Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pisgah Moutain Bike Stage Race: Day Five

Cool weather welcomed the racers to the final stage of the race.  Jackets, arm and leg warmers were the attire of choice for most racers.  Adding to the "cool factor" was the fact that the 15 mile trip to aid station #1 featured 6 creek crossings.

We rolled off from the Black Mountain trailhead again.  This time we had a police escort for the 6 mile ride on Hwy 280.  Some racers actually opted for a road bike for this section, then swapped out bikes when we turned into the woods.  My legs were hurting from the previous 4 days of racing and it was a struggle to keep up with the pace on the road.  I managed to place myself around the people I was racing against and just hung on. 

When we turned off the highway, we were greeted with a bit of a climb.  The climbing suited my legs better and I managed to pull into the lead of my class.  And then the creek crossings started.  All of them were cold, some were quite deep and a few were technical in that we had to navigate slippery rocks.  After the creek crossings the trail turned upwards once again.  By now the sun has come out and whenever I'm not completely surrounded by rhododendrons the warmth feels good.

At aid station #1, Beth is there to help in the transition from cold wet clothes, to drier, speedier clothes.  It feels good to be in some dry socks and shoes but the legs haven't really come around yet.  I'm still leading but I feel depressingly slow.  But the trail continues upwards, so I keep climbing.  I've got no HR data again today so I'm trying to climb at a sustainable pace.  The climb goes on and on with some hike-a-bike but mostly pretty sweet single track.  More climbing.  I remind myself that this is the biggest climb of the day.  It's all easier after this.  Soon I get to a trail sign that reads "Pilot Mtn ".  I've never ridden Pilot Mtn, but I know that it's rocky and a favorite place for photographers to take pictures of the technical descent.  Descending is good, so I'm happy about that.  For a moment.  When Pilot Mtn turns downward it really turns downward.  It's a bit technical at first but it soon turns absolutely crazy.  There is one section of rocks ("rock garden" does not do it justice) where photographers, spectators and the white squirrel mascot are yelling and cheering the riders on.  The riding is so intense you have to stay completely focused.  Even so it's tough to ride the right speed to maintain momentum, but not so fast as to endo.  Constantly I am searching for the next rock to bash into that won't hurl me over the bars.  When I get out of this section, the rocky descent continues.  Only now it's big rocks and tight, tight, tight switch backs that you really don't want to overshoot.  I actually managed to pass two riders on this part, even though I dropped my bike 3 times on switchbacks.  The rocks ease up for a bit, but I'm still not at the bottom.  So I stay off the brakes as long as I dare.  Partly because it's a race and partly because I just want to get done with the descent.

When the bottom arrives I notice my legs feel a bit better, I feel a bit better.  I think it's the adrenaline.  I'm stoked to be alive to reach aid station #2.  It was one of my goals.  Their are only two climbs and two descents left, and I was pretty sure I could live through both of them - another one of my goals.  The climbing goes well even though I did get passed by a rider, but it was one I had passed on the descent so I didn't feel too bad.  The next descent is Avery creek.  It's a bit softer dirt than most of the rest of the trail and a bit technical, but quite rideable.  At this point I'm just happy to be going downhill again.  At the bottom of Avery creek is a few short creek crossings and some mostly flat trail making it easy to keep the pace high.

The final aid station is a repeat of yesterday's at the horse stables .  The wife hooks me up with the final gel and water bottle of the week.  I know the final miles pretty well by now.  The steepest part of the climb comes up first and my legs just don't wanna get going after the brief stop.  I thought I was leading (I wasn't).  I know it's about 45 minutes to the finish and I have a 51 minute lead in GC at the start of the day.  My body says take it easy, but Todd (the awesome race promoter) said he wanted to see everyone use up every ounce of energy on this last section.  The legs start to come around as the grade lessens a bit and I grind up the climb.  There is a rider up ahead, so I convince myself to reel him in.  I finally catch him near the top of the climb.  At the turn onto Black Mountain trail several Dirt Divas (A local to Charlotte MTB club) cheer me on.  Way cool.  It makes the hike-a-bike seem a bit shorter.  And then I reach the final descent.  In and of itself the Black Mountain trail descent is totally awesome.  Finishing a 5 day stage race with the opportunity to win all five stages makes it absolutely amazing.  I remind myself to enjoy every foot of trail.  I was a very little cautious on the couple of tricky parts near the top, but after that it was brakes off, full speed ahead.  If I flat or crash, I can walk in from here.  A bit scary, but amazingly gratifying to fly through the air, land and rail a bermed corner ...and do it again and again.  At the bottom I sprint across the line at 4:44.  I found out the rider I had just passed on the final climb had been leading the day in my class.  So I end the week having won all 5 stages.  It's way more than I could have hoped for and leaves me feeling very blessed.

Now for a little time off the bike.

See you on the trails! ...but not for a couple of days.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Pisgah Moutain Bike Stage Race: Day Four

The best part of a hard stage is the feeling you get from actually finishing.

Four out of five stages end coming down a technical (but rideable) super fast descent on the famed black mountain trail.  To shake things up a bit, we rode UP black mountain today.  I have to say that while I was hiking my bike up the worst parts that I can't believe we actually ride down at break-neck speeds (well hopefully not quite that fast).  The first aid station was at mile 9, but it was a long 9 miles.  After hiking black mountain, I believe the long swinging bridge was up next (don't look down).  Then it was Turkey Pen (I think).  There was more hike-a-bike, lots of rhododendrons followed by a long descent to the aid station.  I'd been having issues clipping in and out of my pedals all day and I ended up with my right foot unclipped and my chain off bombing down a rather gnarly (but not rocky, for a change) stair stepped descent.  I ended up in the bushes which is far better than going off the side of the mountain.  I untangled myself then my chain, managed to clip back in and complete the descent to the aid station.  My wife was able to get to this aid station so I got everything that I needed to be able to get to the next aid station in short order.

I think it was squirrel gap that was next.  Anyway,  it's several miles of trail that's not terribly rocky or rooty or steep but it's mostly narrow and mostly on the side of the mountain.  I always feel like I'm losing time here (and I'm pretty sure I really am) because I slow my pace a bit to make sure I stay pinned to the side of the mountain.  I know if I keep my focus on where I want the bike to go it usually works out but there always seems to be a rock or root trying to hurl you over the edge.  I lost contact with the rider I had been closing in on, but I didn't crash and there was plenty of time and trail to make up lost ground.

After another descent to aid station two there was some sweet singletrack climbing where I was able to get back into a rhythm.  My heart rate has not been working most of the day, and my Garmin lost satellite reception so I was a bit unsure of how far to the next stop and what kind of effort I was really doing.  I think maybe it was just a little reminder from God to just trust him.  So I ride how I feel, reminding myself I have another long stage tomorrow. 

Soon we get to the top half of the black mountain trail.  It's gnarly going down.  It's gnarly and painful going up.  Since we are going up today, the barely hike-a-bikeable stuff going down becomes quite hazardous going "up".  I have another rider in sight so I'm using him as a cue as to when to get on and off the bike.  One section I rode had two long drop-offs that I definitely would never have ridden given the opportunity, but I didn't get one.  Too fast to stop, no where to ride around.  My only thought is "I'm going over the handlebars.  It's going to hurt."  but then I quickly tell myself  "No I'm not!" and I let off the front brake, push the bike forward to keep my weight back, pogo off the front wheel, land the rear wheel and do it again for the next step.  Somehow I stay wheel side down and I bounce the rest of the way down over the rest of the rocky section where I went ahead and started breathing again.

I know there is a long descent to the final aid station, but I don't know if it's gnarly or fire road or single track.  So when we popped out onto a fire service road I was pretty happy because I knew I could get some fast miles in.  I had been shooting for a 5:15 day, but the pace thus far was looking more like a 6:00 day.  The aid station is at the bottom of the descent, at the horse stables and I know it's just one more time up the mountain, and one more time down black mountain trail.

