Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It’s Not Always Better to Be Pissed Off than Pissed On

First things first.  The Gunnison Growler is so far the best event I have been to.  Dave Weins and the Original Growler Crew (OGC) do an amazing job.

Second things first.  I broke through new barriers during this race.  One of which was literally breaking my bladder, thru the barriers of my chamois.  I pissed myself.

The Growler is famous for being a grueling 64-mile race that feels more like 100 because of the constantly undulating and technical nature of the trails.  Having not ridden here before, one can expect to be punched in the face around every turn.  It has a reputation for breaking people down, both mentally and physically.

Elevation profile.  Up-and-down.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Sunday morning started dark and early.  I was out of my tent before sunrise at 5:15 am.  I quickly got dressed, grabbed my drop bag and gear, and headed towards downtown Gunnison and The Bean coffee shop.  It was 34°.  I don’t do well in the cold.  By the time I made the 2 mile voyage to downtown my hands were numb and body in a state of shock.  At least I still had an hour to drink coffee, warm up and think about things before the 7 am start. Out the door of the coffee shop I went at 6:45 back into the cold morning with ¼ of a cup of coffee in my hands, which I promptly spilled all over my frontal crotch region.  Great.  Not only am I out of my last dose of caffeine, but my junk is wet.  It wouldn’t be the last time.  As I stood there in the group of 350 riders awaiting the start I started to shiver badly.  Luckily the sun was coming up and before long we were off; a neutral motor-paced roll-out the 3 or so miles to the trail.   

The singlespeed field for this race was bigger than any I have previously seen.  My main competition (or so I thought) was Dan Durland, who beat me by a good margin at last year’s Breckenridge 68.  There were also a bunch of other very strong and capable singlespeeders, one being Gunnison local Dave Ochs.

I knew coming into the race that it would be a good idea to latch onto someone with similar ability, and also who may know the trail.  Having knowledge of this trail system and how to ride it, which lines to choose, what’s coming up, etc. is a huge advantage.  I knew Dan had done well here before, so I decided I would try to keep pace with him.  This turned out to be a good idea, as he kept the pace moderately fast without going too hard; always keeping in mind how long of a day we had ahead of us.  I rode with him most of the first lap, just sitting behind and conserving energy.  When the trail wasn’t beating the shit out of us we had small conversations, which was nice to take the mind off of a long hard day.  He told me that Dave Ochs was up in the pack leading, but he wasn’t worried because he had caught him during the second lap last year, and was hoping to do the same again.  At one point we passed Josh Tostado on the side of the trail fixing his chain.  I had a feeling it wouldn’t be long before he was passing us again.  About 30 minutes later he was quickly approaching.  Both I and Dan let Josh pass, and it wasn’t 15 seconds later that he was out of sight.  This dude absolutely slays trail!  At about 25 miles into the first of two 32 mile laps Dan took a wrong line down a slickrock section and I was forced to pass.  Although I hadn’t wanted to pass earlier, it actually felt good to have some clear air.  I think I was descending a bit quicker than him and once ahead I decided to put just a little bit more juice into the climbs.  After a couple of minutes I had put a decent gap on him.  I rolled into the start/finish feeling really good about things, other than a full bladder that I had been holding since the start.  It took me a few minutes to fumble with water bottles and grab more food before I was off for another 32 miles.  The second lap was pretty much a daze.  The old “cramp monster” kept peeking its head out, but I was cautious to push too hard, trying to keep it in check.  The most eventful thing that happened was coming down a long ATV road descent; I finally made the decision that I was going to have to let my bladder free.  I was chasing first place and didn’t want to lose valuable time pulling over, so right then and there I let things “flow”. I didn’t realize that I was descending into a checkpoint, at which point things were flowing at max capacity.  I hope I gave everyone a good laugh.  There was one girl who was walking up the road towards me, and as I passed, piss rushing out of my leg, I said to her, “Ohhhh that’s warm!!”  All in all, it wasn’t that bad.  Would I do it again?  Sure, why not?  It was dried up in minutes and I was back at it.  About halfway through the second lap I took a Coca-cola and bacon-wrapped pickle handoff from a volunteer.  Just the energy I needed to keep going.  I was still making my way through the field this whole time, and was looking at a top 20 finish.  The last guy I would pass was wearing an Avery Brewing kit.  He told me that he thought Dave Ochs was only a couple riders ahead, that I was closing the gap, and that he would give me a free 6-pack if I caught him.  Inspiration.  I hammered all of the climbs as hard as I could, but still struggled on the technical sections.  In the end it turned out I couldn’t catch Dave, but was more than ecstatic to finish 2nd in singlespeed, and 20th overall.  Just finishing this monster of a race felt like a huge accomplishment. Being able to race hard, feel good, and have fun was a big confidence boost going into my first 100-mile races.  Next up, Mohican 100, Saturday June 1.

