Friday, December 31, 2010

Click Click

My favorite ride of 2010 was simple. Man and machine versus man and machine. Simple. Fun. Hurt.

We'd climbed the serpentine wall once all ready that day. We'd dallied and waited for the rest of the group the first time. Now, it was man and machine versus altitude, grade, and grind. Click. Everyone that has thrown a leg over a bike and turned a pedal stroke in anger knows that sound. Its the sound of pain about to come your way, the simple, painful, sound of a mere stroke of the silken gear lever. Your hands never seem to understand the fear your legs feel when they caress the gears. Every little movement they make increases the hurt shooting through your body and exiting the pedals.

Click. Dammit, there he goes again. We've hit the gravel. 10,000 feet above sea level is a memory and 11,000 has come and gone. 12,000 is looming. The air is thin for a couple of Iowa Boys. Oxygen depletion makes me think I can hold his wheel. Somehow, I stay on it. The seconds tick by like hours. I don't know if I dare peak to see how hard we're riding. I fall of the pace for a scant second and a gap opens. I find a little more and dig deeper from somewhere else. The road relentlessly turns skyward on us. We're not on singletrack, but the roughness of the road leaves us searching far and wide for smooth lines. He finds one, I take another. We're both breathless from the effort. My legs scream, I can't get any more air. I'm out.

I manage to call out that I'm done. The pace doesn't let up, yet I don't fall off. We just stop accelerating the pace for a moment. My adversary, my friend, my challenger, he's given me mercy. I'm thankful. I wouldn't call it recovery, but reprieve is mine. I pull tight on his wheel. I move along side. We climb in silence, each appreciative of the effort it requires to maintain the pace. Slowly, I pull to take my turn at the front.

Click. Its my turn to repay the pain. I struggle and surge feeling the effort sapping my legs. We struggle against the elevation and grade. It seems like we've been attacking each for hours, when in reality its merely minutes. I feel a small surge in power.

Click. I hit it again. The screws turning ever so slightly tighter. He's still there. Still holding my wheel. I don't have anything left. My head is swimming. There isn't enough oxygen. We've used everything and we're running on deficit. I see the end. The road flattens ever so slightly. I press harder than ever on the pedals. I'm not sure where I'm drawing strength from.

Finally. He calls out that he's done. The end is in sight. We've equally taken out each other. We reach the finish with equal footing. The most vivid ride of the entire year took less than 30 minutes. I put everything I had out there and when I was done it was all I needed. That was it. That was the ride. Thanks.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dirty Duathlon 2010

The last race for my MTB season was CITA's Dirty Duathlon. With the performance of my team mate and I coming in 2nd last year, it would be a hard fought battle to do any better and quite possible that we'd fare worse. Jamie, the running portion of our team, wasn't too sure how we'd fare as his training wasn't quite up to snuff from the previous year and knowing my last fiasco with dropping out at Ahquabi, I wasn't very confident either. That said, it was indeed a race and there was some sweet hardware on the line.

Trophy courtesy of Squirrel:

Jamie ready to run:

This kid ran in clipless MTB shoes the whole time (ouch!):

The whistle sounded and Jamie got a good start on his run with the lead group. I went down and watched them come through the first section of Hillside before heading back to the exchange area to get warmed up. Jamie came in 2nd or 3rd from the run with John Conlan's smokin' fast high schooler was in 1st and Neal's and Jed's runners came in right about the same time. I shot out of there as hard as I could go, but Neal got a better launch and beat me out of transition so I was sitting 3rd or 4th at the start of the bike leg. Its far enough back, I can't remember my exact spot, but I think Neal got out in front of John early and I tailed up to him pretty quickly on the climb into Hillside. I got past him after I spun out on the first attempt due to the wet conditions. We'd had a 1/4" of rain the night before leaving the trails tacky to wet and slippery in spots with the leave cover on. I'd pre-ridden a good portion of it so I knew where some of the slickest spots were and the lines to get through them. Now it was a game of going as hard as I could without falling or blowing up. At least now I was only running a 1 hour or less race so I could pretty much run wide open the whole race without holding back.

I tailed Neal through all of Hillside, but was just maintaining the gap without really shutting it down. Jed had passed me about mid lap and had also gone flying by Neal putting us down to 2nd and 3rd. Barring any accidents Jed would repeat as winner this year by a pretty big margin. As soon as we crossed over to Rollercoaster though I saw him off the side of the trail having gone down on a slick log crossing. I found out later he'd also had his brake or shift lever come loose and was having a hard time with it which contributed to his spill, but he soldiered back to the staging area, tightened things back down and rode it out finishing strong in 3rd place. I was sitting 2nd with most of my first lap complete and at least one major contender still behind me in the form of Cam. Jamie eked out a couple second gap over his team mate Kristy last year on the final downhill to take the 2nd spot and he's a much stronger rider than me so I knew it would be a dogfight to stay ahead again this year. I ripped through the creek crossing in Rollercoaster which is arguably the most technical portion of the trail and never looked back.

Entering the double crossing:

Dropping into the second half of the crossing:

Getting ready for the pain of climbing to the meadow:

Now it was time to hit the steepest grunt of the race and from my pre-ride I knew it was too slick for me to ride the whole thing. I hit it and then hopped off cyclocross style and ran up it keeping my heart pounding in my throat as I got back on and finished the climb to the top of the meadow. Now a ripping descent into the finish area and off for lap 2.

As I got to the end of the finish area I was surprised to see Jed standing there next to his bike. His terrible luck flatting tires this season had bit him yet again and he was out of the race. Now I was sitting 1st place in the race for the second time in as many years. I got some good cheers and atta boys as I raced through Hillside in the lead and headed off for a 2nd trip through Rollercoaster. Soon enough I could feel and hear someone coming behind me. Cam had indeed powered his way back to me, but where we were at there weren't any clean lines to pass and I didn't intend to make it too easy for him. He tailed me down to the creek crossing and as we raced through it for the second time, it turned into a good photo session.

