Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lumberjack 100 and Finding My Roots

Here it is, my Lumberjack 100 report, late but better than never!  I made the voyage from Colorado back to the Midwest for the second time in as many weeks for my first attempt at the Lumberjack, and only my second 100-mile race.  What initially drew me to this event, which I registered for back in February, was the majority of singletrack and absence of all else.  What I hadn’t considered was that it was Father’s Day weekend and I would be going up there with my Dad to camp in the forests of Northern Michigan.  Almost too perfect.

On Friday’s short pre-ride, in which I only did a few miles of the 33-mile course, I was feeling tired and unenthused.  The tired feeling could be explained by the 15-hour travel day on Thursday without sleeping the night before, then getting less-than-optimal sleep Thursday night.  The trails were one big bed of leaves, with a lot of sand and sticks strewn about. Not the awesome wet dirt singletrack of Mohican 100 that I enjoyed so much, but you can’t always get what you want!

I was up at 5 a.m. Saturday morning to make coffee and get ready.  I elected not to eat anything but a Honey Stinger waffle about 5 minutes before the start.  The start went off about 2 miles down the road from the Udell Hills Recreation Area.  I was surprised that I was able to keep pace and stay near the front of the 350-rider wave of starters, mostly by drafting off of geared riders.  As soon as entering Udell Hills it almost immediately turns to singletrack, which creates quite the funnel.  I did my best to use the edge of the course and get around 5-10 riders right there as they stayed in the middle and were forced to slow down.   

Dickie makes his move on the outside going into turn 1!

As the opening miles got underway it was simply a matter of getting around as many riders as possible and finding some clear air.  I made fairly quick work of that and within 10 miles found myself in a group of a couple of fast geared riders and three other singlespeeders.  This group of 6 or so would jockey back and forth for much of the first lap, and it was nice to have some geared riders to draft off of on the sections of doubletrack.  At that point, about 10 miles in, I noticed a few things.  Number 1, I was feeling a bit faster on the climbs than the other guys, but thought it beneficial to stick with them and pace myself.  Number 2, my seat had dropped down a bit, making pedaling seated a lot harder than normal.   Because of the fast pace of the race and the constantly twisting singletrack always keeping you on your toes, I neglected to stop and fix the problem.  At the same point, I had also forgotten to eat and hydrate.   

By the end of the first lap my seatpost had completely dropped into the frame, and I had spent the better part of an hour and a half standing up to pedal, completely smoking my legs in trying to keep up with the group, and completely neglecting nutrition.  At the same time, my usual focus on positivity was lost.  I came into the start/finish in a fit of rage.  I fixed the seatpost quickly and went on my way, now with a new aggression and ambition to catch back up to the group that had dropped me by 5 or 6 minutes.  Unknowingly, I was only about 8 minutes back of the leaders at this point!  I crushed the first 10 or so miles of the second lap and had actually been able to close the gap on our group again.  Just as I caught their wheel, we hit a section of fireroad, and my legs and overall energy level went “BOOM!!”  I couldn’t hang on as they drifted into the distance.   

Catching back up.
My energy levels continued to drop and never came back.  It is usual in a race of this distance to have a “bonk” or feel like shit for a time, but you just hope that your body recovers.  For some reason, on this day, mine didn’t.  I struggled mightily for the next two hours, going backwards, staggering around the singletrack like a drunken sailor and just trying to hold on.  Coming into the start/finish after lap 2 I had all but decided to call it quits.  It wasn’t going to be my day and I decided to forego the extra pain and punishment of another lap, when it was the last thing in the world I wanted to be doing.

This was a day of learning lessons in a real way.  It felt horrible to not finish a race; something I never want to do again.  In retrospect, I don’t have any qualms about quitting, as I think it was the best thing to do.  I have so much more racing and riding to look forward to this year that sparring my body the pain and not killing my ambition and enthusiasm to do such things is important.  On a positive note, I was riding really fast early on.  It wasn’t until midway through the second lap, after struggling for hours, that Garth Prosser came to my wheel and eventually passed me.  He finished 7th overall riding a geared bike!  I was also passed late in the second lap by eventual 3rd place SS finisher Ernesto Marenchin. 

In the end, it was a bad race day that I learned from.  More importantly though was hanging out with good friends, spending Father’s Day with my Dad and enjoying the beauty of Michigan.  I don’t get as many chances to do that as I do to race.

Upon getting back to Colorado my focus has completely changed.  After spending about 2 months extremely focused on training, nutrition, racing, and resting, I really wanted to get back to the roots of the sport.  What better time and place to do that than summer in Colorado!  I have given up specific training and nutrition regimens for a short time and replaced them with awesome rides in the high-country that have me more stoked than ever to get out and shred, and enjoying a post-ride beer when I want.

This weekend I’m super excited to be racing in Keystone at the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series race, and hopefully spending another day or two ripping down the lift-assisted bike park at Keystone and riding some awesome high-country singletrack!  Summer in Colorado is sooooo gooooood!!  Cheers.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I swear I was there..

And this is why I love mountain biking in the Midwest so much...

...so LUSH so GREEN!! The first pic is about mile 97 of 100.  I'm covered in dirt and grime, completely exhausted, and happy as can be railing awesome singletrack!  See ya next year Mohican.  Now, off to Michigan and Lumberjack 100.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Mohican Start: Let the Bodies Hit the Floor

The Mohican 100 start was quite the test in evasion tactics.  Apparently the guy right behind was sporting a GoPro (or GoPro-like video capturing device), and also decided to get tangled up in a wreck only 300 feet into a 100-mile day.

