29 September 2009 - 0:18The Vermont 50
Just like I-5 in the west is “The 5″, the Vermont 50 is “The 50″. It is the big race to do in these parts. Folks train all year to do this race, and because it is at the effective end of most people’s cycling season, it is the race where everyone puts it all on the line.
50 miles seems like a long way to ride for some folks, but when you really think about it, it isn’t really that far. 50 miles. Can be done in less than an hour by car. Mandy and I did SSAZ in February, which was 50 miles on singlespeeds. Last week we rode 20+ miles of singletrack (albeit mostly downhill) in CO in the rain at altitude, and made it just fine. 50 is a lot more than 20, but I think that anyone with a reasonable fitness level can do 50. It’s actually pretty easy to do on a road bike.
So what does 50 miles in VT feel like? Well, it totally depends on the weather. When it’s dry, its pretty awesome. When it has rained heavily since 2am before the race, and continues throughout the day, it’s pretty damn awful.
We started in the dark at 6:20, and I wouldn’t cross the finish line until sometime after 3pm. The results have yet to be posted, but I imagine that all but the first 10 fast guys through the course did a lot worse than they expected. Goals were reset. I know that I had planned on a sub 7 hour finish, but threw that out the window promptly after the first muddy hill. After some mental re-calibration, I just wanted to finish.
Amazingly enough, I wore the right combination of clothing. Despite being soaked all day, I was able to function fairly normally. I felt good for the most part, although my knee wasn’t exactly happy with me. It got a lot more angry with me as the day went on, and I’m still hobbling around like someone twice my age. Several hundred mountain bikers on a muddy trail does some very horrible things to that trail. We were through the top soil on many sections.
I am a little upset that there wasn’t some sort of a rain course planned out, because let’s face it, it’s Vermont, and the weather here is slightly less than consistent. All the singletrack we rode was DESTROYED. Plain and simple. The gravel roads that connected much of the singletrack were also in really bad shape. When a maintained gravel road has 2″ deep ruts from bike tires, you know it’s bad.
I ended up having to push my bike up many of the hills, the mud was so thick that it gummed up my wheels, suspension, drivetrain, brakes etc. At one point, my bike was so heavy I couldn’t even lift it. I almost took my camera out of the 2 plastic bags that were protecting it to take a picture, but the way my day was going, I would have dropped it into the mud and never would have seen it again.
To sum up:
Fuel: I only stopped at two aid stations, one to get water, one to get Heed. I somehow managed to fuel myself quite well The cramps that were starting to nip at my calves around mile 35 were somehow squashed (Hammer Endurolites), and never were a problem again. I managed to eat my Hammer gels at the right time, I even had a new sawdust flavored Hammer bar, which tasted awesome with the dirt that was encrusted around the bite valve of my Camelbak.
Attire: I normally rock the Oakley baggies, but in this instance opted for some Endura bib-shorts. I also represented and had my B29 jersey on, but I had it covered up with my Fox wind vest, so you could only see the “29″ on the sleeves. I also had on some wool arm and knee warmers, but I would have to say the single most important part of the outfit was the B29 wool socks. They were indispensable. Even though my feet had a really hard day, I was never cold, and I had no chafing or blisters. And that is because wool is friggin’ awesome!
Conditions: Absolute shite. The worst mud I’ve ever seen. I estimate I had to walk around 20 miles of this race. I crashed several times, but fortunately the ground was so soft it didn’t hurt very much. There were a couple of spots where walking was even dangerously slick. Heavy rain all day, with bouts of even heavier rain. Once you are wet, it doesn’t really matter, but I remember thinking to myself “is it raining harder?”, and the answer was yes, it was.
Outcome: I think that the 9 or so hours it took me was a pretty good time, considering the amount of walking that went on. I lost a pair of Oakley O-Rokrs on a steep downhill section where I remember crashing 3 times in a row. I was too busy getting up and out of the way of the 20 or so out of control people that had minimal bike handling skills that were exploding all around me. I wasn’t about to get run over… I only had 2 mechanicals: chainsuck so bad that I had to remove the chain completely, which is really hard to do when your hands are just cold balls of mud. I figure I lost at least 40 minutes dealing with this annoyance, but besides that, it was actually smooth sailing.
I finished the race. The worst one I have ever done. But I finished.