Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tsali ITT

SERC #2 and SCS race #4.
Today was the individual Time Trial.  The top finishers get points that count toward year end series points awards.  I'm mostly just racing it because a MTB ITT just seems pretty cool.  American Classic Pro Racer, Tanner Hurst, shows me around the 4(ish) mile course - one of the benefits of being on Robert Marion's Cycle Works team..  Tanners' bike flies through the air a bit more than mine.
We do a fast, gravelly down hill and then a sharp turn to the right that I almost blow through.  I stand my bike up on it's nose to get it woah-ed down.  A fast sweeping left follows.  It's loose and a BIG drop off awaits unsuspecting riders.  Gotta remember that one.  My rear wheel bottoms out on some of the rocks and roots.  Hmm - better add air.  The rest of the trail is pretty straight forward.  A few mud puddles, a bit of climbing, but mostly sweeping singletrack.

Start time.  The racers line-up by category and racers are set off at 1 minute intervals.  CAT 1 is first.  I don't know who most of the racers are here, so I'm not sure where I fit in speed-wise.  Not wanting to be in the way of any uber-fast riders, I pick a spot comfortably near the back.  From past results in the race it looks like I will need to finish in under 17 minutes to have a chance to win.

These are my thought as I get ready to push off:
I hope nobody catches me.
Don't worry about it, catch the guy in front of you.
I wish I had my power meter.
Don't forget the righthander at the downhill.
I hope I get clipped in.
My training schedule calls for an endurance ride today.
17 minutes of hammering won't hurt anything
Don't go out too hard.
Don't forget the loose lefthander with the drop-off
Don't think about the drop-off
5-4-3-2-1 GO!
Not too hard.
Pace yourself
My coach isn't gonna like this
I wish I had my power meter
Am I going hard enough?
Right hander - woah down.
Stand. Go!
I wonder if the guy behind me is catching me.
Quit worrying about it.  Catch the guy in front.
I wish I had my power meter.
Am i going too hard?
Don't forget the lefthander.
weight the pedals - roll the corners.
First climb.
This is kinda hard.
I should be about half-way.  Time 4:39.  Uggghhhh.
I went out too hard
I wish I had my power meter
Keep digging.
'Nother climb. Hammer it.  This is where I'm gonna make up time.
Ugggghhh.  This is hard.  I went out too hard.
I'm gonna end up walking this climb.
Dig.  Hammer over the top and keep digging.
Recover on the downhill.  Let the bike roll.
I can do this.
8:15.  Past halfway. 
Quit looking at the time.
Keep pedaling.
Be smooth.
Weight the pedals. Roll the corners.
Keep off the brakes.
Was that a snake?
Hammer the climbs.  Roll the corners.
If I ride tempo from here I'll be OK.
You didn't come here to ride tempo.  Hammer!
heart rate: 165.  My coach is gonna be upset.
I can't keep this pace up
I can do this for 3 more minutes.  Hammer
Heart rate: 167.  Threshold.
My coach is gonna be pissed.
Hey, there's my wife!
Remember to apologize for rushing her all day to get here on time.
Pedal harder.  Look smooth and in control for the camera.
Make the most of the last few minutes.
Parking lot ahead.
Hammer to the finish.
Last chance to dig.
Good.  Not great.
I can't breathe.
My coach is gonna be pissed.
I wonder if it's too late to pre-ride tomorrow's race course?

It wasn't.  I prerode a lap of tomorrow's course.  It's a really beautiful, fast, flowy trail.  When I finish it starts to thunder.  I meet my wife at the truck and it starts to rain a little bit as we load up and head for our Motel in Bryson City.  I really hope the trails stay kinda dry for the race tomorrow.  I've got some fast rolling tires on and it's gonna be ugly if it's muddy.  It's gonna be a little chilly for the 9:30 am start time tomorrow.  I'm supposed to ride at what's called "sweet spot" which is a bit slower than race pace, but good training for my longer races coming up.  If I can just stay focused on the big picture.  I wish I had my power meter...

See you on the trails!


