Stewart 45

For 2015, the Stewart Super Six Pack became the Stewart 45. A 45 mile, 3 lap race on the fun trails of Stewart State Forest. We’ve done the Six Pack a couple of times (https://lisounds.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/stewart-super-six-pack/, https://lisounds.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/stewart-super-six-pack-2013/) and MTBNJ have always put on a fun race, so the 45 was definitely on this year’s race calendar for me.

I’d debated whether to head up the day before to pre-ride the course and make race morning more leisurely, but in the end opted for driving up the morning of the race. I picked Andrei up just before 5am, and we made good time through the city, getting to Stewart State Forest a bit after 7. Arriving early gave us the advantage of a parking spot close to the race start/finish/registration area.

Quite a few days before the race, the forecast for Sunday was looking to be both hot and humid. Rain was forecast for the Saturday, threatening to create some good muddy sections, but this didn’t eventuate. The trails ended up being as dry as I’ve ever seen them. The hot and humid forecast was spot on though, with heat warnings and advisories being issued for the whole area. Looking at the observations from the nearby Stewart Airport, the conditions at the start time of 9am were 25˚C (77˚F), 83% RH, increasing to 33˚C (91˚F), 56% RH just after I finished.

My plan for dealing with the heat was pretty simple: lots of fluids, lots of electrolytes and try to pace myself. I thought I’d overcatered with drinks by putting four bottles (two water, two electrolyte) in the pit area in addition to the two bottles I was going to start with. In hindsight, this planning was good.

I’d also been uncertain about what gear to run. I had 32:17 on the bike in the weeks prior to the race, but swapped the cog out to an 18 on Saturday. Another decision I was happy with in hindsight. A good thing about arriving early was having plenty of time to chat to people before the race. There was a really strong contingent of Long Island riders there, as well as a number of other people I knew, so the time before the race flew by.

The start order was a bit unclear, but I made sure I was hanging out with a few other singlespeeders. After watching the Open Men, Open Women and Masters Men head off, it was our turn. I got my usual slow start, and was near the back of the field before long. I didn’t mind this given the length of the race, but once we hit the singletrack and formed a long line of riders, I was regretting not pushing a little harder at the start. Still, I reminded myself that it was a long day, and didn’t try to burn too much energy passing people. The course had a few sections of fire road where passing was easy, so I just sat in the group for the first part of the first lap and took the overtaking opportunities when I could. I was also getting passed by some of the faster Sport Men riders, as well as the team riders.

Lap 1. The race number would have been a good omen for the Wilderness 101 the following weekend, but unfortunately I won’t be doing that race due to work travel.

I was feeling pretty comfortable with the temperature on Lap 1, but knowing that it was going to heat up, I was making an effort to drink every time I could.

I’d worked out that this was my eighth race at Stewart State Forest (4 Singlespeed-a-paloozas, 1 Dark Horse 40 and 2 Stewart Super Six Packs previously), so most of the trails we were riding were familiar. One of the things I really like about riding here is how a course can be pieced together using different singletrack sections and fire roads, giving each race course it own feeling. There were no nasty technical surprises on the course. One section late in the course with a short rock face to climb followed by a sharp left I’d never ridden before, so I was really happy to clear this on the first lap.

Lap 1 was done in just over 1:22, putting me on track for a finish around 4:05–4:10, assuming I maintained the pace. I stopped in the pit area to swap out both bottles, having tried to finish as much as possible of what I had left on the fire road at the end of the lap.

One thing I was pretty concerned about during the first lap was my heart rate. I was seeing numbers in the high 170s which is pretty close to my maximum, but I didn’t feel like it was that high. On the road bike or the trainer, I’m right on my limit to get to those numbers. For some reason, on this day, and perhaps being on the mountain bike, I was able to spend a lot of time in the 160s and even 170s without feeling like I was redlining to do it. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking that this would come back to haunt me later in the race.

