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).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Intensity training

While my training focus is on the 100 mile Cohutta race on the 30th, there is still a need to train intensity.  Plus I like racing at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
I raced the 40 minute CAT 3/4 race, and then for a little more punishment I raced the 30 minute CAT 4/5 race immediately after that.  If you've never road raced before I would recommend racing at the speedway as a great place to start.  There are no sharp corners, no hills and the course is very wide.  If you get nervous in the pack or get dropped it's easy to get out of the way, recover and wait for the pack to come around again and jump back in.
Training for the weekend includes making a trip to Pisgah National Forest to scout out the trails used in the Pisgah Stage race later this year.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I went to a MTB race and Cyclcross race broke out...

With the rain over night in the North Wilkesboro area, the Warrior Creek trail was quite slick.  The trail volunteers did an amazing job getting it raceable.  It was still pretty sketchy the first lap.  I think my cyclocross racing experience paid off.  Each lap the course dried a bit more and by the end of the day it was just about perfect.  The day started out chilly, but warmed up with clear, sunny skies.  It was a bit windy at times, though.

My race went pretty well.  I got a start reasonably near the front because I knew there would be a lot of pile-ups and bottle necks in the mud.   ...and there was.  With the trail conditions being what they were, my strategy was to make sure I made the time cut to do the 5th lap.  I did that.  In fact I was on the wheel of the eventual class winner (Solo 40+), Brian Conroy.  When he found out we were racing for position, he picked up the pace and I couldn't hang with him and I ended up 2nd.  Congratulations Brian!

My pit stop strategy was:
#1 Finish off the water each lap (HEED + Endurolyte)
#2 Pick up a Hammer bar to eat on the trail
#3 Drink some water while stopped
#4 Stop for the shortest amount of time as possible

Thanks Cool Breeze Cyclery and Trek Bicycle Store Charlotte for all the support!
...and thanks to all who yelled encouragement to me on the trail!  It really does make a difference!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Pre-race day

I made the trip to Warrior Creek today to register and check out the trail conditions.  I only rode the first 1/4 of the trail (that whole "save it for the race" thing), but as you can see in this post ride pic there wasn't any mud.

Niner was there doing demos.

I didn't need to ride any more miles, so I opted out. 

I've done my usual over preparation and packing for the race, now it's time to relax until race time.  I still get nervous on race day, especially when I feel like I have a chance to do well.  I think maybe when I don't get nervous anymore I'll quit racing.