December 14, 2007

Poor man's ti...

...all dressed up so it even looks like ti. IF's platinum is about as close as you can get to the gray metal. Thank you Lloyd and crew for another fine job.

My Crown Jewel had seen 3 years, 15-20K miles and 3 summers of my profuse sweating conspiring to turn it into a rusting hulk. The paint was long gone from the dropouts and cable stops and there was a 2 year-old dent in the top tube that was rusting and ready to crack at any time. That dent was a result of Lauren leaning her bike against mine at a bakery stop in the hills around Clermont, knocking it down and right into the edge of a brick patio. With a fresh coat of paint, a new top tube and a shiny new parts kit, she'll be good as new. I'll get her built up over the Christmas holiday. Between work, holiday obligations and getting through my first training block of the season, time is at a premium.

I've been having lots of fun commuting and riding around town on my semi-slick adorned Deluxe, but big gear work starts with the new year and that 44 tooth big ring isn't gonna cut it.

November 28, 2007


After spending a wonderful Thanksgiving with my family and never leaving the house by car (I love holidays like that), I joined a small group of Swampers Friday to mark another set of new trails at Boyette. My trail building expertise has expanded greatly the past few years, but this was a great opportunity to add "planning a trail" to my quiver.

The yellow lines are the newest trails in the northeast corner of the park: Pandemonium across the top and Sidewinder down the right side. The red trails are what we marked. I was awed by the beauty of this tract. Hilly and shaded by pines and oaks, the ground is covered with ferns. The layout of the hills and gullies will allow for some sustained climbs and downhills. It looks like it will add 3-4 miles of trail when finished. They're working out the logistics to get a couple of excavators out there Christmas week to rough-cut the corridor, then we'll go in and finish the trail by hand. I know a lot of people decry trails built by machine, but the extensive bench cutting required for this trail would take months. With this plan, we'll be riding it in January. Sounds like a good plan and I'm hoping to take Christmas week off so I can pitch in and learn even more.

I think my Mad Max post generated the most comments ever on my blog. It's great to see so many dog lovers out there! Max is integrating into the household quite nicely, even though he thinks our cats exist solely for his entertainment. We had him neutered last week and despite wearing a lampshade all week, he still managed to rip out the stitches in 5 days. We also learned that he has a very sensitive stomach, which is totally opposite the iron-clad digestive tract Fontana has. A couple of raw Turkey necks for Thanksgiving resulted in projectile diarrhea and a trip to the emergency clinic Saturday. He was back to his lunatic self by Sunday afternoon.

Max's endurance training will resume this weekend. It's tough to get to trails during the week, so I'm thinking of dusting off the Rollerblades or even *gasp* running to get him some weekday exercise.

Hopefully all this exercise will be good for Fontana too. All the loaves of banana bread and bacon stolen off of grills at races have gone to his midsection and he is officially fat. He's on a strict dog food-only diet and will no longer be allowed to roam at races. Please accept my apologies if you were a victim of this little thief. He spent his early life scavenging for food to survive and I think the scavenger instinct will be with him forever.

If you see me, DO NOT FEED ME! No matter how charming or starved I look, I need my svelte figure back to keep up with Mad Max.

On the training front, I have officially lost all my fitness. I've started commuting to work a couple of days a week and am back in the gym. I start throwing the big weights next week. Hopefully I'll have a 12 hour race to get ready for in Florida in February. If not, I might have to get into some XC roundy-rounds before enduro season kicks in.

November 11, 2007

Mad Max

Reddick passed the final exam. He made a few newbie mistakes, but showed a lot of promise.

After we'd decided that he'd make a good trail dog but before we'd finished Saturday's ride, Lauren's daughter called and told us the owner had been located. His name was Max, which he readily answered to. I called them after the ride and quizzed them a bit more. It was the owner.

I resisted the urge to lecture them about things like why he had no collar/ID/chip, why he wasn't fixed, why they took 4 days to come forward and decided the positive approach was best if I wanted to keep this dog. I told the girl that we really enjoyed having him around, what he could do on trails and that we'd decided we'd have kept him had nobody claimed him.

We were really bummed on the way home, but knew we'd done the right thing and the dog was going back to its family. We discussed calling the local rescue group to adopt a Weim or going to the shelter and looking around. As cool as this particular dog was, we'd seen how cool it would be (and how easy our evenings would be) if Fontana had a buddy to occupy his time.

The girl's father (the actual owner) called a couple of hours later and basically offered me the dog. He said he travels a lot, has been looking for a new home for him and thought that ours would be a good one. He wanted to stop by, obviously to make sure we were worthy, but then Max would be ours.

He didn't make it until this afternoon. I felt really bad for the guy because he was obviously really attached to Max, but realized this was the best thing for the dog. I went out of my way multiple times to tell him not to do this if he really didn't want to. In the end he gave us all his stuff, thanked us and left.

Meet Max. He'd come say hi but he's really whooped from the weekend. :)

November 09, 2007

Name that dog

Fontana and I were out for our evening walk Tuesday night when this guy barreled into our lives. He had no collar or tags and was just wild. In the process of trying to get him to our house, I took Fontana's collar and leash, figuring Fontana would just follow along. Instead, the stressed-out Fontana took off. I was about to just let the dog go when a neighbor offered to keep it for the night and try to find its owner the next day.

She did a great job, plastering the neighborhood with "found dog" signs and taking him to a vet to scan for a microchip (there was none). I did my part on the phones, registering him with Animal Services, contacting rescue groups and scanning the local classifieds. I found a local Weimaraner group and let them know I had him so they could spread the word. My neighbor, who is used to little lap dogs, had her hands full with this hound and was ready to take him to Animal Services. I didn't want that yet, so I offered to take him for the night, hoping another day would yield some results.

Fast forward to today. The wildman has calmed down. He was obviously wigged out from being lost/dumped. He and Fontana are already best buddies and they do a great job of wearing each other out with no intervention on my part. He's fine around our cats. He's well-socialized, knows basic commands and listens when off-leash. Nobody has come forward to claim him. He's looking like a keeper. The final exam will be this weekend when we'll see if he has what it takes to be a trail dog.

We couldn't keep calling him "hey you" or "puppy". He needed a name. Keeping with the tradition of naming our dogs something relevant to the events around them coming into our lives, Lauren though of "Derrick", which is an alteration of the town name my beloved Razorback park was in (Reddick).

I thought about all the trail names at Razorback: Grannie's Revenge, Miller's Mile, Big Gulp, Rollercoaster, Tree Slalom, Longest Mile, Clay Climb, Hero Hills, Dempsey's Doozie. "Miller" or "Dempsey" were the only possibilities. Nah. I started calling him Derrick and he picked right up on it.

Now the consensus among our family and people we've talked to is "Reddick" is better. It's more unique and doesn't sound so dorky.

He's not our dog yet. We have to wait a couple of weeks to give the owner a chance to come forward, but if nobody has stepped up to claim a dog that they probably paid a lot of money for (he obviously came from a professional breeder) by now, they probably aren't going to.

So, what do you think? Derrick or Reddick? Have any better ideas? Post your comments and let me know!

November 05, 2007

Funeral for a friend

The rain cleared out. The temperatures dropped to "comfortable". The sky was blue as blue can be. The trails were in the best shape I've seen them in years.

The crowds were bigger than any race

Our compound for the weekend

This is Florida?????

Soaking in the view

Hanging with my favorite peeps at my favorite overlook

The Saturday night farewell party was a raucous, fitting tribute to what's been called "the best race course in the Southeast", lasting into the wee hours of the morning. Sunday morning we woke to the discovery that the place is truely magical. Bikes grow on trees.

Around noon Sunday, we gathered for a final "parade lap". A group of 30, including many of the best riders in the state, headed out for one final lap at a casual pace. It was the group ride you dream about, where you never had to worry about the rider in front of you making that technical section. When we hit the Big Gulp section of Miller's Mile, many riders took the right turn up the toughest climb at Razorback. Others took the left turn bailout, but the gauntlet had been thrown. I turned right, followed by Greg Derosa. We danced up that climb like it was choreographed. That was the defining moment of a final lap that can only be described with one word: Magical.

I've gotta give a huge shout-out to Dave Berger at Gone Riding for single-handedly building the best race course in the Southeast. Many, many riders around here will never forget what you have done for this sport. I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing that you're not "twice bitten, thrice shy" and find another piece of land that will bring back the glory of Razorback.

October 24, 2007

Birth of a trail

In the 90s, Hardrock MTB park was da bomb. It was the home course of Gone Riding and while we had to share it with motorcycles, it was the best and toughest trail in the state. I entered my first race there in '99, the 12 Hours of the Rock, on a beginner team and had a blast. In late '99 Dave Berger and the owners came to a disagreement over the management of the park. The owners wanted to give more priority to the motos and Dave wanted to give more priority to the mountain bikers. It ended in a stalemate and the loss of a great trail. A few months later, Razorback was born. It grew to be twice the trail that Hardrock ever was. History will repeat itself again.