I pace myself on the climb up, but I'm feeling pretty good because I know the remainder of the course.  Judging by the riders that I have been riding near, I feel like I've been doing pretty well.  The descent down black mountain is extra sweet today.  Maybe it's from having walked up it earlier, or from having to work so hard to get here, or maybe just from nearing the finish of the week's toughest stage.  But it's drier and grippier and I know it better and I stay off the brakes a bit more and give my bike permission to fly through the air over the water bars and maybe even slide a little through some of the corners.

I came through the finish at 5:07.  Better then I expected.

Tomorrow is another long day, but a bit less hiking and more sweet single track.  It's supposed to be quite a bit cooler tomorrow.  Apparently there are quite a few creek crossings early, too.  As long as I don't succumb to hypothermia it should be another great day on the bike.

See you on the trails!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pisgah Moutain Bike Stage Race: Day Three

Today's stage was short on miles, but big on fun.  The theme among the racers was to conserve energy today for the tough stage tomorrow.  We got to sleep in today.  The roll off from Wash Creek Campgound wasn't until 11:00 am.  By then the sun was high enough in the sky to start warming up the racers.

We began with a fire road climb, but it quickly turned into North Mills singletrack.  There was a rocky descent which I managed to ride (barely), a little bit of hike-a-bike, but the pay off was some super sweet, smooth, flowy single track with plenty of opportunity's to get air.  I played it a bit conservative being unfamiliar with the trails but it certainly was fun to fly once in a while without worrying about going off the side of a cliff.

Aid station #1 at mile 14 came up in a hurry.  Immediately after the aid station was another washed-out rocky descent that was rideable in sections, not-so-much in others.  My shoe came unclipped in a section that should've been rideable and I ended up hiking down a section I should've been riding.  I lost a few spots, but soon I got back into a rhythm.  By the next climb back to the same aid station I had regained the postions I had lost.

We had a long fire road climb, followed by some on and off the bike climbing, but soon we had a LONG descent on some overgrown double track.  I pedaled just for the sake of keeping my legs fresh but I could have just as easily coasted to the final climb.  When that last climb did come, it wasn't super steep or technical but after going so fast for so long it felt painfully slow.  Eventually we crest the top and descend to the finish line.  Not that I wasn't glad to see the finish, but I felt like I could've gone longer today.  Hopefully I'll have some energy for tomorrow's climb up Black Mountain to start the day,

I didn't get a chance to see where I finished today (yet), but I did manage a win again yesterday and I was up 39 minutes in GC at the start of the day today.  My goal going into this race was a stage win and an overall podium.  Needless to say I'm pleased with my results so far but I have to give all the glory to my God, my family and friends.  There's no way I could do this on my own.

See you on the trails!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pisgah Moutain Bike Stage Race: Day Two

Today's stage was a remote start.  While our bikes were loaded into a large Uhaul truck (2 trips required), we were loaded into one of two trolley's for a sight seeing trip around Brevard on the way to the start.  We still ended up waiting for our bikes and the start was delayed 1/2 hour.  Undaunted, we rolled off for a brief down hill and up 9 miles of climbing and 4000 feet elevation gain. 

I settled in for the climb at a heart rate that was sustainable.  The group I was with kept shrinking and became a pace line.  Which would have been OK, but my heart rate was trending more and more into the tempo zone.  I decided to let them go and dropped off the back.  As soon as I did the climb steepened, and the pack in front slowed.  When it turned briefly downhill I kept on my heart rate pace and went past them.  I eventually caught a racer in a Pisgah jersey and I figured it would be a good idea to follow a local heading into the fabled Farlow Gap.  What started out as a good idea turned into wishful thinking as he blasted away at the first hint of a rocky descent.

During the wait for our bikes to arrive in the morning I asked around to find out as much info as I could on Farlow.  The general consensus was that there was no shame in walking down (yes - down) the rocky descent.  I had also been given the heads up on the gnarliest sections.  I have to say that Farlow Gap is everything it's reported to be.  I rode as far as I could hang on, dismounted and remounted as appropriate.  The giant white squirrel mascot was there which always cheers me up.  After hiking down and up Farlow I felt like the hardest part of the day was over.

I tried to read trail names as we raced but I just couldn't bring myself to slow down to read them.  There were lots of creek crossings.  Some of them were rather difficult to traverse even off bike.  Some places there were log bridges to cross.  I don't think they were much easier than fording the creeks.  There was some hike-a-bike, but most of the trail was quite rideable and much drier then yesterday.  The locals have a clear adventage.  Some of the trails are really fast, but I never know what's around the next corner.  I rode with one local who was kind enough to show me the line through several miles of singletrack.  When he dropped a chain I carried on... Not sure how I feel about that, but I made sure he didn't need anything as I passed by.

Near the end of the stage we rode down most of the beginning climb from yesterday.  I was thinking it would be a great way to the end stage - flying down a long fire road descent, but alas we turn and climb back up to the Black Mountain trail.  Fortunately I had ridden this part (on SS earlier this summer) and I knew what to expect.  And of course the black mountain descent was the same as yesterday.  It's a little sketchy in spots on a cross country bike, but it's fast, and after a bit of hike-a-bike at the begining, it's all downhill to the finish.

One of the highlights of the day was the trolley ride to the start sitting with pro racer Adam Craig.  I don't think there's any other sport where average working guys like me can compete with (or at least at the same time as) professionals.  Pretty cool.

One of the lowlights was washing and lubing my bike only to find that my front shifter was broken and not just gunked up with mud as I had expected.

But the highlights continued when local bike shop Sycamore Cycles was open and servicing other racer's bikes (including one Cannondale Scalpel for Jeremiah Bishop).  They had a replacement shifter and fixed it while I waited.  Amazing service.

Oh, and another hilight - I got a jersey for winning yesterdays stage.  I'm not sure where I finished today.  I was getting my bike fixed during the awards presentation.  Hopefully I can actually make one of these before the week is over.

Tomorrow is a shorter stage, but still pretty tough.  The weather is forecasted to be great.  It should be another amazing day riding my bike in God's beautiful creation.

See you on the trails!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pisgah Moutain Bike Stage Race: Day One.

Yesterday all racers were required to attend a pre-race meeting and dinner at the Brevard Music Center.  The food was awesome (mmmmm... trout), but I was mainly there for the course overview.  Todays stage had a projected finish time of 3:15 for the winner and 4:00 for an "average rider".  Looking around the room at all the racers I decided to set my goal, somewhat optimistically, at 4:00.

At the race start/finish area we all signed in for the day's stage.  It was noted that the trails were somewhat wet (read: SLICK) from rain overnight.  At the sound of the gun we were off.  Approximately 75 riders.  I still have no idea who all is in my class as there is an "elite 40+" and a "masters 40+" class.  I file in the pack about where I felt like I fit in speed-wise as the pace car lead us up the road 1/2 mile to a fire service road.  At the FS road the race began.  Mostly pleasant at first, then it turned uphill and would remain a climb for the rest of the 7 miles to aid station #1 of 3 for the day.  I paced myself in a small group, including a couple of single speeders.

At aid station #1 I opted to carry a 2nd water bottle as the next aid station wouldn't be until mile 22.  This section featured a lot of really sweet single track and I felt pretty good.  The trail was slick but manageable.  As we continue on, the descent becomes narrow, rooty, off camber, side-of-the-moutain scary.  I decide to edit my goal time to 4:15 considering the conditions.  If I went fast it was a bit easier over the roots, but bouncing off the trail was a very real possibility.  If I went slow it made riding over the rocks and roots that much more difficult.  I struggled along as best I could (wishing I had opted for a grippier front tire).  After, about the 3rd low speed fall onto the banked side of the trail I was getting a bit discouraged.  I had already let 3 racers pass by.  I looked at my handlebars and read what I had previously taped their: "In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall."  I didn't feel capable of crushing an army at that moment, but I settled down and got into a rideable rhythm.  Soon the section ended and I was on to aid station #2.

