Sunday, July 6, 2008

Firecracker 50 on the Single Speed - OUCH!

OK, that one hurt. I knew the Firecracker 50 would be tough on the Single Speed, but I seriously underestimated how tough. That race kicked my butt and I'm happy to just have finished.

The Firecracker 50 is a fantastic 50 mile mountain bike race held in Breckenridge, Colorado (i.e., at high altitude for added difficulty). The race takes riders through two 25 mile loops that each gain a purported 5,400 feet (more than 10,000 feet over 50 miles). To those who do not bike, that's a lot.

I had done this race 2 years ago on my geared, full suspension bike and I found it to be challenging but fun. Last year we missed it because we were in Europe. This year, both Jesper and I were excited to race it, both on the Single Speeds. That means we would be on bikes with only one gear, a gear which is often too tall for the climbs, forcing us to walk, and too slack for the flats, causing us to spin out. The Single Speeds also do not have rear suspension and Jesper, nut that he is, doesn't have a suspension fork. Thus, the ride is harsh, which takes it's toll on your body after many miles, especially on this course, which has lot's of rocky downhills to jar the fillings out of you.

The length of the race is also an issue for me. It's too short to play well to my strengths. I am an endurance gurl and I really start to shine after about 6 or 7 hours. Before that, lots of folks can beat me. After that, I don't really slow down much and the competition starts to drop like flies. Of course, that wasn't going to happen at the Firecracker 50, and I knew it. The fast gurlz would be fast the entire race and I would probably struggle to stay on their wheels. Since the race was also the USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships, many of the racers, including those in my SS Class, were professionals. After racing for years in Ohio and beating the few women there handily, I am happy to race against super fast women who show me what the fairer sex can really do (i.e., I don't mind getting my butt kicked by these gurlz!).

The race starts at a civilized 11:00 am, so Jesper and I were able to get some good sleep at home and drive up to Breck the morning of the race. To create a super festive atmosphere, the racers begin the course as part of the Breckenridge Fourth of July Parade. Escorted down Main Street by a flag bearer, it's impossible not to smile as little kids high-five as many racers as they can. Once through Main Street, the racers veer off to Boreas Pass Road and the suffering begins.

It was a beautiful sunny day and we were hopeful that afternoon thunderstorms would hold off for the race. Once into the race, I suspect many people were wishing it would rain - it was so sunny with very little wind, people were getting baked under the high altitude sun.

There were 7 Single Speed Women including me. With all that competition around me, I went out hard, sticking with a group of three other SS Gurlz. My heart rate quickly jumped into Zone 5. Other than the downhill after the 1st Flume Trail (Pinball Alley, I think it's called), my heart rate stuck to about 180 for the first 12 miles, peaking at 192. That's way too high a heart rate to maintain for 50 miles! Once the downhills after the Iowa Mill began, I dialed it down and my heart rate dropped into Zone 4 (160's to 150's) and even dipped into Zone 3 (140's) for a bit. Much more sustainable! Unfortunately, I saw the other SS Gurlz keep going and I was soon in last place in my class. I silently hoped they would blow up.

The first lap kinda sucked since all the racers were bunched up (there were over 500 finishers in the races and many more that started but didn't finish). That created a big problem for me, and the other Single Speeders, on the uphills. On a Single Speed bike, you need to go fast enough to stay ahead of your gear, otherwise it gets too hard to pedal and you end up walking. On a geared bike, you can down shift, sit back and take it easy on the climbs. With all the riders bunched up and the geared bikes going too slow for a Single Speed pace, I had to get off and walk most of the big climbs: the steep rocky one up to the Iowa Mill where the guys with the cowbells sit and cheer (11% average grade); the long loose climb up French Gulch (16% average grade) and the little grunt after the meadow before Sally Barber Road. This was frustrating because I actually had the energy to ride a lot more of this but I couldn't due to the pace of the geared riders. I made up for the walking by rocking up Sally Barber Road, which is a gradual uphill (10% average grade) with plenty of room to pass slow geared riders in their granny! Ha! Take that granny!