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On the rocks: Bouldergeist!

Southern Classic Series race #3.  San Lee Park, Sanford, NC.  Sunday March 25th, 2012
The previous nights' storms left hail and standing water along the highway and ominous clouds overhead.
I pre-rode the course last weekend with some fast, light tires on my 26" Blue FS.  Right bike.  Wrong tires.
Today I had a lot more knob going on.

We arrive at San Lee park.  Riders pass by us as they complete lap 1.  Most classes will have to do a 2nd lap.
Comments were about 50/50.  Half asked which direction to the start/finish the other half commented on the slickness of the trail.  i.e.: "Kinda slick" or "Very slick"

I notice a trend in the riders as they go by.  All are a bit muddy, most have blood coming from somewhere.  The sun peaks out behind the clouds and creates a warming glow.  "At least it's drying out" I think to myself.

I finish my warm-up (which included riding up the road by a house with a fenced front yard containing about 8 dogs and 1 horse) and right on time the rain comes down.  We give the rain a good chance to soak in then send the riders off by category and age.  I'm in the last (oldest) group of  CAT 1's.  A class of women starts behind us.  I secretly wonder if the 2 minute time delay between our start times is going to be enough for me to stay ahead of them.

And then we're off.
A stupid-steep climb up a paved road.  Like sheep going to slaughter.  When we get to the single track I slot in right behind eventual race winner, Morgan Olson.  Normally this would be good, but he was next-to-last on this occasion.  The trail is soft enough that I can identify everybody's tire by the perfect impression it leaves in the soft surface.

From here on it's pretty much a blur, so this may not be chronological, but a few things stand out:
The off camber sections are difficult to ride in the slick conditions.
I'm not catching anyone, but because of the trails weave around I often catch glimpses of other racers.
When I finally do catch someone they are actually having a harder time than me through the technical rocky section known as "freefall".  This causes me to put a foot down or hike sections I should have otherwise been able to ride.  This causes my cleats and pedals to fill with mud.  This makes it difficult to get clipped in which makes it harder to ride the technical sections.  I think you can see the pattern developing...

To finish lap 1, and to add a bit of blood to the mud, I get crossed up going down a rooty hill and wipe out on a bridge.

The first lap was awful, but the rain had stopped.  I resolve to focus more on working the bike and making time where the trail allows. 
The second lap was also a blur, but a much faster blur.  The trail is a bit grippier and with no one pressuring from behind I'm intent on running down as many racers as I can to redeem myself from such a terrible first lap.  This time I cleared almost all of the horribly rocky sections, although I did try to dismount before one particularly tricky section, couldn't unclip and crashed in a most ridiculous
 manner.  Determined to make up time, I start pushing the pace as I gain confidence in the grip level.

Pushed it too hard.  The rear slides right just enough for the front to go off trail left and directly into a small tree.  I was able to cut the wheel enough to take the full force of the impact with my handlebar and shoulder instead of risking bending a wheel.  This also served to keep me from going over the handlebars by allowing my collarbone to stop my forward progress.  Apparently it was the part of the collarbone where the shoulder belt rubs when traveling by automobile.

I did go over the handlebars at one point, but honestly, I don't even remember which lap that was, and it doesn't really count because I landed on my feet.

At the end of the race, I was happy to have survived and felt pretty good about (most) of my effort on the second lap.  It turns out that, while I didn't have very good day, many people had worse days.  I know because I finished 4th.  They actually wrote me a check!   I think it was my first-ever MTB payday.

I am now 2nd in SCS series points - my reward for perfect attendance.
Off to Tsali next weekend.  It's a combined race with the SERC series and also includes a TT on Saturday.  I've never been to the trails there either.  They are supposed to be super sweet.  This week is a scheduled recovery week, which is exactly what I plan to do.

Final thoughts: I guess "Off Camber Slippery Root-geist" doesn't have the same ring to it.