The 10 miles from aid station #2 to #3 was all fire road.  Which suited me fine and made me glad for my fast-rolling tire choice.  I soon passed back all the positions I had given up and caught a few more.  I was feeling pretty speedy when I reached aid station #3, which was the same as #1.  ...until one of the volunteers pointed out the direction to proceed.  It was a tangled, rooty, mess.  Thus begun the extended hike-a-bike.  Every time I felt like I could ride a section that feeling was quickly dashed by a stair-stepped switchback or a vertical rock or more tangled, twisty roots.  So I kept hiking.  A little downhill relief.  More hiking.  Some places it was a bit difficult to tell what was actually trail, some places I wondered if I would be able to drag my bike up and over.  But the down hill came.  With a vengeance.  This part of the trail had dried pretty well, and, for the most part, wasn't on the side of the mountain.  I blasted down as fast as I dared - always trying to balance speed with control, and the probabilty of flatting on the rocks.  I didn't always get the balance just right, but I didn't crash or flat, or lose any positions so I considered it a success.

At the bottom I reach the start/finish.  The official time clock reads 4:15.  There weren't a whole lot of riders in the recovery area (although Jeremiah Bishop was riding his MTB on rollers) so I felt like I placed well.  Tomorrow will be a remote start, but the same finish area as today.  It's a few miles longer.  I'm guessing it's not going to be any easier...

See you on the trails!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Shenandoah 100

My first Shenandoah 100.  I broke several endurace racing rules, but fared OK in the end.

I didn't have any real good course descriptions, other than the elevation profile and a few You Tube videos and previous year blogs.  I based my tire choices on that info and it worked out (mostly) OK.

The Shenandoah 100 traditionally rolls out at first light on Sunday morning of labor day weekend.  We staged in our projected finish time results: 7 hour, 8 hour, 9 hour, etc. I lined up in the 9 hour group.  I think 500 riders started (do 2 tandem teams count double?).  It was warm, but too early to check for clouds, so I wasn't sure if rain would play a factor or not.  I had no rain gear.  I had sunglasses.

I felt like I had a pretty good race strategy as far as nutrition, hydration and aid stations.  I like to travel light so it's pretty important to get it right.  The aid stations are pretty well equipped and I try to stay a bit flexible as the race unfolds.

Forgive my race description.  This was my first time here and I spent more time reacting to the course than planning for it.  I knew where all the climbs were, but I didn't know what was single track, fire roads or paved roads. 

The first aid station came at mile 10.  There was the usual road start to spread things out then onto some double track for a substantial climb and descent leading to aid station #1.

The second aid station was at mile 31.  The 21 miles in between featured a bigger climb and descent, some single track and some pace line riding on the road.  I'm pretty sure the climb featured some hike-a-bike too.

The trip to aid station #3 at mile 45 was a bit more eventful.  I had locked my fork for the climbs.  We were climbing so long I forgot I had it locked out.  I had been making up a lot of time screaming down the descents.  A lot of endurance riders race hard tails and my full squish bike is just ...faster.  Anyway, I was attempting to scream down a descent when I botched a super fast left-right-left (or was it a right-left-right?).  I didn't want to slow down for it, but my timing was off or the bike slid, or whatever but I hit a tree with my left hand, something happened after that, but I don't really remember what.  I do remember flying (kinda high) through the air, minus bike, off the side of the mountain.  ...and then a funny thing happened.  I landed in a large sappling which bent over under my weight and lowered me, more-or-less, gently to the ground.   My hand hurt from clobbering the first tree, but all else, including bike, was fine.  So I hammered on.

Aid station #4 came up at mile 57.  It featured some slippery rock hike-a-bike (I think it was here) and some more pace line road riding.

The trip to aid station #5 is famous (feared?) for the longest climbing section.  I tried to stay in a rhythm.  It felt like I was going too slowly, but my heart rate said I was going fast enough.  I have to remind myself that everyone slows on the climbs.  A few folks passed me early, but I think I passed most all of them back by the "top".   It wasn't really the top, as the climb continued after the aid station.

The final aid station came at mile 88.  I'm pretty exhausted by now, but there aren't too many other riders around.  With 12 miles to go, and 1 more big climb (the same one from the start of the race) I resolve to keep the pedals turning over.  I remind myself: "you don't have to race up the hill, but you do have to get up the hill."  Pretty soon I start to see tents from the Stokesville campground - where the start, and more importantly, the finish are located.  I roll thru the giant inflatable finish line marker as the announcer calls out my name and number and the official clock reads 9:01.

After a veggie burger (surprisingly yummy), some fruit, pasta and lemonade we checked the results.  I ended up 44th in my class (solo male open) and 58th overall.  No flats, no injuries.  A smooth race.  A good day enjoying God's creation.

Oh, the endurance rules I broke: No new equipment on race day:  New shoes, and new bibs.  I struggled a bit clipping in.  I will investigate and rectify...

See you on the trails!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rivers Edge Mountain Bike Marathon

   Work commitments threw the training schedule into disarray lately.  Usually I like being an adult, but sometimes it seems overrated...

   I had to skip Fools Gold 100 mile MTB race last weekend, but I did get to race the final 2 Southern Classic races at Bur-Mil Park and Dark Mtn the last 2 Sundays.  In order to keep the training volume up I did a long road ride after each of the races.
   The Sizzler at Bur-Mil started out damp (and rooty) so I mounted up some tires I wanted to evaluate in case of rain for Pisgah next month.  They worked well, but I got a lousy start and wasn't feeling super speedy.  I ended up 7th.

   Dark Mountain went much better.  There wasn't much time to sprint before the single track and I got tangled up in the field.  The climbing and descending suited me pretty well and I was able to chase back to 3rd.  As an interesting aside, I got to see 2 spectactular endo's real close-up. 

  Today I was back on schedule to race Rivers Edge, a 50 mile race, as a warm-up to Shenandoah next month.  The venue moved from USNWC to the Wood Run trails at Uwharrie.  I had never raced at Uwharrie before.  I heard it was kinda rocky and that people flat there pretty regular.  This caused some concern when the rear tire I planned to race punctured during the Wednesday night race at USNWC.  Undaunted, I mounted another one up for the race today (I got 'em on a promo deal).

   The rocky report proved accurate, although the rockiest parts were similar to what Trans-Sylvania epic would bill as "sweet single track."  The smaller loop was sweet single track and provided a chance to recover. 

   We started on a gravel climb.  Being new to the trails I tried to fall into a speedy group, but not a crazy-fast group.  I've been working on my starts, so I decided to push it a bit on a long double track climb.  Every MTB'er knows that a long double track climb is followed by a single track descent.  I passed most of the folks I had been riding with in order to get a jump on the singletrack.  The Trans-Sylvania experience was paying dividends on the rocky descents:  I was able to gain ground on most riders, or at least not give-up any.

   It took me a couple of laps to get into a rhythm to accurately gauge my efforts but eventually I was able to figure out when the most strenuous climbs were approaching.   I was able to ride them all, but the last couple of laps it was only with the use of my smallest 2 x 10 gear.  The tires I chose held up well - a reasonable compromise of grip vs. fast rolling.  They were perfect for 80% of the trail.  The other 20% was a bit hairy at times causing a few tense moments.  Fortunatlely there weren't any silly 60 foot drop-offs like at ORAMM or Cohutta.

   So, after 5 laps around the ~10 mile course I managed to come in behind a duo team and Kenda racer Rick Pyle.  I was pleased with that result as it gives me some momentum heading into Shenandoah.  Another place I haven't seen before...

   The post race food was awesome, I can't speak for the beer, but it seemed to be popular too.  The threat of hurricane weather may have kept some folks from coming out, but that seemed to make for a more casual and easy-going environment.

See you on the trails!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 I did ORAMM. Coincidence?

