Monday, September 15, 2014

Barnburner 104 -- 2014

Why am I doing this?

This report starts in a funny place.  I really don't like this race much.  There's 100 things wrong with the BarnBurner.  The entry fee is expensive.  The race organizers provide very little in the form of aid stations, support, or swag.  The venue practically requires a 4x4 to access. The venue itself is in a great part of the state, but is not awe inspring.  And the course.  The course is nearly 100% dirt road.  

And the vibe is all wrong.  It's not an Arizona mountain bike race with world class racers wrapped in an insane party vibe and like The Whiskey.  It's not a resort race like the Tahoe Trail. It's not a local race with shop owners and people you see at the trailheads.  It's not a quirky local race all grown up like Iceman...and it ain't no Leadville.

Despite all that, I entered because BarnBurner is a tool.  It's a Leadville qualifier.  It's a tool to get and entry, or secure a good starting spot.  

One very nice thing about the BarnBurner is the staff from the LRS that comes to town and the volunteers they wrangle up (with one exception -- who I will call out later).   As I've gotten to know a few of the folks in the LRS -- like Abby Long -- it's a great chance to see them.  They really are family, and their presence can make up for a lot of crap.  That Leadville family thing is really starting to come through for me. 

There is hope for this race....just needs the RedRock Co, Landis, and the LRS to take care of it a bit.  I'll save the loooong list of specific improvements for anyone from those companies that wants to hear it.  Hopefully they will before next year.

As I said in the complaints section above, BarnBurner is tough to get to.  It's 20 miles Northwest of Flagstaff, which necessitates an overnight in Flagstaff for me and my gang of girls.  Having learned from last year's single hotel room fiasco, we got a 2-bedroom suite at the Embassy Suites in Flagstaff.  I think we were most excited by the free breakfast, of which I would only partake once, which made me a little sad.  

Flagstaff is a fun town.  We were there for "first Friday" which is a big party on the town square (shockingly) the first Friday of every month.  We met the mayor, saw some bands, ate Bigfoot Barbecue, ate chocolate, met some forest rangers, won walking sticks by answering questions wrong, met the NAU Lumberjack...enough fun to keep the kids from going completely bonkers and making my wife completely insane.  We also did some window shopping in the funky shops in town.  Here's some pics of us having a blast:

Lumberjack and walking sticks
Big Foot BBQ.  in the basement of a clothing store...
Gallon size flask.  might be big for the jersey pocket

Enough of the editorial.  Time for a race report.


BarnBurner is 104 miles, 7100' of climbing at 7000' of altitude.  If the Whiskey is a 1/2 Leadville (50 miles, 7000', at 5000') BarnBurner is like a 3/4 Leadville.  What all those numbers mean is that it's a tough ride, if you chose to make it so.  The ride is emotionally tough, because it's 4 laps.  So, as you head out for miles 53-78 and 78-104, there are lots of people showered  eating, drinking beer, and chillin'. And you've got miles to ride.  

Race morning worked fairly well...thanks to my friend Ehfad riding the relay version of the race, and fortuitously staying in the same hotel, I was able to bum a ride up to the race site.  Even more fortunately, Ehfad drives a 4x4 Pathfinder.  With all the rain over the past week (you maybhavecseen the pics of cars up ton their roofs in water), the last mile of "road" to the race site at the C&C ranch was a total disaster.  Cars and Trucks stuck in mud so deep it covered the wheels of F150 size trucks. There were massive mini-ponds (way too big to be called potholes) along the way.  The Pathfinder handled the obstacle course well...and at about 5:45am, we parked and began to unload all the stuff we might need for the race.

I looked for Randy and Trina, two more riding buddies from the valley, but thanks to our slightly late arrival, couldn't find their pop-up sites. Randy was riding the full distance, Trina and Ehfad were on 50-mile relay teams. The area for the pits was somewhat muddy, and also covered in cow and horse crap.  Fan-freakin tastic if you ask me.  After setting up the pop-up, it was getting very close to start time, and I made a little bit of a hash of setting up my supplies...kind of just a big pile (hopefully) out of the horse and cow poop.

I grabbed myself my 3 GU packets, 1 bottle of CarboRocket, 1 bottle of fresh water, and headed for the start line.

Thankfully, the absolute worst part of the race -- the running start -- had been eliminated.  I detest running starts.  Running is for criminals.  The reason for removing the running start was all the mud and standing water from the that was a good omen for the conditions of the course.

I jumped in line about 2/3 of the way to the front, hoping to get out quick and get myself in a pace line for the first lap.  Most of the course is very road-tactic friendly, and if I wanted to go fast, and make my goals, a draft for as long as I could get one would be very very needed.

