My First Borah Epic – MTB Race Report
I had actually heard very little about the Borah Epic mountain bike race in the past, but it looked like a great race once I started looking into it. I’m suprised I don’t see more about it floating around the social media and internet.
I had a good race overall aside from a minor crash off a wet bridge early on and then some nasty cramps that hit me about 25 miles in that knocked me off pace for a couple miles. I believe I did more passing and attacking in the second half of this race than I probably ever have. There was a 40 person preferred start field that I was not part of and I’m always happy to finish inside the preferred start field placement when I’m not part of it.
Video, Strava file and all other reference links are at the bottom of the report.
Borah Epic Course Description
The Borah Epic started in downtown Cable, Wisconsin and finished in Hayward, Wisconsin near the Hatchery Creek Trailhead. The course was just about all singletrack, aside from a little over a mile rollout, the powerline climb, a short section of gravel road and a few very short sections of birkie trail. The singletrack was also singletrack that made you work for speed and was a little rough riding in some sections.
I do like point to point races or single loop races and this one was laid out well. Passing wasn’t really a problem for most of the race either, expecially after the initial few miles of singletrack and folks started spreading out or finding their pace. There were also 4 aid stations along the way.
Training Peaks is showing me 2559 ft of elevation gain over the length of the course. That’s not extremely climby, but it sure isn’t flat. The race started with a climb up the powerline hill that helped spread out the field before hitting the trails. There were some hills or climbs on the few times we dumped out on the birkie trail and I remember a switchback climb in the singltrack around the 15 mile mark. The rest of the elevation was your typical ups and downs through a traditional hilly area of singletrack.
The Borah Epic Start to Aid 1
I was set up about 6 rows back in the gen pop starting gate, behind the 40 person preferred start gate. I had done a short warm up by riding down to the powerline climb and up the first hill of the powerlines. My plan was to go out fairly hard and hopefully get out in front of as much trail congestion as I could without blowing myself up. I don’t think I was the only one with that thought in mind though.
The rollout was not a light rollout as the lead out vehicle gave the lead folks plenty of room to stretch their legs. My average pace from the start line to the bottom of the powerline climb was 23.4 mph. I made some moves on the last uphill pavement section before hitting the powerlines and stayed on the gas all the way up. I did a good job of balancing a hard effort, without completely redlining. I did some passing on the climb, but also had some folks passing me as well. Overall, I think I probably made up a few positions on the climb.
We hit the trails at a good pace, but were still mostly wheel to wheel even though the climb definitely spread things out vs having a complete pile up at the trail entrance. The pace was fast and we were beginning to stretch out a little until we started hitting a couple of the short punchy hills and mini rock gardens or rougher trail patches and we’d get stacked up again. I could see a gap starting to form about 5 to 7 riders up that was growing after each of these little punchy hills.
At some point, the guy behind me was asking to pass. I was thinking, me too! Anyways, I drifted right to let him by shortly after anyways. I could tell he was getting antsy, but would soon figure out that I wasn’t the hold up. Anyways, he didn’t come around right away and we ended up side by side and approaching a rocky section when we of course got stacked up again and I almost ran into the guy in front of me as he was unclipping. Anyways, the other guy ended up getting around me as we got stacked up again and there was now a clear gap off the front of our line of riders with the group ahead quickly disappearing.
It was a hill or 2 later, when we started stacking up again and I heard somebody near the front yelling “STEP OFF, STEP OFF….” The guy pulled off and we were able to stay moving. I assume he may have been the hold up in the previous sections as I can’t remember another stack up after that. I think I ended up making a few passes shortly later and then had clear trail in front of me and put a small gap on the folks behind me. I think I might have let somebody by during this time as well, that disappeared quickly out front.
I came up fast on 2 short, but wet bridges. I cleared the first one and then slid my front end out on the second. I went down on my left side and quickly pulled my bike off as another rider was coming through. I jumped back on the bike to try and chase his wheel to find my left brake lever bent down and a little hard to reach.
I didn’t really want to bend it back as I was afraid to break it off, but I did it anyways and was able to straighten it out while riding. I would feel an occasional snap or click when I pulled it and later found that I had broken off a little nub that stops it from flipping way out away from the bar, which is not really a big deal as it’s spring loaded anyways. I had broke this same nub off my right lever on the first ride with these brakes over a year ago. I think the snap or click was that piece hanging off or stuck somewhere, because it eventually went away.
