Endurance Mountain Bike Racing

Wilderness 101 Race Report
Bilal Zia, July 2014
Wilderness 101 is part of the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) 100 mile mountain bike race series, run out of the small town of Coburn, PA about 3.5 hours north of DC. Its a very well run race with excellent course markings and extremely helpful race volunteers.
Importantly, this was my first 100 mile race on a mountain bike! I’ve done a few 100K races before and several road races/rides/fondos longer than 100 miles, but this was by far the hardest day on the bike I’ve ever had. My training stress score (TSS) of 610 was more than a 100 points higher than some extremely mountainous road rides I’ve done such as the Mountains of Misery double metric or the Garrett County Diabolical Double (both 200K), or hard Ultra Cross races such as the Hilly Billy Roubaix. As an experienced rider told me after the race, it takes a while to get used to these but then they get addictive!
I think I’m pretty hooked to endurance mountain biking already. But admittedly this first race was quite a struggle. First, I was coming into the race after a week of work travel to Africa, which meant that my lead up to the race involved a ton of jet lag and literally no time on the bike. Additionally, I ate a bunch of crap while traveling and was shocked to see my weight higher than its been in 2 years the day before the race! But 100 miles is a long race and I was hoping I’d lose a few pounds by the end of it :-)
Second, I made a few crucial rookie mistakes. I carried a large camelbak and put all my race essentials (spare tubes, pump, levers, etc) in the bag along with my hydration. I was cursing this decision around mile 60 as by then my lower back was ready to give out from all the jarring. I also carried a large bladder (3 liter capacity) and absent-mindedly asked the super nice volunteers to fill it up at each aid station. Turns out I didn’t need that much water and lugging up the extra weight up each climb was highly unwelcome.
Third, I followed the well-intentioned advice from an experienced racer to over-inflate my tires to help with the incessant fire-road climbs in this race. What I failed to anticipate was that each one of these climbs was followed by extremely steep, nasty, rocky, jackhammer descents on single track! By mile 85 I couldn’t feel my hands anymore and my butt hurt like hell. Only then did I actually stop and let air out — should have done that at mile 40! I only have one data point but I’m pretty sure comfort trumps any marginal gains in speed from over-inflated tires plus I could have taken some of the later descent much faster if my body wasn’t hurting so much.
Fourth, I miscalculated the course profile and was shocked to hit a final climb that I didn’t anticipate. One of the smarter things I did prior to the race was to draw the available course map on some masking tape and put it on my handlebar:
Course profile cheat sheet
This worked really well for the first 70 miles or so but turns out the race profile had changed a bit this year and for some inexplicable reason my cheat sheet displayed a previous year’s version — hence my plight! Next time I’ll make sure to double check everything and note course changes mentioned in the pre-race email!
But enough with the negatives. I had fun most of the race, kept nutrition and hydration going, didn’t cramp or bonk hard (small bonks don’t count), rode everything (including every downhill, rock garden, and dark tunnel), didn’t have any spectacular crashes, and came out of the race wanting to do this again!
As for the race, it started off fast, partly because there generally is nervous energy at start lines and partly because the weather was pretty amazing (slight drizzle and low temps).
A wet start (Photo Credit: bobs-photogallery.com)
The first several miles were entirely paved or dirt/fireroads and I managed to get into a group of about 15 riders who worked well together to get a good paceline going up to the first aid station. Some of the stronger dudes kept saying that we’re going too fast but it felt good and everyone kept pushing the pace up the early climbs and on the flats.
Aid #1 came at mile 19 and everyone was still fresh. At this point I heeded my coach’s advice and slowed the heck down to ride the next grassy climb at my own tempo. Turns out this was a wise decision as I came across several exploded riders later on in the race.
We didn’t hit the first single track till after mile 35 or so and it was pretty sweet. I’ve really started enjoying technical single track as of late and my Trek Superfly simply loves rocks. I flew through this section despite what the picture below suggests:
This narrow bridge had steep drop-offs on both sides. Can you tell from my expression?! (Photo Credit: bobs-photogallery.com)

I rode with the eventual women’s winner for a bit here and complemented her on her yellow shoes. Turns out she was just motoring along whereas I had burnt a few too many matches early and didn’t see her at all after Aid #2 at mile 40.

I kept the aid stop short and soon was on the biggest climb of the day. It took forever, was mighty steep in places, and I couldn’t help but curse the extra pounds I’d put on and the 3 liters of water I was carrying on my back (never occurred to me to dump some out). Never again! I’m getting down to race weight starting today and am going to switch over to bottles for the next race (or buy a smaller camelbak).

As soon as I crested the hill, some nice race volunteers ushered us into some single track. I felt happy to see some technical sections, which soon gave way to utter fright as it wasn’t just technical single track, but rather a technical single track descent on some seriously nasty steep terrain! So no rest for the wicked — I was off the back of my saddle, butt nearly on my rear wheel holding on for dear life the whole way down. Remember how I was bitching about over-inflated tires earlier in this post… yeah, restated!

The rest of the race is a bit of a blur. Each descent was followed by another ascent on fireroads and then some single track descents. I did enjoy a section of technical rocks which was relatively flat and rode strong through it, probably my favorite part of the race.

After what felt like an eternity, I hit the final aid stop at mile 95 with only a few more miles to go. Didn’t stop for more than 2 minute to fill up (just a bottle this time!), and after a brief hike-a-bike section managed to ride home at a decent clip.

The final dark tunnel wasn’t as tough as others had suggested, I just committed to a line and rode it fast, thankfully without incident. My goal for the race was to finish under 10 hours but I only mustered 10:39. Was a bit disappointed but others say that its a pretty decent time for a first 100 miler, especially since this is one of the harder ones. I think with the lessons I learned here and a better lead up and hopefully lighter body (and hydration) weight I can start the process of shaving off time from this first attempt. For now, I’m happy I finished!

Finish line! (Photo Credit: bobs-photogallery.com)