Lap 2 was much less congested. I still had a bit of traffic to deal with, but overtaking is much easier when it’s just one person in front. And I also had people passing me at times. Once the race has settled down, it can be hard to tell if the person behind wants to pass or is happy riding at my pace. If they’ve appeared from nowhere, they’re clearly faster and want to pass, and will pretty much always say so. Otherwise, I try to ask if they want to get by.

I started to play the mental game of working out when I’d hit the half way mark. Once I’d passed the 2:06 mark, I was pretty sure I was into the second half of the race. I was still feeling good, but was definitely starting to warm up. Most of the race was in the lovely shade of the trees, but a few sections had us out in the open, and the sun was baking. One section along the power lines involved a climb which was particularly tough. Slow speed on the climb meaning almost no air movement, sections of exposed rock slabs which were really hot from the sun and the effort of the climb made for a particularly hot minute or so. The breeze on the descent, even though it was still in the sun, was most welcome.

Lap 2. This makes me look much faster than I really am.

Lap 2 was about 30 seconds slower than the first lap, which I was very happy with. I made another stop at the pit to change bottles again, and grabbed some more gel to make sure I had the fuel to finish properly. I had a good supply of Endurolyte tablets, which I’d been taking regularly to supplement the electrolyte in my bottle.

I was still feeling pretty good at this point, but the heat was definitely ramping up, and I knew the third lap was going to be more of a struggle than the first two. Hints of cramps were creeping into my calves and quads, and I didn’t have the energy in my legs to stand and climb like I did on the first two laps.

I passed through the aid station at the 6 mile mark of the course. There were quite a few people there refueling and topping up fluids. I was confident I had enough to make it through to the finish, so didn’t stop. I felt like I was maintaining a reasonably consistent pace, and was catching up to people every now and then. It’s definitely easier mentally to be catching people rather than being passed. My strategy is always to start out a bit conservatively and either build my speed or at least not slow down too much. I’m not sure if this is the best strategy in terms of finishing in the fastest time, but it’s one I’m comfortable with. My heart rate had settled down a bit, but was still getting into the low 170s on some of the punchy climbs, and was rarely dropping below 160.

For a lot of the third lap, I was really starting to feel the heat. My head felt hot, and I was trying to modulate my speed and effort to make sure I didn’t overheat too much. I was also making sure I was still drinking. The shade was really welcome in comparison to the direct sun, but by this stage, it wasn’t actually that cool in the shade.

Cramps started to kick in more seriously about 2/3 of the way through the lap. A couple of the minor technical features had me off my bike, and walking the bike up hills wasn’t that much fun. Getting back on and spinning was actually a relief and was the best way of managing the cramps. Standing and climbing was definitely getting harder.

I was happy to get through the 3 Sisters section for the last time, knowing that most of the tougher climbing was out of the way. Entering Horse for the last time was a great feeling. The last part of singletrack was a lot of fun, especially knowing that I was nearly finished, with just the short run on fire road to the finish.

In the end, I finished in 4:10:08, 10th place out of 22 singlespeed starters. Going into the race, I was hoping for something around the 50% mark of the SS field, so was really happy with this result.

Post-race involved first some welcome cold water and watermelon, followed by a short spin, then catching up with everyone else who had already finished and waiting for those yet to finish.

Congratulations to everyone who took part in this race. I think there were more DNFs in this race than I’ve seen before. A lot of people made the tough, but smart, decision to stop after a couple of laps. It’s definitely the hardest race I’ve done. The distance and terrain is challenging enough, but adding in the heat and humidity took it to another level of difficulty.

Thanks to MTBNJ for putting on another great Stewart event, GT Luke for the excellent photos, Andrei for sharing the driving there and back, and all those involved in the running of the event, including timing, marshaling, course directions, aid stations, cheering, everything!

My new Burnside Forge bike is turning out to be everything I’d hoped it would be. It’s so much fun to ride. Thanks again to Brett from Burnside Forge for making it, and Andrew from Peoples Bicycle for building it up.

Results are here: http://www.mtbnj.com/sixpack/results_s45_2015.html

All of Luke’s pictures are here: https://gtluke.smugmug.com/Biking/2015-Biking-Events/2015-MTBNJ-Stewart-45

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