At some point we dumped out on some fast gravel that was scattered with mud holes. A couple riders popped out of the trail not far behind me and put in a hard effort, leaving me behind on the gravel. There were more coming behind me, but they never quite latched on. I dodged as much of the mud as I could, even if it meant getting on the brakes and picking my way around it. It was early in the race and I didn’t want to carry the mud for another 20 to 25 miles.
I don’t really remember aid station 1, other than grabbing a cup of something as I passed through quickly. For those interested in the aid station setup, I was told they had gels and other stuff at the aid stations. I tend to plan my race without relying on the aid stations if I can, especially in a shorter fast paced race like this one where you need to ride right through to hold your position and stay on pace.
Aid 1 to Aid 2
I don’t remember as many details about this section of the race… I wasn’t on my own, but I always felt like I had some comfortable space around me to ride my ride. The pace was fast for sure, but I could ride a little more consistant now with a little breathing room and my average heart rate dropped a little for this section.
I think there was some flowy switchbacks in this section, for which I’m not really great at carrying speed through, but I managed to hold my ground in them. There was a switchback climb around mile 15 where I was able to stretch out the distance to the folks behind me and close the gap a little to the rider out in front of me.
I was also feeling the heat or humidity a little bit and started finishing my water bottle in hopes of finding my wife and kids hanging out at the OO crossing with a fresh hand up. I eventually popped out of the woods at OO and waved my bottle in the air. I tossed it aside and grap a new one from my wife as I rode by. That was actually the first time we’ve ever done a moving water bottle hand up. I’ve always stopped in the past as most times I needed a hand up, was in a really long race or all I needed was my hydration pack and a single bottle to get to the finish. Anyways, she made it look like we’ve done it 100 times!
Aid 2 to Aid 3
It was in this section that I really got into my groove in the singletrack. I pulled away from some folks that were on my tail and kept on the gas. I made a few passes as I caught a few riders here and there. I had one rider that had jumped on my wheel and followed me through a couple of the passes. I asked if he need by me and he said no.
We stayed on the gas hard and bridged up to a larger group of riders. When I came up behind them, I really wanted to pass, but it was a fairly large line and I figured I might burn up more matches than it was worth trying to get by each of them and took the opportunity to settle in and recover a little. This is when I started feeling the leg cramps….
They weren’t bad yet, but I could feel them coming on. Part of me thinks this starts to happen when I let off and relax a little and maybe I could have held them off if I were able to stay on the gas, or it might have just been the heat and a little dehydration starting to settle in. Who knows… I felt like I went into the start of the race feeling a little dehydrated, so maybe it was starting to stack up on me. We eventually dumped out onto a section of the Birkie that had a downhill and short uphill where I made a hard effort and I think I passed all but 1 or 2 of the riders in that line before hitting the next section of singletrack.
I don’t really remember coming through aid station 3, other than grabbing a cup of fluids as I rode through. This happend pretty much at all the aid stations, except for OO when I grabbed a fresh water bottle from my wife.
Aid 3 to Aid 4
I hit the next section of singletrack fast and tried to chase the other rider that was still out front that I couldn’t catch on the short Birkie section. I think it was a couple miles into this section that the leg cramps finally hit hard and locked me right up. I had to coast through a couple of the bad ones where I couldn’t even turn over the pedal and ended up getting passed by a couple of folks. The cramps eventually brought me to a short standstill, where I leaned over and stretched real quick as another rider when by. I got the cramps to let up and got back on the gas to go on the chase.
Aid 4 to The Borah Epic Finish Line
I heard somebody yell “Steve, good job man!” as I passed through the aid station area at Mosquito Brook and recognized the voice of Ben Welnak from Mountain Bike Radio. It’s always nice to hear a shout out on the trail. I was still feeling the cramps in the background, but was able to stay on the gas hard through the last miles. I was ready for the finish at this point as I had completely drained my hydration pack of CarboRocket and my water bottle was empty again. I was able to catch a couple folks in this last section of trail and make up a couple more places.
I finally dumped out on the birkie trail and knew I was close to the finish and saw the sign that said 1000m. It was uphill and I could see somebody out in front of me, but nobody behind me as I worked up the Birkie toward the Borah Epic finish line. I knew I wasn’t going to catch the guy in front of me and still couldn’t see anyone chasing, but I stayed on the gas anyways. I stood on it and hammered all the way up the last hill and across the finish line. It felt good to do that, even though I was sprinting against myself. It’s a bit of a mental win to be able to power up a final climb to the finish line after 3 hours of hard racing.
I ended up finishing 39th overall out of 341 finishers in the Full Borah Epic race with a time of 3 hr, 6 min and 41 sec.
