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,