Taking the good line through:

Probably the only shot you'll ever see of me leading Cam (thanks Jamie!)

Cam didn't get the good line (he says I took it away hehe):

Quick and calm recovery though (damn):

At the time, I didn't realize he'd gone down behind me. I just stayed on the gas through the climb out of the crossing and knew he wasn't pressing me yet for the pass. I finally hit the run up and he was back on my wheel and did an amazing job riding the slick leaves and mud that I wasn't able to, so I did the proper thing and stepped out of the way for him to leave me in the dust. Sure enough, by the time I came through for lap 3, I couldn't see him anymore. I thought maybe we still had a chance to reel them back in if I could keep the gap somewhat close since last year he had passed me much earlier on lap 2. I tore off on lap 3 and was passing traffic a fair amount on this lap, but never had any real slow downs due to it. I cleaned all but the run up again and tagged off for Jamie to chase down Kristy if possible. I think they had roughly 1:30 lead on us at the transition which would be a tough gap to close down.

Jamie ran a hard race, but with his training off in comparison to last year, he didn't have the finishing kick on the hills to chase down Kristy again. Jamie ran hard, but we finished in a hard fought 2nd overall again this year.

Kristy can leap creeks with a single bound:

All told, there was 28 seconds between our team and Cam/Kristy this year. With last year's results thrown in, there are roughly 24 seconds that have separated our teams the past two years. Now that's some fun rivalry! This was probably my best race all year in regards to how I felt, how I rode, and finishing place. A stellar pair of runs from Jamie definitely helped set the stage for the finish so hats off to him for his outstanding abilities as a runner. Cam dominated me on the bike putting in somewhere around 4-5 minutes on me over the course of 3 laps. One of these days I'll get a little faster and maybe see if I can give him a better run. I can't wait to do it again next year!

Photos borrowed from SteveSquirrel, Courtney, and Mike S.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

IMBCS #8 Mullet Classic race report

The last IMBCS race of the season fell in October which mostly would put a period on a rather long seeming season for me. I'd like to say I finally found my groove by the end of the season, but that wouldn't be reality.

IMBCS #8 at Ahquabi State park was renamed the Mullet Classic for this year. The course was roughly the same as previous years with the addition of some very freshly cut "singletrack" areas. I use the term singletrack loosely because I'm not exactly sure what that stuff was other than soul sucking, soft, and alternately rough as all get out. The race called for an expert class length of 5 laps roughly equaling 40 miles and making this our own local version of the famed Fat Tire 40 held in Chequamegon, WI. The race was semi mass start but broken up in waves to give a little space for the 150+ racers at this years event. Turnout was spectacular to say the least.

The experts lined up to start first. We sat around for a couple minutes contemplating the pain about to be bestowed upon as with a fast, hilly, and rough course laid out.

The whistle blew and we were off like a shot. I actually felt pretty decent at the start of the race, which hasn't been the case for most of the season. We hit the first few climbs with some fast flats in between and I let the fast guys go as my legs were still warming up. I was going to try to roll this race like last year and slowly up my effort over each lap since that led me to a win previously. As I got about halfway into the lap, I started catching the tail end of the lead group and passed a few guys. Soon enough I was sitting roughly in 4th overall. Barring a major catastrophe, there wasn't any way I'd catch the front 3 as all are in another league from me in regards to strength and speed. I kept pushing and realized I was going too hard to sustain that level of effort, so I backed it down just a shade.

The new and extremely rough sections followed up by a series of painful climbs right before the finish had me a little ragged by the time 1 lap was down. Lap 2 found me backing it down even more, but I was still maintaining a pretty good pace and holding position within 1 or 2 places. Unfortunately, I could feel things all ready starting to unravel a bit. I kept on it and finished out the lap and hit lap 3. I started to feel that wall creeping up on lap 3 and by the time I hit the finish line at the end of the lap, I knew it was pretty much over. I'd lost a couple more spots and was barely turning the pedals over. By the time I got halfway into the lap, I was spent and decided to pull the plug. It was another DNF for me. I'm not sure what was going on, but the fun factor was completely gone and all I wanted was to be off the bike and resting/recouping. Definitely not a proud moment for me, but its about how the season has gone overall.

Overall, this is a great race and one I'll be back to try and conquer again next year, but I just didn't have it on that day. Due to dogged determination, I managed to finish 4th in the expert series points this year, but the really doesn't reflect the quality of my racing. I felt like I survived in most races and even gave up in two rather than actually racing them like last year. The step from sport to expert class racing was more than I trained for this year. I still couldn't have made it through without help from Rasmussen Bike Shop as my main sponsor. Additional support from Ergon Grips and their killer product definitely kept my hands in good shape this year even if the rest of my body failed a few different times.

Monday, October 25, 2010

24 hours of 7 Oaks- 2010 race report

Labor Day rolled around to find another installment of 24 hours of 7 Oaks. Once again, I had marked it on my calendar as a goal race for the year. After last year's resounding success racing the 4 man format with some talented teammates, we set our sites on hoping for a repeat this year. A couple weeks before we were to race, Nate unfortunately had to drop out with some conflicts in his schedule. We were lucky enough to recruit another skilled rider in the form of Bill F aka Wild Bill. While he hadn't been racing or training much this year, he's just one of those guys that shows up and can put the hurt on you anyway. With the rest of our team staying the same including myself, Jason, and Tom; we still felt pretty good about our chances.

I rolled the shop truck up to Boone early on Saturday to get things set up and prepped for the race. Shortly, a number of other Rassy's guys showed up and pitched in on getting things up to snuff for supporting those of us racing.

Rassy van and support:

We got registered and it was time to wait for the show to begin.

