I attended my first 100km XCM race two weeks ago, so I decided to write a short blog post about it. This is the toughest sports-related thing I’ve done so far in my life and it was great fun.
Third race this year
I got into mountain biking about two years ago after being a casual cyclist for a while. Regardless, I really got into the sport a few months in. I was weight training routinely during the time I learned to mountain bike too, so my general fitness level improved significantly over an year.
I did my first XCM race (Chepun, 42km) earlier this year and the second one a few weeks after that (Kazanlak, 47km). I do 40-60km runs about two times per month and 20-40km runs a few times per week, but the timed aspect of a race really puts you in another mode, so my first two races were pretty tough. The jump from 47km to 100km seemed scary already.
Vitosha 100 is about a 100km of mixed-difficulty XCM. It features 2000m of combined ascent, including a lot of technical climbing and three downhill sections. Vitosha is my home mountain, I live and work in a neighborhood that’s located right at the bottom of it, so I’m lucky to be able to go for a ride pretty often.
I’ve ridden one test run last year and it turned out pretty well, I finished in about 7.5 hours or 8 hours if we include the time I spent fixing mechanicals like pinch flats in rocky sections. It was pretty draining, but nothing too extreme. Participating in the race with more than a thousand other people turned out to be much harder.
My bike was in pretty good shape after getting it properly dialed up for the last race. The week before Vitosha 100, I bought some gels and bars, a bag of isotonic mix and a new hydration pack. Nutrition and hydration probably make the biggest difference in this type of races, especially during the summer. Luckily, there were ten hydration points along the route, some of them even featured food and coffee (with sandwiches in two of the points, hooray for sandwiches), so I didn’t have to rely too heavily on what I was carrying.
As usual, the oh-not-so-guilty feeling of severe carb loading two days before the race was there. I must have gone through a whole pack of pasta, but that one-pot Bolognese recipe is just so good (and carb loading really makes a huge difference for me). Our cat had surgery two weeks before the race. I was pretty stressed after that, so preparing for the race actually took some tension off me instead of the other way around.
I over-trained before my last race by doing too much running and too many squats, so my quads ended up super-sore, which is especially bad during downhill sections. I didn’t plan to make the same mistake, so all I did in the last five days before the race was a 60km training session, some road riding and daily walks and stretches. I wanted to feel relaxed and refueled instead of trying to trigger “beast mode” prematurely and fight to keep the momentum for race day.
The feeling of riding from home to the starting line is really weird, I’m used to traveling for a race. It kind of made the whole thing feel easier. I met with my buddy Boris about an hour before the race started. Got up at 4.20AM, had coffee and breakfast and headed for the trails. Preparing absolutely everything the night before so you can just grab and go is essential for me as my brain still doesn’t function properly at 4AM.
Based on the severe rain over the week before the race, we all knew it was going to be sort of muddy. Regardless, I must have been too optimistic about it. Some sections were so muddy they grabbed my shoes while I was pushing my bike. The southern part of the mountain is covered in sticky red soil which turns into clay when it rains.
The bike felt great and, based on my previous rides, I started off pretty good. The first place where I started to ride more slowly than usual was the first downhill section. I’m not used to riding with so many people around me. The section actually felt more dangerous than usual due to people breaking in front of me. If you’ve ridden a mountain bike, you know sharp braking on a steep section can be really dangerous.
Shortly after that came one of my favorite sections, a flowy single track where, unfortunately, overtaking is almost impossible because you are at the edge of the mountain range. I really lost a lot of time there, but I didn’t care that much.
What ultimately slowed me down significantly compared to my test run was a mechanical, and a bad one. I snapped my chain on a sharp transition from a downhill to an uphill section and I didn’t have a spare master link. I know that may sound dumb, but I’ve never broken a chain before and I’ve never owned a spare master link. Luckily, after about twenty minutes, a random biker with the same drivetrain passed by and helped me out. He even fixed my chain while we had a great conversation about the benefits of clipless pedals (I’m so switching). I don’t really believe in karma, but this race proved the importance of helping each other on the trail to me: I helped a lady who suffered a flat tyre, lended a tube to another rider (I ride tubeless) and gave my hand pump to a third guy during this race. And I managed to cross the finish line because a rider helped me.
The other weird thing that happened to me luckily had no major consequences. I had been riding for around 10km with the quick release of my front tyre unlocked. On a higher bunny hop, I saw my front wheel shimming left and right. I have to admit, this was pretty scary, just thinking about riding that section with my front wheel not secured properly gives me the chills.
I finished 680/1153 in just under 10h with plenty of energy to spare. I’m not too happy with my time, but I lost about 180 positions while fixing my chain (and so did the guy helping me, mad props to him), so it’s okay. In the same time, this was the most uplifting XCM race I’ve done so far. For the first time, I didn’t miss a single hydration reminder, ate just as much as I needed to and, in result, didn’t feel tired at all. With the boost provided by the caffein-infused gels, I managed to win a bunch of positions back and finished with plenty of energy to spare. Definitely doing it again next year if I’m in town.