Friday, October 21, 2011

Dakota Five-O Race Report

Race data

Race results

My "A" race for the season this year ended up being the Dakota Five-O. Of course, I think thats a bit of a misnomer in itself as I usually try to treat every race I'm going to pony up cash to participate in as an "A" race. If you're not going to give it your all, why are you on the line? I digress, it was still my most looked forward to race of the year for multiple reasons. A number of friends have headed to the wilds of Spearfish over the previous years and come back to tales of how undeniably awesome this race was. Add in that it would be my biggest race ever in respect to the number of participants, my first big race on the singlespeed, racing against a bunch of friends and you've got a serious recipe for wanting to have a great race.

Iowa peeps representin'

As luck would have it, my wife and girls were able to join me for the trip and turn this into our family vacation as well. We took off Thursday so we could make an overnight trip out of the 12 hour drive so the girls wouldn't get too cooped up in the car. I was planning to get there Friday in time to do a solid pre-ride for part of the course and then go back out on Saturday for a light spin of the legs and a little more recon. For me, it proved to be the perfect plan. Friday, I got dropped off at the Tinton trailhead opting to skip the opening 3ish mile gravel climb that would be part of the start. I've got plenty of gravel experience so climbing 3 miles worth of it wasn't going to gain me anything over driving it. I really wanted to check out this sweet singletrack I'd been hearing so much about.

Race prep had me looking at various elevation charts and distances to time stations, etc. I figured a good warm up would be to ride to the first aid station from the trail head and then downhill it back before meeting my ladies for dinner. I saddled up and hit the dirt to find a mix of dirt, limestone rockiness, short steep climbs, longer power climbs, and rolling terrain through some breathtaking scenery.

Crows Peak backdrop:

I rolled through my pre-ride toward checkpoint 1 with very little descending and a good chunk of climbing. The steeper sections were a good workout, but not overly difficult in this section, but the real treat for me were the extended gradual grades. With my gearing at 34x20, I could power through them at a good cadence and not overtax myself. After topping out at the checkpoint, I was looking forward to the ripping descent that awaited me. I pointed the bike back down the trail and was grinning ear to ear as I flew down the trail in what can best be described as a speed not recommended for having your big race in 2 days... I let it hang pretty far out as I was having so much fun.

Finally I hit the gravel back towards town and was planning to meet the girls somewhere on it. I ripped down one hill, then another, and then another. Sensing I didn't recognize the scenery, I whoaed up and realized in my zeal to fly back into town, I'd headed down 1.5 too many hills and missed my turn. Ooops! I turned back around and grunted my way back to the turnoff where my chariot was awaiting to run us back into town for some dinner.

I felt really good on the pre-ride and was starting to really look forward to having a good race. After all my skimming and researching, I was thinking I'd shoot for a sub 5:30 hour ride time as a good goal for having a solid race. I felt pretty confident I could hit that time and maybe a little better. As Saturday rolled around, I hit packet pick-up and sent out the call for another pre-ride and easy spin that afternoon. Tom and Maria answered the call and we decided to head further up the trail and pre-ride part of the course starting at Aid 1 since I could give them a preview of what was leading up to that part.

We got a pretty nice and easy spin in and turned back just before the big drop into Iron Creek drainage and the subsequent uphill known as "Cardiac Climb". The course was shaping up to have pretty much every type of terrain and track you could imagine. I was really stoked about racing at this point. Tom and I chatted a bit more about the race and he'd been geeking over numbers and reports even more than me. After that, he shared his race goal with me and laughed at mine thinking I was pretty handily going to be able to beat that effort and I should up the anty a bit. I think I stepped it up to something around 5 hours as my goal from that discussion. We killed off the rest of the day and I tried to hit the hay relatively early, but sleep wouldn't come easily. I was excited and nervous about such a big race and being a first timer. I really wasn't sure what to expect from myself, my fitness, or my race plan. Only time would really tell.

Race rig:

Just a gentle reminder it's going to suck at some point (Sometimes "fun" hurts pretty f*ing bad):

The morning rolled in damn chilly with a low 40's start temp forecasted. I got bundled up with a coat for the 3 mile downhill from our hotel to the start since the girls would be sleeping in versus getting up at 6 with me. I kept going through my race plan in my head to keep myself focused on what I needed to do and help forget about the chill in the air. As I lined up for the start I stripped down to just arm warmers in addition to my Rassy kit. I ended up stage about 6 or so rows back from the start and had a good view of all the horsepower sitting on the start line. Finally, Smokey the Bear dropped his arm and we were off for our "neutral" start. I was almost instantly spun out for the neutral roll out at close to 20mph.

Let the pain fun begin!:

I wasn't anticipating such a fast start for sure. I'd done a small warm up, but had been sitting on the line for close to 20 minutes and my legs weren't going to be able to really respond without overstressing them. I spun fast, but watched probably 50+ riders surge away as I struggled with the pace. It wasn't a great omen for the opening neutral mile of the race, but I stuck to it and kept as quick a pace as I could. Just before the neutral section comes to an end is Hill street. It's a 90 degree left into a steep uphill. As luck would have it, being back a bit in the field, I had an open enough line that I could carry a ton of momentum into the hill. Tag that along with singlespeed climbing power and I quickly passed back a good 20+ people inside of a block. Maybe it wasn't going to be such a bad day after all.

I started settling into the pack and could see a big mass of riders moving up ahead stretching for a couple blocks already as we hit the end of the neutral start and opened up the racing. The gravel climb started and it was a bit of a relief for me. My plan was to hit the gravel progressively harder as we climbed and I warmed up and topping out somewhere in the midst of Z4 when we got to the singletrack. I'd already passed a couple teammates at this point and was tailing a few others. I began picking off a number of people as the gravel steepened and I warmed through. A few riders got past me, but for the most part I was gaining positions much faster than I was losing them. I could now see the "fast guys" group had separated and was a solid 1/4 mile up the road with a pack of 20ish guys duking it out. I held my plan and all too quickly I found myself at the end of the gravel and ready for the singletrack attack.

Get all the spots you can:

I tried to sneak a couple more spots as we hit the singletrack figuring the slinky effect would be full on with this many riders. Sure enough, there was a definite drop in pace as everyone filed into the narrow stripe of dirt. I'd dug a good bit into my heart rate and the slow down was actually a good chance to get it back under control for a bit and something I'd halfway counted on happening. I figured a race of this size, entry into the track would be paramount, but I was also hoping I could place myself far enough up to avoid having to actually stop and wait. I ended up right on for placement and I figure I was roughly top 50 into the singletrack at this point.

Having ridden this section of track, I knew we were going to be pretty limited in passing for a bit so I made sure to keep my pace steady and avoid trouble as much as I could. As luck would have it for me, I'd gotten into the track just a couple spots back of local singlespeed stud Kent Carlson. I cued off of him and shortly was on his wheel as the couple riders separating us had bobbles that I could get around. All of a sudden, Kent was on the ground and I was slamming my brakes to avoid him. Luckily we were on a pretty slow paced section of trail and he was able to jump right back up and keep rolling without any riders getting by. A scant 20 yards or so down the trail though and it sounded like shotgun going off as his front tire blew off the rim. I slowed for a few seconds trying to ascertain my options of stopping to help or sticking to my own race. I hollered to see if he had everything and Kent seemed a bit rattled at this point saying he didn't know for sure. I knew he didn't appear to be hurt and hoped he had everything he needed in form of tube, CO2, etc to get him moving again so I decided I needed to keep rolling.

I got back on the gas and tailed it up to the chain of guys we'd been following prior to the crash and blowout. The going was still fast and slow as people of different riding styles and skills were working their way through. We finally got to some double track climbing areas and I put the pedal down hard making my way past 5-10 riders in just a couple sections. I also took advantage of a couple open meadow sections to further my position. Quicker than I was anticipating, Aid station #1 came upon us. I decided to use bottles for this race figuring the aid stations were close enough to make quick stops at each and not have to deal with the excessive low back pain from my camelback. I hopped off the bike and tossed a packet of Accelerade in my half empty bottle before a worker quickly topped it off. I was stopped less than a minute, but close to 10 guys probably passed me like a locomotive in that short period.

Rolling into aid 1:

I hopped back on and grabbed a few shot blocks as I hit the easy section right after the aid station. After Aid 1 the sections start to blur together with a few notable exceptions. The downhills leading up to Cardiac climb were awesome being a mix of open pasture type track and wooded downhills. With suspension on the front, I could let it rip pretty well wide open on the downhills without too much worry. Cardiac Climb itself kicked my butt. I rode the first section or so, but as soon as the grade really pitched up over 10%, I got off to walk. I walked steady, but still pretty slow. I think I could cut a decent amount of time just by picking up my pace to a faster walk or even a slow jog. I will say that the walking was a nice break from the constant turnover of the pedals and I felt pretty secure in the fact that not too many of the SS guys were going to be riding all of the climbs without expending serious amounts of energy.