Ready to rock?:

What race would be complete without a bit of drama though? It would seem I managed to yet again forget my shoes back in Des Moines. Luckily, my mom happened to be watching the girls and was able to run them up to me. Thank goodness for moms! As a bonus, the girls got a chance to watch my first lap as well before they had to head home. We set up in the same rotation as last year with Jason wanting the lead off leg that involved a short sprint to his bike before a lung searing climb up the gravel road before dropping into a short section of singletrack. From there, its on to a full lap before swapping out to the next rider.

Run Forest run:

I could see Jason the first trip through the finish area at the start of his full lap and he had major company in the form of the hard charging 2nd place team from Peoria last year. We'd been watching them do some warm ups and it appeared they'd retooled their team by 1 or 2 guys with some heavier hitters. Sure enough, the guys was right with Jason and came in a dead heat for the hand off to Bill. Bill hit it hard out of the gate and I was hoping he'd manage to put a bit of time on where we could at least get out of site. As the minutes ticked off, here came the Peoria rider into the transition chute. Bill was nowhere to be seen. A couple minutes go by and Bill comes flying in. Tom is now in chase mode with Peoria out in front and us leading by another minute or two over any other racers. Bill had flatted out on course. He was running tubeless, but hadn't checked his setup for a while meaning there wasn't enough sealant left in the tire to keep it from flatting. Was this an omen to come?

Tom pushed hard and gets back about half the time on his rider sending me out with a minute or so deficit to try and make up. The game plan was to push it hard, but keep it clean figuring that we could run them down over a few laps and get out time back on the right side. All was going well into the first half of the course. I could see my guy in a number of sections and had him roughly 30 seconds out. I slowly started closing that gap and was really railing the trail. I came through a fast right hand sweeper pushing hard and suddenly I was sliding across the ground. The entire trail bed gave way as a solid chunk of sand and had slid out from under my tire. I went down hard on my right knee, but didn't cause any major damage to myself or the bike so I hopped back on and started cranking over the pedals in anger. I got back to about 30 seconds but the front rider had seen me closing and put all he had into staying away. I couldn't close any further on my lap.

First blood:

By all appearances, the guy Jason went out after was probably their strongest rider. Jason went out on the hunt, but we lost another minute on them. 5 laps down and we're all ready a couple minutes back. This seems awfully familiar for some reason. the 2nd round of laps go by and we're sitting a few minutes back still. It seems like every lap we're charging hard, but not really gaining anything. If nothing else, we're slowly losing time to Peoria. There are a few teams still within striking distance of us, but we've pretty much got a lock on the top couple of spots with the talent on both teams.

The third rotation starts and its getting dark out. We start the night lapping and I renew some hope that we can pull some time back on Peoria. I know last year we started adding multiple minutes per lap during the night. Only a failed light kept us from having a full lap advantage by morning last year. It was my turn for a night lap and I hit the gas hoping for a surge of adrenaline like last year. Sadly, I was still pretty flat. I felt good on course, but never had the same snap as last years super fast night lap. I was riding clean through 75% of the course when I caught a large root wrong and went down hard again. I hear the tire burp some air which isn't a good thing. As I picked myself up, I could hear air escaping from my front tire through a puncture as well. I was running tubeless as well so I figured the faster I started rolling, the faster the sealant would patch the hole and all would be good.

Hmm, I'm rolling along and the front tire seems pretty squishy. I figure the air lost between the burp and the leak must have put me down to 10-15 lbs. Not very ideal, but good enough that I could roll it faster than stopping to hit it with CO2 so I kept trucking. Sure enough, a mile down the trail and I'm trying to pick my way through a sandy corner and the tire grips, burps, and slides out. Now its basically flat and I have no choice but to hit it with a shot of CO2. Add in that I've now got a bunch of grass and weeds sticking out between the rim and tire and I'm not having a good night so far. Luckily the tire is still seated and the air gets me moving in under a minute even if it seems like hours.

I'm rolling once more and now the tire is a bit better, but slowly I can feel it going down again. Arrgggh! I've succumbed to the same mistake Bill made in not checking my sealant level for quite some time. I'm out of sealant and the puncture is spewing air faster than I can finish out the last mile. I ride the tire until its nearly flat and I'm muscling it through every turn out on a flat section. I finally stop to put my next cartridge of CO2 in before I have to drop into the final technical singletrack section on the way to the finish area. One more time the tire has an acceptable level of air in it and I bomb down to the finish just hoping I can pedal faster than the air is escaping. I make it to the grass switchbacks and my bike is reduced to steering like a tractor as the tire is flat again. I've made it and hand off to Jason before heading back to the truck to survey the damages.

Thanks to some help from Courtney (whole I also stole some of these pictures from) we were able to peal back the tire from the rim to remove almost all of the dirt, grass, and junk I'd packed into the bead. Then we popped the bead loose just enough to slop more sealant into the tire. After that, it was off to the pumping races. Courtney went to town on the pump while I manipulated the tire just enough that the bead sealed and we were able to pop it back on the rim. Now that my own issues were fixed, it was time to survey the damages. Beyond another bang to the body by going down, we'd lost more time, and it was starting to look like our night laps were staying about as consistent as they day laps in dropping time to Peoria. There was still some hope as we were about a half lap down or so at this point, but it was going to take a mechanical or something on their part for us to gain that much back.

We decided the next round would be a double lap so everyone could grab some sleep. I steeled myself for waiting for the next lap, rode a quiet lap and headed to bed with 4 laps under my belt. I drifted off to a fitful sleep tossing and turning for quite a while. I was hoping by the time I had to do my double lap, it would be light again. It was closing in on it by the time I started my 2nd lap, but I still needed lights for almost half the lap. About this point, I was paying attention to things other than the trail and my fatigue caught up with my skills. I dropped my front tire into a hole that I'd been sneaking around the rest of the laps and didn't have the strength to pull it back out. I endoed over the bars and founds myself laying on the singletrack before I could even think about what was happening. I got gingerly back on and tried to focus on going fast again, but the body and mind were rebelling.