Over in Lakeland, the Ridge Riders are going like gangbusters, making the trails at Loyce Harpe Park more sustainable while maintaining the technical difficulty that make that trail great. Raymond Wells, RRMBA head honcho, is on the advisory committee for Colt Creek State Park, where a new trail system is on the horizon. Word from Ridge Rider land is that a private trail in Fort Meade will be re-opened and there is work being done to re-open a trail in Hernando County. Gran Canyon? Hoo boy, that place was a doozy back in the day.

The project I'm most passionate about is SWAMP's work on the new Sidewinder trail at Boyette Park. Sidewinder will add about 3 miles of trail to my favorite dog-friendly local trail. I worked on the new trail the weekend before last and it's gonna be a great addition. Work crews will be assembling the next two Saturdays. Wanna help out? Be there at 8:30 AM. Send an email here to RSVP and you'll get lunch afterword. I was planning on being there for both work days, but my new plan is to ride Razorback as much as possible before it's gone.

This weekend we're gonna ride Razorback Saturday, camp at Santos with some friends and ride there Sunday. I'll probably trim up a couple of red trails that need some love to keep my trailwork mojo going.

Next weekend is the big Razorback farewell party. Normally open only on weekends, it will be open Thursday through Sunday with free camping. The party Saturday night sounds like it's gonna be a raucous funeral for a friend. I think a 3-day weekend is in order.

October 23, 2007

Death of a trail

I just read the news that Razorback is closing. Yessiree, the home of the 12 Hours of Razorback and the best trail in Florida is no more. When I read this I felt like somebody just told me my best friend died.

For the past 3 years, you could find me there almost every weekend I was in town. As my endurance racing addiction took hold I spent even more time there, because it was perfect for long training rides. It had enough hard stuff to make sure I was worked over at the end of the day, but enough easy stuff to allow for some recovery. I logged over 1000 miles there this year.

The thing that really made it great, though, was it's "family-friendly" atmosphere. I could bring Lauren and Fontana there with me and they'd ride easier loops. After they rode, Lauren would hang out and do yoga or just chill while waiting for me to finish my 5-hour ride. Fontana would make the rounds, playing with other dogs and seeing what kinds of goodies he could mooch off the other park patrons.

I have many, many fond race memories from Razorback. I got my only Sport win there in 2001. I was on my way to my only Expert win there, only to be derailed by a broken chain. I had many other podium finishes in Expert XC races there. Placing 3rd at this year's 12 Hours of Razorback was one of the highlights of my season.

Godspeed, my good friend.

October 06, 2007

Off season!

My season is over. I've had some great races and had a blast this season I could've kept going without much travel since there's a great XC series going on in Florida, but a couple of months of downtime has served me well the past few years. Every year I take a month off and rebuild my base, and every year I've gotten stronger despite being on the downhill side of middle-age.

I'll keep riding, but there will be no 5AM training rides for a few months. During the week, the only exercise I've gotten the past couple of weeks has been walking my dog. I ride on the weekends but keep it short and easy.

Last weekend we camped at Santos to celebrate a friend's birthday. The ratio of beers drank to hours ridden was about 3:1. Good times, indeed.

I'm going like gangbusters catching up on all the stuff that gets ignored when I'm riding 15+ hours a week. Which leads me to...

Cleaning out the garage

Here's a bunch of stuff I'm looking to get rid of. Before I go the eBay route I thought I'd try the direct route. If you're interested in any of this stuff click the link on your right to email me. Reasonable counter offers will be considered. Costs don't include shipping.

Aerus CXC Carbon Flat Bar, new, $50

Brand new, still in box. Oversize (31.8), 580mm wide, 6 degree sweep, 132 grams. More info at

Kenda Karma tire, new, $20

26.2.20, 580 grams, kevlar bead. More info at

Shimano XTR ceramic V-brake pads, new, $10 for 2 sets

I took them out of the cardboard display pack, but the plastic packaging has never been opened. Includes mounting pins.

SRAM PC-1 single speed chain, new but cut, $10

1/2 x 1/8", 330 grams, 108 links including Snap Lock connector, nickel plated. The box says it has 114 links. I believe I cut it down to 108 for a singlespeed experiment, but didn't use it because a 3/32" chain was recommended for my cog/ring. The chain has never been ridden.

Shimano CN-HG70 chain, new, $10

New, still in box, never shortened or mounted. 116 links, includes connecting pin. Great 3/32" single speed chain.

September 25, 2007

12 Hours of Dauset

My original end-of-season plan was to hit a couple of the races in the Florida State Championship Series. The first race was in Tallahassee Sept. 15-16 and Tom Brown Park is one of my favorite courses on the XC circuit. My parents came into town that weekend so instead of racing I spent some quality time with Mom & Dad. Throwing down with Eddie O for 12 hours sounded like a good plan B.

I went self-supported on this one again. I brought enough water bottles to sustain me for the entire race, set up a table with food and supplies and had both of my IF Deluxes tuned up and ready to go. Sure some support would've been nice, but it would only make a difference if I had mechanical issues. I gambled that if I needed anything it could wait until the 6-hour racers I knew were hanging around.

The LeMans start was thankfully very short. I made it to my bike within 30 seconds and in good position for the parade lap that went about a mile up a dirt road, then back down a singletrack to the start/finish. Eddie came up from behind on the road and started working his way up. I jumped on his wheel.

We rode together the entire first lap, doing our best to steer clear of the many 6-hour racers who were doing their best to leave it all out there on that first lap. It was hilarious. Some guy would come up behind, all impatient and ready to pass. I'd let him by and it would be obvious he was pounding it out like it was an XC race. Sometimes they'd pass Eddie, sometimes they wouldn't, but they'd always end up in the same spot: laying on the ground as we passed them back.

The traffic started lightening up a bit by the end of the lap and we rolled into the second lap together. It was looking like we'd keep doing this for a while until one of us decided to start attacking and/or one of us cracked. I couldn't have asked for a better script.

About half-way through the lap my chain started skipping on the cassette. I played with the barrel adjusters, to no avail. It was one of those skips that was indicative of a link about to break, so I stopped, looked, saw nothing and continued. I stopped for another look and finally saw that my chain was bent. Apparently the chain derailed off the outside of the big ring on a rough downhill and I unknowingly pedaled it back on, bending the chain in the process. I finished the lap, focusing on staying super-smooth, got to my pit and changed over to my backup bike. At this point everybody was racing so I just dropped the damaged bike at my pit and hoped I wouldn't need it again.

The stops to figure out what was going on cost me about 1 minute. The bike changeover cost me about 3 minutes. My pit was right before scoring and while rolling through they asked "what's your number?". I looked down and saw no number plate. #$%#@!!!!! I went back to my pit, changed the number plate over and tried again. That cost me another 2 minutes.

We were less than 2 hours in and I'd already spotted Eddie 6 minutes. To say I was pissed would be an understatement. It would've been easy to go off on a tear to reel him back in, but it was going to be a long hot day and going out too hard could be a recipe for disaster. I decided to keep to my pacing plan. Hopefully I could bring him back over the course of the day. Maybe he worked too hard attacking me after my mechanical and would pay for it later.

It was very difficult to go from gunning for the win to being in chase mode, especially not knowing if I was gaining or losing ground. I had some really tough moments out there when it got really hot, but I'd get through each lap and go out for "just one more". That's how I had to take it: One lap at a time. Finish, repeat.

When the 6-hour racers were off the course I started getting positioning updates and moral support. I was really close and was getting tons of encouragement, both of which got my motivation back up there. At one point Eddie left his pit only 30 seconds before I rolled into mine. I took off on that lap on a tear, put in a few hard efforts without breaking the bank, but still couldn't reel him in.

I admitted that this had become a race for second for me, but I had no idea how far back the next rider was. I got conflicting reports: One that I'd lapped him; one that he was a way back but on the same lap as me. No idea. All I could do is keep plugging out one lap at a time. For the last few laps I was doing lots of lap math. I was maintaining lap times in the low to mid 50s and could finish with 13 laps. The question was whether I would have to do that last lap. I finished my 12th 45 minutes before cutoff and there was no question that I was going out again. I had to salvage what I could out of this and I actually had fun on my last night lap. I had even more fun on that 13th lap because I knew it was over and cold beers and hot buffalo burgers were calling. I cranked out that lap 3 minutes faster than my 12th, finishing less than 5 minutes behind Eddie.

The mechanical cost me 6 minutes. I finished 5 minutes back even though I suffered severe motivational problems all day. It would've been a great battle if not for that early mechanical.

This was shot by Carl Mesta. It was my last lap before I put on lights. I saw him at that spot and just had to catch some air for the camera. Carl was nice enough to make his photos available to everybody for free. If you were there, check out his shots. Hopefully you'll want to buy one, 'cause they're that good.

September 10, 2007

SM100: The race

The crack of dawn start

The photo credit goes to directly to Lauren and indirectly to Fontana. Seems the pooch was a bit un-nerved that Daddy was up getting ready to ride his bike and wouldn't let Mommy sleep, so she got up and watched the start.

