Monday, September 28, 2009
The course recon info I gathered ranged from very Denman's like, to sandy, to technical with very limited passing. All of this had me primed for not knowing what to expect and as such, I drove myself about half batty during the week trying to figure out how to race it. Nate and I car pooled over to the race leaving enough time to hang out a bit and still get a full recon lap in. We took off with Cam and Julie to get the lines figured out. Cam does what he does and motored away for the most part even during warm up as I tried to hang on as best I could and not start breaking out any real effort that I'd need later on. By the end of the first section he was pretty much gone and I just wound my way along on my own. On the back section of trail I had my worst run in of the day catching my left shoulder pretty hard on a narrow section between 2 large trees. At least this was the recon lap.
As time wound down, we worked our way to the line. Different from the Iowa races I've been in, they started each category in a wave based on open or age group so you were only racing guys in your class at the very start. I liked this aspect of it as it really pushed me to go hard right off the bat as I could see exactly how much work I had to do to finish where I wanted. 11 of us towed the line for the open class which I found odd considering the +35 and +45 age groups seemed to have much larger contingencies. The starter rang the siren and we were off to a sprint for the singletrack entrance a scant quarter of a mile down a paved park road. The start to the singletrack was cordoned off by 4x4 posts spaced 3-4' apart making for some interesting lines as everyone was flying through them. I was sitting 3rd wheel as we came up on the posts and the 2 guys in front sat up slightly so I followed suit. That wasn't the smartest move as I got pushed back 2 more spots to 5th wheel by a couple guys who stayed on the gas. Starting off the first lap I had 3 Nebraskans and an Iowa guy leading the charge in front of me.
Neal (the Iowa guy) was sitting directly in front of me and staying hard on the wheel immediately in front of him. They'd both hammer the open straights and pull me slightly until we'd hit more technical sections where I could latch right back on. This lasted for about a mile and we could see the first two guys opening a decent gap over us. The guy in front of Neal took a few bad lines slowing us down, but we were in a pretty bad area to pass. At the next logover Neal decided it was now or never and took a faster yet higher risk line straight over the log in lieu of just to the right which was only a couple inches tall versus 6-8" tall. I was hot on his heels going straight as well. Neal didn't stick the landing. Or more accurately stuck the landing a bit to well and burped the air out of his tire which was slightly cocked and went ass over appetite. I somehow managed to avoid him while making a quick check to make sure he wasn't dying on the trail as I tailed it up to 4th place.
I knew we'd be hitting a few more open sections where passing would be possible so I sat on the wheel of 3rd place until I could punch it again. I stuck the pass and as we hit more technical areas I opened a gap slowly. The first 2 riders were basically out of site at this point and we were only half way through lap 1 of 3. I kept the wick turned up and figured I would either catch someone or end up being caught if I tried to mellow out my pace any. As luck would have it (for me), near the end of lap 1 I could see another rider up in front of me. I pushed a bit harder, caught him in the twisties, and tailed him through the start/finish area. I sat in on his wheel for the first part of the open section on lap 2 drafting and catching my breath before cranking on it one more time and passing him just before we hit the maze of trees again.
The pass stuck and I was sitting in 2nd place halfway into the race. The 1st place rider was nowhere in site so I stuck to my plan of keeping the hammer down lest I be caught from behind. As I worked into the back section on lap 2 I passed an expert rider on a Superfly singlespeed that was slowly working his way down an open section. I never looked back, but when we hit the twisty section, I could tell I had someone closing in. He was gaining quickly on me so I tried upping my pace in the tight areas. That didn't go quite as planned as I now started pushing beyond my pay level of skill and nearly went down twice. I ushered him back by so as to hopefully grab his wheel and keep myself upright in the process. About a hundred yards later, he laid it down on a slick leaf covered corner and I went right back by. Ahh well, at least I tried to show some good camaraderie.
