Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dirty 30 XXC Race Report

The Cysco machine was ready, but was I?

Having felt some fitness gains during the Skyway Epic, I decided I needed to get back on my single speed and test my legs.  With Marathon Nationals only 3 weeks away, I needed at least one race on my Cysco SS before the Big One.

There were five of us fine ladies that rolled up to the start of the Mountain Goat Adventures cross country plus race at Blankets in Canton, Georgia.  This course has great flow and is a single speeder's paradise. Being a noon time start, it was going to be hot.  I chose to wear my CamelBak as there are not too many good spots to drink from a bottle while mashing one gear.

The start was as fast as I could spin a 32 x 20 around the parking lot. I, along with Naomi, hopped in behind the expert men.  Naomi took the lead and I followed along spinning the cranks as fast as I could on Mosquito Flats.  I was happy when the climb up VMT started, as I thought I was going to "throw a rod" carrying a cadence of 120+.  Soon I closed the gap down on Naomi and then fought to hang onto her wheel. My legs had not completely opened up yet.  I was hoping she wasn't going to kick it into next gear, as I would not be able to follow.

VMT was over before I knew it and we were on the flat section heading towards Dwelling.  My legs were coming around.  I could now enjoy the furious pace being put down by Naomi.  So smooth and consistent, it was fun following her!  We began working our way around a few racers, but were also having to let by a few from the wave that started behind us.  Everyone played nice.

Beginning the climb up to the South Loop, a tree grabbed Naomi's bar and threw her down promptly. I stopped and made sure she was o.k. She laughed it off, hopped back on her bike, and we were off once again, frolicking through the woods as two little kids would with a care free attitude.  I think this trail is the most technical. It has a few rock gardens that you have to pick your way through. But where I had an "Oh, sh!t!" moment was on the baby head littered chicane style descent.  Those rocks wanted my front wheel. It was a wrestling match all ... the ... way ... down!

On the second twitchy descent, Naomi went down, a victim of those little bastards.  She was fine, but this time, I came around her.  I picked up the pace slightly, expecting to hear her come bearing down on me anytime.  That never happened and when I hit Mosquito Flats, I ramped up the cadence, trying to put some time between her and I ... or, at the very least, not let her make up any on me during this flat as a pancake section of trail.

On the second lap, I focused on being smooth, resting on the descents, maintaining momentum, and giving it all I had on the climbs.  On a couple of the super steep sections where there was a technical aspect, I just did not have the torque to get up it.  So I had to channel my inner cyclocross racer.  I was beginning to feel the heat as well, but knowing Naomi was lurking somewhere behind me, I had to stay on the gas.  After she blew by me on the Noontootla climb during Southern Cross (like I was standing still), I knew I would not be safe until I crossed the finish line.

The South Loop seemed to have grown in length on this second lap. But once I was on the final climb, I was smelling the barn.  Soon enough I popped out onto the last half mile of flat and spun like a cartoon character all the way to the finish.

Shorts failure! 😒

Crossing the line in 2:40:02.  My lap times were pretty consistent, too. 1:19:46 and 1:20:16, repectively.  Happy with that, as I had felt much slower on the second lap.  Looking back at last year's time, I was only 40 seconds slower today.  So I do believe that I am climbing out of whatever funk I had going on earlier this year.  Which is a good thing, since my "A" race is just around the corner!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Skyway Epic 60 Race Report

Last weekend, Zeke and I traveled down to Sylacauga, Alabama in the heart of the Talladega National Forest to participate in a true grassroots event.  There were 3 options: 60, 100, and 200.  I chose the lite version, because 60 miles was about all the fun I wanted. The course was an out and back with three aid stations; the first/third was the same at miles 20 and 40, and the second was at the turnaround point at mile 30.

The weather could not have been better for the 9 am start.  Brent, the director, gave us a pre race briefing.  He told us that due to a large tree being down on the Skyway portion of the course, the turnaround point was going to be a mile or so farther.  Anytime the race director says "or so," just go ahead and add at least another 5 miles to the event.  Even though Brent had thoroughly marked the course with arrows, flagging, and spray paint, I still made a copy of the turn by turn directions and stuck them in my CamelBak.