By that point, I could see again and finally could see someone in my rear view. Sure enough, Peoria was finally lapping us nearly 20 hours into the race. For those keeping tabs, that put them at roughly 2 minutes per lap faster over the course of 24 laps. Remember that deja-vu feeling I had? It's almost identical to what we did to them last year with the exception of the one light failure that set us back nearly 15 minutes. Indeed, they were doing to us what we'd done to them the previous year. I had no energy left to chase my rabbit coming to the end of my double lap. As I came into the pits, we all knew it was done. To keep our position, we decided another full rotation was needed so Jason hit the trail again. I crashed back at the truck and waited for one more turn behind the bars. Our overnight party crowd had left a bit of stuff spread about.

Morning mess:

Tom came in happy to be done and sent me out for the final hurrah. I tried to press hard, but the motivation and energy levels just weren't there. I managed to keep my pace respectable, but knowing there wasn't much left to shoot for other than finishing out my lap, I wasn't driving hard. I rolled through and was quite thrilled to be finished. The team had taken down most of the gear and were in process of stowing it away. We finished the task and waited for the payouts and awards. Peoria gave us what for and actually put a 2nd lap on us while we were pacing out our last round and ended up with 30 versus our 28. An exact reversal of last year.

Last lap:

I think there were a number of things that played into our finish this year. The obvious thing was mechanicals. We had a single incident last year versus a number of items this year. I'm not sure they made a huge time difference versus last year, but when the competition gets out of site, it seems 10x as hard to reel them back in. It happened to Peoria last year and we never looked back, the same can be said about us for this year. Luck is a fickle thing. Course conditions also played a factor this year. A very wet and muddy summer left the course in much rougher and wetter shape than last year. There were several mudholes, rough reroutes, and even a run-up that had to be dealt with this year. We also were able to have previously ridden the full course for the XC race last year so our time advantage on knowing the course was a little greater.

Things were a bit muddy this year:

Lastly, it appeared to me that as a team we weren't as hungry for the win this year. We came in unassuming last year and just threw everything we had at every single lap in a win it or bin type style. It was go big or go home for sure. This year, it seemed like we were going after it in a more controlled approach. We got behind and figured we could ease back our time instead of attacking and risking blowing up. I know that like the rest of my year has gone, the snap didn't seem to be in my legs. I turned some good laps, but never really felt like every lap was a winner. Hopefully we'll get a chance for another rematch next year as I think we can put that snap back and give it a hard run.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

IMBCS #9 Sugarbottom Scramble race report

The last Sunday in August found me caravaning over to the wilds of Iowa City/Coralville for the next installment of our state series. I had ridden exactly 2 laps of Sugarbottom prior to this race and those were closing in on a year ago. Basically, the course was mostly new to me with the exception of a couple spots that were memorable for their level of difficulty. We arrived in plenty of time to watch the beginners race and warm-up. I managed to find ways to kill time other than doing a proper warm-up and really only got about 15 minutes in and didn't even pre-ride any of the singletrack. So far the day is shaping up as hot and I haven't really gotten into the groove.

Finally, we hit the line up with the 2nd largest field of Cat 1's I'd lined up with all season. With all the big guns and a surprise visit by Jason McCartney, I predestined myself for a back of the pack attack. The starter sent us off and I felt great for about 200 yards and then we hit the gravel hill that led into the singletrack. My legs almost shut down completely. I shot backwards about as fast as I was going forwards. As I ground my way up the hill, I went into the track near the back of the pack. At least I was in good company as I could see a few recognizable faces around me reminding me that I wasn't the only one who suffered on the fast openers.

Early in:

With 3 laps staring us in the face and close to 3 hours ahead, I tried my best not to blow it up right out of the gate. I stayed glued onto several wheels in front of me with Matt G being directly in front. A few hiccups and he was now leading the train with me sitting 2nd wheel. By his nature, Matt is a distance rider and wasn't quite carrying the speed I wanted to early on. I made my way around him about midway through the first third of lap 1. Shouting words of encouragement up to me, I started riding like I'd put a blindfold on. I bombed down the wrong side of a rooty descent and nearly lost my fillings. I then made my best move and tried to ride straight through a caution tape barrier. I slammed on my brakes and had to wait for about 4 riders to shoot past before jumping back on track. Caution be damned, I started turning myself further inside out determined to catch back onto the pack. Towards the first part of the north side or about 2/3 into the lap I finally caught back up to Matt and Tom. I held my own for a bit, but ten they slowly gapped me on one of the short steeps.

Getting the beat down already:

Trying to get back on their wheels, I plowed through an uphill switchback only to hit a stump on the uphill side of the switchback. Down I went and my bike was stuck to me like wet toilet paper. I couldn't get out from under it with my bottom foot still clipped in. Now I was becoming trail debris as the women's leader in the form of Kim Eppen came flying up to where I was helplessly flailing about. I did everything short of actually get out of her way. I finally resigned myself to the fact that she would have to ride over me and that's exactly what happened. However, she managed to also fall during that move, but got back up and took off. Finally, I was able to extricate myself and got back on the bike. I took off slowly trying to get my head back in the game and slowly pedaled myself back into it. Just as I started going well again, I noted a woman was running her bike along the trail in front of me. Sure enough, it was Kim again. As I rode past I asked what she needed and it was a CO2 as she'd burped her front tire. I quickly offered up a hit from my CO2 which instantly aired the tire up and she was down the trail less than 30 seconds later. I figured that was pretty good for my karma.

The last hard section of the trail was cyclocross hill. You can hear the hecklers from some distance away as most riders will eventually have to walk the steepest pitch of the hill. Clearing it requires a bit of cunning as you have to maintain all your momentum from the previous downhill and charge up the other side with near reckless abandon. Last year I walked the upper part of the hill on both attempts. I found myself shifting to a harder gear at the top, using the momentum to get on top of that gear, and then as I hit bottom turning the highest cadence I possibly could. I felt like I was flying as I went up the far side of the bank. I had tons of momentum as I cleared the top and took off down the trail like it was barely a blip on the radar. Clearing cyclocross hill on all 3 laps was probably the highlight of my day.