I was up about 10 minutes before the 5AM gong "alarm". This always happens without an alarm. I guess it's pre-race nervous energy. With a proper good night's sleep, I usually start sleeping pretty lightly around 3AM, looking at my watch every half-hour or so. I've always considered this a good thing since it gets me to the blue rooms before things start to pile up. Let your mind interpret that however it will.

Experience rocks. I have these early-morning starts dialed now that I've done so many of them. The routine is something like this: Wake-visit blue room-make coffee-make breakfast-eat-visit blue room-get dressed-roll to start-visit blue room on way-find spot on line-pee-go! I've also been simulating no warm-up starts by jumping right into my early morning training rides. I ride before work during the week and had gotten into the habit of spinning around for a half-hour or so before starting to "train". At hundies I'd always feel a bit sluggish for the first half-hour or so, so I started kicking it into gear sooner and it seemed to help. Once the neutral start was over and things started ramping up, I started working my way up and felt great.

As I was working my way up the first fireroad climb I was passed by Sue Haywood. She was keeping a nice pace and looked like a good wheel to jump on. I was already blowing by guys who'd started too hard; now we were really blowing by them. When we hit the first singletrack I got a taste of how my day would go. There were riders stumbling and bumbling up the first steep rocky pitch. It was short and would require a short effort, so why walk it? I blasted up it, taking bad lines around a few walkers and made it up easily. The legs were feeling great.

As I started the climb up to Wolf Ridge I found myself amongst a big group that included Sue and Jeff. She let a bunch of guys go around but they weren't really going anywhere, so when it was my turn and she asked, I declined. The girl's got some serious skills and her wheel was a great one to hang onto.

Somewhere on this climb we passed Chris Eatough. At the time he was trying to figure out what was going on (back wheel wouldn't spin), which turned out to be a broken axle. It sucks to see a fellow racer taken out early by a mechanical, especially somebody with Chris' meticulous preparation, but it goes to show that it happens to the best of us.

Shortly after that I bobbled on some rocks, Sue got a gap and I was alone. It was no biggie since I was near the top and pretty soon my lousy descending skills would've made sure I was alone anyway.

I soldiered on alone and it would stay that way except for the road sections. I'd finish a singletrack or leave an aid station and I'd inevitably end up with a few other riders and we'd start pacelining. I never consciously tried to, but at some point I'd ride all of them off my wheel.

Good things started to happen on the way up Hankey Mountain, in the form of catching and dropping riders on the climbs. I've figured out that this flatlander can't descend, but I sure can climb if I'm having a good day. So far I was having a good day. I worked my way through 3 riders up that climb and none of them caught back up on the downhill.

This shot was taken in the ripping grassy singletrack around Braley Pond, right before aid station 4 and the race's defining climb that follows it. I actually wiped the scowl from my face and looked like I was having fun, instead of my normal racing look of twisted pain.

The good vibes continued on the climb up to Shenandoah Mountain. I kept a good tempo all the way up, with occasional surges to catch and drop other racers. I made my usual quick work of aid station 5, made even faster with the help of my teamie Mark who was up there volunteering. He lubed my squeaky pedals, helped top off my bottles and ran alongside me with a last piece of that heavenly watermelon as I scarfed down another. Thanks, Mark. You rock. Despite all that help I still got caught up in the desire to resume chasing down riders, forgetting to grab a fresh gel flask and can of Endurolytes. I took stock of what I had left (swig of gel and 3 Endurolytes), estimated the time I had left to the finish (2 hours) and decided it wasn't worth turning back.

The climb up to Chestnut Ridge was a highlight of the race for me. I was continuing to catch riders, but that wheel-sucking grassy singletrack was one of the most beautiful places I've been to recently. The air was cool, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and wildflowers were going off all around me. It would've been a perfect place to waste an afternoon, but I had business to attend to. Jeff later said this was a sign that I was in the zone. All he thought about was how much that climb sucked. I was definitely in the zone.

The racing started to get interesting near the top of Chestnut Ridge. I passed 2 more riders right before the top. I started the descent and shortly thereafter I heard a rider coming up from behind. I stopped to let him by, but it was the first rider I passed, not the second. Then I boogered a switchback and the first rider got me back. Rider #2 was gone for good (almost), but I played cat & mouse with rider #1 all the way past aid station 6. I got him on one of the short climbs, then my rear wheel popped out of the dropout on the next descent. He got me back and gapped me before I got rolling again. The gap was enough that he kept it all the way past aid station 6. Once we got to Hankey and started climbing again, I finally got rid of him for good. I knew I had less than 1 hour left and ramped the pace up as high as I could, keeping it pinned all the way to the top. Right before I got there I saw rider #2 from Chestnut just ahead. I pinned it but couldn't reel him in before the downhill.

I crossed the line in 8:22, knocking 50 minutes off last year's time and finishing 14th overall. I was shooting for 8:30 and figured the placing would take care of itself if I did my part. Wow. This was the race I was looking for at the Wilderness 101. I just needed to fine tune the chill plan.

September 08, 2007

SM 100: The journey

At the beginning of this year, The Shenandoah Mountain 100 was going to be the only hundie I did outside the southeast. I had so much fun last year, how could I not go back? I talked Lauren into joining me with the promise of a couple of days of good riding. "Good" to her means nothing too crazy.

I've noticed that my race performances this year have been directly proportional to the amount of quality chill time I've had before the race. We did the bulk of the driving Thursday, getting to Douthat State Park late that night. I stayed here on the way up to the Wilderness 101 and there's great riding is right out the back of the campground. We camped and rode up to Middle Mountain Friday morning. What a sweet ridgeline singletrack that was.

I'd delivered on one day of good riding but didn't know what to do next. My plan was to drive up to Harrisonburg, stop into Shenandoah Bicycle Company and see if they could steer me to some good intermediate, dog-friendly (no pavement) riding. Harrisonburg was less than 2 hours from Douthat; not a bad drive at all. Thomas at SBC delivered the goods, showing me a singletrack loop called Trimble Mountain that was only 4 miles from Stokesville. Perfect.

It was early afternoon and we had time to kill, so we strolled around town a bit then grabbed dinner at this place next to SBC called Dave's. The food was good (Greek/American fusion) and the beer was cheap ($3.50 24 oz Sierria Nevada!).

After dinner all we had to do was head to Stokesville and set up camp for the rest of the weekend. When we were walking out the door of Dave's, I swore I saw Floyd walk out of the bike shop and right by us into the restaurant. Mike and Lloyd later confirmed it was him when they mentioned they spent the evening there drinking with him and Chris Scott. After my first brush with cycling fame, we got to the Stokesville campground with plenty of daylight and chill time left.

I slept long and hard Friday night (I love sleeping in the woods). Saturday we drove up to Trimble Mountain. It would've been perfect to ride the 4 miles up the road to the trail, ride the trail then ride back, but pavement was out of the question with Fontana. The trail was great, perfect for opening the legs up. It was a 2 mile climb up to a short ridge with great views, then 2 miles down. Lauren crashed on a technical section and didn't want to do it again, so I spun down the road back to camp while she followed in the car with a whimpering Fontana, not understanding why he couldn't be out there running next to me. It had something to do with it being a road and me hauling down it at 40 MPH.

It was early afternoon and all I had to do was pack my drop bags. The chill plan was in full effect.

August 21, 2007

I really was at the Fool's Gold

Here's a shot of me leaving aid station 4 on the 2nd lap. I'd just put the hardest part of the course behind me, knew I had only 1 hour to go and nobody was close behind. I was the happiest I'd been in hours. Little did I know that a potential win was so close...

The photo credit goes to The Tomato. He was manning aid station 4 after racing the 50. He also went out after dark and many beers to help find lost riders. Way to go, Tomato, and it's always putting a face to a name/blog. Thanks for sending me the photo. I almost never get pictures unless Lauren is with me.

August 20, 2007

Fool's Gold 100

I'd been looking forward to this one all year for a number of reasons. It's the realization of two good friends' dream. It's something I helped scout routes for last fall. It's another backcountry endurance race in the Southeast.

It turned out to be probably one of the toughest hundies out there.

Nuccio and I rolled out of Tampa late Thursday morning, took care of a few errands for a frazzled race director, made it to Dahlonega for dinner, then retreated to the secret pre-race headquarters of 55nine Performance. Friday we left civilization for Camp Wahsega and went for a ride. I'd originally planned to ride Bull Mountain, but since I knew that trail well I thought we'd scout some of the other trails in the course. We'd spin down the gravel road, jump into the last half of the course, then ride until we felt like quitting. 25 miles later, we were back at camp. It wasn't bad for me, but poor Nuccio, fresh off recovering from a major knee gash, was cooked.

We cleaned up, checked in and checked out our accommodations for the weekend. Despite the stifling heat, the a/c-less cabins weren't too bad since they were shaded and near a creek. Still, they were a bit warm. There were 2 fans in the cabin and I'd brought one from home, so once all the windows and doors were opened and the gale-force vortex was set up, it was quite nice.

We got a spaghetti and meatball dinner and washed it down with Sweetwater 420. We hung out with the low-key crowd and turned in around 9:30 for the 5AM wake-up call.