See you on trails!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The most rewarding trail

So I'm riding this trail.  It's a wide trail.  Mostly flowy.  The gowing is easy.  Somehow it seems to be primarily downhill.  There are few technical sections.  A lot of people are riding the trail.  Some pass me by, so I seem obliged to pick up the pace.  I notice a trail marker but I'm going to fast to read what it says.  I keep pedaling.  I wonder if I'm passing more people than are passing me.  I pick up the pace.

I stop for a moment to get some hydration.  Someone stops with me and says something about a  different trail.  A trail that is for every bike.  That doesn't seem right.  I'm  a CAT 1 Cross country racer.  I'm not interested in the downhill stuff or silly jumps.  I pedal on.

There's a trail marker up ahead.  Looks familiar.  I'm going too fast to tell what it says.  I pedal faster.  I think I'm doing well.  I seem to be traveling faster than most.  I wonder if I'm going fast enough.  It's tough to tell.  I feel pretty good. 

While taking a moment to recover, a rider pulls along side me.  There's something different about him.  He tells me something about another trail.  He says it's better than this trail or something.  I don't really understand what he's saying.  Besides, I'm really starting to get good at this trail.

There's that familiar trail marker up ahead.  Could it be the same one?  I slow down.  I think it is.  Have I been riding a loop trail?  I stop at the trail marker.  This new trail looks different.  Someone stops and explains to me that this optional trail is called "The Way".  That it would take me where I'd never been, that anyone could ride it regardless of experience or ability.  It sounded too good to be true.  None-the-less I decided to try it.  Something inside of me longed to ride something different. 

I push off, onto the new trail.  It's super sweet.  It's kinda narrow.  There are uphills and downhills.  There were plenty of technical sections.  Some things I didn't think I could ride, that were beyond my ability, but somehow I always managed to be able to ride it.  There were mile markers on this trail.  I was actually going somewhere. 

There were places that I somehow managed to get off the trail.  But inevitably I'd end up in the briars or loose rocks and I'd get scraped up before I'd realize that I had gotten off of "The Way".  So I'd make my back onto the trail.

"The Way" is difficult, sometimes steep and a bit scary, sometimes twisty, always narrow.  But it is the sweetest trail I have ever been on.  I don't ever want to get off of it.  It feels like it was made with me in mind.  It has been an amazing ride to this point.  I don't know how far I'll go or where it ends but it is very rewarding.  Always challenging.  Never easy.   

And I remember that I found this trail because someone took the time to tell me about it.  It would be selfish of me not to tell others about the most rewarding trail ever.  Anyone can ride it.

The Bible says:  Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NLT)


“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14 NKJV)

and, of course:

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17 NLT)

Want the most amazing ride of your life?  Ride "The Way".  Want more information?  Read the Bible book of John and start your journey.

See you on the trails!  ...and on The Way!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Shootout on Angler's Ridge: Feeling Blue

The 10 deep podium for the Pro race (11 if you count young Conner Bishop)

Round 2 of the Southern Classic MTB Series was at Angler's Ridge in Danville, VA.  The race also doubles as the Virginia Cross Country MTB State Championships.  Over 300 racers turned out for a shot at a medal and a share of the generous payout.

I had never been to the trails at Angler's Ridge before, so I opted to do my Saturday four hour training block on the race course.  It would be a good chance to shake down the new Blue FS Carbon and learn the trails at the same time.  It didn;t take long to figure out that the 26" FS was the way to go for the race.  With super tight twisty sections and lots of short, steep climbs the Blue was in it's element.  It accelerates and changes direction very well.  I had some pretty light weight, fast rolling Kenda tires on that I was a bit concerned about, but they held up well, rolled fast and stuck pretty well to the sandy/hard pack trails.

On race day I was pretty used up from the hard ride on Saturday so I took my usual starting spot at the rear of the 20 racer field.  The race started with (surprise) a gravel road climb leading to the single track.  It amazes me that no matter how wide the trail (or road) leading to the singletrack is that racers still find away to completely block it from side to side.  This race was no exception and there was nearly 2 crashes while jockeying for position.  I mostly just rolled to the singletrack and still had to stop until everybody got single file for the Enchanted Forest Section.  We only did this part the first lap, and it was the only soft, loamy dirt section of the trails.  The trees were small, but very close together making it difficult to carry any speed.

