Friday, January 14, 2022

Snake Creek Gap TT (34 Mile) Race Report

 



True to its nature, Saturday morning turned out to be brrrr! cold, with a starting temperature of 24 degrees.  And with the previous rains, the course would be squishy.  After the longest bus ride ever, I arrived at the start at 8:10.  At least I did not have to stand in line and shiver awaiting the start.  As soon as I had signed in, took one last pee, dropped my SAG bag, I headed to the line.  This year, it was all about comfort.  I had ALL the layers and had invested $150 in a pair of battery operated gloves.  I was NOT getting cold and I was planning to ride just under my "sweat threshold."  

My nutrition plan was most interesting as I started a Whole 30 on January 1.  In my CamelBak was watered down orange juice with just 1 scoop of Skratch (19g added sugar).  This shouldn't be enough to throw off any progress I had made, but might just help me avoid a total bonk).  Instead of gels, I had baby food pouches.  I figured I would probably be going slow enough that I would be burning mostly fat anyways.

The start was anything but race pace.  The initial 2 miles was a warm up as the legs were stone cold.  I also tiptoes around the mudholes; I did not want my feet wet so early on or my drivetrain angry.  Although Dry Creek was up, the bridge was long enough so that my tires did not even get wet ... what a pleasant surprise.

I upped the pace a bit on the double track climb and thought I was moving at a fairly decent pace ... until Luka blew by me, wishing me well.  Holy smokes, kiddo!  Oh, to be young again. Although I had no goals for this race, I figured I could finish right around the 4 hour mark.

As I entered the first section of single track, I was happy that my fingers and toes were warm.  Being able to feel my extremities makes it so much easier to shift and brake and feel the bike beneath me.  The trail was a little slicker than I thought it would be; still lots of leaves and there was frost on the roots and rocks.

As I descended down the gravel, I looked down at my hands and noticed that my gloves turned off.  WTH?!?  I pushed the on/off button, but nothing.  40 minutes in and they were dead ... argh!  I just hoped they were insulated enough to keep me warm until the temps began to rise.  After the Pocket Road crossing, the trail conditions deteriorated and became spongy with water flowing down the middle.  Although that first creek crossing was not pretty, at least I managed to keep my feet dry.

I almost made it up the red clay climb, but had to dismount after I spun out in the leaves.  I finished it off with a quick HAB, and continued pedaling to the next tricky section, the short hard steep left hand switchback.  But first I had to call back a racer ahead of me, who went straight instead of taking the switchback.  How he thought he was on course still befuddles me, as he had to dismount and carry his bike over downed trees, to continue off course.  Now that's some serious oxygen debt so early in the race!

I managed to clean the switchback and begin the slow grind up Horn Mountain. This section I feel is one of the hardest.  Beginning with this climb there are 4 lengthy climbs before you get to the Snake Creek Gap parking lot.  The first is the longest but also the easiest of them, the remaining 3 are all rideable, but technically challenging with root step ups, loose rocks, and steep pitches.  Every race, one of my mini goals is to clean all 4; it is about 50/50 chance for me.  Today, I had a small victory and did it.  Mind you, I could probably walk it just as fast, but where lies the challenge with that?

The final 2 descents down to the parking lot were as sketchy as hell!  Watering eyes, heavy leaf cover, and multitudes of baby heads made for a butt puckering slow ass ride down; I felt like a beginner.  As I looked at my Garmin heading into the parking lot, I was right at 2 hours.  Welp, there goes my 4 hour wish.

At least I was warm.  I ditched my dead gloves for my HandUp ColdER ones a core layer, guzzled some baby food, dropped my CamelBak, and grabbed a full bottle for the last half.  One of the volunteers tended to my muddy glasses ... thank you!  I slowly worked my way up Mill Creek Mountain, got off at the blown out sandy/rocky climb, white knuckled the switchback descent that gets worse every year, and played it safe down to Swamp Creek, even getting off and tip-toeing over the last creek crossing, as Mother Nature has turned that one into a swimming hole.

The ground had thawed by the time I began the double track climb and what with all the other racers' tracks, it was turning into a soupy mess.  It felt like quicksand at times, or was that my legs beginning to die?  

Finally the last section of single track, the creme de la creme!  Had I enough gas left in the tank to enjoy this?  I would know very soon.  As I was cruising the first slightly uphill section, Sasquatch jumped out from behind a tree and high five'd me!  Now that was a morale boost that had me moving at a pretty good clip for a while.

Notables during this last 5 miles of tricky tech were cleaning the rather steepish climb before the wall, cleaning the climb right after the wall, not dying on the washed out Pisgah'ish descent, and biffing the gunsight pass climb (I was so close, but also so tired at this point).

