Saturday, April 5, 2014

6 Hours of Warrior Creek

I don't really know the sequence of events, but the end result was that my 6-hours of Warrior Creek was over before I ever completed a lap.

It was the best prepared I'd ever been for the 6-hour race.

Because of my late season injuries last year, I was on good form early this year having already done well in 2 previous 6-hour races.

I took off work Friday to prepare for Saturday's race.

I got extra sleep to ensure complete recovery.

All the graphs said I was peaking for a great performance.

I woke up 1/2 an hour before my alarm clock went off.  Checked my pulse: comfortably low.  Race ready.

I had meticuloudly gone over every nut and bolt on my bike.  Race ready.

At the start line, I was one of the first on the grid.  

I got a great start and immediately fell into a comfortably fast pace.  The trail was in excellent shape and I was rolling.  Flowing.  Smooth,  The weather was perfect.

I guess I hit my head somewhere after mile marker 5.  I don't remember much.  I hit something.  Someone landed on me.  My tire was flat and it hurt to stand on my left leg.  It's one of those crashes where you don't just hop back on your bike and put the hammer down before the soreness sets in.

The front tire was flat because the valve stem was broken.  I put a tube in at a not-too-rapid pace.  I waited for a place to fall in with the constantly-passing traffic.  But my left leg just couldn't pedal.  I was done.

I hiked the bike (slowly) from the trail to the road and spun lightly back to the pits, slowly and gently loaded everything up and headed home.  It's hard to DNF on a beautiful day, a beautiful race day.  A beautiful race day on some super fun trails.  It's going to be evn harder to spend the time off the bike to recover and heal.

But I will.

And I'll race again, Lord willing!

Thanks to all who offered their help today, it was greatly appreciated!!!

See you on the trails!  ...hopefully soon.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Love Valley Roubaix

Last year's inaugural Love Valley Roubaix would have been hard to describe without using the word "epic."  It was cold, rainy, cold, wet, cold and snowy.  Did I mention cold?  So it was with much anticipation that I waited in the upcoming days for the weather forecast for the March 23rd event.  The ten day weather forecast showed sunny and 70 degrees.  Joy!  But as race day approached it became apparent that this would be another wet, chilly race.
This year I changed my bike strategy.  I opted for a disc brake cyclocross bike instead of a road bike.  I stayed with the decision to run 25c tires, but I mounted them to some new American Classic Argent wheels that are considerably wider than traditional road rims, making the 25c Clement Strada tires measure 27.5c. 
On the start line it was dry but chilly for the 9:00am start.  I noticed a much larger turnout this year.  Perhaps because it wasn't raining.   ...yet.  But after the pre-race brief, while we were staged for the start in downtown Love Valley, the tell-tale rain drops began to fall.  I opted to take the rain jacket out of my jersey pocket and put it on.  A good move.
Something like 60% of the course is unpaved.  The steepest and punchiest climbs are these unpaved roads in and around love valley.  At first they are dry, even with the light rain that is falling.  And, at first the peloton is chatty and upbeat.  But the pace quickly picks up.  As the lead group shrinks, the peloton quiets, then becomes more of a grimace as the road surface becomes wet enough to cause rooster tails that soak first through shoes and socks then gloves and anything not completely sealed and waterproof.
I was dropped from the lead group early.  The fast, cold start was not to my liking.  The first big  climb up Brushy Mtn was more to my liking.  I caught and dropped several riders who had managed to hang onto the lead group longer than I had.  The cyclcocross gearing proved to be benefit for the climbing.  At this point I felt pretty good.  Almost comfortably riding a strong, sustainable pace.  But the rain picked up near the top of the climb and I began to get very cold.  I knew I was in for a chilly descent.
By the time the road surface turns to pavement and levels out it is raining hard enough that the rain drops actually start to hurt at the speeds we are now able to go.  I know the descent well.  My plan is to get down it as fast as possible so I can warm up on the next climb.  I was spun-out with the cyclocross gearing.  Even so I was able to catch and pass another rider who had passed me earlier. 
The rain slowed for the flat section along Hwy 115 to the aid station at mile 30 where there were several riders already calling it quits out of coldness or from mechanicals caused by the miles of grit from wet dirt  roads.  I still had brakes, but I had certainly used up a bunch of pad.  I had cable adjusters I could use to advance the pads if I had to, but, being a new bike I wasn't used to adjusting them and I wasn't sure I was thinking clearly enough to adjust them the right way.  So rather than taking the chance on making things worse I just decide to manage my brake usage and hope they lasted until the end. 
The final big climb is paved, but steep and relentless.  I'm so cold at this point that my jaw is soar from shivering.  My entire body complains when I get of the saddle on the steepest portions, but the extra motion seems to help keep blood circulating.  The slow climbing pace means the miles are ticking by slowly.  I start to get impatient - just wishing it would all end.  But the occasional rider I catch and pass reminds me that there are many racers that will be suffering more than me:  those not dressed appropriately and those simply taking longer to finish.  I press on knowing that the quickest way to get warm at this point is to ride to the finish as fast as possible.
When I got to the short, punchy climbs back at Love Valley the unpaved roads were now very soft which meant more rolling resistance and a bit more treacherous descending.  I stayed off the brakes as much as possible.  But I completely ran out of rear brakes.  After a couple of corners taken with the brake levers held all the way against the bars I decided to check the elevation profile on my Garmin to see how many more descents there were.  Fortunately, on the last few descents I could see far enough ahead that there were no impending dangers and I could just let it roll.  Which I did.  Eventually rolling through the finish at 3:01.  Narrowly missing my fair weather goal time of 3:00.  Still, I finished 7th in my class. 
I had to dismount my brake-less bike to go down the hill to where my car was parked.  I guess I had just enough brakes after all.  It was an epic day and one of those races where you are proud to say you completed.
See you on the trails!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Green Gobbler 6 Hour SEC Race