The laps were passing slowly with the heat sucking the life out of me in every sun filled section. Thanks to TJ though, I was getting perfect bottle handups each lap which kept me going. I wound my way through lap 2 and stopped to help one more competitor in the form of Robin Williams who had been running in 2nd when a rear derailleur issue sidelined her near the furthest away point on the course. I stopped to lend her a multi-tool and hopped back on the bike to keep plugging away. I managed to pass another rider or two on this lap and started feeling a bit better about myself.

The final lap hit and I was nearly 2 hours into this thing all ready. Someone wiser than me had said racing here was more about survival than winning. At my level of skill, I was pretty sure he was spot on with that analysis. The roots and technical terrain were eating up my back and leg power. I made a few technical mistakes on this lap that had me frustrated and walking small pieces of trail. Even more annoying though were several things attacking my senses. My hands felt like they were burning up. I've never had issues with my hands being hot and now I was nearly an hour from being done and it felt like I needed to rip my gloves off and dunk my hands in an ice bath. I started getting a shiver every now and then as well. I knew the heat was really starting to kick my butt. And the final piece of insanity was I had the stupid f'ing jingle from the KFC "so S-O G-double O-D good" running on a non-stop loop in my head.

As I neared the end of the ride, the heat was overbearing and I was trying to devise some way to rapidly cool myself off. Jumping in the like seemed like a viable option other than it would involve more pedaling to get there. Finally, I figured out a plan and set it into motion as soon as I hit the finish line. I think it worked out pretty well:

Side shot (no my head wasn't in Maria's lap) but she was nice enough to rub ice on my neck:

I soaked my head in ice water at the bottom of my cooler for what felt like forever, but was really only a couple minutes. It definitely helped cool me down quickly, but didn't account for the damage that had all ready been done. I spent most of the next hour or two feeling on the verge of throwing up and walking around nursing as much liquid as I could get in. I did manage to finish out in 10th out of 17 starters so I was at least happy that as bad as my day felt, it was still an average day.

Photo credits to Angy,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Race report- IMBCS #7 Seven Oaks

The frenzy of summer is slowly cooling down and with it, I'm finally finding some time and motivation (the latter being more scarce) to write a few updates. My season has been a fickle one, but all in all, I've managed to find some positive points in each of my races and continue to work on my form and fitness. I also managed to squeeze in a trip to Breckenridge and a 24 hour race in here as well, but I'll try to get the low down on those put up separately as they both deserve individual attention.

The Seven Oaks race is always a tough one. I spoke about it in an almost awe like state after racing the beginner race here a scant 2 seasons back. Now I find myself lining up with the big boys in Cat 1 and wonder what the hell I've gotten myself into. I know the course is a tough SOB and has no mercy. On the other hand with this year being wetter than most, we found the course in only partially passable conditions. The course was therefore shortened to the wicked opening climb and then popped out on the upper beginner loop which has most of the fast and flowy sections without many of the steep pitches or hard obstacles.

As with most of my races this year and in years past, my opening salvo off the start has been less than spectacular. I headed into the woods near the back of the expert field with only a couple female riders behind me. We all rolled pretty well into the first section before hitting the one hard switchback on the upper loop. Sure enough, my lack of time riding technical obstacles came around and bit me hard as I failed to negotiate the switchback (in part due to the person in front of me failing it too). I flopped backwards down the trail banging myself hard on the ground and dropping the chain off my bike. After remounting the both, I shot back off the trail like a scalded cat chastising myself for not keeping right side up. The next switchback is one I've never had issue with, but the rider in front of me again spun a tire and slowed me up just enough that I spun and tipped over again. This time I managed to snag a pointy root and tore a large hole in my bibs. I think at this point I was more pissed about the clothing than being on the ground again. I got my bearings back together and slowly rolled back to the tail end of the riders.

Post snag repair:

Log Ride

Trying to focus

The race was a scant 6 laps long with average laps in the 16:45 range for me. It ended up feeling more like a Cat 2 race with the short distance/time and the temps were near perfect. I managed to find my legs near the end of the race, but failing yet another time on the first switchback and a few other bobbles had already left me too far back on the day and unable to real in many people.

I did slow down a bit the last couple laps noting my rear tire felt a bit "squishy". A couple weeks later, I went to change out for some different rubber to use in Colorado and found some souvenirs.

5 total thorns:

I ended up 10th overall and 8th in class with only a few people behind me. I felt good at the end of the race, but left a lot on the table and a lot that needs changed. I knew that I needed to work on my technical skills for sure considering I was cleaning the course on multiple laps last year. I also need a lot of work on wedging myself further up in the start sequence. A couple of my spills were at least in part due to where I placed myself in the opening line up and being behind riders that I shouldn't have been.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The long road to reality

While most of us will never race our bikes for a living or for international fame and fortune, I think most of us have some little spark in our heads that we can always be better. We're one weekly training session away from destroying the field at the next race, we're a few watts shy of watching everyone crack on the local training rides, we're just a pound or two heavy to mop up on the hills. It's thoughts like this that drive many of us racers to pound ourselves into mush just about every time we clip in. On one hand, these thoughts are our motivators and enablers to keep us on the bike and working towards our goals, but looking the other way, how much does this idea of making ourselves stronger and faster drive a wedge between us and reality.

I've struggled more this year with this diametrically opposed set of circumstances than in the past. I think with my little taste of a successful race season last year and an early season win, it fueled me onward like an addict looking for the next fix. Then reality came crashing in and I felt flat on my face. My training spiraled downward to where I was riding, but not training, I DNF'd, I fatigued, and I realized that the reality is I need to find a better balance. I had to really step back and take a long view of how everything was evolving around me and see if I was anywhere near the track I needed to be on. The quick answer at first glance was that I was nowhere near where I planned to be. Looking a little deeper, I tried to figure out where I got off track and why was I still heading in what felt like the wrong direction.

