This year I decided to enter the Ouachita Challenge, so when looking at great training opportunities this race was a great fit.
The Spa City 6 hr takes place at Cedar Glades Park in Hot Springs. Cedar Glades Park has just over 10 miles in MTB trails, along with other activities for the family, playgrounds, climbing wall, disc golf course, and RV plane runway.
The weekend before the race I went down to pre-ride the course just to get an idea on what was ahead. I did two laps that weekend which gave me a great idea and what I could do for the race. The course is a mixture of ups and downs with some great flowing trail towards the end of the course. Pre-riding the course also allowed me to see where I could have issues since my technical skills are still at a beginner level.
On race morning, I awoke around 4am. I had a good breakfast of cereal, OJ, banana, and some coffee. I loaded up the bike and make the 1hr 40 minute down to Hot Springs. I arrived right around 7. At this time, there was still a slight chill in the air with temperatures in the mid 50's. The forecast was calling for the temps to raise quickly into the mid 70's to just about 80. The cool thing I noticed was all the tents and coolers set up in feed zone. There was a great atmosphere in this area for the race. I prepared my things and then went to go rack my bike. Yes, I just said rack my bike. No this isn't a duathlon or a triathlon, but in order to hopefully spread out the field. We racked our bikes at the bottom of big grassy hill. The start line was at the bottom of the hill and we were to run up the hill, grab out bikes and ride on.
The rules of the race are to complete as many laps as you can in 5 - 6.5 hrs. You can not stop riding before 5 hrs to be an official finisher. My goal for this race was to at least get 4 laps by 5-5.5 hrs and maybe 5 as a long goal.
By 8am, the sunny was shinning brightly, and everyone was lined up. It's go time! I run/jog up the hill to my bike. I wasn't in a real hurry to get to my bike because my goal for the first lap was to relax and take it easy. The course starts off going across a field and onto a road, before heading back into the Park and hitting the trails. Even with the running start, there were still a couple of bottle necks the first couple of miles of the course. Once we got going, though I could tell my addrenline was flowing. As we went through some quick turns, I ran off the course almost hitting a tree. I hope this wasn't the sign of the day. A few more small ups and downs, and a bridge crossing and is towards the part of the climbing part of the course. By the time, we started the climb, the field had spread out. At this point, I was feeling great and relaxed and worked through this section of the course. I was having a great time! After this section comes the blue section, which has small hills, followed some great trails that flow really well. At this point, my chain had dropped off the front a couple of times, but nothing to worry about. I finish the first lap in around 1hr 20 minutes. I was happy with that.
The adventure begins on the second lap! I worked through the first section of the course really well again now that the field had spread out. I made the climb up the hill and was heading down the switch backs along a straight section when I experienced a first. As I was heading downhill, either I hit my breaks a little too hard or I hit a bump, but the next thing I know I'm going over the front of my bike. I land on my back and looking bike uphill and see my bike flipping over right towards me. The bike lands on me and I'm down on my back. A couple of other riders were behind me and quickly helped me out. I checked myself, no blood, no bones, sticking out, and the bike appeared to be in good order! I jumped back on the bike and rode on. I can say after though, I was a little tentative.
By this time, I could tell the weather was starting to warm, and I was pretty thirsty, not good. Towards the end of the second lap, my chain popped off again and this time wedged itself in. I pull off to the side and spent about 5 minutes working on it. For a second, I was worried that I wouldn't get it out, but was able to work it out. It was back on the bike to finish lap two. I refilled my water/HEED supplies and I'm off the third lap. The goal for the third lap was to stay in control and have a great finish for the fourth lap. Also, at this point, I knew I was going to be able to reach 5 laps, but I would be happy with a four lap finish. The third lap was tougher than I thought. My right leg was already starting to cramp just over half way through this lap. By the time, I finished the third lap, I was whopped. The fourth was going to be survival mode.
Sure enough, I was just surviving on the fourth lap. I worked my through the course trying to stay hydrated and in control. By the time, I got to the blue section I was ready to finish. I slowly worked though this section and finally cross the finish line in exactly 6 hrs with four laps complete!
Wow, this race was learning experience. Here are some of my takeaways:
1. It was my first MTB race, so I got the chance to see how tough these races can be.
2. I learned that I still have a lot of work to do on technical skills. In the future Cedar Glades can be a great place to go. I find it more technical than Burns or Iron Mountain.
3. Hydrate, fuel, rinse, and repeat. I feel behind on my fueling and paid for it quickly since it was warm and dry during the race.
4. HTFU, I did this and was able to get through. I felt my fitness was still pretty good because even the next day I didn't feel that bad. Of course, that could also mean that i didn't push hard enough.
Overall, the experience and race was great! Even with my little spill, I hope to come back next year.
Below is a video put together by Arkansas Outside with a short perspective of the race. Enjoy!