Saturday, October 26, 2013

Wilkes 100K

Wilkes 100k

When I crashed on a recovery ride in August and broke my collar bone in 2 places, the doctor told me it would be completely healed in 10 weeks. 

It was. 

In 10 weeks and 4 days it was broken again. .

At least I was racing when I crashed this time. It's gotta be more cool to crash in a deep single speed field running 3rd in the first nccx race of the season than to hit a dog on a recovery ride, right?  Still, broken is broken.  Sidelined again.  More time off bike. 

So, no Wilkes 100K for me.  My cyclocross season is pretty much shot. I'm able to ride on a trainer tho, so it shouldn't be too much of a fitness hit. 

I do plan to do Waffles by Donation at the North Mecklenburg Tuesday night training races in November.  I won't be racing, so I'll have more time to visit with folks. Stop by to chat and eat some waffles for a great cause!

See you on the trails 2014. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Wilson's Revenge

After last weeks 3 stages of flat terrain it was good to get back in the Mountains of Pisgah in the Wilson's Creek area for the "53 miles of terror" of Wilson's Revenge.

We all rolled off together, mass start style, at 9:00am on a beautiful North Carolina morning.  The first few miles were reminiscent of last weekend.  The start was only a small incline and the lead pack stayed together as the asphalt quickly turned to gravel then began to turn upward.  We all draft together.  There is no big push immediately.  The road is wide and the big dogs are up front controlling the pace.  As we progress the chit-chat dies down.  The pace intensifies.  Gaps take longer to close.  I make sure to position myself behind attentive riders.  If they let a gap open, I go around them.  My plan is to  stay with the lead pack as long as reasonably possible.

By the time the climb starts in earnest, the pack is down to about 15 riders.  Some are on borrowed time.  One by one riders pop off the back.  Some gradually, some more spectacularly.  When the pack was down to 8 riders it was my turn to pop.  Mile 12.  The pack slowly drifts away.  I consider drilling it to try to catch back on, but a glance at the profile taped to my top tube reveals quite a bit of this climb remains.  I decide to follow a more appropriate pacing strategy and climb at my pace, hoping to catch back on at the rest area or on the descent.  Two more riders would catch and pass me on the climb(teammates?), putting me in 10th place overall.

It didn't take long to get to the first aid station at mile 14 or so.  I blow through.  As expected, none of the lead riders had stopped.  The climb continues.  The first part of the course has the majority of the climbing.  Beyond this, the course is mostly made up of roughly similar-sized up and down rollers that make it difficult to see what's coming up by looking at the profile.  So I ride up and down the rollers.  It's really rather fun.  Climb for a while.  Descend for a while.  Jump on the pedals out of the corners to keep the speed up on the next climb.  Simple.

There was one particularly steep section.  I managed to ride most of it.  It was probably the most technical section of the day.  The technical part was going well.  But it ended up being too steep for me to keep the pedals turning over.  So, rather then falling over, I dismount and hike to the top.  Using the time off-bike to eat a gel and drink some fluids.

The scenery is great.  I haven't seen any bikes in some time, though.  Only the occasional Fishermen early on, then later, pick-up trucks with dog cages in the back (bear hunters?).  At one point I saw a pick-up truck a bit too close.  I rounded a left-hand corner while descending and there he was.  Both of us were in the center of the road.  It wasn't going to work out well if we stayed that way, so I swerved right which pointed me toward a rather steep drop off.  I managed to get my left leg out and slide the bike around the corner, clip back in and hammer on.  I kept my head through the ordeal, which is why it worked out OK, but from that point on I was a lot more cautious around blind corners (which was most of them).

Some time after mile 33.15 my Garmin locked up.  I happened to notice it after seeing a racer hike his bike toward me - presumably headed back to aid #2 at mile 31.  He had double flatted.  I was going to give him the distance back when I realized my mile reading was exactly what it read last time I had checked it.  I manged to re-set it, but now I wasn't sure what mile I was really at.  I did know from earlier calculations that I should be able to finish in 3:40.  Since we started promptly at 9:00 am, my goal finish time would be 12:40.

But all of this takes away some of my focus.  Resetting, recalculating, plus, at this stage of the race there is quite a bit of descending.  And while the gravel is a little loose, it's the washboard bumps before some of the corners that cause me to slow more than I really need to (usually).  That, and the fear of what's going to be around the next corner.  I feel like I'm not pushing myself.  I occasionally look back.  But there is no one there.

I pass a rider with their bike upside down changing a flat.  So, now I'm 8th overall and it motivates me to push hard every chance I get.  I'm still not exactly sure how accurate my finish time and distance calculations are, but now I am resolved to push to the finish.

When I get to the paved road I know the finish is near and I time trial back to the start/finish.  I didn't catch anyone else, but I did cross the line at 3:39.  So, mission accomplished.  It would have been nice to ride with the lead group a bit longer, but I wasn't far behind them.  I would be scored 4th in the 40+ category.

I ride bikes.
It's not who I am.
It's what I do.
Lord, help me do it well.

See you on the trails!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hellhole Gravel Gravel Grind Stage Two

Stage Two was more of the same as Stage One with the addition of about 7 miles of single track.  I was 30 seconds off the podium for GC at the start of the day.  My only hope to gain time today was if at least one of the three riders in front of me was more fatigued than me.  My plan was to get in the lead group and stay there safely conserving energy until about 5 miles to go and then drilling it.  Of course, if an opportunity presented itself to bridge to an attacking group, I was open to that, too.  I didn't have anything to lose if my strategy didn't pan out.  And it didn't.

Without yesterday's One-day racers and with the fatigue from yesterday, the pace started out a little easier.  I was able to hang on from the start with no fear of being dropped.  The single track section came early.  I was in pretty good position entering the trail.  It wasn't really what I was used to as far as MTB trails go.  The surrounding terrain dictated that it would be flat.  So no climbs to suffer on and no descents to bomb.  Just a lot of pine needles and some tree roots.  On a CX bike the pace seemed to be limited more by the beating one is willing to take than by skills or fitness.

Normally this would not have been a problem, but already having sore spots, I resolved to just suffer through the best I could.  When we reached the end, I was happy to be through with all the air in my tires and to be safely in the peloton that quickly reformed when we hit the open road.

From here it was more gravel road and double track.  The roads were mostly smoother today then yesterday (or maybe I'm just used to it by now?).  There are about 5 of us pace lining with about 5-8 more skipping their turns to lead-out.  We dropped a few riders, but the pace didn't feel very hard.  I want to up the pace, but there is nothing to gain by doing so yet.  So I wait in the group, taking my turn pulling at the front.

Somewhere after mile 30, nobody really wants to work anymore.  The pace slows and I know it's just a matter of time before someone takes off.  I stay attentive.

And then it happens, the leader in my class, who is also my coach, puts in a big dig to get off the front.  No one wants to chase.  I do, but I'm not sure if I should.  I don't really want to do all the work just to bring the pack back together.  I know I can't beat him, and maybe can't  even catch him.  I decide the best plan is to let him get a gap and then to try to solo across.

So, I waited a few moments and then hit the gas.  But I didn't have enough gas to get away.  I pulled hard and was closing the gap.  But, when I looked back, all my main competitors were right there with me.  Although, it did look like they were struggling.  I decide to fall in line and see if they kept the pace up.  They didn't, and now we were on some double track with tall grass on either side and in the center, making it difficult to see the potholes, rocks and branches in the road.

I was having a hard time riding behind the rider in front of me, so I switch sides of the double track to follow a  rider I had followed so successfully yesterday.  Unfortunately, right after I did, he bunny hopped a pothole that I didn't see, resulting in me hitting it full force and flatting my front tire.