The Green Gobbler was round 2 in the 6-Hour Southeastern Endurance Cup Series.  I plan to race enough of the series to compete for over-all awards at the end year.  Having won my class in round 1 at Taco Stand my hopes were high for a good result.

The course was an 8.5 mile loop mapped out on the Steeple chase side of the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, GA - site of the '96 Olympic MTB race.  I was only vaguely familiar with the area from a previous trip to the Southeast Bike Expo.  So, like my previous SEC race, lap one would double as a recon lap.

The SEC races are well organized, so we rolled off en masse as scheduled at 10:00am.  The start took us through an open field before entering the pit area and start/finish timing loop.  This was followed by a bit of twisting around more open field, cyclocross-style into the single track.  It was wide enough for passing and I got a good start.

The trail was in great shape.  I used the same set-up as I had at the last SEC race and it proved to be a good choice.  The AKA's multiple small knobs dig into the surface through the pine needles but still roll well and took the roots in stride.

There were 2 fast downhills that ended their descent with a rocky stream crossing, followed by a climb.  The temptation was to blast down the hill to keep momentum up for the climb, but the rocky creek crossing looked like a good place to flat, so after the first time of bouncing off the rim, I backed the pace off a bit.

There were 3 climbs to mix-up the twisty and open sections.  One was steep and narrow and twisted around some small trees.  It wasn't too technical, and could be taken in the big ring but it was a potential place to be held up by slower climbers.  The next climb was on a horse trail.  It was similarly short and steep, although more open.  With some cooperation, there were passing opportunities.  The surface was soft and bumpy from horse travel which made wheel placement critical.

The biggest climb was pretty much straight uphill.  It was wide enough for passing with only a few technical sections.  There was plenty of grip, but because of the steepness it was necessary to remain seated and keep the front of the bike weight-ed.  I took it in the big ring the first couple of laps (at a very low cadence) but when my chain dropped to the smaller ring at the beginning of the climb on lap 3  - it worked out so well that I made that my standard procedure.

Overall, the course was quite fast.  My lap times were about 40 minutes.  Which is good for fueling, because it's never too long until the next opportunity to stop.  It does mean more lapped traffic, however.  I start to notice a pattern.  Each time I go through the pit area and start another lap it's not long before someone, presumably racing a duo, passes me and gets away.  For a while.  By the time we get near the end of the lap where the toughest climbs are I've managed to catch them and pass them back.  I figure my pace must be pretty good if I'm rivaling the teams as a solo rider.  However, as a solo rider I have no-one to tell me what place I'm in.

Normally, I plan to pit every 2nd lap, but with the shorter laps I decide to pit after lap 3 and 6.  Which was a good plan, but fatigue has it's effect on math....

The SEC series only counts laps that are completed within the 6-hour time limit.  There is no cut-off time to start the last lap.  So, my inability to do math well (i.e. count to 8) results in a less then optimal strategy.  By lap 4, I've convinced myself that I will only be doing 7 laps.  My strategy is to focus on doing a smooth, flowing lap on lap 5, then focus on doing a "power lap" on lap 6 - making an effort to pedal at every opportunity - as soon as possible on corner exit and staying on top of the gears on descents.  Then, for my "final" lap, on lap 7, I would just use whatever I had left to get to the finish, fueled by adrenaline and the caffeinated gel I have been saving in my jersey pocket for that final lap.