The section to Aid 2 definitely had more downhill than section 1, but I think it still had just as much climbing including some pretty serious steeps that had me off the bike more than once. I rolled into aid 2 with just over half a bottle gone again and about 2:15 or so off the clock. I remembered Tom had told me most people can double their time to aid 2 and add about 5-10 minutes as a good way to figure out their finishing time. I did the quick math in my head and realized how good of a day I was having on the bike. I still felt pretty strong and even though I didn't know for sure what lay ahead, it shouldn't any worse than what I'd already been through at this point since we had to start back down eventually.

Still grinning at Aid 2:

After aid 2, it was definitely looking better as there was less climbing and more descending. My speed picked up a bit in this section as I was able to let it roll. I also spent less time walking my bike! It was a short hop to Aid 3 and it caught me by surprise how quickly I rolled up to it knocking just over 30 minutes off the clock. Again, I had barely touched my bottle, but opted for one more refill.

I think this is leaving Aid 3:

The next section to Aid 4 was arguably one of the most fun of the whole course as it was dominated by a nearly 2 mile high speed downhill on some fire road. Coming out of Aid 3 was a short climb and I looked back to see a Rassy jersey closing in. I was pretty confused as to who it might be. I'd been having a great day on the bike so either someone else was having an even better day or something was afoot since I hadn't seen another team rider since Kent flatted back at the start of the singletrack. Jed came ripping past me just as we were nearing the top of the climb and getting ready to fly down the doubletrack. I'd later find out he and a train of 8 or so guys had taken a wrong turn and got about 4 bonus miles in. Ouch!

Between Aid 3 and 4?:

The fire road downhill is hard to describe, but it was flat out screaming fast, exhilarating, and scary all at once. I was coasting much faster than I was geared for so I tucked into an aero crouch and I passed a number of guys on this section by letting it all hang out. The dust from the front runners hung in the air making it nearly impossible to see what was coming up in time to prep for it at those speeds. The best you could hope for is to watch someone in front of you and see how smooth they looked and hope for the best. I hit one washout spot and felt the bike go sideways under me for a split second before gathering it back up. That was really the only super scary spot of the run, but it was more than enough to leave me shaky. All too soon though, we had flown through that section and were now into Aid 4.

At Aid 4, I had only taken a few sips off my bottle so I didn't need anything other than to gulp a quick cup of water. I had plenty of water on board to make the final sections considering I had yet to touch my second bottle. Hooray for carrying an extra few pounds through the entire race... Aid 4 is strategically placed at the base of a nasty climb. I didn't even think twice before walking my bike over to the climb and starting up on foot. I knew salvation lay somewhere at the top of this climb though. The fabled bacon station was the next (and last) stop available. I won't lie, a nice cold beer sounded pretty damn good at this point in the ride. I mixed riding and walking in here as there was pretty much nothing but climbing in this section. I got passed by a few people, but overall, I still was holding pretty tight to my overall position figuring I was somewhere in the top 100 or so pretty easily.

As we climbed and climbed, I could start to hear loud music and people hollering about. Pretty soon, it was bacon station time. As I rolled in the festivities were in full swing with all the people partying and carrying on. I wasn't too sure about the bacon handups since I still felt pretty good and didn't want to mess things up. The ice cold PBR was a different story though as I slammed a cup of that tasty nectar. I rolled in less than a minute and soon found myself in the most technical section of the course. The trails turn to rocky technical singletrack here with lots of pitches, drops, and tight sections. I passed a few riders balking at this section with my decent technical skills. Finally, we rolled into some downhill, but I did find myself off the bike at least once in this section as we crawled up a high point with Crow Peak as a spectacular backdrop. I actually stopped here and waited for my phone to come to life so I could snap the picture I posted up top with the peak in the background.

As soon as that was done, it was pretty much business from here on out. The last climb of the day was another forest service road grade that I was able to hit pretty hard. I put some time into the few guys I was riding with at this point and soon found myself alone again. About the time I thought we'd be do for some more climbing, I was rewarded with a sign noting it was all downhill from here. I was pretty stoked at this point knowing I had the opportunity to turn in a great time and gave it all I had left. I attacked the downhills just on the razor edge of safe and kicked it pretty hard on the few short steeps that were left to go. We were back onto the Tinton trail at this point and having ridden it a couple times now, I felt pretty good about opening it up.

A couple guys still got by me, but for the most part I was on my own and flying. Finally, I hit the gravel downhill to town. Having plenty of gravel experience, I put everything I had into tucking low and flying for all I was worth. I caught a geared bike and drafted him to slingshot around. We also had a SUV try to pass us, but I wasn't about to let that happen and suck his dust all the way to town so I swung wide as he was waiting for an opportunity to get by. Of course it helped that we were running over the speed limit at this point as well. I think he got the hint though and backed off to let me and the geared guy feed off each other as we went down. I finally got a bit of a gap just before we hit the pavement and as we climbed the couple small hills back to the finish line, I just powered through them like I was big ringing it putting him a ways behind.

Heading down that finishing shoot with hundreds of people lining the street was something new for me. I just had a pure rush of adrenaline come coursing through my body as I smiled from ear to ear. Having my girls there cheering me on made it so much sweeter as well.

Waiving to my ladies:
Into the finish line:

To say I was riding high as I finished would be completely understated. I was excited beyond belief and knew I'd just had one of my best races ever. All of my equipment performed flawlessly, my ride plan was near perfect, my training was spot on, and it all came together in perfect harmony. I can't say enough for everyone from my family, my riding/training buddies, and all my support from Rasmussen Bike Shop, Ergon International, and Genuine Innovations. I ended up 8th in the singlespeeds and roughly 50th overall. For those that haven't had the chance to do this race, it needs to be on your must do list. I can't say enough good things about how fun the course is, how great the people are, and the overall atmosphere.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Financial rant

I can tell when my general malaise is bubbling over. I tend to get inspired to write again. At least that's certainly the case this time. A bit of back story here: I complained about receiving my 401K statement the other day and that I'd lost 20% of it's value in 1 quarter. Most friends were on the same page feeling equally taken in the shorts with losses. A couple friends posted to stay the course and it'll get better and one friend in particular took some time to write out thoughtful responses on why I was still doing OK and that it shouldn't be considered a real loss at this time. I took issue with that and thought I'd do a better job of writing up a rant rather than crapping up a post.

The last comment that got me digging out the soap box was, "A real loss only happens if liquidated/sold. Your accumulated shares are showing less value at the time your statement was printed. There is a distinct difference. I guess you now own more shares/units than before. In my mind this is a gain in 'value'."

To my friend- don't take this personally, its just that this comment really bugs me. I suppose as long as you're still playing the game that could be considered true. It just means I haven't lost everything yet. I'll try to remember that next time I sit down at the blackjack table and the dealer is holding half my money. I mean, heck, I'm still playing the game, so as long as I don't get up and take my lumps, its still possible for me to get my money back and possibly even make some.

Here's my stance. This type of rose colored glasses are a big issue in my book when it comes to talking about personal finance. Its all great until its time to pay the piper. If I've lost money, tell me, I'm a big boy and can handle the truth. If I didn't want the risk, I'd bury my money in the back yard. Don't sell me on the fact that I'm missing the equivalent to a DI2 equipped Shiv from my account and that its all good because I can still buy 50 strider bikes right now. The stuff I've all ready purchased didn't suddenly cost me any less or multiply behind my back. If I stopped playing the game 3 months ago, I had that money. If I stopped today, I don't. It really doesn't matter if you're still playing, it matters where you're at all the time. A gain is a gain and a loss is a loss. Delaying talking about them until you've quit the game is only a delay.

Losing money sucks, no doubt about it, but people need to hear when they're ahead or behind flat out without smoke and mirrors to decide how much risk they want to continue to take. Obviously the long term trends show we'll eventually gain back our money and continue to grow our wealth or we'd all be suckers to keep going at it. I wholly understand that fact and will keep plugging away at trying to make wealth for myself in this manner as its an acceptable risk/reward scenario for me. Just don't tell me that ups and downs along the way don't suck or alternately aren't awesome. I don't need the smoke and mirrors to make it better, I need simple to understand terms. Honestly, I think most Americans could use the same type of thing.