I pulled off to the side to fix the flat while the group pace-lined off into the distance.  It was hard to get the motivation up to change it in a hurry, knowing all GC podium hopes were now gone.  Still, the repair went well, and pretty soon I was back on my bike.  Common sense said there was no need to go hard at this point.  It would be better to wait for another group.  Common Sense said it would be better to save my legs for another day.

I didn't listen.

I used my power meter to gauge my effort.  I rode at the watts that I was pulling when I was taking my turn leading the paceline - hoping they would back off the pace like they had done previously.  I keep looking ahead, looking for a rider to catch.  And then, in the distance, I see the white jersey of a rider that I had been reeling in with the group before I flatted.  Perhaps he was holding on to the rear of the group, I hoped.  But as I closed in, it was apparent he was still solo.

It was probably 10 miles from where I flatted before I caught him, and when I did he didn't want to (or couldn't) help with the pace.  So I tow him along.  For miles.  Eventually we catch and drop another rider, then finally we catch a 3rd rider.  This one hangs on, but he didn't want to (or couldn't) help with the pace either.  So now I am leading 2 other riders to the finish.

At 6 miles to go I gradually up the pace.  By now my passengers are struggling to keep up.  At 5.5 miles I lift the pace again.  I don't look back.  At about 5 miles to go I am on the road that leads back to the finish line and I hit the gas as hard as I can, not sure if I can maintain it to the end, but darn sure going to try.  When I get to the section of road that was marked from Friday nights ITT, I know that I have 1.8 miles to the finish.  I know I can make it from here.  I keep up my hard, steady pace to the finish.  My legs ache but they manage to keep the pace to the finish line.

I would come in at about 3:31 for the 66 mile day today.  Fifth place in 40+.  About 3 minutes behind the group I was with when I flatted.  Not too bad for a 31 mile solo effort - but it didn't gain me any positions.

I wouldn't have ridden it any other way.

See you on the trails!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hellhole Gravel Grind Stage Race: Stage 1

The good thing about today's stage was that the course was so flat that there was no need to tape an elevation profile to the top tube.  The bad thing about today's stage was that the course was so flat there was no need to tape an elevation profile to the top tube.

We all started from the Witherbee Ranger Station in Francis Marion State Forest in one mass start.  The opening pace was hard as the lead group of riders try to reduce their numbers.  With no climbs or no major technical sections to split the field, this was going to be a drafting race.

I hung on as long as I could, but found myself drifting away from the lead group.  I ended up in a fast chase group of about 5 riders.  Then 4.  Then 3.  The 3 of us would pace-line to the finish.

I had the .GPX course loaded into my Garmin 810 so I was notified of corners before we got to them.  Even so, the course was well marked.  Although I had to wonder why some of these roads were even built.  They seemed to exist only to take you to another road that only existed to take you to another road... Never really passing any meainingful landmarks and precious few residences.

I will say that the gravel road surface was mostly a pleasure to ride on.  For the most part it was well-packed double track.  There were a few sections of overgrown, really rough sections but these were short.

Our 3 man pace-line worked pretty well together.  It didn't take long to determine who the strongest rider was.  He was in the open class, not the 40+ class so I wouldn't have to try to outsprint him at the finish if we stayed together.  He seems happy to take the longest pulls at the front.  Dutifully pointing out the numerous potholes and other obstacles we had to ride around.

It was pretty intense riding for me.  I had to hang close to the wheel in front of me to get maximum benefit of the draft just to be able to hang on, but this made it impossible to see the terrain immediately in front of me in time to react to it.  I ended up nailing quite a few potholes but never flatted.  My ribs and shoulder didn't really appreciate it though.

When it's my turn at the front I watch my Watts to maintain a nice steady pace.  I watch the timer to be sure I'm doing my part to keep the pace line rolling, but not so long that I end up getting shelled off the back to no-ones benefit.

Every now and then we catch a solo rider that's been shelled from a group.  The further we go into the race the more frequently we catch riders.  Most don't even try to hang on to our pace line.  None succeed for very long.

With 5 miles to go, the young rider in our group asks if we want to drill it or if we think it would be advisable for him go it alone.  I told him he was the strongest of the group and now would be the time to go if he was gonna go.  So he takes off.  Now it's me and another Masters 40+ rider.  I can pretty much draft behind one if his calves, so I know I can't take him in a sprint.  I decide to up the pace and see how he's feeling, though he hasn't shown any signs of weakness so far.

In the last 5 miles we caught a lot of riders.  Two of which were in our class, one of which had a fully functional seatpost.  In the last 3 miles I really upped the pace.  I didn't look back.  Just kept pushing the pedals over like in the time trial.  When I got to the road where the ITT finished yesterday I knew exactly how far I had to go to the finish so I drilled it.

Unfortunately, I was mostly just doing a really good lead out.  When we got to the final road crossing (a 55mph hwy) we had to check-up to verify there was no traffic.  From there it was a short sprint to the line which I lost, but felt good about my effort.  It ended up being the sprint for 3rd place in Masters 40+, so I would be 4th.  Perhaps placing me 3rd in GC as the 2nd place rider today did not race the prologue yesterday and no one seems really sure how the bonus time works.

This had to be one of the fastest gravel grind races of forever.  My time for the 63+ miles was 3:09.  Tomorrow will be a similar stage that will determine the overall winner.  Hopefully I've regained endurance enough to keep the same pace.  If so, I think I have a shot at the overall podium.  Whatever happens, it's great to be back on the bike and feeling good.

See you on the trails!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hellhole Gravel Grind Stage Race: Prologue

What a difference a week makes.  The Hellhole Gravel Grind Prologue is everything Three Peaks was not:  warm, flat and short.

Being an inaugral event, I wasn't really sure what to expect.  Looking at the pre-registered rider list I knew there would be some tough competition in my class.  It is an actual stage race where the times from Saturday and Sunday minus bonus time from today's Prologue will determine the overall winners.  The course is very, very flat (max grade for the weekend = 1.0%) and not technical, so I am anticipating a lot of pack riding the next 2 days - making today's prologue bonus time that much more important.

I arrived early to do a recon lap of the 6 mile course.  Very flat.  Very fast.  Three left hand corners, one right hand corner. 

The first rider would roll off at 6:30pm followed by another rider every 30 seconds.  I was scheduled to start at 6:50.  Front and rear lights were required by the organizers, but there was enough daylight that it wasn't really warranted.

When the start line official counted down "5-4-3-2..." - I took off on "1" and settled into a conservative pace to avoid going out to hard.  When I made the first lefthander 1.1 miles later I upped the pace 20 more watts and looked for the tail lights of the rider ahead of me.

I kept my head down and focused on maintaining a consistent pace.  After the second lefthander I could see a tail light in the distance.  I'm feeling OK, so I up the pace ever so slightly.  I am now noticeably reeling in the rider ahead.

Before the final lefthander I catch and pass the red light I've been chasing.  I recognize him as the rider that started 1:00 minute ahead of me.  It's now becoming difficult to maintain the pace but as I approach the final righthander that will lead me back to the start/finish, I up the pace a little more.

When I round that final corner, I know it is only a little more than a 1/2 mile to the finish so I get all that I can.  Watching my power only to make sure I don't let up.  I keep pushing the pedals over - each stroke getting me closer to the finish.  I can see the lighted finishing area up ahead.  I can hear the crowds at the line, and the generators used to power the lights.  All drawing me closer to the finish.  I would've stood to sprint, but couldn't in a way that would be faster than sitting and focusing.  So I sit and focus on putting the power to the pedals as efficiently as I can.

