I’ve been doing some type of endurance-oriented racing since 1999–longer if you count rowing in college. I’ve done marathon kayak races, ultra-distance trail runs, long mountain bike events and everything from 6-hour to multi-day adventure races. I’ve learned a lot over all those years of training and racing–including how to take care of myself during an event.

ORAMM 2016 start

On July 31st, I took on the Off Road Assault on Mt. Mitchell–a 60+ mile, 10,000+ feet of climbing mountain bike race in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. My training prep was good–a healthy amount of mountain biking mixed with road riding, strength training and some cross training (mostly paddling). I had my fueling and nutrition well figured out–especially for warmer weather (like our 90+ degree summer days).

Not knowing exactly what to expect from the course and myself, I started in the middle of the pack–my legs felt good. The first bit of singletrack was a bit of a challenge–climbing uphill with some tight switchbacks. That said, I felt okay–riding some that others weren’t, but also not riding some stretches that others were. There was a bit more hike-a-bike than expected and I started to get caught up in the flow of the race.

At the end of the first singletrack, I popped out onto paved road and wooshed through the first aid station without stopping. In hindsight, I don’t remember when I had my first gel or my first packet of Endurolytes capsules–but, I now know I wasn’t keeping to my “schedule.” Coming into the second aid station, I still felt reasonably good–took my supplements, had a piece of PB&J and refiled my bladder with HEED. I felt ready to grind out the coming 10-mile climb on Curtis Creek Road.

About halfway through the climb my right hamstring started to cramp–enough so that in order to keep it from seizing up and me toppling to the ground I had to dismount. I walked. I could ride a little and then walk–ride a little more and then walk. Eventually, I was doing more walking than riding. There were others doing a similar routine. There were yet others bailing on the event and riding down the mountain back to their cars at the start. I wasn’t ready to be beat by the course just yet, so I kept going.

At the top of the climb was aid station three. I refilled my bottle and mixed up some Sustained Energy. I had another piece of PB&J and a Hammer Gel. Leaving a good number of riders who had beat me to the aid station behind, I started the climb up the Blue Ridge Parkway (more climbing!). In short order, my leg started cramping again and I went back to my painful routine of walking alternated with riding. Here was a portion of the event where I expected to pick up a little time (pavement!), but lost more–time and confidence. Still, I pressed on–pushing the thoughts of quitting to the back of my mind.

For weeks I’d been worried about the technical downhill of the Heartbreak Ridge Trail. I should have worried more about the life-sucking, leg-deadening hike-a-bike climb from the Blue Ridge Parkway through the tangle of roots and rocks to the start of that downhill. That was probably the toughest physical part of the event–pushing, carrying, lifting my bike up that “trail”. While there were definitely sections of the downhill that I couldn’t ride, most was within my current technical limits. Still, I dealt with my cramping leg on any slight uphill. Then, I was dealing with it even on the downhills. Trying to keep my pedals level (to avoid rocks and roots) was tough as my leg would cramp at times. I tried keeping that pedal down. I even tried riding with that leg out of the pedal and straight. Those strategies helped and it wasn’t until near the bottom that my down pedal caught something and I tumbled into some soft rhododendrons.

Upon reaching the finish line, I was done–11 hours and 16 minutes. I was last in my age group and third to last overall. But, I finished. I was pleased that I did not quit. I was not pleased with when I finished or how I felt.


I spent a good part of the following week overthinking things. And, after lunch and conversation with good friend and fellow endurance athlete Aaron Freedman, I realized that I was dehydrated and under-fueled. First, I got caught up in the race–and didn’t keep with my fueling, drinking and supplement schedule. Later, I put all my mental energy into not quitting–and didn’t keep up with my fueling, drinking and supplement schedule.

The forgetting, and its consequences, were brought home by something Aaron said about his long-distance running. “Throughout an event, I think first and foremost about hydration and nutrition. Hydration and nutrition. Only after that do I ever think about the actual running.”

Well, I’m hoping that credo sticks with me in my next endurance endeavor–the Chattajack 31 paddling race at the end of October.



~ by kipwkoelsch on August 8, 2016.

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