Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wilderness 101

What if I could've gone harder?
What if I could've dug deeper?
What did I leave out on the trail?

These are all questions that went unasked early on Saturday morning as the Wilderness 101 MTB race became Reality 101 somewhere on the road to Mount Nittany Hospital while I followed an ambulance that contained, my pit support, my friend, my son.
Focus and intensity.
It's how an ordinary racer like me occasionally achieves extraordinary results.

It becomes quite easy to focus when only one thing in your life seems important.

The drop bags I had just put in the bins for aid station #2 and #4 didn't matter.
The elevation profile of the race I had taped to my top tube didn't matter.
The two iced-down water bottles I put on the bike filled with water and heed didn't matter.
The nutrition and supplements I filled my jersey with didn't matter.
My choice of tires and air pressure didn't matter.

After hours of some pretty serious concern on my part; prayers by me, friends and family, and a battery of tests and countless hospital staff's questions answered on my sons part, he was released from the hospital with no immediate danger but with some questions left unanswered.

No matter what happened on that day, some things remained unchanged:
I will trust in Him
I will live for His glory
It's what I was made for

I was made in His image
I will race for His glory

My God can do great things
With my God, I can do great things

...and so can you.
You can do great things
You were made in His image.
See you on the trails!
...but not this week.  I'm gonna mix it up with the roadies this week.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


I didn't think I was going to be able to race ORAMM this year, so I missed out on getting an entry.  Once again I had to wait for someone willing to sell and transfer their entry.  I'm glad I got in for my 2nd year.  Last year I didn't fully realize how big of a deal ORAMM is.  The entry limit is capped at 500 and it's a goal event for an awful lot of riders - from those just starting out in endurance racing to professional MTB racers.

I wasn't sure how the legs would respond after yesterday's race.  I started somewhere near the middle of the 500 riders.  When the gun went off (early) for the 8:00am start I started passing riders at every opportunity.  I decided to keep an eye on the power meter and ride a little above threshold and see where I ended up going into the first single track section: Kitsuma.  For 7 miles I kept a steady pace and constantly passed people.  I wonder if the same people that are kind enough to let me by on the climb up old 70 are the same people that have to push their way to the front for the start?

I was far enough toward the pointy end of the field to be able to ride Kitsuma without having to wait on hike-a-bikers.  I did notice that yesterday I had taken a wrong turn onto a short walking trail.  I managed to avoid that mistake this time.  The bike trail was much more ride-able and I avoided yesterdays endo site.

I knew I would be missing a bit of yesterdays power, so my goal was to be smooth today.  I reminded myself of this while doing the Kitsuma and Jarrett Creek descents.  I didn't blow through any switchbacks today.

I only have one water bottle cage on my 26" bike, so it would be important to hit all the aid stations.  I had the help of #1 son at aid station 1,2 and 5.  I had drop bags at 3,4.  Aid station #3 was at the top of Curtis Creek.  Curtis Creek is a very long climb, and the miles slowly tick by.  It would be easy to go too hard early, or get impatient part-way thru the climb and get completely cooked before the top.  Again, I watch my power meter and try to ride a pace that is hard, but maintainable to the top.  It seems like half of the race is spent on this (and the next) climb.  But I reach the top feeling pretty good.  After a brief panic by the volunteers to find my drop bag, I reload and carry on down the Black Mountain fire road descent. 

The descent goes well, though I nearly hit an oncoming vehicle (Sorry, blue Element driver!) and it was a bit too short to be recovered for the Black Mountain climb to aid station 4.  I follow the same climbing protocol as Curtis Creek.  Watch the power and stay focused.  The stop at aid #4 goes well, but there is a bit more climbing up the Blue Ridge Parkway than what I remembered from last year.  Knowing that there is only one more big climb after this one, and two more sweet descents keeps me motivated to press on at that "uncomfortably difficult pace" that is endurance racing.

The hike-a-bike section from the Parkway up Heartbreak ridge is a bit of a struggle, but soon I'm back on my bike and headed down Heartbreak.  Last year's ORAMM was the first time I had seen this descent.  It really helped having seen it before for this year.  I stayed smooth, but the Rhododendron were way overgrown making it a somewhat stressful (but successful) descent.

Heartbreak is a looong descent.  It seems like I have just left aid station 4 when I pop out onto the road at aid station #5.  Number 1 son hooks me up, and I begin the climb up Mill Creek.  The first part of the climb is large, loose gravel, and for the first time I feel at a big disadvantage on 26" wheels.  But this section is short, and it's much more well-packed gravel the rest of the way back to Old 70.

I hit the Kitsuma trail with another rider, which is good because I probably would have try to go too hard up the steep, switchback climbs.  The climb goes well, and we hammer down the descent.  I feel pretty good on the descent.  But it's easy to feel that way when descending.

