Having been out to St George a few weeks back to both preview the course and get some early season desert riding in, I knew roughly what to expect. I’d pre-ridden “most” of the course in just over 4hrs but I’d missed a key section with some climbing and lots of rocks. I guestimated this section would take ~45min give or take on its own so throw in some fatigue from ~1.5hrs at race pace so that section plus the remainder would leave me just under 5hrs. I set 5hrs as my target and 4.5hrs as my stretch goal after having ridden with (albeit behind) a guy who finished at ~4:20 last year. Seemed like pretty reasonable targets for a 50mile race in freaking March.
The 50 mile version is really just under 46 and has around 5.2k of climbing (I’ve seen files as high as 5.6 so….). Regardless of the “real” amount, I kinda figure that if a course has over 100ft per mile of climbing I’m shooting for a mid-pack finish. Anything higher is a bonus.
Last year I wanted to do some long and fun races outside our little Front-Range bubble and the Dakota Five-O fit that bill. I’m not completely sure why I picked this race, maybe it had something to do with not really racing since September. Probably that, coupled with the likelihood of warmer and drier weather. Digging in a bit more, I’d heard that this was a fun race but very tech and a touch on the climby side of things. The resounding opinion though was that it was a great event and the few peeps I talked to have been attending since day one. Consider me curious. Make that sold.
This race happens on a Saturday and with the 9-10hr drive I wanted to make sure I could get there, stretch out, and recon both the stuff I’d missed as well as some of the tech features on both the “Barrel Ride” and “Barrel Roll” sections. Barrel Roll comes near the finish so I wanted to scout out passing opportunities as well.
The first 2-2.5 hrs of the course is a mix of tight, technical climbs, bumpy "flats" and the descents are both technical with a handful of significant drops and typical desert loose over hard. I really wanted to keep in front of the riff-raff heading into the Zen loop so my "plan" was to attack the climbs and recover on the flats and downhills. On the backside of the course, there is a nice 30-40minute (for me) exposed climb where it would be approaching noon and sure to be warming up. I'd try to ride mostly z3/z4 to minimize my losses and then attack the two climbs on the Reaper/Cove Wash and Barrel Roll sections. Keep in mind that "attack" has a pretty broad interpretation towards the end of the day.
Fast forward to race day
and the forecast is for mid/upper-70’s, clear skies and virtually no wind. I’d used the Osmo PreLoad Hydration as mentioned, I’d planned to go out hard through to the first feed at the start of the Zen Trail (indicated by the Red/Yellow marker on the map below and the big up starting at ~mile 14 through 20). Save for the pavement section, this part of the course is tight, dusty and technical so I wouldn't have many chances to drink.
So despite arriving early to see the 100 racers off, I managed to space out and forgot to put my jacket and pre-race bottle away. Of course while I'm doing that, they start the pre-race info session and now I'm "lined up" near the back. Awesome. At least I'd have ~1mile of asphalt to keep the leaders in sight.
Gun goes off and we have to try to squeeze about 100 racers through an inflatable arch. That worked well. LT for about 5min brings me to about 20th heading into the dirt. Things are going well, fast but well. I'm feeling good but so is the lead group and naturally my chilled approach has left me behind some people who aren't great at some of the technical moves requires as we ride up a drainage so I'm at about 110% on the first 9min climb as I try to keep them in sight.
That worked fine there but I knew that really wasn't a sustainable approach on this particular day. I had to be a little smarter as barely 5 miles and 1/2 hr in I'd already spent about 15min at LT or above. Knowing there is really only one long climb I decide I'll try to stay around LT on the climbs and let the cards fall where they will.
For the most part, I end up not being able to ride the bigger tech sections as they're backed up. That's fine by me. Better safe than sorry although somehow I do manage to fall while walking. Thankfully that's the only time I'm on my ass all day :)
My plan is working-ish
on the long hot climb out of Stucki Springs (~5.5 miles ~1kft) , I'm picking off some of the people who'd passed me earlier but I'm also being passed by the better climbers (surprise!). It's pretty apparent that some weren't prepared for the heat (that's approaching 80) as they're clearly not having any fun. Of course at 2.5hrs in, my idea of sweet spot has morphed into low z3 but just let me pretend it's all working out.