As I touched on earlier, a taste of success can be a dangerous thing. Over the winter, I was determined to come out of the gates hard and was putting in the training to go with it. After bagging the first race of the season it just stoked the fire that much more. I tried to dig in harder only to realize that as more outdoor riding weather approached, so did a lack of focus in my training. I just wanted to go out and ride my bike. Sure I was putting in hard efforts, but I wasn't smart about it. I was just burning myself into the ground every chance I got. Slowly, but surely, other things started to creep in. The duties that were mostly shirked over the winter started becoming more important items on my list of items to complete. Our young family had increased by one since the end of last race season which demanded more of my time. Everything was slowly piling on and while I was making a valiant effort to keep everything lifted, I didn't see that I was sinking further into the ground below me with the weight I was carrying.

My training, racing, and general attitude have been yo-yoing back and forth the past few months. It's left me feeling flat over all aspects of my life and has been reflected in both my mental and physical wellness. I was motivated by my friend George while on vacation in California where he took me on a little ride to get my butt back in gear and start training more once we returned. I carried that motivation into the rest of June and was just starting to feel good about my form again when my body decided it was time to revolt. I caught a cough/cold that has lasted on and off for 2+ weeks and has sapped my energy. My list of projects to start or complete finally began overwhelming me as well. This combined grind was dragging me down. Toss in that my original racing focus for the year was to move up in class to compete in the experts in mountain bikes and it all came to a head.

I'm slowly coming to the reality that is where I should be setting my sites. Looking at the things I need to accomplish versus want to accomplish, I have to draw a line and shift my focus. I've been indulging myself to the point of sickness with my wants list while paying minimal attention to the needs. For the time being, I've scaled back my bike plans to focus on a single race for the rest of the season as a true goal. The 24 Hours of 7 Oaks is my focus and once its done in early September, I'm going to make a big shift into attacking the needs list. I've always had a bad habit of leaving projects unfinished and the majority of my time is going into these projects. I'm hopeful that over the winter I can make a big dent in this list. I'm hoping that once I strike a better balance I'll slowly be able to take away the stress of having so much imbalance between my wants and needs. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

IMBCS #4- Summerset shootout race report

The Summerset shootout was my first race last year moving into the Cat 2 (sport) class. I finished pretty respectably in 9th or so overall and 3rd in class. It was my kickoff to what may be the best season I'll ever have. Things would definitely be a bit changed up for this year's installment. Not only would I find myself up in the Cat 1 class doing more laps, due to flooding, all of our laps would be on the northern section of trails which happen to be all of the climbing. 7 laps of the north side was the call for around 20.5 miles of racing with steep, tight, and technical singletrack punctuated with a small road section where the big motors could really crank it up.

As we lined up for the start, the field looked pretty small. I was surrounded by a good number of teammates flying the Rasmussen flag. Fine by me, I thought as it meant I didn't have to contend with as many fist fights getting a good position in the track. I figured with a good sense of the trails, I'd have something of an advantage over the out of towners and I wasn't looking forward to attempting passes on the north side. Someone raised the question to see if all the course reroutes from the beginner and junior races had been pulled. The answer was affirmative so we set ourselves and took off. The opening road section strung out the pack slightly and I headed in about mid pack. The leaders were pulling away just a bit when suddenly I found myself right back among them at the entrance to the first climb. Sure enough, not all the course markings were pulled and one of the leaders had wrapped caution tape and a metal stake up in his drivetrain causing all but a couple to stop.


We hit the first climb and I felt pretty decent having gotten a fair warmup in. I was chasing Alread's wheel and when he bobbled one of the steepest pitches and had to put a foot down, I road around him. The leader's had checked out by this point and I settled into my pace. Unfortunately, the north side doesn't allow you to recover anywhere on the singletrack. If you're not climbing, you're descending through some fast and rough sections with lots of little tecnhnical challenges that keep you tense. I wrapped up the first lap in a shade over 18 minutes. The lap went pretty well and although it was hot, I felt good. Laps 2 and 3 ripped off pretty equally in time, but by the end of lap 3 I'd been passed by the lead sport rider, Neil, who was absolutely crushing the course.

Still cruising

Running on empty

By the start of lap 4, I was paying a toll for my pacing. I'd been going harder than I thought and my body was most definitely letting me know. My time dropped to over 20 minutes for this lap and I began to wonder if another DNF was on the horizon. I really didn't want that to be on my record, but the demoralizing nature of the course was pounding me into submission quickly. Another lap and another minute slower. By lap 6 I was pretty sure I was last place in the expert field and desparately just trying to finish out. My slowest lap was 6 at just over 25 minutes. I walked pretty much all of the bigger climbs (4ish spots) on this lap. I was feeling pretty low. Lap 7 I got a shade more energy and dropped back into the mid 23 minute range as I only walked 1 or 2 of the climbs. I finished DFL in the expert field, but I finished.

Completely out of gas:

The UGLY side of racing:

I managed to finish 3rd in class because the others in my class DNF'd. At least I made it to a podium spot... I've got to say that my goals and expectations for the year have made a pretty big flip flop. I've gone from thinking I might be a mid pack rider to just hoping I can finish the alotted number of laps and retain my sanity at the end. It's been a huge leap for me this year. I'm definitely going back to the training drawing board come fall/winter, but for now it's hold on and run with it. I appreciate all that my sponsors have done to help me get this far- Rassy's, Ergon, and Oakley, but now I need to get my engine up to snuff.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Almanzo 100 race report- 2010 version

This is my 3rd year racing 100 miles of gravel in the wilds of Rochester, Minnesota. I was hoping this year would be my turn to tame the course that has managed to leave me feeling broken and battered in the previous installments. While my fitness and strength are ahead of previous years, I'm completely and utterly lacking in any long miles. There's one thing I've learned the hard way and that is many hours of short duration hard efforts don't easily translate into long days of endurance pace in the saddle. Sure you've got a fitness base, but after a couple short hours, that goes out the window and it's up to muscle memory gained during those long slogs. Ready or not, I was headed up with a few good friends to share the party and pain that are an integral part of this race.