Borah Epic Final Thoughts
Despite the minor crash and the leg cramps hitting again, I feel like I had a really good race. As I mentioned there was a 40 person preferred starting gate that I was not part of and I was probably another 30 plus riders back from there, leaving the gates 70 plus racers back. I think the short warm up before the start of the race helped me prepare for the first climb. I was able to go out hard without completely redlining myself and then stay on the gas for quite awhile. I was also happy about having the power to hammer up the final climb to the finish as well for a big mental win.
This was a good race and I would do it again. I don’t know what my plans will be for next year yet, but there really is only a couple other options that highly interest me during this weekend and none of the are very local, so there is a fair chance that I’ll be back again. After doing this race, I am convinced that I probably need to spend some more time riding up in CAMBA land if I can work it into my schedule. The trails were great! They made your work, they were rugged enough to wear on you and you couldn’t really relax ever. I’d highly recommend a hydration pack for this race as there really isn’t too many spots that make it easy to drink from a water bottle.
I’m doing a 10k trail run this weekend and then my next mountain bike race is the Lutsen 99er. See you out there and hit me up if you have any questions about the Borah Epic that you think I might be able to help with.
A funny side note for you that have read all the way through… The finish line was in a field that had been mowed down. After crossing the finish, I sat down to give my legs a rest. Later I heard warnings of there being poison ivy around, but I was back on my feet at that point. Apparantly I must have sat right in some poison ivy and it was thick enough or oily enough to go right through my cycling bib shorts… That chamois saved me in more than one way on that day as it must have been the barrier to stop it from reaching some real uncomfortable areas… Regardless, the next couple weeks are going to be a little uncomfortable as a patch of my rear end feels like it’s on fire…
Anyways, enjoy the start of summer and watch out for that poison ivy!
CAMBA (Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association)
Pictures from Mountain Bike Radio
Follow Endurance Path on Facebook
Follow Endurance Path on Instagram
Personal Training & Coaching Plans
I’m doing the Borah Epic for the first time this year. Any advice on how to carry enough gel or food to stay energized? Do you use some kind of frame bag to carry food in?
It’s a very active and busy course… I’ve been trying to move away from hydration packs, but I would probably do a hydration pack again at Borah Epic if I were to do it again. I don’t know where you stand as far as a finishing time, but even if your frame fits 2 bottles, it’s likely not enough and then you would have to plan a hand up somewhere. I just think with how active the course is, that a hydration pack makes sense for this one. Then you have 2 options from there… You could go liquid fuel in the hydration pack such as CarboRocket, Infinite Nutrition, Endurelite, etc… I’ve also had good luck with Gu Roctane Gels, but again with it being mostly singltrack and busy, the liquid fuel just might be the option. You could do liquid fuel in your pack, but keep a plane bottle of water or 2 on your bike incase it’s hot. If it’s hot, you’ll need more water. That’s the bad thing about liquid fuel mixes… Once mixed, it’s hard to change the concentration if it’s hot and you need more water. I’ve been using the Bontrager Pro Speedbox top tube bag to put some extra gels in, which has worked out. Gu has a flask that you can fit 5 gels in and then a little water to lower the viscosity. That fits in that top tube bag and then you don’t have to open individual gels on the trail. I don’t think you need a 3L pack, but a 2L hydration pack with a bottle on the frame should work. Thanks for reaching out and let me know if you have any other question! -Steve
I’ll be riding a Trek Top Fuel 9.8 so will only have room for one water bottle cage. I have a hydration backpack but honestly don’t know how many liters it holds. I’ll look into possibly mounting water bottles to the seat post but not sure about that. Thx for the top tube bag advice and your willingness to help!
Top Fuel is a perfect bike for Borah Epic. 2L is pretty standard… About 70oz – 3ish water bottles. I wouldn’t mount a bottle to the seat. I’ve yet to see a successful bottle mount to the seat for offroad. I was riding a Felt Edict NINE when I did it, so only had 1 bottle cage as well, although I just looked back at my report and see that I did get a handup from my wife and still ran out of hydration pack and 2nd bottle by end of race. If I remember correctly, it was a hot one that day and muggy also. Anyway, a 3L / 100oz pack could be an option too, but that’s a lot of weight on the back. I have a Camelbak Lobo that is a 3L / 100oz hydration pack. I haven’t used it in awhile as that extra liter just adds a lot of weight. I remember this now also, that I felt like I was pretty dehydrated going into the race as well, so I might have been sucking down the fluids faster than normal. Last year I did Ore 2 Shore in 3 hours flat on 3 water bottles exactly. I was drained at finish, but timed it really good for comparison.
Thanks again for sharing, I’d better get miles put on my legs!