Category Archives: Iron Cross 2012

2012 Iron Cross X Ultracross Race

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It’s been quite awhile since the end of Iron Cross 2012. I didn’t feel like writing about the race after the event because I felt as though my writing skill couldn’t do the experience justice; the uniqueness and beauty of my words and sentences would be no match for the challenge of the terrain and the scenic views earned in the saddle of that October day.

I won’t give a play by play of my race. Considering I was riding at the backend of the race and was often by myself or with a very small group, I don’t have any stories of strategic break ways, or attacks and chasing them down.

At the risk of cheapening the value of the Iron Cross experience, I would love to share a few personal memories.

-Eating at Cafe Bruges in Carlisle the night before. What better meal than frites with homemade ketchup and mayonnaise along with a beer sampler at a Belgian redtaraunt before a ‘cross race!
-Camping in a tent the night before the race. It’s pretty cool to be sleeping a few hundred yards from the start/finish line. It was also a very cool atmosphere to wake up to a bustling ‘Crossville in the parking lot in the morning.
-Pre-Walking some of the course in the pitch dark with my mom the night before the race.
-The doomsday pre-race email threatening rain, ice, and certain hypothermia!
-Falling at the very very end of the sand beach section of the “prologue” and hearing the sand grind in my derailleur.
-Super support at the aid stations. It was like a Sonic in the middle if the woods. They took my specific order and delivered it, making sure I save every bit of my energy for pushing the pedals. One volunteer even asked me how many scoops of HEED I wanted in my bottle.
-The huge orchard on the first road section. It seemed like a drove for miles through orchard which covered the entire hollow. Residents even had apple trees in their yards.
-Surprise when a volunteer at one of the course turns told me only 7 people were in front of me. I was arguing with him as I ride downhill because I thought it couldn’t be right! I didn’t realize how few racers were doing the half course. The shock turned to motivation for a top 10 after a few minutes of dismissing the possibility of the 50k peleton taking a wrong turn en masse leaving me in the top 10.
-The run up the powerline. I actually felt bad for the dude that cut the weeds up the trail! I was thinking it would take hours to cut the narrow trail with power equipment where clearly no trail existed before. And it was as loose and rocky as a trip on a Greek cruise ship.
-Possible delerium about 2/3 of the way through the race. At an aid station, I asked if there was in fact 5-7 miles to go in the race (based on my cycling computer). They told me I was about half way! A few seconds later, I started driving back up the road I came from. They yelled I was going the wrong way, so I turned around and took the wrong crossroad again. Exhausting all possibilities, I finally got on the right route. A few minutes later, I could swear I was stung by a bee (but I don’t think I was). This was the woodsy trail section, so at this point I was nervous I had impaired cognition from the physical and mental effort and was lost on the trail. It was a huge win each time I found another trail marker!
-Almost wrecking one of the leaders. I was on a singletrack downhill. As soon as I heard the guy, I pulled off the trail. He was flying chasing down the leaders. My wide girth blocked his view, so he didn’t see the giant downed tree in front of me. He barely stopped in time! I can remember the squealing of his cantis and a few profanities (not directed at me, buy rather at his near demise). On a related note, when the guy that won the 100k passed me, he was going so fast, the moto following him had trouble keeping up!
-Some of the very fast and long downhills were on very loose gravel. Although it was dangerous to go fast, it was even more dangerous to brake or change your line. Some sections deep in the woods were freshly graveled and piles of loose gravel, and deep equipment tracks. Confidence and good balance on the bike really helped in these sections.
-Wicked Wash was set up in the finish area and cleaned all finisher bikes for free. I didn’t believe the bike they brought back was my bike. It was so clean, I didn’t recognize the deepness of the blue paint.
-Immediately upon finishing, I was already excited for next year!

As far as logistics, I think the match up between a ‘cross bike and a mtb is pretty even. Even on the singletrack, I never felt as though I was pushing the ‘cross bike passed it’s limits. If anything, I would think a ‘cross bike may be an advantage because if the lower weight on the carry ups. Of course, you can build a light hardtail, but it’s just as easy to build a lighter ‘cross bike. I think the shape of most mtb front triangles would hinder carrying the bike, as well.

As far as food and hydration, the aid stations are well stocked with many options and are spaced well. I only carried one bottle, and had no problems between fill ups.

I don’t think tire choice is as critical as I thought it would be. I raced on 35mm Speedmax tires, but I think my 30mm Hutchinson mud tires, or 35 mm hybrid type tires would have been fine as well.

Can’t wait to start training for Iron Cross XI in 2013.

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Burning Daylight

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Burning daylight. Shadows are getting long. The training sun is setting in the west and the race sun will soon rise above the eastern horizon.

Iron Cross X 2012 is a week away.

Un Jour Avec, Un Jour Sans

For my non-Francaise speaking peeps, the title of this post translates to “A Day With, A Day Without”. Euro cyclistes use the phrase “Un jour sans” as a short way to say they didn’t have the legs to pedal well, or to basically describe a bad day on the bike.

