Monday, April 27, 2009

Cohutta 100 Race Report

Today was the day. I would not have a better opportunity to "get the monkey off my back." Not wanting to be the "perennial 2nd place finisher" any longer, I was determined to leave it all out on the trail.

And so it began with the call up. I took my usual spot several rows back. Danielle was up in the front row next to Chris Eatough. I guess she was looking to get the "hole shot." At the start, I rode fast enough to get in with a good group of racers, but not so fast that I would blow up.

The temperature at the start was 52 degrees, but I knew it was going to be a long hot day (the high was 88). Using a Sharpie I wrote "EAT!" on my forearm to ensure that my nutrition plan was going to be followed.

Entering Brush Creek Tr., I was in a good position and was able to keep the pace up. I could see Paula just ahead and somewhere in front of her were Danielle and Betsy. Brush Creek was a hoot! I was in a good rhythm and already I knew my legs were going to be strong!

Entering Boyd Gap, Zeke told me that the others were just a couple minutes ahead. On this singletrack descent there were a couple guys in front of me using WAY too much brake, but I guess this was a good thing as it forced me to be patient and not do anything stupid. Descending down the paved section to Old Copper Road, I was right on Paula's wheel and could see Betsy just ahead.

The two SLOW guys were also ahead. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they were probably not locals and just did not know the trail like I. But I wanted to keep Betsy in sight so I jumped ahead of them and Paula upon entering Old Copper Road. I was right on Betsy's wheel when we hit the super rooty section. I was able to get around her by going to the right.

From then on, it was a train of three: I, Paula, then Betsy. We rode this way for the remainder of the singletrack up to the beginning of the 65 miles of gravel road, a.k.a. "the Death March."
It was here that we caught up to Danielle. We all rode together for the first couple minutes until Paula flatted.

As we started up a series of 3 short, but supersteep shady climbs, Betsy and Danielle pulled away from me. I never lost sight of them and was slowly able to reel them back in on the descents.

I knew that a 5 mile flat section was fast approaching so I started looking around for "domestiques." You know, some big strong guys on 29'rs. I found two and locked on tight to their wheel. I was able to drop Danielle using this tactic. She was looking strong and I needed every advantage to put some distance between us.

Betsy also followed suit and for a while we rode together. I thought it was pretty ingenious of her to use a riser bar and flip it down on her 29'r to give her a proper bike fit. When we started climbing Daly Gap, Betsy once again managed to drop me as she went into "mountain goat" mode.

Not worrying too much, I just settled into a rhythm and let my legs and lungs dictate the pace. After about 30 minutes, I just happened to look back and saw Danielle. Uh, oh ... it appeared that I settled a bit too much. Luckily I was feeling good enough to kick it up a notch and not let her catch me.

Once on top of the ridge, I put it in the big ring and hammered it to Aid Station 2 where I had Zeke waiting to hand off my Camelbak and gel flask. I stopped no longer than 30 seconds and Zeke also poured a much needed cup of cold water down my back. His days of working for Petty Racing paid off for me as my pit time was so short.

From there it was a short gradual climb followed by some sweet descending to Jack's River campground. I apologize to the driver of the truck who thought that he was going to make a hood ornament out of me.

By now, it was starting to get HOT! But I was hydrating well and taking a squeeze of gel every 30 minutes, so my body was feeling great. At the bottom of the Potato Patch climb, I was able to hook up with another 29'r who seemed to be equal to me on the climb. His name was Todd. It was great to be able to pace up this 9 mile climb with him.

About a mile into the climb we caught up with Betsy. As I approached her, I tried to read her body language for any indication of weakness. Her cadence seemed to be a little slow, but it also appeared she had a 2 by 9 drivetrain. But from racing against her last year, I also knew she was superfast and here I was riding alongside her. Was it because I was better or was there something wrong with her? I guess only time would tell.

Upon reaching the top, Betsy sped up a bit and I matched her, but ouch, it did hurt. I passed by Bubba's aid station 3 and when I looked back to see where Todd and Betsy were, Betsy was not there! Oh my goodness, now was my chance to try to put some distance between us.

