One for the w column!
Completing an ultra endurance is a mixed bag. First is the relief that it's finally over. Followed by an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. But then your body shifts into recovery mode. It starts to remind you how dehydrated it is, how under nourished it is, how that little rub is now a bothersome blister and the reason you can't move your finger is that you broke it on lap 6. More on that later...
Tree shaker was an 8 hour race this year. I've never raced an 8 hour race before. I've raced for 8 hours in 100 mile NUE races. There is a difference. In a "Hundy", the faster you go, the sooner you are finished. It's very motivational over the waning miles. In a timed race, the faster you go, the further you have to go. Which is exactly what happened to me yesterday. Here's how it went down:
I'm racing truly solo. No pit support today, so I took the time to lay out, tag and bag everything I would need for each lap. I even wrote out the lap times on my top tube required to do 8 laps before the 7 1/2 hour cutoff.
The mass start up a gravel road goes well. I'm placed near the folks I'll be racing for the win.
The first sharp single track corner claims the first casualty. One of the guys I am usually racing for a win has an incident and is checking out his bike alongside the trail. He didn't need anything so I continue on.
It's mostly hard to pass at Anne Springs and riders are a bit reluctant to move out of the way on lap 1. It would get easier lap by lap though.
I've got new tires on the bike from last weeks pre-ride and I am hooked up!
There is a swinging bridge near the end of the lap. The support cables and beams are barely handlebar width apart. I clear them and call out "one" to signify the accomplishment on lap 1
I blow thru the aid station as planned. This puts me in a little better position on the trails with less riders around. I check my lap time - about 12 minutes ahead of schedule. Good. I clear the bridge. "Two."
I'm catching lap traffic now, but they are pretty willing to yield. I'm feeling good. Heart rate is good. The bike is rolling fast. A rider lets me pass just before the swinging bridge. I manage to get lined up in time and clear it. "Three."
The laps are clicking by a lot faster than anticipated. I'm over a half an hour ahead of schedule. Good. I'm starting to know the trail pretty good by now. I know all the fastest, smoothest lines by now. I know where I can best put the power down to make time and where it's better to just chill, stay off the brakes and roll and recover a bit. I clear the bridge. "Four."
At the end of lap 5 I hear the announcer say "5 minutes until the four hour cutoff". I'm not even halfway. And then it dawns on me that their is a very real chance I will have to do ten laps. All of my pacing and nutrition is setup for 9 laps...
In a nice, wide, flat, smooth, fast pine needle covered part of the trail at the beginning of the lap I manage to veer off course, slide the front wheel and slam the ground. I gather everything up again. The bike seems fine and I hop on and get back on pace as soon as I can to try and avoid my body from telling me I really need to stop and recover a while. I'm a little scraped and bruised but all seems fine until I hit the front brake. A sharp pain shoots thru my finger. So from then on I have to brake with my middle finger.
Later that lap I clipped my left pedal so hard that it unclipped my foot and sent it into my rear wheel. The one I just had trued. I clear the bridge and resolve to ride smoother and more focused. "Six."
No denying it now. Looks like its gonna be a 10 lap race. "Seven."
People are so willing to move out of the way by now that they often pull over before I even catch them. "Eight."
This was my planned final lap. Now it's the one to go lap. Every section of trail I complete I think to myself "just one more time over this part". My legs have that end-of-the-race feel. I can still maintain a good endurance pace, but they aren't very interested in putting out much more power than that. As I complete lap 9 several people yell "go get him". I was pretty sure I was leading my class. Did I miss someone? Am I 2nd?
Then I see my Trans-sylvania buddy, Luke. I blew thru the aid station so we are now riding together. Apparently he is leading the solo open class. So it's not a position for me, but a chance to be the first in solo overall. Which doesn't really effect anything for either of us. Still, someone has to be first... I go around Luke and hammer the first flat, smooth section. I've been faster than most people wanna go thru this section all day. Luke's having nothing to do with it and hangs on my wheel. We continue on at a bit faster pace than my 2 previous laps. Partly to see if I could drop Luke, but mostly just to be done. The extra unplanned lap is taking its toll. I'm starting to bonk. I back off the pace. Luke doesn't seem interested in going by so I just resolve to maintain a reasonable pace to the end.
Near the end of the lap we (thankfully) pass the cutoff time for the last lap. 11 laps would have been ugly.
We clear the bridge for the last time. "ten!"
When we get to the final end of the lap gravel road climb the inevitable happens. Luke takes off. I really can't seem to go any faster. I roll in at 7:36.
I finally won one of these things!
See you on the trails!
