The Fool’s Gold 50 and 100 mile mountain bike race is presented by 55Nine Performance and takes place in the mountains of North Georgia. It utilizes lots of forest service roads, some double track, and some sweet singletrack – including Turner Creek, Moss Branch, Bare Hare, Bull and Jake mountain trails, and Black Branch. It’s got about 7,000 feet of climbing for the 50-mile route and double that for the 100 milers – they do two laps of the course. As part of National Ultra Endurance Series it draws some of the fastest professional endurance racers in the country – but it also draws lots of regular Joes looking for a challenge, like me.
Background and Game Plan
This would be my third time tackling the 50-mile race. In 2008 it was the first big mountain race I’d ever done and I had no idea what I was doing. I made two big mistakes – I used a 1×9 drivetrain with no chain guide, and my nutrition plan consisted of water and two gels. That didn’t work well at all. Without a chain guide the chain bounced around like crazy, so at the bottom of pretty much every downhill I had to stop and put the chain back on the front chainring. And I didn’t have nearly enough calories, and no electrolytes at all, so cramps started about halfway thru the race. I finished with a time of 6:30. In 2010 I DNF’d after 6.5 hours and only 30 miles due to horrible conditions.
I don’t think the hotel really understood the value of all the bicycles in their “secure” holding room. I say “secure” because while they claimed it was secure, there was no control over who came and went into the room. But as far as I know, none of the bikes “walked away”.
My goal for the day was to finish in less than six hours. The plan was to spin a nice easy gear all day to save my legs and keep from cramping, and to eat every 45 minutes whether I wanted to or not. I decided not to use a hydration pack and just used two big bottles instead, which I filled with Gatorade GPro. I carried more drink mix in a few ziplock baggies and each bag had enough for two bottles. I also took 4 Hammer gels and a package of Clif Bar Shot Bloks. I had intended to take a flask of Hammer gel as well, but I accidentally left it at the car. I carried everything in my jersey pockets so I had nothing to send ahead to a SAG stop.
After a late start getting out of the hotel and a semi-hectic morning, me and two friends from Augusta, Ted and Ross, lined up together at the start. The race was based out of the Monteluce Winery (a new start/finish location for this year) and began with a paved 3.5 mile neutral roll out behind a pace car. I hit my top speed of the day, 40.7 mph, and lost sight of Ted in just a few minutes which didn’t surprise me at all. Ted is strong and I knew he’d beat me by a wide margin. Ross and I hung together for a ways but he eventually pulled away from me on the big climb of the day. My pride wanted to turn up the pace and stay with him, but my brain knew I needed to ride my own race and not worry about anyone else. So that’s what I did. I hoped to catch Ross later in the day.
The 100 mile racers getting ready to start. These folks are crazy. The 50 mile field was almost twice this size. Photo: GeorgiaMTB
We climbed for a long ways at the beginning; at least, that’s how it felt to this relative flatlander. Pretty much from the time we hit the gravel at 3.5 miles all the way to just past the 16 mile point it felt like we were climbing. There were actually a few short downhill sections, but they were over so quickly I hardly noticed them. SAG 1 was at the top of the big climb. I topped off one water bottle then hit the big descent of the day, and killed it. The next six or seven miles were all downhill, mostly on a gravel road but then on some singletrack. While my fitness and climbing legs aren’t as good as many of my fellow racers, my bike handling is better and I’m more willing to take risks – I passed a ton of people on the descent. In fact, I didn’t get passed on a downhill or on singletrack all day long unless I was stopped to eat. It took me two hours to reach SAG 1 at 16 miles, but only 40 minutes to reach SAG 2 at the 25-mile point.
If you’re keeping track, that means I made it about halfway in only 2:40 – I was well on my way to making my sub-6hr goal. I knew I’d be going slower near the end, but hoped I had enough of a buffer to still make the goal. I didn’t stop at SAG 2 and rode onto a singletrack-heavy section of the course and had a blast. My average speed between SAG 2 and 3 was really low though – it took me an hour and twenty minutes to cover the 10 miles.
