08-05 Palos Meltdown

Palos Meltdown was my first Mountain Bike race. I’ve done a couple Xterra – one with and one without a mountain bike (yeah, a mountain bike is highly recommended on a mountain bike course – just saying!). Put on by CAMBR.ORG who seem to be a pretty cool group.

If you don’t know what mountain biking is, here is a nice video someone did out there on the trails we raced on


A little lead up on this one…

This is my first year of mountain biking. There are not a ton of close courses and work has been busy this year, so I have no gotten in much training on “real” courses. Palos Heights and Kettle Morainne are the two “good” areas for mountain biking – so I am told.

I made it to Kettle ONCE and I managed the first four loops out of 8 or so possible. I wiped out on the 4th one, which wasn’t even a hard one. So I know I have a lot of skills to improve on. After spending so many years on a road/tri bike I have an instinct to NOT run into things and with mountain bike – often that is exactly the best way to fall down. You have to just shoot AT stuff in order to go over it. Logs, rocks, roots, etc – straight at them and you go over. If you try to miss them and hit at an angle… you’re in trouble.

Due to the heat and schedule I hadn’t been out as much as I would like, but I felt I could survive this course and probably not embarrass myself TOO much. Seeing REAL mountain bike riding on the Xterra course in May… I knew that there was much work to do, especially when it comes to riding with a group of people.

Because I had never BEEN to Palos, I made an effort to meet a local buddy there for a quick run (well, HE ran quick) and then I went off to pre-ride the course from the 2011 map.

I found it ok, but the map was really unclear and/or not to scale, so I had to figure out where the “start” was. I guessed best I could and went off. About 20minutes later I decided there was no way I was on the course. So many turn options… I missed one. Did a GPS check with my phone… Yeah, I wasn’t even in the right SECTION of the forest preserve. D’oh!

So i managed to get back to the course and let’s just suffice it to say that my plans to do an “easy” 45minute pre-ride turned into 1hr 40min “not so easy”. My legs had it in them, but I knew I would pay for that tomorrow. It was also crazy hot and I only had (1) bottle. I REALLY need to remember to bring my Camelback… few people use bottles in Mountain Biking (too hard to get it out, drink, and put it back – without hitting a

So I arrive plenty early on Sunday for the race. I didn’t preregister (not sure how THAT happened, I ALWAYS preregister) so I wanted to leave plenty of time. It took awhile but finally I found the start and got registered. Easy.  Got my number on my bike and I’m ready to go.

I hung around for a while, stretched, chatted with folks, and then it was time to go.  I was actually nervous. That’s a feeling I haven’t had since Ironman. Kind of cool. Feels nice. I don’t normally get crazy nerves or anything but having some butterflies and adrenaline is a good thing when racing. My last several races have been so “Ho, Hum.. oh a Race? Don’t mind if I do. Let’s go.” not “LET’S DO THIS THING! TIME TO DESTROY THE COURSE AND MAKE MY ENEMIES WEEP” – yeah,  not seen that.

The novice group was HUGE. 150? 250? I don’t know. Big. So they split into 3 waves, I was up first (crap).  The started us DOWN a steep hill, to thin the field. Good idea. I managed to stay in the top 1/3 of my group up the hill. This wasn’t technical, just power, I can do that. Legs were NOT happy. They reminded us that we just DID this yesterday and we don’t want to DO this today. I told them to shut up and PUSH. They pushed. Not sure how long they would be able to, but they did. In the mean time, heart rate VERY VERY HIGH. 170+. Not sustainable. Gonna need to pull back a bit. I think that is zone 12 or something. Bad.

So, a lot of this race I can no longer remember. Probably due to the brain damage caused by extreme heart rate, but here are some sections I do actually remember.

Ok, some grassy areas for a while. I managed to continue passing people and managed to not pass out. I was doing a fairly piss poor job of recovering my HR but oh well. I got passed by a few. It was REALLY crowded. Finally we all got funneled down into the trail. Then I knew what crowded was like. OMG.

We get onto the trail, which is not really double track but wider than single. I used this to pass about a dozen folks and got passed by a couple. Was doing alright, nothing terribly technical or anything just crowded. Learned quickly proper etiquette so it was all good. I was having a blast. I was holding my own, gaining ground actually. Until it fell apart.

Well, actually, I didn’t fall apart. Other people did. First crash clogged up the whole darn trail. About 25 people just all backed up, walking, cussing, falling, whatever. I didn’t anticipate that one… and had no real recourse. I was already gassed, so I couldn’t take it off into the underbrush, so I ended up running around the guys playing in the dirt. Dismounting I’m ok at, but re-mounting I need some serious help. I felt like a complete spaz and I’m sure looked worse. Because right behind me were 20 more guys in the same annoyed and gassed state. PRESSURE!