While the fields were kind of small, there was plenty of competition: Sam Koerber, Peter Joski, Garth Prosser, Chris Janiszewski, and Dicky and Trish Stevenson waiting in the wings for me to have a bad day. Just making it to the podium would be tough.

The race started at 6:35 AM. The pitch-black sky had just started to get a hint of blueness to it when we started. It was light enough to see the fireroad that would be our friend for the next 12 miles, so it was fine. What was missing was the rolling start. We shot across a grassy field, up a hump and onto the gravel climb. As I was vocally lobbying for a racer-created neutral start, Chris jumped up the road and a bunch of others followed. I started to go, but my legs and lungs still weren't awake. I let Sam, Peter, Garth and Rich chase Chris and spun to warm up. I was soon joined by Trish and another rider. After about 15 minutes I felt awake and upped the pace, shedding my early companions. I caught Rich on the ridge and left him once the ridge started pointing down.

I was all alone for the next 60 miles. I knew the hard stuff was in the rollers in the second half of the course, so I took it easy on the long climbs. At the end of the lap there was a short section of gravel road that we rode down, then back up to start the next lap. I saw Garth and Peter heading up as I was going down and timed them to be 8-9 minutes ahead of me. When I went through scoring Eddie O confirmed that Sam was way up the road, with Peter and Garth 8 minutes ahead of me, and Chris was at his car trying to fix a front chainring problem. I was in 4th and had a pretty big gap to try to bring back, but I felt good.

I felt good, that is, until I hit that gravel road climb for the second time. This time it was pushing 90 degrees without a cloud in the sky. It was sandy and dusty. I wasn't having fun. I'd decided to leave my full Camelback at the car and do the second lap with bottles. I'd drained them by the time I hit the first aid station. I stopped, grabbed bottles of Gatorade and what I thought was water, chugged a Burn, and started the mostly downhill miles to the base of Bull Mountain.

I took a swig of that "water" and it had a minty flavor. It was kind of nice, even refreshing, and made the hot water seem not-so-hot. I found out that it was something called "Rapid Recovery" that Dedicated Athlete is testing. A lot of people hated it, but I loved it. I drank lots of it for the rest of the race.

When I pulled into the aid station at the bottom of Bull, Peter was rolling out. I asked how he was doing and got a sarcastic "fantastic" for a reply, so I knew he was hurting. There was no reason to get excited and hurried, so I went about my business of topping off bottles and forgetting to lube my chain.

About 3.5 miles long, Bull Mountain was the second major climb of the day. I started up, keeping my pace in check. Pretty soon I saw him, only it wasn't him. It was Garth, going backwards. I was gaining on him rapidly. In my excitement, I let it go a bit too much on a short downhill, washing out in a sandy turn. I slid across the ground, ripping a brand-new pair of shorts. I saw blood under there, but there wasn't time to worry about that. I jumped back on and resumed reeling Garth in. This time I passed him, only to realize shortly thereafter that my front tire was almost flat. I must've burped air when I crashed, or I was getting a flat before the crash and low air was the culprit. I decided to try shooting some CO2 into the tire first. When I was doing that I noticed that the tire bead was unseated from the rim, confirming the burp-while-crashing theory. The air did the trick, re-seating the tire, and I was rolling again, this time passing Garth for the last time.

I knew Peter couldn't be far ahead and kept pushing. I'd see him, but he was proving to be a bit harder to reel in. I caught him on the last steep pitch before the top of the Bare Hare trail. He was walking it. I rode it and he let me by, but he was right back on me after a bit of downhill. It went like that all the way down Bull Mountain. I'd open a gap on a climb, he'd close it on a downhill, repeat.

I got to the aid station and took my time. I had to re-arrange the contents of my jersey pockets to fit a third bottle for the next long section. Peter rolled in as I was doing my thing, but he walked over to a cooler and sat down, not willing to continue challenging at that point.

The squeaking of my neglecting chain was getting unbearable (I forgot to lube it at the aid station again), so I attempted the "apply lube while rolling" trick, only to dump half the contents of my jersey pocket all over the gravel road.

I made it to the final aid station without incident. I was pretty sure that nobody was closing in on me. One of aid station volunteers optimistically told me Sam was maybe 10 minutes ahead of me, but the other guy sounded a bit more realistic and it sounded like it would be difficult at best to chase him down. I kept at it in my survival pace - hard enough to feel it, but leaving enough that I'd have something in the tank if I really needed it.

The big creek crossings were great in the last section. It was well into the 90s by now and I'd felt like my head was going to explode from the heat more than once. Those creek crossings were about hub-deep and had lines that allowed them to be hit really fast. I hit them as fast as possible for maximum soaking effect. I was as giddy as a kid playing in a rainstorm.

As I rolled toward the finish line, I saw Sam heading toward his campsite. I finished in 10:16, 4 minutes (!) behind Sam and 2nd overall. My biggest need was to be cool, so I went straight to my gear bag, grabbed a towel and headed to the small waterfall tucked into a sweet creek that rolled out of the hills into camp. I sat in and around that water for almost an hour.

The after-party was great! They had a live band, and plenty of food and beer. Watching the people rolling in after dark, with and without lights, was inspiring as always. Eddie and Namrita put on one hell of race, and this was only their first year. That makes it a don't miss race in my book, because I'm sure they'll make it even better.

What made this race so hard? The first 15 miles were gravel road, then the rest of the course was almost all singletrack. There would be a section of gravel here and there, but probably no more than 5 miles over the rest of the course. I turned out that a lap was around 55 miles, not 50. It was August in Georgia, during the mother of all heat waves. I'd like to think that if I'd known how close I was to Sam, I coud've dug deeper and reeled him in. As I'm sitting here Monday afternoon typing this after calling in sick and sleeping half the day, I think I left it all out there.

August 08, 2007

Wilderness 101

I didn't know it at the time, but the tone for this race would be set a week before it. Saturday morning I was getting ready to head up to Razorback. There was a wasp nest going strong above my garage door that I decided to do something about. I grabbed the can of bug spray, aimed it at the nest and fired. The dribble that came out of the can did nothing but piss the wasps off. I felt one land on my back and retreated across the loose rock walkway leading to the back deck and house. I lost my footing (I was wearing flip-flops) and slid across the rocks and into the deck, banging up both knees in the process. Danielle would've been proud.

It didn't hamper my riding, but all my rides last week were with a dull ache in my left knee. I believe in knowing how my body really feels and not taking drugs unless I really need them, so I'm not one to pop vitamin I on a regular basis. I thought it would be a good idea pre-load my system with it before the 101, but constantly forgot. I started with a few Friday, a few more before the race Saturday and a few more during the race. I actually think I ate 6 during the race. Dimwit.

My goal was for an 8:30 finish time, about 40 minutes faster than last year. I planned to do this by not going so hard in the first half so I didn't bonk during the technical second half. That was where I would make up my time, being able to attack the technical sections instead of barely surviving them.

The plan was going well. I let the lead group go when we started climbing and settled into my own pace. I rolled through aid stations 1 and 2 with about the same times as I did last year and felt good. I made it down Croyle's without flatting. Man, that trail rocks. It's probably the best section of trail in the race.

The plan was going into effect by the time I reached aid station 3. I didn't know it at the time, but I beat my 2-3 split from last year by 15 minutes. I took care of business and started up Sassafras, where the real work was to begin with the most demanding part of the race. I rolled through all the rocky goodness, still feeling pretty good, and hit aid station 4 10 minutes faster than last year. I was now 30 minutes up on last year with about 25 miles to go. I ran into Jeff there, who had just busted his seatpost and was out of the race. Jeff was having one hell of a ride, too.

I rolled out of aid station 4 and started up the loose gravel climb. Then it started. Stomach cramps. Anything over a recovery effort resulted in twisting cramps. I would've puked if I could, but nothing would come up. Eating was out of the question. I got in a few calories through my drink mix, but it wasn't enough as I had to rely primarily on plain water. I walked up a lot of that climb, asking everybody who passed me for a gun so I could put myself out of my misery.

I limped into aid station 5, having given up something like a gazillion spots in the overall. Pringles looked appetizing, so I ate a handful, topped off bottles and set out to try to salvage my race. I was able to finally pick up the pace up the rail grade, through the first tunnel and starting up the climb. Then my stomach started turning somersaults again, so I shut it down and gave up another gazillion spots. I was finally able to open it up again thanks to some big guy in baggy shorts who was wearing a huge pack. When he passed me I had to salvage some dignity, so I dug in, flew throught the last tunnel and pinned it to the finish.

The end result was a 9:00 finish, 11 minutes better than last year. I was right on pace to meet my race goal before the gastric implosion. I'm boycotting Ibuprofen.

The 2800 mile adventure that was getting to this race is a story in itself, and one that I've decided to give its own blog entry, which will be up soon.

July 26, 2007

ORAMM report, full version

I first rode the ORAMM route in 2003, while on a trip to Pisgah with some friends from Florida. Eddie O was there, back when he was first getting bit by the endurance bug. Before going I talked to Jeremy who agreed to take us on a tour of Heartbreak. He had some reservations about how a bunch of flatlanders would fare on that ride, especially after 3 days of all-day mountain rides. I think he answered his own question as he was puking at the top of Heartbreak. Good times.