A junior racer and I came out of the single track in close proximity and began the final pavement descent down to the finish.  As he crested the last hill on the pavement, he attempted to gear down, hammer down on the pedals, AND get into the recently banned UCI Super Tuck (all at the same time), losing total control of the bike in the process, and nearly taking me out!  Somehow he managed to save it and I braked/swerved away from his careening bike and we both escaped destruction.  He did apologize, once he recovered.

I crossed the finish line in 4:32 ... yikes!  I have got my work cut out for me for February, but I do like a challenge.  Fellow Rescue Racer and long time friend, Lisa Randall, currently sits atop the leaderboard.  But everyone said the course felt slow, so maybe it was not all a lack of higher end fitness for me ... we shall see.

Now for the best race news!  Young Jameson, aka Snake Killer, at 11 years of age, finished the 34 miler.  So stoked for this young man!  One of his biggest accomplishments yet.  And I believe the youngest finisher of this distance.  




Friday, December 31, 2021

Entering 2022 with the Biggest Athletic Goal Yet


If you had asked my former self back in 2011, after having dealt with a foot neuropathy and subsequent Morton's Neuroma surgery (which yielded less than ideal results) would I ever be able to run again, I would have said, "Unlikely, unless being chased by a bear."  Fortunately, seeking a second opinion (which I should have done PRIOR to electing surgery) and finding Dr. Tracey Pesut, a orthopedic foot/ankle specialist, who didn't recommend surgery but rather custom orthotic inserts, after 4 years, my feet had healed enough to start the process of running again. Why would I decide to run, you may ask?  For one, to see if I could, and two, for cross-training, improving HAB skills, and to keep me bonez strong, aye!

In 2019, with 3 months of training and the day after I raced the Snake on my single speed (why the hell, you ask?  because I can!), I raced the Cloudland Canyon Trail Half Marathon in 35 degree rain.  And managed a respectable 5th overall.  It was hard, but never would I have thought running would be so much fun!

This past August, I ran the Ubaye Trail Half Marathon in Barcelonette, France.  Kip prodded me into it, saying he would do it with me, then bailed.  This was a true couch to 14 mile race and I paid the price, both with suffering the last 6 miles and dealing with left patellar tendonitis ever since.


Fake it until you make it!

And so, when I raced the Marji Gesick 50 this past September, I resembled a human being afterwards, and not a hollow shell of one that has happened the 3 times I have done the hundred miler.  Lisa Randall asked me soon after I finished if I would ever think of doing the hundie again and I said, "Hell, no!"  But that damn buckle continued to haunt me.  When Todd released news of the 1000 mile buckle, I told myself that is something I could make happen.  Just 4 more hundreds (cuz 2022 would count double mileage) and 1 more 50 mile version and the buckle would be mine.  It would be a 5 year plan.  That desire in me to do hard things kept rearing its ugly head on the drive home from Marquette.  By the time I had arrived home after a 17 hour drive, I was tired and delirious.  Perhaps that contributed to my decision to try and get that damn buckle in 2022, by racing the Marji Gesick Duathlon: ride the first 65 and run the last 40.  

Have I fucking lost my mind?!?  Pretty much!  My longest run has been 14 miles, and now I think I can do 40 ... after riding my bike for 65 miles on some of the hardest single track this country has? Challenge accepted.  I live for this!  Crushing limits, pushing farther than ever, embracing the pain cave, seeing what this 53 old body can do.  

But I am not stupid, either.  I have got a plan ... that started 3 months ago.  2-3 runs/hikes/walks per week to start a slow build and get used to the pounding that running places on your body.  Mind you, I have also been dealing with a low back facet arthropathy that has me in pain quite a bit.  Stretching, chiropractic adjustments, and the occasional steroid injection helps.  I also had the RFA procedure (radio frequency ablation) that is supposed to kill the nerves and provide long term (to permanent relief).  Well, I suppose I have nerves of steel, as I fell into the low percentage category of it being ineffective ... meh.

To add insult to injury, I also hit menopause in 2021.  Talk about a full body slam!  Where did all the watts go?  Why is my ass growing?  And when did my bed turn into a sweat lodge?  For you men, the equivalent would be castration and your testosterone dropping to a big fat 0!  While HRT has helped, it is just not as good as what your pre-menopausal body can produce (in the way of estrogen, progesterone, and even testosterone).

But with all that, I talked to my Coach, Lynda Wallenfels, to help me out with the training aspect.  She recommended Mike Schultz, owner of  Highland Training, as he has much more experience with athletes that both bike and run.  Lynda has been my coach since 2009.  I have much respect for her, both as a person and a coach.  While a bit hesitant to leave her, I trust her.  I talked to Mike yesterday for a solid 30 minutes.  He has over 20 years of coaching experience and a wealth of sciency knowledge. I am excited to say that he will be coaching me for 2022!  If anyone can turn this cyclist into a part-time runner, he can.

