Sunday, June 12, 2011

Black Fly Challenge 2011 - Race Report

I've never done a race report before because I don't race. Halfway through the 40-mile Black Fly Challenge, my legs tired, my face covered in mud, and sandy soil grinding at my nether regions, I remembered why. Racing is hard. Especially when you show up to race, and a drenching downpour is pounding at people's clothes, bikes, and psyches - reaffirming to the racers that this hard race would be downright brutal today.

Anyway, here are the pictures:

Nervous smiles at the start.  Are we really doing this?

The start was crowded.  And once we got onto the street, it was still crowded.  The course started with a pretty long downhill cruise through the town of Indian Lake.  It was hard to cruise at the speed that I wanted to go.  At one point, I had to hop up on the sidewalk to get around a few slower people (good thing I was on the full suspension 29er).  That was the last time I saw Ace (more to come on that later).  For the first half hour of riding (mostly roads), I averaged 17 miles per hour - pretty good for a mountain bike.  I probably could have gone faster, but I've got my bike set up as a 2x9 with a bashguard.  Anyway, the asphalt soon turned to this:

This is the only picture I took while riding for a couple of reasons.  One, this dirt road was no picnic.  Those tire marks are really just deep, water filled mud holes.  Riding through them, you don't know if the surface is firm and nice, soft and loose, or slippery and (nearly) unrideable.  I never knew if I would have enough traction to whip out the camera.  Two, sand was everywhere.  I was dirty, the water I was drinking was dirty, and the food I was eating was dirty.  It was not a good time to take out any electronics.  

Once we hit dirt (about 9 miles in), the race became a grind.  We wouldn't be back on asphalt for another 25 miles, so this was the situation that we had.  It wasn't particularly pretty, it was wet, and it was dirty.  The sand did a number on my drivetrain.  I had 3 instances of chainsuck, when I had to get off the bike and yank my chain back into the proper position.  Eventually, I started using water bottles from the aid stations to just wash my chainrings and cogs.  My strategy was to bomb the downhills (my strength), and just survive the uphills (my weakness).  This worked pretty well.  I had to walk a couple of the really hard hills, and I almost slid out on a downhill going around a flooded culvert, but I made a miraculous recovery to stay on my bike.

Eventually, I got back to the paved road, and into the town of Inlet.  The last couple of hills were brutal on my tired legs, but I was able to pass a couple of people on the final stretch of doubletrack (another one of my strengths).

It was a relief to finally see the finish line.

When I finally took my camera out, it was covered in sand and soaking wet.  I tried to clear it out the best I could, but some of the pictures I got after the race are pretty blurry.  Here's me after finishing:

And here's Ace coming across the line:

We had both wanted to finish in under 3 hours, but the conditions made that really difficult.  Maybe on a normal day when the dirt roads had not turned into a sandy, soupy mess it would have been possible, but not yesterday.  She was still pretty happy  at the end, though (or maniacal - couldn't tell):

We had wanted to stay pretty close together (I was actually carrying her spare tube and pump in case she got a flat), but the course didn't line up with our riding styles.  She's a monster on the climbs, and I made all my time on the downhills.  Even if we were in the same general area, we would've yo-yoed the whole course.  I felt kind of bad about leaving her, but I figured she'd be able to fend for herself - and she did, getting over a few chainsuck problems of her own, and dominating the other women in her area. 

I finished in a time of 3:19:57, good enough for 5th in my division (30-39 beginneer), 107th overall (out of 344 finishers) and 55th out of the guys on mountain bikes.

Ace crossed the line in 3:39:11, finishing 1st in her division (20-29 beginner), 145th overall, and 3rd out of all girls on Mountain Bikes (including the expert and sport classifications above her). Pretty fantastic for her first race.

After a couple of beers, they did the awards, and Ace won a bike saddle:

We were able to score a ride on the shuttle bus back to Indian Lake (which was much less complicated than the car exchanging thing we had planned), and we made it back to our car around 5:30 or so.

It's tough to describe racing.  It feels like crap when you're doing it (the sand is everywhere).  And after it's over, the feeling is more of relief than accomplishment.  But I can see how it can be addicting.  I was only 3 minutes off of 3rd in my division (I would've gotten a prize), and if I applied myself, I know I could move up the ranks.  Ace is already at the top of the heap, and if she wanted to, she could actually do mountain bike races every weekend and start winning some money (the Expert division got checks - if Ace had been in that division, she would've gotten a second place check!).

But then you ask yourself if it's worth it.  Mountain bike trips are a lot of fun, and if we started doing them as "training rides" instead of adventures and sessions, I feel like they'd lose a lot of their appeal.  I can see doing races a couple of times a year, just as an experience (although we've decided that we want to choose races with more singletrack and less dirt road grinding).  But I don't like the idea of going to a different race every weekend, seeing the same people, doing the same courses year after year, and slogging through 3 hours of rainy suffering just to have some feeble accomplishment that nobody really cares about anyway.

I'd rather just ride for fun.  That way, when I'm hungry, tired, and covered in sand, I don't have to feel bad about quitting and having a beer.

UPDATE: After Surgery to my GPS unit, I can upload the route. Here it is:


  1. I've done some touring, and there is just no way to stay dry cycling in the rain. And you're right - forget the drive train. The close-up of Ace is a classic.

  2. Wow way to go Matt and Candace! Impressive!

  3. Wow, you guys did great, on a day with brutal conditions. The BFC is notoriously tough in any conditions.

  4. Great post on the Black Fly. I was there and your narration is spot-on. It seemed like the course and conditions were designed to slow you down. I finished 3:22 so I'm sure we passed each other some where along the way. I remember Ace's pink bike (she passed me on several hills).
    Great race and I'll be putting in my calendar for next year !

  5. Great blog, and wonderful finishes by you and Ace!!! How exciting and well done!! Wonder how you both would have finished if conditions were perfect!!
    Enjoyed the Rochester blog too! Great stuff!!

  6. Funny how things look a lot better in retrospect. I'm already thinking that it wasn't so bad and I'm curious how I would do in the other direction . . . Uh oh.