Saturday, June 2, 2012
The final stage of Trans-Sylvania was a relatively short 26 mile loop from the camp. The air of intensity that preceded the previous stages has been replaced by an atmosphere of relief as the riders sign-in for the final time and circle around to warm-up. It's a chilly PA morning, with occasional glimpses of the sun. The trails have been pounded by overnight rain. I see tires with more knobs on many of the bikes, arm warmers and jackets on many of the riders.
TSE promoter Mike's now-familiar morning announcement includes the usual sign-in reminnder but also requests that those racing move to the front, and those "just riding" move to the rear for the start. TSE tradition has some of the classes where the GC order has been decided riding a "truce" stage at a more relaxed pace. I'm 12 minutes out of 6th, 6 minutes ahead of 8th on GC. I move towards the front.
For the final time, we roll off. The pace lacks a bit of the snap from the previous days, but is quite brisk. I'm feeling good, but my legs are very stiff. I remind myself that my legs don't have to feel good to have a good day and I manage to keep the pedals turning and the bike moving forward.
The first section of singletrack is familiar. We rode it the opposite direction in the prologue. The rider in front of me is struggling on the rocks (more so than me). The rider I'm chasing for 6th on GC passes me. My legs are complaining about the bursts of power to clear the rocks, but recover when it's too technical to pedal.
When we get out of the singletrack, we start a steep climb. My legs like this much better and I start to reel the riders in front of back in. When the climb levels out it is rockier with lots of large water puddles. Puddles are maybe not a good choice of words. Most of them cover the entire fire road and some are quite deep. Some have slip-slidey mud underneath, some are smooth and grippy under the water. Regardless, it's an added concern not knowing how deep the water is before blindly barreling into them. Fortunately I have some riders in view ahead of me and I can usually tell what line to take - or avoid. And then it's a long descent. It's not super steep, but it's rocky in spots, really rocky in others. Mostly I can hammer it, sometimes I hit the brakes when the rocks are extra big or pointy. Whatever I'm doing - it's working because I'm dropping the riders behind me and running down the riders ahead of me.
As usual, after the biggest descent is the biggest climb of the day. It actually feels kind of good to climb, or maybe it's just knowing that I'm on the last big climb. I decide to push the pace a bit. I feel good and catch a few riders on the climb. At the top of the fire road section of the climb is the final aid station of the week. It's a short day, so I don't need to stock-up on a lot of extra stuff. After a brief stop I make the left turn up the steepest part of the climb. It's rocky, washed out, steep, single track. Did I mention steep? It's rocky, but ride-able. Well, for me, it was maybe ride-able a day or two ago. Today I ride until the effort required to pedal is greater than that required to hike. The pace is roughly equal. I feel bad about hiking when I have to move out of the way for two riders, but, for me I think the wiser thing was to save my legs. It's still 10 miles to the finish.
Next up is some overgrown, rugged singletrack. This turns into the moto section of the trail (yes, as in: motorcycle). It's loose rocky, downhill, and bermed with the added bonus of fallen trees to bunny hop. It kinda hurts to power over the rocks and trees, but there are enough downhills to go with the sharp uphills that I can recover and feel like going again. This section has been mostly downhill. So, of course, it's soon time for more climbing. The first part is on very large, loose gravel that keeps the bike moving around underneath me as the rocks give way, but there is grip and where there is grip there is forward progress. I plod on. The rocks become fewer and soon we are back onto gravel road. Still climbing. But these are familiar roads. Almost back to the camp.
The gravel road flattens, then undulates up and down. The familiar yellow arrows I have been following for a week direct me onto the sandy, large rock, wide single track (single-track-and-a-half?) trail that we've ridden on several times before. This leads to the snowmobile parking lot, down the road a bit and onto the trails at the camp. This time there is a twist - we take a sharp right up a steep climb. I coax my legs into spinning up this last climb. I push, with all the energy I have left, past the swimming pool, over the bridge, around the pond and, for the last time, through the Red Bull finish arch.
It's a relief, an accomplishment, a conclusion to a good week. I'm happy that it's over because my body is quite ready for a break, but it also signifies the end of what has been a very good week. I'll miss the routine I have been in. But on Monday morning I'll have to return to reality.
I finished 5th on the day, clawing back enough time today to move up to 6th in GC.
What have I learned? Challenge yourself. Step out of your comfort zone. You were designed to do great things!
See you on the trails! ...after a bit of recovery.
Friday, June 1, 2012
Today was billed as the Queen Stage of the Trans-Sylvania Epic.
I started the day feeling a little sniffly and achy. You know - the way you feel before you come down with some kind of illness. For whatever reason, I usually ride at my best feeling this way. So I'm in good spirits 6 minutes prior to roll off time when my mechanic/son tells me I have a tire leaking air. I figure that's one less thing to worry about. Got the flat out of the way before the race even started. We changed the wheel and I rolled off to the start.