To jumpstart my training, I have joined forces with some of my cycling friends and co-workers to do the Whole 30 in January.  For those of you who do not know, it is 30 days of no sugar (real or artificial), no grains, no legumes, no dairy, and no alcohol.  It will be a great cleansing experience and I hope to rid my body of any lingering inflammation, as well as just feeling better all around.  Being celiac, intolerant (to some degree) of dairy and legumes, and not liking alcohol, it won't be as hard a jump as for my friends.  Chocolate and I have a loving relationship, so this one will hurt.

And I am also competing in my local gym's Result Resolution for the month of January.  Because why not do all the hard things during my birthday month.  




I am hoping that Coach Schultz, the Whole 30, and Result Fitness will kickstart my ass into being the fittest (and happiest) I come September 24, I will have the day of my life riding and running some of the hardest damn trails in the United States.


#marjigesickduathlonorbust



Sunday, November 7, 2021

Fall Invitational Race (or Ride) Report

 


The brainchild of Tennessee Gravel's Shannon and Jedi course master Kim, the Fall Invitational is an invite only race that begins out of Fireside OutPost , near Gee Creek State Park.  In order to get an invite, you must finish at least one of three ITT's within a year's timespan, which runs from July 1 through June 30.  I did all 3, because that is how I roll.  And, it is in my "backyard"  and the routes are heinously hard, but also stunningly beautiful.






A handful of us bike crackheads showed up, some from as far away as Colorado and Michigan, to tackle this course on a beautiful fall day at the peak of color.  Not sure the exact number (25'ish) as the start was at 7 am and in the dark.  It was going to be a surprise course, meaning no GPX tracts provided, just cue sheets, but then Kim got soft as the starting temperature was right at freezing and did not want us to suffer with trying to pull paper out of our pockets with our Michelin Man hands all bundled up in winter gloves.  So she sent us the course the night before.  Turns out it was about 70% of the D130 course, but in reverse.


Lost Creek area


Although the start was chilly, I was able to stand by the campfire right up until Shannon said, "Go!"  My fingers and toes were sandwiched in between layers of wool, latex gloves, and chemical warmers.  I was able to hang with the fast guys for most of the way up Spring Creek Road, staying close to the draft while still allowing me to visualize the road and skirt around the dozens of potholes.  The legs were surprisingly there, but it was just a tad bit too fast once I hit the pavement so I let them go.  

Turning onto Lost Creek Road, I was excited to be making good time at my comfortably hard pace.  But once the climbing began, my lower back began to moan, groan, and then full on seize up. WTF!  There had not been any previous indication in the week leading up to this event, and I had taken a chill pill from the gym to ensure all body parts would be happy.  But it was like someone was sticking a knife between L4 and L5 every time I tried to make power on the downstroke.  Hoping that this would only be temporary, as I have been dealing with this issue intermittently over the past 4 years, I kept the pace up and just dealt with the pain.

The gravel was groovy through this section.  Hard packed and fast!  I got to watch the world wake up.  The fog lifted revealing the stunning palette of color.  When I turned onto Smith Mountain Road (FS80), I realized that my race was quickly turning into a ride.  The pain had intensified and the grades of 15-18% on this stretch of chunky gravel made me think about bailing on the long route and just doing the shortie.  This was a SOB of a climb, even when everything is working.  Finally making it to the ridgeline, I was greeted with a spectacular view.  I stopped to photograph the vista and stretch out my back.


This view never gets old!

I made it to Graham and Cassandra who were manning the first checkpoint at mile 30.  Their support lifted my spirits while I threw down a banana.  Back on Kimsey Mountain Hwy, I wish I could say I blasted down to McFarland, but this road has really become eroded over the years and is quite chunky now.  

McFarland Road only got gnarlier.  More of a double track over slabs of off camber rock and now covered in leaves, I was wishing I had a squishy bike and more rubber.  I soon came upon a fellow by the name of Tater who was fixing a flat.  I stopped to make sure he had everything he needed, which he did, and then motored on.  The rugged condition of this road had my back and bladder in an uproar.  I could fix the bladder part, so I stopped.  After the nature break which also helped to stretch out my muscles, I continued on.  At least it was mostly descending.  Tater caught back up and passed me back.


Crockett, the right bike for this adventure ... for the most part.

Just before I dumped out onto Kimsey Mountain Highway, I found Tater again, wheel off and looking pretty frustrated.  I stopped and asked  again if he needed anything. He had flatted again and this time he was out of tubes, CO2's, and his hand pump was broken.  At the point farthest from rescue, I gave him one of my tubes and CO2 (I always carry at least 2 of each, along with a patch kit).  After a brief chat, I continued on. There was nothing more I could do anyway and I was getting chilled and there was a big descent coming up.


Final climb on Kimsey

Back on smooth grav grav, I hauled butt down for several miles.  The brief stop to help Tater also helped my back.  I was able to put some power back into the pedals on the final climb back up to FS236. It was roughly at this point that I began to see a few other cyclists out and about.  I was amazed that there were so many, but later came to realize that at least 4 or 5 in the event did the course backwards, by mistake.  As Chris Joice stated later, they took the Etrex route 😆😆.

