Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Raccoon Mountain Enduro Race Report

This race was the second in a series put on by 3rd Coast Enduro Series.  For me, it was my first enduro.  I was excited and I can tell you, a bit intimidated.  I am used to pedaling fast uphill and then recovering (coasting) on the descents.  Today was a complete reversal.  Let's just say that I learned that it is just as taxing to go hard on the descents as it is the climbs.

I was riding a Specialized Enduro Expert 27.5 with 165mm travel front and rear.  I thought it might be overkill on this course, but I did not want to race my Niner Jet 9 as I am headed to North Dakota in little less than a week to race the Maah Daah Hey 100 and did not want to risk injuring her.  I am glad I did race the Enduro as it felt so buttery smooth on the trail.

The best Arrow in my quiver for this race!

While waiting for the pre race meeting, I was already sweating:  78 degrees, 90% humidity, and climbing.  I dumped ice into my Camelbak and sought some shade.  After a moment of silence (for those fallen soldiers in Chattanooga) Brent gave told us the hows, whats, wheres, and whens, including letting us know that we would be shuttled back after the final stage.

And at 9:30 am, he let us go.  Not the usual short track cross country start I was used to.  As a matter of fact, all the racers just milled around, no one wanting to take the lead.  Weird.  Not wanting to get my face and arms covered in a gazillion spiderwebs, I let a few in front and then followed in behind.  The transfer to the first stage, Live Wire 1, was fairly casual.  After I let a few racers by, I kicked it up a notch.  I wanted to be in my own little bubble during the stages and not have anyone "up my butt."  35 minutes later and I was ready to try this "enduro thing."

Pulling up my knee pads, tightening my helmet, setting my suspension to open mode, and putting it in the right gear, I scanned my RFID chip, and exploded down the trail.  I dropped my seatpost immediately; there would be no sitting and pedaling on this stage!  Elbows forward, I pedaled every chance I got, tried to go as easy on the brakes as possible, and kept my sights far ahead.  Leaning the bike through the switchbacks, I would stomp the pedals so hard coming out of the turn that my front end got a little light at times.  Nailing the two small rock jumps got me some air time:  hot diggity dawg!  Coming up on the finish line, I slammed on the brakes and skidded to the RFID scanning device mounted to the tree.  Beep!  I was done, 1.8 miles and 6:59 later.  My average HR was 178 with a max of 183!  That's crazy!  I have not seen those numbers in a long time.  I was pleased with having a good clean run.

I spent a few minutes talking to Shellie, Brent's right hand woman, allowing my heart rate to recover. After I could no longer feel it trying to rip through my chest like an alien,  I slowly pedaled to the next stage, Live Wire 2, less than a mile away.

This stage would be a little tougher as it had more ups and a few flats, and less descending than the first stage.  I thought that this might be to my advantage, coming from an XC/endurance background.  It was also the most technical one, with alot of rock gardens and bridges to negotiate.  Length of this second stage, was just a bit over 2 miles.  I did not start out near as crazy fast, as I wanted to be fairly consistent, clean everything, and not blow up on the couple of short, techy climbs.  As much as I tried to stay out of the saddle the whole time, I did not have the muscular endurance to do so.  I chose the flatter sections to raise the saddle, and pedal like an XC racer.  I had another clean run, and finished in 13:15.  Once again, my HR was right up their with a Ruby throated hummingbird.

The transfer to Stage 3 was long and included the 4 mile climb up High Voltage.  I took it as easy as I could, pedaling in granny, HAB'ing several sections to rest the legs, and drinking the remainder of my 50 ounces of fluid that I started with.  It was very enjoyable, even despite the sweltering heat.  I had a steady drip of sweat coming off my nose.  I was glad that I had spent the last couple of weeks doing my workouts during the hottest part of the day, for now I was very comfortable.

Topping out on the climb, I stopped at the aid station to refill my CamelBak.  A huge thanks goes out to Brent for keeping ICE COLD water in the coolers.  That was some of the best tasting water ever!  It was still a ways to Chunky, the start of Stage 3.  I was feeling rather peppy and rode a happy L2 pace.  It was during this transfer that I realized that I was the first one to hit Stage 3.  I chuckled, as only a crack head endurance racer would want to lead the charge during a transfer.

Stage 3 was Chunky --> Switchyard --> a small portion of Small Intestine.  There was little technicality to it, but it would be a busy 1.5 miles of pedaling.  Once again, I charged hard.  I was doing well until the last bit of Chunky where I overshot a turn and went through the tape.  Costing me precious seconds, I had to detangle myself, and get back on course.  From there, I maintained better control, but could feel the previous two stages in my legs.  They were not as happy to be turning the pedals over and were wanting more coasting sections.  I finished the stage in 7:50, legs burning with lactic acid.

As I pedaled the road back to the single track, I tried to maintain an easy spin.  I knew I was getting tired and the final stage, Stage 4, would be long, and both technically and mentally demanding.  Once I hit the single track back to the aid station, I began coming upon racers who were headed out to the third stage.  Some of them already looked whipped, taking a beating by the extreme temps as well as the long transfers.  When I approached the aid station, there were at least 12 racers hanging out and having a picnic.  It was here that I realized that there were alot of racers still making that transfer up High Voltage, which was the trail that I would be racing down for the final stage.