It's also apparent that my lack of spinning prowess and overall speed gaining ability allowed me to stay behind the wreck(s) (another one happened right next to the first as a couple flailers decided they wanted a piece of the action) and meander my way around the downed bodies. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Gettin' wet in the Midwest: Mohican 100

It was Midwest mountain biking at its best.  The perfectly designed fast flowy trails of Mohican State Park set the stage for a day of wet, sloppy, and fun riding in the surrounding rural areas of mid-Ohio.  The rains that soaked the area on Friday afternoon and evening put the trails in almost perfect, if not a little wet and wild, conditions.  Riding up and down was constantly a battle, as every off-camber root and rock was just a launching pad throwing your bike this way or that.  The race was a perfect mix of great singletrack, backcountry rugged trails, muddy horse trails, ATV paths, dirt roads, rail trail, and local farm property.  At one point it took us through a horse corral!  All of this was intermixed in perfect fashion as to never get tedious or boring.

Here is how my race panned out:

Starting line.  Obligatory family salute.
This was my first attempt at a 100-mile race.  Ahem.  This was the first time I’ve ever ridden 100 miles in a day.  I made the voyage from Boulder, CO.  Only 6 days before Mohican I was out punishing myself in Gunnison, CO at the Gunnison Growler.  I felt strong and fresh at the Growler, finishing 2nd in Singlespeed.  As the start went off in downtown Loudonville I was feeling confident, although it became evident early on that my legs were going to struggle.  Going up the initial climb out of town, and subsequent climbing out towards the state park, I thought I was somewhere inside the top 15 riders.  Little did I know that the top guys must have been propelled by jet-fuel as they were already out of sight even early on.  In Colorado I can generally climb with the best, but these Midwestern slayers are FAST!  I struggled to put down the power that they were capable of.  I was having tons of fun on the perfectly flowing singletrack that encompasses the first 30 miles of the course, but also struggling to hold onto the bike in the wet conditions.  I felt as though I was riding through the rainforest in the lush green, wet and dense forests.  

I rolled into Aid 1 feeling fresh, and was greeted by my family.  They told me I was in 5th.  What the f*ck!  I had some work to do.  After aid 2 I was able to hook up with singlespeeder Nathan Annon and Jason Suppan and we increased our pace, mostly because of the tow from Suppan, closing the gap on the field, riding into aid 3 together. After aid station 3 I was alone the rest of the day.  I did get a tow from women's champion Cheryl Sornson and her riding partner the last couple of miles of the rail trail going into aid 4.  In the end it was a great introduction to 100-milers and the NUE Series.  Nothing beats the quality of trails in the Midwest, and it is always a treat to come back and ride here.  I finished 6th in singlespeed, and 15th overall!  Gerry Pflug was both the singlespeed and overall winner!  This is nuts; the dude is an absolute machine.  Coming into the race I was hoping for a better result in the singlespeed field, but this just shows how strong these guys are.  Anyone doubting the competition in the singlespeed class need only look at the overall results.  In two weeks I'll be at the Lumberjack 100 for more Midwest singletrack slaying action!

I took a lot of notes and tried to learn as much as possible in my first “ultra endurance” race.  I had a lot of good advice from friends and fellow racers coming into this race that I tried to use.  Some of the best came from women’s NUE Champion Amanda Carey.  She told me that there will always be, no matter how good of a day you’re having, a point where you start feeling like shit and just don’t want to be out there anymore.  Usually this feeling lasts for a period of time, and hopefully you come out of it.  She also talked about staying positive, as any negativity will just pull you down, and keeping the mind occupied.  This is the whole mental side of the game, which is one of the biggest battles.  In the physical sense it comes down to trying to keep food in the system, stay hydrated, and go strong even when you think you’re spent.

One of the most positive aspects of this race was my ability to sustain and overcome the mental battles that can break you down, especially in an 8-hour effort!  My biggest focus was staying positive throughout.  A good friend left me with this quote the day before the race, “The question of Pleasure.  There is no question.  It is all Pleasure.  We decided and are lucky to be here.”  That stuck with me the entire day.  There were certainly a few points when I started to get negative, and I remembered this quote, realizing that I was out in a beautiful place doing what I love to do.  I never once questioned my being out there or not finishing.  The hardest point of the race was going into Aid 3, and the following hour.  This was about the halfway point, and I was struggling physically.  Throughout this time I just took my licks and tried to keep moving forward, and eventually I would come out of it.  Ripping singletrack down to Aid 5, with only 16 miles left, I had a smile on my face and was feeling better and more positive than ever.  I was having fun, 90 miles and 7 hours in!!

A big lesson I learned, in terms of racing this style of race, was the advantage of having someone else to ride with.  I rode solo for most of the day, but in the brief moments that I had partners, and we were able to work together, our pace increased drastically.  One of the most mundane parts of the race was about 10-15 miles of rail trail.  I maintained the same pace the entire way, until I got passed by women’s Champion Cheryl Sornson and her male riding partner.  At this point I latched onto their mini-train and rode the last 4 miles in their tow, instantly increasing my pace by 4 mph.  This is huge!  Find someone to work with, and you can, together, be way faster.

Looking forward to the Lumberjack 100 in two weeks, and more racing to come.  Cheers.