FS236 came and went and soon I was crossing the bridge at the Appalachian Powerhouse.  Then for some buttery smooth pavement where I could do some on the bike stretches.  I stopped at one of the outhouses, applied some Chamois Butt'r, and changed out gloves and removed my ear warmer.  The sun was out and it had finally started warming up around noon.  Tater stopped to make sure I was ok.  I was glad to see him with working tires.  Together we rode to the next checkpoint at mile 53. During this time, he told me a little about himself: that he grew up on Childer's Creek Road, how an Indian medicine woman cured him permanently of getting poison ivy, and where the old still used to be.

Shannon's wife was manning the checkpoint.  I grabbed a caffeinated gel and a banana, thanked her for being there and headed out on Towee Pike.  I absolutely love this section of gravel. Tight twisty, both left/right and up/down, it flows well and for the most part is smooth.  I couldn't rock it out like I wanted to, but having Tater there to keep me entertained made my day.  I slowly pulled away from him on one of the stouter climbs and hit Towee Falls and then missed the turn onto Ivy Trail.  The reason being, is that Ivy got tar and chipped.  I was used to seeing asphalt and today it looked more like a gravel road.  

I liked the past Ivy Trail much better.  Although rough in spots, at least I could hit the corners at speed.  Not today; too much loose tiny gravel.  Kinda the same feeling as when the forest service throws down a ton of #2 rock on the fire roads: no bueno!  And dayem!  Ivy seemed to go on forever today.  Tater caught back up to me as I was starting up Bullet Creek Road.  Being the final climb today and already into 9000 feet of elevation gain, along with a jacked back, my little goose was cooked!  

We party paced this one, talking bikes, Litespeed (where he once was a welder), fork trail, and all kinds of nerdy goodness that allowed me to focus on something other than my spine. I was glad for the popping leaves and tree cover, as although the temps had risen 20 degrees, there was still enough chill in the air to where I did not have to shed any layers and then have the complicating factor of where to stash them.

Final switchback on the Starr Mountain climb

The final checkpoint was at the top of the Starr Mountain climb at mile 70.  Low and behold who should I see but my favorite Tennessee gravel buddy John.  He had been able to stay with the leaders much longer than I, so I had not seen him all day.  One more banana and I was ready to finish this beast: just 15 to go and mostly downhill.




I was glad to have John there to get me through to the end.  We each chatted about how our day went and I would draft off of him when I could.  Tater caught back up to us along Spring Creek Road and we ended up riding into the finish together.  Whew!  What a day of both highs and lows.  It was a different kind of pain cave for me today.  I think I like the dead leg ones better.




Anyways, since I was the only female, all I had to do was finish to get the WIN.  For me it was a hard fought battle between me, myself, and I.  The two things that kept me from pulling the plug were Tater's attitude and those three letters ... DNF.

Today, my back is still very sore, but at least I have a beautiful Sunday for some stretching and yoga.  And good memories of yesterday to reflect upon.

Thanks Shannon, Shannon's wife (sorry forgot your name), and Kim for an outstanding ITT series and final event.  I have enjoyed the battles I have fought and won (for the most part) along the way.  

Oh, one more thing.  Always add 1000 more feet of gain to whatever is published on the website 😆




As much as I enjoy traveling to other parts of the country to participate in gravel races or rides, it just can't quite compare to what I have got right here, 30 minutes from the house.  Appalachia just has my 💓.


  

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Death March Revival ITT Ride Report

Over the years, there have been variations of the Death March Loop.  The first time I did it was probably 15 years ago, just about the time the Cohutta 100 came to be.  Then, it was just a group of friends riding for funsies in the Cohutta Wilderness.  I suppose I could say this was my first official gravel ride.  Then it was just 74 miles, started from Thunder Rock campground, and did not include the Mulberry Gap loop or the Big Frog section.  And I still died at least twice!

Since then the fine macabre folks at tennesseegravel.com have enhanced the route with more miles and a crap ton more of elevation.  Now back to its original start at Thunder Rock campground, they added the Mulberry Gap loop which allows you to climb up to Potato Patch TWICE and replaced a nice flat section with the Big Frog section.

The rules of the ITT are simple.  Start on your own, ride on your own, and finish on your own.  Although you may do it with a friend, there is no drafting allowed and you cannot share nutrition, gear, and any mechanical must be dealt with no outside assistance.  You must take a photo of your bike computer at the start and finish, showing the time of day and the mileage. 

So a few weeks ago, one of my favorite riding buddies, Jeff Cohen, messaged me and asked if I was up for some gravel.  To which I replied, how about the DMR?  Funny, he said, he had been thinking about the DMR as well.  

