Tuesday, October 1, 2013

2013 Iron Cross Recap

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
― Marcel Proust
OK, I've never read Proust, but he aptly describes the Iron Cross experience.

I've raced Iron Cross (billed as North America's first ultracross race) in 2008, 2012, and this year. The passage of a year dulls the pain, and leaves only the memories of the epic race.  Two of three times I have been reduced to thoughts of just lying down off the track and giving up. Somehow that experience doesn't keep me from coming back.

The course is mostly gravel fire roads with two (2-3) km long sections of mountain-bike single track. And of course, the signature section of the course is the Wigwam Runup: a 100-m-high goat path beneath a high-voltage power line. My GPS said that the gradient averaged 48%. New  this year was the inclusion of about 10 km of rocky, rutted ATV trail at the end, and the deletion of a long segment of single track that formerly came at the end..

Race Summary

Unlike 2012, I was pretty stoked about the event. Conditions were perfect: shorts, Paceline embro , long gloves and arm warmers. 

I don't like to criticize the course, (too much) but the rollout proceeded immediately into a 2m-wide shale-strewn path. I'm sure that within the first 5km, the leaders were already five minutes ahead.  A longer open section to shake things out would have been fairer. 

The modified course meant that we hit the first single-track section (Lippincote) only about 20km in to the 110-km race. It felt shorter to me this year, and seemed to beat me up less. After a short, fast descent on US30, we hit the base of Wigwam. Like every year, it was one long line of guys, bikes on the shoulders, rear wheel of the guy in front of you threatening to hit you in the face. Step. Plant the toe spikes. Step. Plant. Repeat. And once again using those running muscles just torched my legs. 

From the top of Wigwam the distance just flew by, and suddenly I was back at the start/finish and nearly halfway through the race. I pitted for two minutes at the back of Rob's van to refill my camelback and ditch my vest, gloves, and armwarmers. More flowing, fast, gravel downhill followed. 

I caught Tom Snyder, after buzzing his tire by accident, at the start of the Hogshead Climb. "Hey, Tom." "What are you doing here?!" and then back to grinding. 

I had been a little crampy up to that point, despite eating a Gu every 50 minutes and seemingly having the spigot of my camelback in my mouth the entire way. But I came completely unglued with 20km to go. It was all going well, until almost immediately it was not going well at all. I was forced to ride the (anemic) brakes on one downhill, as I was so bleary that I feared that I would not be able to ride out of a bad situation. I started counting the kilometers to the finish, which is never a good sign.  I rode the next uphill section under reduced power for fear of cramping. My lower back was on fire, and my arms hurt from the combined braking and pounding. 

The finish line was going to involve quite a bit of vertical, and I started praying it was going to be the road climb that we descended at the start. Every downhill seemed to be followed by another little wall of an uphill.Would that final climb never come?  Instead of the road, the finish climb was an ATV trail. I realized that if the finish didn't come at 110 km, I might just get off the bike and lie down.  Finally I could see the inflatable Red Bull finishing arch through the trees, but the climb was too steep. Only 150 m from the end, and I was pushing the bike.  I remounted with 50 m to go, and rolled through.  At least 10 guys passed me in the final 3 km.


I rode the Fuji with what should have been Conti Cyclocross Speed 35mm tires. Unfortunately, while setting up the bike on Saturday I saw that the sidewall on one was slashed,  probably from my second flat at Hilly Billy Roubaix this year. I replaced it with a Panaracer 35mm that I had used in '12. It probably didn't make too much difference. The Fuji has a 46x34 with and 11x28 in the rear. That setup did accomplish some of my course recommendations from 2012, but did not address the one in all caps: NEED.MORE.BRAKES. The TRP cantilevers are just not sufficient for this course.

I had gone back and forth about riding my mountain bike this year, but the course change that eliminated the long single-track section, which convinced me that the road sections would be more efficient on a 'cross bike.  The downhill sections would have been slightly faster, and the lower gearing would have been an advantage with the mountain bike.

The Panache shorts from the '13 NCVC kit are the nicest club shorts I've ever worn. Not quite Assos, but close.

Comparison with 2012

I was faster on every segment I examined. 

2012  2013 Segment
11:39   09:28   Lippincote
07:43   06:49   Wigwam runup
09:02   08:50   Thompson Hollow Descent
14:55   13:46   "Iron Pavement"
17:44   16:15   Hogshead climb

2008: 100 km in 5:14:59 @1:17:39 : 44th/93 starters in the 40+
2012: 100 km in 5:03:17 @1:14:23 : 27th/79 starters in the 40+
2013: 109 km in 5:24:10 @1:12:37 : 38th/94 starters in the 40+ (going backwards...)



  • Drove up in Rob Campbell's van with Tom Snyder. Left from the Exit 11 park and ride. Took just  about 1.5 hours to get to the parking area. Plenty of time.
  • My heart rate trace (no power data) was pretty consistent after the first 20 minutes: 158 bpm average.