Mountain Biking

Corona Race, a virtual competition – Pamplin Media Group

Madras East Hills Trail System starts race that complies with social distance through Strava app, website.

Want to race, but social distancing is making that impossible? Welcome to the Madras East Hills Trail System Mash-Up race, aka the Corona race.

The grand opening for the Madras East Hills Trail System has been postponed. It was scheduled for 11 a.m. April 11 at the trailhead. A ribbon-cutting ceremony, food carts, bike demos and other events were going to be included, but the trails are still open, and now riders have a way to compete with each other and themselves while being able to be able to keep social distance.

At the MEH trails, a Strava-based race that started on March 15 and ends April 30 is holding a virtual race open to any and all riders. Strava is a social fitness network that primarily tracks cycling and running exercises, using GPS data. Riders can download the app on their phone, take the phone with them, and hit “record” before they hit the trail.

“Trail conditions are great, and they are pretty consistent year around,” community member and active rider Taylor Lark said. “Right now, I think it is some of the best times (to ride) because we do get a little bit of rain, which helps get some of the dust of the course that can accumulate in the summer. There are constantly people out there maintaining the trails either by adding some new shoot-offs or maintaining what is currently there.”

No close contact encounters are allowed during the race. Riders are asked to ride alone and respect social distancing. Just east of Juniper Hills Park, a start point is available, and when you enter the gate, old bones and skulls are at your feet.

“Our Corona race is a race that is designed to not have anybody interact,” said Brennan Morrow, Central Oregon Trail Alliance Madras chapter lead. “A social distance race. People can race at any time over the course of over a month. We use Strava, a well known sports app for track mountain biking, riding and other sports, to be our record keeper. We have three sections of the trail system that you’ll race, and you’ll do any one of those sections in singular or all of the series together, which you can do as many times as you want. So you can make your time better and better. It is kind of like a race, which you race yourself, and you also get to race others while trying to be yourself every time.”

The race will consist of submitting a rider’s fastest time on all three of the trail system laps: Bones, Ravine and Peek a Boo. The laps do not need to be completed all at once, and you can make an unlimited number of attempts.

“There has been so many races that have been canceled, whether it is a marathon, half-marathon, triathlon, bike races, so we were just thinking about how to have a race so that people can go out and compete, but still be able to follow the guidelines that are in place,” Lark said. “We decided to use the technology available with a website called Strava. A really important thing for Brennan and for when this trail system was created, was that we really wanted to use Strava almost as a partner to make the trail system feel bigger.

“We have all these different segments, all these different trails, even though it is one big trail system,” he said. “The trail system is divided up into smaller trails. There is a really tough climb out there that is about an 8 to 10% average grade, a .35-mile climb, and it is called gut punch. It is a defined part of the trail system where people can go track their ride themselves or against other people.”

Racers have until April 30 to submit any attempts, and submissions only occur through Strava by riding a segment of the course. Results will be taken with Strava, and results will be taken from the segment that has been created.

“We wanted to use Strava to our advantage and create a race series with three of our laps,” Lark said. “We have three main laps out there, called the Bones lap, the Riven lap and the Peek a Boo lap and they are all different distances. They all kind of start in the same place, then they take different turns, and you get a different ending to the ride. What it allows us to do with Strava is anyone who wants to race can go ride one of the laps, upload their ride through their phone or other devices, and then we can see their time and add it to the leaderboard.”

“No one is actually out there at the same time racing,” he said. “You could go out there and meet with someone, be 6 feet apart and ride, but you can also ride at any time by yourself, and Strava has the technology to track your time, so you don’t need an elaborate timing system. We can keep it super simple. We also wanted to extend the timeframe. You have a six-week timeframe to complete the race, which is also very unique. We have done little tests out there before and seen this in other places before. How they did it was you had all day to try this as many times as you want, and your best time counts. For us, we wanted to make it six weeks, and you can have as many attempts as you want, and your fastest time is what is taken.”

The race will crown a champion with the lowest time across the three laps, as well as a champion of each lap.

“We did a test race similar to this here in Madras maybe six months ago during the early stages of the trail build,” Morrow said. “This is a concept called a mash-up, but adding Strava to it seems to be unique at this point, using Strava to be our record keeper. How we came up with it was Martti Rahi, Taylor Lark, myself and Ron Hollingshead were all just talking about starting a race, and somehow this sort of spawned out of that conversation.”

Depending on the number of racers, the organizers might be able to break down racers into further categories such as age and gender. No E-bikes (electric bicycles) can be used for the race. E-bikes are allowed on the trails but not in the Mash-Up.

You can visit to see maps of the course, the different laps of Bones, Ravine and Peek A Boo, as well as the current course and lap leaders.

“This race is designed to comply with social distancing, and we don’t want anyone getting too close,” said Morrow. “So you should never have to pass (anyone) because you need to keep distance between when someone starts and when you start. Second, if you ever do come upon another rider, this race is designed to be able to take another route along the race. If you get boxed in, for example, you can just turn left. Other than that, just respect social distancing. They just closed the forest service trailhead throughout the whole state. Our nice little trail is staying open because we can apply to social distancing.”

If new riders are unsure where the trails begin or end, there are several maps on the website or Strava itself, as well as other sources that will help guide the ride.

“What I would recommend is the easiest way, and we don’t have all the signage out there, but we do have trail markers out there in orange pulls for when a trail starts or stops, but we are working on getting those updated,” Lark said. “If you go to either the website, there is a link to a segment called trail forks, where all of our trails are marked there. There is also a link to Strava, which has all of the routes. They are still working on the signage, that will be in the parking lot, but we are not officially open. We don’t have everything dialed in yet.”

“The Bones, Ravine and Peek a Boo, the first half of those start exactly the same,” he said. “To go on the Bones, you take a left and go down the valley of the bones segment, which is marked out there. The Ravine, you go straight, go up the hill and then left of the ravine. The Peek a Boo lap, you go up and left on Peek a Boo. There are different trail names out there that signify the laps, but it is not really defined on a kiosk in the parking lot or as defined as we would like on the course, but with these apps that you can carry around with you, it is very easy to open them up and see where you need to go.”

This race is only the start, as plans to make races on the MEH trail system are in the works.

“It is new, so not too many people know about it, but I took my kids out there, and we walked around,” said Lark. “It is a great place to go on a family hike. It is a great place to ride your mountain bike, for horses, and there are multiple things to do out there. This race is specific for mountain biking, but it still allows you to do a lot of other activities as well. We want to use this timeframe to get people out, even if we are not doing it together, we can check the website leaderboard, and it feels like you are interacting with other people, and that has been tough these last couple of weeks and will still be tough moving forward. It provides a bit of social interactions and allows crazy people who like to race and put themselves in physical pain — outlets have been canceled for people like that — so this allows them a way to still be able to do that.”

“We also wanted to emulate what Madras Runners do,” he said. “They always have a couple of events a year, the MAC Dash in the fall. So we really want to use this trail system to provide healthy race opportunities for the community. All year around, you have a couple of races, triathlon in the fall, so this is hopefully the beginning of a long future of doing activities out there.”

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