Friday, September 12, 2014

Race Report: Oramm 2014

The Boyco recently gave his story from his ORAMM adventure this year. Enjoy!!

On a whim, I did ORAMM back in 2010. Back then, I was not a mountain bike rider by any stretch of the imagination, and rode a full rigid 26” bike for my first foray into the trails of the Pisgah Forest. I did not know anything about marathon mountain bike and thought 63 miles sounded easy. Famous last words, as some might say. All I will say about that particular experience is that I survived and swore I would never come back. Also, I thought my wrists were broken. Three consecutive editions of ORAMM later, I am back for a stab at finishing as close to 6.5 hours as possible, having spent most of the spring and early summer with this race always on my mind. 

In the past, I have found myself climbing through the crowds on the first major climb up old highway 70. So this year I started much closer to the front, just to give myself a better position for when the proper climbing started. I rolled with Victor Nelson through the opening hills and was feeling pretty good. Once we hit the real climb, the largish front group immediately exploded. We rode a nice tempo, trying to stay out of the wind. Once we got to the top of old 70, I soft pedaled, recovering for the steep technical climb up Kistuma Peak/Young’s Ridge. I am not a strong rider on very steep pitches, but managed to stay in touch with our group. 
Bohl, Boyco, & Vic still smiling...
One thing that had not changed from previous years was my timid descending on the fast and steep downhill sections. However, Kitsuma is not straight downhill and the descent is punctuated with steep short climbs, something you don’t really appreciate until the race takes you through Kitsuma at the end. I would keep rolling back onto the group at these short climbs. Despite being slow down the hills, my decision to ride near the front was paying off in an unexpected way: I wasn’t holding up big groups of better downhill riders! This did a lot to help my nerves as what I dread most about the downhills is getting yelled at by guys who are only good at descending. Victor, interestingly enough, was gone. Go figure, the guy who has never ridden in the mountains can fly down the mountain just as fast as he climbs it. I did manage to crash once (I always crash at least once on the first trip up and over Kitsuma, it’s become my thing) but still, things were going great so far

Once we got down, I rode with a strong group past checkpoint 1 and onto Star Gap. I made it over the rail road tracks and up to the first big hike-a-bike. Here, I saw Victor again, just ahead of me. While Kitsuma is 100% rideable, there are several sections of Star Gap that are not (for me, anyways). Fortunately, this descent is much easier than Kitsuma. 
Onto Jarrett Creek Road, which is way hillier than I remember, ugh. Also forgotten were the long, fast, loose-gravel descents. Fortunately, I was able to ride behind some skilled riders and thus avoided flying off the side of the mountain towards certain death.
And so, I made it to Rest stop 3, the base of Mount Mitchell and the start of Curtis Creek Road, the dreaded nine mile climb. Riding strongly here is critical to doing well overall and this is one tough climb. The climb gets steeper and steeper, relentlessly. There are endless switchbacks and countless views of endless road. Just when you think it can’t keep rising any further, you round the corner, greeted by another half mile of steep road.
I eased into the zone and was climbing really well for the first part of the climb. I made it to the water stop representing mile 30 in just under three hours.  That means (on paper) I was on course for about six hours! This was incredible, a time I never thought attainable. I let it soak in for a bit, really enjoying the idea. But… It was at about this time that the mountain decided to cut me down to size. Shortly after the euphoria of the water stop, the first cramp hit me out of nowhere. I am not a rider who ever cramps and so I didn’t immediately understand what the pain was. The pain did not mind this though and got a lot sharper. I went from climbing well enough to pedaling just hard enough to keep moving. And just as quickly as I was thinking I was going to do something great, I found myself joining the riding dead, slowly climbing the mountain.
It felt like an eternity but I finally made it to the top, to rest stop 4, where I immediately took 3 endurolyte pills and drank a lot of water (and coke… and Doritos… and some other junk). I hung around for a bit, wondering what to do. I could easily turn around and ride down the mountain and back to town. A decent time was long gone and I could just get the hell out of here. But, I am a bike racer, which means I don’t know when to quit. With a brave face, I started my ascent up the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Heart Break. For a bit I felt better and started putting down some power into the pedals, which turned out to be a very brief ray of light, as it didn’t take long for the cramps to come back with a vengeance.  
I eventually made it to the steep hike-a-bike that kicks off Heart Break Ridge, probably a quarter mile in length. It took me about a half hour to drag my sorry corpse to the top, followed by more dark reflections on the day. Eventually Dave Bohl came by, which was actually a relief; it’s amazing how uplifting seeing a familiar face can be when you’re down in the dumps.
I finally stood up (after at least 20 minutes of wallowing about) and began to make my way down the Heartbreak/licklog knob descent. The first half mile of this descent is horrifically rocky, rooty, and mercilessly complicated, which means it took awhile to walk. Not fun, avoiding people crashing left and right and trying to not step the wrong way, aggravating the cramps. The rest of the descent is not too bad, just a few very rooty sections and a very cool portion that coincides with a stream (downhill on wet rocks, the fun never ends!).  Eventually I made it down to the Star Gap trail, which is way more fun to ride down than grind up. The very very last section (which is a hike a bike on the way up) is stupid hard to ride and there are a lot of really good pictures of riders crashing there. I walked.
After all of this, I made it to rest stop 5. I sat down in a daze. I had decided during the last descent that I had toughed it out enough. I walked around, drank some more coke and… gradually realized that the cramps had gone away… I was a bit pissed as now I knew that I would have to finish the race, my legitimate excuse gone. I waffled for a bit, finally made peace with reality, and got back on my bike. 
The endurolyte pills had finally gone to work and I rode up Mill Creek Road at a fast pace. I finally reached Kitsuma, grinded up the steep pitches again, walking half of it this time (as usual), got really annoyed at the endless short climbs that punctuate the “descent” Kitsuma (as usual), and finally making it the last few miles of road. I did my best aero-tuck and tried to remember what the cramps had felt like. I couldn’t and finally made it to town, where I crossed the line in 7.5 hours.
In short, not the race I wanted. In retrospect, I am happy that I did DNF and I still did an ok time, especially considering how much time I spent floundering about or sitting down. I had hoped to finish in a time I could be proud of and thus never have to return. Considering I went down in flames at the most crucial part of the race, I now have to go back in 2015, which I have mixed feelings about. I have to sincerely thank Bike Tech for helping me out, in years past I think I was definitely held back by the bikes I was riding. Not so this year! The bike is amazing, definitely the best I have ever ridden. I also have to thank Vredestein, the Black Panther tires definitely helped make the descents more manageable! Unbelievable grip. Now we are about to start cross country season and I look forward to continuing to show the colors all over Florida!

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