Shit, I can't think of a good wrap up for this rant without dredging up 10 other things that are pissing me off so there you have it in a nutshell.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Conspiracy theorist

I'm not usually one to indulge in conspiracy theory, but I had a wacky thought pass through my head and thought it might be fun to indulge and see where it goes.

So, I'm sitting there washing my hands in the work restroom and notice the little pump bottle of hand soap sitting in the corner. There's currently all of 1/4" of soap left in the bottom and the pump won't suck it out. So, whomever the fairy in charge of replenishing our restroom supplies is, has placed a new container of soap on the counter for us to use. The old soap sits there all fore lorn and wondering why we don't use the rest of it. I'm betting it will eventually get tossed in the trash rather than anyone taking the time to pour out the rest of its contents and use them.

Now here is where my brains goes wacky. I begin thinking that some middle management bean counter in the soft soap world headquarters had a brain storm one day to raise revenues. So, he pitches to his boss that they should shorten the pick-up straws by 1/8". Here's his rationale- people are lazy. They won't necessarily notice the small amount of extra liquid left in the bottle since the pump really never emptied all of the contents anyway. Even if they do notice, they'll be too apathetic or lazy to do anything other than bitch about the fact that there's still soap left in the bottle.

Now the middle manager is figuring most people will end up throwing the balance of the bottle away without going to the extra work of unscrewing the cap and dumping it out or into the next bottle. Obviously, that would be too much work. Additionally, since consumers tend to be brand loyal, they will now be buying the soap at a faster rate because they've just tossed more in the trash. So, he sells the idea to his boss that he can trim the cost of the pick up tube now that they've decreased the size and in turn increase the sale rate to the customer because they'll have to buy the product more often because they're getting less usable material in each bottle. Middle manager gets a nice promotion or big bonus for adding money on both sides of the company's bottom line. Everyone is happy and they've just fleeced the consumer who has no clue about anything.

I told you it was a crazy thought. This could never really happen. Right?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

24 hours of Seven Oaks race report

Race Data


Actually, its the 12 hours of Seven Oaks race report for me this year. This race got bumped down a bit on my must do list after doing the 4 man 24 hour version the previous two years. The format seems to be losing steam in regards to what type of racing people want to do and attendance has been on a downward slide even in the short time I've been involved. This year was no different even with various changes trying to drum up more racers including moving the date, start time, and more promotion. I decided to race the 2 man 12 hour version of the race thinking it would fit well with my training and fitness. Originally, I'd planned to race with fellow team mate Jason A, but due to some scheduling conflicts, he wasn't going to be able to race. As luck would have it, another team member in the form of Kent C was looking to race and filled the spot perfectly as we'd both be riding rigid singlespeeds.

Race ready Selma under 19lbs

Ready for battle with a backup:

Rassmussen race HQ ready to rock!

 Kent (being that he runs on occasion) was selected to take the opening lap due to the LeMans style start. I think we bypassed the usual gravel road climb this year and instead went the XC route of heading out through the grass field before looping back to the singletrack.

Run like your life depends on it!

Kent and I came in to the race pretty confident that we'd do well, but its always a crapshoot with variables of weather, unknown entrants, and mechanical issues that can spring up. That being said, our plan was to go hard and develop a lead over the first 4 laps since we were trading off each lap. While the two man format proved to be a bit painful towards the end, I actually liked it towards the start of the race. I had time to rest for a few minutes, get my new bottle ready, and I kept a bit of a running tab on my status updates as a way of looking back to see how things went. I can't remember the exact gear I ran for this race, but I'm thinking it was my 34x21 figuring that I'd need as many teeth as I could get by the last couple of laps.

Kent put in a fast 1st lap and had a small gap for us to work with as I hit it hard. As it ended up, we were the only 2 man 12 hour team so while we still wanted to give it a hard effort, it afforded me the opportunity to try out some different race tactics. I've always hit Boone all out every lap during my previous races. It never fails to hit me back equally as hard and by the end of each lap, its a mercy killing to be headed back down and ready to trade off. Just a couple weeks back, the XC race had my fastest lap at 42:53 with the same bike and a shorter course. My first lap for this race returned a 40:59 which is by far the fastest I've ever turned here whether XC or 24 hour racing. The difference was my approach to the course. I basically let it come to me and increased my intensity through the course instead of giving everything I had at the start and trying to survive at the end. I road the opening climb at a steady pace and then held myself in check through most of the lower loop. Once I hit the upper loop, I found I had plenty of strength left and could use that power to propel myself into the hills and clear them with minimal effort. Comparatively speaking, before, I'd be gassed by that point and have to pedal up the hills as I didn't have the strength to build momentum before hitting them. As I cleared lap 1, I felt fantastic.

Kent and I had a secured position so it was all for fun at this point. I decided to run a few more full out race laps just to test my theory that it was indeed faster for me to ride this way. I was rewarded with more fast laps and also a number of completely clean laps where I didn't have to get off the bike or even put a foot down on course. For me, that made me just as happy as the fast lap times. Boone is a technically challenging course and it gets tougher each year as mother nature wreaks havoc on the course. It had been at least a year since I'd been able to turn a completely clean lap.

After 3 laps, Kent talked me into backing it down since he'd been riding for fun at that point. I dialed the wick way back and found out something pretty quickly. At the slower speeds, I was having a harder time getting around the course. It was easier for me to ride at the faster speed with all the climbing. At a slow speed, each grind up a hill was taking more out of my legs than speeding over it. So, for my last 2 laps, I turned the wick back up for some more fun. On lap 5 I took off with my friend Andy who was out having some fun and decided to test his legs out. We were having fun pushing each other and it was nice to have someone push me during a lap. At this point I was definitely feeling the climbs and the general roughness of the course.

After lap 5, I knew I was going to call it with 6 laps. We had tons of time left on the clock, but with nobody else in our class and having lapped the field, I didn't really see a reason to put more strain on my body and race into the night. I still had my A race of the season coming up in 2 weeks so this was meant to be more of a solid shakedown ride versus a true beat down. In a stroke of mad genius, I had Andy call over to the nearest town and see if Godfather's Pizza would deliver us a pie. Sure enough, while I was out on my last lap, they came through and I was sweetly rewarded at the end.

Mmm, spoils of victory!

I thought Kent only went out for 1 more lap than me, but the final count shows he did 8 laps. Crazy! Its awesome to have a race partner that is equal or better than you though and he certainly was every bit of that. I feel pretty lucky I've got a number of team mates that I ride and race with that are such strong riders. On any given day there's a large contingent that have the ability to podium in their categories. I definitely had a great time racing this year in the 12 hour format. The race ended at 10pm so I was even able to pack up and head back home to sleep in my own soft bed for the night. Next up- Dakota 5-0 (my A race for the year!)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Where do you go?

Where do you go when you reach the goal? Do you reset the goal knowing you can do better? Do you re-evaluate the goal to focus on something else? What about the sacrifices you've made along the way? Do you go back and try to put right those things you brushed off in the name of getting to your goal?

One of the inherent problems I see with having a goal based on athleticism or some other type of competition that requires constant practice is that eventually you have to come to terms with where you're at, how you got there, and is it worth it to keep trying to go forward. You know that once you settle for what you've achieved its basically a slow downward spiral in terms of your ability. The question then becomes did your enjoyment come from the activity itself or was it the focused reaching of the goal that brought you happiness?

Obviously, if the activity brought you joy, then you can still keep going with that activity as long as you're ok with knowing that you're no longer at the top of your game. However, if its the challenge you relish, how hard is it to keep on going with the knowledge that you've reached the top and are sliding backwards. While I could pretend this is about any part of my life, its pretty obvious that I'm talking about riding and racing my bike.

I'd love to be one of those gifted individuals that has raw talent that can take them into the upper echelons of the sport, but I don't think that's the case. I feel like I've put a lot into reaching the level I'm at. I'm still nowhere near the top, but I feel like I've reached the level of rider that I originally set out to be. Now that I'm here, I know what it is going to take to keep me here. I also look back and see the things I've pushed aside in the name of getting to this point. The ever growing wake of sacrifices chugs slowly along behind me.

Do I keep adding to that sacrificial wake knowing I haven't reached my full potential (even though I've reached the original goal)? Or do I turn back and attend to those sacrifices and do what I can to repair those items. Would it feel like I've given up on my goal now that I know there's more to be had? If I turn back, do the items I've sacrificed to get here now seem like they were wasted without cause? So many questions beget more questions. It really just boils down to what makes me happy and can I still find happiness if I become less than what I know is possible in order to not have so many sacrifices. Where is the balance point?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Boone XC race report

Race data

I tend to be wordy in my posts. Writing my experiences on the bike down is my way of decompression. I'll try to be a bit more brief on these two races considering they were sandwiched in between two of my bigger events for the year which unfortunately for you, the reader, I'll be delving into full detail for.