Goals you say?  What were my goals?   Last year, I did this race as part of Leadville prep.  It was June 1st, dusty and hot.  It was my 1st 100 miles off-road, and the 2nd time in my life I was riding 100 miles in 1 day.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I managed to get around in 10:20ish...and on that day having numbers instead of DNF was a real accomplishment.  Pros, bike shop owners, guides, ironmen, and more had all bailed on the race, and stubborn old me finished.  That sub-11 earned me an orange coral at Leadville, and showed me I was tougher than a lot of people who do this sort of thing.  Yeah me!

Well, since we all know racers lie to themselves, I told myself I could make 8 hours on this course. Come in sub-8, earn yourself a silver coral spot in Leadville.  Yeah, right.  Really I was going for 8:30.  This was very do-able with some effort.  The 8 hours was a bit of a pipe dream, and do-able if I found a group of 4 riders willing to let me sit 5th wheel all day while they cranked along at 15mph+.  Basically, I was going to make this race hurt.  Remind myself what its like to leave 100% on the course, because I seem to have forgotten what that feels like.

Dig deep speech, thank-yous to Ken and Marilee, praise for the land owner of the C&C ranch, Thunderstruck and a few more rev-ups, Star Spangled Banner....shotgun blast and we are racing!  

Lap 1

As you can see from the profile below, a whole lot of time can be made in the first 7 or so miles of the lap.  It's a long, shallow, steady climb, which means drafting wins.  Plus, there's a ripping downhill that follows which builds so much speed, you're pretty much spun out, and can recover.  Miles 13-26 are 2 painful climbs and white knuckle descents.  Time can be made there as well, but they are hard miles.  

My strategy was to build as many miles in the "average speed bank" as I could before the 2nd half of the course, where I knew the 2 stiff climbs would have be averaging 5-6mph, perhaps 10mph over the 2nd half.  So in the 1st half, to get my 8.5 hour time, I really needed to hit the 16mph range (more if at all possible).  

At the gun I went for it. As soon as I could, I found my way to a dry line in the 6" deep mud, and stood on the pedals. moving through tall grass.  I passed 40-50 people this way, ducked a tree, and jumped onto a single-tracky section of the course that led to the main road. 

Now on the long climb, I added some gears, bore down on the pedals, and leap frogged my way through the field, settling in behind a slower train for a few seconds of rest before accelerating again. I was looking for a fast train to pass that I could grab on to...and get some speed over the next few miles.

I eventually got onto the wheel of 2 Cloud City Wheelers setting a 20mph pace. 3rd wheel.  Perfect.  I am not ashamed to say I sucked their wheels for 8 miles, and as soon as a longer train of fast riders came up, I jumped on their wheels and chased their lines down the 5-ish mile downhill.  25mph easy.  On the dirt.

Lots of miles per hour in the bank.

I got to the bottom of the big climb, the Strava challenge segment, averaging 18mph, feeling fresh.  I remembered to enter the eating contest, and downed a GU (lemonade!) washed down with a few swigs of CarboRocket.  The climb felt great -- it was early, but I was thinking this would be a good day.

The next downhill section is really fast, and really scary. 30mph+, somewhat loose gravel,  and the occasional big rock.  Then there's the 2 miles of insane rocky downhill where you're hanging on and hoping you don't break a spoke, or your face.   I cried just a little, because I was scared.  Then I cried a little because it was over.

I managed to get through all that maintaining good speed, and not breaking my bike or my face.  My heart rate at the bottom of the decent was higher than it had been at than at the top -- that's a wicked descent!

This is where the course gets pretty brutal.  4.5 miles of up.  Starts on the road, turns onto a trail, and gradually gets steeper the whole way.  Basically, my idea of a really fun segment.  Early on the climb I pushed a big gear.  I was making some good time, and passing a lot of people.  I heard a guy grunting behind me.  Glancing over my shoulder I realized I was pulling a train of like 10 riders! 

I gave the universal elbow flick to get someone to pull through. No one pulled through.

I slowed down and moved out of the good line.  Nothing.

I move way over on the road.  Long chain of guys moved over.

I turned, and said "hey, someone want to pull through?!"  Nada.

So I did the only logical thing.  I ate some more, took another drink, added 2 gears and left those f-tards in my dust.

Climbing on the trail now, I was picking people off steadily.  I came up behind a recognizable figure on his bike.  Baggie shorts, Bicycle Ranch jersey, very nice bike...Markus Zimmer owner of the Bicycle Ranch!  Markus was suffering.  Did I offer words of encouragement? Sort of.  As I passed him, I looked over my shoulder and shouted, "Sur la Plaque Markus, Sur La Plaque!"  I am sure he appreciated it.