And then it's over.  17:07 after I started.  My goal was a time in the 16's, but I was happy with my pacing.  Later, when I downloaded the data I was pleased to discover that I was close to my pre-crash power numbers. 

Tomorrow will be 63 miles on similar roads to today's ITT.  It will be interesting to see how the dynamics of a mass start will play out with so many fast riders here.  ..and to see if a little guy like me can keep up with the big power guys.

See you on the trails!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Three Peaks USA

Three Peaks USA

   Although this would be my 4th race since my crash and resultant surgery, I really felt like it was my first real race.  I rode the bike and set-up that I felt was best for the conditions instead of choosing a more comfort and “just get to the finish” approach.  I had raced the 72 mile Pisgah Monster Cross last weekend (on a MTB), so I knew I could go the distance.  I raced a training series race on my CX bike Thursday to be sure I could still ride a CX bike (actually, I doubled up and did 2 races just to be sure).  So when we all lined up behind the neutral roll-out vehicle – I knew that I was ready.
   The start was a bit chilly.  Most had jackets or arm warmers, many had leg or knee warmers.  We didn’t warm up much during the neutral start as we were braking more than pedaling down Beech Mountain.  As soon as the road turned upward on Peak One the race was on. 

   The first climb started at a brisk pace.  I had to really push to keep up. The overnight rain had made the first unpaved section very hard packed and very rideable.  I'm happy to be on my CX bike.  The fast rolling 35c tires I have picked are working well.  They have a tough sidewall and plenty of air, so I could pretty much ride with reckless abandon - except for the nagging pain in my side that keeps reminding that i still have some healing to do.

   The road from peak one to peak two is mostly paved, predominantly down hill.  The little group I am with swells as we catch smaller groups ahead and larger groups catch us from behind.  I feel like I should be going harder, but it's a trap. I would have to put in a lot more effort to go slightly faster by myself than I would just cruising along in our pace line.  Some people are chatting, indicating the pace isn't very hard.  Still, I press on, reminding myself to stay in the pack.  Determined to save some energy.

   Finally we get to some unpaved road and the pack starts to spread out.  This is my cue to up the pace.  We ride along the creek that we will soon have to cross.  At about mile 21 we get to the crossing.  I had enough foresight to dismount and carry my bike above water level to keep the chain dry. Others did not.  It's deep enough that it's cumbersome to run it, so most just walk.  I did.

   This section of the course is the lowest altitude of the day. It's also where the rain has collected into puddles. I'm leading a couple of other riders in and around the puddles. Sometimes we can go around them, sometimes we have to go through.  Sometimes they are deep, sometimes they are shallow. Sometimes there is soft mud, sometimes it's packed.  It's hard to tell the difference and I am getting tired of being the crash test dummy so I check up and let someone else test the waters for a while.  

   The puddles go away when we begin the climb up peak two. It's steep. My low gear is not really low enough, but standing is not a good option for me.  So I sit and churn the gears over.  This last half of the race has 2/3 of the climbing so I pace myself knowing that when it flattens out I'll be near my first planned stop - aid #2. 

   Soon the gravel turns to pavement. Gary Pflug, having stopped to fix a flat, blows by me on a steep switchback.  On his single speed...

   And then the pavement levels out and I meet my wife at the aid station. I get some nutrition and some encouraging words. It will be a 10(ish) mile "lollipop" loop back to the aid station.  The first half is mostly uphill to the top of peak two.  It starts out reasonable enough, mostly undulating, then gets steeper.  And then more and more sections have loose gravel.  My high pressure/speedy tires are struggling for grip.  I press on.  When I get to the steep, rutted, rocky, 4 wheeler trail section I hop off and hike it.  Some of it seems rideable.  Some, not so much,  but it seemed to be a waste of effort to try to ride it at what would be a walking pace anyway and I really didn't need to be crashing on any rocks.  So I hike.  And hike.

   The volunteer at the top says "it gets better from here".  Which it did, but it was still quite rocky and I was in constant fear of flatting until I got back onto the stem of the lollipop loop that would take me back (predominantly undulating downhill now) to what would now be aid #3.  There are still riders starting the loop from aid station #2.   As then road undulates up and down, the face and pace of the oncoming riders gives a good indication of the terrain ahead.

   After aid #3 there is a fast descent and I really want to drill it, but when I get to the bottom I know that it is one long climb to the finish so I am careful to keep some in reserve.  It's always better to go harder when the going is harder and easier when it's easier.

   When I start the climb up peak #3 I pace myself a bit conservative.  My PowerTap battery has long since died, but I'm watching my heart rate.  I start to get impatient but I know if I go hard now I'll have to pay for it all the way to the finish as there is no place to recover until the finish.  I get passed by 2 riders.  Another singlespeeder(!) and a rider from my class that I had passed on a descent.  Dang it.  Still, I keep to my pace, lifting it ever so slightly as I continue up the peak.  From the profile taped to my top tube, I have a pretty good idea how much climbing remains.

   When I get to a section that levels off for a bit, I keep the same intensity and go up thru the gears.  I catch an occasional rider, including a mtb in my class.  I pass him through one of my favorite parts of the course.  It's got lots of ruts and big, rideable rocks.  Barely rideable, that is.  A perfect balance of sketchiness and ride-ability.  I'm fatigued, but determined.  More determined than fatigued.  I ride the section clean.  Smooth.  I think to myself, "I can still ride a bike".  I smile and prepare for the last, steep part of the climb.  There is less than 5 miles to go and I intend to get all I can in that distance.

   Though I catch several riders, only one was in my class.  Still, I want to beat my goal time of 4:30 and at this slow pace of climbing the minutes are going by faster than the miles.

   By now it is easy to lose focus.  I tell myself to pedal.  Keep pushing.  Pedal.  Push.  Keep pushing.   Some of the gravel is loose and the road so ridiculously steep that it's hard to maintain traction, hard to keep the pedals turning over.  It's hard for everybody.  Keep pushing.  Pedal.  Finally, the last pavement section.  I can see the Pinnacle Resort Inn where the start/finish line awaits.  Pedal.  Smile.  Hammer out the finish.  Finish strong.  No rider ahead.  None behind.  Drive it home.  4:18.  Smile.  Recount blessings and relax.

   I can still ride a bike.  Joy.

   Everyone has strengths and limits.  I can't change my circumstances but I can choose my response.  I've worked hard to get back up to speed.  With the help and support of some awesome friends and family, I was able to make a speedy recovery.  My circumstances changed, but my priorities never did.  To be a healthy athlete, first you need to be a healthy person.

Thank you to all who have helped along recovery road!

See you on the trails!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pisgah Monster Cross

My first race back after breaking a collar bone in 2 places and a few ribs was the 2nd annual 70 mile Pisgah Monster Cross Challenge.

I had done a little bit of riding on the road in the past week, but mostly I have been logging "miles" on my Computrainer.  So there was some trepidation on how I would hold up in real world race conditions.

I opted to race my Raleigh Talus 29'er hardtail with 700 x 40c CX tires.  I figured having the suspension fork and lower MTB gearing would be more rib-friendly.

We started from the Pisgah Ranger Station with a lengthy neutral roll out on a cool morning.  I managed to work my way nearer the front than usual for me.  I wanted to be sure I gave myself the best opportunity to hang on as long as possible.

When the racing starte in earnest we immediately begin the longest sustained climb of the race.  My Quarg power meter was not working, but my heart rate indicated I was putting forth a pretty hard effort.  ..and I was getting passed.  On a climb.  I set a goal: to not get passed by 10 riders on the climb.  I started to count them off:

Ok that's one. 