The Boone XC race is one of my more interesting races on a yearly basis. Running full tilt on this course for multiple laps in a row is a surefire way to find yourself knee deep in pain. Add in the singlespeed factor for this year and I had no clue what to expect. I knew I'd be lining up against a number of guys I respect for speed and ability and hoped I could hang with them given the limited amount of short course racing I'd done up to this point. We had a pretty small group for the start which made it a bit easier to get a fair spot into the woods after our usual out and back on the grass field below the ski hill. I hit the woods sitting around 10th or a shade better with a few experts leading the charge and a few others from the comp class stacked in as well. The comp guys aren't in my class, but I consider them direct competition as it's the class I'd be racing if I hadn't determined earlier that I wanted to stick to the singlespeed class. I have a feeling next year, we may all be lumped into one group anyway.

We're off:

The first climb into the singletrack is always a soul crusher as you wind up and up twisting until you're about 2/3 to the top of the ski hill before diving back to the bottom again. We started out at a hard but relatively manageable pace in the first part of the course. Watching Kyle (also on SS) snake by a few riders and making his way towards the front, I marked him as much as possible. In my mind (and a few others I'm sure), he's without a doubt one of the fastest guys lap for lap at Boone. I stayed close on his wheel through the first half of the lap before catching an opening when he spun on a root. I tried to take advantage of putting a couple guys between us and opening a gap, but it took a lot out of me in the process. As we hit the line for lap 1 I had maybe a 20-30 second gap on him as I took off for lap two.

Nearing the base of the powerline cut on lap 2 Kyle was holding tight on my wheel as I started slowing down on the flat sections to hopefully conserve some energy and recover from hammering out lap 1. He asked for the pass and I gladly let him go to run my own pace. As soon as he was out of site, it was a done deal and he went on to take the comp class win by a pretty fair margin. I should mention that he also rides singlespeed so in reality, he took both wins. Good thing its not scored that way though! Lap 2 was pretty uneventful other than the constant kick in the nuts that Boone provides free of charge with each race entry. I did find myself walking a few of the steeper hills at this point with my legs screaming for a break.


By the time I rolled into lap 3 I was about ready for this thing to be done with. I did my best to put in a hard effort again, but cramps were starting to close in every time I tried really upping the effort. I was still walking some sections and felt like I was barely trudging along. I guess it was a real welcoming to the rigors of racing with 1 gear. I felt like I must be losing huge amounts of time both to Kyle in front of me and the rest of the pack behind me. I never did get passed though and managed to hang on for 1st singlespeed and what would've been 2nd in the comp class by about 5 minutes back of Kyle.

All told, I was really happy with my gearing selection, race effort, and finishing spot. Given that I hadn't been really focused on XC efforts, it was definitely nice to have a solid race.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Breck-68 race report

Race results

Race data

Having ridden in Breckenridge, Colorado the past 2 years on a recreational basis, I wasn't sure I'd ever want to race there. Coming from an elevation of 1,000 feet going to over 9,500 feet inside of the town and pretty much heading up anywhere else you ride is sure way to make you feel weak in the knees. Add in the challenge of the terrain being more technical than most of what we find in the midwest and you've got the recipe for some really fun riding, but a possible recipe for disaster when you start thinking about a race effort.

Adam and Jason ready to roll out:

An invite from Jason at the last quarter rage to possibly go race the Silver Rush 50 in Leadville and some subsequent follow up found me headed to Colorado. Another friend, Adam, was planning to go and race the Breck-68 that same weekend so we decided to all ride out together. I opted for the 68 over the Silver Rush based on some feedback about the 68 having better trails and more singletrack. Plus, I had ridden a number of the trails at least partially in the past 2 years and felt like I knew the area and terrain well enough that I at least had some idea of what to expect even though this by all counts looked to be the tougher of the two races.

I spent the next month trying to figure out how I was going to survive 68 miles of high elevation singletrack with 9,000' of climbing. I figured my best bet was to go at it with the same mindset that worked for me at Almanzo. Pace out my effort and try to ensure a finish within the alotted time. I knew there wasn't any way for me to truly put down a race type effort at those elevations, so I was much better off making sure I finished as my goal for the race. I've seen what altitude can do to friends when trying to put out a hard effort and it isn't pretty. I poured back over my rides from the past 2 years trying to piece together what gear and supplies I'd need to take with me. One alarming bit of info I figured out was that the longest distance I'd ever ridden out there was about 40 miles in a single day. Granted, we ride at a pretty casual pace, regroup often, and drop back to town for lunch, but still, I was about to double my biggest day.

Mountain High:

My usual gear for day tripping around Breck is a fully stocked 70oz camelback with all sorts of food and gear like first aid kit, emergency blanket, extra clothes, and repair parts. Add in a stocked bike with 2 more bottles and a loaded seat bag and you've got a lot of extra weight to lug around. I knew I had to pare that down to the minimum, but where would I draw the line between minimal gear that would get me through the race and not find me stranded along the trail somewhere. Having the opportunity to use drop bags gave me a little relief on how much I felt I needed to drag along on my back. I still went heavier than I needed to, but I felt safe about my choices. I stuck with a camelback with water, a wide selection of food choices in it, and a few minor odds and ends. I had 2 bottles of Accelerade on the bike, a spare tube, multi-tool, and a trio of the new 20 gram CO2 cartridges from Genuine Innovations. I also had their x-mount with a microflate nano and another cartridge on it. Considering I was rolling tubeless on a brand new set of Specialized Captains, I felt pretty safe when it came to flatting. Beyond that, its hard to really plan on all the things that Colorado trails can throw at a bike. I tried to prep minimally with a few small spare parts and a good multi-tool.

Bastardized Selma (gears and suspension) is ready to roll out:

After driving throught the night, Adam, Jason, and I hit ground zero around 6 in the morning arriving in Silverthorne. After we grabbed a quick bite for breakfast, we dropped some goods at our friend Andy's place and caught the rest of the tour stage for the morning. We finally geared up and hit the trails for a solid pre-ride of our first loop late in the morning. Reading the course notes I'd printed out, we hit a series of steep switchbacks out of Carter Park to start our ride. Nary a minute into our pre-ride and we're already maxing our efforts out hitting the switchbacks and puffing along. Adam was pretty sure we wouldn't have to do this route as they had started with a road climb before hitting the singletrack last year. Luckily he was right as only the guys doing the 100 mile course would have to climb the switchbacks.

Preride stop at Sally Barber Mine:

We rolled the first section of the course up to aid station 1 and rolled back to Breck mid afternoon. Finding ourselves ready for some sustenance, I suggested we hit up Fatty's pizza for a large pie and a pitcher. Feeling revived after our meal, we plotted out another short loop for Friday to recon a little more of the route before we hit packet pick up. We ended up doing a really short pre-ride of 45 or so minutes on Friday, but got a feel for the first small singletrack climb on loop 2 and were pretty comfortable with it.

Over a spectacular homemade lasagna dinner made by Adam's brother's fiancee on Friday evening, he and I plotted out some strategy. He was riding singlespeed and I opted to gear up my Selma for the race. His wave started a few minutes back of mine, but we decided to roll out together and stay together for the race to help pace and push each other. Soon enough, it was time to hit the sack and see if we could get some sleep. With our race not starting until later in the morning, we had the opportunity to sleep in a little and stop to grab some breakfast muffins on the way to the start. True to form, I could only choke down about half a sandwich, some juice, and not much else. I always fight to get a decent breakfast before a morning race start.

Race morning in Carter Park:

Adam and I got our gear together and rolled up to find his brother who was working as neutral race mechanic at Carter Park. We dropped some gear at his tent before doing some minor warm-up and finding our way over to the ice rink where we'd be starting. The initial rollout had us ascending Boreas Pass Road to a short cut off to hit the Barney Ford trail head. Finally we hit the road after watching the first 4 or so waves take off. We rolled about 20 strong with singlespeeders and some age groupers in our wave. Adam and I slotted ourselves near the front as we hit the slow climb. My legs didn't feel too bad right out of the gate, but mostly I was worried about warming them up thoroughly without hammering it too quickly and paying dearly for it hours down the road. As we neared the last push uphill before the turn to the trailhead, Adam was turning over his gear a bit faster than I was ready to spin and pulled out in front by a few riders. Just as we got near the turn, I had one rider in front and a bus pulling up next to me. Not sure what to do, I pushed the pace and passed the rider while shooting the gap between he and the bus so I could make the turn without getting hung up in all the riders we'd rolled past.