Lap 3 started with Mr. singlespeed right back on my butt and passing me into the open area. I hopped on his wheel for a draft as he pulled us along at over 20 mph. Sweet! As soon as we hit the tech sections he opened the gap and never looked back again. Thanks for the ride. I was riding well at this point and put together a quick game plan in my head. I pushed the open easy sections as hard as I could and I dialed back the tech areas just enough to make sure I wasn't going to bite it. I couldn't see anyone too close behind me so I thought I was pretty safely in 2nd at this point. I held my game plan together through to the finish and latched onto my placing permanently. As I looked back, a scant 20 seconds back came 3rd place so I definitely needed to keep that hard pace I'd been pushing.
Those Nebraska boys can definitely ride. A full clean race is what I attribute to hold onto my placing. I know the 3rd and 4th place riders each had at least one fall apiece where I only came close a few times. The first place rider had over a minute on me. All in all, I was pretty ecstatic as I went into the race hoping for a top 5 finish and came out much better.
As far as the course goes, the first 2 laps were a bit wet, but by the 3rd lap it had dried pretty nicely. I was running more cautious by then though so it really didn't give me much of a boost. Overall, I liked the course and it seemed to suit my skill set. I wasn't the fastest on the open hammer sections, but I had enough technical skill and strength to close it up on the tight, twisty areas. The overall feel was a lot like Denman's in that you could really use the flow if you knew the trail well enough, but the open sections would allow for some fast riding if you needed to hammer and go as well. I didn't find passing too difficult as long as you played your cards right. If you were gassed going into the open sections, it would be difficult to pass, but otherwise you could find a spot pretty easy as long as you weren't in the woods.
I know there were a few photographers on hand so I'll try to find some pictures to post.
Friday, September 25, 2009
I ran pretty cleanly through the rest of the trail and hit the pavement return section once again. I didn't have quite the legs under me as I did last week and couldn't spit out the speed I wanted to. Overall though I finished in 19:26 only 4 seconds off my time last week. I think I've got an 18:xx tucked away somewhere with the right trail conditions and a bit better run through on my end. However, Pete proved for all that the big dogs have the skill to show us how it's done running an 18:21!
Hurting at the finish:
Pete enjoying the spoils of victory:
Pics stolen from Courtney. See you out there next week!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Looking good, but screwing up the first section:
Burning all the matches:
Monday, September 14, 2009
The wee morning hours of camp:
Tom checked in after 2 more solid laps hovering in the 50 minute range. He mentioned the 2nd lap being pretty tough on the legs and he was ready for some rest. As I sped off into the darkness, I reminded myself that I needed to pace just a bit to make sure I wasn't playing damage control on lap 2. The 4th lap was pretty uneventful with few people out on the trail and everyone I came upon graciously pulling off to the side as I zipped by. At this point I really couldn't tell the difference between teams and solo racers. I was feeling ok by this point, but even that was enough zip to put a pretty big difference in my pace and those I was passing. My mantra was to take it fast, but safe, and make sure I didn't get passed. I did have my single fall of the event on one of these laps. Coming into the 180 downhill switchback known as "187" I made the turn, but slowed enough that I basically came to a stop with my tire switched up. Over I went toppling into the center of the trail. I was right back up and brushing myself off with only a few seconds lost, but it was enough to reinforce the fact that this trail can bite you anywhere and anytime it wants. My first of the double laps went by in a respectable 45:50 which was still just 3 minutes off my best day lap.
Along in lap 2 (I think) I came across the sight of Charlie Farrow standing with another gentleman at the back end of the big G-drop. They were well above the lower turn off line that has been burned in this year. It appeared they were stopped and engaging in a conversation of sorts. Later, I found out the Charlie had actually been stopped and napping at that same location. As this lap wore on, my legs began to rebel from the effort and I could feel the faint tinges of cramps coming on. I'd been smart every lap and made sure to hydrate whenever the trail flattened out or become non-technical enough that I could steal a drink. Fortified with Accelerade and a shot of elite in each bottle, I managed to keep the cramps at bay, but I knew the wolves were starting to circle. My second lap suffered a bit from going back to back, but I still squeaked a 47:40 which was to be my slowest lap of the race.
