Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Syllamo's Revenge 2009 Race Report

I'd heard stories about endurance races in Arkansas. Friends had returned just weeks ago from the Ouachita Challenge, a 60 or 80 mile race in the beautiful Ozark Mountains with lush forests and lots of terrain to navigate. The stories told were that of pain and suffering, bodies freaking out and will power being a must. This sounds like just my type of race! I missed my opportunity to do the Ouachita Challenge but there is always next year. I received an email from a fellow Cow Town Racing Team member that he was not going to be able to make it to a 50 mile endurance mountain bike race called Syllamo's Revenge for personal reasons. I'd heard that the Syllamo trail system was just plain awesome. This was my opportunity to do my first long, hard, ass-kicking endurance race in Arkansas. I jumped at the offer to purchase his entry and started training.
Special thanks to my awesome wife Kelly for picking up the slack, taking care of our son, cooking the boys and I some good home-made grub for the trip and for letting me go.
The race was this past weekend, and here is the report...
I hooked up with fellow Kansas City area locals Garet Steinmetz and Brett Huber for a shared ride down to the event. Our pal David Wilson had reserved a hotel room and offered us a dry place to sleep, so we took him up on the offer. Another local Gerald Hart had joined Dave for the ride down so we had five guys and bikes packed into a tiny hotel room on a stormy and humid night. After getting settled into the room we all decided to loosen up a bit from the drive and go for a 15 minute ride around the town of Mountain View, Arkansas. All was great until 100 yards from our hotel I ripped-off half a knobby from my Maxxis Cross Mark rear tire. I run my tires tubeless, so the Stan's tire sealant started squirting out the hole which was too big and would not self-seal. I thought "oh crap! I've just screwed myself for the race". Fortunately I had a plug kit which I installed, aired the tire back up and it seemed to be holding fine. I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would hold for the 50 mile race that was to start in less than 12 hours! I was also hoping I had chosen the correct gearing for this ride at 32/17 since Dave insisted that I was geared a bit tall and was basically going to get worked like a minimum wage job. After a refreshing Boulevard Stout (you just have to load up on carbs before a race!), I headed into the room to catch a crappy nights sleep on the floor.
Dave wakes up at around 5:30 a.m. and starts turning on lights and getting ready to head to the race site. The rest of us, less motivated to crawl out of our sleeping bags, slowly venture up and onto our feet to get rolling. We all head down to the event site at Blanchard Springs Recreation area and start fueling. My wonderful wife and made these awesome, chocolaty, granola power bars and steel-cut-outs for us to use as needed, and we chowed-down. Pre-race meeting was at 7:45 and we were all fed, clothed and bikes were ready. 243 racers lined up at the start. The gun went off and so did the mass of riders. Immediately we were sent up the 'infamous hill', a mile long gravel and mud fire road at an 11% grade gaining 500+/- feet of elevation. This thinned out the crowd very fast. In the first 100 yards I slid-out in mud and had to put a foot down, could not regain traction to ride and had to run my bike up the hill a few hundred yards until I could get going again. Not the best way to start a race!
As we entered the single track there was a huge train of riders. Conditions were poor, rocks were slick and riders were dismounting to clear obstacles. It was slow going for the first mile or two until we all could finally ride and start passing folks. The course was all single track, aside from the infamous start/finish hill. There had been an ice storm a month or so ago, and the damage looked like a tornado had hit. Trees were down everywhere! There were holes in the trail from where trees had once anchored their roots, but now with the tree fallen we'd have to walk around the hole, some of which were large enough to swallow a Volkswagen. Most of the actual trees that had fallen over the trail had been removed, but a few were still left to ride over, crawl over or duck under. All of these conditions combined made this year a tougher race on these trails than last year (or so I am told).
I approached the first of three aid stations/check points at about mile 14 feeling great. I had opted to not take my hydration pack and just go with two water bottles, two hammer gel flasks and two power bars along with emergency tools for repairs ( co2 air pump, 2 tubes, multi tool, patch kit, plug kit, duct tape and zip ties). Dave had recommended this to me, and it was perfect. I had no pack so my core temp stayed lower, I had much less weight and felt faster. The aid stations were equipped with sports drinks, water, bananas and oranges. I'd slam 2 cups of water, eat one banana and a few orange slices as well as refill both water bottles (one of which was filled with HEED sports drink and Electrolyte tabs) at each checkpoint. The race volunteers would mark your number plate so they knew you'd made the time cut and then I'd be off into the woods once again. I was feeling pretty good at this point but was amazed at the technical difficulty of the trail and knew that I would be tested both mentally and physically a hundred more times before the race was over. I would guess that I was at each aid station no more than 2 minutes.
Syllamo's Revenge 2009 Elevation Chart
According to my Garmin GPS, it was at about mile 26 when I started getting that "just got kicked in the nuts" feeling. I was only half way through the race and felt so tired. It seemed from here on out I would push until near failure and luckily get a second wind, just in time. I must have played my hydration and food intake card just right. I had past dozens of riders with flat tires, broken bikes and broken egos. I had passed and been passed a couple times by my bro Garet, who was having issues with his cleats rotating on his shoes, one time I had stopped to assist him for a few minutes, which was the only time other than the aid stations that I got off my bike to 'rest'. I had also passed Gerald who was having issues with his knee bothering him, and I hoped that they both would be able to finish the race. Dave had passed me on the initial starting hill, and he was long gone by now, not to be seen until the finish. I had not seen Brett other than at the starting line, so I was keeping my eyes peeled for him in the rear-view. I just kept pushing myself, eating and drinking and singing songs in my head. I was thinking about my son and wife and wanting to make them proud. I had finally made it to the second checkpoint.
Satellite image/GPS tracking of the 2009 Syllamo's Revenge Race course from my bike computer
From here I was told that it was 14 miles to the finish. I was torched but had that fever to get-r-done. The muddy and wet condition were playing havoc on everyone's equipment. By this point the sandy soil had leached into my disc brakes for long enough to sand down my pads in the rear so much that they no longer worked. I was still determined to finish this race in a competitive fashion with only a front brake, and I was fine with that, thankfully the plug in my tire was holding and the gearing that I chose ended up working out for me (a bit hard, but all good). The remaining 14 miles were less technical, flowing single track from heaven! I rocked out this section and came screaming down the 'infamous' hill to the finish. Final score...50+/- miles in 7:05:15. I placed 14th out of 35 in the Single Speed class and 53rd overall. I was psyched as my only pre-race goal was to finish, and IF I finished to be in the top 20 in my class, and top 50 % overall, which I surpassed. What a great experience!
I believe over 300 people registered for the race. Only 243 actually raced and out of those only 130 actually finished. Yes, this was a hard race, earning IMBA "Epic" status. Congrats to all of you who finished, I know your pain!