I hadn't planned on doing ORAMM this year.  Some day, yes.  But not this year.  It didn't fit in with the schedule.  So I went on my way merrily training for the Crossroads Classics, Fools Gold 100, Pisgah Stage race, etc.  Crossroads (5 days of road racing) moved back a week and suddenly I was free to race ORAMM.  Of course by then ORAMM was sold out.

Last week was a pretty intense training week.  I did hill repeats on Tuesday and then on Wednesday I missed my start for the USNWC Charlotte MTB series race and raced hard to finish next to last.  Thursday I happened upon someone selling their ORAMM entry and by Friday all the paperwork was clear and I was in! 

I wasn't sure how I'd do having never seen the trails or tapered at all for the race.  I decided a little recon riding on Saturday would be more worthwhile than resting up so me and a friend head to the Gateway Mountain Museum where the race would start, map in hand, and hope to find some trails.  I kind of expected some course tape and fanfare to guide me to the trails but, alas, there was none.  It turns out you have to ride through town a few miles before you get to single track.

After some map deciphering we decided to ride Kitsuma since we have to race it twice.  We head to a picnic area where it looks like other riders are riding from.  Fortunately a course marshal armed with a large roll of Kenda caution tape is there getting ready to mark the course.  He gives us some pointers and we head to the much fabled Kitsuma trail head.  We ease up a ridiculously long, paved climb, being mindful to keep a nice recovery pace.  At the top we get to a small parking area where Rich Dillen is finishing up his recon ride and he gives us some info about what's ahead of us on the trail.

So we ride up and down Kitsuma.  Well, to be fair, we walked up a bunch of Kitsuma.  I was trying really hard to save energy for the race the next day.  The descents were as steep as anything I'd ever seen.   Well, they were until I saw Heartbreak Ridge the next day.  The pre-ride went well.  I had an idea of what was to come for the race start and finish.  I felt like my tires and bike settings would work well (if I remembered to unlock the shock for the descents) if it didn't rain.  Which it was supposed to.  And it did.  But more on that later.

Race morning rolls around and I'm still formalizing my strategy.  I decide not to send any drop bags to the rest area because with 500 entries I figure I'd have to spend too much time hunting it down.  I decide to carry a gel (for emergencies, or the last aid station - whichever came first), 2 Hammer bars, 2 containers of Hammer Perpeteum Solids and some Endurolyte capsules.  Hydration was 2 Podium chill bottles.  I planned to blast through aid station #1.  Seemed like a good plan at the time.  It almost was.

We roll off promptly at 8:00am and we soon begin to climb the ridiculously steep paved climb from yesterday.  I started near the middle of the pack and decided to climb at a heart rate near the top of my endurance range and see how I felt.  I kind of expected more of a hammerfest at the start because traditionally there is a bottle neck at the start of Kitsuma (so I'd been told).  I consistently pass people all the way to Kitsuma and I'm still feeling OK.  The climb up Kitsuma is slower then I would have preferred (probably a good thing), but not the bottle neck I feared.  The first photographer we get to is calling off rider positions as we pass by and he rattled off "...113, 114, 115..." as I went by. Not bad, I thought.

After we cyclocross the downed "bee" tree on Kitsuma and bomb the final descent into the picnic area my seat post mounted water bottle cage jettisons it's contents.   A bit of foreshadowing.  I decide to turn around and get the water bottle so I can stick with my plan to skip the first aid station.  Total waste of time.

I stick to my plan and blow through the first aid station.  We jumped into the next singletrack section which followed along the side of a mountain with a mesmerizingly steep drop-off on the side.  The guy behind me yells "you lost your water bottle need to go back for it's gone".  ...and so I am left with one very nearly empty bottle to make it to aid station 2 mile 26.  So I say a little prayer and carry on, riding a reasonable pace, hoping for the best.

And then it rains.

Marvelous hydrating rain.

Aid station 2 comes.  I get my water bottle filled and I'm back in business.  Back at full speed.  Curtis Creek climb comes - a long gravel road climb.  I can do gravel road.  By the time I get to the top it's absolutely pouring, but the folks at aid station 3 are happily helping all the riders as they come and go.  As soon as I begin the descent on the other side of the Parkway, the rain stops.  This made the descent a bit easier to navigate.

The next time we get to Blue Ridge Parkway we ride on it for about a mile.  There was someone alongside the road with a camera and snaps a picture as I go by.

We do a hike a bike section which becomes rideable, and then a funny thing happens.  Other riders are readily pulling over to let me by.  Seemed odd, but maybe they were just tired.  I found out later that they just didn't want someone riding there tail on the harrowing descent to come.  I can't even describe Heartbreak Ridge.  But I'll try.  I can only offer that is the longest, fastest, hairy descent I've ever seen or heard about.  I was in fear for my brake pads wearing out before I got to the bottom.  My arms were tired and back sore from riding in the attack position for so long.  Some sections were so narrow with such a big drop-off that I literally unclipped and put a foot out just in case the bike started to slide down the side of the mountain.  I have to jam on the brakes to keep the bike mostly in contact with the trail.  I try to ride only as fast as the visible trail ahead will allow but I still blow through 3 or 4 super sharp switchbacks before I start getting it right.

When I start to feel like I can't hang on at this pace any longer I see a sign ahead which I assumed would be some warning of an incredibly perilous drop-off or large pointy rock garden ...or worse.  When I get close enough to read the sign it says "smile, photographer ahead" or something.  Cool.  Turns out it was a perilous drop-off too, but I make it through as the photographer counts off "48".  48.  That's more than twice as good as 114.

I safely make it to the Mill Creek gravel road climb, which I was familiar with having driven it yesterday, and I know I just have to make this climb and Kitsuma one more time and then the finish.  A top 50 finish in my grasp if I can hold on.  Riders are few and far between at this point, but I can see a group ahead. 

The final time up Kitsuma it is much less crowded.  I catch 4 or 5 riders ahead of me and use them to pace my efforts.  Near the top my legs start to cramp really bad from the hard efforts required to pedal the switchbacks and steepest sections.  I try to relax and spin easily.  I made up my mind to stay with the group because I know if I stop pedalling I will cramp up in a big way.  I press on.  I pedal the descents to keep blood circulating.  It pays off.  When we hit the final road section back to town and the finish I feel good enough to help out with the pace line and then sprint to the finish line.

I finished feeling strong at 6:09:27, 40th overall and 10th in my class.

On Monday morning I get an email with pictures of me racing on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  A friend of mine from work "just happened" to be going to Mt. Mitchell the same time I was riding about 1 mile on the Parkway.  He "just happened" to notice me, turned around and snapped some pictures.

What are the odds?  I guess about the same as the rain coming and going at just the right time.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Roadie training for Pisgah?

   Every MTB’er knows the best way to get in base miles is on a road bike because it’s much easier on the rest of your body and often more convenient than riding the trails for hours on end.  I like to take it a step further and race the occasional criterium or road race in order to get some serious intensity training.

   The French Broad omnium has one of the few road races in this area that has a pack-splitting climb in the middle and a mountain top finish.  It’s only a 40 mile race, so you really have to stay on your toes the entire time.

   The race started in Marshall, NC.  In addition to the 70 other CAT 4 racers, we also raced with about 30 of the Masters 50+ category.  So, all 100 of us roll off and quickly the road turns uphill.  The first 4.5 miles have a lot of climbing.  All the non-climbers want to be on the front so they don’t get dropped, everyone that thinks they have a chance to do well wants to be on the front and it’s generally easier and safer to race at the front.  This is not the Tour de France, so the roads are not closed to traffic and we are required to stay to the right of the yellow line.  I generally ride on the yellow line in crowded conditions in case there is a crash I’m not blocked in.  I count 6 riders that pass me left of the yellow in the first 2 miles.

   We continue through some more-or-less chaotic twisty climbs where the field tries to invert itself as the front of the field starts a climb and the rear of the field is drafting down the hill from the last climb.  There is one crash as wheels overlap, but everyone continues on.