During these laps, it must be noted that the fog setting in the valley aka campground, was absolutely shrouding everything. As I descended to the grass switchbacks before the timing stand, I could scarcely see more than a few feet in front of me as my lights would bounce off the near rain cloud we were enveloped in. I sprinted through the time station for my second lap and went to hand the reigns back to Jason for his turn at the wheel. I wasn't quite sure that the timers had my number and check in info right, so I went to double check and was relieved to find out all was good. As a side note to any aspiring racers, if there's ever a doubt on whether or not you've been scored for a lap, always double check as it is the racers responsibility to make sure they're counted correctly. I know one solo entrant rode by Sunday morning and was lamenting that he was missing a lap at scoring and wasn't sure they were going to give it back to him.
I was a bit wound up after my laps even though my body was tired. I knew I needed some fuel and rest. I was also worried about someone possibly missing their rotation and also to see if my laps had helped to work our lead back out to any safer margin. I ended up snacking on a few things, and dragging a chair up next to the fire. I spent the next hour or two in a mental fog as I rested by the fire and tried to keep track of Jason's laps and when Nate might need to be up. Our lead was back on the rise as we kept the burn up on our laps. By this time we'd gained back to over 20 minutes, but we were still a single mechanical from falling right back into the other teams clutches.
At the prescribed time I roused Nate from his sleep. I was making sure we weren't going to lose any time from a slow transition. The handoff occurred and I was back to resting in the chair. I'm dreaming of my next couple laps and figured that I would be racing in the light for both of them. As the clock wound closer to my lift off, I realized I would again be riding at least in partial darkness and fog. I wasn't quite enthusiastic about this prospect, but I figured to make the most of it. As Tom rolled in from his lap for the handoff, I headed off for my 6th lap. The fog was still blanketing the valley and though you could see the sun tinting the edges of the sky, it was still dark.
I rolled through the first section of the course trying to get my legs back under me. This scene tended to repeat itself with each passing lap. My legs would protest against the effort required to hump the bike up the first set of switchbacks before they'd get some respite on the downhill. About 5-10 minutes into the lap, they'd wake up and realize I was serious about keeping them moving along. The one major climb up to the top of the powerline by Dead Mans Curve was going to be the challenge again. The baby ring was the gear of choice up front as I didn't have the power to maintain my standing pedal stroke in the middle ring on this section of steep climb any longer. As I started the climb, I again found Charlie napping by the side of the trail. All was still well in his world as I checked in on my way by.
Aside from the increasing light bringing some renewed energy to my legs, the lap was seemingly like most of the others. As I neared the end, I caught sight of Keith riding just ahead on the trail. I put a goal in my head of catching him by the time we got to the check in station. There's nothing quite like a rabbit to catch to motivate tired legs. Off I went and started the chase. Finally catching him as we came across the pond dam and headed back down to the bottom of the hill, I sat on his wheel as we came through to the check in. I turned another respectable lap at 46:24. Nate seemed pretty amazed that I was still running that fast with half my lap in the dark.
Counting down until the final lap:
I felt like a well done roast after that lap. I was stringy, tough, and probably not very tasty. However, the sun was up, people were starting to rouse from their slumber, and I decided to just stay up for my next lap. As you can see below, I was starting to feel my oats a bit by now.
I went to check on the other teams that were still doing laps. By our calculations we were sitting a shade over 30 minutes up on 2nd place at this point with 24 laps in the books. We knew that without a full lap up, we'd have trouble convincing any of the teams to agree to a truce, so we kept the pressure on full bore. Jason, then Nate, and Tom all headed out for there next rounds as I sat and waited. I nibbled on a little food and drink trying to keep myself in shape for one more round. However, it was mostly the thought of only one more trip around the trail that had me pumped. By the time Tom rolled in for the exchange I was ready to pour out all I had left on that lap and leave nothing in the tank. I knew that no matter what, unless we drew straws for another round, I would be done with 7 laps as there wasn't enough time to go through another full rotation.