There were 37 racers, of which 8 were women.  I knew only a few as it seemed most were locals. It was a short 100 yards of gravel road to the single track.  Go time came and I entered the Sylaward Trail system behind another woman.  It only took a few minutes for the pack to thin out.  Beth, who was in front of me, led a comfortably hard pace through the 11 miles of trail.  These trails were machine cut, and flowed well along the contour lines.  "IMBA-rrific," a term Zeke coined, perfectly describes them.

Sa-weet Sylaward single track!

The single track miles went by fast.  I carefully watched Beth for any signs of weakness but found none ... zero ... nada.  We popped out together onto Wiregrass Road.  This was a gravel road that rolled along for 5 miles.  Beth and I introduced ourselves while taking pulls.  I could tell that she was the stronger rider as I struggled to maintain any sense of speed on the short climbs.  Turning onto Rocky Mountain Road, I knew that I was going to pop off her wheel.  Beth slowly rode away from me on one of the short climbs.  Seeing my heart rate higher than I wanted to, I had to back off or risk blowing up later in the race.  This road was 2 more miles of rolling with the last 2 miles climbing up to Bull's Gap and Aid Station #1.

I was able to keep Beth at the very limits of my sight.  These gravel roads were smooth and fast, but I was feeling like a sloth and wondering about my bike choice.  I was riding my Niner RKT, but wishing I was on my Air 9, which was 3.5 pounds less.  Having chosen to wear my CamelBak, I did not need to stop at the first aid station.  I wanted to keep Beth in my sight, knowing that this would keep me focused and make the painful burning in my quads a little more bearable.

Right after the aid station came the grueling 2 mile, 1000 foot climb, up the Skyway Jeep Trail.  This was a rocky-ass rutted climb that had me almost in my 42 tooth cog.  Yes, Alabama does have mountains!  I enjoyed the technical nature of this road and glad I chose my RKT. Once at the top, it rolled for miles.  There were a few nasty descents and I was able to gain considerable time on Beth. They were gnarly and full of chunkiness and ruts, some of which were hidden from view until I was right on them.  Wide-eyed I let my body take over and was able to keep them from swallowing my front wheel by bunny hopping over them.  I had to embrace the "zig-zagging" mind of a squirrel to safely negotiate these sections, as there was no easy path to the right or to the left.

But then the climby sections would come and Beth would ride away from me.  Getting close to mile 30, I saw Beth off her bike.  Thinking that she probably had a flat, I slowed to see if she needed anything. There was another racer tending to her and when I stopped, I noticed she was having shifting issues.  I tried to say something comforting, but having been in that situation before, there were no words I could say to make it any better.

This was not how I wanted to get in the lead, and I questioned myself for a few minutes, as I soft pedaled up the road.  I actually felt guilty about being in first now.  But then I reminded myself of the times I had mechanicals and felt no ill will towards my competitors as they blasted past me.  After all, this is racing!  So I gradually picked up the pace back to suffer mode.

Now at mile 30, I entered the bonus mile portion of the course. Where oh, where was the downed tree, I wondered.  I knew I had to be getting close to the turnaround, as I was crossing paths with some of the lead group heading back.  The course headed down for 1 mile, 2 mile, 3 miles (meaning I would be getting bonus climbing on the way back ... oh, goodie!)  Finally, I saw the tree, with some Jeep peeps beginning to remove it from the road.  Just 50 yards ahead was aid station #2 and the turnarond point.

I refilled my CamelBak and looked for a tasty Hammer gel.  Nothing but apple cinnamon! I wonder why Hammer Nutrition continues to make this flavor, as I only ever see it at aid stations.  I was wanting an Espresso, but finally came across a lone Raspberry.  I inhaled it, got my zip tie for proof of hitting the turn around, and began the 3 mile climb back out of that hole.

