Lighting a Fire - VooDoo Fire Race Report

Women's Marathon Pro/Open Podium -
Sari Anderson, me and Amy Thomas
A the start of the year, I decided to change my focus away from the Xterras of the last three years to endurance and ultra mountain bike races. And while I was confident that I'd made the right choice and was really looking forward to the season, that didn't help with the nerves building as VooDoo Fire approached. I knew I'd done the training and was ready to ride long, hard and fast. At the end of the day , I executed a fairly smart race. I made some mistakes for sure, but will learn from them. I kept everything together, kept a steady tempo as the temperature rose and rode my own race as best I could with the number of riders on course. There were 175 finishers in the marathon, 225 in the half marathon, and 140 finishers in the cross country races. Add many more who suffered mechanicals and other issues and DNFs. Warriors Cycling did a great job managing the event, the riders on course and ensuring a good event for everyone. In the Women's Marathon, Honey Stinger Sari Anderson defended her title in a blazing 5:11:29. I took second in 5:40:39 - not as fast as I was hoping. Holly Wade rode her single speed to third in 5:51:11. Rebecca Hodgetts (5:52:02) and Amy Thomas (5:54:28) rounded out the women's podium. Nick also raced at VooDoo Fire, in the Half Marathon singlespeed class. Battling through a tough starting draw, (the half SS racers had the second to last start time, only the women were behind him. They were catching earlier starters before the they even started the single track) He took third behind Paul Von Boeck and Joe Mcnerney. Only 51 seconds separated the three of them! It was a great start to the season - now time to recover and prepare for Ridgeline Rampage.

With an 8:00 start time, it was an early wake up for coffee, OJ and my huge pre race bowl of oatmeal. The sun was just peeking over the horizon and the air held onto the nighttime chill. It wouldn't last. By the time we got parked at Arkansas Point and dropped off our cooler of bottles, it was warming quickly. I opted to use my light arm coolers for at least the first lap since it was still cool and then later for sun protection. As our start neared - the marathon women were the last to start - the pent up nerves quickly vanished. It was time to stop wondering and start riding! Watching the large groups of men leaving the gait helped alleviate the nerves. Finally, at 8:12, the women rolled away from the line for the short neutral section. The pack sprawled across the road and the pace for the neutral roll out was brisk. At the official start, Sari hit the gas and the field quickly stretched out. All jitters gone, I tucked in behind Sari and her Honey Stinger teammate. We steamed up the blacktop climb, already reeling in the stragglers of the start groups before us. I made the right hand turn onto the single track of Duke in third place. A few men separated me from second, but they were super cool. A few quick passes and I moved into second. And there I would stay for the rest of the race - in second.

Nick following Paul on some of the single track - photo Leslie Handy
One of the main features of the VooDoo Fire is the amount of singletrack. While it makes for some fun riding, it also led to some hard passing. The ground just off the trail was soft and sandy and absorbed all the speed needed for passing. Add in the cacti and the sharp shale and passing proved to be rather challenging for everyone. The course is pretty cool, with some distinctive features and trails. The first obstacle was a loose, sandy climb with a few rock steps on Rodeo Ridge. Then the flowing, false flats of Quatro Sinko that wound down to lake level. It was actually pretty cool, watching the stream of riders meandering across the plains. A fast downhill and short climb up to Driftwood - another winding trail marked by huge piles of wood which the trail meandered around and through. Finally, a short section of double track which allowed for eating and passing. But the respite was short as the double track dumped into Route 96 - a little used trail that is bumpy, loose and generally miserable. Getting onto the VooDoo Detour was a respite, with it's sweeping turns and gradual climbs. After that, the fun of Outer Limits - one of the signature trails of Lake Pueblo - filled with tight turns, short little climbs, and plenty of shale - all right along the cliff edge. Another section of double track, with the aid station out on the course. Back down to lake level via Waterfall - a fun little decent right through the canyon. Save some energy for the technical climb up Rock Canyon - filled with shale step up, loose rocks and some really challenging, water eroded cliff climbs. Another longer double track section, then the aptly named Roller Coaster - steep downs, steep ups, tight turns and finished out with some rock sections right along the the canyon edge. Back down through the sculptures of StoneHenge and only a few steep little climbs to the finish line.