Oops!  Even though I had been riding the transfers at my casual pace, it was still way too "enduro fast" and would now have to wait 35 minutes before Stage 4 cleared.  Awww ... now my legs were pretty pissed off.  While most would have liked that time to recover, I do better by just keeping on keepin' on.  My muscles begin to shut down after about 5 minutes of down time.

So, while waiting for the stage to clear, I rode back out to the pavement and did some laps around the finish area to keep the legs warm.  Finally I thought that the coast was clear and started the stage.  My legs barked for the first 1/2 mile, but then opened up.  There were still a few racers coming up, but they heard me and gave me plenty of room.  Those first few switchbacks were buggers!  Tight and steep, I felt awkwardly slow through them, like a newborn giraffe.  The trail finally opened up and I was able to get that speed up again.  Seat post was slammed so I would have to pedal.  I felt great until the middle section where it flattens out and then climbs.  Ouch!  That hurt!  I had to pop the saddle up and grunt my way seated, in granny or close to it.  Rookie error, no doubt, but the legs just could not sustain the higher end torque.  After what seemed like an eternity, the trail steepened, and I was happy again, raging over the whoop de doos and switchbacks.  4 miles and 15:57 later, I had just finished my first Enduro.  Put a fork in me, I was done.

While waiting on the shuttle, I sought a small piece of almost non existant shade, and layed down beside my bike.  Having left it all out on that last stage, I got a little light-headed.  It took almost 10 minutes for my heart rate and breathing to recover (normally it only takes about 2-3 minutes after an endurance event).  SO GLAD I did not have to pedal back up that damn mountain in 90+ degree heat.  The shuttle back to the start was a Godsend.

With a total time of 44:01, I won the Women's Open.  And yes, I was the first to finish.  Absolutely loved the way my Industry 9 Trail wheels got me through the rock gardens unscathed.  And how my Xpedo Baldwin's kept me safely connected to my bike.

Total ride time was right at 4 hours and total distance was 30 miles.  I definitely have a lot to learn about this style of racing.  And a few skills I need to sharpen.  But I am definitely hooked!

A big shout out to Brent and Shellie.  They worked their a$$es off to make this happen.  And thanks to the SORBA Chattanooga for getting out in the days leading up to this event and clearing the trail of multiple downed trees from some wicked storms.

Already thinking about Stanley Gap.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Iron Mountain 100k Race Report

This was the 6th running of this backwoods old school trail race.  After having raced it, I could kick myself in the pants for not having done it sooner.  Jeff Bartlett could not have said it better, "... you take something you really enjoy, then you do it as hard and fast as you possibly can, to the possible detriment of enjoying it as much as you would on a casual ride, and eventually everything hurts and you can't wait for it to be over."

I pre-rode the course several weeks ago.  While it was enjoyable, and I got to stop and smell the roses and take lots of pictures, for me, it is just not as fun as racing it.  I am addicted to endorphins and I cannot seem to get my "fix" unless I am suffering.  I categorize suffering into two sub-types, suffery good and suffery bad.  Suffery good is when your system is firing on all cylinders.  Yes, there is pain, but it is welcomed and bearable.  Suffery bad is when you are struggling to get to that level you know you can achieve, but it is just not happening.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Never knowing how my legs are going to respond, until the race starts, I felt great during the neutral roll out of town to the Virginia Creeper Trail.  The pace on the Creeper was a casual 15-17mph.  And then we hit the 1+ mile technical climb up the Beech Grove Trail.  After a couple hundred yards of negotiating the slick rocks and roots, I entered my suffery bad zone ... where I would stay for the next 3 hours.  As Zoe so eloquently put it, my legs tried to "grow roots" on every climb.   Surprisingly, my HAB legs were happy.

The first 10 miles is 95% climbing.  After Beech Grove, the grunting continued on Iron Mountain Trail.  With flailing legs, I focused on my mental game.  My mind immediately went to Eleanor, who recently surpassed mile 2000 on the Tour Divide.  Zoe caught me as I was fumbling around on a loose cat head climb.  With her bubbly persona and a mini-Eleanor sitting on my shoulder, it was easy to stay positive.  My grimace turned to a smile.  Over the next 25 miles Zoe and I sorta rode together.  She would drop me on the climbs and I would reel her back in on the descents.

Beartree Gap descent.  Photobomber showing just how rad this descent was.  

The Beartree Gap descent was blistering fast.  The most technical part of this trail was getting across the 10 foot slicker 'n snot bridge at the bottom.  I was debating as to whether to ride or walk it.  The decision was made for me when the single speeder in front of me went down HARD on it.

Bypassing aid station 1, I began the 3 mile paved climb.  My bike decided to creak with each pedal stroke, so much so that when I caught a racer, he politely pointed it out to me.  What he was really wanting to say was, "Please pass me and end the torture!"  Once the pavement ended and the climb up the Lum Trail began, the creaking subsided.  Zoe caught me again and passed me, all while answering 100 questions from the racer behind her in a RPE voice of 4.