When we complete the descent (I actually passed a few people here) and pop onto the road I notice the fatigue had really started to set in.  I struggled to ride endurance pace.  The legs started to come back around and I pace-lined back toward Old Fort with another racer.

When we get to the final railroad crossing, just minutes from the finish, there are 4 other racers waiting for a train to pass by.  They had already been waiting 3 minutes by the time we got there.  Two or 3 minutes later the train finally passes and we hammer into town.  It didn't seem fair to attack the riders that had been waiting longer, and the legs were just fine with that decision.  I rolled in at 5:41.  19 minutes faster than my goal, 28 minutes faster than last year ...and exactly what my coach predicted.

It had been a great day, and a great weekend of racing.  It was nice not to have any issues and to have great weather and great pit support and to see so many of my racing friends.

I am very blessed.

See you on the trails!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Jerdon Mountain Challenge

This was the inaugural Jerdon Mountain Challenge, so there were no past results to help me predict my finish time.  It's basically 1/2 of ORAMM which I did in a little over 6 hours last year, so I figured 2:45 would be a reasonable goal.  My secret, fantasy, dream-world finish was, of course, to win the race and in doing so have the course record.  That lofty and fanciful dream was crushed when Jeremiah Bishop rolled onto the starting grid.  So I took a more realistic approach: Hang with JB as long as possible.  Hopefully, at least to the singletrack 7 miles up the road.

When the gun goes off I clip in and start working my way through the pack.  We started behind a pace vehicle through town before getting the go ahead to race up the first big climb on Old 70.  This climb suits me well and I'm able to hang with the lead pack even as the number of riders in the pack dwindles.  Of course there is a difference in my climbing and Jeremiah's.  He's riding pretty casual, and I'm pushing threshold.  No matter.  I'm in the same lead group he is.  We all blow thru the 1st (cheering) aid station at mile 7 and begin the climb up Kitsuma.  I entered the single track in 5th place.  So, pretty much no matter what happened the rest of the day, I've had a great race!

The first part of Kitsuma has some added water bars that are difficult for me on the 26", but the switch backs and descents went a bit better on this bike.  There is some confusion with some optional hiking trails that have been added on the climb.  JB is headed back towards me, certain that he is going the wrong way.  We get it straightened out and continue the climb.  On one of the descents I get a little crossed up and end up over the bars.  No big deal, except now my helmet retention system has come unhooked and I don't really wanna stop to fix it.  So, when I catch back up to 2 riders on the descent I decide to safely follow them rather then trust in my own (some times lacking) dare devil descending abilities and fix the helmet at the next aid station.

At aid station #2, I meet #1 son.  I fix my helmet, get another water bottle and hammer on.  More switchback climbing.  When we start the switchback descending I blow through the first switchback ending up deep in the rhododendron.  I decide I need to do a better job keeping my speed in check.  Three hundred yards later I find myself in the rhododendron again.  Just not quite as far.  OK, I need to do an even better job keeping my speed in check...

On a fire road climb I catch another rider.  He says he's not a racer and tells me that I'm in 6th, about 3 minutes back.  Cool.  I continue to push the pace.  This is gravelly fire road ascending and descending.  I miss the stability in the corners of my 29'er, but the fire road is smooth enough that I may be rolling faster on this bike.  At about mile 24 I catch 5th place.  He's got his bike upside down fixing a flat.  I certainly know that feeling.

I roll into the final aid station, getting a water bottle hand-up from #1 son, no stopping required.  From here I know that it is 4 miles to the finish.  All paved.  I hit time trial mode.  Fork locked, hands near the stem, tucked as much as possible, keeping an eye on my power - being sure to focus on the number I know I can maintain for the next 10 - 12 minutes.

I roll past the "Welcome to Old Fort" sign and start looking for the arrows that will guide me back to the Gateway Museum and the finish line.  There it is.  A policemen halts traffic and I make the left turn onto the museum property, over the bridge and around the final corner where the clock ticks 2:18.  Sweet.

When they post the results I'm listed as 2nd in Master's.  45 seconds behind the class winner and 8 minutes behind overall winner, Jeremiah Bishop.  A good day. 

ORAMM tomorrow.  Full recovery mode the rest of the day.