I had first met Jeff at the Cherohala Crossing a few years back.  Since then, we have been thrashing each other on many a gravel BDR.  A few times a year, we can get our busy schedules to mesh and grind out big days in the Appalachian mountains.  Always positive, he keeps me focused on not just the numbers, but on appreciating our surroundings, our capabilities, our families, and our now, our dogs, Honcho and Ellie.  Good stories come out as we are knocking out the climbs.


Smiling while we can.


We started at 7:30 am with a temperature of 66 degrees.  The high was supposed to hit the mid-80's but I was hoping we would be at the higher elevations mid-day. I was unsure of how the body would respond as I was just two weeks post-Marji and had an out-patient spinal nerve ablation two days prior.  The doctor said I could resume "normal activities" in 48 hours.  He might have extended that out a bit had he known what is "normal" for me 😆😆😆.

I outfitted "Freedom," my 2017 Niner Air 9 RDO with a small top tube bag and a Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbag.  I wanted all my nutrition easily accessible on the bike, pre-cutting the packaging on my waffles and shot blocks, to minimize stopped time. I carried about 3000 kcal, 750 of which was Skratch drink. I also carried 800 kcal in the form of gels.  The remainder was waffles and shot blocks.


Flat section after Tumbling Lead.



The climb up FS 45 was pleasant, the heart rate came up nicely, and the legs felt good.  I made it a point to stay around tempo on the climbs and spin easily on what few flats there were, as I knew the day was gonna be long and I wanted to feel good even at the end. The 3 bitches came and went, and that was a good thing; they did not feel as hard as in previous rides.  

This route is touted as being 100% gravel: it almost is, but there is one short stretch of maybe 1/2 mile at the most of pavement leaving Tennessee and heading into Georgia. 

The gravel over to Watson Gap was in great shape.  I stopped briefly for a nature break.

It was nice to finally descend down to Jack's River campground.  Mmmm ... the smell of burgers!  Now the real test began:  the slow grind up to Potato Patch.  But first, stopping at the piped spring about 0.7 miles up from the campground (mile 26.7).


Cold and tastes wonderful!

The next 25 miles was my low point.  The gravel on the ensuing climbs had been chewed up by vehicles so it was like riding on marbles.  Jeff was looking strong and slowly pulled ahead.  I was going as hard as my tempo heart rate would dictate, but I was in my granny gear alot (32 x 50) and not feeling the love.  I knew that "this too shall pass" would eventually end, but I also feared it might continue for the remainder of the ride. It was also getting hot out and the direct sunshine was not helping my mood.  


Jeff descending Potato Patch



The descent off of Potato Patch should have been fun, but knowing that I was going to have to climb right back up did not make it so. I stopped at Mulberry Gap (mile 41) and made it up to the bath house to relieve myself and refill my bottles.  Still being in a sour mood,  I did not have the energy to pedal uphill any further and see Kate and Andrew.  Bad Carey! I was in a dark place knowing that I had to go back up to Potato Patch (2000 foot climb); I wasn't in a very talkative mood.  I waited on Jeff, as he went up thinking he could purchase some cold water, but ended up getting some Biolyte instead (no ice cold water). 


Grimacing on the inside

We rode quietly now, both of us lost in our own thoughts (mostly negative for me) as we made our way back up to Potato Patch.  Jeff was still going strong and once again pulled away from me on the climb. At this point, only 47 miles in, I was wondering if I had enough juice left.  I began to contemplate cutting out the Big Frog section, but told myself that there were many miles before I needed to make that decision and my mood probably would change, as it always has in the past.  Looking back now, it is funny how I seem to have the same exact conversation with my inner demons every stinking big ride or race.  Sometimes it is a short one, but today it seemed to go on forever.  


Just one of many vistas.



Once I got to the top, I started feeling better.  Jeff had pulled over to break out his PayDay bar.  Seeing how strong he was, I told him I was going to motor on, thinking that he would catch me either on the never ending rollers on FS16. As I hit the game check station, I was almost completely out of the two 28 ounce bottles I had refilled at Mulberry Gap.  I was surprised Jeff had not caught me, but I figured he would pull up as I was refilling at the next piped spring on the initial Big Frog climb (mile 71).  The next 6 miles flew by and I had gotten my second wind; the caffeinated gel I had taken just before the FS17 descent probably helped.


Just one of many short "ups" on FS 16, which one would think would be all downhill.


I arrived at the piped spring and immediately stuck my head under the cold water and washed all the sweat and grime off my face.  Feeling refreshed, I refilled my bottles and stretched out my lower back.  After about 15 minutes, I started getting concerned.  What if he had a mechanical?  What if he had crashed and was lying unconscious somewhere?  No cell service so I couldn't just call.  So I started pedaling backwards on the course.  Fortunately, Jeff was only a hundred yards from the Big Frog turn off.  Come to find out later that he was at his lowest point of the day, having run out of water about an hour ago.  Had I not shown up when I did, the "bail-out demons" may have convinced him to skip the Big Frog section.  He was very apologetic, saying that "screwed the pooch" for me getting a good time.  I instantly replied that it was my choice and I would not have forgiven myself if something bad had happened to him. 

