On April 5th, I lined up to do the Ouachita Challenge 60-mile race in Oden, Arkansas. It was a power-packed field with a number of MTB pros and accomplished amateurs.
We rolled out fairly easy on the gravel road section that started the race. We had a pretty tough uphill a few miles in and the pace was hotter than I wanted to go. I settled into a rhythm with a few other riders and we came out at the first aid station about 5 minutes off the pace of the leader, Jeff Kerkove. I hit the road section with Noah Singer and we were told 3 riders were in front of us, but all out of sight. We put down a good effort over the next 14 miles of paved and gravel roads and caught up to Chris Renshaw and Ray Hall just as we hit the Ouachita Trail.
I settled back into my own pace on the climb and the three rode away from me. In retrospect, I may have held back a little too much on the Ouachita Trail. I did manage to catch back up to Noah at the Aid Station #3, although he proceeded to ride away again on Blowout Mtn. I think Blowout Mtn. was probably my weakest section but because I was holding back I was ready to unleash on the Big Brushy climb after Aid Station #4.
As I came through Aid Station #4, Glen told me I was 1.5 minute down on the next rider. I rode hard up Big Brushy and had Chris Renshaw in sight as we exited the singletrack on to the last 8 miles of gravel & paved road. I quickly closed up the gap to Chris and then we worked together for a mile or so. We hit a few small uphills and I was able to put some distance on Chris. I put my head down and put about a minute on him over the next few miles.
I rolled in 3rd place, 5 minutes down on Noah Singer and 10 minutes down on Jeff Kerkove. The race was both easier and harder than last year. I definitely had better fitness than last year, but the longer course and hills in the first 5 miles made the race more difficult. I still have not got my head in the right place to make hard efforts early in races. This is definitely an issue in MTB races, but has also been a problem in some road and CX events.
Various vids are on YouTube.com