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!