Off for the final lap:
As I hit the lap, fatigue was getting me on the hills. I kept the pressure on the pedals as high as I could stand it and powered through. My lines started getting a little sloppy and I had to do a few mental slaps to the face to clear the fog out of my brain. I don't remember much of the final lap beyond making sure I continually felt like I didn't have any more left to give at any point on the course. I felt like I was rolling pretty well and a quick check of my computer as I rounded the campground area confirmed I was still rolling decently. I floored it through the final upper sections and let it rip without caution on the downhills. As I powered my way through, I saw a few more people out hiking the trails to catch glimpses and shots of us crazies still out riding.
Keep your focus, no getting snake bit this far in:
Last lap is hurting:
Smile for the camera, you're almost done:
Finally, I was done. The timer stand loomed large as I worked through the grass switchbacks for a final time. I sprinted through and handed over to Jason with a well deserved 44:54 lap time. Still being able to rip out a sub 45 minute lap felt good, but I also knew I was done unless catastrophe struck. My body and legs were done. I needed to be off the bike and just chill for a bit. Before that could be done, I needed to find out how long we still needed to race. I wanted to check on a rule with Ron about the overall placing. It would seem that while each team (2, 3, or 4 man) race against each other for class ranking, the overall is open to any number team. Being that we were shooting for overall and there were some strong 3 man teams in the race, I had to make sure we could call it done soon.
I sought out the 4 man Peoria team first. They were packing it up and calling it a day. There had been discussion about chasing us for another lap, but when they saw Jason shoot off looking fresh for a 29th lap, they knew that there really wasn't much chance left to catch us barring some major malfunction as we had edged close to 40 minutes up by this point. They conceded and we congratulated each other on pushing a great race pace for the full 24 hours. My plan was to only have Nate go off on a lap if I thought we really needed it. I had to find the single 3 man team that we hadn't lapped as of 7 am and find out for sure they were done racing as the scorers didn't have anything listed for them beyond that lap. I tracked them down and indeed they were back out for a lap, but had planned on quiting at 7 until they got wind of the 2nd place 3 man team (Keith's team) continuing on with laps and wanted only to cement their win in the 3 man category.
Before I could get back to tell the guys we were indeed done, Nate shot out for what I like to think of as a victory lap. We firmly stamped the Rassy name on this year's 24 hour race with a total of 30 laps completed before noon. For a 4th year in a row, we had secured the top overall position for the shop! I think we were all pretty happy to be done and felt a bit of euphoria creeping in as we began the task of packing and waiting for the final results.
A happy group of winners (from l to r- Tom, Jason, me, and Nate):
With the winners check firmly in hand, our weekend was over. I headed the truck back south as the other guys worked their way home. Tired, sore, and happy, it was definitely an experience to remember and one I'll be taking part of again.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
This weekend was it, numero uno, the big one, the event that I really wanted to look back at this winter while sweating my ass off on some trainer in a funk filled garage or dark basement and know that all the work was and is worth it. I won't leave you hanging in suspense or even make you read past the first paragraph to find out the answer on how it went. We won! Now that the excitement is all out of the way, I'll work on boring you to death with the plethora of details and notes I have swirling in my head as sort of a journal on how it happened.
I don't think anyone can call it "their team" as we all played equal parts in securing the victory and took equal amounts of punishment inflicted on our bodies. I will say though that Jason and Nate taking an extra lap each just to make sure we were fully cemented in first place was an awesome thing! Jason, Nate, Tom, and myself came together to make the 4 man Rassy A squad this year. While I tried not to think about it much, we had some big shoes to fill. 3 straight years the A squad has delivered the team/overall 24 hour win for the shop. I think we were all thinking, hoping, and planning on doing whatever it took to bring back another winner's check, but we really didn't talk much about it. We'd all find ways to put the pressure on ourselves and I think talking about winning might have been our undoing. Every time someone said we had a strong team and should be contenders for the win, I did my best to shake that thought out and respond that we just wanted to go, have fun, race hard, and come away with something near the top. I think we achieved all of that and more.
