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!