Another one.

Dang it.  Two more.

When I got to 6, things started going my way.  Downhill.  Suddenly me and my MTB passed all of the riders back that had just passed me and I gained some more spots.  As it turned out, I could still ride a bike.  Joy!

I kept a steady pace up the remainder of the climb.  When I got to the paved road that lead to the Blue Ridge Parkway I found myself pace-lining with another MTB and 2 cross bikes.  Until we got to Pisgah Point, or whatever the highest point on the BRP is called.  After that, those of us on MTB's couldn't hang with the CX bikes on the loooong paved descents.  I was pretty well spun out at 36mph, so I would pedal as fast as I could to get up to speed then tuck and coast at 36-42mph. 

So, after working like a dog on the places that I could pedal, it was kind of de-motivating to be caught by about 10 pace-lining CX bikes.  I fell in line with the group.  It wasn't long before we turned off the BRP and stopped at aid station #2 at mile 44.  I made a hasty water bottle refill and took off down the rocky/loose gravel Bent Creek descent.

By the time we hit pavement again, it was just me, one cx bike and the MTB from earlier on the BRP. 

From here on out I pushed hard.  It was clear I was able to maintain pace more than the others.  One by one I caught all of the riders I was around at the begining of the day that had gotten ahead of me.  The final descent is a rib rattler.  It's a bit painful on the ribs, but the frequent, tight, loose gravel corners keep the speeds reasonably low.  I know the finish is near, so I push hard with all I have. 

I catch one more rider on the road just before the finish.  He is riding a flat rear tire to the finish.  "Bummer", I say.  "It happens" he says, smiling. 

I do a pretty mediocre cx dismount before the only set of barriers placed in front of the finish line.  I crossed the line somewhere around 4:27, which translated into 20th overall.  After looking at the quality of riders that finished ahead of me, I felt a bit better about not being higher placed.  It was a good day back.  A good day on the bike.  The days mission: accomplished.

I'm not sure what the rest of the season will bring, but it's great to see everyone back at the races.

See you on the trails, or, maybe the gravel roads!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Recovery ride

Most of the spring season, my training was focused on doing well at MTB XC Nationals.  As explained in a previous blog, that didn't go well.  But the resultant form set me up for a very good effort at Wilderness 101 last Saturday.  It was probably a bit ambitious to try to do well at a 5 day criterium and road race series that started the Tuesday after Saturday's 101 mile MTB race.  So, after 2 days with lack-luster results I decided to take an uncharacteristic day off of racing to be more competitive for the final 3 days of racing.  It would be a perfect chance to do a recovery ride and familiarize myself with following courses on my new Garmin 810.

I loaded a familiar course into my 810 and headed out for an easy spin.  Twenty minutes later I was in Troutman.  I have to ride on Main Street for about 300 yards and then make a left turn, so I usually up the pace a bit to try not to disrupt vehicle traffic.  Today was easy.  No oncoming traffic.  I continued on my way toward Lake Norman State Park - thinking about wanting to try out my full suspension MTB that I had just converted to 650b and hadn't been able to ride it in the woods yet.  Oh well, plenty of time for that later.

And then it happens.  An angry brown dog comes running off his porch toward me at full speed with ill intent.  Now, I've been chased by dogs before.  Most just want to bark or chase behind.  The ones that want to bite usually go for the feet/pedals.  I've even had one get a mouthful of my rear brakes.  Usually a squirt from a water bottle or quick sprint takes care of the situation.

This dog was focused.  My Garmin data shows the impact occurred at 22.4mph.

Someone I don't know says something to me.  I want to get up, but I can barely breathe.  I look around and asses the situation.  My bike is on the ground near me, with the front wheel off.  There is a dog 100 yards up the road, whimpering, curled up in a ball.  There is a guy still talking to me.  I look at my bike again.  Both legs of the fork are broken and the top tube is cracked.  I'm going to need a ride home.  An SUV passing by asks if I need help.  I really didn't know, so I said I was fine.  I wasn't.  I reached for my phone, and after a bit of fumbling, I was able to actually use it as a phone to call my wife.  Fortunately she was nearby and quickly headed my way.

This is about where the damage assessment really started to take place.  I've crashed enough times that I am used to the scrapes and bruises.  To be sure, I had plenty of those.  But i could feel things moving inside of me that weren't supposed to be.  I still couldn't breathe well..  Collar bone.  Ribs.

I tell the guy, "Sorry about your dog." as I watch him drag himself back up the porch he had just come barreling down moments ago.  The owner didn't seem too concerned about his dog.  At this point my phone rings.  It's my wife wanting better directions to where I actually am.  After trying in vain to explain it, and still finding it hard to breathe and talk, I hand my phone to the guy standing nearby.

Pretty soon my wife's bright yellow Miata appears on the scene.  Somehow she manages to load me and the bike in the car.  She hands me my helmet.  I notice it is smashed on one side.

It was a slow day at the hospital.  They were able to do x-rays right away.  The doctor was impressed with the way I managed to break my collarbone in 2  places.  Broke/cracked some ribs, too...

They sent me on my way with a sling and some pain pills and instructions to follow up the next day.  Which I did.  Surgery for my collarbone is set for Tuesday.

It has been truly humbling to receive the amount of care and support that I have received from friends and family.  I appreciate everybody's offers to help out, for well wishes and prayers.  I am a very blessed individual.

Though I hate being off of the bike, I remind myself that things always go according to the plan.  It's just not always my plan.

I won't be seeing you on the trails in the near future, but I hope to be turning over the pedals on the trainer bike pretty soon.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wilderness 101

I was really looking forward to racing Wilderness 101, having missed out at the very last minute last year.  I was already familiar with the trails from the two years that I did the Trans-Sylvania Epic Stage Race. I was (mostly) healed-up from my recent crashes and was on pretty good residual form because of attempting to peak for MTB XC Nationals.

The neutral start rolled off at 7:00 am on what looked to be a Goldilocks day - not too hot, not cold or rainy.  Just right.  ...with a chance of rain.  My favorite.

I try not to think of these NUE races as riding 100 miles (in this case, 101), but rather to ride from aid station to aid station.  In this case there were 5 aid stations.  #1 son was on hand to help out.  He would be aid stations #2 and #4.  My only planned stops.

The first segment is all gravel road or double track.  Even with the 5 mile initial climb, the pace was really quick.  Average pace to the first aid station was over 15mph.

Aid Station #2 comes up pretty quick as well.  There are a few short, rocky downhill single track sections, some flat sections where I have to pace line between climbs, and one really sweet, fast (smooth!) single track trail that ends too soon.  It's the section with the three narrow bridges that provide for an awesome photo op.  Sometimes I think the photographers are just there to distract you so you don't focus on the bidge and they get an awesome action shot of a rider plumetting to their demise.  Probably just me though...

The aid station #2 stop goes well, thanks to the quick work of my crew/son.  I may be a little off on my chronolgy, but on the way to aid #3 several things of note happened.  The best of which is that I am feeling good and passing riders.  The worst of which involved going over the handle bars in slow motion.  After MTB XC Nationals I was feeling pretty bad about my technical skills on the rocks.  But these rocks are different.  I can ride these rocks.  In fact, I think I would rather do 3 laps of Wilderness 101 then 3 laps of the Amateur Nationals course.  But that's another story... Anyway, I was riding well over the most highly-concentrated rocky trail when I came to what was essentially a quite rideable rock "bridge"  Unfortunately, I started to stray off line a bit, touched the rear brake a bit and lost enough momentous that my front wheel hit the next big rock and stopped abruptly.  So, of course I tried to ride out the nose wheelie and ended up over the bars.  Fortunately I landed on previously bruised/injured parts of me.