See you on the trails - but not today!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Iron Mountain 100K

I was probably the least prepared for a race of this magnitude as I've ever been.  Although my training has been going well, my work schedule had consumed most of my remaining waking hours.  I was hammer down at work all week doing what we call "half days".   You know, when you are at work 12 hours or more.  After working Saturday morning it was time for a break.  Me and the wife headed to Damascus, Va for the Iron Mountain 100K.
   We got there in time to register and do a pre-ride on the famed Virginia creeper trail.  It was a great place to just spin the legs and enjoy the outdoors, but it was nothing like what we were going to race on the next day.
  The race started on Sunday morning in the Damascus Town Park.  We had a vehicle escort us down the road to the creeper trail.  After a few miles of sorting out the racing order and dodging puddles, we were introduced to the first section of single track.  
  Normally I have an elevation profile taped to my top tube.  But, like I said earlier, I was not very prepared.  I had read that the trails were quite technical.  The elevation profile that I had seen was pretty stretched out and rather undaunting looking.  So, when we started to climb I really didn't know what to expect.  What I got was some steep, technical climbing.  It seemed like I was always on the verge of debating whether to hike or ride the slippery steep sections.  And while riding it was a constant struggle between fighting for rear grip and keeping the front end on the ground.  This was small ring technical climbing at it's finest (worst?).  Unfortunately, I am more of a big ring gravel road climber.  That would come later.
  After battling back and forth with 2 other riders we drop out of the single track onto the open road at aid station #1.  I decide to blow thru the aid station and drop my riding partners.  After traveling along the open road for a while I no longer see any arrows indicating that I am on the race course.  I have been diligently looking for them, so I'm pretty sure I didn't miss any, but still...
  There have been some options to turn off.  Normally these would be marked with arrows to go straight. They are not.  Maybe I am not on the course.  I blow by a guard shack with a little stop sign and some cones.  No arrows.  Apparently I am entering (or leaving?) a campground. Okay I am pretty sure I am off the course now.  I am too far along to turn back and salvage any kind of result.  No riders ahead.  None behind.  I pedal on at what can only be described as an awkward pace.

Finally, I can't take anymore.  I am about to turn around, but then I see the 2 riders I dropped at the aid station.  They have been working together to reel me in.  And then, to my amazement, I see the arrows indicating a right turn.  All 3 of us blow by the corner, turn back around and head up the single track.  Literally.  It's more of the steep, technical single track.  I find myself repeatedly spinning in the small ring - sometimes in the big cog.  Lowest gear.  Occasionally it seems more prudent to hike.  The mud gets in my shoes making it difficult to clip in sometimes.  This only adds to the complications of the on-again/off-again climbing.  Some of the trail reminds me of the trails in Trans-Sylvania where they called the rocks "tombstones" because they were embedded in the trail, but stuck through the surface significantly.  I bounce up the climb and am soon greeted to a very rocky fire road descent.  I am faced with a different kind of balancing act now.  How fast can I descend without flatting?  It's impossible to hop over all the rocks.  I stay off the brakes as much as possible and opt to hit only the smoothest looking rocks.  This seems to be working well.  I am looking for aid station #2 which, according to the mileage recorded on my Garmin, should be approaching soon.  And then I hit something.  I didn;t see it, but it was big.  Soon my rear tire deflates and I'm off the side of the trail installing a tube.  All goes well until the inflator won't inflate (I later found out this was operator error).  So I push my bike along the merry way.  I've pretty much decided that when I meet my wife at aid station #3, I'm just going to abandon.  Aid station #2 turned out to be only a little more than a mile away.

The volunteers ask what I need.  I tell them "air".  But the tube wouldn't hold air.  Perhaps it punctured on the push in.  They try a foam sealant in the tube to no avail.  Since I've made up my mind to abandon, I don't hurry the volunteers along.  I just stand back, relax, and let them do their job.  Eventually they give up on the sealant.  They don't have a 29'er tube, but I told them a 26" tube would do.  They struggle a bit getting the tube and tire back on, but the new tube holds air, though I would notice later the tire was mounted backwards.  They set my pressure and send me on my way.  In the mean time I've watched about a dozen riders roll by.

The next section of climbing is fire road and suits me better.  I can climb in the big ring.  I had ridden most of the race with no one in sight.  It was nice to have other racers to catch and pass.  I keep pedaling away.  I'm feeling pretty good.  There's no pressure now.  Just a day to enjoy riding my bike.  Before I know it, I find myself at aid station #3.  Which, my wife, on the other hand, did not find.  So there really isn't even an option to abandon now.  On to more climbing.

I really underestimated the amount of climbing in this race!  This section of trail had some sweet ridgeline descents.  It was only a short distance to aid station #4 (or maybe it just seemed that way?) where there was one volunteer with a racers' bike on the workstand.  I continue on.  I did know that this last leg was predominantly downhill.  I did not know how much climbing was left.  It turns out, there was quite a bit. On a long climb, I pass the leading SS racer.  He asks how far the next SS racer is behind him.  I told him he was comfortable and he told me to catch the 2 riders up ahead.  Which I did. 

  I hammered down a long descent, not really caring if I flatted or not.  I thought this may be the final descent to the finish line.  It was not.  One more climb.  And then the final descent.  The one with the time clock ticking away at the bottom.  It clicks off 5:38 when I roll thru.  Even with the flat, I beat my goal time of 6:00 and got some good training in for ORAMM next weekend.  I was provisionally scored 10th.  Final results would list me as 11th.

After an unbalanced week, it was good to find a bit of balance once again.

See you on the trails!