rest of this lap with only a few more minor cramps and after 7 laps was still able to hang with most of the comp class guys that were around me through all of Wissahickon, Erratic Rock and Big Oak. I put the hammer down when I dropped out of Big Oak and put a pretty hard effort in for the finish. I actually had enough left in the tank to stand on the pedals for a hard sprint across the line. There really was no need as I wasn’t heading across the line with anybody, but it was a bit of a mental win to stand on it for the finish after 4 and half hours.
I ended up finishing on the lead lap in 10th place and just under 21 minutes behind the winner.
Woolly MTB Race Summary
I honestly was going for and expecting to finish a little better than 10th, so I was a little disappointed. However, I feel like I had a really great race aside from the bad leg cramps. I was able to go out pretty hard and hold my own with the lead break for quite awhile and then still race for another 3+ hours. I was also able to have a strong finish after a couple hours of suffering through the leg cramping.
Who knows what triggered the bad leg cramping, but I’m actually still feeling dehydrated 3 days later as I type up this report. I’ve been guzzling water down like a fish since the race. I play around with my diet a lot and in the last week had started going with a lot more whole grain and complex carb type of foods, which could have something to do with it also. I could assume that my body may not have been absorbing the fluids as much, with my fluid intake getting absorbed up by the grains and carbs and being used up to digest them. I plan to take some nutrition and diet classes/training this fall to learn more.
I don’t think it is because of going out too hard. My peak heart rate never got near my max and I peaked out at 176 bpm. My Threshold is right around 170 bpm and my average heart rate the first hour of the race was around 165 bpm.
As far as my riding goes… I have no doubt that my singletrack skills are going to improve greatly after doing a handful of these lap races throughout the summer. I was feeling pretty comfy in the singletrack by the end of the race and learning better lines through the switchbacks and flowing better. A lot of my loss of lap time was coming from my legs locking up and literally having to go in coast mode until they would relax again.
When I did this race 3 years ago, I finished 28th out of 39 and 2 full laps behind the winner, so I should be real happy with my improvements in the last 3 years. Also, when I did this race 3 years ago, I was doing a lot of walking in West Ridge the entire second half of the race. This year, I never had to walk anything and the only time my foot touched down the entire race was when I stopped to fill my water bottle at the aid stations.
Anyways, I plan to get 5 or 6 of these Minnesota Mountain Bike Series Marathon 4 hr lap races in throught the season. I decided to 2 these for a few reasons… I thought it would be great training for the Marji Gesick 100 and I also figured it would help me improve my singletrack skills. I also think they are a good middle ground of endurance racing that you get to improve XC skills, build endurance, but not have to take weeks to recover from one race like you would in a rugged 100 miler. I really enjoy racing and wanted to race more often instead of spending half my time recovering. I was able to do this race on Sunday and be mostly recovered in a few days.
Anyways, I’m doing an Adventure Triathlong this coming weekend and then the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series Race #2 at Detroit Mountain the weekend after that. I’ll have plenty of race reports in the coming months!