Adam hit the track about 4 or so riders in front of me trying to get some room to roll and keep his momentum. As soon as we hit the singletrack, the accordian effect started. We slowed way down and started the game of asking to pass or finding a way to take a line. I was pretty patient to begin with, but after being stopped a time or two on relatively easy terrain, I was ready to get after it a bit myself. Finally, we hit the open area of trail with a wider straight section and I jumped on the wheel of 2 other guys. We rolled past probably 10+ people in a short 1/2 mile or less section before we got back into the tight and twisty sections. As we rolled the next section of short and punchy climbs, traffic was still a bit backed up, but not quite as frustrating as before. I got around a few more riders and let a few others by, but I was riding everything pretty well as we rolled up to Sally Barber mine and our first nice downhill. Adam and gone ahead on this section and we'd planned a rendezvous at Aid 1.

I hit the descent and let it hang out as far as I dared. I love the fire road descents as they feel like they can go on forever. I knew we'd be paying soon enough though as the next section of trail contained a tough climb called Little French. At least having pre-ridden it on Thursday, I knew what was coming. I'd ridden probably 90% on that day and vowed I'd ride less of it for the race as to hopefully avoid cooking myself a scant 10 miles into the race. I rode where it felt good and walked where it felt better. I still passed some people and of course I got passed by some people, but I was sticking to the plan. As we got near the top of Little French, we jumped off on a flume trail that had our first real contour riding of the day as we'd just been going up or down until now. It was a bit of a relief to actually just pedal and ride at this point. It also didn't hurt knowing we had another killer downhill fire road at the end of this trail that would lead us into aid 1.

I watched Adam fly down this hill on our pre-ride and tried to lay off the brakes as much as possible. I found myself descending with a gal who was running pretty close to the same speeds as I. We were both whooping and hollering from the sheer thrill and fun. We were about halfway down when we came up on a dirt bike headed down as well. We were choking on his dust as he'd goose it and jump the water bars and then slow down to go in search of the next obstacle in the road. We were headed down faster than he was and had to wait for a few sections before we could finally sneak past him. I think we caught him a bit off guard as we headed by. Finally we rolled down to the aid station and I spotted Adam.

He was still smiling, but said he thought his day might be done. He'd rounded a corner on the last downhill and smacked into another dirt bike headed up the hill. His bike was essentially ok with a bent seat rail, but his ankle had taken a huge impact and was swelling rapidly. I filled my bottles back up and topped off my camelback. I also learned an important lesson at the same time. Pay close attention to what you use to fill your bottles and bladders if there is more than water available. While I got the water I needed to mix more Accelerade in my bottles, I accidentally filled my camelback with a watered down HEED mixture. I've found HEED to be a near sure fire way to cause me to bloat up and stop being able to race. So, I was down to my 2 bottles to get me to the next aid station where I could dump the mix and refill it with water.

Adam and I rode up to the start of the Colorado Trail section when he pulled to the side. I stopped to see if there was anything I could do. He said he was just going to try to work it out and go slow, but that I should head on. Seeing he was still moving, I decided it was my best bet to go ahead and move at my own pace. I'd ridden this section of the trail the previous year and knew I was in for a long, but not overly technical or hard climb before being rewarded with one of the best descents I've ever ridden. I swear those miles seemed to drag forever having a number of miles already in my legs and trying to grind my way up this long drag. I was passing some of the 100 mile riders in amongst the other 68 riders and also starting seeing the 32 mile guys go flying past on a regular basis. The 100 milers were pretty distinctive in their mud covered kits and hollowed out looks in their eyes. I was a bit envious of the 32 mile riders buzzing by and knowing they'd be done in a short 15 miles.

As we crested the hill and started into the meat of the descent, I found myself in a bit of an unfamiliar spot as I was actually outrunning people going down the hill. I think I descend pretty well, but these aren't my home trails and I'm trying to stay on the cautious side of speed. A few riders gave me the go ahead as we ran through the switchbacked descent and I let go of the brakes and felt the rush of speed take over. All too soon, I found myself at the bottom of the hill and rode into Aid 2 at the Dredgeboat trailhead. I took a pretty long break at this point and sat down long enough to get a quick recharge before I was able to get some fresh water into my camelback, stuff some food into my face, and reload my bottles. I was hoping if I rested long enough, Adam might pop back into view and we could hit the trail together. After 10 or 15 minutes, I knew I needed to roll and I hadn't seen him yet.

I rolled the last section of loop 1 headed back to the start/finish area at Carter Park. I really didn't know what to expect from this section as I didn't think I'd ridden any of it in previous trips. Luckily, this section didn't throw any hard climbs or overly technical sections at us. It still had plenty of climbing with a few short steep sections, but for the most part, it was relatively tame with some gravel and road climbing in a few areas along with some nice sections of singletrack. The clouds rolled in and we started to have some rain spit on me here and there as turned the pedals. It was clearing back up again as I headed into Carter Park for the end of my first loop.

Brutal lap 1:


I rolled into the park and looked for Adam's brother to tell him about the accident. I drug out my supply bag and somewhat methodically re-filled my camelback with supplies in prep for the upcoming loop. I took a couple minutes to use the restroom and snap a quick picture of the loop 1 stats for a quick post to facebook letting my family know I was still kicking and getting ready to move out. After another 15 minutes or so, I was just getting ready to roll out when I saw Adam rolling in. He looked to be in pretty good spirits overall, but conceded his day was done for sure. Knowing I was on my own at this point, I quickly rolled back out and into the fray again.

I worked to get some food and water down before the climbing of loop 2 hit. I knew the first singletrack climb wasn't bad, but Indiana jeep road turned out to be a killer hike-a-bike for me as it really got steep, loose, and wet the higher we went. Finally, we topped out of that section and onto Boreas Pass Road a couple miles from the top. For the first time, I could see some riders heading back towards home from the lead pack of guys. I shouted encouragement to Kerkove who was having what looked to be a pretty solid day on the bike. Aid 5/7 was the next place I'd sent a drop bag figuring that since I had to hit it twice, I'd have a good supply to draw from. I think I ended up only grabbing a gel and maybe some shot blocks at this point. I did stop for a few minutes to grab a coke from the volunteers and ease my aching back once more.

The next section would be all new to me with a descent into Como on Goldust trail and then an old railroad grade gravel climb right back up to the top of Boreas Pass once again. I'd heard great things about descending Goldust from Andy and he was spot on. The first few sections were pure ear to ear grins and then we rolled into what appeared to be some type of dry creek bed. We snaked through the trees in a 3-4' deep depression that was about 8' wide for a couple of miles until we hit the most massive rock garden I've seen on a bike. Some of it was ridable, but a lot of it had you off and hefting your bike and self over some pretty large boulders and rocks. This went on for a good half mile or better on and off before slowly becoming less rocky and more ridable. Finally back on the bike, we had some more climbing before the final descent through some tight twisty woods into Como.

A short minute or two stop at this aid station had my bottles filled and a little beta received about the upcoming climb which was pretty much non-stop from Como all the way to the top of the pass. On the plus side, it was shallow at 6% +/- grade the whole way, but that also falls in a somewhat bad area for me as I struggle with longer climbs that are much over 5%. I hit the gas and took off out of town looking across the valley and seeing some rain and thunderclouds on the far side. I hoped they'd stay over there and not pour on me during the climb. I think I lost a fair bit of time on this section of course as I kept grinding away, but always felt like I wasn't pushing my potential ability. My stomach was backing up just a little and of course both my legs and back were aching away this far into the race. I passed a few guys, but I probably had 10+ riders pass me in the final couple of miles going up Boreas Pass road.

Finally, I spied the top of the climb after having a bit of a heavy sprinkle wet me down for the last mile or so. I knew it was basically a downhill back to the start and I was familiar with the terrain as it was all on trails I'd ridden. I cranked up the big ring all the way to the Bankers Tank uphill and turned in. There was just a short bit of climbing before we could rail our way down to the lower trail head which I tackled with abandon. The last bit of technical singletrack was in the form of Aspen Tunnel which had me a little nervous as it has a very loose rock descent followed up by a giant slag pile drop. As luck would have it, enough riders had burned in a trail that the loose rocks were basically a non-issue by this time and they routed us to the side of the slag pile which was rocky, but a bit less dramatic of a drop as going over the nose of the hill.