The trails were marked every 1/2 mile with the number of miles to the finish.  A nice touch.  It made it easy for those of us less familiar with the trails to remember what was ahead.  Most notable was the climb to the mile 4 marker where volunteers were faithfully handing out cups of cool water to all takers.  As an aside:  Don't pour it on your head while wearing sunglasses.  They get wet and the dirt and dust stick to the lenses making it difficult to see.

Also of note was a sign appearing at about the 2 1/2 mile marker indicating a Strava section of the trail.  Of course this was a mostly climbing section.  I did take the time afterward to download my data to Strava

The climbs at Angler's aren't exactly technical, but you have the choice of either a rooty line or a sandy/gravelly/loose line.  I always opted for the smoother line, but it meant being very mindful of front/rear weighting to maintain traction and keep the front on the ground.  If the rear ever did spin it was tough to keep it going up the hill.  Several racers ended up running some of these climbs.

The last half mile of the trail was super flowy and hardpack which means really, really fast.  This section dumps you out into the parking lot for either a pass by the feed zone or the the finish line for the final lap.  CAT 1's did three 8.5 mile laps.  I think the pro winning time was 1:50.  My time was a lot less pro at 2:07ish - but good enough for 8th in my class (CAT 1 40+).

It's easy to look at the results and wish to have done better.  I guess it's human nature to always want to do better, go faster, etc.  But when I look back just a very few years I can remember getting passed by Cat 2 (Sport) racers and thinking I could never hope to be that fast.  So, now as I embark on my first year as a CAT 1 racer I can honestly say that I am truly amazed and thankful to be racing as well as I am.  And although I work hard, it's with God-given gifts, opportunity, friends, family and His blessing that allow me to do what I do. 

See you on the trails!
I'll be doing my best to race and ride for His glory!   

Sunday, March 4, 2012

XC Season begins: Killer 3!

The Southern Classic XC MTB season kicked off today in Sumter, SC.  This was my first time on the Killer 3 trail.  I gotta thank team mate Chase Dickens for recommending that I bring my Solis.  This was definitely a 29er hardtail trail.  The race was a long one, with the CAT 1's doing three ~14 mile laps.

My goal was to ride Tempo for this race so that I would be ready for some specific training for my goal events coming up in the near future.  I fell into the back of the pack for the start.  The trail started with some fresh cut trail that was pretty soft and still wet from the rain the night before.  This proved to be the only real sketchy part for my Vee Rubber V12 tires.  This was the same set-up I raced at Southern Cross last weekend.  As the race went on, I worked my way through the field a bit.  I was pushing it a little harder than I intended, but there were racers in front of me I just had to reel in...

By the end of the seemingly endless first lap I had ridden all the twisty corners, all the soft sandy parts, all the super hard pack parts, the 2 mile fire road and was handed a water bottle by team mate, Philicia Marion (Thanks!).  Lap 2 was a good lap.  With a bit more confidence in the grip level of my tires and knowing what was ahead on the trail I was able to get into a rhythm.  I chased down some of the pretty speedy guys and we worked together (more-or-less) for the rest of the lap. 

When we hit the start/finish/feeding zone (thanks for another bottle, Philicia!) I made an effort to get back into the single track first as that was where I struggled the most.  I got in 2nd of our group, but was waved by.  The new soft trail was a bit drier and packed down so I was able to go a bit faster than the previous 2 laps.  Before long I realized I had a gap and I picked up the pace a bit.  When they still didn't seem to be catching me I made it a point to get out of sight.  You know: "Out of sight out of mind."  Soloing along the 2 mile fire road for the final time was made even harder by increased headwind.  I put my head down to get more aerodynamic and read the verse on my handlebars: "In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall."  I managed to stay away and finish at 3:19 for a 5th place finish.

Next week, another wall to scale:  Angler's Ridge Southern Classic XC MTB race.

See you on the trails!