   Around mile 20 we get to the first big climb.  I’m usually a pretty good climber, but this is a struggle.  I decide to settle in to my own pace.  I start the climb with about 60 riders ahead of me, but they drop away rapidly.  I keep the leaders in sight, but about 20 riders or so go over the top ahead of me.  It’s a steep downhill after the climb and the lead group quickly distances me in the few moments they crest the hill and are going over 40mph descent while I am along at 8 mph.  It’s also very tough to make up ground on a very fast descent.  But I know that the winner will come out of the lead group and I need to be in it.  A few of us stragglers hook up and begin to chase in earnest.  We hit speeds approaching 50mph, trying not to slow for any corners, trading turns up front and hammering whenever the road turns a little flatter.  We close in on the pack, but they always seem just out of reach.  Finally, after entertaining thoughts of giving up chase and conserving energy for the next climb, we reach the pack and settle into the pace of the lead group, enjoying the opportunity to draft along at a sane pace.  Looking back, I probably chased a bit too hard and could’ve fallen back to a bigger chase group and done less work to catch back on, as another group caught us a bit later. 

   After a few miles of recovering as much as possible we get to the final climb.  This climb will determine the finishing order.  Every rider your pass is one more position.  Everyone knows this.  We all put forth every bit of energy we have left.  It was disheartening to see some folks ride away at the start of the climb, but I stay on pace and eventually them all back, plus a few more.  Alas, as I am about to reach a large group of riders the finish line approaches.  I roll across in 17th.  I am a little disappointed in my overall standings, but glad to have finished without issues after having mechanical issues in previous years.  After a hard week of training and no real tapering for the race I suppose it was a respectable result.  It was a rather satisfying race in that I worked hard to put myself in a position to be able to win and put forth all of my effort at the finish. 

See you on the road trails!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Training for Pisgah MTB Stage race

September 27 - October 1, 2011*

5 Days, 195 Miles, 28,000+ ft of Elevation Gain

I had so much fun racing the Trans-Sylvania Epic that I went ahead and registered for the Pisgah MTB Stage Race.  Now that I know what to expect from a stage race I should be able to focus on some specific areas of training.

This is what I've been working on since Trans-Sylvania:

1. Equipment testing - I've been trying a variety of tires.  I raced some brand new Schwalbe Rocket Ron's at the Beech Mountain short track race and cut the sidewall while leading.  I still have the Rocket Ron on front but I put a Bontrager 29-0 on the rear.  This tire rolls really, really fast and helped me win the SERC race at Clemson a couple of weeks ago.  It also climbs well and works well on loose over hard pack.  I'm not sure it's going to be the best tire for Pisgah, though.  I purchased a Slant-6 and plan to try it out in the very near future.  I saw some XDX tires on bikes at Trans-Sylvania.  I tried one on the rear of my SS at Pisgah (after puncturing a Jones XR) and it was really awful on the gravel road climbs.  The quest continues...

2. Trying new trails - I've only ever been to Pisgah one time, so a lot of the trails I will be racing on I will have little or no experience on.  I've been to Beech Mtn, Dark Mtn and the Issaqueena trails in Clemson to mix it up a bit and to get used to going hard on unfamiliar trails.  I do plan to make some more trips to Pisgah to learn some of the trails before I have to race on them

3. Training/racing variety - I race CAT 1 during the weekly races to keep the intensity level high, even though I end up near the bottom of the results.  I'll continue to do some road race crits for some really intense racing and I plan to do the Crossroads series which will be 5 consecutive days of racing.  I will continue to do long road rides to keep strong base miles for the endurance benefit.

4. Focus/balance - while I am focused on doing well at Pisgah, I still have a wife and a very demanding job that requires a lot of time and energy. I'm doing my best to keep things in perspective.  The good things have been dropped from the schedule in order to do great things.  I keep up with my Bible reading and prayer/quiet time.  When I'm at work I stay focused on work and work diligently, but when I go home I don't take work with me.  I try to involve the wife with the races and training as much as possible and to do things with her on the weekends.  True, the grass is kinda tall and I have small trees growing in the rain gutters but when I think about how important that's going to be in 10 years it seems to always stay at the bottom of the to-do list.

See you on the trails!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage 7

Mission (and goals) accomplished!

Today's stage was only 26 miles.  Except for being a bit sniffly, I felt pretty good at the start.  ...until the guys in my class took off.  I hung on for a while, but with 33 minutes on 4th and 20 minutes behind 2nd I decided the prudent thing would be to ride my pace like I'd been doing all week.  We had a bit of gravel road, a sandy/rocky section then a long, fast double track descent.  The day's only major climb signaled the 1/2 way point.  We rode some pretty cool single track after that and then there were rocks.  There were some newly cut single track side-of-mountain very loose rock switch back descents then through some more water and back to the sandy/rocky section.  About 5 miles out we were back onto the open road and then onto the trails and around the lake for the last time at the Scout Camp.  It felt great to finish!

Awards followed later that afternoon.  I was 7th on the day, but more importantly I held onto my 3rd in GC.  I got some cool schwag and Trans-Sylvania finisher awards.

Looking back at my pre-race goals I achieved every one of them.  I learned a lot of things about what I needed to do to be more prepared and areas I needed to focus more on in training.  I finished on the podium in stage 2 (the GC podium was a bonus!).  I made some friends.  I practiced good recovery techniques and managed to be smooth and focused enough to have only 1 crash and 1 mechanical (both on stage 5).

All-in-all it's been a very good week.

See you on the trails!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage Six

Today's stage was billed as the queen stage.  I'm guessing she's queen of the rocks...

We met at the Scout Camp and rode 3.5 miles at a casual pace to the race start.  There was quite a bit of gravel road before the first off-road sections.  Some of us pace-lined but when the road turned steeply uphill it was every man for themselves.  Soon we were off road onto an insanely steep rocky climb.  It was kinda tough to hike the bike up this section.

The trail following the hike-a-bike section was narrow and grown up with foliage on both sides that made it tough to tell where the trail was going or the surface your wheel was on.  This gave way to a long descent that was mostly double track.  It was a bit technical in spots from fallen trees and washed-out parts, but very fast.  Soon we were onto quite rocky single track where I saw the 1st and 2nd place in GC in my class along side the trail.  I found out later that 2nd place had a mechanical and would DNF.

The first aid station came up at mile 20.  This marked the end of gravel road and onto some really nice, flowy single track.  This ended a bit soon for my liking.  Never-the-less we dropped out onto the road (paved in sections!) and climbed back up to aid station 26 which was the same one as mile 20.  I exchanged a bottle the wife handed me and continued on.

The next section was a mixture of rideable rocky single track to barely rideable (for me anyway) single track.  It was a ridgeline trail with a beautiful overlook, but I had to stay focused on the trail.  Eventually we were off the ridge and on a fast descent, then undulating rocky single track.  It was somewhere through here I remember wishing I would be bitten by a rattlesnake so I could be airlifted out of there.  ...but I continued on bouncing from rock to rock.

At mile 33 we dropped onto the road where we had an option to grab a water bottle and were told we had 5 miles to go.  Most of the next 3 or 4 miles were open road.  Then we were back onto some double and singletrack including a waterfall climb which I hiked.  Eventually I came to the finish line where they had water, coke, red bull and adult beverages for the weary.

Because of limited parking at the start/finish location, my wife was unable to get pictures.  Tomorrow will be the final stage with the start and finish from the camp.

With 2nd place in GC having a DNF today my 4th place finish on the stage moved me up to 3rd in GC.

See you on the trails!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage Five. First Mechanical. First blood.

Today's stage was an easy one on paper.  28 miles total at RB Winter Park broken down into 4 mini stages of about 10-20 minutes each of actual racing and then neutral riding and regrouping between each stage.

The elevation profile was similar for each stage.  Start going uphill, jump into single track, descend.  Seems easy enough.  The format doesn't particularly suit me because when I stop riding my body tends to quickly jump into recovery mode and doesn't wanna go again.  Fortunately everyone is pretty tired so that part wasn't really an issue today.