It was all going as planned until I realized that I would finish lap 7 at about the 5:00 mark.  Plenty of time for yet another final lap.  So I had another opportunity to play the mind games that are so important to finishing strong in endurance events.  I guess I was really fatigued because my brain fell for the usual tricks I had just gone through by telling it: "OK, this is the last time across the stream", "Just two more climbs", "This is the last time through this section", etc...

In the end, it all worked out well.  I was a little apprehensive about checking the results, but after some recovering and cleaning up a bit, the suspense overwhelmed and I checked the most recently posted results.  A very satisfying way to end the day - at the top of the podium after a hard days' work.

See you on the trails!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tom Dula's Revenge

Last year I did the inaugural Tom Dula event the day following a 100 mile MTB event, so I was looking for a much better result this year.  Of all the roubaix-style races that I do, however, this one suits me the least.  To be sure, it is a well run event and a fun course that is great fun to ride, it just doesn't play to my strengths.

I did show up prepared for battle, none-the-less.  I had a brand new Grava bike, weighing in under 17lbs. with American Classic Argent wheels and 25c Clement Strada tires.  I had the profile of the course taped to my top tube with all of the unpaved sections highlighted.  I did a proper warm-up, knowing that I would really need to push my limits to stay with the lead group at the start.

The race started promptly at 10:00am from the Leatherwoods Mountain Resort under cool, windy conditions but sunny skies.  As expected, the lead group formed rapidly after the neutral roll out.  The peloton would stay together until the first uphill pave section where gaps started to open up.  I jumped across all the gaps and came across the end of sector 1 still in the lead group.  More of the same came at the next sector.  Again, I bridge all the gaps and emerge with the lead group at the end of the 2nd sector.

I'm not a big rider - I don't generate a lot of power.  I am more of an endurance racer with pretty fair power to weight ratio.  It's not of much use on the recurring surges that keep happening in between the climbs.  It becomes harder and harder for me to close the gaps.  I know that the longer I stay with the pack, the better my result will be.  My goal is to hang on through 1/2 way.

After sector three, I am still hanging in the somewhat reduced peloton.  I start to think I can hang on until the finish.  But after several surges between sector 3 and 4, I know that I am riding on borrowed time unless the peloton slows on the longer, uphill sector 4.

They don't.

I am gapped.

But not by a lot.  I try hard to catch back on.  To no avail.  Following sector 4 is some fast paved riding.  As a solo rider, I have no chance of keeping pace with a motivated group of riders.  Still, I enjoy riding my pace.  I keep the hammer down and the peloton in sight for the next 4 or 5 miles.  I never would regain contact.

I did catch one other racer who dropped out of the lead group.  We worked together through sectors 5 and 6 and the steep pave climb and descent leading to the final 4 miles of unpaved climbing.  We were still together at the first stream crossing.  The water was concerningly deep to ride, with some pretty large rocks under the water, but I had no intention of hiking.  I clear it, but I don't think my riding partner did.  I never looked back, but I didn't hear from him again.

The course gets increasingly rough, though not very steep yet.  Two more stream crossings follow.  Neither as deep or wide as the first one.  But now the course turns increasingly uphill.  I struggle to find a rideable path through the soft muddy sections, the washed-out ruts and the loose gravelly sections.  It's a challenge, but it's all rideable.

Soon the 2km to go sign appears, which would normally mean the race is almost over.  However, at slightly-faster-than-walking pace there was still plenty of technical climbing to do.  The course does become a bit less technical near the top, but remains steep.

With 1 km to go, I have 2 riders in sight.  It doesn't look like there will be time to catch them, but with 200M to go they are noticeably closer.  I use what energy I have left to try to "sprint" out the final distance.  But there is nothing extra left.  I roll across the line with a time of 2:32 - nearly 30 minutes faster than my time from last year, but only 1 position better (6th this year).  A testimony to the increased competition level this year.

It was another hard fought day where I was really looking for a top 5 finish.  Still, I was pleased with my effort and look forward to the next 2 events in "Le Series Trois Roubaix": Love Valley and Boone-Roubaix in the next few weeks.

See you on the trails! 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Knot Southern Classic Series Race

For the past three years the Maxxis Southern Classic Series has started the season in beautiful Poinsett Park, just outside of Sumter, SC.  It's one of the longer cross country races of the season which is good for me because I'm usually hard at work on my endurance training early on.  This year it was even longer.  Additional singletrack had been built to replace most of the long fire road featured in the previous editions of what had been called The Killer 3 race.