Loaded up mommy van:

Squirrel, Fuller, Maria, and I met up Friday afternoon for the 3ish hour jaunt up to the race. Once in Rochester we quickly checked into our digs and got ready to roll back out two wheel style. We rolled down to the bar where pre-race check-in was going down. Chris and his band of merry volunteers were there greeting us with all the goodness that is packed into this race. Alas, us Iowans aren't used to needing to lock our bikes and we'd all neglected to bring the necessary hardware to do so. So, we opted for the next best thing and hauled all our bikes up to the 2nd floor bar area so we could stand watch while downing a few barely flavored waters. As the crowd grew, we all made some new friends and enjoyed a few more brews. Finally, my stomach said enough and was threatening to strike if I didn't feed it soon. Off we went in search of a suitable pre-race feast. The consensus was that we could hit the Famous Daves attached to the hotel. Before we could endeavor down such a path though, we needed more refreshments. A quick stop off at the beverage shop made sure our pallets would stay whetted as long as need be.

Bevvie run:

As the evening wore on, we prudently went to bed at a reasonable hour. With the start time moved back slightly, we were able to fully enjoy a good breakfast at the hotel before loading back up and heading to Spring Valley where the race has found a new home. As we pulled into the school parking lot, we were greeted by the site of several hundred cyclists getting ready to embark on a day full of fun, pain, and adventure. We finished our preparations, dropped our bags for the checkpoint, and headed up to the start line to chat with friends or in my case pace nervously about. I lined up around 5 rows back from the front knowing roughly where to cede myself.

Busy start line:

From the start the pace was pretty brisk, but I didn't feel like it was quite out of control. I yo-yoed in between the front pack and a smaller 2nd pack until we hit the first downhill a couple miles in. Knowing the size of the group and being pretty sure we were going down a pretty wild descent, I kept my speed in check expecting chaos. Sure enough, about 2/3 of the way down, bikes and bodies were stretched from ditch to ditch. I slowed up being sure to not stop and lend myself to the carnage, but took a look to see if everyone looked to be covered with care. While the scene was pretty gnarly, it looked like most escaped the worst or were being tended to so I rolled on with the lead pack now having opened a gap on the rest of us.

Smiling about early on:

We rolled off through undulating terrain that had a combination of most hill types from rollers to steeps to extended climbs along with some screaming fast downhills. I hit a max of 42 mph on one of these descents. Considering I'm a pretty conservative descender and even moreso on gravel, I heard tale of people hitting near 50 on some of the faster spots. I remember feeling pretty good for the first 40 or so miles and was working my way through nourishment and enjoying the ride. Then my legs started aching. I don't necessarily think it was the effort as I hadn't really pounded them hard anywhere, but the aching became progressively worse until the muscles were just screaming at me.

I tagged onto a few groups here and there, but eventually as I worked my way to the checkpoint, more and more riders would pass and leave me in the dust. I think I'd been sitting in the top 20-30 riders before the legs started heading south, but now I figured I'd been passed by another 20 or so riders. I worked my way down to the final directions on the cue sheet and noted the checkpoint was coming up. I felt like the last few miles into the checkpoint drug on forever as I'd been expecting it for so long. I finally rolled in and started digging into my drop bag for more nutrition, bottles, and some ibuprofen. Even with the leg aches, I still felt the best I'd ever had in the past 3 years rolling into the checkpoint. Definitely a bonus in my book. I was taking my time waiting for the drugs to kick when Fuller rolled in about 10 minutes back of me. Squirrel was another 5 minutes back and came in shouting for the beer he'd placed in the checkpoint cooler.

I decided to enjoy my respite and roll off whenever they were ready. All told, I spent a shade over 20 minutes at the checkpoint and enjoyed pretty much every second of it. Looking at the results, it wouldn't really have made much of a difference if I'd been out in 2 minutes or 20 minutes so I'm not beating myself up too bad about the amount of time I took. The 3 of us rolled out through the park enjoying some pavement until we saw where we were headed. Up, up, up was the name of the game as we exited the park on an extended pavement climb. I'd been rolling the hills pretty steady all day and just put my head down and started cranking over the pedals. I slowly rolled off the front with another rider that had joined our group. I figured the rest would latch back on as soon as we crested the hill, but instead we rolled on alone.

Leaving the checkpoint:

I paced myself out and started the slow game of reeling in or being passed by one rider at a time. Finally, we rolled down into the water crossing area Chris had told us about. It didn't look ridable and I wasn't in any mood to chance a full on bath, so I hopped off and enjoyed cooling my feet in the refreshingly icy water.  Out the other side and we were treated to another climb through what appeared to be a mostly abandoned old quarry area.

"Dry" water crossing:

Heading up through the quarry area:

Rolling up the next to last climb:

As we neared the last 10 miles, my spidey senses kicked in and I was pretty sure I knew where we were and where we were headed. Sure enough, we looped back into the first section of the course. We headed back to the downhill that was the site of the pileup and now became a long grinding climb out of the valley. I caught the final rider I would pass here and decided it was time to pour it all out over the last couple of miles. We'd been passing each other back and forth to this point, but I was bound to have the last pass and make it stick. One more climb that I clawed my way up and it was flat all the way back to the school and finish line. As in years past, the previous finishers were hanging around to cheer on those rolling in and Chris was there with a big smile, handshake, and congratulations. I finished it out in 53rd spot with a total ride of 6:45. Squirrel and Fuller rolled in a scant 6 minutes back of me after having chased me for a bit after that opening climb I'd gapped them on.

