Undergrad

Mountain Biking at Clarkson, and How I Prepared for my Big Race

Hello, my name is Shawn Alexander I am currently a freshman here at Clarkson University. I am on track for a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. I am on the mountain biking and road bike club teams and have been able to meet many friends through it, this year we were not able to go to any races due to COVID-19 but luckily, I will be able to do a few this summer.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately training on the trails on and around Clarkson’s campus.

When deciding what college to go to last year, I wanted a college that had a fun outdoor feeling to it, and this is something I got with Clarkson. I love how I can leave directly from my dorm and ride at so many different places and so many different types of riding. At home most of the riding is the same kinds of cross-country style of riding so having these new places that are a little more difficult has really helped improve my biking and bike handling. This improvement will really help me in my upcoming race since some of the terrain up at Clarkson is like what the race will have. 

One of the biggest races on my schedule is the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic. This race is a five-day mountain bike stage race in Pennsylvania. Each stage is a different length and goes on different trails. Most of these stages start out of Seven Mountains Scout Camp which is where I will be staying during the race. 

The race is right in the middle of Pennsylvania in the town of Spring Mills, this area is very rocky and hilly. Being able to ride at seven springs and Lenny Road, since it is so close, has allowed me to prepare my technical skills. Since the race has stages up to four-and-a-half hours, I have also been able to ride in the back forty and put long days on the bike. This combination of technical and fitness training has really been key to my preparation for this race. 

I have been recently doing a lot of my training and preparation on campus in the “back forty” which is a system of trails with lots of fun features. These trails are fun for everyone, it has fast flowy cross-country type trails but also has jumps and drops. Over the past year I have spent lots of time back here and still find new trails and new thing since people here are always working on them and making them better. While these trails are fun and always changing, sometimes it nice to change it up and go somewhere new. 

Clarkson’s Trail Network

Two other main places that I go are Seven Springs and Lenny Road. Seven Springs is an old ski hill that Clarkson owns, it is about 15 minutes away from campus and is a little more downhill oriented. Seven Springs has much more technical and steep trails that are lots of fun especially if you want something that is a little more difficult than the back forty.

The other place that I ride at a lot is Lenny Road which is also 15 minutes away from campus. The difficulty of the terrain and type of riding is right in the middle between the back forty and Seven Springs and is a kind of endure style place with lots of rock rolls and other fun technical features. 

The trails near Clarkson offer me a chance to train on some terrain I do not usually get to experience.

While I have had to prepare physically for the race there has also been a lot of other things I’ve done to get ready. Since this is a five-day race, I have had to get a collection of spare parts together in case something breaks during a stage. This is a new thing for me, so I have been trying to overprepare and bring as many different things as possible.

On top of parts, I have also been preparing a place to sleep since it is too far away from home after each stage. Luckily, my brother recently bought a trailer that we have been converting to a toy hauler. It started as just a regular old, enclosed trailer that we have turned into an almost-camper by adding a fold down bed, countertop (for cooking and preparing food), a sink, vinyl flooring, and a solar panel to charge phones and a few other little things. While this is not much and definitely not the fanciest, it is a lot better than sleeping in a tent. 

Another thing that is kind of foreign to me is food for this type of event. Obviously, I know how to eat before a race which would normally be a “carbo load” with protein the night before and then carbs and simple sugars the morning of with lots of water about 2 to 3 days before all the way up to the event. But for these normal events they are only one day, and you have plenty of time to recover for your next race. For this race recovery is going to be key since there isn’t much time between each stage.

The most important things for recovery are food, water, sleep, relaxation, and stretching. For food I am going to be needing protein right after the stage for muscle recovery and then carbs a few hours after so that I can start preparing for the next day. The next part is water, it is impossible to drink enough water while racing, you sweat too much and do not have enough time so after the stage you must start drink lots of water for the rest of the day and the next morning. Another thing is you need to take in electrolytes since you are sweating so much. 

The other side to recovery is sleep, relaxation, and stretching. After the stage I am planning on doing an easy spin on my rollers that I was able to borrow through the road cycling team and then do an easy slow stretch to try to work out any tightness I will have in my neck, shoulders, arms, and legs. This tackles the stretching part so now on to the relaxing part, which is probably my favorite part, basically just sit and eat and do as little as possible.

mountain biking

The last part of recovery is sleep, for this I have been using a tool called a Whoop band for about six months now that helps with my sleep along with a lot of other parts of my fitness and recovery. My Whoop band is basically an Apple Watch on steroids, minus the screen and messages part. One part of the band is Sleep Coach, which tells you when you should be getting up and going to bed and also how well you slept the night before. I think this will really help me stay on top of my sleep and if I can stick to this, I think it will really help improve my recovery. 

Since I have explained everything that I am doing to prepare for the race I should probably explain the race and all the stages a little more. So, as I have said a bunch of times this race is a five-day stage race in Pennsylvania that starts out of a boy scout camp. Each day has a different loop that goes on different trails and is a different length. The total length is about 150 miles and in total will probably take around 15 hours or so.

The first stage is 31.7 miles with 3047 feet of climbing, this is a pretty normal stage, not terribly long or hilly but will be a good test with it being the first day.

Stage 2 is 34.7 miles with 4609 feet of climbing, this stage while not too much longer is much hillier and will make it harder.

Stage 3 is 30.3 miles long and will have 2,689 feet of climbing, this stage is the only stage that does not start at the scout camp but instead it starts at R.B. Winter park which is about 40 mins away.

Stage 4 is 31.9 miles long with 3298 feet of climbing, this stage is especially rocky so preserving your bike and taking it easy on the descent is going to be a must.

The final stage, stage five, is only 18.2 miles long and 1819 feet of climbing, this is a very short stage and it being the last stage means two things, have fun, and enjoy it, and give it everything you got because after today you will have to wait a whole year till the next one. After this stage there is going to be a little festival and awards to celebrate what all the racers have accomplished. 

Thank you for reading this! I have had lots of fun writing and explaining the race and all the preparation I have put into it. I cannot wait for this race, and I am sure I will have lots of fun along with many memories from it. Finally, I would like to thank Clarkson University for helping me with this race in many ways.

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