As I was approaching the tree on the way back, I crossed paths with Beth.  I shouted a few words of encouragement.  I calculated that she was only a couple minutes behind me.  A little bit further up the climb, I saw the third place woman, Kimberly, coming down.  I knew these two ladies would be tasting blood upon seeing me, so I knew what I had to do to get the job done.  The only question was, could I?

Time to see what I had left.  I took it relatively easy on this climb back up to the ridgeline, allowing my stomach some blood flow to process what I had taken in at the aid station.  Once on the top, I began to push the pedals over quicker.  I brought my heart rate up to where I thought I could motor pretty consistently to the finish.  I also settled into a single speeder's rhythm of alternating standing and seated climbing to use ALL my muscles.  I still had my doubts of holding the lead.  Every little hill I crested, I fought the urge to look back, for fear of seeing my competition gaining.

I slowly caught up to a man wearing a Christian cycling kit. He was smooth and steady, so used him to pace me along the ridge.  I was definitely deep in the pain cave, but just kept telling myself that if I could make it to the long descent off the Skyway without being caught, I could get to the finish first. I was thankful for Mr. Christian Dude on the descent as he seemed to know the terrain and so I followed his wheel.  It was fun, but not easy.  I was constantly on guard for the many rutted sections and sharp rocks that were potential game enders.

We blew past the final aid station and I hit 35 mph on the smooth gravel descent back down to the rollers of Wiregrass.  As soon as the gravel turned up, Mr. Christian Dude popped.  I urged him to hop on to my wheel.  There is not much to draft off of me, but every bit would help.  He hung on for awhile, but told me he was spent.  There was still about 4 to 5 miles of gravel back to the single track and I needed to get back up to speed, so I motored on.  Those little rollers were kicking my ass.  I was feeling it in my glutes as well as my quads.  Uh oh, could that be a pre cramp twinge?  I took a few big drinks and swallowed the last of my gel.

With just a couple miles to the single track, two guys came around me like I was standing still.  They passed so fast and stealthy that I did not even get the opportunity to try and latch on.  That made me very nervous.  Was I fading?  Where were Beth and Kimberly?  Now was when I anxiously began to look over my shoulder.  What would I do if I did see them?  Could I mount any sort of counter attack?  I kept telling myself, just make it to the single track, just make it to the single track, where I knew I could hold them off.  Come on legs!

Somehow I managed to reel the 2 guys that had passed me earlier, right at the entrance to the single track.  Now was the time to dig deep.  David and Frank were soooo smooooth on the trail, I was having a blast staying on their wheel, even though my legs were screaming.  I stayed off the brakes as much as possible ... every bit of momentum was crucial right now.  A couple times I almost cracked, but stood out of the saddle and dug deep to remain with them.  With about 4 to go, Frank cracked and let me on by.  Now on David's wheel, I could tell he was in cramp management mode.  He had slowed down some, but I had no intention of passing, as the pace was still what I considered winnable.

The last trail before the descent to the finish, the Ridge Trail, went ... on ... forever.  I was so wanting to be done and around every corner, I was eagerly looking for the trail crossing.  Finally, seeing it, I could let all the negative thoughts that had been rambling through my brain over the last 2 1/2 hours go.  I cruised down and took the win!

Alabama has some fassst women!

Oh, and it was 66 miles, not 60.  And 6400 feet of climbing, most of that concentrated in the 40 miles of "roads."

I knew I had truly went to my limits on this one, as every muscle in my legs felt like they were being stabbed.  This pain continued for at least 15 minutes.  Did someone have a voodoo doll of me?  I drank a Coke and then a bottle of water, fearing I was dehydrated, and hoping that would help. Finally the pain subsided and I was able to change out of my kit and inhale some food.

If you want a race that will test your mettle, then this one is for you. The non single track sections were by far the hardest.  I was never so happy to see that flowy IMBA-rrific trail at the end. Don't expect a number plate, an aid station buffet, podium pay outs, or to have your hand held. If you want a challenging, "vision quest" type of course (which was well marked), unique trophies, a great post race meal and all the beer you can drink, put this on your list for 2018.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Warrior Creek 6 Hour Race Report

I am very fortunate that Jim Horton took over as race promoter for this event.  This is the best lap format race I have ever done, and last year could have been its last.  I was excited that Perry asked me to team up with him.  This would be my 7th year and I can now say that I have participated in every category possible.  This would be my first time on gears.  I decided to run gears to see if there was any advantage and because I did not feel single speed strong, even for only two laps.