The adrenaline kicked in and I do believe that is the fastest I ever climbed and descended the next 10 miles. It was super rutty up on top and you had to be ever so focused or you would end up cartwheeling off the mountain.

The descent on FS 17 was super fun! Even the short evil uphills were not so bad. Legs were great and I happily stood and ground up those pitches. At this point my chain was beginning to make some noises, "I ... need ... lube." So at aid station 4 (mile 65) I stopped and let them lube my chain while I refilled and refueled.

The long flat stretch after this aid station is usually my arch enemy. Usually there is a headwind and with the legs being heavy, I feel like I am on a treadmill: working hard but going nowhere. But today, the legs were good. Yes, the headwind was there but so were two more domestiques. Once again, I latched on. They were strong and a couple times I about popped off, but I dug deep, knowing that this was a place where I could potentially put more time on my competition.

At this point in the race, I was beginning to realize that a win was a possibility, However, I had no idea how far back Betsy, Danielle, and Paula were. I also vividly remembered the sprint finish in 2007 and did not want to repeat that bit of excitement.

Once I began to climb up Big Frog, I found my legs again and pushed it. I knew my favorite set of rollers lay just ahead and I was ready for some fun. This section of fireroad seemed to fly by. In years past, this was where I began to really hurt, but today I was on fire. Everything seemed to be going perfect!

I flew down the descent into the Big Creek area, almost overcooking a couple corners, but by now I was beginning to smell the singletrack, even though it was still 8-10 miles away. I flew past Bruce Dickman at aid station 5. I think he was a bit disappointed he could not serve me!

Right after Big Creek there is "the Wall," an agonizingly steep section that always hurts like a MF'r. But not today! Today I was the conqueror, not the conquered. It was here that I began passing some Big Frog racers and they looked like they were in a world of hurt. But they were indeed toughing it out!

After a few miles of rollers, it was downhill time to the last bit of singletrack. Oh, yeah! Back in my element. At the last aid station, I dropped my Camelbak, drank a Dr. Pepper, grabbed a cold water bottle. Thanks, Zeke! I leapt onto West Fork and treated this last 10 miles like a lap in an XC race. It made no difference that I had already been racing for 90 miles. I asked my legs for some speed and they responded gleefully.

I thoroughly enjoyed Quartz, Bypass, Lower Chestnut, and Thunderock. As I dropped on down to the last bit of pavement, I said to myself, "I am going to win!" My next thought was, "About damn time!" As I rolled across the finish line, I looked up and saw 8:06. A PR for me. Elated, I soft-pedaled up the paved path, cherishing the moment.

WOW! A perfect plan (thanks Coach), a perfect day, perfect support (thanks Zeke and the 29'rs), perfect bike (thanks Specialized and Bruce), and perfect nutrition (thanks Dedicated Athlete and Hammer).

A huge congrats to Paula for pulling out a 2nd place finish and to Danielle for 3rd. It seems both these ladies had bike mechanicals but dug deep and finished strong. And tremendous kudos to Betsy for hanging in for fourth as she was having body mechanicals.

As for the person who yelled out to me while on West Fork singletrack, "I read your blog," who are you so that I can hopefully see you at future races? That was very inspiring.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I got girled for the first time in 1988 . GIRLED - as in being passed by a female while mountain biking . Four of us southern men were in Crested Butte showing those rocky boys how to ride . We were all around 40 and fine as a frog hair . The word hunk was often used on me back then ! Well it was day three and we had just finished 401 and were doing Gothic when we ran into a twenty something babe attempting to fix a flat . She did not have a tube so in our best southern style we jumped in to save her . I yanked out my tube and ole Tuck did the rest . We had Josselyn going in no time . I could hear her thinking ' what a man,what a man" ! The five of us cranked towards town . After a few minutes Josselyn noticed the time and yelled" I'm going to be late for work" ! Zoom !! She was gone . We attempted in vain to catch her but she disappeared .Since then I have been girled many times . The worst being sweet little Jessica ,during a race ,saying"excuse me Mr. Lilly may I pass you now". What an insult ! The kid used polite on me . I have been girled by some of the best: Krista Park, Ursula Sanderfur,Sue Haywood and all the Lunas . Of course ole Carey gets me every day . So, men when you get girled,take it like a man and let her by . DO NOT speed up,cause you are only going to piss her off and blow up and fall down in front of her .HA,traction be thy name . One of the many things I learned while working for Richard Petty is there is a reason someone wants to pass you . They are faster than you !!!! GOD speed ---- Zeke