I was warned at registration that I may not finish my Single Speed race before my CAT 1 race started an hour and a half later.  I must say, that news simplified my strategy.  I planned to go full gas in the SS race from the gun to try to make the start of my 2nd race.

I got a really good start (for me) - getting into the singletrack 3rd.  The pace started out pretty high.  After spending yesterday road racing, it was taking me a while to really get the flow on the SS.  I decided to follow along behind the other 2 racers.  However, the leader chose to let us by.  Now, riding 2nd, I'm starting to get a rhythm.  The trail is tight and twisty, but not stop-and-go tight but quite flowing.  Much of the surface is loose and off camber, keeping me on my toes.  When the leader slides the front wheel and off course I blast by and decide it's time to hammer.

The trail is mixture of short climbs and twisty corners that really suit my bike set-up and style of riding.  I never looked back.  I kept the hammer down.  Pedaling my guts out on the occasional long straight(ish) sections and rolling the corners.  Standing to hammer out of the tight corners to keep the pace high.

The second (and final) lap went even better.  Knowing what to expect from the course I know how hard I can push the limits.  I remind myself to flow.  Rolling the corners to keep the pace high.  Single speed racing is more about not losing speed than it is about trying to go faster.

I drilled the final fire road section to the finish.  There was no time to celebrate my victory though, the CAT 1 racers were already rolling off.  I rode back to my car, hopped on my geared bike, restocked my jersey pockets, grabbed some water bottles, my bike computer a gel and a Hammer bar and headed to the start.  My age group had just rolled by.  Fortunately I hadn't given them too much of a head start.

I was completely gassed from hammering out 2 laps on SS.  My plan was to finish all 3 laps of the CAT 1 race, but if I was going to be last and be in the way I would stop at 2 laps.

I finished all 3 laps.

The first part of the lap has the most climbing.  I was certainly suffering.  But when I got into the flatter, twisty sections I recovered pretty well.  I defaulted to a sort of high 6-hour endurance pace.  Being careful not to push too hard, but making sure to be pedaling at least endurance pace as much as possible.

By now I know the course pretty well.  I start reeling other racers in.  It's obvious that not all of them are from my class, but having missed the start line-up I wasn't really sure who was in my class, or even how many.

I kept my focus on being smooth and flowy, always mindful to keep the pace up.  I kept passing riders through all 3 laps.  Most of the time there was someone in the distance to try to reel in - helping me to go hard.

When it was all over, I was pleasantly surprised to check the results and find that I had finished 4th in the CAT 1 40+ field.  It was a fun course and a heck of a workout!  A fine way to cap off a weekend of racing.

The race was run really well with park rangers at the road crossing controlling traffic and helping with parking.  The course was in great shape and well marked.  There is plenty of supporting crowds around the course, too.  It's really cool to see the spectators really get into it and help keep the motivation high to keep digging.

It was great to see all my MTB friends again!  It seems like a long, long time since I've been to a proper cross country MTB race.

See you on the trails!   

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Greenville Spring Training Series - River Falls Road Race

It might seem odd for an endurance mountain bike specialist to be doing short road races, and I rather suppose it is, but there were several reasons to do it. 

1)  Historically, I've always managed to race at least one of these Greenville Spring Training Series Races.  It's really where I got my start racing 5 or 6 years ago. 

2) It can be great training.

3) I wanted to.  Maybe just to complete my comeback from injury - just to be sure I felt comfortable in a motivated pack of experienced riders, or maybe just because I watched too many YouTube road races videos during all my training indoors since August.

This year worked out to where the one race of the 8-race series that fit my schedule was the shortest road race (bad), but had a significant uphill finish (good).

I hadn't been doing any handle bar to handle bar riding in a long time, but I knew enough to start near the front.  I was racing masters 40+.  Masters is not like category racing.  The masters racers usually have teams - and therefore, team tactics.  The pace starts out hard until there is a break.  Often, riders are dropped off the back never to see the peloton again on these early surges of the race.  I didn't want to be that guy.  I very nearly was.

The first lap was hard.  For a little while.  From what I could tell, Three riders eventually went off the  front.  The rest of the pack then slowed.  In fact, we slowed so much that racers in the rear were yelling to pick up the pace.  Apparently there was some concern that the women's field that startted a few minutes behind us would catch us.