Picking up the Iron Mountain Trail again, I was glad for the descent, marbly as it was.  Crossing over a highway, I began the "arduous for me" climb up FS84.  Normally I am the passer on climbs, but today I was the passee.  I just focused on how fun Jerry's Creek was going to be.  As I descended Jerry's with its half-track, off-camber wet footprint littered with slick 45 degree angle roots, I had my left foot unclipped most of the way and praying to make it down in one piece.  Only mountain bikers would say that fun includes being scared sh!tless.

Catching back up to Zoe on the lower half of Jerry's, I enjoyed her sound effects as she got sideways in several slick corners.  We rolled into aid station 2 together.  As I was refilling my CamelBak and choking down a couple gels, she was having a picnic.  I hurried her up a bit as she was thoroughly enjoying the smorgasboard.

We rode together on the next fireroad climb up to Barton Gap.  I jokingly told her that I had put a spare set of legs at the next aid station.  I was now entering my third hour of suffery bad.  So I started asking Zoe questions that required more than one word answers.  She gladly answered in detail, but soon she was talking to herself as the rubber band broke and she pulled away as we entered the Barton Gap Trail.

Even given my grumpy legs this trail was a hoot!  The climb up included several section of soul sapping soft trail.  However, on the descent, recent trail work opened up the undergrowth allowing for stupid fast speeds.  I felt like a Jedi knight on a speeder bike!

Popping back out onto FS84 for the 4-5 mile climb back up to more trail, my legs finally began showing some signs of life.  Hallelujah!  I saw Zoe way up ahead and slowly began to reel her back in.  With about a mile left of climbing, I passed her at warp ... err, turtle speed.  As I passed her for the final time, she cheered me on!  This sign of sportmanship shows just how (insert desired adjective of awesomeness) she truly is.

Iron Mountain descent.  Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Heading down the Iron Mountain Trail towards Skulls Gap allowed my legs to fully re-energize.  By the time I passed by aid station 3, I was in my suffery good zone.  The remaining 20 miles flew by.  I HAB'd back up the marbly cat-head section of Iron Mountain twice as fast as I could have ridden it.  The ridge line section of Iron Mountain leading to the Chestnut Mountain Trail was similar to the Snake.  I was in my element, floating effortlessly over the rocks.  The Chestnut Mountain descent was like the Turkey Pen descent.  Towards the end I was two-fingering the brakes as my forearms burned with lactic acid.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Rolling into aid station 4, I chased a gel with a Red Bull and began the 4 mile climb back up to Iron Mountain.  This climb was a mix of gravel, unmaintained fire road,  rocky double track, and super steep fall line trail.  During my pre ride of this section, I remembered it being painful.  Today, it was as if I had wings.  Before I knew it, I was on the FeatherCamp Ridge Trail.  I passed one poor racer whose legs were having a mutiny.  Back on the Iron Mountain Trail, it was a 6 mile descent to the finish, save for a few short climbs.  I was able to hammer these last few climbs without so much of a whimper from my legs.  Passing several racers gave me renewed energy and focus for the final 2 mile descent that littered with baby heads.  My forearms were like Popeye's by the time I sailed through the finish line.

This was a super hard day on the bike.  But also a very rewarding one.  Endeavor to pesevere is one of my mantras and today it was ever so true.  There is not a greater feeling on the bike than to conquer the suffery bad.  And that endorphin rush when you have left everything out on the trail is why I prefer racing to riding.

Might I mention just one more time how awesome of a competitor Zoe is.  To having not raced any longer than 2 1/2 hours and having no real structured training leading up to this race shows how strong this lady is.  Not to mention her class on the trail.  Her bright and bubbly character led me through the darkest of pain caves.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

This race will test you more than any 6 hour lap race can.  So if you like old school single track, fire road climbs of death followed by single track descents of death, all sprinkled with some sh!ts and giggles flowy trail, you must put this on your calender.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Karl's Kaleidoscope Race Report

After a two year hiatus, I returned for the 4th edition of this super-cool grassroots race.  In remembrance of Karl Kalber, founder/promoter/best friend Mark Prater created this epic course through the countryside and mountains surrounding Marion, Virginia.  Cory told me that the course was different than the inaugural course:  more single track, less road.

I awakened on race day to clear skies and perfect temps (60-70 degrees).  Although the pre ride the day before was less than stellar, leg-wise, I was determined to have a fun romp through the woods.  During the pre race meeting, Mark gave us a nice breakdown on the course, going over it turn by turn.  I stored as much info into my memory banks as possible.  I was surprised to see such a small group of us, what with a HUGE and EQUAL payout ($800, $300, $200, $100, $100).  There was still plenty of good competition to be had.

Zeke said a prayer, Karl's son shot his pistol, and we were OFF!  The start was ridiculously fast, or perhaps it was just that I was trying to stay with the lead group of men.  After a short stint on pavement, we hit the flat Lake Trail.  I went into the single track in 6th, but soon was passed by an onslaught of racers, including Laura Hamm.  My legs were already barking so I knew better than to try to hold this pace.  It was hard to do, but I let Laura go, hoping that over the course, my legs would open up, and I could scratch, dig, and claw my way back up to her.

