For the past year, I’ve ridden about 90 percent of my mountain bike miles on a belt-drive singlespeed (first a Raleigh XXIX, then a Domahidy Ti). The big question on my mind has been -- could I actually race the thing n the Prescott 6’er?
The races I do are typically long: I’ve been in 24-, 12- and 6-hour races, along with singletrack races 40-65 long. And I also do the occasional 60+ mile road bike tour. The biggest question mark comes from my legs’ tendency to completely seize up about 4-5 hours into a hard ride (more on that later).
Well, I decided it was time to see if my solid (for me) summer of training, some new practices and a fun belt-drive bike could get me through the Prescott 6’er. If you’re unfamiliar with the format, that’s as many laps as you can do in 6 hours. Each lap was 8.6 miles with about 650 feet of climbing. My previous longest singlespeed ride has been about 30 miles, with right around 2,000 feet of climbing.
It’s Race Day at the Prescott 6’er
If you didn’t know the Prescott 6’er was going on, it would be easy to overlook the venue, which was right near a gravel pit. In fact, we had to point one other racer in the right direction. It was a small field, with only 6 racers in the men’s singlespeed solo category. In all, I’d estimate fewer than 200 racers. The promoter, Mangled Momentum, gave the event a friendly, low-key vibe that was extremely welcoming. There was even a beginner class.
The start-finish area passed close to spaces for team tents, with a dedicated Solo Alley. Mangled Momentum was even nice enough to put up a tent for solo riders who needed some shade – I brought my own, but that was still a very nice touch.
I set up my little camp with a cooler full of water bottles filled with EFS mix. I trained with EFS because of its large load of magnesium, which was part of my cramping problem in previous events. I also had a jar full of pickles, a box of fix bars, a bunch of gels, various single-serving electrolyte powders, extra EFS mix, some jugs of water and a bottle of Starbucks iced coffee just in case I felt a bit sleepy.
Oh, and someone asked me about my gear ratio, probably because I’m not only rolling a singlespeed, but also a belt drive. They got my standard answer:
I started out at the back of the pack for a few reasons: I wanted to take the first lap a bit easy. Getting wedged behind people prevents me from going at the course like a spider monkey -- thus blowing my legs out early. I often felt like I was holding back on the descents and climbs. But I kept it friendly and easygoing knowing that it would be a long day. I passed only when it was safe and tried to chat with other riders.
The course itself is seriously fun riding that has that elusive, hard-to-define "flow" that seems to make bikes and riders happy. There were a few sandy patches, but traction was overall pretty good anyway. The hardest part was the far north part, where there were some steepish switchbacks covered in loose rocks.
On the Rocks
It was on the switchbacks in the first lap where I had my major problem of the Prescott 6’er: My seat tube water bottle cage broke! My plan was to ride two laps at a time with two water bottles. I figured that would be good for the distance (I don’t like racing with a Camelbak if I can help it). But that plan went pear-shaped in a hurry. I had to hop off my bike, fetch my bottle and broken cage, stuff it all in my jersey pocket and then re-start in the switchbacks.
A few people I’d recently caught also reeled me back in because of this, but it probably would’ve happened anyway. I already got away from my plan of riding my own race and not focusing on who I’m catching or who’s catching me.
Lap After Lap
I actually rode my second lap slightly faster, but the stop to deal with my water bottle cost me some time. The nice thing about the second lap is that I wasn’t front wheel-to-poop chute with everyone else, which gave me space to ride the way I like. And also had more opportunities to take a gulp out of the water bottle. There just wasn’t really time and space on the first lap.
The third lap was definitely a bit slower, and I felt just a twinge in one of my calves. I staved that off with a generous swig of pickle juice. On the fourth lap, I felt no sign of cramping, but my legs felt tired. I settled into my camp chair to enjoy some shade, a can of coconut water, more pickle juice and an electrolyte packet that dropped a huge magnesium bomb into my system; my wife, who has ridden four Ironman-distance triathlons and definitely knows her stuff, suggested magnesium to me -- but with an ominous warning along the lines of "too much of it will make you shit like a demon." Well, let’s just say this electrolyte package may have been the definition of "too much."
But did my legs cramp, even on my first singlespeed race? Now. Those legs stayed loose and ready to go, albeit with less life in them than the first few laps. My biggest problem on that fifth lap was getting pounded by the seat. On a geared bike, you can shift into a higher gear, push the pedals a bit and keep the weight from settling square on the ol’ taint (or chode, if you were a Beavis and Butt-head fan). On downhills, my speed exceeded the bike’s gearing, so my butt settled right onto the seat. This is just something I gotta get used to for future races.
The fifth lap of the Prescott 6’er also brought the demon of trail boredom. Races like the Tour of the White Mountains ensure that you don’t keep seeing the same stuff over and over again, which definitely keeps me mentally more alert. I kept getting that Groundhog Day feeling.
By the time I finished that last lap, I knew I was for the first time ever in dead last. But my time would’ve gotten me into mid-pack in the familiar and comfortable environs of the regular solo class. And there was really no way for me to move up. So I just said "it’s time to go have a shower -- but maybe first a stop at the portable toilets." I was also a bit in the Groundhog Day cycle of boredom. I’d seen the same trails too much in a given time frame.
Digressions and Final Thoughts on the Prescott 6’er
Let me digress here: When you’re at an event where there are portable toilets, thank the people who keep those in decent shape. Shake their hand, and don’t even think of cringing when you do. They are vital and important people taking on an extremely dirty job to make your life better through sanitation. Better yet, go immediately to your streaming media player and find the Australian film "Kenny," which is all about the adventures of a portable toilet plumber. You will never take these people for granted again!
About the event itself – so low key and laid back. If you sign up for a future Prescott 6’er, you won’t have to wait in long lines. You won’t have to circle around looking for parking. You won’t have to drive into some remote place. You can even send people for a quick supply run to a nearby grocery store if you forget something. And bike shops aren’t far away.
I’m hoping some event photos appear, especially since I saw a few people snapping shots with SLR cameras. The only other photos are from the start/finish shoot, which doesn’t make for very good photography.
The promoters also provided a pretty cool event t-shirt, along with some free gels and fizzy electrolyte tabs. Racers would also find coolers full of water and Hammer Nutrition products, along with solid stuff like bananas and cookies.
I would definitely race this event again and recommend it to anyone interested in a longer event. The six-hour (along with the 12 and 34) format has its ups and downs. You see the same trails a lot, unlike something like the Tour of the White Mountains where it’s one giant loop. This format allows you to support yourself much more easily. Personally, I like to do a bit of both.