Somewhere around mile 50, on some gravel road, I got rattled at by a rattlesnake.  Later, I saw a huge eagle-shaped bird flying in the woods.  I was behind/under it, so I can't confirm it's eagle-ness.

Aid station #3 follows a rapid descent.  I blow thru at full gas, to the shouts of "We got a roller!"

An extra single track section was added between aid #3 and #4, pushing back my estimated arrival to aid #4.  I was a little concerned about running out of water, But, it's quite overcast with ocaasional very light rain and I would make it in good shape.  The additional single track section was less rocky then the surrounding trails, but very tight and twisty. 

At aid #4 I make my last stop.  Smooth and fast.  My final supplies to the finish.  This section of the course takes me near the Scout Camp where Trans-Sylvania is based, so I know most of the area pretty well.

Immediately after the aid #4 stop we do a long washed-out, rocky, double track climb.  I'm still feeling pretty good and I am able to climb it in the big ring.  Although I have been catching and passing racers all day, the thought occurs to me for my goal to be that whatever happens, not to get passed by more than 3 racers.  When we get to the similar-condition descent I hit it full gas.   I was doing really well, dodging all the large and pointy rocks.  And then I find it.  The rock with my name on it.  I feel the rear rim bottom out hard.  Followed shortly by a soft, squishy feeling rear tire.  Dang it.  I am racing tubeless, so I stop and blast it with CO2.  No hissing.  Hoping it will stay sealed, I carry on.  More squishy feeling.  So, I stop again.  Same result.  At this point I have only 1 Co2 cartridge left.  My choice is to keep blasting it and try to make it to at least aid #5, or to take the time to put a tube in it.  I chose to put a tube in it.  While stopped alongside the trail, three riders blow by me.  By the time I am back on the bike I am right in the middle of two teammates that would have been the 4th and 5th riders to pass me.  The single CO2 canister was not enough to fully fill my tube with as much pressure as I would like, plus now I have a tube that I have to be careful not to pinch flat.  There is still more rocky descent to go.  I started out gingerly at first, losing ground to the 2 teammates.  I couldn't hold back any longer...  I let off the brakes and tried to chose the smoothest lines, keeping my weight forward as much as possible.  Being recently invigorated by my brief time off the bike fixing the tire, it wasn't long before I dropped the two teammates. 

We crossed a bridge that was barely wider then my handlebars.  I rode it "chicken-wing stlye"  by putting both elbows out and just rubbing them agains both sides the whole way across. 

I blow through aid #5.  Five miles to go.  It's a contrast of smooth, flat rail trail and ridiculous rocky, river-side mostly hike-a-bike section.  Somewhere in there was the iconic train tunnel.  Soon I am back on the bike, cautiously riding over the remaining rocks and back on the road to Coburn.  Riding on pavement, I can really feel the squishy rear tire squirming around.  I wasn't sure if I was losing air, or if it was just that low because that is all the CO2 I had.  Regardless, it was motivtion to put the hammer down to the finish as quickly as possible. 

I beat my goal time of 8:00 hours, coming in at 7:50 something.  I think the announcer called me out as having finished 10th, which is pretty cool because I am not old enough to race the masters class in the NUE series, so I race the open class with all the big dogs.

A pretty good day.

See you on the trails!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Iron Mountain 100K

Advertised as a "Backcountry MTB Ride", Iron Mountain 100K does not disappoint.

The race starts in the cycling Mecca that is Damascus, VA.  The town is located at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail.  The bike shops, outfitter stores and bike shops out number all other businesses.  Today, though, I think the race bikes out numbered the cushy-seat, raised handlebar variety.

We did ride on the Creeper Trail.  But not far.  After the neutral start in Damascus Town Park we rode for 4 or 5 miles on the Creeper Trail (at a pretty rapid rate) before hitting the single track and the first climb.  It was kinda steep and was technical enough to border on riding and hiking.  It was a pretty long climb and really separated the pack.  There was a bit of sketchy descending.  Not because of the steepness, but because it was side-of-the-mountain, mostly off camber and covered in dry leaves.  But it's not a long section and we soon roll into aid station #1 where my lovely wife is waiting with everything I need to get to aid #3 (I hope).

Immediately following the aid station is a long road gradual climb.  With no drafting help available behind me, I tuck my head and drill it at a pace I feel that I can maintain for the next few miles.  It was fast enough to catch another rider before making the hard right turn onto the next section of single track.  ...and more climbing.  This section included steep single track and fire road climbs, but most notable to me was a fast, rocky descent.  It was loose "baby head" rocks (i.e. the size of a baby's head) covering the width of the double track.  It was a constant choice of choosing the smoothest, least-likely-to-flat line and guessing how fast to go without flatting.  I guess I did OK because I felt my rear rim bottom out a few times, but all air remained intact.

Somewhere along the line I jettisoned a water bottle (full, of course).  Fortunately aid station #2 came up pretty quickly.  I grabbed another water bottle and hammered on.  Next up was a looong gravel road climb.  It's mostly packed-in pretty good - to the point where it's rather like a cobble stone street.  I normally excel on these kinds of climbs, and I did OK but apparently I bent my rear derailleur somewhere as I am now rather limited in gear selection.  The chain will only stay in a few of the lower gears and I now have the ability to shift right off the biggest cog and into the spokes.  Which I did a total of 3 times throughout the day...

While this section was a lot of climbing, there was some sweet, flowy descending that ended at aid #3.  I meet my wife and refuel and head into another single track section.  Uphill.  We actually doubled back onto the "baby head" rocky section.  However, this time it was a climb instead of a descent.  While the likelihood of a flat is somewhat diminished at the reduced climbing pace, there are riders still descending this section.  Fortunately it was wide enough not to cause any issues.  We soon turn off for more climbing.  A few muddy sections and a fast descent to aid #4.

From here, it's not far from the finish.  Feeling refreshed from recovering on the most recent descent I feel like I can push it hard to the end.  This motivation carries me the majority of the last long climb, but the constant shifting issues are starting to bother me.  I don't always have an appropriate gear for the constant-grade climbs leaving me to spin extra fast or grunt it out in a big gear.  When the gravel road climb turns into a single track climb there are sections I can't ride in my choice of gears, forcing me to hike.  Many sections are only cleared with a concentrated focus on just getting to the top.  But I know this is the last big climb, so I can afford to give it all I have left.

After some welcome, fast descending there is more steep single track climbing, which means a few more short hikes.  I don't really lose much time, it just zaps a little extra energy hopping on off the bike. 

And then, after the last hiking section, the final descent begins.  It's fast and it's hairy.  Some corners are banked and smooth enough to take full speed.  Others are not.  At one point I bounced over a rough, loose, rocky section which nearly bounced me over the side of the mountain.  I was just about to "assume crash position" when the tires catch and I make the corner.  The second time this happens I decide I need to slow a bit.  I enjoy the rest of the descent at a little more reasonable pace.  Near the bottom it is less steep and more undulating, crossing over several shallow, refreshingly cool streams.

At the bottom of the descent is the official time clock.  It clicks 5:24, good enough for 10th overall.  Not a bad day at all.

See you on the trails!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Tom Dula's Revenge

Tom Dula's Revenge was my second race of the weekend.  I hadn't planned to do it, but when it became a fund raiser for the Jon Clark Grab Life by the Handlebars Fondation I knew I had to go.