Getting my mojo back after a cold shower at mile 71.



Now that I knew he was safe, I told him I would see him at the finish.  And if worse came to worse, I could always drive back to him.  But I wouldn't have to, because Jeff is not a #quitter.  With that respite, I had renewed energy and that heavy leg feel that often happens when I stop for an extended period of time did not occur.  I felt like I was able to attack the last 22 miles.  Well, except for the hard climb up to Big Frog followed by the wicked descent.  The roadbed was RAW!  And by that I mean, chunky embedded gnar.  Holy crap!  This section just continues to deteriorate over time.  Definitely "enhanced."  The last thing I wanted was a flat or crash, so I rode cautiously up and over.


This is the smooth section of Big Frog

Exiting the Big Frog section, I took another caffeinated gel. I hard charged it to the end, knowing I only had to pedal 6 1/2 of the remaining 10 miles, the final 3 1/2 being all downhill, baby!  I hit multiple short climbs with gusto and even got a Lance Armstrong shout out by a local as I was climbing out of Big Creek.

I got back to Thunder Rock at 6:19 pm, 10 hours and 42 minutes after starting this adventure.  Jeff came rolling in a bit later, looking pretty ragged but in good spirits.  The first time, he told me, that he not only had a physically tough day, but a mental one as well.  

Jeff kept apologizing for keeping me waiting.  Although my official time might not have been as good as I wanted it, I had a great time riding this route with him.  And wouldn't change it for anything.  In the long run, I will forget my clock time, but I will never forget the day spent with a great friend riding in what I am blessed to call my "backyard."


Physically whooped but emotionally overjoyed.


Right at 10 hours moving time; very happy with that


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Marji Gesick 50 Race Report

Has become my favorite place to be in September

Todd might as well call it the Marji Gesick 100K now.  I think it originally started out with 50 miles, but with the constant additions over the years, it is now really 60 miles.  Having done the 100 miler three times, I decided to reward my efforts by doing the shorter version.  It was still going to be #doinghardthings, but the suffering would not nearly last as long. My team mate, Dave, had made the trip over too, and was racing the "50" as well.


Ore Dock on Lake Superior

New this year was the start in downtown Marquette, near the Ore Dock.  Score for us, as the AirBNB I had gotten us, was 5 blocks away.  This race is a point to point, so the evening before, we took Dave's truck over to the finish in Ishpeming.

I had no expectations other than finishing and maybe getting a sub-8 hour time. I was riding my Trek TopFuel, with a 120mm fork, a 28T chainring, a 10-52 cassette, and all AXS baby!  Believe me, when I tell you the last time I did the Marji, I got tendonitis in my thumb from shifting so much.  AXS has been a game changer for happy hands.

For once, the weather forecast got better as game day approached.  The course was dry and the starting temperature was 53 degrees, with a high of 75.  It was nice not to have to think about what to wear for once.  I opted to go with just a bottle at the start and had my CamelBak at Jackson Park.  

There was plenty of time (2 miles) before we headed into single track, so I took it easy and opted NOT to go out "greyhound" style.  There was madness at the front when the gun went off.  Everyone jockeying for the greenway pole position.  I just sat on wheels, conserving, until my heart rate started to soar and then I backed off, popping off the lead group.  I saw maybe 3 ladies up ahead, but when the Marquette Mountain climb began, I lost sight of their position. No worries, as the day was going to be long and the course tougher on the back end.

Off Grade was the first section of single track.  I was glad to have pre-ridden because there were some uphill techy bits that I was able to work my way through without burning any matches.  I was not wanting to open the matchbook before Jackson Park.  


Pipe Dreams Trail

Pipe Dreams, the second trail, was so much fun.  Straight and downhill, what more could you ask for in a race that supposedly had "no free trail."  Short-lived, however, and then I was onto Easy Street and the Pioneer Loop, which was tight, twisty, and rooty.  I was with a couple of fellas, Kevin and Caleb, with whom I would end up going back and forth with them, as well as a few others whose names escape me, for most of the day.  I was glad to hear that Kevin had his sights on 8 hours as well. 

Once onto the ORV trail, I was thinking I was golden: legs feeling great, nutrition going well, and I was in my happy place.  But I completely forgot that there was 5 miles of this "Luciferous" sandy doubletrack.  After 30 minutes of this nonsense, I burst onto the smooth surface of the Iron Ore Trail.  A fellow racer and I worked together over the next few miles to Jackson Park.

Pulling into the park, the "no official aid station" staff jumped to my aid and had my cooler pulled out into the open. I quickly donned my CamelBak and swapped out gel flasks.  My race day nutrition consisted of Skratch and Torq and Hammer gels.  No solids for me, as they tend to just hang out in my stomach and ferment all day long.