After going down around the spillway, up the backside of the Lake Loop, I found my happy pace going up CCC Camp Trail.  These trails in Hungry Mother State Park are beautiful and well-maintained.

I found myself with a couple other guys who had a nice pace.  Going around a couple switchbacks, I could see that Misty was only seconds behind me.  And then the trail turned up ... steeply.  I went from my happy pace to a slow grind up the 15-18% pitches.  One mile later I was headed onto Molly's Knob, which was equally steep.

Having ridden this the day before, at least I knew that this painful grind would end with a sweet, exhilarating 2 mile descent.  Even though the trail was wide and smooth, it had alot of loose shale that made the off camber turns quite interesting.  I was following Shane down this descent when he took a right onto the pavement.  There was a fence at the bottom of the descent.  We were so focused on not hitting it and did not see the sign for the left hand turn.  After I rode for a short distance, my brain turned back on, and I realized that we should have taken a left.  I yelled to Shane and turned around.  Fortunately I did not lose much time.

Vista on Molly's Knob.  Across the lake on the hillside is the Clyburn Hollow Trail.  

After a brief pedal on the park roads I then hit Raider's Run and Old Shawnee Trails.  These were equally fun but not as painfully steep.  Soon enough, I was back out onto some gravel double track, heading towards the last trails in the park.  But first I had to pass by the two aggressive beagles.  At least they were penned up.  They got so tore up by the racers passing by that they would take out their aggressions on each other.  After I passed them, I could gauge the other racers behind me by the sounds of their skirmishes.

Before I hit the Clyburn Hollow Trail, the course took us through the back of a sawmill/machine shop where I got to test out by tubeless set up, running over various pieces of wood and metal.  Having passed the test, whew!,  I hit up the last bit of single track in the park.  This section was once again fun and fast with plenty of climbing.

After a short repeat on the Lake Trail, I was motoring on the pavement section through Mitchell Valley.  The course turned onto a cattle farm where workers were busy setting new fence.  After plowing through a deep puddle of mud and probably some manure, I then got to enjoy a bulldozer chewed up section where the fence was being rebuilt.  It would have been much smoother had I remembered to unlock my fork from when I had locked it back on the Mitchell Valley Road.

Crossing the farm led me to Bear Creek Road, where I was promptly greeted by a flagman with a big STOP sign.  After waiting 40 seconds (long enough for my legs to seize up), I was allowed to go.  The reason for the stop was that a group of men were trimming trees off of powerlines.  Motoring on, I soon caught up to a single speeder, who told me that he had been riding with a group that included Laura.  He thought that she was just a couple minutes ahead.  So close, I could smell her, but the legs were content to  rest a bit behind the SS'rs wheel.  Making short work of Crawfish Road, we hit the Crawfish Trail together.  Wow!  Just wow!  This was a beautiful and relatively flat stretch of old school trail with a dozen or so creek crossings.  All of the crossings were shallow, save for one which went well over my bottom bracket.  Several of the crossings were technical as they were rocky and muddy.  But so much better than when I raced it in 2012; the whole trail was a slimy mess.

Soon Mr. Singlespeed pulled away from me and once again I was on my own.  Pretty much the entire race I had my own bubble.  At an intersection two course marshals were each sitting on a log.  Between them was a log "table" complete with table cloth (paper towels).  They were partaking of wine, cheese, and salami.  How I was able to see all of this in a span of 3 seconds, I do not know.  But it was absolutely hilarious!

After about 5 miles of Crawfish bliss, I was on the never ending gravel road.  At least it was flat.  As I had plenty of time to think on this section, I found it peculiar that my strength today seemed to be on the flats.  All those steep ups back at Hungry Mother had really put a hurtin' on my legs.  But on the flat sections, I could bury my head and keep a good tempo.  Rolling into the second aid station, my CamelBak was on "E" so I filled my bottle and grabbed a gel.

Then began the Walker Mountain climb of death.  4 miles long and 32 miles into the course, this was a beast!  My legs would have none of it; at one point I thought they were going to have a mutiny.  The farther I climbed, the harder the trail got.  It started out as a gravel road for a short ways and then became an unmaintained gravel double track with several areas that were rocky and washed out.

I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting to have racers upon me at any moment.  That "looking over the shoulder" thingy I hate to do as it is a sign of weakness.  I felt like a struggling fish in a deep blue ocean just waiting for the sharks to come finish me off.  But none came.  I finally topped out onto some weedy ATV trail that led to the Pisgah-'ish 2.5 mile descent.  I was so looking forward to brapping down some fun trail.

Seeing the many yellow strands of  "police line do not cross" tap tied onto trees, I knew the fun had arrived.  This trail, if you can call it that, called for total focus.  With hardly any foot print and with one continual rock garden, your eyes were constantly flickering up to see the tape to know where to go and then down to negotiate through rocks.  A couple times I made "new" trail as I got off track.