It's funny how things come together. I've been thinking about this race all year. I've been planning on doing this race all year. As of a month ago, I had no idea in what category I was going to compete or if I was going to attempt solo or find a team. My early season plans fell through on doing a 2 man 24 hour team and I was a bit awash on where to go from there. A few emails and a bit of scouting around opened a few doors. After a week or two of emailing around and checking availability of people, we finally secured a full roster. Looking at the IMBCS results from 2 weeks ago, it was pretty apparent that we were all about equally matched in looking at raw time data. We all had some pretty solid times and should be putting up a good fight.
In getting ready to race, I took my final preparation pretty seriously. With the understanding of my gracious wife, I hit the training pretty hard with a couple weeks to go and then worked on doing a smart taper with 1 week left. Of course, my taper also left me passing up on doing the East Village Crit, which I was a bit bummed about, but I had a touch of tunnel vision going on and wasn't to be deterred. Beer was gone for the week prior (ouch!), hard riding was gone by that Wednesday, and all systems had been checked over. I got some night laps in at center to make sure I was dialed in on night riding again and then had a couple easy spinning days on Thursday and Friday just to keep my legs primed. I knew at that point, the only thing I could do was make myself slower by crashing or hurting myself, so just keep it in check and be ready come Saturday was the plan.
I took the Rassy truck up Saturday morning to set up base camp for any of the shop racers that wanted to partake of the awesome support that the shop provides us. With a full compliment of generator, awnings, tables, work stands, etc, we couldn't have asked for a better setup. OK, so maybe a team bus, mechanics, and personal masseurs for next year would be cool (Greg?)...
After the setup, it was hurry up and wait. Jason had all ready planned on being our lead out man and I don't think anyone wanted to challenge him for that spot. We all gathered for the mandatory pre-race meeting and I began to wonder who we'd be contending with. A strong team from Chicago gave last year's squad a hard run, but we weren't sure if they were back. There were also some strong looking 3 man teams in the running as well. I did manage to find out later that not only were we competing against the other 4 man teams, but the prize for overall winner was open to any team, regardless of numbers. That made for some interesting moments late on Sunday morning, but I'll get back to that.
Finally, we lined up at the start with Jason ready to rock. Per the usual fashion, the start of the race involved a 50 yard LeMans style run to the bike, then pegging the heart rate up the gravel hill to the upper section of singletrack, bombing back down to the start, and then diving into a full lap. Sounds fun, right?! As Kyle pumped the tube until it's bursting point, I held my breath in anticipation. Bang! The tube exploded and a surge of riders dashed towards their bikes. Taylor Webb was leading the pack onto the gravel with Jason and Keith nipping on his heels. Apparently at the base of the hill, Taylor's legs turned to stone and Jason along with a few others motored past. I headed towards the start/finish line to see who would come through the opening section in first. About 10 minutes later, Jason was leading the charge into the first lap and had put us in the lead and was charging into his full lap.
The LeMans start:
With open trail in front of him, he put it to full use and came in with over a minute gap on our next chaser as Nate saddled up and took over the push. He smoked his lap as well and came in with around 2 minutes on the next team. Tom was our 3rd man up and headed out for his pull. The 2nd and 3rd place teams were in full pursuit mode. A team from Peoria was our closest chaser and put in a hard charger for their 3rd rotation. He chased down Tom and was basically sitting on his wheel as we made the exchange for my lap.
I still don't have great legs for the start of any race, but I was determined to make it hurt for both myself and my chaser. We wound our way through the grass track to the entrance of the singletrack. He was sitting just far enough back from my wheel that he wouldn't be in trouble if I bobbled and would slide right by without losing any momentum. I stood hard on the pedals and about the 2nd switchback in I heard it. Some clanking and banging, followed by a few cursory words about a chain. Not sure what was happening for sure behind me, I took this as my cue to pour it all out and go from there. With several laps in my mental bank from the race 2 weeks prior, I felt comfortable letting it hang mostly out on the downhills, keeping my momentum for the short steeps, and downshifting just enough to hammer out of the saddle for the longer climbs.
