Dang, ORAMM was a blast. I went in having never raced at elevation in mountains before, and came out with some lessons learned. I pored over the course info leading up to the race and had a fairly detailed plan in place of how I expected the day to go, and overall it ended up pretty close to plan. To get a better understanding of how the day went, I picked 6 sections of the course (4 climbs, 2 descents) to see how I stacked up.
I was fortunate to race ORAMM with 3 of my friends (who all finished ahead of me), so I’ll use them as a baseline in the same race conditions on the same day to compare, as well as my projected times where applicable. Having data from 4 riders that I’m familiar with on the same day really helps me understand what happened and how to plan for next year. Ceejay rode off with the faster group after the first 30 minutes, and Matt shortly thereafter, leaving Sarah and I to suffer together as we were pretty well-matched for pace & effort. Then I started to lose pace after Curtis Creek Road and Sarah kept hammering all the way home.
For reference, final times were as follows: Ceejay 5:47, Matt 6:01, Sarah 6:56 and me at 7:15. Everybody had a great day out there and we were happy with how we did, but perhaps left wanting more for next time. Ok, let’s get to work.
This is the first real climb of the race. Sure, you’ve been climbing a steady grind for at least 45 minutes by the time you get to the base of Kitsuma, but at an average of 10% for about a mile this was a tough section. I figured I would get to Kitsuma at 50:00 minutes in, Kitsuma would take me about 10 minutes, and I wasn’t too far off arriving at 54:24 with a time of 11:06. There was a decent bit of traffic and some walkers on this section which may have held us up a bit, but more or less I was on target there. That long climb to even get to Kitsuma was a really fast pace, and having a good warm-up was key as I was approaching the limit early. Closer to the front Ceejay cranked a 9:06, 2 minutes ahead of me, and Matt was close behind with a 9:45 (1:21 quicker than me). Strava says Sarah was 0:17 seconds slower than me, but I was on her wheel the whole climb so we’ll call that a rounding error.
This climb comes after bombing the Kitsuma downhill into the first sag stop, I started it around 1:46 into the race which was a bit behind my projections. This section starts with a hike-a-bike, and then rolls into the most steep and technical switchbacks of the entire race for about a mile, averaging 14%. The Hecklers were already getting setup for the show when everybody comes back down this section in a couple hours when we went through, and I stopped briefly for a photo op with a…”uniquely” dressed individual who was there to cheer us on. Yeah it’s a race, but also it’s supposed to be fun right? Still waiting to see that pic! Here’s a start line selfie instead.
This section had the most traffic I experienced during the day, and combined with the technical steep grades it meant we were walking. A lot. I had hoped to clear this section in 18 minutes, but actually ended up at 22:34. Ceejay went through at 17:51 and Matt at 18:44, again putting some time on me in a relatively short window. Sarah was right on my wheel with the same time at 22:34, and we were ready for a descent.
Once you get to the top of the Star Gap switchbacks, the descent is a fun and smooth switchback section which was a blast. Then you dump out onto a gravel road for a little bit more climbing before a long, fast double track descent through gravel into Sag 2. Sarah and I were having lots of fun on the descents, pushing hard (maybe too hard a couple times) to get back some lost time. So this segment isn’t completely a descent as there’s a little climbing, but it’s interesting to look at. Sarah and I were wheel to wheel on this one, pushing a big gear and laughing as we slid into corners, finishing in just under 39 minutes. Ceejay completed the segment in 35:46 (-3:05) and Matt in at 37:58 (-0:53) but looking at the below comparison tells a little more than just the segment time.
As you can see, both Matt and Ceejay pulled significant time on Sarah & I on the climbs and flats (note Matt’s bathroom break at ~3 miles, LOL). But once we crossed the top and turned downhill, Sarah & I were faster than both Matt & Ceejay as you can see when the gap slowly starts to come down. They were probably using this section to recover after a big push up the last 2 mountains, and we were full gas on the edge the entire time. I look at this section as a microcosm of the entire race: massive time bled out on the climbs offset by slight gains on the downhill.
You want to see bleeding out time on the climbs? Well you’ve come to the right place. Curtis Creek Rd is soul crushing, leg melting, and just overall terrible. It’s not technical, it’s not particularly steep, it just goes on FOREVER. The segment below actually includes the climbing section of Blue Ridge Parkway which is another 3 miles or so after you finish Curtis Creek Rd at Sag 3. After about an hour of continuous climbing I had to stop and take a break for 2-3 minutes, I just didn’t see the end in sight. Luckily Sag 3 came in a few miles and I was able to refuel and keep going to the top of Blue Ridge Parkway with a 1:58 on this segment. I had hoped for a 1:45 so I was definitely off pace. This is where Sarah dropped the hammer and pulled a little over 5 minutes on me. Ceejay again put major time on me here with a 1:21, and Matt close behind at 1:35.