Walker Mountain descent.  Photo Credit:  Jeff Plasmido

After a short hike a bike, where the trail was hugging the steep mountainside, I found myself on the section I call "Mini Heartbreak Ridge."  2 miles of descending through a washed out fall line and I came upon the moto duo who were still enjoying their deep woods formal dining experience.  Turning right, I made short work of a portion of Crawfish, in the opposite direction, before hanging right onto several miles of rolling doubletrack.  Riding Crawfish this way was funner as it was slightly downhill.

Coming back into Aid Station 1/3, I stopped to refill my bottle and grab another gel.  Riding back on Crawfish Road, I was greeted by a nice headwind; at least the breeze was cool.  After about 1/4 mile on Bear Creek, I was directed by a family of course marshalls onto another grassy double track.  This was also part of the Crawfish Trail system and had a mix of doubletrack and trail.  I knew that the finish was soon so I tried to up my effort.  The legs were back talking, but I was having none of it and forced them to pedal until I reached a certain HR.  Kind of a game I play when I am physically "whooped."  Today it was working and I was able to eek out a little more power, or at least that was what I perceived.

Coming onto the Kalber's homestead, I was greeted by Karl Jr.  He was  a hoopin' and a hollerin.'  Glad to have that mental push to keep the legs turning the pedals over.  Passing through the roads of the state park, I knew I had second.  Can't say I wasn't disappointed to not get first, but that's racing.  I did achieve my #1 goal which was to have fun.  Painful at times, but the kind of suffery fun all of us endurance nuts feed upon.

54 miles, 7000 feet, 4:44

I can't say enough great things about this race.  Plenty of pre race schwag, post race pizza and beer, excellent aid stations, great course, down to earth promoter who worked his a$$ off to prepare the course, and seemingly endless prizing.

As each turn of the kaleidoscope shows you something new, so did the race course.

Prizes that I can definitely use.

Stoked that Melissa,my MDH100 traveling partner, got 5th.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Marathon Nationals Race Report

As I choked down my pre race breakfast, the butterflies were swirling heavy.  I cannot remember the last time I was this nervous.  Warming up prior to the start, my stomach was sour and that NEVER happens.  I calmed myself by finding a secluded area to warm up the engine.  I was more worried about myself than my competition.  With only 1 race, 6WC, under my belt and 4 weeks of semi-structured training, I was not sure how my body would respond.  I still had a lot of self-doubt running through me.  Was 6 weeks off the bike enough to reset my system?  How much top end fitness did I lose?  Did I choose the right gear and could I stay on top of it for 60+ miles?

Lining up with four other strong women, the butterflies settled and I was determined to leave it all out on the trail.  We were going off with the 35+ wave which included my team mate Lisa.  The whistle blew and with one pedal stroke I was clipped in and hammering up the gravel road.  Amber and Stefanie pulled ahead and I could see they were pushing a harder gear.  I was determined to stay with them and my legs were ready to pedal a RPM of 130.

Upon hitting the Bartram Trail, I latched on to a group of 8.  Although the pace was XC fast, my legs surprisingly felt good so early in the race.  Slowly throughout the first 15 miles, the group thinned as either a racer would bumble through a ditch crossing or was unable to keep up the pace.  Hitting the double track section where there were several log crossings, I played it safe and ran them.  Stefanie was having issues with these features, casing one, and then almost falling trying to run them.  I knew right then that I would probably have an advantage over her in the upcoming technical sections of Keg and Mistletoe.

Amber, on the other hand, was steady and smooth.  She definitely had an engine ... and pistons that seemed to be twice as long as mine.  I would have to bide my time and wait for an opportunity.  As we crossed the highway and began the 3 mile rake n ride section through pastures, woods, and powelines, the geared ladies and Amber were able to pull away from me, but I never lost sight of them.  I, as well, was able to pull away from Stefanie.

Lisa's "Train of Pain" coming in to the Start/Finish at mile 30

Coming into feed zone 1 at mile 15, I was glad I chose the CamelBak for the first half of the race.  The pace was so fast and intense, I would not have had a chance to let up and drink from a bottle.  Upon entering the 15 mile section of Bartram back to the start/finish, I was able to reel in a group of 3 ladies:  Lisa was leading, followed by Amber, and a 30+ woman.  I was content to sit on the back while Lisa set a blistering but sustainable pace.  Our group slowly devoured male racers as we rolled along the flowy trail.  All the men were very polite and moved off the trail as our little train rolled through.

Approaching the Start/Finish, I began to undo my CamelBak.  I knew that Amber probably would not stop and I needed each and every second.  I threw off my CamelBak, grabbed a bottle from Doug, and headed out for the second half.  Climbing up the gravel road just out of the Start/Finish, I had the first inkling of fatigue.  The first half I had completed in 2:14.  Could I keep up this pace for another 2+ hours?  Probably not.  I was just hoping that Amber was having those very same thoughts.