I headed out for the round 1 of Marji madness.  I continued to meter my pace and fellow racers Kevin and Caleb caught back up to me.  I let them pass as I had to make a slight adjustment on my CamelBak, followed by removing a derailleur killer soon thereafter.  At times, I felt like I was going too slow, but the  Old Guard kept reminding me, "Conserve now or die later."  





I caught up to a pair of racers, one being Kim, the bearer of the 666 number plate.  After a few minutes of riding behind her, I asked to pass.  It was near the mining rail crossing and we were both off our bikes anyways.  One of just many cool things about this race, is that absolutely NO ONE was a dick when it came to making passes.  Everyone was so encouraging to each other out there.  We were all in this together, not racing for a podium or 73rd place, but racing to our own finish line, without caring how we stacked up against one another.  And I would say this has everything to do with Todd's message and mission: conquering our inner demons of doubt, finding new limits, and reveling in helping our fellow racers do the same.

The remainder of the first loop seems a blur of trail names.  What I do remember is how much easier and with less HAB was I able to go uphill.  There was definitely more smiling and less grimacing as compared to the hundie.  I also recall the lady (Jay's wife, sorry I forgot your name) in the sick Jeep Gladiator who was everywhere on that course, offering up bananas and water every time I saw her.  As well as so many other citizens offering neutral support. 

WTF was that new section of trail on Al Quaal just after the New York climb?!?  I had just seen my team mate Dave begin the descent off of New York and I thought I was just a minute behind him and really wanting to try to catch up and finish this thing together.  But as I readied for the hard right, one of my racing buddies behind me said, "Go left."  What do you mean go left?  And then I saw the arrow, directing me onto fresh cut trail.  Oh goodie soon turned to oh fuck as I came up on this steep drop.  My monkey brain put the brakes on and I was off walking it.  It was definitely rideable for me, but since this was new territory to me, the safest thing to do was an ego check.  The remainder of this newly cut trail was unforgivingly tough.  Needless to say, I walked about half of it. Six minutes later, I was back on familiar trail and crushed that steepishly fun descent.

I had remembered all the BIG climbs on this loop: Fenceline, Last Bluff, Hamptons, but durn it I forgot about Stinkin' Sissy Pants.  Which pissed me off once I got to Hampton's because by then I was so ready to get back to my precious little cooler for that 8 ounce Coke I had been thinking of for the past hour.

Once again, the official unofficial aid station had my back and after a 4 minute respite, I was ready to knock out round 2 of Marji Madness.  Two pieces of advice when deciding what to pre-ride:  look at the start so you know how hard you want to go to get to where you want to be once the single track begins.  And second, ride the finishing miles so that when you are at your most fatigued, the course will be familiar and thus at least feel a little easier knowing that the end is near.

Death by a 1000 punchy climbs


A dry Dirty Mary is WAY better than a wet one, and it was nice to be able to have traction on that off-camber clay climb. Then onto Flannel Shirt with that nice little detour from easy trail onto a rickety old bridge.  I half expected a token station right here.  From there the course seemed to ease up, if just for a bit.  But once I got to Lake Sally, the legs began to burn with all the climbing.  And the double track, aye yai yai.  If wasn't struggling up the steepest of pitches, I was working my way around mud holes that smelled like they were corpse-filled.  I even walked around a few, not wanting that putrid muddy water on me or my bike.

Hmmm ... halfway through this second lap and still no tokens.  I wouldn't put it past Todd to have only one token station at the top of Jasper's Knob.

I found a buddy to hang with during these next 5 miles.  I can't remember his name but he was wearing an orange kit.  During the beginning of this second lap out of Jackson, I thought I was chasing down Dave, which helped to stoke my fire.  I hate I forget his name, but I owe him a big thanks for setting a great pace.  He probably thought I was a little crazy when I cried out "My favorite part!" as we began the rock slab HAB.  And at that moment it was, for it signified that the suffering would soon end.

But then, Cry Baby.  I swear to God it felt like it went on ... FOREVER.  Purgatory might be a better name for it.  I had never ridden this in daylight and at one point I was thinking that riding it at night was better, for on and on and on and on it went.

Finally!  The two (or three) steep rollover descents signified that pavement was close.  I heard church bells in the distance as I was finishing up the last bit of single track and for the first time knew that I was 8 hours into this race.  You see, I only had the breadcrumb trail up on my Garmin screen:  no distance, no time, as I did not want to know.

As I began the HAB up to Jasper's Knob, I saw a token station.  I was so hopeful this was as far as I had to go and I could turn around and start the descent.  But the breadcrumb trail said otherwise and then I saw another token station up a little further.  And then another.  And then one more at the top, with a dude standing there, probably going to take our race numbers down.  Haha!  Once I got close enough, I realized it was a mannequin.  I laughed to myself as I thought how those that hit this section in the dark would perceive this "person."  I bet there was a lot of one-sided conversations at the top of Jasper's Knob.

