Tuesday, July 26, 2011

...so 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 ...no need to go back for it ...it's gone".  ...and so I am left with one very nearly empty bottle to make it to aid station 2 ...at 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!