Amber was able to put a 5 second gap on me on the double track, but I was able to close that down on the section of Bartram that lead to the highway crossing.  After the crossing Amber was once again able to get a gap on me on the 2 mile gravel road leading to the Keg Creek Trail.  Her gear was beginning to annoy me ... or  it mighta been my one easier gear was frustrating me on the flat road sections.

Photo Credit:  Scott Hyatt

As I approached the sharp right hand turn onto the Keg Trail, I saw Amber had overshot and was coming back up the hill.  (It was this unmanned turn that put many a racer out of contention.  Some figured it out soon enough but others ended up riding the last half of Keg backwards). I saw an opportunity and attempted to open a gap on her.  The effort was painful and short lived as she reeled me back in on the highway bridge crossing.  Together we rode the 3.5 miles of Keg before popping out into the neigborhood.  On the double track climb up to the pavement, I knew I was going to be in trouble as my legs began to bark.  Fortunately I was able to close in on a couple men and ride their wheel all the way to Mistletoe.  This woud give me some much needed rest, but it also gave Amber an opportunity to recover as well.

Riding through a field for about 1/2 mile, my teeth rattled in my head.  Looking to my right, I saw a perfectly good SMOOTH PAVED road.  That was torture!  And, I would have to ride this again on my return to Keg.  On the out/back single track to the Rock Dam Trail, I was able to ride the flat rock creek crossing.  The water had receded and there was only one patch of slick algae that I was able to lift my front wheel over.  Melissa was stuck to my rear wheel like a tick on a dog.  On a couple occasions I asked if she wanted around, but she said she was content.  Like a cat "toying" with a mouse before the death strike, I envisioned.  But as long as she was behind me, I had a chance.

As I approached the deep creek crossing, I came upon a male racer, who seemed somewhat dumbfounded as how to approach this steep 10 foot drop down to a 20 foot water crossing in which there appeared to be no bottom.  He asked if I was going to ride it.  "No," I told him, "but I will show you how to get across it quickly."  I slid down the slope, plopped into the water which came up to my waist, held my bike over my head, waded across, and then ran the 40 yards up a 12% grade and quickly hopped back on the bike.

The next couple miles were fairly technical with a ditch crossing followed by a steep up and then eventually hitting the off camber rock garden that was about 40 yards long.  Surprisingly I was able to stay on top of my gear and clean it.  I heard Amber stumble behind me and once again tried to surge ahead.  I made it all the way to the water bar run up before she once again latched onto me.  Together we made quick work of the Cliatt Trail, passing several more men.  We were now on the tail end of the 40+ men.  That was a confidence boost for me, as our group had started 10 minutes behind them.

Once back on the second half of the Rock Dam Trail, I tried to tap into my reserves.  I knew Amber was strong and had the bigger engine.  If I could just stay with her until we hit the second half of the Keg Trail ...   Along a flat section, Amber said she would pull us up to a small group of men about 30 yards ahead.  She passed me and I hung precariously on her wheel.  She then asked how far we had gone.  I said 45 miles.  Done "toying with the mouse," she went in for the kill.  She powered up, got a gap, to which I could not respond, and was gone.

I had about a 30 second pity party, but then endeavored to persevere.  There were still 15 miles left and lots could happen.  By the time I hit the third and final feed zone, Doug said she had about a minute on me.  I swapped bottles and, on the fly, chugged down a Red Bull.  If I ever needed "wings," I needed them now.

The 4 mile flat section back to Keg was miserable.  Spin, spin, spin, coast, coast, coast, spin, spin, spin, coast, coast, coast, etc.  At one point my legs were going so fast, I thought they might shear off at the hip joint.  Once back onto Keg, I was in my element.  Summoning what strength I had left, I dug deep and fought for every inch of that trail.  Around every corner, I looked for Amber.  As the miles slowly ticked away, I then began looking for the gravel road.  That last 5 miles on Keg was a beast.  The roots had grown bigger and more numerous.  And the log crossings!  I swear I heard them heckling me.  I hopped a few, bounced off a few, ran a few, and crawled over a few.

Finally on the gravel, I thought I could smell the barn.  This 2 mile section seemed to go on forever! I was running on empty and I was veering left and right to find every drop of fuel left in the tank.  Crossing the highway for the final time, I pretty much concluded that I was now racing for second.  So then I began looking over my shoulder for third.  Almost home, I was racing around a corner, when I had to slam on the brakes as there were about 20 racers stopped in the middle of the trail.  Just what I DID NOT want to happen.  The pros had started and to allow then the full lane of double track up to the Bartram Trail, they stopped our progress down the double track to the finish.  I saw Amber about 5 racers ahead of me.  (She later told me that I was about 2 minutes behind her, up until this point.)

One lonely USAC official was there trying to take down our stopping time, but that was futile as there were more racers there than she could handle.  There was NO WAY that this would be a fair finish.  After I was stopped for about 4 minutes, she started to let racers go in 30 second increments.  In another 2 minutes I was off for the final kilometer.  At least in this 6 minute of limbo no other ladies had shown up.  My legs let me know immediately they were not happy.  The lactic acid was almost unbearable, but the pain was almost over.