Traffic jam in Rock Canyon - photo Leslie Handy
 I knew the first climb would cause a traffic jam - I'm only successful getting up that section about 80% of the time! Luckily, there were some spectators cheering (heckling) and they saw Sari and I coming. The men pushing their bikes up the hill scattered. Sari and I steamrolled the climb, hopefully making it look easy. After that, it became a constant dance of passing as we moved up through the men. Sari kept putting time into me - widening the gap until I didn't care. I wasn't gonna see her again unless she had a mechanical. Time to ride my own race and be smart. Smart with passing, smart with pacing and keeping the rubber side down. I also wanted to avoid any of the mechanical and flats that plagued so many riders. There was plenty of carnage out on the course  - one rider I know got four flats!

The first lap was pretty crazy. I was catching the Marathon men who'd started before me and just as I entered Outer Limits, the Half Marathon leaders started catching me. Passing wasn't always easy, but most of the guys were pretty cool. There were the usual assortment of jackasses (half marathon pro rider wearing Feedback sports - talking to you! Pulling in front of me and nearly taking out my front wheel = no cool) but the rest of the field made up for the few idiots. A few times, I had to choose between burning some matches to make a pass or chilling for a little bit. Most of the time, I opted to wait - in a race that long it wasn't worth the effort to struggle in the soft sand or risk a flat. Even the second lap had a lot of passing - catching marathon men, half marathons and some people passing me. Only the third lap was really quiet with open trails, but I couldn't really take advantage of the empty trails. I was getting darned tired!

Riders on Driftwood trail - photo Leslie Handy
The other story was the growing heat. I usually do well in the heat and was prepared for it. Our cooler was at the feed zone with our bottles and some ice. I should have frozen a little water in the bottles for later in the race - something to change for next race. I started the race with a bottle with a Gu Brew tab and my camelbak full of Gu and Gu Brew. I drained the bottle in the first lap - it was that warm already. Grabbed the fresh bottle and continued along my way. Ahh, nice cool water to drink! The air started getting warmer and the dust filled the air. I kept drinking, and realized I was almost out when I hit the aid station on Outer Limits. But it was a crazy zoo - racers and bikes all over! So I kept riding, knowing I had more waiting for me at the feed zone. I did end up running out of water and draining my camelbak before I hit South Shore. Finally, got to the end of the lap, swapped camelbaks, fresh bottle and chugged some water. I'd made a last minute change to use both camelbak - given how hot it got, I was happy I'd decided to run with both Camelbaks. There were lots of people with some bad cramps and dehydration because of the unrelenting heat and lack of shade out on course. Unending blue skies and the blazing sun baked the dusty trails. It was a rough day for everyone in the race.

I was in No-Man's land for much of the race. Sari was way out in front of me and I had no clue where third place was. The course is so twisty turny that even if I could see someone, I'd have no clue how far behind they were. So I focused on the men around me - catch one, then turn my attention to the next guy. I was also trying to keep Nick from catching me. He'd started about 16 minutes behind me and we'd both figured he'd make up that gap pretty quickly. But we hadn't counted on him starting behind everyone in the half and having to pass so many people to catch me. So he had a rough day and rolled through his finish line after I'd headed out for my last lap. But he was waiting at the finish line with some cold water and food!

I'm sure I was a sight at the finish - three laps of dust covered my legs and bike. My shoes were white and my black Fate had turned grey from the dust. My forehead, jersey and shorts were caked in salt, although it was hard to tell with all the dust! I was tired for sure, but actually felt really good when I finished. At least until I tried getting off the bike! The minute i stopped pedalling, my lower back seized up really badly. I couldn't even bend over to get my shoes off. Something about pedalling for over 5.5 hours and still learning efficiency on the HT might have had something to do with that. At least it didn't really hurt during the race. All in all, not a bad outing for my first serious ultra mountain bike race. Made some logistical errors - which will be corrected. My pacing was good and fueling was good. Just need to try to up the pace a little and sustain it as the race progresses. Looking forward to Ridgeline Rampage now - another fun, long day in the saddle coming up!


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