I also finally passed a Single Speed Gurl!! She was a really good climber but was simply awful at the downhills. We had been leap frogging all that first lap and I finally dispensed with her on a long jeep road downhill. She would be the only SS Gurl I would pass, although I almost overtook another at the end. I rolled into the start/finish with a lap time of 3:04 for my first lap, a very respectable time. However, I was cooked and I knew my second lap would not be nearly so fast. I decided to enjoy the rest of the race, as much as I could recognizing that just continuing would mean suffering.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed this lap much more than the first lap, I think because the crowd had dispersed. I was able to ride my pace without other riders getting in my way, even though that pace was slower than the first lap. My average speed dropped by a whole mile per hour! My heart rate stayed mostly in Zones 3 and 4. This time around, I walked the same big climbs, now due to fatigue and not other riders in the way. On the way up Illinois Gulch Road, I even partook of the Wild Turkey Challenge, riding over some log "stunts" and downing a small shot of whiskey. I already felt like crap, so I figured the booze couldn't hurt! It gave me a psychological boost that lasted for a few miles.

I stopped at each aid station on the 2nd lap and made sure to eat something and drink some water. I had been drinking Accelerade in my bladder throughout the race and in the end, I ate 11 Clif Bloks, 1 gel packet, one small Clif Bar and about 80 ounces of Accelerade. I think I was getting enough fuel, but I still felt crappy. Actually, I felt like crapping, not a good sensation when you are trying to race (sorry if this is more information than you wanted to have!). I certainly was hydrated enough because I did end up stopping once to take a leak just before the end of the first lap. Note to self - do not double knot your board-style shorts! It took me forever to untie my pants with my full-fingered gloves on, long enough that had I worn something less fussy, I might have beat the gurl in front of me.

This race starts out super fun and it also ends super fun. After the climb back up Sally Barber Road, the trail hits some downhill jeep road and then tucks into the woods for some fairly technical and fun single track. I looked at my GPS and realized that I could make it under 6:30 IF I hauled ass! So I did. The single track portion is my kind of trail; I am good at technical. Several super nice guys somewhat struggling on this trail heard me coming (probably sounding like a freight train) and kindly pulled over to let me pass. Thanks guys! I cranked it hard to come over the finish line at 6:28:32. Close, but I made it under 6:30! I was less than 3 minutes behind the SS Gurl in front of me (darn that nature break with the wardrobe malfunction!). For reference, two years ago on my geared bike I finished in 6:16 and felt I could have gone out harder.

This race really worked me over. I think I might have gone out too hard. I also think this race is not remotely Single Speed-friendly. Compared to the geared bike race two years ago, I found the race on the Single Speed considerably harder. It was hard from the very start to the end (well, except for the last couple miles of single track where I was jacked up with adrenaline!). When compared to the Laramie Enduro, a 72 mile race I've done on the geared and the Single Speed bikes, the Firecracker 50 is much harder on the Single Speed. The Laramie gets really hard for the last ten miles, but otherwise is really fun on the Single Speed. The Firecracker 50 was never really "fun" on the Single Speed. It took me until Sunday to feel good again.

Nevertheless, I am glad I raced it on my Single Speed and I'm proud to have finished in a decent time. I felt awful the whole race and think many people feeling like I did would have quit. I saw a lot of racers quitting the race, especially a lot of Single Speed Men. All of the Single Speed Gurlz finished the race - we are a tough lot!

Speaking of tough people, Jesper also finished on his rigid SS with a fine time of 5:46:57.

Who knows, maybe amnesia will set in and I'll race it again next year on the Single Speed.

1 comment:

brg said...

way to hang tough jen! after riding rigid SS (1 lap) last year and riding gears this year - that course is just WAY more fun(and less frustrating) being able to big-ring all those jeep roads.

you are tougher than me - I'm gonna have to get a lot faster before try the whole 50 on a SS. :)