We staged in a wide field in a single row (moto-cross style) for the first stage.  It didn't seem right to be sprinting into the singletrack on a stage race - but we all did.  We bounced along the rocky climb then on some soft power-sapping mulch type surface then down some awful, rocky, wet descent.  Some rode, some hiked, some flatted, some crashed.  I manged to hang on and ride it out, but flatted somewhere along the line and decided it would be faster to run it out then fix the flat.  So I ran the bike thru the flat muddy section to the finish. 

Having fixed the flat before riding to the next section I was ready to go again.  The second stage was much like the first.  This time I was extra cautious and I didn't flat but I did drop my front wheel into some huge hole and went over the handlebars, cutting my knee and getting some blood on my bike. 

After an aid stage pause, we made our way to stage 3.  Things went a bit better.  The rocks were mostly spaced apart a bit so I just kinda bounced a long, but at least I felt like I was in control again.  I gained back a little bit of time I lost on the first 2 stages.

There was a long neutral ride (by an angry rattle snake) to the final segment.  It was kinda nice to just be cruising along in the woods on a very nice day with a bunch of other beat-up MTB'ers for a while.  The pace made an abrupt change when the starter said go and we had to sprint up a hill to dive into the single track.  I got a good start, but got in a bad spot on the singletrack entry bottleneck.  I hammered/bounced along the 2 mile segment until I came to the rocky water fall descent.  Things didn't go bad, but I got trapped behind someone and lost a little time.  It was very difficult to pass after this, so I didn't get a chance to make up much more time before the finish.

I ended up 6th on the day, still 4th in GC.

Tomorrow is a 38 mile stage with a brief hike-a-bike then some real MTB trails.

See you on the trails!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage Four

While it was still hot and humid, the trails for stage four were a welcome change!  Today was a remote start on the Allgrippa's trail system at Raystown Lake.  These are purpose-built MTB trails and they are FAST.  There were miles of high speed whoops with the option of getting plenty of air.  There was very little mud, rocks or roots just fast flowy single track.  Of course you have to go up for every down, but the climbs were mostly in short punchy sections and the average speed was quite fast.

There were some shake-ups in the GC standings.  I actually outran some of the racers in other classes that had been beating me so I felt pretty good about that, but the guys in my class were on it and I lost a little more time on GC.  I finished a respectable 4th today and I am now about 2 minutes off the GC podium.

Tomorrow's stage is another remote start.  It will be 4 short races with the combined time counting for the stage standings.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage Three

   At 47 miles, today's stage is the longest distance of the week, but because it is relatively fast, it took less time to complete than stage 2.  It's been a long, hot day, so I may be a bit confused on the order of events.
   We started with a neutral roll out from the camp.  There were 2 big climbs before the first aid station.  It was mostly gravel roads, but there was a super fast washed out rocky descent early that separated the group a bit.  The single and double track that followed varied from smooth-as-greenway to kinda rocky to sandy to DEEP standing water and mud.  In some places the water was so deep I think 1/2 my pedal stroke was under water.  Whatever was under the water had grip so most folks rode it with no problem.  After the single track we were on a (paved!) road for a few miles to the mile 17 aid station.  I rode with single speeders who were glad to see me because I had gears and they could draft me as the road was mosly flat here.  We passed a horse and buggy along the way.

   The road turned uphill before the next aid station where my wife would meet me.  To get there we did 2 big climbs and then the biggest climb of the day leading up to the mile 34 aid station.  Mostly we were on a variety of dirt roads - the biggest climb being the rockiest.  There was one section of "single track" that followed the river that started out deceptively looking like sweet single track and turned into a bunch of large rocks and some mud and trees with arrows pointing which way to go.  Myself and the for-mentioned single speeders alternated riding a little bit, then hiking.  Some places were almost too difficult to hike the bike through.  Fortunantely this section wasn't too long.  After this part we were soon onto a hard-packed rail trail.  It was so smooth it felt like the turbo kicked in.  It was on this part, at mile 28ish, that pro-racer Barry Wicks went flying by me with his telltale smile.  I guess he had problems earlier in the day.  After this section we went through a train tunnel which had a very welcome cool breeze blowing through it.  It was kinda dark though (and a little scary).  I thought the aid staion was coming up before the big climb, so I wasn't really prepared like I should have been hydration-wise.  I made it up the seemingly never-ending dirt and rocky road to Penns View overlook where I met the wife for some water, Heed, and more Perpeteum solids.  It felt great to have  the cool water dumped on me.

   From here there was two more big climbs, but it was mostly rolling gravel roads.  On some of the descents it was kinda cool to see Speed Limit 25mph signs while my bike computer indicated I was going upwards of 35mph!  There was one more impromptu aid station offering water at about mile 42.  I passed it up and rolled on back to the scout camp.  We rode a bit of single track and then, finally, through the Red Bull finish line.
   Yesterday I finished 3rd which put me in 3rd for GC of the Masters 40+ category.  Today I struggled a bit, so maybe a top 5 or 6.  We'll go back to the camp and check official results tonight to see where I end up in GC.

   Colt from Cycling Dirt is here doing interview and race videos and updates.  You can follow along with the race at:

   Tomorrow's stage is another long one at Raystown Lake with even more climbing.  I'm gonna rest up!

See you on the trails!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage Two

Today's stage was billed as the toughest stage of the week.  I sure hope it was.

It was already starting to get hot when we rolled off at 9:30 am.  There was a neutral roll-off that kept the pack close together as we entered the first double-track rocky, wet descent.  It didn't take long for the carnage to begin - a rider was off into the woods early.  Some other riders stopped to help and I knew there "sweepers" riding behind the pack so I said a short prayer and continued on.

We mostly climbed gravel roads then single track with a few fast, treacherous descents thrown in and some hike-a-bike leading up to the mile 11 checkpoint.  I saw pro racer Jeremiah Bishop there with his bike upside down.  Never a good sign.  Kinda cool to be ahead of last years overall winner though.  I found out later he had broken a chain.  Several others had flats throughout the day as well.

The next section felt like 17 miles of rock garden.  I'm not terribly comfortable with long rock sections but I did manage to catch and pass a few riders.  The part that wasn't rocks was super narrow single track with brush about 4 feet high on both sides of the trail.  It made it hard to see what was coming up and the going was pretty slow but I eventually came to the mile 28 aid station.  The wife hooked me up with some Heed and cold water and I was off again.

The next section had more rocks, but it also had more mud.  There was one low section that wasn't even really "trail" so much as a large area with various sized rocks, roots and trees.  I got passed by 2 riders in this section making me feel a bit lame about my technical skills since I had already passed both of them.  When we popped out of the single track onto a long gravel climb I was back in my element and passed them back and hammered on (well, a rather fatigued hammering).  I caught a couple of other riders and we more-or-less pace-lined back to the scout camp.  One thing of note:  when we passed under the Hwy 322 bridge leading to the final climb about 1.5 miles from the finish there were optional beer handouts.  I can't actually verify this, so maybe it was apple juice?...

I finished in a little over 4 hours.  I'm still waiting for results, but I think I finished pretty respectable.  I'll head back to the scout camp for the nightly awards presentation and upcoming stage preview.  Another long stage tomorrow with lots of climbing.  Hopefully there will be less rocks.

See you on the trails.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Trans-Sylvania Epic Prologue

Today kicked off the 7 day stage race that is the Trans-Sylvania Epic.  It was kinda cool to be at the pre-race meeting sitting next to Barry Wicks.  Fortunately there is a Masters 40+ class, so I didn't have to race the pro's.

It was a hot, sunny day but had apparently rained quite a bit recently because there was standing water some places.  I pre-rode the entire course thinking it was a bit shorter than it turned out to be.  I'm not sure if it helped me or hurt me, but at least I knew what to expect - a bit of EVERYthing.

