Nova Marathon Course Beta... For Mere Mortals

Following up on Dave’s preview of the Nova Marathon course, I went out and rode it last night on the new wheels from SpeedDream. Dave put most of the course as a big ring course with the exception of a few of the leg burner climbs, my experience has been different… but I’m slower than Dave too :-)

So the course starts off with a steady middle ring (for me) climb. It doesn’t seem like you do that much climbing at the start until you look at an elevation profile. There’s enough g-drops in it to keep it from seeming like a real climb though. Once you top out and turn to go around the little hill/mountain you see in the middle of the course the trail starts getting ripping fast. There’s a few 90 degree turns with quick ups that will get you if you’re not ready for them though. That’s the story of this course, defensive shifting. As you follow this around the mountain it stays extremely fast. It’ll be the low end of the cassette and the middle ring or big ring nearly the whole way.

This part of the course isn’t technical in the normal sense, but it’s ripping fast. The faster you go the more important it is to hit the right lines. I noticed my second lap through this part yesterday was much faster than the first because I had a feel for the lines.

Once around the mountain you get to the only really technical part of the course, and it’s on the worse climb of the course. You start up the middle of the hill you just went around and work your way straight up. No steps or anything like that to contend with, just some tight corners. On a scale of technicality 1 - 5, I would rank somewhere around 2 - 2.5. Just enough to keep you on your toes.

After you top out with a few switchbacks, it’s down… straight down. This section of the course is one of the things I really don’t like. As a trail builder, it’s awful. It’s nearly all fall-line trail. With the grade they had to work with, they could have got several hundred more yards of trail out of this downhill section and still kept if steep and technical. Instead, they just go straight down.

Off of my soap box though, you get into some back and forth and up and down until you go through the Tunnel. At this point, you’ve covered the most technical part of the “Technical” loop. From here you get some more ripping fast, flowy trail. At the end of this you go through a wash and pull a quick right and here again if you’re not in the right gear you’re going to get bogged down - or at a minimum expend more energy than it’s worth.

For an endurance race, this is the one thing that makes this course hard: there are a lot of transitions where you go from big ring to middle ring with no warning other than foreknowledge of the course. A couple of laps and you should have it dialed in, but 40% of the race is over by then and you’ll have spent a lot more energy than you needed to.

After this little climb, you start back down to the parking lot. Nothing super technical here, but there are a few really rocky sections. The first time through I felt confident, but the second time around I aced this section. Again, just knowing the course a bit better helped through it.

Once you make it back to the parking lot you’ve covered right at 6 miles. As this section covers the two longest sustained climbs, making it back to the parking lot is a good time check. Based on yesterday’s ride, I’m shooting for sub-35 minute checks here. Sub-30 would be booking through this section and might actually mean I’m putting too much effort into the second climb.

From here you head out on the long loop. This takes up the next 8 miles of the course. The transitions on this section are much easier to get by sight. There are a few short, and odd climbs that’ll cause a HR spike if you’re not careful, but nothing sneaks up on you as quickly with one exception. For some reason the climb up onto the South Ridge (marked with a sign at the top) always gets me. It’s a little rocky and not very steep, but something about it sucks the energy out of me. If it’s a hot day Friday, this 200 yards or so will be an energy drainer.

Thankfully, when you make it to the top you’ve got a nice gradual downhill to recover on before you drop off of the South Ridge. This is the rocky section Dave talked as a nice 29’er spot. This just beats you up, but it’s not very long. From there you get into some flowy gradual up and downs and back and forths the rest of the way out. On this section I’m shooting to keep every lap in the 40 minute range.

Assuming 1:15 - 1:20 minute laps are my par, that’ll put me at 6.5 - 7 hours of riding. Obviously, I’m shooting for something a lot closer to 6 hours as that was last year’s winning time in the amateur age class I’ll be racing in. As I’ve said before, this is a tune-up race though, so winning it isn’t the goal. I would like a strong personal finish though.

For me at this race, a strong personal finish means a few things:

  • Keeping consistent lap times
  • Keeping the right mental focus during the entire race
  • Focus on proper hydration/nutrition as a prep for the 12 hour races coming up
  • Finishing with enough energy left over for another lap

Since this is the start of 4 weeks of races, I don’t want to leave everything out there on the course like I would if this was a race I was targeting. This last goal should be easy as I normally feel I could ride some more after I get through with a race. That’s always been an issue with me and shorter XC races, but that’s another post.

The mental focus is the one I need to work on. I have a tendency to see riders going and want to go - again an issue with XC races where loosing someone in the first five minutes might mean you never see them again. 70 miles is a long race and I need to keep it in focus that letting someone go 15 minutes into the race is fine. If they’re strong enough to keep that pace the whole race then they would have beat me anyway. If they’re not, I’ll catch them a few hours in.

So, there you go - a preride of the course and how I’m planning on attacking it. Speaking of attacking it, I’m going to head out and ride the course some more. Man it’s nice to be 10 minutes by car or 20 minutes by bike from the opener of the national series :-) If my GPS cooperates with me today, I’ll post a profile of the course this afternoon.