I continued (mostly) to pass people on the climb.  Definitely an awesome feeling.  If your legs have it one day, I highly recommend it.  Topping out the climb there's a ripping downhill to the start/finish and the Barn.  This is a little less white knuckle than the previous section, as there's a pretty well defined line through the crud.  

As I pulled up to the Barn (which you have to walk through) I glanced at the Garmin.  1:45.  I was moving.  I was happy...and I was worried I had burned the matchbook on lap 1.  I was also pissed off.


I encountered the most enigmatic creature at a bike race.  


I will now digress from this story to write a letter to the MEAN volunteer

Dear Mr. Mean Volunteer,

You do not know me, and I suspect you do not care.  For the record, I was the cyclist in the "Speedy Bike Club Motor City" jersey at Barn Burner.  I came up to the barn at about 1:45 in the race, having laid down some serious effort for the first lap.  

You clearly noticed me as I rounded the last turn towards the multiple chalk stripes on the ground indicating the zone where cyclists were to dismount before crossing into the Barn, as you zeroed in on me like an eagle that had spotted a big fat salmon flopping upstream.  I must have really had your attention, because many riders passed you on their bikes beginning their dismounts just past the first chalk line and finishing as they hit the second chalk line.  

Actually, was your job to maintain the chalk lines?  Because they were a little blurry.    

As I came to the line, I unclipped one foot, and began to swing off my saddle.  Also as I came to the line, you started yelling at me, "get off the bike!  GET OFF THE BIKE!"  At this point I could not help but notice the cyclists passing me on their bikes.  This is when you, Mr. Mean Volunteer, reached out and grabbed my handlebars. 

The next actions were quite shocking.  You said something unintelligible about being a vet.  You also told me if I pulled "that" again I would be DQ'ed.

I was already shockingly impressed your meanness and now I was even more impressed by your utter ignorance, especially for someone with so much life experience   

So mean volunteer, you may not know this but I vowed to ride directly at you on the next lap, until you yelled at me to GET OFF THE BIKE again.  I figured this way I would not have to look at the multiple chalk lines and figure out where to dismount, your mean, ignorant, very loud body would provide my braking mechanism.

I hope you are happier today Mr. Mean Volunteer, because you were very unhappy last Saturday.

Bad Dad

Lap 2

I passed the bike shop pits and those of the more organized, and came to our pit area.  I was hoping Ehfad would have sorted things out a such luck.  So, I rummaged through my pile, noted I forgot to put ice in my cooler of bottles, got my CarboRocket, bottle of clean water, downed a few GU electrolyte capsules, pocketed 3 more GUs, and headed out.  13.3 mph after the stop...still had a few MPH in the bank!

Thers's a trail-like section from the Barn area our to the roads where the race course is.  As I headed out, I hit that truth of endurance racing.  Even with 100s if not 1000s of people at the start, you're often riding alone.

With no rabbits to chase, and no sticks chasing all I had for motivation were the numbers on the Garmin.  More importantly, there was no one to draft.

That is until....and there's always an until...until a train of guys with green and yellow bandanas came up beside me.  My bandana was an orangy-red like color.  This meant I was a crazy person, riding 100 miles myself.  The greens and yellows were some flavor of 1 or 2 lap riders -- either riding 2 laps solo or they were part of relay teams.  So they were moving fast.  I knew my time on this section was dependent on getting in a good paceline, so even though they were really moving, I added a gear and mashed the pedals to grab onto the back of their train.

And man were they moving.  20mph+.  No rotations really.  There was a guy on the front just hammering away and about 5 or 6 of us just hanging on.  About 10 minutes in, 2 riders pulled out in rapid succession unable to match the pace as the road tilted up a bit.  Soon, it was just me chasing Mr. Really Fast Man in a black jersey.  Then I got dropped.  My HR was hitting the top of my comfort range, and even though I wanted this ride to hurt, I was putting in too many sprinting efforts just to keep up.  So I backed off, and went back to staring at the computer, hoping to keep the average mph number as high as possible.

The Part Where I thought I would Die

I made some pretty good time -- though not nearly as fast as the first lap -- on the downhill, and ground my way up the Strava climb.  As I hit the top, I knew it was time to fly...the long dirt road downhill where you could top 35mph if you tried.

So I tried.  A little to hard.

There are signs on the course that have the universal XXX DANGER on them.  They mean "SLOW DOWN YOU CRAZY PERSON".  I did not slow down.  Instead I tried to see if I could take the sweeping left hand corner really fast.  30ish MPH, on loose gravel over hard pack, and I realized I was in the corner all wrong.  I was not going to make the apex, and was headed straight off the right side of the road into rocks, cactus and badness. 

I screamed a little.

