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!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

6 Hours of Warrior Creek

The 6 Hours of Warrior Creek race kicked off my endurance racing season today.  I had done well in a 50 mile roubaix-style race last weekend, Love Valley Roubaix, and a criterium race on Tuesday at Dixie Classic Fairgrounds, but the 6WC would be a good indicator of early season endurance racing form. 

I've had a cold all week and wasn't sure how I'd be feeling at the start.  I could ride pretty well at endurance and tempo pace, but really start to feel bad at short, hard efforts.  My conservative strategy was to focus on racing a smooth tempo pace, being conscience to always be pushing at tempo pace, but trying not to go harder than that.

A hard day of rain on Thursday left a few residual slick spots for Saturdays race.  I was on some pretty fast rolling low-knob, no-side-knob tires so I had my concerns.  Lap 1 went well, I got a reasonably good start, and worked my way thru the field as gaps opened up.  I passed riders on three separate occasions that either slid off course or crashed.  I made sure to stay focused on the trail surface and to ride smooth.

I blew thru the feedzone as planned to complete Lap 1.  Lap 2 is a little less congested.  I start to mentally describe the sections of each mile marker.  Mile 1 is a bit of short, stand-up climbs, mile 2 is like 1 with bigger climbs.  Mile 3 is kinda hard.  A good place to push to make up time.  Mile 4 is a recovery section - a lot of fast sections. Mile 5 is the "magic forest section" and into the open field.  Mile 6 is the bridge over-look.  Mile 7 is the swithback climbs.  Mile 8 is rocks then climbing.  Mile 9 is rocks.  Mile 10 is the old start/finish area.  Mile 11 is the road crossings.  12 is the OVT intersection then the start/finish.

Somewhere past Mile 10 on Lap #2 I managed to clip a pedal which somehow resulted in me flying over the handlebars onto the downhill side of the trail.  I had enough air time to wonder just how/where I would land.  And then with a "thump" and a "crack" I land on my back and my helmet hits the ground hard.  I feel Ok, pick my helmet visor up, put my chain back on and carry on.  Shifting would never be the same again, tho.

I botch the end of the lap 2 feed zone stop.  First, I couldn't get the pills out of my little zip-lock bag, then I drop my Hammer bar on the ground.  I rolled off and forgot to remove my head sock like I had planned as the day warmed-up, so I stopped to remove it after trying unsuccessfully to pull it out from under my helmet while riding.  Then had to stop again on the trail after I realized I forgot to re-clip my helmet strap.  Maybe I hit my head harder than I thought...

On lap #3, I'm pushing a little extra hard to make up for my lap #2 crash when the front wheel slides out and I center up a tree.  There is a nice green mark in the center of my number placard to commemorate the occasion.

So, now I'm on a bike with a front derailleur that rubs really hard when in the big ring, but does OK in the small ring (where I decide to leave it for the duration of the race), but I can only get 4 or 5 of the rear cogs - and those shifts are performed somewhat grudgingly, and a left (front) brake lever that is turned somewhat awkwardly up.  I have a second bike waiting in the pits, but don't feel it's worth taking the time to stop and switch the number.  It looks like I'm only going to do 5 laps.  I can hang on for another lap and a half...

I roll thru the feedzone without stopping to start lap 4.  I'm pretty used to the bike now.  I miss having a big ring sometimes, but the trail has picked up grip and I'm pretty dialed on what my tires like in the corners. It's become pretty clear to me now that I'm only going to get 5 laps, so I'm pushing the pace a bit.  I'm passing a lot of people and feeling good.

At the completion of lap 4, my wife has arrived from work, and is ready with a water bottle hand-up, so I don't even have to slow down.  Sweet!  On lap 5, most of the people I am passing are moving at a rather reduced pace.  I'm still feeling good.  The earlier pacing has paid off.  I count through the mile markers as I've been rehearsing all race long.  When I get to the line, the clock reads 5:47.  Seven minutes past the cut-off time to do another lap.  Which is just fine, because I wasn't fueled to be able to another race-pace lap.

So after a quick shower and some recovery the wife tells me I finished 21st with 4 laps.  We have the timing and scoring reviewed and they correct my laps to 5 completed which puts my 2nd.  A good day.  Morgan Olson would take the win.  Kudo's to him, as he made the cut-off time and did 6 laps.

The awards were extra sweet with a great cash payout and lots of swag!  The weather was great and the trail is just plain fun to ride and race on.  This race continues to get bigger and better every year!  Thanks BMCC and all the trail and race volunteers!

See you on the trails!