So, I arrived at the Wilkesboro drag strip a bit less than well rested with the intent of just riding how I felt.

Again the weather was awesome.  Warm, overcast, but no rain yet.  A bit of wind, giving a bigger advantage to riding in a group, but very nice weather indeed.

It takes my legs a bit to get wound up, having to recuperate for yesterdays efforts and crashes.  I lose the lead pack immediatlely.  But I would run many of them down as the race progressed and riders were flung out the back from fatigue or mechanicals.

It's kind of nice to be on a cyclocross bike.  The pace is higher over the rollling terrain and the miles click by rapidly.  There is one climb early that is a bit challenging on slick tires, but rideable (for many), followed by a deep stream crossing.  Everything else was quite rideable. 

I really enjoyed riding through the countryside on rolling terrain.  It was refreshing to know that there weren't any ridiculously steep descents or long hike-a-bike sections.  I could push myself to the limit on climbs, knowing I could recover a bit on the descents and still be able to make it to the finish.

The folks that elected for a more road going tire ended up going slowly on the gravel, or running out of tubes and having to be SAG-ed back.  I had a tough 25c tire on AC Hurricane wheels and actually enjoyed riding the gravel roads.

I finished in just under 3:00.  Good for 7th out of 16 in my age group.  Certainly yesterdays race knocked the edge off of my performance, but I was very pleased with that time.  It was a good day.  It served a worthy cause.  A fast, fun ride and well organized event!

A special thanks to Andrew Stackhouse and the volunteers from the Cool Breeze Cyclery team for putting forth the extra effort to make this a successful fund raiser as well as an awesome race.

See you on the trails!

Mohican 100

Saturday marked my first Mohican 100, and my first race of the weekend.  An ambitious plan, but more on that later.

I took the day off work Friday to make the drive to Loudonville, OH.  That way I could be there early enough to check-in and check out the trails at the Mohican State Forest. 

The majority of the single track that makes up Mohican are in the State Forest.  They are pretty sweet.  Fast rolling, hard pack with some roots, rocks and off camber mixed in.  The kind of trails you like to ride in an endurance event.  They actually make you feel like you are going somewhere instead of just twisting back and forth on itself.

Like Wildcat Epic, Mohican had a remote start in the local downtown - Loudonville, in this case.  Also, like Wildcat, my son made the drive from PA to help out with support.  It really makes a difference having a familiar face waiting for me at the aid stations.

The 100 mile and 100K riders rolled off together in one giant mass start.  I was reasonably near the front, so it never created a real bottleneck problem, but I think it kept the early pace pretty high as the 100K'ers could afford to push a bit harder early.

It had rained overnight, but I came prepared with a 2nd set of wheels for just such an occasion.  It proved to be the right choice as several racers slid off course in front of me while I was able to maintain grip.  Not big knobs by any means, but better than what I had for Wildcat!

The elevation profile of the Mohican course shows a lot of short to medium length steep climbs with no long, decisive climbs.  The climbs come quickly in the first 30 miles then spread out as the race goes along.

The 20 miles to the first aid station were almost all single track, so it took awhile to get there.  There was one notable ridiculously steep, straight up hike a bike section.  Everything else was quite rideable.  We would continue with rapid-fire climb-then-descent for another 10 miles in the Mohican forest before the climbs started to spread out a bit.

Aid stattion #2 came up at 34 miles.  So far everything is going smoothly, the weather is nice - overcast, warm, and no rain.  No bike mechanicals and I am enjoying the ride.

We ride with 100K'ers all the way to aid station #3 at mile 46.  We separate here, and I spend a lot of time riding solo in the woods with no one in sight.  It's kind of refreshing to ride my own pace.  This section would be the longest section between aid stations, but it is a fast segment.  There are a few short sections of more rugged trail, but mostly road, double track and rail trail.  It's a bit difficult tp  judge pace on a rail trail because if you go to hard you are completlely cooked for the upcoming climbs.  Too slow, and you just lose time.  I watch my power and maintain a high zone 2.

Aid station 4 finally arrives and I am starting to enter the finish-strong mode.  Using all my energy reserves and pushing the pace.  On a fast road descent, head down and digging, focusing on the climb ahead I fail to notice the signs indicating a left turn until I am right on top of it.  It's one of those "Y" intersections - for turning left or right, and I miss the first turn in, but I set up for the second one.  I let off the brakes, make the turn-in then slide out and hit the pavement hard.  As I skitter across the pavement I remember to roll to kind of evenly spread out the road rash.  I hit the road hard enough to brake a buckle on my shoe.  I hop back on the bike before any soreness has the opportunity to set-in and I hammer on.  Trying to focus on not focusing on the pain.  The extra adrenaline does add a bit of motivation to the pace

Five miles later there are a series of ridiculously steep single track descents.  I am pushing kind of hard (still), and I end up in a trap.  I am going too fast to slow on the loose descent, and with a loose shoe I couldn;t really weight my pedal like I needed to and I head right for a downed tree designed, I suppose, to keep fools like me on the trail.  To no avail.  I hit it.  Hard.  Over the bars.  I find myself sprawled out on the log with my bike hanging off of my leg by the seatpost.  It's all I can do to scramble out from the trap I'm in (resulting in my bike falling down the side of the hill), drag my bike out of the briers and back onto the trail, readjust my helmet, do a quick inventory and carry on.

I'm still in a bit of a daze as I come upon the longest swinging bridge I've ever seen.  It seems to narrow as I ride it.  But I manage to focus on the other end and traverse it safely, tho slowly.

As I roll into the final aid station, I am truly a sight to behold.  The mud has covered most of the road rash, but the most recent crash has added more places for blood to exit and my right calf is bruised, swollen and throbbing.  But I'm almost finished.  And that's reason enough to carry on.

I enter the familiar single track at the Mohican State Forest.  I quickly come upon mile marker 4, and I am heading towards the trail head, so I know there isn't much more than 4 miles to go.  With my shoe buckle whacking the crank every revolution and right calf throbbing I push on to the finish and ride through the very welcoming inflatable Kenda finish line.  Truly feeling like I'd accomplished something.  It's a great feeling.  It's probably why, as endurance racers, we do what we do.  I just hope that I do what I do in a way that will glorify God.

My finish time was about 8:17.  I didn't hang around for the results.  I had a 50 mile gravel/road race to do in North Carolina at 9:00am the next day.

See you on the trails!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Burn 24

I had always wanted to do the Burn 24 Hour Challenge.  As a team.  I had talked about it with my friend, Jon.  But with other racing commitments, I was never able to do it. 

This year I had the opportunity.

Jon did not.

This being the last Burn 24 - I decided to do it solo: This one's for you, Jon!

My awesome Cycle Works team loaned me a fully equipped trailer and some bike lights for the event, and my son was going to be in town for pit support.  I would have no excuse.  Except for the little issue of not having trained for a 24 hour race.  But then I looked at it from a different perspective.  Although I made the choice to enter the race, everyday people are faced with challenging circumstances.  How we react to them is up to us.  I would do my best.

Raceday starts at Noon on Saturday with a LeMans style run to the bikes.  I guess I was the only one that didn't know you wear running shoes, then change shoes when you get to your bike.  So, a slow run and a slow shoe change saw me enter the woods near the rear of the field

But I am quickly passing people.  Perhaps too quickly, I think.  So I try to follow some other riders.  For about a lap and a half.  At that point I can't take it anymore.  I have to run my own pace.  I hammer the descents, but avoid over-powering the climbs.  I'm riding at what I feel is a sustainable pace.

