Machnowski Competes In 100-Mile Mountain Bike Race


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Stephen Machnowski, a Verona resident who is one of the head coaches of the Essex Offroad Mountain Bike Team, participated in the Cohutta 100, a hundred-mile ultra-endurance mountain bike race through Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest on April 28. He shaved 30 minutes off his goal time, finishing in 8 hours 32 minutes, taking 14th in the open men’s field of 45. He filed this report on the race.

The Ocoee Whitewater Center looks fantastic. It was alive with both racers and tourists on Friday when we picked up our packets at registration. They hosted the Olympic rafting event there in 1996. I expected it to be one of those places that had only the echo of great days or be a bit forgotten looking, but was totally wrong. It was majestic, scenic, and very inviting to many forms of outdoor recreation. I had the chance to pre-ride only about 7 miles of the starting singletrack since much of it was flooded over. Instead I took the ride as sightseeing and a little recon.

Saturday was one of those 4:30 a.m. race day mornings. Got to the start line plenty early, took in some tunes to get pumped up, and listened to the race brief in freezing 44 degree dry crisp conditions.

Roost Racing, LLC of Chattanooga runs the event like a clean machine. They know their mountain bike community and these uncountable miles of trails and multi-use wilderness dirt roads. Right at 7 a.m. we got a ready, set, go and we’re off.

They took us up a whole lane of a four-lane highway, that was concurrently open to traffic, in a handlebars-touching pack. That long climb out of the center was smooth and steady; people there knew the number of hours ahead and to hammer off the line would be silly. Even the entry to the singletrack was courteous; but then things got properly cooking and the hot sauce cap fell off in the dish!

The pace in the singletrack was as high as you’d go trying to take a local Strava segment KOM. The trails we’re a lot like Stewart State Forest by us, but steeper and with a type of rock, maybe quartz, that left angled pieces exposed, and it was looking cross-eyed at your tires. 20 miles of that flowy pleasure passed in a second. My new bike’s (Pivot Mach 429SL) first race, with Fox suspension on full open, meant business on this type of trail. Right away I took advantage of competitors who were playing it safer in the chunk or stuttering on unexpected little climbs you didn’t see coming. I also jumped on the opportunity when anyone right ahead of me was running a 1×12 setup and they dropped into that 50T cog (insert eagle screeching sound here) I’d see that chain jump up and that meant time to make the pass, there would be no answer.

Around mile 20-something we began the section known as the Cohutta “Death March”. It’s labeled as a 68-mile gravel loop, but I would not touch those dirt roads without anything other than a mountain bike. There was gravel but it was mostly just located on corners you entered at 30 mph and better grab a whole lot of brake before getting in it. The death march was open to all other park users as well, and we had to pay attention at blind corners for oncoming 4-wheelers out hunting or fishing. There were also a ton of dirt bikers out there loving the perfect weather that had already hit about 70 and full sun. There were many cool mutual thumbs-up moments with the off road motorcyclists; and I saw a couple on dual sport bikes, a great idea down there with so much open freedom dirt to ride.

The hill climbs were burly! In our area we just can’t train for this. A big local hill is a 250 ft climb. From one aid station to the top of Potato Patch Mountain we had 2200 ft of steady turn, climb, turn, climb, … We really need one of those around here to get good at that! I felt 100% confident going up to that point around mile 52. In the suspension department I found early enough that full lockout on the climbs was like getting a push from behind; very efficient; i went there and it was super good. Who would’ve thunk Fox called a lever position “Climb Mode” was so good on climbs!

Miles 65-83 were the toughies! It’s super crystal clear in this mile range that it’s territory far outside what we do in training. It’s almost like a switch: if your training rides are in the 30-45 mile range, prepare for the fitness drop-off. Already have your psychology sorted out to deal with what you think is personal defeat. The trick is everyone is feeling it; there are a very few who have the liberty to train these distances regularly. I started encountering a few broken racers around mile 75, walking their bikes uphill, or soft-pedaling; I gave them a quick check to make sure they were OK, and on the affirmative kept pushing through finishing places.

The “death march” concluded around mile 83, a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. My oops thinking I was going to just smoke through the “easy fireroad part”. My takeaway: endurance mountain bike race directors get to choose where to send a couple hundred racers – they don’t choose the “easiest way”, not ever. Hit the last aid station before re-entering the concluding 15 miles of singletrack, topped off my bottle, they handed me a couple Endurolytes, and the minute my front wheel hit narrow trail again I was so super-charged it was like starting fresh. I loved these trails, it was a great treat to end with: fast, bermed, rocky, a couple step-downs into a trail called Thunder Rock Express! Moved up a number of places in this section as riders peeled off to the trail side and told me to go. Some were my competitors, others were finishing up the 65 mile race category. That trail rolls out to the parking lot where we started and finish line was a short bridge-crossing away.

Photo by Kevin Robinson of Dashing Images. Used by permission.

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