I knew I was headed home at this point unless I did something stupid to crash myself out in the last mile or two. I kept my speed up, but safe and just enjoyed the flow of the singletrack and woods as I lined my way out to the finish. By the time I finally hit the switchbacks to Carter Park, 9 hours had rolled by and a good chunk of the finishers had cleared out. There was still a pretty good pack of people waiting and cheering though which is always nice to roll in and hear.

Just rolled across the finish line:

That hurt:

Back to smiling:

All told I had clocked off 70 miles and just short of 9,000' of climbing for the day. I finished a little disappointed with 27th out of 30 finishers in my class. I'm not sure how many DNF'ed. I do know that while I was tired, I left a lot of time on the table in the form of rest stop speed (54 minutes off the bike) and overall effort in some of the longer climbing sections. I think I've got an 8 or even sub 8 hour finish in me with just a couple tweaks. The biggest thing will be to race without a camelback. It absolutely killed my low back. Nothing I had in there couldn't be carried some other way and the aid stations are close enough for me that I could go with bottles only. I'm hoping to hit it again next year and see if I can't get a better finish. I'm still not sure I'd ever race the SS out there, but I'm not ruling it out either.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ups and downs of racing

After my shellacking at the hands of the expert class racers last year, I figured a new plan was in order for racing my mountain bike this year. I didn't see how I'd be able to put in the training time requirements to be as competitive as I wanted for the experts so I made the call to switch up to the singlespeed class which seems to be the mid-range between sports and experts. Then the announcement was made that there would be a new comp class that would be exactly that filler level. Considering I had all ready committed to buying a new frame and setting up for that route, I forged ahead with those plans and built up my Selma. Its a pretty sweet setup for a serious race bike weighing in at a shade over 19lbs in race trim with a few areas targeted for future enlightenment.

I finally got the bike put together this spring and put some good miles on it when I could, but training and prep for the Royal 162 left me putting most of my hours on the CX bike instead. Up to last week I hadn't even had a chance to throw down at any type of race on the dirt. I felt pretty comfortable on the bike and was relatively sure that I was at least as fast as last year, but maybe even a little faster on the SS in most instances. But, you never know for sure until you can line up with your buddies and hang it all out there in a true race situation to see where you're at in the mix.

Squirrel resurrected Quarter Rage early this year and I was definitely down for some high speed hi-jinx. I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't a bit nervous for the first dirt race of the year. Sure we're only racing for quarters and a 40 oz of Bud, but you're racing against all your buddies that you train and ride with all the time. Wednesday night rolled around and the weather and trail conditions looked to be near perfect. Squirrel was planning to lay it down with us so he was rolling off first. I took the second slot hoping I wouldn't get overrun by my minute man in the form of Basso. Squirrel took off like a shot and I lined up with nervous energy flowing through me like a high voltage cable.

As soon as I got the word to go I promptly slid out in the first 20' of trail trying to go fast, get clipped in, and negotiate the downhill turn at the start. Luckily I only shed a couple seconds as I righted myself and cranked it up to 11 while swearing at myself for the mistake. I plowed through the first few minutes of Denman's with reckless abandon, overshooting corners, braking badly, and generally screwing up my lines until I finally found the flow I was looking for and started laying down the power in a useful manner. I rode pretty cleanly through the woods with only a few mistakes including a nose wheelie that I managed to ride out and a pretty good scrape of my shoulder against a tree. For the most part I just concentrated on constantly turning the pedals over as fast as I could in every section until I either had to brake or had spun up to the point where any faster would have me going flying into the woods. Finally I hit the connector trail and knew I was close but also in for the most painful part of the ride. I hit the open field and just about spun out of my 32x16 gearing as I headed for the paved trail. Up on the trail, I opened it up again for the .5 mile stretch back to the finish line and managed to hold just over 22mph for that section.

Tied for the win at 18:32 with Basso!
I flew across the line with my eyes crossed from the effort. A quick check of my stats showed my average heart rate in the lower regions of zone 5 for the entire effort. Man it hurt! The best news of the night was that I managed to come in tied for first with Pete Basso at 18:32. We didn't reset his monster record time from last year, but just to even be anywhere close to the same league was a huge deal for me as he's one guy I've always chased and learned from every ride. There's nothing like throwing down with your friends for bragging rights and having so much fun.

That was the up for sure and based on the title, there has to be a downside in here. Well, my next race effort was just that. After Quarter Rage, I hit up the next installment of the IORCA series which happened to be put on by Jesse Bergman at Moorehead Park in Ida Grove. I've been hearing rave reviews of this course the past 2 years and put it on my list of must do races for the year. At almost 3 hours drive, its definitely a haul up there, but the trail system is spectacular with a great mix of hills, descents, and super fun flowy singletrack. As Jason Alread and I headed up to the race, we were greeted with a mix of rainy skies and overcast conditions. My micro-knobbed tires left me a bit concerned because I was pretty certain they weren't going to cancel the race even if the course was a bit muddy.

Once we hit the venue and I was able to get a pre-ride lap in, I felt a lot better. Most of the trail was in soft, but drying condition with only a couple greasy spots that concerned me. I felt pretty decent about my chances going into the race as my legs felt good and the bike was working well for me. We lined up with the SS and Comp class guys grouped together in the second wave after the experts. I knew a number of the guys, but a number of the faces were new to me as locals or those that travelled from the Omaha area. Knowing we had an opening climb in the singletrack, I wanted to get as close to the point as I could after our 1/4 mile run down the gravel road. That would prove to be a tall order with my gearing at 32x18.

The starter let us go and I took a few extra seconds to get my left foot clipped in. Just like that I was in the middle of the pack on the road section. I spun up my gear for all I was worth and hit the grassy section about 7th wheel. Knowing my main competition was sitting in the top 4 or so slots, I did some creative passing. I leapfrogged one rider in the muddy creek crossing at the start of the singletrack climb and then put my moment to use to grab another spot up the climb itself in a wide spot. Just like that I was sitting in a good position as we railed the opening sections. As we hit the open gravel climb, Kyle stuck his nose out into the wind and passed a couple guys to take the lead. Knowing his capacity to suffer and keep the hammer down, I pushed hard and grabbed his wheel taking 2nd position up the climb. He grunted, "How'd you like that?" as we crested the hill and seemed a little surprised to find me right on his wheel when I responded. I was definitely having fun.

We hit the next flowy section and then disaster struck. I stood to climb a small little pitch and BAM!, my chain fell off. WTF? I thought you couldn't have mechanicals on a singlespeed?!? I luckily didn't do any damage to myself and was out of the way quick enough to not delay anyone. A few seconds went by as I spun the chain back on. I jumped in line and in a single revolution the chain popped right back off. I stopped and inspected my chain and rings. Sure enough, I managed to torque the chain ring enough that I'd bent it and it kept popping the chain off.

Day is done:

In reality, its my own fault. I actually bent and snapped the ring. If you look at the picture, you'll note I'm missing a chainring bolt. With the ultralight ring I was running, I was able to torque it out of shape due to that missing bolt. I saw it before the race and had noted it was missing even at Quarter Rage, but had neglected to fix it. Lesson definitely learned the hard way. On the plus side, I spent the rest of the race drinking beers and cheering on my friends as a number of them rode on to podium finishes in their various classes. A down day for me, but fun nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

2011 Almanzo Royal 162 Race Report- the race

The Royal 162 course

The results

After tossing and turning most of the night, I awoke to the sound of water dripping through the gutters outside our room. I quietly dressed and pondered what lay in wait for me. I headed off to try to eat some breakfast. As I nursed a cup of coffee and choked down a danish, the weather flashed across the screen. 44 degrees, scattered rain, windchill of 37 and a steady North wind around 15 mph. I went back to the room to finish getting ready and snapped a quick picture to set the tone.

Ready or not:

I finished my gear prep by loading my bottles and camelback with water before setting off for the start line about 3/4 of a mile from the hotel. The wind had a sting to it with the water hanging in the air as I hopped on the bike to ride. A few minutes later and I pulled up to a lot starting to fill with fellow riders for the Royal 162. I nervously alternated between chatting with some friends and riding my bike around the lot trying to stay warm and beat back the trepidation. As promised, Chris rolled us off with little fanfare escorting us to the start of the gravel. I'd estimate we rolled roughly 60 or so of us out of 90 odd entrants.

Finally, we were off and it was time to start clicking off the miles and relieve the nerves through solid strokes of the pedal. I found a semi comfortable spot around mid-pack of the main group and worked to try avoiding the gravel soup that was flying off the wheels in front of me. We were holding a steady but manageable pace to start. I fell back slightly on one of the first uphills and caught a face full of the wind. I knew it would be a mistake to lose the pack right away and start fighting the wind so soon. I hit the gas a little harder and latched back on to the pack so I could set in the draft for a bit more. All too soon though, I gauged the lead group of 20 or so was moving a bit harder than I wanted and I slowly drifted off the back along with single riders.