The laps are short at River Falls.  Less that 6 miles.  When we hit the one big climb of the course, the shouters got their wish:  The peloton went full gas.  Now, I'm a pretty small guy compared to most of the field.  I don't have the big power of the bigger riders, but I do go uphill pretty well.  But this hill wasn't long enough to wreak havoc on the big guys and when they went full gas, I was not ready for that kind of effort.  They pulled a gap on me (and others) over the top and pulled away on the descent that follows immediately after cresting the climb.

There was no way I was getting dropped on lap #1.  I gave chase.  Eventually three of us grouped together.  I was doing the lion's share of the work, but I wasn't going to make it on my own.  One of the rider's says, "that's it.  We're done."  I had other plans.  I kept digging.  And somehow we caught back on.  I recovered as much as I could, as the 2nd time up the hill was about to begin...

I felt like, no matter what happened up the hill this time, I had already done my best to hang to the peloton as long as I could.  But this time we hit the climb at a pace that suited me.  Plus, this time I was ready for it.  To my surprise, I made it up the hill much better than most of the competition.

The next few laps went by quite rapidly with some surges here and there, but a pace I could sustain.  Until lap 5.  On lap five we hit it the climb pretty hard.  I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but the group I was in got separated a bit and we had to chase back on (again).  I was pretty gassed for the penultimate climb.  Apparently, so was everyone else because we eased up it to get the bell lap.

On the final lap there were more surges, but I stayed didligent and always managed to stay in contact.  By now we are catching groups of dropped women and masters riders.  In fact, the closer we get to the finish, the more we seem to catch.  For the last run up the climb we had to pass a large group of riders, and while we were doing that, at least one of the women riders was keeping pace with us, shouting at everyone to "keep right".  It was rather chaotic.  I lost some momentum a few times, getting trapped behind other riders, but I fared pretty well.

In the end it turns out that 6 riders were ahead of our group.  I ended up 12th, so I feel like I fared pretty well in the peloton and overall, especially with the extra chasing I had to do.  It was a hard day, but certainly good training for me to be forced to ride a pace well out of my comfort zone.  Sort of a stepping out of the boat experience.

Tomorrow's another day.  A moutain bike day.

See you on the trails!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Southern Cross

The first race in the Ultra Cross series, Southern Cross was my first goal event of the season.  It was my 3rd attempt.  I finished 6th on a 29'er MTB 2 years ago.  Last year I raced a CX bike, missed a turn on the final long descent and added some extra mileage.  This year I was back again on a CX bike.  The competition has ratcheted up a couple of notches over the last couple of years, so my optimistic goal was a top 5 in 40+ but realistically I was just looking at seeing where my early season form was and just pushing as hard as I could.

The weather turned out to be pretty good.  A little chilly at the start, but nothing like last years freeze.  I got a reasonably good starting position (for me).  The tall grass and soft ground on the winery grounds at the start made for some difficult going early on.  I lost a few spots by those more ambitious on the first big run-up than me.  By the time we got to the road my legs were already burning, but it's crucial to be in a good drafting pack early and then sort it out on the climb.

I had been riding the .GPX course file of the course on my CompuTrainer, so I knew when and how long the first climb would be.  I think I paced myself pretty well because of those that passed me early in the climb, I was able to reel them all in and a grab a few more spots before the 1st aid station at the top at mile 12.5.

A few more short, steep climbs and descents followed before a long descent leading onto a road section.  Somehow I managed to hit the road solo, so I had to do all the work myself instead of sharing the work with drafting partners.

There are a few more short steep climbs before we turn onto a road that follows a creek on a steady incline that suits my climbing style perfectly.  It's a joy to be outside with great weather, great terrain, pedaling up a mountain.  Other riders are few and far between, but I do manage to pick a few spots before the aid station at mile 32.

Next up:  Super fast, rough road descending.  It's a bit technical, but most of all, it is a bit of crap shoot wondering how fast I can rocket down the mountain bouncing off of rocks without flatting.  I played it reasonably conservative, losing a little ground to some MTB's, but pleased that I got to the bottom with no flats, no issues.

I pop out onto the road, solo again, for the 5 or so miles back to the winery.  We enter the winery on a narrow, paved undulating road, but the real difficult section starts with a giant run-up and doesn't end until the finish line.  Two miles of suffering through soft ground, tall grass, off-camber sections, more run-ups, a log crossing, 2 creek crossings and the accumulation of 49 previous miles of fatigue.  But it does finally end.  The extra struggling at the end adds to the satisfaction of mission accomplishment.  I crossed the line in about 3:20.  Good for 7th in 40+ and 25 minutes faster than I was last year.

A good start to the season.

See you on the trails!