Garet, the 'lil arky dude' and me chilling at the car post race

My pals standings...
Dave Wilson placed 7th in the Single Speed class, 19th overall with a time of 6:07:44
Garet Steinmetz placed 8th in the 29 & under class, overall 61st with a time of 7:17:59
Gerald Hart placed 9th in the 29 & under class, 62nd overall with a time of 7:19:51
Brett Huber placed 28th in the 30-39 class, 95th overall with a time of 7:59:22
Way to go fellas!
After the race we sat around the parking lot, rested, stretched, had a few beers, ate some pasta provided by the race promoter, washed ourselves to some degree (some more than others), watched the awards ceremony and chilled. I also chatted with Luke Kuschmeader, one of the owners of KUAT innovations, makers of the best, lightest hitch-mounted bike racks in the galaxy. Come to find out, Luke and I had been fellow rock climbers from years past, our roots set in an old climbing gym called 'Radz' to which many of us called home. I have to say, Luke was a great guy with a great personality, if you need a rack, buy Local, buy one from him. Finally, and after much hesitation, Garet, Brett and I made the grueling 7 hour drive back to Kansas City with a breif stop for pizza at McSalty's, the BEST pizza in Springfield, MO.
I also want to toss out a big THANKS to Theron and his family for letting us stash a car at his house for the weekend w/o even making us feed him what few beers we had remaining in our cooler!

Brett post-race

Some data from my GPS: 46 miles, 8.36 mph average pace, 7.0 mph average speed, 24.8 mph max speed, 5,225 calories burned, 5,504 ft total ascent, 5,513 ft total descent.

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