I mixed it up riding with a few people here and there starting around 10 or so miles into the race. My whole focus going in had been to treat this as a ride rather than race so my focus was solely on moving forward at my pace and syncing up with other riders as it made sense without taxing myself in the process. Soon, I found myself with 2 and then 3 guys. Andy (I think was his name) was the strongest in the group wearing a CRC kit and he soon rolled off the front leaving 3 of us riding but not really working together. Ian who appeared to be wearing a Little Guys Racing kit and Aaron from Angry Catfish dressed only in bibs, short sleeve jersey, and arm warmers kept rolling. Ben went down as we made the turn from flying descent to 180 degree uphill. We actually all made the turn, but the weird cross slope of the gravel laid him down, but he managed only a few scrapes.

The first 90 minutes or so we lucky in the fact it wasn't raining on us. We were just dealing with the cold wet air and sloppy gravel. I started contemplating taking off my rain coat or shedding my vest as I started heating up as we hit the various climbs. Being a 3 time veteran of the course, I knew the climbs were there and didn't sweat them. I'd just grind them out at a comfortable pace without digging too deep. It was part of my plan for the full day. Work when I needed to, but conserve energy where I could.

Photo by Crag Lindner:

The 3 of us rolled through Preston and kept right on trucking without a stop as we didn't need anything only 38 miles into the course. It wasn't until mile 46 or so that we made any stops and it was for a quick pee break for the other guys. I took the opportunity to stuff my pie hole with a Stinger waffle while we made a sub 1 minute stop. Aaron and I slowed dropped Ian off as we rolled along feeling pretty decent even though we were pretty thoroughly wet by this point. On the plus side, my shell was wet from the rain along with my legs and feet, but my hands and core were relatively warm even if they were damp from sweat and some moisture seeping in. Score for my gear choices!

Chris had provided us some information that there would be an offroad portion of the course somewhere along the way. The cue cards noted that we'd hit this about 56 miles in. I was due to reload my nutrition box and Aaron and I decided we'd hit the offroad section and make a short stop to rest and reload. As we rolled up to the private property we were about to ride through, we could see some of the lead groups coming back on the tail end of the off road loop. It appeared we were maybe 15 minutes or so back of some pretty strong riders including Charlie Farrow. We rolled the first grassy section of the course and were greeted by a full on CX course including run-ups, barriers, riding through a cornfield, and about every other surface you can think of. Pure mad genius for Chris to throw that in there. It may have been my favorite portion of the course. Aaron and I kept our plan and after the 1st run-up we stopped for a short nature break and reload. I stuffed my face with half a salted nut roll and filled my top tube bag with an assortment of goodies from my camelback before we rolled the rest of the course. Ian had caught back up as we were resting and the 3 of us rolled out to enjoy the rest of the offroad portion.

Back to the gravel we stayed together and rolled on. We still didn't really work together, but the shared suffering somehow seemed to make it better as it was still raining and we were all wet and cold to varying degrees. For some reason, I had it in my head that our last pass through town with any food/service available was coming around 90 miles in. In reality, we hit Harmony at 65 miles just a scant 7 or 8 miles after we'd just taken a relatively significant break on the CX course. We didn't have a choice other than to oll up to the gas station to reload on water and any fuel that we needed. At this point, it became pretty apparent that Aaron was suffering mightily with his gear (or lack thereof). As we started to warm up, it became very clear we were in a dangerous position. I had all ready reloaded with a liter of water and 2 glazed donuts and knew it was time to go. Aaron was figuring his options of dropping or continuing and Ian seemed like he could hang out for a bit longer. I made the call it was time to go, lest we all succumb to the dryness and warmth of Kwik Shop.

3 rollers with a hundy left to go:

Sadly, Ian and I rolled on while Aaron stayed back. With the rest of the conditions hammering us, I think he made the right call for himself. Ian and I started trading a few pulls after a short while, after a long pull I looked back and Ian had drifted a long ways off the tail. I made a judgement call to roll on my own as I was still feeling good and didn't want to pull in the reigns at this point. I feel a bit bad as I don't see Ian on the finishers list, but I had to ride for myself to maintain my plan. I started clicking off the miles thankful for what seemed like a brief respite from the serious climbs and just hitting the rollers. The tunes were flowing from the Ipod, my nutrition was still going well, and I felt as good as could be expected given the mileage and conditions I'd been dealing with. Beyond hydrating and eating, I kept my mind busy with the cue sheets trying to figure out where on the horizon the next turn would be coming from.

Over the next 30 odd miles, we'd get a fresh treat of being out of the semi-protected valleys and thrust into the rolling farmland where the wind could tear at us with abandon. I started closing on another rider at this point. I distinctly remember the absurdity of "chasing" him on a gradual incline while doing 8-10 mph due to wind and road conditions. The hilarity wasn't lost on me so at least my spirits were still as high as could be expected. Finally I caught up to Ben from Northfield around mile 90 or so. He was climbing equally to me or perhaps a bit better, but I was rolling the flats a shade faster and would really gain ground by pedaling the downhills in my big ring. We passed each other back and forth a bit, but ended up working together to conquer some of the headwinds.

The only real issue of the day sprang up for me in this section. My cue cards had been slowly getting soaked from the backside due to the road spray even though they were in my Banjo Brothers map case/cue sheet holder. The elements were just a bit too much for it to match. As I went to pull out the cue sheet I was done with, all I came away with was a chunk of that sheet and the next couple below it as they were stuck together and soaked through. I stopped to assess my options and pulled the wad of 5 or so sheets out of my holder. Carefully I managed to peel back the sheet I was done with and also separate out the chunks I'd torn off to piece my remaining sheets back together. Lest they get any wetter, I pulled a ziplock from my pack and stuffed them inside before returning them to the map case. I hadn't done this earlier as I didn't want to have to stop every time I was done with a cue sheet just to change it out. From this point on, my only stops would be for cue sheet changes and I'd address any other issues at those times.

As mile 100 appeared on my garmin, Ben and I had been working together again. We passed a random truck parked by the side of the road and were offered pizza, beer, coke, etc. Initially I refused and rolled right past while Ben stopped to take a look. The guy called after me that it was all neutral, so I turned back to verify as I really didn't want to operate outside the rules of the race, no matter how bad the conditions were and how tempting the opportunity was. The guys from Pirate Cycling League had gotten approval from Chris to set up the oasis as long as they offered it up to everyone on the 162 route. Woohoo! All I ended up taking though was half a Coke to down some more ibuprofen for my aching back. We chatted for a few minutes as I waited for Ben to wade through a couple hot slices and then we hit the road in under 5 minutes.

Ben must've felt pretty good as he tore up the following grade and left me in the dust. Shortly thereafter, we were back into the flatlands with the wind and I'd catch, pass, and drop him. We finally were back on the Almanzo 100 course around mile 105 and could see the increase in tire tracks. I knew the checkpoint was coming up and started really beleiving I could make it as I remembered how well I rolled the section after the checkpoint from the previous year. A scant 10 miles later I rolled into the checkpoint alone. I chatted with the workers for a few seconds as I peeled back my jacket to reveal #53. They asked how I felt. I really hadn't given it much thought until then other than I knew I wasn't really hurting. In all honesty, I felt many times better at that point than I had at any of my previous 3 Almanzo checkpoints. It was an amazing thing.

After the checkpoint, the rolling terrain starts again in earnest. I also knew there would be a good number more miles into that dreaded wind. I had passed a few tail end charlie's from the Almanzo 100 a few miles before the checkpoint, but now I could see more in front of me. Typically I'd catch site of them walking the small rollers that I was still grinding out and before I knew it, I'd be passing them. Even though I was only rolling 12 or so mph, the speed difference was amazing as they were barely pushing on having given it their all. I tried to say a few words of encouragement to each rider I passed. Hopefully it made some small difference to them.

I started my countdown at this point, 30 miles, 20 miles, 10 miles to go. With 20ish left to go, we hit the water crossing. Having seen it last year, I knew what I was in store for. My plan was to actually take the time to remove my shoes and socks, roll up my leg warmers, and to walk across barefoot. My plan worked beautifully! Until I stumbled about 2/3 across the channel and steadied myself by dunking my shoes and socks in my left hand completely under the water. Son-of-a-bitch!!! The two guys that had waded across just before I got there had a good chuckle I'm sure. I tossed my gear onto the bank as I stumbled out the other side with the sharp rocks poking my barefeet, taunting my decision even further. I sat down to wring out my now sopping socks and dump the standing water out of my shoes. This was the wettest my feet had been all day as well as the coldest, but I was 20 miles from home and it was going to take a bullet to stop me from getting there.