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Riding Down Memory Lane

This weekend has been spent at Mom's in Columbia, SC. Having training rides to do has necessitated early awakenings and out the door before daybreak. Today, on the advice of Emily, I headed out to pedal the pavement on Fort Jackson.

Wow! What a ride and not from the training aspect, but from the perspective of one who spent 12 weeks here back in the summer of 1988. As soon as I entered the gates I ran across a unit of poor trainees in full combat gear enduring a road march. Boy, I remember those days and was so happy to be on my bike pedaling by and not pounding the pavement with them.

Further on down the road, I had to stop as another unit in PT (physical training) clothing were crossing the street, heading back towards their barracks after another 5 am workout of running, push ups, sit ups, pull ups, more push ups, side-straddle hops, and more push ups.

Don't get me wrong; I am glad that I enlisted and was able to serve my country. I am also very proud of those troops that I came across today. I just cannot imagine going through all that suffering again. Suffering on a bike is "easy peasy" compared to 12 weeks of boot camp and here is why:
  1. Doing push ups until your arms are noodles. I am pretty sure I counted to 250 one time.
  2. 10 mile forced road march in boots that were made by "the lowest bidder." No Swiftwicks at that time, either. Oh, did I forget to mention that my pack weighed 25 pounds.
  3. KP (kitchen police) duty. I had to peel 50 pounds of potatoes.
  4. 3 day FTX (field training exercise) where all we had to eat were MRE's (Meals, Ready to Eat or Meals Refused by Ethiopians). Let's just say that the plumbing did not work for 5 days after that.
  5. Waxing the barracks floor at 2am ... by hand ... with Turtle Wax Auto Polish.
  6. Trying to convince my drill sergeant on the Hand To Hand Combat field that I was going into anaphylactic shock from fire ant bites and that my death would be on his hands if he did not get me to the friggin' hospital ASAP! Obviously I was able to convince him.
  7. Not having to do the ropes course, including rapelling, because the ground temperature reached 115 degrees that day.
  8. Learning first hand the effects of CS gas at NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) training. Eyes watering like a busted waterline, snot streaming down your face, and lots of dry heaving.
  9. Having to do push ups in my dress greens just moments before graduation.

Today was a wonderful day on the road wearing a cycling kit and NOT combat fatigues. Emily was indeed correct. The roads were free of traffic and I was at peace reliving my younger years.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Ouachita Challenge 80 Mile Race Report

This year weather condtions started out being the best ever. After a brief and light rain shower I hopped out of the truck into 62 degree weather in just a short sleeve jersey and shorts. I did not mind the shivering as I knew after 5 minutes of racing I would be comfortable. It is the same feeling of turning on the shower knowing that the first 5 seconds of water is SO COLD.

I really did not know who I was up against, so I figured I would just race my race, with some helpful advice from Coach and see what happened. I went out with the front group not wanting to get stuck behind the slow train in the first bit of singletrack (last year that happened and it was frustrating). I pleasantly surprised myself as my legs felt good immediately and I did not have to push too hard to stay with the front leaders.

This year we jumped onto some double track after the first 5 mile section of asphalt/gravel road. This also helped to thin the crowd out as it was fairly steep in sections with lots of little angry baby-heads that took out about 20 racers due to flats. For a minute I was thinking that perhaps some "Bubba" had thrown out a box of roofing nails.

After a quick descent off this I dove into the first bit of singletrack on the Womble. This was a fun but technical descent. You had to stay focused the whole time. I was behind two guys going a bit slow for my liking, but I was patient. Sure enough one bobbled off the trail and the other did a spectacular endo; I gave him a 10 and finished the descent at my own speed. After popping out onto another short gravel section, I was lucky enough to find a strong fellow to draft behind.