I raced ORAMM in 2004, finishing in about 7 hours, and in 2005, finishing in 6:40. I skipped it on 2006 because it was right in the middle of the Breckenridge 100 and the Wilderness 101. After my abysmal performance at Breckenridge I ended up in Georgia for a 6 hour race the following weekend, finishing a strong 2nd. Shoulda gone to ORAMM.

I was really bummed about missing the race that gave me the endurance bug last year, so I made sure it was on my calendar this year.

I'd been travelling solo or with my wife and dog to races this year, but at the last minute my buddy Mike jumped in. He was nursing a knee injury and wouldn't be racing, but wanted to participate in the debauchery. He'd drive. The only catch was that I'd have to leave Thursday instead of Friday. It was a tough decision leaving the steaminess of Florida in July for an extra day of sweet mountain coolness. It was a nice change of pace chilling in the passenger seat the entire way.

We rode around here Friday. Bent Creek is nice because it's easier on the legs than most of Pisgah or DuPont but still allows for some openers. It was 75 degrees and sunny at 2:00 PM. Heaven.

A crew from Florida and Texas filled a little lodge less than a mile from the Kitsuma trailhead. The proprieters were great. They gave us the run of the place, made us an early breakfast Sunday before the race and had a feast waiting for us when we got back Sunday night. There's nicer digs around, but their hospitality is hard to beat.

Saturday we did our traditional Kitsuma pre-ride. I climbed the switchbacks at race pace and spent the downhill getting comfortable riding switchbacks. I knew I had some work to do when I hit the first one a little tight, augered the front wheel, went over the bars and tumbled about 50 feet down the mountain. Luckily it was soft dirt and fauna and the only thing bruised was my ego.

Race day: We arrived at 7AM for the 8AM start. While registering I heard that the riders' meeting would be at 8 and the race would start at 8:30. Extra time is good. I decided to make my way to the front of the group for the meeting and start. That was a good thing because at 8:10 they decided the race would start at 8:11, leaving a bunch of people standing around their cars, wondering what happened to that extra time they were given.

We formed a nice paceline behind the neutral start car, except we left one unlucky fool up front to do all the pulling. When we hit the gravel and started climbing Mill Creek Road, Harlan went to the front and it was on. I kept pace with the lead group for a few minutes, then let them go in the interest of finishing strong. We formed a small chase group of 5-6 riders. We stayed that way up the road, through the surprise singletrack and downhill with downed trees buried in the grass, up and down Kitsuma to aid station 1. I stopped briefly to top off my bottle. I think everybody else stopped longer because I was alone through the Star Gap singletrack and onto the neverending grassy road. A singlespeeder went by me during the grassy road climbs, but I reeled him back in on the descent. I figured I'd see him going up Curtis Creek, but I never saw him again.

I topped off bottles at aid station 2 and headed up Curtis Creek Road. I love this climb because most people hate it, and this climb got me into the top 10. I'd ride a bearable tempo until I saw a rider ahead. I'd pick up the pace a bit until I got close, then I'd stand and hammer it to close the gap. Once on his wheel I'd recover for a minute, then stand and attack. I made the mistake of talking to my first victim (Andy Applegate) for a bit, and he re-grouped, stayed close behind and eventually returned the favor, finishing a few minutes ahead of me. I did exchange some pleasantries with all-around good guy Shey Lindner, but besides that it was all business.

I made my longest pit of the day (2 minutes) at the top of Curtis Creek Road to re-stock on food. A couple of the guys I passed rolled through the pit, so I worked to get past them again and settled into an easier pace. The efforts I put in up Curtis Creek took their tool and I figured I should recover a bit.

Recovery was good, because I had the best time I've ever had coming down Heartbreak Ridge. I was down into the lower switchbacks when I heard quite a clamor. Then I saw those unmistakable pink wheels. Dicky?!? I know he knows Heartbreak well, but catching me rigid? I know I suck at downhilling, but catching me rigid? I missed a switchback and stopped to let him by. He promptly followed my move from Saturday, only he didn't fall as far. He just plopped down onto the ground, laughing. I rolled on and he soon was back on my wheel, staying there until it flattened out when I "upshifted" and opened a small gap.

I stopped long enough at aid station 5 to top off my bottles, but Rich was in and out in like 2.3 seconds. I think all that NASCAR stuff in Charlotte is rubbing off on him. I thought we had a long flat paved section before Mill Creek Road part 2, so I wasn't worried. Then I left the aid station, made a right turn and hit the gravel climb. I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to keep the streak of not being beaten by a singlespeeder in '07 alive.

I knew this was the end, so I kicked it up the climb, slowly reeling Rich in. Once I closed the gap we finished the climb together until it flattened out and pointed down a bit, then I "upshifted" and opened up a bigger gap.

I gave the Kitsuma switchbacks all I had, passing one more racer in the process, and got down the back side without incident. When I got on the road for the home stretch, I looked back to see if I had a nice cruise or one final hammer. The rider I passed was about 200 yards back and was cranking it up. Hammer time. I put in my biggest gear, got into my best roadie tuck and went, not letting up until I was in Old Fort and my chaser was out of sight.

2005: 6:42, 22nd overall, 5th 30+
2007: 5:37, 7th overall, 1st 40+

That's a bit of improvement.

July 24, 2007

I won my category...

...and all I got was this really cool trophy and a pair of sunglasses.

2 years I finished ORAMM 5th in the Vet Men category (30+) and 22nd overall. I got $50 and a really cool trophy for my efforts. This year I finished 7th overall, won Master Men (40+) and the prize pool kinda dwindled. It wasn't just me. When I went to see if there was a mistake, I snuck a look at the prize sheet and cash payouts were minimal. Even if I'd entered the open class (would've been 6th) I would've gotten the glasses, but no trophy.

ORAMM is a really fun, well-run race (um, we could've done without the 8:00 - no - 8:30 - no - 8:11 last-minute start time flip-flops), but it seems that with growing popularity and exploding registrations the cash payouts should be coming up, not going down.

That being said, I had a blast in NC this weekend. I shattered my 6-hour goal (5:37), finished in the top 10 and was treated to the nicest weather I've ever seen in Asheville in July.

I'll post a full write-up when time allows.

July 16, 2007

Carter's Lake Classic, 1 week late

I've been a little busy. Being the controller of a company whose year-end is June 30, right in the thick of race season, makes for a very hectic July.

After the Mohican I took a week off, logged 3 weeks of big hours and took a rest week. This GSC race was in Ellijay at the end of that rest week. The itch had to be scratched, so Lauren, Fontana and I piled into the car and headed north Friday afternoon. I wasn't looking for much, just a good hard effort. Carter's Lake wouldn't disappoint. It's one of those courses that causes people to stay home because it's so tough.

I raced pro/senior expert. It was a small turnout, but there were a couple of pro/semis there who would make things interesting. The first half-mile was pavement with a couple of short climbs to shake things up. The start was surprisingly mellow, with all of us drafting behind the guy who was unlucky enough to get up front. Charlie Pendry shot into the singletrack ahead of everybody else and one other rider followed. We all went in behind the conductor of the road train, but he soon faded and we relegated him to caboose. Peter Joski was leading us now, with me and Nathan Wyatt right behind. Nathan shortly came around both of us. Peter stayed with him for a bit, but started to fall off the pace. I went around Peter and bridged up to Nathan. I stayed behind him until we hit a steep pitch and made my move. I opened up a small gap, but they stayed close.

At the end of the first lap I caught one of the guys who got away early. Apparently he crashed and was hurting, just looking to finish the lap and drop out. That put me in 2nd place and I'd stay there until this race's defining moment.

Nathan wouldn't go away. I would drop him on the climbs, but he would always bridge back up on the flats and downhills. After the first easy 1.5 miles of the last lap, he was right there. I was still gapping him on the climbs and felt pretty good about keeping him behind me, but I probably started pushing it on the downhills a bit more. This proved to be my downfall. I was in a section of rollers before the last steep pitch, barely 1 mile from the finish. I just had to get through that section and up the climb, then it was tight twisty stuff to the finish. I hit a rock just right on a downhill, putting a nice gash in my rear tire and flatting it instantly. I was so close that I decided to run/ride it out instead of putting a tube in.

That was fun. I was already managing cramps and now had to run up all the climbs. By the end of the race my right quad was so cramped up I couldn't push my cleat into my pedal. The good news is that only 2 guys caught me, leaving me with a still-respectable 4th place finish. In the end, I got just what I went for: A good hard effort that can't be duplicated without a start gun going off.

June 11, 2007

Time for a new glass

My Mohican 100 pint glass from last year's race became the beer glass of choice in the weeks leading up to this year's race. Maybe it helped to make for a good mojo this year; maybe it didn't. The result was much better than last year, so in hopes that a trend will develop, it was time for a switch.