Race rig:

Best race yet:

All in all, Almanzo 100 is still one of my favorite races and I hope to keep doing it for years to come. The combination of people, course, and challenge all work in near perfect harmony to create what every race should aspire to be. Thanks Chris!

The face of a satisfied rider:

Some photos stolen from here

Monday, May 10, 2010

IMBCS #3 Ingawanis race report

Hopefully this report is a bit more punctual than the last few I've filed on a delayed basis. The IMBC series struck up again this weekend with the Ingawanis race near Waverly. This was my first race back from Colorado last year and one of the more fun races I'd done up to that point. Looking back, its still one of the more fun races I've been to. The terrain is a great mix of flats, rolling terrain, and some definite technical features from rocks, drops, and steeps both up and down. The perfect makings for a race course. I've got a whole other post in mind about my changing expectations for this race season, but suffice it to say, I've seriously downgraded my goals to the following: finish, don't be last, and don't crash. The last one is optional as sometimes its just not in the cards to stay blood free. I managed to meet all of my goals at this race, so I figure it must have been a success.

Maria, Jordan, Kurt, and I gathered together early for a carpool ride up from Des Moines to Waverly. After a few stops along the way we made it in plenty of time for a preride before the beginners were sent on their merry way. Kurt and I tooled along checking out the terrain and all was relatively pedestrian until we hit the small rock garden section. I bobbled, stopped, and unclipped for a pretty slow trot through and wondered if I'd do any better come race time. After that, we rode the rest of the course and found some more areas that would thrill come race time. The lap ended up being a shade under 6 miles with 500' of climbing per lap. With the experts slated for 4 laps, I knew pacing would be key for me.

As we waited around for the line up and start, I began to feel a bit more nervous than usual. My head wasn't really in the right place for racing. That's something a little new for me to deal with. I'm usually pretty fired up and the butterflies are just a fleeting instance before the sensation of being ready to throw down sets in. That wasn't the case today as I was still pretty tepid feeling at the line up. I slotted myself at the back of the pack and when they dropped the flag, I pedaled off in no real hurry. My legs were pretty dead feeling even with the pre-ride as I'd been off the bike for a few days before the race. The starting climb up the gravel road and into the singletrack found me dead last in the men's expert field and having a couple of the stronger ladies slotted in front of me as well in the form of Robin and Sandy from Mercy/Specialized.

The opening downhill woke me up a bit and I worked my way up a couple spots in the first open passing section and was now past 1 lady and 1 guy. So far so good as I had Robin and team mate Jason squarely in my sites. I knew Jason would be pacing well as he had done it with success at Sylvan and passed me after about 4 laps in the race. I figured I could key off of him and mark his pace as something to match. I rode well, but within my limits on all of lap 1 hanging pretty close to the 2 wheels in front of me. Robin offered the pass, but I was pretty content to sit where I was.

Downhilling it:

We came around for lap 2 and I felt pretty decent at this point. I was rolling the downhills pretty well, but the flats were leaving me trailing off the back with a severe lack of power and the uphills were just rolling ok. I had no snap what-so-ever on the flat sections and never could get in the climbing mindset where I was willing to turn myself inside out so I'd just cruise up them rather than hammer. Mid way through lap 2 btoh Robin and Jason opened up a small gap on me and I could close it somewhat at various points, but never got back on their wheels.

My rabbits:

Into lap 3 and I was feeling pretty even. I grabbed a gel as I eased my way up the gravel road opening climb again. I was pretty well alone at this point with both my rabbits out of my line of sight for the most part. I started rolling the downhills with a little more authority and really felt like I nailed the opening combination for the first time. That is until I hit the bottom and had to slam on my brakes to avoid missing the turn. My focus lapsed for a second and I nearly rode straight through the caution tape barrier. All my momentum from the downhill was now gone with the squeeze of a lever and I had to push hard to get back up to speed. I started trying to feel the rhythm of the course at this point and used the flow to help push a bit harder. I little more corner speed and pushing a little harder on the straights seemed to work for me. As the lap progressed I slowly reeled Robin back in. I had one section of rolling terrain along the top of a ridge where I'd really been riding fast and used this to work right back on to her wheel. I finally took the pass about 2/3 through the lap and pushed a bit to open a gap. I could still see Jason rolling along roughly 30 seconds up and had all but given up on catching him.

My turn on the bridge:


Lap 4 was more of the same. I still didn't clean the 1st rock garden as I always bobbled and would unclip somewhere. I nailed the downhills pretty well and just turned the pedals over on the uphills. As we wound our way to the last 1/4 mile or so of trail, I saw Jason up ahead and he appeared to be walking. I blew it off and figured he was just standing to crank up a hill. Then I got to the final clearing about 150 yards until the finish and could see him slowly jogging his bike along with some sort of mechanical. Hoping to snag one more spot, I sprinted it out with him to the finish. I'd like to say my sprint was strong enough to outrun a guy pushing his bike, but alas, Jason bested me across the line by a scant couple of seconds. All in all a fun way to end a pretty good couple hours on the bike.

Digging for the sprint:

Mid sprint:

Beat by a guy with no chain:

I looked at my numbers post race on the garmin and everything looked consistent until the last lap. It appears I dropped off a full minute, but that doesn't seem right as it sure didn't feel like I was that much slower in any section. I averaged towards the bottom of my zone 4 heart rate with a 170 bpm, and we rode 23.6 miles and 2100' of climbing. I had my pacing down pretty well, but in retrospect, it was a shade too mellow. I'm not sure if that was something I did intentionally or more of a response to how I was feeling at the start. I barely peaked into zone 5 the whole time which means I rode really consistently for output and effort. I was tired and my legs were plenty sore at the end, but I wasn't nearly as dead as I've felt in previous races.

Pics from here