After the short lake section I conserved my energy following a couple racers on the next short gravel section. It was here that Sonya jumped onto the train as well. She seemed to be having a good time as she was all grins and had several "Whoo hoos" for the volunteers.

Once I entered the 3rd section of the Womble, I finally had my own little bubble and could just cruise along at my own speed. Not seeing my competition, I then let up a bit and found a comfortable pace. Coach had told me earlier this week to conserve energy and not do anything stupid that might set me back for the Cohutta later this month. So I did.

After passing the first aid station, I entered a super fun section of the Womble. Fairly smooth and flat I was able to big ring it most of the way. I had one fellow in front of me which was good because he was keeping a good pace and it allowed me to judge the numerous creek crossings. On one particular one, there was a bridge ... in the middle only! I had to bunny hop on the bridge and then bunny hop off.

Slowly the trail began to climb and pretty soon the trail went from 24 inches wide to about 8 inches and it was slightly off camber. I had to turn the focus-meter up on this section as one wrong mis-step would send you tumbling down off the trail for a LOOONG way! Soon I was negotiating a spine with a 100 foot cliff on one side and a gentler grade on the other.

A short section of gravel and asphalt connected us to more Womble on the other side of Lake Ouachita. At this point you could slowly see the Womble turning from Dr. Jeckyll to Mr. Hide. The rocks started getting larger and becoming more abundant. I stayed conservative as I wasn't in the mood to change a flat or break my derailleur.

I stopped at the second aid station. What wonderful volunteers. One held my bike, one helped me stuff a banana into my mouth. The third volunteer attempted to refill my Camelbak. He was having some technical difficulty ... apparently the bladder had gotten twisted and while he was trying to fill it one handed from a 5 gallon container, I saw all my vital Rapidade powder spilling out. Nooooooo ..... I immediately jumped to help and get it straightened out. I probably lost about 1/3 of the powder, but those guys were being so helpful they probably saved me several minutes.

I completed the first 40 miles in just over 3 hours 30 minutes and had consumed 5 gels, 1 banana, and 50 ounces of Rapidade. I knew the most difficult was yet to come. The singletrack section leading up to the 0.4 mile hike-a-bike up Big Round Top Mtn was getting more technical. After the hike-a-bike which I rather liked, the trail levelled off and it became more of a series of rollers and dodging large, derailleur-eating rocks.

It was here that I began to feel a bit tired and my chain started talking to me. I slowed a bit and allowed my legs to recover on the descents. After about 30 minutes, I was feeling good so kicked it up a notch and enjoyed the whoop-de-do descent. That is, until I hit the mud bogs (at least 20 of them) at the bottom. No more squeaky chain!

After a short stretch of gravel road, it was up Chalybeate. This offered a bit of a reprieve for me and I eased up a bit knowing that the two most difficult mountains lie ahead. Chalybeate also offers one of the funnest downhills. I let it loose on the descent and had a great time. When I rolled into the third aid station (mile 60), I was once again greeted by awesome volunteers. I ate 1/2 banana and added about 20 ounces of water into my Camelbak, bringing it up to about 35 ounces.

Next up was Blowout. Having pre-ridden this on Friday, I at least knew there were 3 climbs to this beast and multiple rockslides to traverse. I rode some and walked many. At this point my technical prowess was diminishing quickly as the fatigue set in. It is here where you can get yourself into trouble by being stubborn and trying to make your body do things it is just too tired to. Besides, it is quicker for me to run this stuff anyway (thank you Lisa).

I did not stop at the final aid station. I knew Brushy was the last wall between me and the finish and I was ready to climb over it. I hooked up with a guy on a pink Fisher Hi-Fi 29'r. He was setting a good pace which helped me to maintain focus. Man o man, Brushy seemed to go on forever. I was wanting desperately to see that final 10 yard jumble of rocks that told you the big gravel descent lay just ahead. Well, after rolling along a side cut for what seemed like forever, there it was.