I can't say enough good things about my equipment for this race.  The Ergon GS2 grips and SM3 saddle were money.  Riding a hardtail for 5 hours 45 minutes on this terrain with absolutely NO soreness in the ass or hands is hard to believe.  My Maxxis Ikon EXO tires worked beautifully.  I saw a lot of flats on the course, but none for me.  The White Brothers Loop 100 fork worked perfectly all day!  This was my first time putting the fork to test, and it handled everything I threw at it with ease.  It is the perfect "set-it-and-forget-it" singlespeed fork.  It will be my fork of choice for any rugged race courses.

Thank God I'm empty handed.
The post-race party wasn’t too bad either.  I ate chicken-on-a-stick, filled (and drank) my complimentary growler with New Belgium, ate countless cookies, and even won some pretty nice swag.  I’ll definitely be back for the Original Growler again next year.  Cheers.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ready to Drink a Growler

Things are a-changin’; again, and always it seems.  Getting ready for the Gunnison Growler this weekend meant changing my bike setup a bit.  I have been running my Niner Air 9 with a Cannondale Lefty 80mm fork.  I love the Lefty fork for being super light, stiff, and extremely plush.  That being said, 80mm of travel, and the resulting sketchy handling, was not a preferable setup for the super rocky, technical, tight, and steep trails in Hartman Rocks.  So I put on my new and unused White Brothers Loop 100mm fork.  First things first; I had to get the front end dropped back down to a more “XC” stance.  A quick trip to Boulder Cycle Sport fixed that, and I was all set up with a sweet stem that can provide either 20° or 28° drop.  This is more “negative rise” than I’ve ever run, but corrected my positioning on the bike.  During my first ride on some local trails I was instantly impressed and happy with the “new” handling of the bike.  The extra 20mm of travel seemed to have slackened the geometry just a hair, and I was throwing the bike around corners faster and more comfortably than I ever could with the Lefty.  And OH MAN was I having fun blasting through rock gardens, pummeling roots and hitting every jump I could find with the increased travel of the Loop fork.  It is so plush when you get into some rough stuff, but then stays nice and stiff when climbing.  Needless to say, but after one short spin on the new setup I’m extremely excited to really put it to test at the Growler.

Niner Air 9, White Brothers Loop, Ergon SM3, Maxxis Ikon, Crank Brothers, Formula R1

Here’s a short interview with multiple-times Leadville 100 Champion Dave Weins, about HIS race, the Growler.  The nature of the course is all up-and-down, all the time.  I hope this suits me well.  It should make for perfect singlespeed riding, provided I selected the right gear. Hopefully I have enough energy left to post after the race.  Cheers.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Whatsa' the Happenin' ??

Right now I’m in full training mode for quite possibly the two hardest races I’ve ever done, both a week apart from one another.  By training, I mean lying around as much as possible, eating food, and servicing my bikes.  This coming weekend is the Gunnison Growler, followed by the Mohican 100 in Ohio on June 1.  How can I afford to do this and still expect to do well at these races?  Well, the last couple of weeks’ trials and tribulations, and some good advice from people “in the know” have taught me some things.  Let’s just hope that it all works out.

The week before the Firebird 40, as I previously discussed, I was sick and tired.  Then, come race day, I felt like a million bucks (until, of course, I spent that million bucks fast and furious like an NBA rookie, and then was flat broke).  There was something about the sickness-induced rest that made me stronger, if only for a short period.  Then, after the race and some subsequent riding, I got sick again, for most of the next week.  Come last Thursday, the first day I felt like I had enough energy for a long training ride.  Low and behold, I felt like a caged ape on the bike; 6 ½ hours, ~70 miles, on my SS, and I felt like I could’ve kept going!  It was the best training ride of the year for me.  On Friday I was able to put in another solid effort with minimal fatigue.  Saturday was an off day, and then Sunday was one of the biggest rides I’ve ever done.  I wanted to hit all three trail systems in the Boulder area, by way of some pretty good mountain climbs.  The route took me up Sunshine to Gold Hill, back down Four Mile Canyon to Betasso Preserve; a couple of laps of the trails at Betasso; over to Chapman Drive and up to the top of Flagstaff; down to Walker Ranch for a loop; back up out of Walker to Gross Dam Road to Coal Creek Canyon; Coal Creek down to 93; 93 to Marshal Mesa for a quick trail stint (as the sun was going down) and back home.  My GPS died, but it was ~75 miles, over 10k climbing, and 7 hours.  This ride my body didn’t have the energy of the previous two, but it was good mental training for the upcoming 100-milers, when you’re tired and don’t want to go anymore.  The main piece of advice given to me from my friend Jeff, who is a National Champion and has raced and placed very highly at the Leadville 100 many times, is to do NO hard training rides within a week of a big race.  This is why I will be taking this week to just relax and let my body rebuild.  I’ve already seen first-hand how good I can feel after a period of rest, so I’m hoping to be at full strength come this weekend and the Gunnison Growler.

