I’ve been known to overthink things. That’s probably what got me the nickname “The Analyzer” from those who’ve been on the receiving end of lengthy discussions about tire pressure or weird combinations of bike parts for a specific application. So, when I signed up for The Off Road Assault of Mount Mitchell I had a bit of an idea of what the race looked like based on talking to those who’d done it before, but I needed to know more. It really started with a simple question:
“Should I use water bottles or a Camelback?”
I knew people did both and I didn’t know which would be best for me. One thing led to another, and now there’s a spreadsheet and maps and…well you’ll see….
So the first thing I did was find course routes and profile maps for ORAMM. The route has varied a little bit since it first started but the highlights are still the same. Kitsuma twice, Star Gap, Heartbreak Ridge all present pretty big challenges for this Floridian. Oh yeah, and there’s the minor issue of Curtis Creek Rd in the middle there, just 10+ miles at 6% grade, no big deal right?
The surfaces include paved roads, gravel roads, double track and single track, so there’s truly a little bit of everything in that regard. Knowing where those surfaces come on the course is something I want to have some understanding of when I’m going in blind to this race.
Looking at the above 2 maps I could see how many miles apart each of the sag stops were, but I didn’t know how long that would take. In South Florida, you can look at a route and know 10 miles will take an hour or less, but throw some mountains in that distance and I have no idea how long I need to plan for water and nutrition. I know some riders use a Camelback for this ride, and others use water bottles so I wanted to figure out which I’d go with. So how could I figure that out?
The answer was relatively simple: Strava.
Strava is a great tool for many different aspects of riding bikes, and especially something like this. I picked a couple segments like Kitsuma and Curtis Creek as those climbs are the biggest questions for me. Skimming through the top times I saw some familiar names from Florida that I’d ridden & raced with before. Most (all?) of the names below are people who are much faster than me, but I have a feeling for how far behind them I am and use that to gauge pace for ORAMM.
So I put all the mile markers on a spreadsheet for each sag stop and each climb. I also added a couple of sections of note like the Blue Ridge Parkway, Hecklers on Heartbreak, and the final descent into town. Then I went in and looked at the above Strava rides and figured out how long it took each of those racers to go across each section. It was starting to look like a 7:00 finish time was pretty realistic for my current level of fitness if everything goes well. Combined with lengthy discussions with people who’d raced this before, I made some brief notes for each segment as follows.
|2||Start||30min||0:10||At least 30 minutes of steady gravel doubletrack before Kitsuma, we can push here and avoid traffic getting into Kitsuma.|
|10||Kitsuma||10min||10%||0:50||Some people walk sections of this, be ready to dismount, will be traffic.|
|13||Sag #1||1:10||Make sure you’ve finished at least 1 bottle by this point. A couple miles of road after this before Star Gap, can make up time here.|
|17||Star Gap||18min||14%||Steep but short, there are Hecklers here too. After the peak there’s a pretty long DH that starts as single-track and ends as double-track.|
|25||Sag #2||2:40||Get 2 full bottles, eat something. Drink some more before you leave.|
|29||Curtis Creek||1:45||6%||3:00||Starts off flat and paved, then turns to gravel. Measure efforts, this climb keeps coming and has some pitchy sections.|
|31||Water Stop||Optional, right as you start climb so probably not necessary.|
|36||Sag #3||4:30||Get 2 full bottles, eat something, stretch, drink some more.|
|42||BRP climb (Road TT)||4:40||Longest continuous road section, opportunity to work together here.|
|44||Hike-a-Bike||10min||5:00||Look for parked van, watch out for cramps when walking|
|DOWNHILL HECKLERS||Far left line at the bottom by the hecklers seems smoothest. Gravel section after the hecklers into the next Sag.|
|48||Sag #4||5:45||Last stop, might only need 1 bottle to finish, 1 big climb ahead so fuel up.|
|49||Mill Creek/Kitsuma||30min||5%||6:00||Steady Gravel double track into Kitsuma, Should be less traffic than the first time.|
|Descent into town||30min||6:30||Last push here, Hammer down!|
Looking at each segment I realized that I’ll go no more than 1:45 between sag stops if all goes to plan. That’s right on the edge of two 22 oz Purist bottles for me, so I think I’ll be good without the Camelbak. With that decision made I knew I’d need about 7-8 bottles total, hopefully hot swapping them on the fly with my amazing pit crew (Hi Jemma 😁 ) or if not just refilling at the sag stops. Since my Trek Top Fuel 9.8 SL only has 1 bottle cage, that means one bottle in the jersey unless I come up with a creative mounting solution this week. That’s not too bad, I’ve done that before and it tends to stay in place.
So this is all fine and good, but I’m not bringing a novel with me to read while riding. I needed something smaller, and after seeing pros use cheat sheets on their top tubes for challenging races like Paris Roubaix, I knew I wanted to do something similar.
For Paris Roubaix they mark the rough cobbled sections and steep climbs. For me I wanted to know mile markers, name or description, duration in time and what time in the race that I’ll theoretically get there at a 7:00 pace. Also color coded by how difficult I guessed they’d be, because who doesn’t like pretty colors?
I’m taping this to my top tube so I can quickly look down and see what’s coming up, or how much longer I’ll be suffering. As my friend Terry kindly reminded me, Mike Tyson said it best: “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth”. Looking at this course, I see plenty of mouth punches. And body blows. And just a general beat-down. But at least I’ll know what round of the fight I’m in, and what’s coming next.
Now I’m no coach, or team director, or pro racer, or anything other than a nerd on a bike, but this is how I’m looking at ORAMM. What started with the simple question “Water bottles or Camelback?” ended up with all this. Feel free to use any of this stuff here to help you decide how you plan to attack the race, or let me know where I’m off my rocker. I’d love to hear any feedback you have on this as I’ve never gone through this exercise before. I’ll report back after the race to see how it went and what I’d change preparation-wise going in next time.