Overheating race report

After a cold, wet, muddy, rainy summer so far, the last week or so of sun and very warm temperatures was a shock to the system. Heading to the Raid Extrème Bras du Nord, we knew it would be a hard race. I only decided to enter the race wednesday and my preparation for it was less than ideal with no trainings in the week and more before, a serious lack of sleep and way too many hours spent doing overtime at work. Given all that, I tried to rest and sleep as much as I could on saturday to limit the damages.

Still tired but noticably better, I headed to Trois-Rivières to meet my racing partner and fellow team VVM rider Nic who made arrangement with a friend who graciously offered his place where we would eat, go for a swim and try to sleep well before the sunday morning race start, thanks a lot Christian. Everything went according to plan except the sleep. Let's say that when our host's few month old son decided he wasn't happy during the night, he really made sure we knew. I managed about an hour of sleep, not so good before a long race.

Race day, we woke up, ate, drank our coffee, packed our stuff and hit the road for the hour drive to the venue. It was sunny and hot even very early in the morning. We got our plates, drank, went for a little warm up spin and before we knew it, we were on the start grid along with a few hundreds of other racers. After a controlled start, we were stopped, numbers checked and let the masochist who were racing the 93km have a head start. After a few minutes, off we were (except the poor guy just in front of me who's rear tire exploded 10 seconds after we started).

As in the Raid Vélo Mag, me and Nic wanted to move forward before heading into the trails where it often bottlenecks in the begining of such crowded races. Once we got into the trails, I tried to slip my way toward the front and use the climbs to my advantage, we were blocked often at first but the field was getting spread out as soon as climbs and looser trail surfaces appeared. My last endurance race wasn't a success at all so I wanted to step it up, at least finish it but I wanted to try to be more aggressive and see how I would do. It worked quite well, I was passing many riders, climbing well, descending safely but not too slow either. I was also trying to bridge to others not to be too exposed in the windy field sectors. The dry conditions really helped going fast except in the sand pits, those were like speed traps. The first half of the race saw me riding well into the top 20, top 15 with a speed average of around 20km/h and even with the lack of sleep, my legs were going well. For now.

With temperatures so hot and not being used to it (and never being too good in the heat to begin with, I'm much better in the cold), staying hydrated would be an important part of the race. I thought a full Camelbak of water with some salt, a tall bottle of Carboom, some gels and extra sodium Clif Bloks would be good enough. I also drank glasses of water or Gatorade at every stations... but in the second half of the race, I started to get bad cramps in the legs, to the point I stopped a few times to massage and stretch. But as soon as I tried to pedal hard, they were coming back so I spent the second half of the race in survival mode, cramps coming and going. I lost a lot of positions which was a bummer, I was not too happy with myself, at it was even more frustrating as the power was still there, the legs just seized when I tried to up the pace. At around 11km to go, Nic caught me back, we rode together a while, then I couldn't hang on with resurging cramps.

After a few other kilometres, I caught him and the group he was working with back... It was Nic's turn to suffer from the heat, we wanted to take turns pulling each other but his legs had another plan so when I led, he dropped and when I noticed, he was not in sight anymore. I kept going to end in 45th place, Nic finished not long after in 49th. We were both not too happy with our results but it was our first race in such conditions and it seems we didn't took the heat seriously enough. Another good learning experience I guess. After the finish, I was told that temperature was around 32°C and under the sun and the humidity factor, it was even worse. I was wondering how I would do in colder temperatures, but you don't win with ifs and maybes. And still, it's the first marathon race I complete so I guess it's not that bad.

The course was pretty nice. Not too technical but a good balance of rolling terrain, smooth stuff but some nice singletrack sections as well. The twisty section through pines was pretty nice too. I think I'll be back next year for that one.

Technically speaking, the bike was perfect, I had set the rear suspension with the stiffest Pro Pedal setting not to lose much power on the smooth sections. The Racing Ralphs were ideal and again, the Scalpel was impressive. My gearing raised a few eyebrows. A guy after the race asked me if I missed having lower gears with a 29/42 crankset. It's usually not a problem, I would have taken it when I cramped even though it wouldn't have changed much but I can climb pretty much everything with those gears and there were no out of this world climbs on the course that day.

I found one con to not have lower gears. In many steep climbs, most people were spinning super low gears, I was climbing a bit faster but when a few guys spinning their 22x34 take the whole width of the trail and I'm stuck behind, I'm forced to pedal at an awkwardly slow cadence. Reminds me of a climb where I was going quite fast, in my 42T ring in fact, and just as I was going to pass two guys who were following each other, the second one decided to pass the other... but in his 22x34... It was like following a car on the highway passing another car by going 1km/h faster... I climbed the whole thing in my 42T at a ridiculously slow cadence. Once at the top, the guy who got passed told me I should just ride a singlespeed... Maybe a SRAM XX 11-36 with a single chainring next year?

With all said and done, it was still a nice race and I had fun, it reconciliated me with marathons after my negative experience at the Vélo Mag a month ago, I think I have some potential doing endurance races, I would just need to get more experience and for now, it will have to go to next year. My next race will be a very short (in comparison) XC race next sunday, then I have a road race the next weekend, a first for me, and a final XC race in September... Then I'll be throwing my legs on the cyclocross bike this fall...


Sandblogger said...

Endurance races take different training and mentality. A few years back, I was doing a handful of them in between XC and I always noticed the second half suffering. I attributed it to heat, pacing, nutrition, etc.

For the last few years, I've done a transition where I race XC for the first half of the season, then switch gears and start training for endurance specifically. Even during the first half, I throw in longer rides every-other week to prepare myself for the longer work later on. Now after a month or two of longer workouts (and less intensity)I notice now that I am much stronger for the second half, and those wierd problems went away.

I guess i'm trying to say that it's hard to do both and be at your best. If you want to give it a go next year, try and plan a block of a couple long races towards the end of the year, and prepare specifically for them. Your top-end XC fitness will suffer a bit, but that's the price you pay!

Dan Gerous said...

Makes sense, thanks for the tips. I'm not sure yet what will be the plan for next year. All I know is my off-season training will be much better, less time on the bike but that time will be more efficient I think.