Water crossing:

2011 Water Crossing from Chris Skogen on Vimeo.

The guys from the crossing were long gone, but as I was gearing back up, Ben caught up to me and waded straight across. I really wasn't in the mood to be caught and passed by anyone at this point so I bid him adieu and started cranking up the quarry climb on the far side of the crossing trying to catch back to the other 2 riders. I finally caught them another couple miles down the road as we hit some more steep rollers. I made a pass and the stronger rider grabbed my wheel. He then came back around and started spinning up the climb as he was on a mountain bike with some smaller gears. I decided to have a little fun as I was feeling good at this point. The grade dropped and we were still climbing. I sat in his draft for a minute or two and then came around to take a pull. Once I got in front of him, I hit the gas. After a minute or two I looked back and he was all ready a couple hundred yards back.

We were getting close to home by this point and even though my knees were aching along with my back and right hip, my legs still had power. I was down to the last 10 miles, then BAM! Chris throws in the most devious climb of the day. Oriole road. That name is burned into anyones psyche that rode the course. It was new for this year and I wasn't expecting it. Last year we had backtracked nearly the last 10 miles of the course and I was expecting the same as we'd all ready hit some of it. Now with 7 miles left, here was a wall of a climb. I hadn't walked any climbs to this point and pride sure wasn't going to let me do it now. I geared down as low as I could (since my baby ring up front hadn't worked all day) and let 'er rip. 4-5 mph was all I could muster and I flipped to check the grade seeing steady sections of 20% with some as high as 23%. The climb lasted close to a mile as near as I can tell on my readout. Finally at the top, the road actually dipped and I could build up some speed on the rolling terrain.

I passed a couple more riders about mile 150 and had just caught another when it came time to change out the last cue sheet. Reluctantly I watched the 1 then the other 2 riders roll back past as I stopped to change out the sheet. Not willing to risk any possible missed turns at this point meant letting them go. As I flipped to it, I was overjoyed to see I really only had 3 or so miles left and that our mileage was done at 155.8 rather than 162 which I'd had in my head all day. Fueled by a gel I'd taken in prepping for the last push and the euphoria of realizing how close I was, I lit it up. I hadn't ridden that fast since rolling out early in the morning. Not realizing we were actually rolling south now, I had picked up a tailwind push too.

I powered past the two riders on an uphill section that I stood and powered through. Now onto flat roads and coming into the last pavement, I caught and flew past the final rider in my sights. I sprinted out of the last corner and down to the school where Chris was waiting with open arms and the remaining people were clapping, cheering, honking, and making any noise they could. It was spectacular. 13 hours and 24 minutes for 155.8 miles for 16th place. I was a finisher! I felt fantastic.

One happy camper:

I'll see if I can come up with some thoughts and feelings about the whole ordeal in another post, but suffice to say, this was a near perfect race for me in planning, execution, and completion and I can't ask for anything more.

Monday, May 16, 2011

2011 Almanzo Royal 162 race report- gear and prep

I'm not sure where to start, but I figure you can never go wrong by thanking those that got you to where you are. I know I pedaled every mile of the race, but without these people and products behind me, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to try. My thanks and gratitude go first to my wife and girls. They've spent hours and days without me being home so I can ride and train. They may not always understand, but they love and support me and thats what matters. Greg, Sterling, and all the guys at Rasmussen Bike Shop for equipment, nutrition, and repairs. These guys "get it" and that's just the way it is. Genuine Innovations for my CO2 needs (which thankfully I didn't need). Oakley for my eye gear that I eventually had to relegate to my helmet. To Chris "Almanzo" for daring to dream big and coming up with such a killer event along with his army of volunteers who have a firm grasp on what it is to have a dream. And finally to all my buddies that are out there training, racing, and riding with me, no matter how crazy the conditions or off the wall my ride idea is, I can usually con at least one of you suckers into joining me and that's saying something!

Bike Selection:
Bianchi Axis CX bike, Specialized Captain front tire, Kenda Small block 8 rear tire, Banjo brothers cue sheet holder and seat bag, and FSA K-wing carbon flat top drop bars, clip on rear fender, and down tube protector (aka crud cutter). The group is an eclectic (but stock) collection of 3x9 Tiagra brifters, Sugino touring crank (48-38-28), Deore LX rear der, and 11-32 cassette.

Riding gear (head to toe):
Specialized S-work MTB helmet, Oakley Radar with orange lens, Rasmussen bike shop cap, Pearl Izumi rain jacket, Rasmussen wind vest, Rasmussen wool jersey, Nike sleeveless base, Specialized deflect gloves, Rasmussen bibs, Specialized leg warmers, Swiftwick 5" wool socks, and Specialized S-works MTB shoes.

OK, now that all the gear geekery is out of the way, here are the ride stats for the Royal 162.

I signed up for the Royal 162 in January wondering what I might be getting myself into. As a veteran of 3 previous instances of the Almanzo 100, I knew at least part of the challenge that lay ahead in getting to the finish line of this event. However, adding 60 more miles of gravel and surpassing my longest ever ride of 125 miles (on pavement), would be getting me into completely new territory. My training wasn't exactly spectacular as I started the year strong and then hit a small burnout after my failure at CIRREM this year. That carried through most of March before I really got back on track and started logging some decent miles again. I mixed both cardio efforts doing fast MTB rides along with long steady rides on the CX bike plugging away miles fully loaded and into the wind. Those long windy rides really helped to pay off in the mental fortitude game. About the only hole in my plan was the lack of a really long ride. My planned 120+ ride got canned when I broke a seat clamp bolt at mile 40 and rode 22 miles back to a pick up point standing. So the longest ride for the year ended up around 70 miles.

Broken seat much?

The Gents Race in early April left another smoldering question in my mind. Would I physically be able to survive that long? 60ish miles of relatively flat gravel on a dry sunny day with a rotating paceline of teammates left me cramped and bonking hard by the end. How would I last for another 100 miles on my own? Was I getting in over my head?

Forced smile/grimace after the gents race

The week before the race, I knew I had done whatever I could training wise and there wouldn't be anything to change that. I spent the week with one eye peeled to a steadily worsening forecast and fretting about nutrition and what gear I'd need. I finally decided to pack an early spring type of ride kit and throw in a few optional pieces that would be a game time decision like my wool jersey and lightweight winter gloves. I also decided to toss the fender and crud cutter in "just in case" I wanted them. I don't think I'd be remiss in attributing a fair amount of success/failure by everyone this weekend to good/not so good selections of their gear. Finally, I was packed and on the road to pick up my compatriots for the weekend: Squirrel, Courtney, and Skids.

On the way

Feeling pretty good as we jammed to some tunes going down the road, I got a call. I'm notorious for leaving various gear behind, but this time I was confident my list was double checked and I was locked and loaded. My wife's voice came on the line, "Umm, honey, did you know there's a gallon ziplock filled with gels and stuff sitting on the couch?" "F#$k!" I believe was the expression that came out first. Nothing like heading off for the wild unknown and leaving 95% of your nutrition behind. I started grabbing salted nut rolls and candy bars at gas stations as we stopped along the way and would see what I could grab from the bike shop in Rochester.

Left at home

We got to Rochester and swung by the bike shop that was closing at 6 (but thankfully still let us in at 6:02) and I stocked up with some Stinger waffles, Accel gels, and Cliff shot blocks to hopefully keep me moving. At the packet pick-up/check in we tossed a couple beers back and chatted nervously about the expected race conditions for the morrow, before we headed off towards Spring Valley to find our hotel and some dinner. We each gorged on foot long subs and then rolled to the hotel where we were greeted with the fact that we'd somehow scored the jacuzzi suite for the next 2 nights.

We spent the rest of the evening futzing with our final gear and nutrition selections, but maybe me more so than the others as I wanted EVERYTHING in its place and ready for the morning. Since I'd be starting 2 hours early than the others, I didn't want to have to chase anything down. It was at this point I made the decision to go with my wool jersey and more winter oriented gloves. Sometimes it pays to have ultra endurance geek friends that like to blog. I've seen it elsewhere too, but basically George put it out there not too long ago and it stuck in my head that while you may will get wet, at least if you've got wool gear on, you're still going to retain some warmth from it versus most synthetic fabrics that today's gear is typically made from. Warm+wet > cold+wet! I headed off for a fitful nights sleep wondering what lay in store for me the morning.