Up and down, I'm slowly reeling people in but it's kinda hard to keep track of things as there is nothing to distinguish between the different groups doing the 50. Not really worried about it as I'm not going to podium but it would help (I mention this on the promoter's race review).
"Attacking" the climbs
I can't help but laugh though as I look at the power numbers. Ordinarily doing tempo on a climb is a recipe for dfl but at this point I feel like I'm flying. 218W for 7min! 235w for 5min! On their own its not much but for mid-March and about 35miles/4hrs in, I'm ok with that.
The Home Stretch
The second official feed zone is at the parking lot/Barrel Roll trailhead (the upperleft red flag on the course map). Thankfully they have cups of Coke w/Ice. I freaking LOVE Coca-Cola on course. Of course you end up belching like hell but it's also rocket fuel at this point in the game. Mad props for having some common sense.
It's also getting damn hot (Garmin reads mid/upper 80's). I grab a bottle of water to offset the sometimes overwhelming sweetness of Skratch and to dump over my head/down my back.
The Barrel Roll loop starts with a ~8min climb, short but steep and loose downhil followed by approx 8-10 minutes of climbing. I also know I have about 30-40 minutes of racing left. By my Garmin, I'm approaching 4hrs so I have to empty the tank if I want to finish around 4.5hrs.
Barrel Roll is a GREAT trail with some tough moves, some fast/flow and enough short punchy efforts to keep you honest. I was running out of gas, especially on the climbs. I'd pull away from this one guy on the flats and DH, he'd catch up when things pointed towards the sky. But... ...he'd also start cramp while I tried to stay just below that point. I passed through the Barrel Roll Feed zone/timing mat at 4:18 in and had roughly 3miles to go, one of which was on pavement... Ten and a half minutes later, i roll through the finish at 4:29:04 in 33rd place out of 97 finishers. I'm happy with that.
- Raleigh Talus Pro 29er
- Non-Exploding Light Bicycle Rims (32h) 24mm internal width, hookless bead on dt350 hubs
- 2x10 w/ 38/24 Chainrings and 11-36 cassette
- Front Tire - Maxxis Ardent 2.4 (BIG!!!) at 23#
- Rear Tire - Geax AKA 2.2 @ 26#
- Wingnut Splitback
- Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbag
- 100oz raspberry Skratch
- 2 squares of Enduro Bites - one of each flavor
- 1 Kate's HandleBar
- most of 3 packs of Pro Bar Bolt chews - I dropped quite a few
- CarboRocket Rocketlytes
What would I do differently?
about the only thing I'd change would have been to drop the pressure up front a pound or two. I've only used these gigantic tires a few times and haven't quite dialed in the pressure. I'm scared to go too low but I think I could have gone lower just fine.
The other thing I forgot was to cut my Skratch mix by 1/4 to 1/3. Its just too damn sweet after 4hrs. I did end up drinking more ~80oz plus a few bottles of water but I'd have liked to run the bladder empty by the time I came to Barrel Roll. Next year?
In this race, I think a full-squish "might" be a small advantage as the Barrel Ride, Zen and Barrel Roll trails have quite a few momentum killing square edged hits and sometimes you just can't avoid all of them. Is it enough to overcome the weight? I don't know.
a 120mm fork might be neat too. It took about 2hrs for my hands to stop throbbing. There's that much chunky-ness to this course. I made a point of asking as many people as I could what they'd run and it was pretty close to split between full-squish and hardtail. Those who rode FS said they wanted more travel. Does that mean they're soft? I don't know. Despite the rough nature, my back didn't act up so my fit and core workouts appear to have paid off.
On a related note, i chose to drive home right after the race. Coincidentally, my hips and back are not exactly right nearly a week later but I think that has more to do with my really smart choice rather than the equipment.
Would I do this race again?
Yes. the drive is a quick 9hrs if you go 3-5mph over. Hotels are cheap, weather is good and the course is fun.
If you have 13 minutes to spare, this will give a better indicator of the general course conditions than I could hope to articulate. Most of the big features are missing from the video but you'll get a good idea and maybe it'll inspire you to come out next year... ???