I hadn't pre-ridden the new section of trail on top of the ski hill that was added, but the reports were that it wasn't overly technical, just rough. Luckily, the reports were right on and I was able to keep some pretty good speed going through this section before bombing back to the start. One thing I had noted was that most people were just cruising along through the grass switchbacks and I decided to employ a different strategy. I hammered them as much as possible and would slam on my brakes at each of the 180's before sprinting down the next lane until I reached the walk point at the check in. A quick cyclocross dismount and run by the scoring table put the lead back into Jason's hands. I managed to turn my lap in 42:45 and was ecstatic since it bested my laps from the XC race even after they'd added in another 1/2 mile+ of length to the course.
Feeling good on the first lap:
The Peoria team had dropped back a few spots with the mechanical costing them about 10 minutes as their rider ran back to the pits and sent another rider out in his spot while he stayed to fix the chain. At this point, I think we were back to a few minutes up on the chasing teams with Keith's team hunting us now. With it looking like the racing would be tight for quite some time to come, we started settling into our rotations. The plans was for each of us to time trial every lap and hopefully continue building whatever gap we could. By first flush, it appeared there weren't any appreciable differences in our lap times versus the other top couple of teams. It seemed to boil down to a mere minute or two per lap and that was all we could hope for.
As the afternoon wore into evening, we focused on staying hydrated and ready for more laps. My 2nd lap came in a shade slower at 43:19, but was still plenty fast for me. I'd set a goal for myself before the race of cranking out 44-45 minute laps during the day and hopefully 50 minute laps at night. The good news was, we were all popping off 43-45 minute laps during the day and would take slightly more than a 10 minute lead into the start of the night lapping. Tom was the first night lapper and headed off a bit after 7 with dusk starting to creep in. He ran about half a lap with his lights on before handing the reigns back to me for my first night lap.
2nd lap took a little more effort:
I had mixed feelings going into this lap. I had good faith in my light setup running a 400 lumen helmet lamp with an 800 bar mounted light. I've been mistaken for a train running loose through single track on more than one occasion! However, my legs were feeling a bit cooked all ready from the 2 hard day laps I'd put in. As I took off on my lap, the cool air, instinct, and something else took over completely. I'm not sure I've ever felt that type of energy surge before. It was absolutely electric as my legs came to life and the thrill of screaming down every descent pumped surges of adrenaline through my body. I was literally giddy with excitement as I screamed into the finish line for my handoff to Jason. The look on my team mates face, matched my own euphoria when we checked it over and I'd ripped off a 43:35 lap IN THE DARK! Between a solid lap from Tom to start the night, my follow up lap, and another fast one from Jason, we had built the lead to 20 minutes.
Taking a breather after my first night lap:
At this point, Nate was feeling pretty good and we decided to break out the double laps in hopes that we could each get some sleep. I hopped into my bunk which I'd set up in the back of the Rassy's truck with a sheet diving the space in halves and my air mattress in the back half.Though sleep wouldn't really come, I managed to get some rest as I tossed and turned listening to both our music and that of the wedding party going on some 100 yards away. I set my alarm for where I thought I'd have about 15-20 minutes before Tom came in and called it good. I got up a few short hours later and checked the time sheet we'd been keeping.
Damn, something had happened and we were back to a scant 11 minute lead. I'd been anticipating that we'd keep opening the gap and we'd be closing in on 30 minutes by the time I was up again. Alas, our luck had slightly run out in the form of some whacked batteries putting Nate in the dark halfway through his 2nd lap. Some forethought on his part though left him with a small commuter light to pick his way through the final parts of the trail. We avoided disaster for sure as losing a complete lap would have been nearly impossible to overcome, but it definitely put some hope back into the legs of our competition. A little hope can be a dangerous thing.
Part 2- the last 12 hours coming shortly