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.