This actually happened a dozen times or more. Pretty much every hill. Which really sucks, because I pre-rode the course and I know there wasn’t a hill on this course I couldn’t manage. But having to dismount, run, remount spiked the heart rate FURTHER and just had me exhausted pretty early on.

Soon enough the next wave was upon us. CRAP! So every time I would be stuck in a walking section, I’d get passed by 20-30 guys because I just couldn’t work my way back into the line. Booooooo!

Kept going, I was handling all these obstacles pretty well I felt. No excessive braking, no wrecking, and keeping my pace up at a reasonable level – considering there were many points I just couldn’t pedal anymore because people were in front – and it was single track or too many terrain changes to even contemplate a pass.

ZOOOOM! Then the women leaders and a midget (15yr old) passed me. Oh, that’s swell. BOOO BOOOOO!!!!

I did wreck once, but it was intentional. On one curvy hill the guy in front of me went down and down hard, I took my bike down else I was going to run over his head. But since I did it MY way no damage, got up ran around him and mounted on top of the hill.

At one point a guy passed me screaming that the zombies were coming. Oh great, just what I freakin’ need. Zombies. Mannnnn….. just not my day.

A few casualties on the course – guess it’s pretty par for the course to see some busted wheels, broke chains, and a bit of blood. One guy was missing the crank arm (which attached to pedal) – that sucks! Looked like only one was possibly serious.

The terrain, in some spots was pretty challenging. A series of rocks (slick from last night rain), root “steps” that kept going DOWN DOWN DOWN with no break, and so on. Nice MTB area, I will have to return to play out in these parts again.

We had this grassy section – it went back out near the finish, but we rode up this hill. Man, it was clogged up. I still had something left, so I pulled out INTO the tall grass and started passing. At one point it got steep and the guy I was passing told me to GO FOR IT and… and…. SHOOT! I got nothing left!! I just laughed and said I GOT NUTHIN MORE TO GO! he laughed too, I’m sure he’s been there. That grass is HARD to ride through and when you add hills? Ug. My HR was 182 – yeah I’ve NEVER seen it that high on the bike. EVER. Then again, I can’t remember the next few minutes, so that was probably the price!! LOL

Then we got to the 3 ravines… yeah. Well, the first one is a real steep drop and steep up. During my pre-ride I never managed to do the “right” way and managed a couple wussy ways, but never made it over the top. A Real confidence builder ya know? Well, I was all braced to just fly down that hill and man up. If I had enough speed by doing down PROPERLY I would totally have enough speed to go up it. I saw the “line” (path you need to take to not die) so I knew WHAT to do… So here it comes. There are photographers on each side and couple other folks watching. I slam on the brakes and say “OH F!@#$K this” and run my chicken azz down and back up. Pretty quick too. And not dead. Sorry, I prefer not dead. I got stuff to do.

The second ravine I did, and with style, because somebody else stopped half way up the other side – so I passed them as I went. It was awesome. And amazing too, in case you were wondering!! ;-) but no photographers so you’ll have to take my word for it. I’m pretty sure the guy walking it peed himself a little when he saw me flying at him with this huge toothy grin!

The third ravine was no biggy, nailed it.

After that, it was mostly just toughing it out. The ENTIRE freaking race was just filled with people. Never got a break on that. Once we got out of the woods and into the grass, I started passing people. Probably a good 10 people in the last 2 minutes. They were all toast but not using the flat ground as a way to gain some time. Sorry, but this was more my playground and I took it.

There were 3 guys ahead of my in the final 100yds. I quickly got two but the third was egged on by the crowd “HE’S GONNA PASS YOU – HE’S GONNA PASS YOU!! MOVE ITT!!!!!!!!!!” (HE = ME) and then when I got up they said “GO PASS HIM! HE’S DONE FINISH HIM!!” ROFL. Feel the love?!

The finish was unceremonious. I was FRIED.  But grinning ear to ear. Maybe I’m back. This was the first RACE I had RACED since Ironman CDA last year. Everything else I was going through the motions. Even though I had NO chance of ANY real placement in this race, I kept the competitive spirit until the end. Damn it felt good.

Looking at the data… my AVERAGE HR was 167. Wow, that’s just inside zone 5 on the bike for me. My max was 182. 500ft of climbing.

Ron Searle  #426  41  58:39.6

Overall  Cat 3 – Novice Men 155/255

27/49   AG Male 40 to 49

Middle pack, on my first go? I’ll take it.

MTB is fun. It’s hard. It’s a challenge. I like it. However, I need some serious skills work to move up these rankings. And practice running at full throttle for an hour. With all this Ironman training for years I’m better equipped to go 80% for 6 hours than 99% for 1 hour. But overall I am pleased about my performance and even more pleased the fire is finally coming back!

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