However, I had the best day in my recent memory! My legs felt like pistons in a Cummings diesel engine. As can be seen in the Strava screenshot below, I rode a challenging route (what can’t be seen from Strava is that a large chunk of the milage was off highway including logging and rocky coal mining roads). Like the Duke cousins, I flattened the hills and straightened the curves.

How was it also un jour sans? As soon as I finished the descent off of my mountain, I realized I forgot my air pump! I remembered my tubes, patches, multi tool, chain tool, and even a leatherman. Somehow I forgot my air pump even though I knew I would be taking my crossed in places the bony boulders have even flatted mountain bike tires. I thought of turning around, but I actually dreaded the cold morning descent more than the ascent.

This is when I came up with my motto for the rest of the year, and will hopefully get me through Iron
Cross X. Just Ride. That’s right, just ride. Forgot my air pump? Don’t worry about the long hike out of the woods, just ride. Pouring rain and a tornado watch on a Tuesday night? Just ride. Bike a little heavy and you don’t have the latest disc brake system? Just ride. Just slogged up the “run up” on the power lines and your quads, calves and lungs are screaming? Just ride!

Don’t worry about things that can go wrong, the physical challenges facing you on your route, don’t make an excuse why you shouldn’t ride one day….. just ride!

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Sunday Training Ride (Gravel Grinder)

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Training ride by the numbers:

Elevation gain: 2,039 ft
Max speed: 40.8 mph
Distance: 21.6
Sectors of gravel: 5
Wooden deck bridges crossed: 3
Cars passed in first 12 miles: 2
Strava KOM earned: 2
Detours due to bridges out: 1
Water Bottles: 0


Sampling of road names traveled:

Cemetery Road
Hollow Road
Ridge Road
Powder Glen Road
Heights Road

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Newbie Iron Cross Questions

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(Edit: For those who don’t know, Iron Cross is an Ultra-Cross event inspired by the Three Peaks race in the UK. It’s basically a race consisting of gravel roads, paved roads, fire roads, and single track. There are many sections in which carrying you bike over steep grades are required. Although some sections would be better handled by a mountain bike, the traditional tool is a ‘cross rig. The event is quite different from a normal cross race!)

My first race of the year is only 2 days away. The forecast for the Humdinger is a possibility of rain, which should make for a fun trail run.

I can’t help but look forward to my A race, Iron Cross ultra ‘cross race October 7 in Michaux State Forest. Being my first Ultra Cross event (heck, I have only raced 1 ‘cross race ever), there are many unknowns dancing in my head. Let’s look at some of the questions I spend my long hours of free time thinking about (insert sarcasm here).

1. Will I be in shape enough to at least partially enjoy the challenge? Or, will it be another cramp festival like the Mon-Tour bike race I suffered through last year? Obviously, the main factor here is training. I have the novel idea of actually training for this race. This is a large deviance from my normal strategy in which my regimin consists of one ride to the stop sign to make sure my bike is shifting properly.

I just hope those old dudes from the Mon-Tour race aren’t at Iron Cross; I really don’t want to hear them brag about passing all those young guys on the hill….I have a kid, buddy and didn’t train. I will be the one laughing when I buy your bike in a few years for half of what you paid for it because you are hanging it up to go play golf since it’s not comfortable to ride your bike in your Depends. (Remind me to change out that saddle)!

2. Is my bike too heavy for the uphills? Does it matter if my bike is 2 pounds heavier than the average steed if my body weight is 40 pounds heavier than the average stud?

3. Will my bike hold up to the singletrack abuse?. I am not worried about my steel frame. What about the steel fork designed for touring? Those old Mavic MA2’s? Will they hold up to my Warren Sapp-esque build? I plan to put the bike through thorough testing during this new thing called “training” I am contemplating. By the time October rolls around, I will either be confident in my Bianchi (his name is Aldo), or I will be riding a brand new used bike from eBay.

4. What tires should I ride? I have a set of Hutchinson Pro Series ‘cross tires 30 mm wide. Although they look really cool since they have a silver/grey stripe that matches my handle bar tape, they are probably too narrow for the singletrack, rocks, and roots. However, they may be an option if the course is muddy from rain.

Next choice is a set of 35 mm wide CST Corporals that came on a hybrid bike I bought for my mom a few years ago. This is probably about as wide as I should go on my frame. Looking at the tread, these should be great on the gravel and pavement, but I will be giving something up on the singletrack.

Last option is a set of Ritchey Speedmax in 35 mm width. I haven’t mounted these yet. My plan is to ride the CST hybrid tires for a few months to save the tread on my Speedmax tires, then swap them out in the fall. Unless the hybrid tires suck on singletrack in training, at which point I will throw on the Ritcheys sooner rather than later.

5. How will my brakes work on steep singletrack? I will find out in training!

6. Hydration/spare tube/tools. Should I use a CamelBack? It all depends on the ease of carrying the bike with a bidon cage mounted. I want to carry two tubes, a multi-tool, and a hand pump. This should easily fit in either jersey pocket or saddle bag. A few packs of gel shouldn’t be a problem. The answer boils down to what will be less intrusive during hike-a-bike section, either the CamelBack or bidon cages….

Next step is to get this pesky cross-training, form building, uphill both ways, wet, muddy trail running race out of the way and go for a bike ride!

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