Glad that Perry got to battle the masses on the start lap.

Perry did have a good starting position until racers started filling in front of the front row.  By the time the race started, he was sitting about 60 racers back.  After I saw him cross the road after the parade lap, I began my warm up.  The weather was absolutely perfect:  55 degrees, a cool breeze, and not a cloud in the sky.

After seeing a half dozen coed teams come through on the first lap, I was eager to start chasing rabbits.  Perry came in hot and I was off.  It took me a few minutes to find my single track, berm riding legs and for the nerves to settle, but by the first mile I found my rhythm.  Even though I had not pre ridden the course, my body remembered every berm, root, rock garden, and climb.

I was in an unfamiliar spot though, as Perry had come across in the top 25 racers.  I had an empty trail before me, but had a lot of fast men come upon me in the opening miles.  They all played nice and were around me in a flash.  Within the first few miles, I was upon one of the Industry 9 coed teams and she allowed me the pass in the most respectful manner.  I knew Bevin, of the second I9 coed team, was somewhere up ahead and kept it redlined hoping to pass her by mid lap.

I caught up to her around mile 6 and made the pass.  We were now sitting in 5th or 6th place.  The trail was in perfect hero dirt shape!  I kept it pegged the whole way, hoping to build up enough of a buffer for Perry.  I came in with a lap time of 1:07:50.

While Perry was out on course, I cooled off, ate, drank, rested, and warmed back up.  I ran the numbers through my head and we would have to keep our laps hot, if I was going to have the chance to race a third one.  Time ticked by and I watched Jacob come through and hand off to Bevin.  Perry was just a couple minutes behind.

I tried to go out hard, but the legs threw a fit. It felt like I was pedaling through quicksand.  I told myself to give them a few minutes and they would come around.  My heart was doing its job, pumping fresh oxygen to the engine at a rate of 170 bpm, but the carburetor must have been gummed up.  Ten minutes later, I felt better and more fluid, but not near as happy as that first lap.

I managed to come upon Bevin and pass her, earlier than I had the first lap.  I jokingly told her I was going to make Jacob earn that 3rd lap.  I am all about trying to inspire women on the trail, and I was hoping that this would light a fire underneath her wheels.  I think she kicked it into a higher gear as it took more time this lap to shake her off my tail.

Halfway through the lap, I was in a world of hurt.  I fought through the pain cave, but knew that this was going to be a much slower lap. Unlike the first lap, where I was hammering the climbs like I was on my single speed, this lap I definitely made more use of my easier gears. At least, I told myself, I would not have to torture the legs with a third.  I came in with a time of 1:11:05.  Pitiful, by my standards.

Credit:  Daren Wilz

Perry took off on his third and our final lap.  I hoped that his legs were happier than mine, as Jacob rolled out after him just a few minutes later.  While I waited to see what our final placing would be, I contemplated my bike choice.  I came to the conclusion that, aside from the first lap, a single speed is just as fast, if not faster, than gears.  Gears allowed me to make that decision to spin easier and suffer less.  My single speed would probably have been the faster bike, as I would not have had any other choice but to grunt it out.  Either that or walk!

Perry was unable to hold off Jacob, who crushed it on his last lap.  Perry said Jacob came by him like he was standing still. We ended up 7th out of 24, which I gladly took.  Our field was stacked! Hell, every field was stacked!  This race, by far, is one of the most competitive I have ever been party to.

Although I was mostly happy with my performance, i.e. gave it everything I had, enjoyed the ride, played nice, I was sad I was not going to get another pottery mug to add to my collection.  But then I saw that the podium prizes were growlers and I became less sad. Although I am sure there are those who liked those aluminum growlers, I wish that they had kept the pottery mugs going. Maybe they will change their minds next year?

Standing next to a future legend, the Zoe!