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.