I took last week off the bike, so the pint glass saw some pretty extensive use. Not being one to rest too much, we went to Boyette for a little trailwork action. My assignment involved digging up and carting big rocks to a new section of trail that was open for business at the end of the day. I also got to tour the start of the next new trail which will add another 2.5 miles of swoopy singletrack to the great inventory of trails out there.

Sunday we took a family trip (Lauren, Fontana and I) to Santos for some riding. I really did take it easy. I rode with Lauren and Fontana the entire time, except for a few detours onto the harder red trails.

I'm ramping the saddletime back up this week. I always ride early in the morning during the week to minimize exposure to heat and summer thunderstorms. I think it was already 85 degrees at 6:00 this morning. So much for escaping from the heat. Canada, anybody?

June 05, 2007

Mohican 100

Last year I was one of the many racers who went off course multiple times. The first time was spent wandering around a campground with a big group of racers after some miscreant camper removed the sign pointing us up the gas line climb. The second time was when Trish Stevenson and I missed a turn off a road. Garth got us back on track. The third time I was near the finish, closing in on a top-10 finish, and I had ripped it from the last aid station through the Mohican State Park singletrack. I was on the road heading for the covered bridge, going downhill at 30+ MPH. I shot over the covered bridge, started climbing and turned into singletrack when I saw a marker. 20 miles later I was back at the last aid station. I missed the tiny marker indicating a right turn at the covered bridge and rode most of the opening singletrack again. I was cooked from the "end of the race" effort and dropped out. I was pretty disgusted with the entire race, but in the end I thought "shame on me" for not carrying the course map and paying close enough attention.

The bad memories eventually faded and the good ones stuck: The great singletrack, the crazy cuts across private property, and the Amish scenery (where else can you see a pet donkey trotting alongside its horse-riding owners?). The Mohican 100 was back on my 2007 calendar and I was intent on redeeming myself.

Despite gas being over $3 per gallon, it was still much cheaper for me to drive solo from Tampa than it was to fly, ship my bike and rent a car. Luckily Patrick and Peter jumped in with me in Atlanta and made it even cheaper. I left Thursday morning and we made it to Lexington KY that night.

We had an easy driving day Friday, so we stopped at England-Idlewild Park south of Cincinnati for a spin. It was fun rolling singletrack with some very interesting structures and teeter-totters thrown in.

The change of race venue to Camp Nuhop was a good one. The main lodge served as the start/finish and dinner hall. The dorm rooms we rented were attached to the lodge. There was a big field for campers. Step out of your room and onto your bike to race, and at the end, step off your bike and get whatever you want first: shower/food/beer/sleep. It was all right there.

I shared a dorm room with Jeff, Andy and Harlan. If we keep surrounding Andy with green it's bound to rub off. The rooms were small but adequate and a bit warm. Jeff and Andy scored an unused fan from a cabin that made a huge difference in the quality of our sleep.

We woke up at 5AM to begin the caloric ingestion process. Our hosts were kind enough to let us haul our camp stoves up onto the decks around the lodge for our breakfast. They were great. They essentially gave us the run of the place.

I missed the part about the neutral start pausing to re-group at the dam, so I wasn't surprised when we started hammering away without the pause. We had a bit more pavement and doubletrack before hitting the singletrack this year, which thinned the crowds some. The lead group was gone, but I was in good position entering the singletrack and began the process of working my way up.

I rode with a few guys through the singletrack and out onto the gravel, but they all eventually faded, leaving me to race alone. I'd be alone for the rest of the race, except for brief moments when I'd pass another rider.

After my miserable hydration pack experience at the Cohutta 100 where I ditched the heavy beast mid-race, I worked on a revised carrying strategy. I bought a 50-oz pack with virtually no storage. It would carry water and no more. Tubes and tools were in my seat bag or taped to my Deluxe. Food, gel, chain lube and other frequently needed items went into jersey pockets. It was hot, which meant I'd be stopping at each aid station to top off fluids. The strategy worked great. My stop times were minimal and I never felt like I was carrying too much. I did run out of water once, but that was because of my own miscalculation. I'd planned on re-filling bottles at each aid station, and re-filling the water pack at 2 and 4. When I filled up at 2 I hadn't used much water out of the pack. I rolled through 3 and just topped off my bottles, then sucked my water pack dry about 5 miles later. I had about 1-1/2 bottles of fluid, but it was hot and I wasn't sure I'd make it to 4 without running out. I started looking for water spigots on the sides of houses along the road. I saw a couple of well pumps but didn't want to take the risk. I saw a hose next to a house - score! - only to find it not attached to a spigot. I gave up, started conserving and kept the pace high. It worked out well because I was on that mind-numbing section of rail trail, and running low on water kept me motivated to ride fast. I took my last swig as I rolled into sight of the aid station.

After aid station 4 I encountered a lot more racer traffic because the 100K race had re-joined the 100-mile route. I could usually recognize the 100K racers before I got to them. The mid-packers were all sporting HUGE hydration packs and many were walking up the steeper pitches. I did pick off a few more 100-mile racers, but most of it was 100K traffic.

At aid station 5 I topped off all my fluids even though it was only 10 miles to the finish. Last year's memories were obviously still fresh. I had no issues as I picked my way through the technical, muddy trail that ran along the river up to the dam. At the base of the dam, there were a few riders walking up the trail to the stairs. Putting on my best game face, I charged up the steep trail, past the riders and dismounted right before the steps. One of them was a 100-mile racer. He kept pace with me up the stairs, but I got to the top and dropped the hammer, leaving whatever I had left on the climb back toward the finish.

I crossed the line in 8:22, about 1:15 off of Eatough's winning pace, and good for 12th place. Harlan crushed it, finishing less than 7 minutes behind Eatough! Jeff had a great day, finishing 8th about 12 minutes ahead of me, getting back all the time I put into him at the Cohutta. Andy came in about 10 minutes behind me, putting in a solid day after some early gastric issues.

Then came the post-race party, which after the ride is my favorite thing about these hundies. Eat lots of good food, drink lots of good beer, hang out with all the great friends I've made, and make a few new friends.

This year the course was impeccably marked. The signs were bigger. There were "wrong way" signs where you weren't supposed to go. The orange ribbons between turn signs were plentiful. I didn't go off course one time. Most other racers reported the same. The few who did get off course probably did so out of mis-judgement.

The organizers outdid themselves with the post-race party. The food was plentiful and even the hardcore drinkers couldn't kill the last of the 4 kegs. Add that to the new venue and the vastly improved course markings and you have the makings of a great race. Big props go out to Ryan and Garth for putting this race right up there with the best-run races around.

May 21, 2007

12 Hours of Tsali

Even though this race has been on my schedule all year, I didn't decide to definitely go until the Monday before the race. If the weather was going to be bad I would've bailed. The memories of the Knobscorcher were still very fresh and I couldn't imagine trying to keep a bike running for 12 hours in those conditions. The forecast looked good, though, so I went for it.

I left Tampa Thursday morning so I could snag a campsite at the world-famous Tsali trailhead. The campground is usually full by noon Friday, so I decided to beat the rush. That left me with a full day to kill Friday and plenty of chill-time. I was up pretty late Thursday setting up camp, so I slept in Friday and went to ride the course around noon. There weren't many people around, but I did run into one familiar face. I saw this guy and Bob McCarty from Florida on the pre-registration list and knew that getting on the podium was gonna be tough.

Setting up my pit required some thought. I was going self-supported and the pit area was on a fireroad where no cars were allowed. Usually I'd just pull my car into the feed zone and work right out of the car. Before I left home I picked up a couple of big plastic storage bins (thanks to Dicky for that tip) to keep all my crap in. Parts went into one box, food and clothes went into the other. I mixed up enough bottles to hopefully get me through the day and put them into 2 coolers. Throw it all around a folding picnic table and that was my pit. My IF teamie Patrick was gonna be around riding on a team with Shey Lindner, Peter Joski and Ed Mooreadith, so I could tap those guys for help if needed.

I think I got 10 hours of sleep Friday night. That rocked.

It was pretty chilly Saturday morning, but by the time 11AM rolled around it was beautiful. The layers came off and I started with just a base layer under my jersey. The run was mercifully short and I was on my bike in less than 2 minutes. Chris Janiszewski from Florida (the guy I battled with at Razorback was there supporting some friends and gave me splits all day. Brandon put 5 minutes into me on the first lap and I was in 3rd. I assumed Bob was in 2nd.

Things stayed like that for most of the day. Things started getting weird for me kind of early, though. I started feeling hints of cramps in my quads about 4 hours in. I'd put 2 Endurolytes in every other bottle and figured that would be plenty with the cool temps. Thankfully I had a film can full of them in my jersey pocket and started eating them like candy. I was keeping the cramps at bay, but my left knee started hurting. It got pretty bad, especially on the climbs. I had another film can of vitamin I at my pit and started eating those up. Those 2 issues started the self-doubt creeping in. Why was I cramping so early when i was managing my efforts? What's going on with my knee? Should I really push through this and risk hurting myself before Mohican? I shut it all out and just concentrated on one lap, one at a time. By the time the 6-hour race was finished, all self-doubt was gone and I was just churning out laps. I was feeling great and it showed in really consistent laps.