SAG 2 was also SAG 3 – we came by this spot twice. Most racers stopped at least once here, and the volunteers were awesome. Photo: GeorgiaMTB
A few miles before SAG 3 I caught up to Ross on a steep hike-a-bike section of trail and we stayed together for the next 10 miles or so. We both stopped at SAG 3 where I refilled my two water bottles, drank about a third of a can of Coke, and ate a few M&M’s before Ross and I headed out. That was when I noticed my seat bag was wide open… and empty. My tube, two CO2 cartridges, a power link, tire levers, and a multi-tool were laying on the ground somewhere behind me. If I had any mechanical issues at this point, I was screwed.
After SAG 3 my legs didn’t feel good the rest of the day. I felt like I was slowing down, having to use a lower gear than I would have liked. Then I had a mechanical and lost sight of Ross at mile 40. My chain shifted past the big cog and got jammed between the cassette and spokes. AHHH! This happened to me at a XC race not too long ago and afterwards I adjusted the limit screw on the derailleur and fixed the issue. But somehow it had come out of adjustment – a good bit too – and it was easy to see that the derailleur and big cog didn’t line up. I’m still not sure how this happened since I had been using that big cog off and on all day long with no problems. Since I had lost all my tools I couldn’t adjust the limit screw to fix it either. Luckily it didn’t take long to get the chain free, and I made sure to stay off that big cog the rest of the race and didn’t have any more issues.
About five and a half hours into the race it started raining. Hard. Luckily I only had to ride a little bit of singletrack in the rain, then I was back out on one of the forest service roads. It had gotten hot, and the rain actually felt really good since it cooled things off. When I reached mile 50 five hours and fifty minutes were on the clock – but I wasn’t done yet. I was still on some God forsaken gravel road, and I didn’t know how much further I had to go, but I knew I still had that 3.5 mile section of pavement to get me back to Monteluce Winery. And it was still pouring rain, which was no longer nice and cool – now it was annoying.
The Kenda arch signaled the finish line – and the end of a long day in the saddle. The sun wasn’t shining when I came through, but I was still stoked to finally get there. There was food under that big tent in the background, and it was awesome! Photo: GeorgiaMTB
I hit the pavement with only five minutes left to make my goal. For some reason I thought I still had a chance – apparently I don’t do math well when I’m exhausted. I would have needed to average 42mph, but for some reason I thought I only needed to average about 18mph. I put my head down and used the last bit of the energy I had in a futile race against the clock. I was amazed my legs were still putting out some decent power after this long in the saddle; I passed about a dozen people and nearly ran off the road braking too late into a sharp corner. When my stopwatch said 6:00 I sat up a bit and slowed down a little… the near-crash scared me, no point in risking a spill now. I crossed the finish line with 54 miles behind my tires and 6hrs and 10mins after I started, with the rain still pouring down. Ross had beaten me by ten minutes, and Ted kicked both our butts with a time of 5:20. The winner of the 50-mile race finished in 3:55 which is crazy fast. What’s even crazier is the winner of the 100 mile finished in only 7:11!! He rode 50 miles further than I did, and he only needed an extra 61mins to do it. Screw that guy.
Not A Bad Day
I finished in 92nd place out of 158 guys in the Open Mens class, and 134 out of 233 total 50 mile racers. I didn’t make my sub-6hr goal, but I’m still really happy with my race. The course was a little longer than I expected and I couldn’t have done it any faster. I stuck to my game plan and rode my own pace and didn’t worry with anyone else, although I may have pushed a little too hard in the first half. My bike was 99% perfect all day long. The course was a lot of fun, everyone else out there was friendly and having a good time. The volunteers at the SAG stations were great, and the post-race lasagna was amazing - big thanks to those guys and gals who volunteered so the rest of us could ride. Congratulations to all the winners and all the finishers. Since I didn’t make my goal I guess I’ll just have to try again next year!