For the first 10 laps I am just logging miles.  Being smooth.  Being careful to eat and drink appropriate amounts.  I am running 2nd, but no sight of leader Morgan Olsson.

As the daylight hours come to an end, I hop onto my full suspension bike which is already equipped with lights.  At first, lap times remain largely unchanged.  The night has a re-vitalizing effect.  It becomes increasingly important to stay focused on the trail.  But as the sunlight fades completely into oblivion, my lap times slow.  I am more fatigued, so the climbing is slower and I can't see far enough ahead to bomb the descents.  I am a bit unsure of battery life and recharge times, so I am a bit tentative about running my lights on full power.

When it's time for a battery change, I swap back to my hardtail bike which has been set-up with a more powerful set of lights - even on low power.  This would be my weapon of choice for most of the duration of the night.

At some point in the night, an alien invasion occurs.  A nice touch by the Burn crew.  Plus it signified the final major climb of the lap and that a sweet descent was just ahead.

At 3:20am the leader of the race catches me to lap me.  Although it doomed my chances of winning, it was a bit of an honor that it took last years winner that long to lap me.

During the night I couldn't help thinking about when Jon did his first race lap at the Burn 24.  It was at night, after a rain so he decide to use his first-MTB-he-ever-owned aluminum, hardtail, cantilever brake 26" Trek 4300 instead of his brand new full-carbon, Trek Fuel because the 4300 had knobbier tires.  To which he received no end of ribbing for running the old bike.

On the last lap before dawn it rained.  Just enough.  I look up briefly and smile.

As night time drew to a close I was in pure survival mode.  My goal becomes to keep riding until dawn.  My pace seems ridiculously slow.  And though I am getting passed more frequently by the team racers, I am still passing riders in worse condition than me.  It's motivation to keep pedaling.

Pretty soon the sun begins to rise, as it always does.  The birds begin to sing.  It's time to ditch the lights.  As I set out for what I hoped would be my last lap, I have my son check with scoring to see where I stand, and how many laps I have to do to lock into 2nd position. 

On fully sunlit trail, I become a markedly better rider.  I can once again hammer the descents.  Even the climbing is better as I can pick and choose the best line over the rocks and roots easier.  I have delusions of riding all the way until Noon last lap cutoff.  But, as the lap comes to an end the effects of the last gel and Red Bull wear off and I once again realize how fatigued I really am.

Fortunately, my son informs me that I am solidly locked into 2nd place, even though it's only 7:30 in the morning.    After 23 laps, I call it quits.  When the leader sees I have stopped, he also calls it quits.

The whole final lap I feel a bit bad about the possibilty of ending early.  Upon further thought I decide to leave the unraced hours for Jon.  My way of leaving an opportuniy open for what might have been.  And what could be.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Wildcat 100

You never know what a day may bring...

Rewind to last week.

Tuesday, I got home from work late. I had a short workout, so i opted to do it on my trusty CompuTrainer.  While merrily pedaling along, watching the Giro on one computer and digital scenery go by on another, my phone rings.  It's up-and-coming NUE superstar Wes Richards.  He says he's going to race Wildcat 100 on Saturday and may be able to get me a cheap entry and wonders if I wanna go.

Wildcat 100 is a pretty new event, and it's a first time NUE series race.  And it's in new York. And it's a 10 1/2 hour drive. And we would have to leave Thursday after work. 

Did I mention this was Tuesday night?  I hadn't even washed my bike from Cohutta yet.  I had been too busy getting my butt kicked in masters road racing.

I ask my wife what she thought about me going. Since we spent our anniversary weekend at Cohutta I figured I'd get a resounding "no" for skipping out on Mothers day, too.  Instead, I got a "if you think you will have fun..."

Wednesday, I ask my boss if I can have off Friday.  Oh, and I need to leave early Thursday, too.  He says "go ahead, have fun"

Hmmmm... This seems to easy.

I talk to one of the guys I work with, who's judgement I respect. He says "when are you going to be able to do it again?" Surprised by his respone, I tell him, "Not til next year". He prophetically says, "you should do it.  You never know what will happen between now and then."

So that night I raced the time trial at Charlotte Speedway as I had previously planned, went home and stayed up late washing my bike, sent the wife scrambling for some "obligatory" Wildcat items (according to the racer's guide - which turned out not be so obligatory) and packed everything I might possibly need for a 100 mile MTB trek into unknown territory.  The good news was that my son, Anthony, was going to be able to make the drive from Pennsylvania to be pit support. One less thing to worry about. 

Thursday morning comes early as I had to be at work at 6:00 am to be able to leave early. I meet Wes after work and we make the drive as far as Harrisburg, PA before crashing for the night.

Friday we arrive at the Williams Lake Project, the main event site, for registration.  There is some confusion about the remote race start (as in, where it actually IS).  None of the trails are marked for pre-riding yet and none of the riders we meet seem to know very much about the course.  The common theme among the racers' seem to be that it will be a lot of road and that it's probably going to rain. Which it wasn't nearly enough of for me and it did...

So, we ride around the main event site looking for trails to pre-ride that might be included in the race.  Much of it is obviously not frequently ridden, soft dirt and a bit rocky.  There aren't a lot of miles of trail, and with the predicted amount of road riding I opt to keep my fast rolling, low knob tires on for the race. 

We pedaled to downtown in light rain to downtown Rosendale for the 6:45am start.  From there we rode back to the trails at the main event site. They are wet now, but mostly rideable with my tire choice.  I just hoped we wouldn't have to ride them again at the finish.

As it turns out there was quite a bit of road, rail trail, and rain.  I won't take time to go into all of the details but the hi-lights included a bit of a road hike to Lippmann park. The constant rain made for slick trails and treacherous bridge crossings at the park which was a shame as they would have a blast being able to hit them at full speed in drier conditions. Another road hike back took us to the biggest climb of the event. All on easily traversed gravel double track which was really quite scenic (where it wasn't too foggy) and enjoyable. 

...and then it became less enjoyable trails as we rode on cow trails (literally) thru pasture and thru orchards (and more orchards).  In all fairness, it wouldn't have so bad had it not been bog-you-down peanut butter muddy so many places.  

After seemingly endless miles of mud - some of which I didn't even have enough rear grip to propel the bike forward on level terrain, much less climbs, necessitating frequent dismount/remounts - we end up back on familiar rail trail. I figured we were near the end.  It was flat and fast - one place I knew I could make up time.  So I drilled it. And drilled it.  And drilled - what was that sign?  100 milers turn left, 60 milers go straight????   Marvelous.  I have to turn off of the easy-going path and take the peanut butter mud climb (more dismount/remount).  But, just like all the other sections, this section also came to an end.

To my relief, up next was a familiar section of road - leading back to the finish.  We enter Williams Lake and there it is - the glorious Kenda finishing arch. Signifying an end to a hard fought, arduous day of racing.  I sprint to the... What are the cones for??? Guess what- we have to do another lap of the trails.  Which are now very muddy and, you guessed it, more dismount/remount peanut butter mud. 

But this section also came to an end.  And I indeed finished. I endured. 

A better choice of tires for the conditions would have helped tremendously, but at the end of the day I had no mechanicals, I had great aid station help by my son at 3 aid stations (my only stops) -and I managed a top 15 finish.  

All that remained was to wash the mud off me ...and the 10 1/2 hour drive home.  Which we did straight through.

I was glad I went, glad I had a friend who was thoughtful enough to invite me, and a son willing to make the trip to help out. Who knows if I'll be able to do it again.?