We started in one minute intervals from the Scout camp.  I was concentrating on my pace and effort and missed a corner...  I got turned around and back on course and calmed back down in time to twist thru the scout camp, cross a creek twice and on to the open road.  I knew there were a lot of technical and rocky sections coming up so I made it point to be in time trial mode every time I was on the open road.

After about 3 (or maybe 4?) miles of down and up the open road I got to a super tight section of trail that was kinda like riding in someone's back yard.  The trees were thick, so it was dark, it was kinda gravelly and rooty as well.  This gave way to a bit if uphill double track which turned into rocky, washed out single track.  This climb went on seemingly forever.  It was loose with large rocks everywhere.  I'm definitely not used to this type of trail.

After cresting the top there was a bit of a break with some gravel road, faster (but still rocky) single track and even some sandy sections.  There was a short hill on a gravel road that was so steep I decided it would be better effort-wise to hike it than ride it.

After this was a return to the Scout Camp where I probably lost the most time to my competitors.  There was deep standing water, mud, loose dirt and wet roots.  I had to do a few short hikes but after a soft saw dust climb, a trip through an amphitheater, and back around the lake I happily passed thru the Red Bull Finish line.

I felt like I ran a good, solid pace.  I made some technical mistakes and one wrong turn but I had passed 3 riders and no one caught me.  When the results came out I was glad to see I was listed in 5th place.  Tomorrow's stage is being billed as the hardest of the week.  We'll see how things shake out...

See you on the trails!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Looking forward to Trans-Sylvania

Tomorrow I make the 8 hour drive with the wife to State College, PA for the Trans-Sylvania Epic.  Having never done a stage race or even seen any of the trails in the area I really don't know what to expect.  I do like to set goals, though so these are some thoughts going into the race:

1.  Learn at every opportunity. Everything from nutrition to bike handling and recovery.  I will be around a lot of pro's and really fast guys (at least for a little while).   May as well soak it up.

2.  Finish.  Perhaps the main goal.  With all the rocky trails I'll need to ride smooth and focused to keep the bike intact.  I'll need to commit to proper recovery and preparation between stages to be ready for each stage.

3.  Have fun, relax and make friends.  After all, life's about people and relationships, not work and bikes.

4.  I have no idea (or control over) what the competition will be like but it would be super sweet to get on the podium sometime during the week.  I know I probably don't have the speed of many of my competitors, I compare much more favorably on endurance.  Perhaps later in the week I stand a chance...

Finally, no matter the results of the race I am immeasurably grateful to have a job that allows me the time and provides the finances to be able to attend; a loving wife to follow me and my bike all over the country; a God that loved me so much he sent his Son to die for me; and a country that provides me with freedom, safety and security.

See you on the trails! 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Next up: Trans-Sylvania!

Well, I've entered my first MTB stage race.  At 7 days of racing it is America's longest Mountain Bike stage race.  It was a rather large commitment of both time and finances.  I have no idea of how I will stack up against the competition.  The racers are from all over North America.  It will be all new terrain for me but I will be in a class that fits my age group and ability (Solo Male 40+).

I've been more than amusingly busy at work but I've managed to get some pretty tough training in.  In order to get long rides in during the week I'd get up before 4:00am to get on the bike before work then get some more miles in after work.  Repeat. 

With the first stage 1 week away there will be less miles but I still have time to get in a couple of races for some intensity training.  The Southern Classic Series races at White Water Center on Sunday then the Charlotte MTB Series races at Col Francis Beatty on Wednesday.

See you on the trail!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cohutta 100!

The day for the Cohutta 100 finally came!

In fine Cohutta tradition, the race started out chilly - low 40's.  The race also started 3 minutes before the advertised start time - another Cohutta tradition.  Be prepared.

The race starts with a 3 mile climb on Hwy 64 before you duck into the single track section.  I pre-rode the first 10 miles or so the day before, so I knew what to expect.  I made my way thru the field to get a good spot in the single track.  Two miles into the single track I notice the rear tire is feeling squishy so I ask the rider behind me if my tire looks low.  He says "It looks a little low."  From two riders back I hear, "It's flat!".  So I rode about a half mile with all my weight on the front until I find a place I can pull off.  The tire change goes well (I practiced for this last year).  Of course by now the entire field has gone by.  ...and my HR monitor gives up.  Which was not good because I rely on it to pace myself.  Patience is not one of my gifts.

It's pretty difficult to pass in the single track section, so I decide to just pass when I can until we get to the fire roads.  I must confess that when the Big Frog 65 leaders caught us, I followed them through when they were passing people.  They weren't so patient with their passes...  The good news is that my HR monitor rejoins the race 15 miles in.

About 18 miles in and I arrive at Aid station 1 which marks the end of the first single track section and the beginning of the fire road sections.  I get my water bottle refilled with Heed and roll off as soon as possible.  The next section is mostly undulating climbs and something not found on the rest of the course: a little section that is relatively flat.  Before aid station 2, the big climb begins. 

Aid station 2 is somewhere around mile 36.  I've been losing satellite reception so I don't really know what mile I'm at.  A small mix-up, but I meet the wife, drop my jacket and pick up some nutrition and get another HEED refill.  And then the climbing begins.   And continues and continues...

Fortunately it's not as far to aid station 3 as it was to #2.  But I am now approximately 50 miles and 5 hours into the race.  The single biggest climb is over but there is still plenty of climbing.  Eventually we get to the single longest descent.  It's completely amazing.  I keep pedaling the descents to keep the blood flowing in the legs but I am spun out often.  Speeds in excessive of 40mph, giant ravines, some loose gravel.  If you don't scare yourself here you are losing time.  Toward the end of this section the gravel becomes more loose.  Stupid new gravel.  I lose the front wheel big on a fast descent in a right hand corner with a huge drop-off rapidly approaching on the left.  Just when I am deciding if it's better to go ahead and just wipe out and slide over the edge or fight it and likely go over at a higher rate of speed, the wheel grabs.  I nearly high side.  The tires hook and I make the corner.  I'm filing this one under "Great moments in divine intervention."

I have no idea what mile aid station 4 is, but I pick up my drop bag and refill my water bottle.  One of the volunteers asks if I need anything mechanical.  I ask him to check my rear tire pressure that I filled with a CO2 inflator early in the race.  I notice his gauge read 20psi as he begins to inflate it to a more pinch flat-resistant 36psi.

After 1 of the last 3 big climbs I hit aid station 5 at about 7 hours.  They tell me I have 20 miles to go.  Which was a lie - they always tell you more miles than actual.   It's a bright sunny day, and this section is all out in the open.  You get to soak about the heat.

It's a short dash to the final aid station where my wonderful wife has been waiting patiently (did I mention today is our 23rd anniversary?).  I get an ice cold bottle of water, eat a gel, kiss the wife and make the hard right hand corner into the single track.  This begins the last big climb of the day.  Last year I felt like I gave up some time in this section.  This year I saved some energy and was able to hammer this section.  I passed about 8 riders that were doing the 100 miler and several riders still finishing the 65 miler.  This part of the single track is a lot more technical then the beginning section of the race.  However, at this point I just want to get to the finish so I just stayed focused, and hammered away.

At the end of the single track the volunteers yell "Good job, 2 1/2 to 3 miles to go!"  I ride 2 tenths of a mile to the hwy and the volunteers yell "Good job! 1 mile to go."  They did fail to mention it was kinda uphill and directly into the wind, but I put my head down, lock the fork and ride as hard as my remaining energy allows.  Official finish time was 8:41. 

What I learned:
1. Pedal going down hill as much as possible.  Keep the legs fresh!
2. If your fork has a locking function, use it.  There are A LOT of gravel fire road climbs.  Do not forget to unlock it for the descents.  They are as steep as the climbs and your speed builds rapidly.
3. Pace yourself.  Granted I started in the rear, but I ran pretty even pace and I passed a lot of people all day - including some hike-a-bikers that went out too hard early.
4.  Have fun!  There are a lot of scenic views and the racers are generally quite friendly.  Sort of a We'll-all-endure-this-together community.
5.  Oh, and don't forget - the race starts a little early.

