I’ve waxed poetic about the Chain Drive a lot over the years. And even though this is the year of the triathlon (and I had committed to coaching my son’s Little League team, which had practice scheduled exactly at the same time as the race), I just couldn’t imagine not racing the Chain Drive. It’s odd, because this is the first year since, well, ever that I didn’t peak for or target the race. This is the 8th time I’ve raced it and the first time I just showed up and rode.
I’ve gotta say, that kind of mentality doesn’t yield stellar results, but it’s a whole lot less stressful.
The race started out the same as always — a super-fast rollout of well over 20 mph and the climb up Cemetery Hill. I was extremely pleased with the Big Kahuna throughout this segment. Hardtails just roll so efficiently over smooth terrain and don’t steal any power going up hills. Onto the singletrack we went. One of the benefits of getting faster has been getting to the singletrack before the entrance gets all gummed up by riders (and before you get stuck behind riders with strong legs and no handling skills on the singletrack). This year was no exception.It didn’t take too long on the singletrack and doubletrack sections for me to realize two things:
1. I was in pretty decent shape.
2. But definitely not peak shape.
The number of times I felt like I had reached my limit on the climbs was depressing. And if you take a quick look at the elevation profile, you’ll see there is a lot of climbing in this race:
(That’s 1322 feet of climbing in 17.6 miles for those keeping track at home.)
So there was a lot of times where I got to the top of a punchy little climb and then had to catch my breath and let my heart rate drop back down. After the first few miles, the course was dramatically different than it has been in the past. Trails that were fun descents turned into tough uphills. Beautiful sections of singletrack that used to only be part of the 32-mile race were on the 16-mile course. Sections of Thoroughfare that used to be soul-sucking climbs were short descents. (Fun-fact: Of the 3 times I’ve had to stop and get off the bike during a race to catch my breath, 2 have been on that same section of Thoroughfare.) I make a big deal of the elevation and amount of climbing in the race, but the course was just about perfect this year.
I say “just about” for two reasons. First we were routed along a power line for a little while to get us from one section of great trail to another. It was not very scenic and definitely not fun to ride. The other thing I disliked will be pretty controversial: the inclusion of a “flow trail” called Aunt Flo. Is it good trail? Sure. It’s painstakingly created, requiring careful design and the movement of more yards of dirt than I care to imagine. For several minutes, there’s no need to pedal as you soak up rollers, rail berms and maybe get a little air. (I’m sure there’s better terms for all of these things.)
But here’s the thing. I am a cross-country mountain biker on a hardtail 29er. When I’m not riding that, I have a cyclocross bike that wears proper road tires during the summer. I like going uphill. Going downhill has its merits, but I really prefer to keep two wheels on the ground. So I don’t really like flow trails. And while I’m sure it’s a lot of fun for others, I’d be just as happy (or happier) if they eliminated it.
We finished up with the normal climb out of Swedetown Gorge to the hospital (where the finish line resides), where I tried to pick off one last guy in a sprint. I just didn’t have it, but had just enough to drop one of my teammates who had been stalking me for several miles. 28th overall with a final time of 1:24:36.9. To think I can just show up and finish 28/184 (or top 15%), that’s nice to know.
I continue to be incredibly happy with the Big Kahuna. I ran a Continental XKing on the front and an older Specialized Captain on the rear. That was probably a little more aggressive than I really needed, but I’d do it again. I’m still not a fan of the WTB saddle, but with MTB racing on the back burner, it’s not a priority purchase. I did the whole ride with a GoPro Hero HD camera on the handlebar. That I would never do again. It wasn’t particularly interesting to watch later and keeping it pointed forward (and not up at the clouds or down at the dirt) was a continual frustration.
I was a wreck at the finish, stumbling around and taking a while to recover from the effort. I haven’t been doing many rides over an hour these days.
All three of my kids did the Junior Chain Drive. Heidi did the 50-yard untimed race on her run bike, Olivia rode the 0.75 mile race (and asked me to run along behind her the whole way) and Cameron rocked the 1.5 mile race. Cameron would do pretty well with a bike with some additional gears — he still rides a singlespeed.
So I did a race I didn’t peak for, a race I love and had a blast doing it. Then I went home to try to prepare for my challenge the next day: the Yooper Sprint Triathlon.