Grab life by the handlebars!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cohutta 100

Racers assemble for the start

Chilly 7:00am start.  Rain.  100 miles.  12,000+ feet of climbing.  Super slick single track.  Ultra fast descents.  Did I mention 12,000+ feet of climbing?  The perfect race for me.


This is my fourth Cohutta 100.  My first 100 mile MTB race of the season.  I've been training for the race for months and I am stoked to be on the starting grid!  It's cold and rainy.  Two of my favorite things for bettering my results :)

Abandoning my usual starting protocol, I slot in near the front.  At 7:00 am sharp we roll off at the shout of "GO".  Up the iconic Hwy 64 climb with police escort.  I am just off the back of the small pack that is the lead group.  Perfect for riding my pace through the single track.

Boyds gap has a sandy surface and hasn't been affected by the rain too much.  There are some slick spots, but all goes well.  I have begun catching riders unable to maintain the pace of the lead pack.  Here and there I pick up spots.  I am riding a strong pace, but it's an effort I feel that should pay off later.

We loop back to the Ocoee White Water Center, cross the bridge and onto the single track.  The trail here is a bit more slick and technical.  This would be my test of tire selection.  I am on Kenda 24Seven Race 2.0's.  Normally these would be the perfect tires for this race, but they are not designed for mud.  They are sketchy, to be sure, but no worse than the others I'm racing with.  In fact, I find that I am dropping others on the descents and ride past 2 racers who were unable to clear a short, steep, rooty climb. 

At 16.5 miles I exit the singletrack, blow thru aid station #1 and begin the long trek of fire road that make up the majority of the Cohutta 100.   It's a short distance to aid station #2.  I've got my nutrition and hydration planned to where I can blow thru this station as well.

The next segment is mostly all climbing.  It's not terribly steep, but seemingly endless.  There are a few descents to break up the climbing, but you pay for them immediatley.  It's a rhythm I do well at.  Pace thru the majority of the climb (sometimes I get passed here).  Push near the top.  Push over the top and wind out the gears on the descent (this is where I usually make up time).  Pedal the descents, stay off the brakes and roll the corners.  There are slick spots to get my attention so I have to use my brakes more than normal. 

I meet my wife at aid station #3, mile 36.  My first stop.  The stop goes as planned.  I pause for a kiss and I'm rolling again.  The race has been going well.  My pace is strong - I'm catching riders and not getting passed.  I haven't lost any time for traffic or mechanicals.  It's raining lightly and I'm working hard and feeling good.

The section from aid#3 to aid #4 is harder than it looks like on the elevation profile.  The climbs are not real long, but they are steep and relentless.  I would be happy for these climbs later.  I know I can push this section kinda hard because aid station #4 signifies the first section of the Pinhotti trail.  It's relatively smooth and flowy and predominantly downhill.  A good chance to recover before the long, hard climb back up the road.

And then my race comes to a grinding halt.  Mile 46 on my Garmin.  The crank will barely turn.  I turn the bike upside down.  The wheel rotates forward, but not backward.  I pull it out.  Brakes look good, nothing obviously wrong with the wheel and the crank spins freely with the wheel off.  So I put everything back together, with the same result.  I can barely turn the pedals over, but I can coast.

So I do.  Back the way I came.  It's disheartening to see racer after racer pass me by, but as I hike and coast the 10 miles back to the aid station where my wife is waiting for me (aid #3 becomes aid #6 on the return trip), it's encouraging to see so many riders still pushing to finish the race at what is now hour 4:00 then 5:00 - and hadn't even made it halfway yet.

The return trip takes a slightly different route which includes a mostly downhill section of Pinhotti trail.  I could actually roll most of this, dismounting for every climb or long flat section.  Eventually I am caught by leader of the race, Christian Tanguay.  Over 5 minutes later, the second place racer goes by and asks how far ahead Christian is.  Fellow North Carolina, ever increasingly speedy racer, Wes Richards, rolls by in 4th.  It's great to see him doing well, but it really makes me want to be riding my bike instead of pushing it and using it as a scooter.

The chill hadn't bothered me before, but now that I am walking and coasting I am not generating the heat I was when riding.  It was a welcome site to see the aid station ahead.  All of the volunteers are eager to help, but I don't really know what's wrong with the bike, other than it won't free-wheel, so I just load up and hop in the nice, warm car and ride back to the Hotel.  Disappointed in a DNF, greatful for a wife to pick me up, pleased with how the race was going to that point.

I awoke to a steady rain the next morning and rode over 60 hard, but gratifying miles on the trainer.  I'll be ready again for the next race. 

Congrats to all the finishers of a very difficult race!
Men's podium.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A blustery Boone-Roubaix

On paper, Boone-Roubaix was a race that should have suited me well.  Fifity miles, lots of climbing, screaming descents and lots of "unimproved roads" and racing by age group.

On paper.

And then the winds, and the just-out-of-reach peloton.

I chose to go with my Love Valley Roubaix set-up: 25c Detonators, AC hurricane wheels with an 11-28 cassette on my Blue AC1SL road bike.  While the 25c tires were not enough for the squishy roads that were Love Valley, I'm left wondering if they weren't a bit of overkill for B-R.  I gotta think I would have been a bit faster on the AC carbon 58 23c tubulars I had ready.

I thought I was done with freezing races after Love Valley, but at 9:00 am in Boone it was 34 degrees and windy. Really windy.  At least it was sunny, and warming.  I probably could've done without the leg warmers and 1 extra layer.  I guess it was just overreaction from the uber-chilly Love-Valley race.

I "nearly" had a good start, but somehow the pack split.  Not in a good way for me.  I was left chasing.  And chasing.  I could see the pack ahead, but just couldn't close the gap.  I would work hard, just to find myself pushing solo into the wind.  Twice I gave up the chase.  Resolved to catch whatever stragglers I could as the day progressed.

That would've been easier (smarter?).

I kept seeing the pack.  Just out of reach.  Finally the pack checked-up ever so slightly.  I pushed hard with 3 others and we regained contact just before mile 12.  ...and the mile 12 climb.  Where I was soon shelled off the back.

Uggghhh.  More chasing.  I would make up ground on the climbs and the super--fast descents.  But in the wind and on the flats, a little guy like me was at a distinct disadvantage.  I continued the just-out-of-reach solo hammerfest.  Mile 34 to mile 42 was dead flat.  I was doomed.  I had one other rider who was mildly commited to chasing.  Alas, we succomed to a chasing group of about a dozen riders.  I did my part in the pace line, but I knew they were a lot fresher then me if they've riding as a group, sharing the work.

I am too stubborn (stupid?) to settle for riding with the group.  I know there are 2 more substantial climbs before the finish.  When we get to the first one, I go to the front and push the pace a bit.  A few riders stay with me.  The rest are close behind.  Most regain contact on the short descent leading to the final climb.  This time I make it hurt.  When we crest the hill the group has been narrowed to 4.  I'm pretty well cooked, but I like my chances against 3 others rather than 12.

The huge efforts have taken their toll, however, and as we roll thru the final section of pave leading to the final lap at the fairgrounds I am unable to mount any kind of attack.  My sprint to the muddy finish is pretty weak and I finish at 2:41 - last in our group of 4.  Still, it has been a good training day leading up to the Cohutta 100 mile MTB race next weekend.  My strategy was pretty terrible for any kind of result today.  Hopefully it will pay-off later.  After all, I could've stayed home and done a nice, warm group ride.  In the meantime I'll continue to push the pace.  Even if it means going off the back sometimes. 

See you on the trails!
...or at least off of the paved roads!

The 40-49 podium.  Congrats, men!