Special thanks to the wife who gave up doing anniversary stuff to help me out today and to Cool Breeze Cyclery for helping with the Superfly 100 Elite.  It really worked awesome today.

See you on the trails!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cohutta warm-up: Boone-Roubaix

Hard to believe the National Ultra Endurance series season opener, Cohutta 100, is only 1 week away!

While Boone-Roubaix is not a MTB race, it did serve as a good warm-up for Cohutta.  The course had several hard climbs, including one gravel road climb and descent of 1.3 miles.

My race went pretty well.  The CAT 4/5 field was pretty large (75+ riders).  Somehow I managed to lose touch with the lead group early and ended up having to chase hard.  Eventually I grouped together with 4 or 5 others and we pace-lined back to the field  ...just in time to hit the same series of climbs for lap #2.  I suffered through the climbs again - at least I was with the group this time. 

Next came the gravel road climb to the highest point on the course.  The field blew apart pretty big early in the climb.  I faired a little better than some on the gravel, but got dropped by the fastest riders.  I bombed the gravel descent (I love gravel descents!), pushed hard on the remaining paved climbs and bombed the final descent.  At this point I was riding solo, but with 9 miles of flat, open road to the finish I knew I had to dig hard to keep away from the ones I managed to drop on the climb.  I could see a couple of riders way in the distance, but my finest Fabian Cancellera time trialing impersonations couldn't reel them in.  I ended up crossing the line 13th.  I felt pretty good about my effort, especially since I had already raced twice this week and wasn't super fresh like I would have been for an 'A' priority race.

What I learned at Boone-Roubaix:
1.  Tires are important.  I saw a number of flats, including one guy that flatted during the warm-up!  I raced Bontrager Race XLite 25mm wide All-weather triple puncture protection tires.  They gripped well on the rough stuff and cornered well on the paved descents.  The bigger volume helps them avoid pinch flatting and helps the thicker sidewalls feel more supple.

2.  Chain drops.  You will need to shift between the small and big ring several times.  Get any chain drop issues you may have taken care of before race day.  Consider some sort of chain watcher.

3.  Lots of climbing.  Don't under estimate the early climbs (like I did).  Even if you are a strong climber stay toward the front.  If the front of the pack decides to hammer you need to be able to respond.

4.  Patience.  Even if you can hammer the climbs and bomb the descents there are a lot of places a group of riders working together will be much faster.  Stay with a group on the flats whenever possible.

Now for some rest and recovery...

See you on the trails!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cohutta Tapering week one.

Tapering is my least favorite part of training.  Tapering is when you reduce volume but maintain intensity so you are fresh and fit for a key event.  Since Cohutta is next Saturday, this week and next will be tapering weeks.  So this week I raced the CAT 3/4 crit at the Dixie Classic Fairgrounds and the Charlotte MTB series at Beatty.  Saturday will be Boone-Roubaix - more on that later.

Dixie Classic - a great place to start road racing or for mid-week intensity.  Also, it's pretty fun!  The course is wide and flat.  Nothing technical.  It favors the big sprinters, which also means it's great opportunity to work on your sprint if you're not a sprinter.  I managed to chase down a break or 2, try an attack and eventually position myself for what ended up being a full field sprint.  I came in 6th.  Which I felt was a valiant effort ...that I would pay for the next day.

What I learned:
    If you are racing to win you need to keep an eye on the front.  Breaks often occur and you need to be prepared to respond.

   There is almost always wind at the fairgrounds.  To optimize your shelter in the pack roll into the corner easy (most folks seem to corner pretty cautiously most of the time), then get on the pedals early and be right on the wheel in front of you coming out of the corner into the wind so you don't have to close a gap into the wind.

Charlotte MTB series - I paid for Tuesdays race a bit on the trails of Beatty.  Actually, I got my butt kicked pretty big but I achieved my objectives.  Last year I raced Sport, this year I jumped up to Expert in favor of racing the longer distances.  I finished in under 1:30 and did not finish last.  The Superfly was awesome.  I usually dread the rough and rooty trail that is Beatty.  My full-suspension 29'er Superfly rolled right over the rough stuff and kept me a bit more in control of things.  The only thing I would maybe change would be the front tire.  Some of the sandy sections were a bit sketchy with the 29-3.

What I learned at Beatty:
1. All the locals know the trails well.  If you don't you are giving up time.
2. Race a fairly soft shock setting at Beatty.  There are lots of roots, no big hits.
3. Lock your fork at the start.  There is a long, smooth sprint across the dam into the singletrack.  Everyone hammers.
4. Unlock your fork in the singletrack.  You'll figure it out soon if you forget...

Thursday was hill repeats and Friday will be an easy ride in preparaton for Boone Roubaix

See you on the trails!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stump Jump: What I learned.

There was a big turnout for the Stump Jump today.  Which was good to see, but made for some crowded trail conditions.  I raced CAT 2 40+ which started near the end of the final wave.  This meant racing in a class of 29 riders and then catching the next group of riders and dealing with that traffic, plus stragglers from any of the other fields.  Of course everybody else is dealing with the same conditions but it comes down to balancing between how nice of a guy you want to be versus how aggressive you want to be.  I have to say most riders dealt with this balancing act pretty well.

When the day was done this is what I learned:

1. The race starts with a quite a bit of climbing on double track before entering the single track.  You just simply have to bury yourself here because there is quite a bit of time after this that is mostly tight, lightly downhill singletrack.  Use this time to recover.

2.  There is quite a bit of really flat, smooth single track.  Go fast here.  This is NOT the place to recover.  Pass in the grass, or do whatever you need to do, but you can put a lot of distance on your competitors here.

3.  The lap is only 7.5 miles and the course is fast.  This is a relatively short race.  Pace accordingly.

4.  If you are a climber, make up time on the Lizard and Outlaw trail.  If you are a more technical guy, there are some twisty, up-down rooty sections on the main (Southside) loop and Fern Gully to show your stuff.

Congratulations to all who raced today!

See you on the trails...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Up next: Stump Jump

I've been a bit under the weather this week, so the training intensity and volume has been somewhat reduced.  Never-the-less I went ahead and signed up for the Stump Jump in Spartanburg, SC on Sunday.  I have never raced a SERC race, so I wasn't sure what class to run.  Since I haven't officially CAT-ed up to CAT 1, I decided I'd better just do the CAT 2 race.  I'd rather do 3 laps like the CAT 1's.  Maybe I'll just do an extra lap or so after the race.

It's supposed to rain all day tomorrow.  Looks like a hard day on the CompuTrainer.  Since the April 30th Cohutta 100 is my "A" race I will been using Stump Jump for training.  Results may not be as good as if I was training FOR Stump Jump instead of THRU it.  Stump Jump will be great intensity and a lot of stress-free fun.  I'm looking forward to it!

See you on the trails

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Stump Jump recon

Well, the plan was to ride Pisgah this weekend, but with the Stump Jump in Spartanburg, SC coming up next weekend I decided to do some recon laps instead.
With a little bit of trial and error I was able to follow the loops the make up the race.  It's a pretty fun trail.  I wasn't sure what to think of the course at first because it starts in a tight, rooty section,  It soon opens up to some faster flowy sections including a big gear super smooth greenway-flat twisty section.  There are 2 water crossings which will be welcome during the race if it's as hot then as it was today.  There are few steep, technical climbs, but they are pretty short and you can just blast and bounce over them with a bit of a power surge.  There is some speed-sapping sand, but mostly consolidated in a few short sections.  Overall I wold classify the trail as loose, but but some of it is certainly hard pack.

I'm loving the new Superfly as it seems to float over the rooty parts and the downhill sketchy parts.  I'm looking forward to racing it next weekend.  Tomorrow is going to be another day of pedaling the trail while the wife takes to paddling her kayak.

After riding we walked from our Hotel to a nearby mexican restaurant, La Paz, for the biggest, yummiest Quesidillo ever (vegetarian - of course).