Cruising down through the finish with a silver medal was not how I wanted this race to end.  However, I had no "hindsight" moments.  I had a perfect race, laid it all out on the trail, but just could not match Amber's engine.  I was very pleased with my performance; my legs had some spark and my heart was strong.  And I had the second fastest overall time. This race has given me a big boost of confidence going into the second half of the season.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Marathon Nationals Pre Ride

Although overkill for the Bartram Trail, your back will appreciate the full suspension on the Keg and at Mistletoe.

For you scholarly types of mountain bike racers, I have some beta on the Marathon Nationals course.  This past week I took a little trip to Georgia to roll my tires over the 58 mile course.  Aside from what will be on private land, I rode most of what was available.  The course is roughly broken up into three sections with fire roads and asphalt making up connectors to get from one trail system to another.  I am racing in the single speed division so I also wanted to figure out my gearing.

The Bartram Trail is the first trail system to be ridden.  At 18.5 miles, it is the longest of the three. Some of it will be ridden twice, but in the opposite direction. It is flat, fast, and flowy.  It holds up well in the wet, as I experienced first hand.  Most of what was flung up on the bike and eye was not mud but bits of pine straw.  I quickly noticed I was under geared on this trail.

The Keg Trail is 9 miles.  It is mostly flat with just a few grunty climbs of 30-100 yards.  However, it does require 100% focus, what with its tight twists and turns, multiple bridges, and creek crossings. If it is wet, which it was when I rode, you had better make sure to mount your stickiest tires.  What with its hundreds of roots, most of which are angled and off cambered, this trail will make you eat dirt for lunch, if you are not careful.

Must "play nice" with the roots.

I also encountered (10 + n) log crossings where  (n = 5 to 10).  For me, half were rideable and the other half I practiced my CX dismount and remount.  If you like old school trail, this one will not disappoint.  Those who run wide bars or bar ends might find this extra exciting.  My gearing here was a little more likeable.  The "right" gear will be the one where you can hammer the flats, but that still allows you to get on top of on the short, but steep climbs.

The trails in Mistletoe State Park which will be utilized are Cliatt Nature Loop and the Rock Dam Trail, 8 miles in length.  Cliatt is wide open, smooth, and easy.  The Rock Dam is a beautiful old school trail that will throw alot at you in just 6 miles.  I was glad to have reconned this, as the beauty that enveloped the trail was astounding.

Cliatt Nature Trail

There are 3 flat rock creek crossings that look so doable.  But ... the algae is everywhere.  My guess is that the coefficient of friction between these rocks and your tire is about 0.03, which is also the same as ICE!  You have been warned.

Collarbone breaker #1

Collarbone breaker #2

Collarbone breaker #3

The climbs on the Rock Dam trail are short, but steep, and always seem to occur after a ditch drop, a creek crossing, basically momentum busters.  Most of my sessioning involved deciding when to run like hell.

15% grade after a ditch crossing

There is one fun rocky section about 75 yards long on about 12% grade and 20% off camber.  This was one of a couple techy sections where I did some true sessioning.  As long as I did not look to my right, I was o.k.


After 3 good days of riding, I think I have finally figured out my gearing and tire choice.  This course may be flat, but it is not gonna be easy.  You are going to be on the gas ALL the time!  Glad I like to spin, spin, spin!

Friday, April 10, 2015

6 Hours of Warrior Creek Race Report

First race back since the 6 week lay off.  No structured training leading into this one.  I was excited to be back in competition, but nervous that my engine would misfire. I chose an easy gear, knowing I would hate the first lap, but at least be in my comfort zone during the final ones.  A little pre-ride shake out of the legs and nerves the day before and I was ready to see how I would perform come race day.

Each lap was 13.8 miles and 1350 feet of climbing.  So many twists and turns and ups and downs that my Garmin could only handle 11.5 miles and 1100 feet of climbing.  The course was in perfect shape. Many hours of work had gone into making this course race ready.  The weather was cooperating this year; the course was dry and with a nice light rain the night before, the dust had settled.

Although I was initially in the 5th row, late comers funneled in the front, past the "official" start line.  This put me well back in the field.  The start was fast and furious on the initial 3/4 mile parade lap on the pavement through the campground.  I was spinning a cadence of 100+ but still was passed by hordes of racers that are super fast on their geared full squish bikes ... until they hit the single track where their roadie skills did not transition to the dirt.

I knew Lap 1 was going to be a party train.  In year's past, I would blow a few matches to get around racers.  This year, I had decided that I would ride with the train, saving my energy for future laps.  An experiment it was.  I was EXTREMELY patient until I came upon a racer who I swore was drunk.  This guy was on a full suspension with a skateboarder's helmet, flat pedals, and pads.  I don't think he realized he had gears as he was pedaling like a hummingbird.  He was fine on the straightaways but when he came to any sort of turn, he was all over the berm and nearly bit it several times.  I knew I had to get around him before he took me out.  I did and said a prayer of thanks.

My body was functioning well and I was almost into my little bubble of happiness when, trying to pass a racer through a rooty section, my chain came off.  Doh!  Taking way too long too get it back on, guess who passed back by me?  Yep, Mr. Tipsy!  I had to play that game all over again, this time passing him as he was wallowing around in the leaves after having folded his bike in half on a huge berm.