When people say Curtis Creek Road is serious, listen to them. Bring your climbing gears. Don’t think because you ride a single-speed sometimes that you’ll be fine with a 34 tooth ring. You are not a single-speeder (they are a different breed), get a 30t ring and spin up the climb. That is if you can call going under 5mph up a gravel road “spinning”. Oh yeah and bring plenty of water & nutrition cause you’re going to be between Sag 2 & Sag 3 for a while if you’re slow like me. Man, that hurt.
Once you get to the top of Blue Ridge Parkway you actually bomb down on the asphalt with a little kicker back up before you get back off the bike and start walking to the top of Heartbreak. This downhill is 4.5 miles of some real Pisgah gnar: big rocks, slick roots, off-camber switchbacks and big hit after big hit. This was the section where I realized the guys who brought bigger travel bikes (120-130mm) knew what they were doing, as I felt a bit under-gunned with my 100mm travel Trek Top Fuel. I was starting this section a little over 5 hours into the day so I was pretty beat, but it was so much fun just to shred, keeping the brakes open as much as possible. I was able to pull past a few people in upper Heartbreak which felt good after getting murdered on the climbs all day. Once I got to about 1 mile from the bottom I stopped for a minute to gather my wits, have a bite to eat, and get ready to go into the Hecklers section at the very bottom (yes, I cleared it). You can see that jump in the graph below.
So I was able to complete this segment in 33:19, actually ahead of Ceejay for once at 37:28 and even Sarah 37:46. Matt crushed it with a 28:14 despite getting stuck behind some slower traffic for much of the descent. So I was really close to Matt’s time on this DH for first half, then he started slowly pulling away until I stopped for a break.
After the Hecklers you roll into Sag 4 and the only thing between you and the finish line is Mill Creek Road leading to Kitsuma (again). This is a long steady gravel climb, flat in the middle, then back to the switchbacks we did to start the day. I started this section about 6 hours in (previously my longest race duration) and I was just spent. There was some walking up Kitsuma behind another rider that I had no energy to pass, but making it to the top was the best feeling. I completed that segment in 50:30, with Sarah just ahead of me at 41:30. Ceejay and Matt both finished this last climb strong with a 34:18 and 35:33, respectively. Yeah, I climb badly. Not sure what the graph below shows with the big spike in my time there, I don’t recall stopping and taking a 6 minute nap but who knows? Probably a GPS error. Regardless, the trends are starting to emerge…
So, after looking at all this and thinking about how the day went, here’s a few things I learned:
- I lost most of my time on climbs and flats, and was either equal or ahead of my buddies when the trail turned down. Some of these climbs were technical switchbacks, but big ones like Mill Creek and Curtis Creek Road are just simple gravel roads.
- 34t chainring was a bad choice. I was in my 42t cog early and often. 30t ring would have been perfect I bet, though even a 28t ring could have worked as there aren’t any long straight flats you’re hammering in the 10t.
- Those guys on single-speeds that were passing me on Curtis Creek Rd: you are mutants. I guess I need to ride my single-speed more, dang.
- Have your nutrition & hydration plan set, and send backup nutrition to the sags. I had a great team to help me with bottles at Sags 1, 2, and 4. On a whim I sent some random stuff to sag 3 as a backup, ended up using a lot of it. Went with a combination of Infinit Nutrition’s Go Far and Jet Fuel all day, more on that soon.
- This is the first place I’ve seen a use for a dropper post. I’ll have one next year at least to have more fun on the descents. Not sure it would be much faster for me, but maybe more stable & fun.
- I climb like a pig. Or a sloth. Or something that doesn’t climb well.
- I descend shockingly well for a Floridian. Passed a lot of people on every descent. Not enough to make up the time they pulled on me in the climbs, but it felt nice for a little while.
- Bartape on the middle of the bars was unnecessary, only used it on Blue Ridge Parkway bombing 45mph+ for a couple minutes. Maybe the fast guys up front are pace lining up the gravel sections or something, I dunno.
- I was a bit concerned with my super light Ashima rotors, but they had zero issues with stock organic pads all day. I weigh 175ish all kitted up for reference in case you’re shopping for ways to cut weight on your bike without consequence.
- I’m shocked how well my Trek Top Fuel 9.8 SL did on the descents. Some guys in the top 10 brought big travel bikes (120-130mm) because it was so gnarly, especially Heartbreak. This bike saved my butt more than once, definitely punched above its weight for me all day.
- It’s a climber’s race, and apparently I suck at climbing. Need moar watts.
- Had nothing left after sag 4, Kitsuma was brutal the 2nd time through. Your legs get softened up by Mill Creek Road too.
- Definitely sit in the creek afterwards and drink a cold beverage.
- If you want to silence the Heartbreak Hecklers, clear it clean & boring on the left. If you want to amp them up, huck off the middle or rider’s right side.
That’ll do it for this episode of The Analyzer and our series leading up to and including ORAMM. We have a whole season of FSC races coming up for you this fall including a sweet interview with Gone Riding’s Dave Berger on his history of racing and trail building to start us off. Now, we would be lying if we didn’t say we weren’t itching to do more out of state traveling, riding, and racing asap, though it will likely wait for 2018-2019. We’ve caught something and we like it! We are the BikeMinded.