My last stop was for the final zip-tie. The volunteers there said only 8 miles to go. 8 MILES TO GO! No, it is only supposed to be 5. Or at least that was what my mind remembered. Needless to say that was the longest 8 miles, even with 4 of it being down hill and with a tailwind. At this point, my tank was empty. The only thing I could think was, "Just keep turning the pedals over." Mr. Pink Hi-Fi left me like fleas jumping off a dying dog. No way was I going to keep up with a big guy on wagon wheels, no matter how hard I pedaled.

It was here that I realized just how cold it had gotten. At the finish the temp was 47 degrees. There had been some strong gusts on Brushy that made me suddenly have to take a different line, but at least I was warm. The last few miles I could barely keep my heart rate up and my wet feet were very cold. It was so good to see the finish line! But then my friend Jason had to tell me they ran out of pizza. He should have said they had ran out of chicken soup or well-done burgers, but NOT PIZZA!

If I had not won, I may have broke down and cried for that was the one thing that was in my mind, towards the end ... some good hot food. Oh, well, a recovery bar and oatmeal had to suffice.

My ONE BIG MISTAKE that I did not realize until after I had unpacked my stuff at home was that I had been seriously calorie-deficient the last 40 miles. No wonder I had felt so crummy at times. I had only consumed 2 gu's, 1/2 banana and about 200 calories of Rapidade. Holy cow, what a rookie mistake! Somebody is going to be talking to me about this and you know who you are.

Zeke had a good strong day, too. In the results he will show up as a DNF. But that is because he signed up for the 80 and decided to sacrifice for me. So he did the 60 instead. You see, I had to be at work on Monday and he did not want me to be waiting around on him to finish up. What a team player!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Blowout Mtn

Yesterday Zeke, Jason, his Dad, and I rode one of the most technical sections of the OC, Blowout Mountain. I do believe this part of the Ouachita Trail is what is shown in the Shimano ad where the rock is reaching out with its fist to rip your derailleur off. You definitely have to be focused as this singletrack is tight with large rocks looming everywhere and multiple rockslides to negotiate. There are 3 climbs, with the first being steep and twisty. I am pretty sure that I will be off the bike on this one, especially since I will have already had 55-60 miles in my legs.

The trail claimed one victim, Jason's Dad. He had his derailleur hanger ripped off on the second climb. So I got a refresher course in singlespeed conversion. I was very glad that Jason was with us, as I was having front derailleur issues due to cable stretch. I got a trailside course in front derailleur adjustments. I know, after 8 years of racing, I should already know how to do this, but this was the first time I had this mechanical issue. Kudos to Bruce and The Outdoor Store for keeping my bikes in tip-top shape.

The trail is in great shape. There are some wet sections, but no where near the mud that was experienced last year. The course is going to be fast! Times will be slower than last year, however, as their is more singletrack and less fireroads this year. Last year, the 80 miler did not include Blowout. And we get to ride the singletrack that was under 3 feet of water last year. It will be a long, but fabulous day! Indy and my legs are chomping at the bit!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Back for Thirds

I am back in Arkansas to race the Ouachita Challenge. I did this race in '06 and '08 and it is addictive. The race takes place on two trail systems, the Womble and the Ouachita. They are like night and day. The Womble is superfast, smooth, and flowy while the Ouachita is the evil twin. It has super techy sections with cat head rocks that like to eat your tires. The 80 miler even has some good hike a bike sections.

I am putting an extra 20 miles on my plate this year as I am racing the 80 whereas the past two times I raced the 60. Coach said it would be a good warm-up to the Cohutta. Last year I rode the additional 20 miles the day after the 60 mile race. It was so much fun (translation: it will kick your a$$!), the trails are pristine, and the views were spectacular.

This is Arkansas' secret little gem. Who woulda thought? This race has the greatest percentage of singletrack. The 60 is 70% and the 80 is 85%. It is no wonder that the 60 mile race and tour sell out in hours. However, the 80 option hasn't. So if you want a singletrack challenge, love to suffer and come away with an awesome experience, come to Arkansas in April and race/ride!

Ed Hawkins and his crew put on a fantastic event! They have the best relationship with the other user groups (hikers and horseback riders) and they give back tremendously to the trail systems.