Short, but steep, grunty climbs

I finally found my bubble on Lap 2.  I came upon Eleanor midway and noticed she was pushing a much harder gear.  We chatted for a bit and then I knew I had to go.  One of these days, I hope to be able to throw on that big gear again.  But for now, I was happy with my dinner plate cog.  Lap 2 was my fastest.

Midway through lap 3 I came upon Mark Stewart.  He was a hurtin' buckaroo as he rode with Lisa the previous lap.  Little did he know that she sometimes likes to play with guys the way a cat plays with a mouse ... just before the kill blow.  I was beginning to feel the fatigue settle in as well.  I chose to stay with Mark and follow his lines, and perhaps learn a little.  Mark is a very skilled rider.  I told him that the highlight of the race for me would be able to see him hit those four jumps at the end of the lap.  I think that this pushed him a little harder, and he nailed the biggest one!

Prior to heading out for lap 4, I chugged a can of Red Bull.  It took about a half lap before I grew wings.  While waiting for my overdrive to kick in, I settled in behind another rider who had a great pace and was super consistent.  This allowed me to turn AutoPilot on and enjoy the ride.  Once I felt the energy return, I made the pass and motored on.  About a mile before the rock gardern, I fell in behind Melissa Cooper who was racing duo.  When I made my presence known, she kicked it into high gear and left me choking on her dust on the climb.  I managed to crawl my way back onto her wheel and then passed her when she bobbled in the beginning of the rocks.  Must have been fate as she rode my line through the tricky portion of the garden and cleaned it for the first time!  I could hear her squeals of gratitude, which in turn made me feel good and bolstered the inner fires.

I went out for my 5th and final lap.  I wasn't sure if it was necessary, but I needed all the miles I could get.  My body was not happy with all the jarring.  With every G-out or set of roots, my left foot sent out electrical waves of pain and it felt like someone was taking a knife and poking it into my lumbar area.  The upper body was holding up well, but the lower was all to hell!  I was ready to be done.

With about 3 miles to go, Gordon Wadsworth and Wes Richards, racing neck in neck in the single speed division, blew around me quickly and effortlessly.  I was "sucked" into their vacuum and for a brief moment, I do believe I entered a time warp.  This last lap was my second fastest, no doubt thanks to those two.

I rolled through the finish line with a first place in the single speed category ... 5 laps in 6:21.  Slower than my last solo performance, but I was happy.  Happy to be back at my passion.  Happy to have my body perform as it should.

Jason knows how to put on a fantastic race with equal payouts, incredible schwag, and a post-race raffle filled with high dollar items.  Winning the single speed division netted me some Benjamins and a Endless Bike Co. musette bag filled with goodness!

The 33T will come in handy at Marathon Nationals.

And beer for my hubby!

The Jedi Master of trailbuilding Jim Horton
Warrior Creek is my all-time favorite 6 hour race.  I will be back in 2016, perhaps mixing it up a little with one of my friends.

If you missed out on this one, check out their fall race, The Wilkesboro 100K.  It uses the Warrior Creek Trails, the Overmountain Victory Trail, and the Dark Mountain Trails.  I raced the inaugural one and highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sue Haywood Mountain Bike Skills Clinic

I first learned of Sue's clinics after seeing a FB post by Shanna Powell last year.  I had been wanting some formal instruction and with Shanna's positive review, I arranged a private clinic for 7 ladies this past weekend.

For those of you who don't know Sue Haywood (shame on you), she is one of the most down to earth world class racers you will ever meet.  With championships and podiums in almost every style of mountain bike racing there is, she was and still is a force to be reckoned with.  Couple that with her ability to communicate those skills and you have an instructor that can teach an old mountain biker new tricks!

Mary showin how it's done, with a smile!

The group of women I invited are all expert level riders.  Despite our years of experience, we all learned a ton!  The biggest take away for me was how to drive the bike, not just ride it.  Unlike operating a car, on the bike you need to be aggressive, not defensive.

Kathleen is like C4 ... a small package of explosiveness!

I believe we all left with alot more knowledge and a little more skill.  Now I need to practice, practice, practice.  At this point, my mammalian brain knows what to do.  And with practice, my reptilian brain can take it to the next level where I don't have to think about it.

Rachel with a nice drop in.

It was great to have an all ladies clinic.  No machismo interfering with our self confidence.  Even though ladies do have egos, we know when to leave them at home.

Learning the basics before applying them on the trail.

Now I just need to "unlearn" some bad habits and work on the core skills.  I figure that I am as fast as I can be on the climbs.  Where I can gain speed is on the flats and descents by applying Sue's teachings.  She is a level 2 IMBA certified instructor and has also been an instructor with Gene Hamilton's Better Ride clinics, before branching out on her own.

Sue loved Live Wire and High Voltage

Sue runs a series of clinics throughout the year.  She is also willing to come to your neck of the woods and instruct a small group.  I would highly recommend taking a skills clinic.  My only regret is not having done it sooner!