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.