Chris had quit giving me the ridiculous splits to Brandon, but he was telling me how far off of 2nd I was. At one point I was 10 minutes back, then it started: Chris: "You're 4 minutes back." Me: "Really?" Chris: "Yup, you took 4 minutes out of him that lap." I just kept doing what got me through my dark period: Spinning up the climbs, bombing the downhills and cruising the flats.

As I started my 10th lap I looked to Chris for the split. He motiond down a few tents and said "That's him. You're now in 2nd." It was a guy in a Virginia Tech kit whom I didn't know. I kept at it, not changing anything yet. I figured that keeping up what got me past him would be the ticket at this point. He caught up to me on the 10-minute fireroad section before the singletrack. We talked a bit and he thought he was a lap or two up on me. I told him I didn't think so because no solo racers had passed me all day, and I was thinking that he had no idea what he was talking about. With that, he attacked up a climb. He put a bit of a gap on me but wasn't really pulling away. When the trail narrowed to singletrack and pointed down, I was right on his wheel, riding my brakes. I'd bombed this downhill all day with reckless abandon and wasn't ready to give that up. I got around him at the earliest opportunity, attacked the downhill, then settled back into my pace. I put 5 minutes into him that lap.

The rest of the race was pretty uneventful. I only rode 2 night laps since it was light until 9PM. I suck at night riding and hadn't ridden at night since Razorback, so I was happy to only see my lap times drop off by a couple of minutes.

Though the results show that Brandon and I both finished with 13 laps, he actually lapped me during my 12th lap. While riding with me, he figured out where he stood and realized he didn't have to go out again, so he called it a day at 13.

Huge thanks go out to Patrick for pitching in on my self-support effort, and to Chris for giving me splits all day and keeping me motivated.

Now, for an equipment report:

First, the biomechanical part: I suffered blurry vision in my right eye again. It happened at Razorback and hadn't happened again until Tsali. I thought it was the cold. Now I think it's dust in these lap races. I've never worn glasses because I sweat like a stuck pig, but I think some clear lenses are in order for low-intensity lap races.

I think my knee issues are from the new pedals I put on my road bike a couple of weeks ago. I had the Ultegra SPD-R pedals with that stupid plastic insert that wears out in a month. I replace them about every 3 months and the pedals were toast. The aluminum was worn down around the plastic and support was non-existent. I replaced them with the new Ultegras with a metal plate in place of the plastic one, but left the old cleats on my shoes. I immediately noticed that my right foot didn't feel right, but rotating the cleat a bit seemed to fix that problem. Hopefully replacing and re-aligning the cleats should solve the problem. If not, it looks like I'll be riding my MTBs for the rest of the year.

This was my first big test of my new Ergon GX2 grips. I'd played with them for about a month and thought I'd finally found the sweet spot, so I decided to leave them on for the race. I'm happy to report that my hands were the one contact point that didn't hurt during the race. That's a first. These grips rock.

Shimano has never thrown swag my way, but their stuff just works and I stick with it. I put some new Dual Control levers on my ti Deluxe this year and knew they were a huge improvement over the previous generation. This race confirmed that. The ergonomic improvements are huge, especially with front shifts. It used to be that late in a race when my hands were tired, it took two fingers to shift into the big ring. Now it's a flick of my index finger and it's there. Gotta give the Big S props for listening to their customers and delivering a vastly improved product.

April 29, 2007

Now I've gone and done it...

Dear Harvey Minton,

The following request to change your NORBA category has been approved and processed by USA Cycling: harveyminton - 2007-04-27 8:07
Member: Harvey Minton
License: Cross Country Racer
Request to change category from Expert to Semipro

Member Explanation/Resume:
9/17/06: Florida State Championship Series #1, Reddick FL: 2nd, Expert 40-49
2/17/07: 12 Hours of Razorback, Reddick FL: 3rd, 12-hour solo
3/11/07: Southeast Regional Championship Series #1 (AMBC), Reddick FL: 2nd, Expert 30-39
3/18/07: Georgia State Championship Series #1, Macon GA: 2nd, Expert 30-39
4/1/07: Southeast Regional Championship Series #3 (AMBC), Bryson City NC: 3rd, Expert 35-39

Request was approved on 2007-04-27 14:49 by Stuart Lamp

Thank you for supporting USA Cycling.

--USA Cycling Support

I have to shell out $15 to re-issue my stolen license so I thought I'd make it worth my money. I've podiumed every XC race I've done this year, plus the 12 Hours of Razorback must've counted for something since it's on the National Ultra-Endurance Calendar. Endurance is really my thing and XC is just a tool to work on my top-end, so I might as well step up and race guys who are faster than me.

The podiums were fun while they lasted. Here's to getting my ass handed to me.

April 23, 2007

Cohutta 100

It was the worst week leading up to a big race that I've ever had. While riding at Croom last Saturday (my last long ride before the race), my car was broken into and I lost a lot of stuff. The lowlifes busted out my window and made off with cash and wallet, 2 pair of sunglasses, my gear bag (which was full of stuff priceless to a cyclist and worthless to a lowlife) and my Sirius receiver. The scumbags even took my clothes! At least they left my towel to put between my sweaty bike shorts and car seat.

It was Saturday afternoon. I had no cash, credit cards, ID or travel gear. My car had no driver's side window. Somebody had the keys to my house and my home address. I was supposed to leave to head to the Cohutta 100 Thursday morning. My stress level immediately went through the roof and stayed there until I was finally on the road Thursday.

Thankfully I have an understanding boss, because I only made two brief appearances all week in my mad rush to get my affairs in order. It didn't look good a couple of times, but Lauren, Fontana and I were rolling out of Tampa at 6:30 Thursday morning.

We rolled through Atlanta and stopped at Blanket's Creek north of town to spin the travel out of the legs. We were supposed to meet Jeff and Andy there, but Andy's bike was delayed at the airport (how they can lose a bag on a nonstop eludes me), so we rolled out alone so we could finish the drive to Blue Ridge and get our cabin keys. We found a nice pet-friendly cabin very close to the race venue last year, and made sure we got it again.

Our cabin mates were Jeff, Andy, Harlan, Elk, Eddie, Namrita and the O'Dea dogs. Harlan showed up with a brand-new Ti Deluxe 29er with a Lefty fork, partially assembled, a box full of parts and my new Ergon grips. He went right to work, intent on riding the new bike in the race. He was so sure it was going to work out that he didn't even have his old bike with him. The boy's got some cajones.

I figured if Harlan can race a brand-new bike, I can race some new grips, so I installed the Ergons, played around with the fit in front of the cabin, then we all headed to Tanasi for a spin around the trails. We took it easy, let the dogs have fun and took in the views we wouldn't see much of during the race. I couldn't get the positioning on the Ergons to feel right, so the experiment ended until I can figure them out. I love how they feel but didn't want to risk something going wrong and affecting my race. I like to leave the experimentation for training rides anyway.

I knew that since the race was now part of the NUE series, and since the NUE series seems to have gotten more peoples' attention this year, my results were not going to be quite what they were last year (10th overall, final podium spot). With guys like Eatough, Juarez, Price and others showing up, the podium was going to be elusive. I settled for personal goals: a top-20 finish and shaving 1 hour off last year's time.

The weather was looking great. The high was going to be in the mid 70s with no chance of rain. I could've done without the sub-40 degree start, but it would warm up quickly. I added a base layer, arm and knee warmers and a vest to keep warm. I should've gone without the vest. This would cost me an early stop to ditch the thing barely 1 hour in, and a possible bridge up to a faster group. Hindsight.

We rolled out right on time, starting with 2 miles of pavement before hitting the dirt. I stayed near the front, but didn't get too aggressive yet. I seem to have a problem ramping my heart rate really high early in the starts and my breakfast (which last year's experiments taught me needs to be big) was still digesting. I have to work through that, because being up there at the start is necessary if I ever want to shed the role of the guy with the steady pace who feeds off the guys who roll out fast and blow up.

My race strategy was to stop at aid stations 2, 4 and 6. I'd sent bottles up with drink mix so I could just add water and go. I thought about going without a pack, but needed someplace to carry the layers I'd be shedding. I wish I'd thought about this one more.

Things went well, except for stopping when I exited the singletrack for the gravel to shed my vest, and when I checked the water level in my pack at aid station 2. I didn't put the bladder all the way back in and the hose was hitting my knee with every pedal stroke. This was in the heavy climbing part of the course. It was like a Chinese water torture. I had to stop to fix the offending hose.

I went back and forth with the eventual singlespeed winner and a Cannondale guy all day. I stopped at aid station 4, ditched all my layers, got my chain re-lubed (those guys at that aid station totally rocked!) and my belly filled. It was showtime, with a bunch of flat road and a couple of big climbs back up to Tanasi. I'd already caught one guy who cracked and I was sure there would be more. I caught the singlespeeder and the Cannondale guy again (they rolled through aid station 4, passing me again in the process) and finally put them behind me for the last time. I was feeling great, except for my recently filled-with-water pack. It was killing my back, so I took a calculated risk and dumped it and its contents off at aid station 5 without stopping. I was sure that I'd have enough fluids to finish and that I wouldn't need anything that was in the pack. I also had one more aid station to re-fuel at before the finish.

