6 Hours of Warrior Creek: Learning to Speak Berm-ease

I went up to Wilkesboro area to take on Six Hours of Warrior Creek (6WC) with my buddy Gordon.  The race takes place at the Warrior Creek trail at Kerr reservoir, with course covering 12 miles of some of the sweetest singletrack in the region. Brushy Mountain Cyclist Club puts on the event and they run a great race. With the topography of the land and how it drains into the lake, they’ve built a bunch of super nice berms into a significant part of the trail (apparently 4629 berms, to be exact). With berms comes quite a bit of up and down, ~4000 ft of climbing.

Warrior Creek Berms
Warrior Creek Berms

The race goes like this: Ride as many laps (12 mi each) of the WC trail as possible in the six-hour time limit. With lap times ranging from 1h to 1:40, most people get in 4 to 6 laps. The race format is either Solo or Duo. Solo, you ride on your own; Duo, you have a partner and you alternate laps (I raced Solo two years6WC-course ago and got in 4 laps and was glad I didn’t have to do a 5th). Given the fact that I had finished a marathon two weeks ago, I welcomed racing with Gordon in the Duo Singlespeed division. WC is such a well-groomed trail that hardtail is all you need and, even though you have 4k of climbing, it’s usually a couple of switchbacks and a shallow climb; nothing too difficult for a SS. I ran 32 x 20 which was just about right though I probably would run 32 x 21 next time to better tackle some of the steep switchbacks with fatigued legs.

Training

For me, essentially zero. I did a few rides after the marathon but was banking on the endurance fitness from the marathon training. Basically, playing with house money.

Race Day

The weather had been iffy all week with thunderstorms looming for the weekend. The cold front came through a little early and dumped some rain Friday evening. By Saturday, the sun was out and the singletrack was quickly drying. We drove up early Saturday morning (2:15 drive) and got a primo spot to pitch the Team HammerCross tent. 6WC--tent setup6WC--THC tent

The start was packed with some top riders from the region (met a guy who comes down from Buffalo every year to race). The race has become wildly popular, with registration filling up in a matter of minutes.

 

The start has a mile or so of “prologue” on pavement and double-track to spread out the pack. Having raced this before, I knew the trade-offs on the start: Start up front and you potentially blow up from the frenetic pace but you get a nice spot on the singletrack trail, not being held up by large crowds and slower riders. Given my lack of specific training and general lack of MTB skills, especially on the berms, I chose to start toward the back.6WC-Start

I found a guy with a GoPro on his helmet and thought that would be a good place to start (it was a little too far back, in hindsight). At 10:00 AM sharp, they “drop the rag” to begin the race (vid of race start). As expected, even in the back it was a fast pace (left Dr. GoPro behind). Once on the singletrack, it was stop and go for the first several miles with the large number of riders. I’ve taken to riding platform pedals and they were great during this section. With the stop and go, people were running up on each other and falling over because they could not get clipped out fast enough. And then they could not get clipped back in because it was usually on a climb or switchback. I picked off a bunch of riders during this section. Once we got 4 or so miles into the trail, the crowds thinned and a pretty steady pace was established. I was still coming up on riders but most folks were good about letting other pass (One guy slowed to let a guy pass and then 10 more came rushing by; “The last time I’ll do that” he muttered).

I quickly realized how much more confident I was on the trail. Having only been MTBing for several years, I don’t have that natural gift one has from riding MTB or BMX since since birth. But just the two years since my last time racing WC, I noticed a big difference in how I handled my business, especially on the berms and the rock gardens. With much greater confidence, I really enjoyed the ride. The climbs were an effort and I wasn’t killing the pace but overall I was pushing hard and having fun! Finished the lap in 1:39 and handed it off to Gordon. I realized how nice this duo thing is, being able to rest after 90 minutes of hard riding (the downside is waiting around for your partner while still in race mode and having your muscles cool down). Gordon got around in 1:28 (no prologue) and I headed out again. The second lap was fantastic! Rested legs. Good course knowledge. Experience with the berms. I ripped it! (Looking back at my times, I didn’t really rip it but I thought I was ripping it). Finished our third lap (my second lap) in 1:23. Gordon took off on his next lap. If he killed it, we might be doing a 5th lap. Mixed feelings here. I’d gotten my money’s worth, I was enjoying the basking in the sun, and we were way out of contention for any type of podium finish. After the time had expired (you can’t start your final lap with less than 1:20 left on the clock), I started breaking down the tent, changing clothes, etc. By my clock, Gordon should have been back by now. Waiting. Waiting. He finally shows up and throws his saddle at me! About half-way through the lap, with a great pace, he noticed his saddle had shifted back. The next time he sat down, the seat tube sheared off and he was left with nothing to sit on and six miles to ride. Needless to say, that was a long six miles.Even with no saddle, he finished in 1:42.6WC--gordon-seat6WC--Gordon bike closeup

Overall, we finished last in our division–though one can argue we finished first in the “Masters Duo Singlespeed” category! (complete results (here)). But we had an awesome time.6WC--results

Anyone looking for a great ride should ride the berms of Warrior Creek, race or no race. Speaking of berms, here’s what I learned in trying to speak berm-ease:

#1. Not all berms are created equal. Some berms are wide and flowy; some berms are short and tight. Some berms sweep at the same elevation; others descend/ascend; others overall descend.

#2. It’s all about speed. Having the right speed coming into the berm is key. The tricky part is understanding that the berm will naturally scrub some speed. So coming in hot is ok since you’ll lose some of that speed. Coming too hot may require some braking. Coming in too slow is the biggest problem since the berm-induced speed scrubbing will lead to stalling in the middle of the berm. Not good.

#3. Lean in.   For folks like me with zero BMX or skatepark background, there is a significant lean factor to be learned in making it through the berm; something I’m not used to. The lean should be initiated early using the body as you go through the berm.

#4. Go with the flow. Once you’ve gotten some experience with berms, it’s important to not fight the berm but go with the flow and have fun!

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