The skies were overcast, the weather was cool and rain was in the forecast. It's always a bit of inspiration for me when rain is imminent. It keeps me pushing the pace knowing that the further I ride before the rain, the less I have to ride in the rain.
The start was a little over 3 miles from the Scout camp. We had a neutral roll off to the actual start line. As soon as everyone arrived (and went pee) we get the official start. Oh, and we are informed that the 3.5 miles we just covered do not make-up any of the 38 miles of the days' stage. Of course not. There weren't enough rocks.
This first section is primarily gravel and fire road climbing. Judging by the people I'm riding with, the day seems to be going well. I bridge from group to group trying to make up positions and get to a clear spot for the fast double track descent that I know is approaching. When we get there I hammer and tuck, hammer and tuck. I'm on the 29'er hardtail today, with some fast rolling tires. Other riders are having a tough time hanging with me.
As every mountain biker knows, every descent is followed by an equal and opposite ascent. This one is quite steep, but I'm feeling OK. I choose a gear I can spin and ride a pace I know I can sustain. It's going to be a long day and the rocks are coming.
When I get to the first rocky single track section I am able to get into a decent rhythm. It's challenging, but rideable and I feel like I'm making pretty good time until I hear "local coming through". He goes by me and I can't keep up with him - showing me just how much time I could gain if I could ride the rocks better. But, just like all the other sections, this one ends and we begin the long climb to the first aid station.
The aid station stop goes well and I'm off again. It's not long before we make a sharp corner into the woods for more rocks. These sections of rocks are a bit different than the others. It's a little more open with more choices of lines. It still takes a lot of power to ride through them, but I am able to choose rocks to ride on that keep me pointed on the trail. I have noticed that my rim occasionally bottoms out. I am running tubeless, so I'm not going to pinch flat. But I have an easy feeling that I may be leaking air. And then I have a new concern. Powering through a rock section my left shoe buckle rips. I've already passed the only supported aid station of the day, so the only choice is to hammer on. Pretty soon the rocks ease up and it's on to a narrow, buttery smooth section of singletrack with sweeping corners and gentle ups and downs. There are laurel bushes (I think - I'm not a botanist...) bordering both sides of the trail. It's really sweet trail. But of course this part ends as well. It's book-ended with more rocks before dumping us out onto the road for more climbing.
This a long climb, but the grade is not too steep and it's all smooth. I find a nice rhythm and pick a target heart rate to stay above. The miles seem to click by easily. Maybe it's just because it's smooth, but it feels like I'm just floating up this climb. I'm careful not to ride myself into the ground just jet. There are still more rocks and a climb at the end.
Next up is Tussey Ridge. The going is slow at first. Steep and rocky. Then just rocky. When I get to the ridge, it's just amazing. It's hard to describe. There is not a lot of climbing. There are long technical rocky sections, but the rocks are big and easier to deal with. The scenery is just incredible. The burned out trees contrast with the lush greenery all around. It's eerie, but also beautiful. We are high on the ridge and there are trees and mountains for miles and miles in all directions. I feel like I'm a million miles from anywhere. Well, I do until I see Dracula doing beer hand-ups. He didn't have a tie wrap to fix my shoes....
And then this section ends as well. After bouncing over, around and down some more rocky sections, crossing 3 narrow bridges (with potential consequences if you happened to not make it across) we drop out onto some gravel road.
This looked like a hammer to the finish section. It was not. It was hammer the remaining descent, then make a turn and climb, make a turn and climb then head down a fire road that, again, looks like a hammer to the finish section. It was not. We turn onto some double track for a steep climb. As the grade descends a bit it looks the finish is approaching. It was not. Back onto the fire road for more hammering to the finish. Right. It wasn't. We turn sharp right up a steep, rocky section. The grade lessens, the rocks do not. Finally, this section leads onto a grassy overgrown double track section that does, in fact lead to the finish. I am so blown up from doing all the efforts that I thought were finishing efforts that I couldn't mount any type of sprint finish so I just pedal through as best as I can.
The wife and son are there to greet me. By there best estimation I came in 3rd today, which would be awesome because I really, really wanted to get on the podium for one of these stages. I had been 9th in GC before today, but within 10 minutes of picking up 2 spots. We'll see where this effort puts me when they post the results tonight.
For a day that began with a flat tire, imminent rain, followed by a broken shoe and a leaking tire, it comes to a happy end. The rain begins as we head back to the Hotel. God is good.
Final stage tomorrow. 26 miles. Those of us fighting for position will be hammer down again. Those who aren't - not so much. Weather forecast: severe clear. Hard to believe the week is almost over.
See you on the trails!