Then I locked up the rear wheel, threw my weight back, and hit the front brake.  Not enough.  Still sliding off the road, I sat back up, laid off the front, headed right off the road and into the wide rock-filled trench.  Somehow, by some miracle, I managed to stay upright, bounced off a few rocks, and got myself back on the road.

I peed a little.  I admit it.

A pair of riders behind me had slowed down, and told me they were ready to stop, because they were sure they were calling an ambulance for me...and then complimented me on my recovery.

I figured it must be my day.

I came in for Lap 2 right at 4 hours.  It may seem like I lost 30 minutes, but according to Strava, it was only 15 min.  I must have burned 10-15 in transition, and riding the goofy little part of the course out from the Barn to the road. 

Still, I was on track.  Not a lot of extra time, but there was some time in the bank for an 8:30 finish

Lap 3

In most endurance events, most racers begin to despair at some point.  For me, it was lap 3.  At about Mile 54 on the Garmin, I had to pull over for an ambulance.  Another racer had taken a header...and unfortunately had to get evaced.  I heared he was OK.  I lost about 10 minutes of race time, but that downtime let the doubt creep in.

My average speed was drifting below 12.5mph, and I was getting tired.  Fortunately, it was right about when I was feeling "done" that I hit the long downhill, and let loose to see if I could gain some time.

My average speed startd going up!  12.6...then 12.7

I knew the 2 big climbs were coming, so I had a new race.  A new carrot.  Get that average speed up so I could withdraw from the bank on the climbs!

I hit the bottom of the Strava climb with the average speed showing 13mph!  I was back on an 8hr pace!  I thought I was done, but by finding my rabbit, and riding a bit smart gaining as much speed as I could on the decent, I was back on pace. 

I cleared the Strava climb and the average speed was down to 12.7mph.  For lap 4, i knew I would loose another .3mph on that climb.  I hit the final climb at 12.9mph, and cleared the top at 12.4, so I knew I would loose .5mph on that climb as well...

I ripped into the barn completing Lap 3 feeling pretty good.  No cramps, and I had hope.  I also had not been laped by the winner, which was a huge boost.  I think I was lapped by one or two of the relay teams based on staring at the finish times and doing math, but only 1 or 2...not bad really.  My transition was a bit slow, but I still got out with the average speed at 12.3mph.  A little slow for the 8:30, but there was hope.  It was 1:27pm on the clock.  My first lap was 1:45, next 2:09, and 2:20.  If I could make this hurt, the 8:30 was in reach.

Lap 4

I made the last lap hurt.  I played the game with the computer willing the average speed to go up. It was not going up fast enough.

As I made the first long descent to the Strava climb, the storm clouds gathered and the temperature dropped -- refreshingly.  As I strated the Strava climb, the sky opened up and it was a full-on downpour.  I was riding in little streams up the climb...and progress was slow.

I took it easy on the nasty downhills, not wanting to crash and the fingers slipping on the break levers. 

The last climb was hard...and I made sure to put 110% into it, but as I approached the top, and the timer clicked over to 8:30, I had missed my target bout about 15 minutes.

Nevertheless, a sub-9 hour finish was easily in sight, and nothing was stopping me from hitting that target.  The last 3 miles barely felt like work, and I crossed the line at about 8:50.

Ken and Marilee gave me a Big Barn Burner belt buckle, and I told them I loved them.

Great News

After some recovery and a chat with Jeff, I made my way over to the beer garden.  Abby Long was handing out beer tickets.  Abby is in charge of waves, and racers, and about 100 other things for the Leadville Race Series, and she is awesome.  She's everything that is good about the races in one person.  So great for the LRS to find her.

Abby told me that due to the Ambulance coming in and everyone needing to stop, they were crediting times 30 minutes towards start coral positions for 2015!

RED!  I was in the elusive Red Corral.  This is the sub-9 corral.  This means that next August I line up WEST of Harrison.  I line up right behind the pros...and have the best possible chance to bag that sub-9

So in the end, all that work getting to and racing BarnBurner was worth it.  Kids got to see Flagstaff, I got to race, we did not get stuck in the mud...what esle do you want?

2 months to iceman


Race plate 


That's a lot of mud


  1. Love these write-ups!

    What sort of rubber did you run for this race? I wonder if that contributed to your miracle recovery on the balls-out downhill.

  2. Thanks Hans! You have incredible patience for my long-windedness and plethora of typos.

    The tires are bonty XR2 2.2. Kaolin Cummens, owner of the World Famous Flat Tire Bike Shop swears by them. Kaolin is a shaman. Listen to Kaolin.

    The bike came with Racing Ralph 2.1. I hated those tires. I always felt unstable at speed on the corners, and they had an annoying habit of letting go in steep, sharp down hill turns. (See the McDowell 40 write up and my broken rib).

    See you at iceman!