2012 Gunnison Growler Endurance Mountain Bike Race from chris miller on Vimeo.

Here’s my upcoming schedule.  So much unknown; so much to be excited about.

May 25 – Gunnison Growler (64-mile)
June 1 – Mohican 100
June 15 – Lumberjack 100
June 29 – RME Snake River, Keystone
July 14 – Breckenridge 100

Watch more video of Lumberjack 100 2012 on thom.cyclingdirt.org
Etc. etc. etc.

There are a bunch of races later in the summer, and maybe one or two thrown in between these as well, but that’s pretty much what the next month and a half looks like.  The best part?  I can’t wait to ride at all of these amazing venues.  Cheers.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Firebird 40

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to another (newly-forming) mountain bike destination, get unexpected surprises (both good and bad), and again realize why mountain biking is such a wonderful thing!  My travels would take me to Eagle, CO, a small town just west of Vail.  Eagle is one of those towns that you pass by on I-70 and never stop at, and the locals are probably just fine with that.  This is because they have built an amazing community of like-minded folks and a mountain biking diamond in the rough, away from the resort-town chaos of Vail. 

The Firebird 40 race was slated for its inaugural presentation on Saturday, May 11.  I wasn’t sure I would make it until sometime on Thursday, after dealing with an unknown sickness all week that had completely zapped my energy and kept me off the bike and any good training.  By Thursday afternoon I thought I was feeling better, so decided to give it a go.  Lucky for me, friends Jeff Kerkove and Karen Jarchow (both of whom may be bigger MTB-addicts than I) live in Eagle and were nice enough to let me hang at their place for a few days.  Turns out I wasn’t the only one, as Jonathan Davis and Amanda Carey had the same idea, along with the Japanese Cricket, Yuki Ikeda.  JK and KJ were not just welcoming; they were just as stoked as us to show us their amazing community and trails.

On Friday afternoon my attempted pre-ride of the course left something to be desired; not of the trails but of myself.  My legs felt completely dead; no heart rate and no power.  So it goes.  Saturday morning was the Pro race with a ridiculously stacked field including Olympians and some of the country’s fastest racers.  I had decided to forego the Pro race and race singlespeed as I have some big singlespeed races coming up.  The Pro race was fun to watch with a ton of parody and mixing around of places as the race went on.  It was also fun to cheer on Karen Jarchow as she came out on fire leading the first couple laps on home turf.  My race wasn’t until 1:30, a really late start for me.  During my warm-up it appeared things had changed overnight, as I was spinning my large gear with minimal effort and feeling really strong. 

The race started with a neutral roll-out of about a mile until they unleashed us on a slight uphill road that leads to the first section of singletrack.  I was feeling uber-strong this whole time and happy just to sit in about fourth wheel, behind three other singlespeeders, and barely push myself.  As we came though the start/finish for the first time to start lap 1 I made a move around a couple guys and sat in behind the leader, Dax Massey.  He was my main rival for the day, an extremely accomplished singlespeeder of national caliber.  I was surprised as the first lap ensued that my effort to stay with him was only about 60%, and we were already gapping the rest of the field.  I had decided that I would just ride his wheel for a lap or two at this easy pace, playing cat and mouse, and seeing if maybe he would push it at some point.  Coming down a really fast section of single-track into a blind corner, Dax wiped out and allowed me to take the lead.  I happily accepted.  At this point I was still measuring my efforts, only pushing about 70-75%, and still putting a pretty good gap on the field.  As I came through the start/finish after lap 1, Dax and the others weren’t even in sight.  This is about the time that things got weird.  A few minutes into lap 2 my legs started cramping.  This was completely unexpected, especially since I was measuring my efforts so carefully.  Lap 2 went by and I was still extending my lead, even with a hindered performance.  The next couple laps were terrible and my pace was going way down, at the same time my cramps were getting worse and worse.  We’re talking leg cramps of epic proportions; every muscle trying to seize all at the same time, feeling as though it is trying to rip itself from the ligaments, and pushing my power output to nothing.  So it was not a huge surprise when I saw the yellow and black Honey Stinger kit catching up to me.  There was nothing I could do at this point but try to hang on.  About ¾ of the way through the last of 5 laps another singlespeeder and Eagle local Paul Gerbould passed me.  I finished 3rd, a huge disappointment considering what I had in the bag.  I was left completely confused as to why my legs cramped so bad, and what I could do in the future.  One of the best things you can do is use bad racing experiences as learning opportunities, but in this case I had no explanation for what happened.  The only thing I can figure is that I was working with a depleted immune system coming off of a sickness, and lack of training time on the bike.  It was a disappointing performance, but all is not bad in the world when you can go back to friends who offer encouragement (thanks KJ, JK, Amanda, Yuki), drink a couple beers, and enjoy the festivities with an awesome community.  Eagle is definitely a hidden treasure, and a place you should consider stopping at for some amazing riding.  Firebird 40, see ya next year!  Cheers.

Eagle singletrack is rockin'!!