I started to reel in another rider, but he was proving stubborn. By the time I reached aid station 6, he was still out front. I stuck with my plan and grabbed one last bottle. While the volunteer was filling my bottle, I stuffed my face with some Oreo knockoffs. I usually stay away from the junk food during races, but pretty soon the sugar rush had me flying and feeling even better! The singletrack started with a nice grunt of a climb. I saw my elusive rider up there, walking it. Sweet! He was mine. It took a while to reel him in, but I got him and a few others as I flew through the singletrack. I was flying and most of them were cooked, and they'd hear me coming and just move over to let me by.

I made my final pass at the bottom of TR Express and had to pin it on the pavement to make sure I held the spot. I ended up 19th overall with a time of 7:40. Last year's time was 8:35. Mission accomplished. I ate a hamburger that tasted like a hockey puck (but I didn't care), cleaned up and began the vigil waiting for the drop bags to return. In between, we indulged Harlan's desire to get back to his southern roots with a trip to the McCaysville Family Diner for a plate full of fried catfish, fried veggies, fried potatoes and sugar-water, er, sweet tea.

April 04, 2007

Knobscorcher (Bike Destroyer)

Things came together and I made it to Tsali last weekend. The weather forecast looked pretty bad for Sunday, but I went for it anyway. I figured I usually do well when conditions get bad, but I didn't think about the effect mud has on a bike. Not that I worry about mud when I'm racing, but geez, this race wasn't even a priority for me.

I got there late Saturday morning and even though it was beautiful and dry, I decided to commit to it being muddy and mounted a Hutchinson Bulldog on the rear. The pre-ride was awesome. Tsali is just so fun to ride fast.

My next dilemma was what class to race in. I'm 41 this year and have stayed in 30-39 expert. This race was broken up into 30-34 and 35-39. Not a big deal, except for how they started it last year: The 35-39 group lined up 10' behind the 30-34 group and they went at the same time. If I registered in 35-39 I would be immediately be in traffic no matter how good my start was. I really wanted the win - the whole 10-year group - and thought being able to start in front would be best. Greed got the best of me, however. The 35-39 pre-registration was twice that of 30-34, meaning a bigger payout for a good finish in 35-39. The decision was made.

The rain started Saturday night, but wasn't too bad - yet. It wasn't even bad when the Beginner wave started, but then the skies let loose and conditions got worse as the day wore on. The Expert wave was scheduled to start at 1:30. I warmed up in the rain on the road, just to postpone the inevitable, and lined up 15 minutes early. At 1:30 they announced that an injured rider was on the course and we wouldn't start until he was hauled out by EMTs. At 2:00 they told us to go ride around and come back in 15 minutes. At 2:30 they decided that to get things going, the course would be the right loop backward, instead of the right loop/left loop combo.

I should've gotten some food, but instead I hung out catching up with people I hadn't seen in a long time, and made the observation that a lot of the people who I wanted to see how I'd stack up against had upgraded to semi-pro.

What a way to start. I hadn't had any signifigant food since breakfast and was hungry. We were about to ride a sloppy course that we hadn't seen run in that direction. I was about to wreak mechanical havoc on my bike in the name of age-group glory. What was I thinking?!?!

We were called to the line at 2:45. As I lined up behind the line, they said all 30-39 experts would start on the line. Sweet! I quickly got a spot. We got to vote for 2 or 3 10-mile laps. It looked pretty even, but 3 laps it would be. Sweet, still 30 miles. When the horn went off I almost went down spinning my rear tire in the mud, but recovered and started working up the fire road. I was pretty flat due to my warm-up being eons ago, but I worked the climbs to my advantage and dropped into the singletrack near the top 5.

Half way through the lap I came upon a rider down. As I got closer it was Earl Bradley, a pro from the east coast of FL who races for Trek. A couple of people were already stopped helping him. I slowed up to make sure things were under control. They assured me that they were and encouraged me to stay in my race. When I came around on the 2nd lap and he was still there I was thinking "WTF are we doing??? There's a guy laying here, obviously injured, and we're finishing a race??? Crazy.

Back to my race. I was riding really well, cleaning all but two sections of the course. At the end of the first lap was the biggest climb on the course, which was super-slick. I had caught a bunch of the 19-29 expert group, who were all walking up the climb, slipping in the mud. Not wanting to risk chainsuck, I stayed in the big ring, stood up and mashed up the climb, picking my way through the carnage. That was probably the highlight of my day.

I had worked my way up to 4th by the end of the first lap and had 3rd place in sight. I reeled him in on the climb up the road, but once he hit the singletrack he was gone. He either had some mean skills or total disregard for his safety. Either way, he was gone. I couldn't bomb the downhills because I couldn't see - my eyes were filled with mud.

With about 2 miles to go in the 2nd lap, I got to the place where spectators hike in from the finish and got word that the race had been cut to 2 laps. That sucked from the standpoint of an endurance racer, but was probably good for my bike. One of my rear brake pads was totally worn down and it was metal-on-metal. Another lap and I probably would've worn right through to the piston.

I held the 4th overall spot. It translated into 3rd in 35-39 and would've translated into 2nd in 30-34, but with a smaller payout as predicted. My teamie Patrick bagged 5th, putting 2 IF riders on the 35-39 podium.

When I finished the lines for the showers/bike washes were so long that I just put my bike on the roof, hoped for more rain to clean it, and cleaned myself under my Sun Shower. Upon arriving home Monday and tending to the filthy beast I tallied the damages: Brake pads and rear rotor. A complete dismantling and cleaning of the brake calipers had them working like new. Not bad, but there goes the $100 I won.

March 21, 2007

Georgia State Series Opener

I had to do it. I had to see if my early season has been a case of home-course advantage. It was also the end of a rest week. It all made sense. Drive 6 hours to Macon GA for the Georgia State Championship Series opener, throw down for a couple of hours at the end of a rest week and see if the speed I've been displaying would follow me into hostile turf.

I wanted to ride for a couple of hours, so we left at 6AM Saturday and got to Arrowhead Park at noon, which wasn't bad considering that the entire province of Ontario was making the exodus north on I75 from their winter roosts in Florida. I started with an easy lap with Lauren and Fontana. Lauren was nursing a foot injury and only wanted to ride one lap, but with the temps in the 50s, Fontana was up for running all day, even keeping up when I was doing some race-pace openers.

"Will you quit futzing with that gadget so I can run?!?"

Sunday was near freezing in the morning, as predicted. It made the warm-up for the 9:30 start fun, with frozen fingers and toes. It was sunny and the wind had died down, so it felt pretty nice by start time. A lot of people really bundled up, but I opted for a base layer under my jersey, arm and knee warmers, and toe booties and thick gloves to keep my digits happy.

The start suited me well. It was nice and wide, immediately taking a sharp right turn up a steep hill, then right back down the hill and into the singletrack. It would give me plenty of time to ramp up the pace and hopefully hit the trail in good position.

I lined up on the far left with the thought of taking a sweeping turn up the hill, maintaining speed and staying out of the 24-man fray if things got silly. It was a good plan because things got silly. I started to see and hear bars locking and hit the hill off the left side of the gravel as riders piled up to my right. I was the last person in a 5-man group that broke free of the pack once we hit the singletrack. The first 2 riders peeled away and the 3rd rider was just ahead. I sat behind #4 and made my move near the end of the 1st lap. I maintained my spot through the 2nd lap, then at the start of the 3rd lap the singlespeeder that was just in front of me broke his chain on the start climb. I was now in 3rd. An uneventful 3rd lap led into the 4th and I was greeted by fellow Floridian Robert Bounds in the feed zone. Apparently he pulled a hamstring and it was bad enough that he pulled out while in the lead. Bummer, but that put me in 2nd. One rider left.

Rolling through the feed zone to start the 5th and final lap, I asked Lauren if she new how far ahead he was. She didn't know, but as I went up the hairpin climb, he was coming down. 30 seconds. I started pushing harder up the climbs and keeping the pace higher on the flats and downhills. The climbs were starting to hurt, but I finally spotted him near the end of the lap. He saw me and started a series of small attacks, which I responded to and kept him in sight. There was a paved climb right before the final singletrack section that was going to be my only chance to make a move. He had other ideas, though. He hit that climb about 50' in front of me and dropped the hammer. I stood up to attack the climb, but my legs would have no part of it. The climbs were starting to hurt during that lap and it appeared I'd run out of turbo fuel.

I had victory in my hands and let it get away. I started second-guessing myself, wondering if I really gave it my all. When I saw this picture that Lauren snapped of me crossing the finish, I knew that I'd left it all out there. I looked like I was about to drop dead on the spot.

A trip out of state resulted in one of the best XC races I've put together. I think I'll do it one more time before enduro season kicks in, heading to the Knobscorcher at Tsali in a couple of weeks (as long as work doesn't get in the way). Maybe that'll be the one that gets me onto that top podium spot.