Racing back down off the knob, onto the pavement, and along finisher's alley, I rolled across the mat with a time of 8:14.  Fully stoked with how my day went, I presented all 5 tokens (including the #unfinishedbusiness one I got at packet pick up) and chalked up another hard earned finish (in the daylight, for once).  The finishing cake was heavily iced 15 minutes later, when, after getting cleaned up, I found out I had won.  I suppose I was just chasing ghosts or perhaps had gotten ahead of them at the Jackson Park aid station.  




A dollar for the W, which to me is worth so much more than 1 buck.

Dave Jolin also managed a 3rd place in the Master's field.  To him goes a big chest bump, as he was competing against guys that were 10 years younger.  So proud of what he accomplished, as he also took the NUE Marathon Series win!

What a helluva day!  I never had so much fun doing hard things.  And thanks to the hundreds of volunteers, official and unofficial, who helped make my day a little less hard.  You guys are the unsung heros.  

Those who finished, whether it took 6 hours or 40 hours, are all winners.  And to those #quitters, let that hashtag fuel your redemption for 2022!

Hands down, the best 100 miler and 100k out there.  And to think the Marji Gesick materialized 6 years ago when #blametodd and #blamedanny wondered about a summertime event they could come up with.  If they had known how many lives that would change for the better, they woulda washed those crazy thoughts down with another beer.

Cheers to you, Todd and Danny 🍺


Monday, August 9, 2021

Ubaye Trail Half Marathon


Back in June, when I was planning my trip to France, Kip mentioned this trail run that was taking place in Barcelonnette.  Sure, why not?  Let's do ALL the outdoor things, as this might be my only trip over to Europe.  I replied I was in for the 12k (7.5 mile), as I saw that as doable for not having trained for a running race since the 2019 Cloudland Canyon Half Marathon. Kip immediately responded that I needed to sign up for the 23k (14 mile) race, as I would go through two Cols (Gaps) and see so much more! I had to think about this, for a little bit, as I had not run that distance in 2 1/2 years.  Not to mention the fact that there was over 1000 meters (3500 feet) of gain, twice that of Cloudland Canyon.

The masochist in me had me pushing the "enter" button in less than a day's thought.  So be it, BDR #5 was going to happen August 8 at 9 am. With only rest day on Saturday, as I had been riding and hiking every day prior to that, at altitude nonetheless, this was going to be a challenge.  Oh, and no poles allowed;  it seems that racers were getting stabbed at the Start in previous years, so they were outlawed.

Being the only American in the half, the announcer gave me a shout out at the start.  Not that I needed any more pressure to perform (or finish). There were 390 in the race and EVERYONE looked fast! 


Thinking what have I gotten myself into


The start was fast as it was flat'ish for the first 3 miles.  I settled into a sustainable pace and watched as dozens passed me by.  The pavement soon became gravel and then once I arrived at the small town of Uvernet-Fours, the course pitched up steeply as I entered the single track.


The start of the climb

Up up and away we go


The first 1 1/2 miles was at no less than 20% grade with several sections at 30+%.  This is where my power hiking skills came into play and I began passing a lot of racers.  The difficult part was that the single track was tight and many did not want to yield slightly so I could get by. Then there was about 1 mile of reprieve before the next push began.

A brief respite before the second push.

Although the weather was perfect, 50 degrees, low humidity, the sweat was dripping off my nose like a leaky faucet, as I ran/hiked to the top. The second push was 3 miles starting at 5000 feet and topping out at 6900 feet. 




I was still in my happy place despite the grueling climb, as I continued to pass people.  I stopped briefly to take some photos at the Col de la Coche.  The trail flattened a bit along the ridge and I was able to take more of the absolutely stunning views in and shoving my mouth full of nutrition. 






Along the top, I also had to avoid cow patties and even the cows themselves.  They were right there trailside, but fortunately very docile and allowed me to pass without incident.


Col de la Cloche


At about the 9 mile mark, I hit the Col de Alaris, and then the long descent back down to the finish began. This was where I began to implode.  The trail was maddingly steep, loose, and rocky.  The average grade had to be around -17%.  Looking back on my Strava, there were times when it was -35%.  I thought my quads and ACL's were going to explode.  It would have probably been less painful to ball up like a hedgehog and just roll down.  I am a mountain biker; this is the part I would coast down.  But when running, the downs are worse than the ups, at least for me.  


Down, down, down



Took an unexpected butt slide down this -30%

All those racers I passed on the way up easily passed me back on the descent.  Some were absolutely flying.  I was most impressed by how they seemed to easily tackle what for me was some of the hardest terrain I have ever run upon.  My knees really began to bark about 1/2 way down and there were times when I could only muster a walk.

There was a short break where I popped out onto a double track road and got to run uphill.  I have never been more thankful for seeing a positive grade!  I was able to pass several as they slowed to a walk.  But then the final tortuous descent began.  Think running down the most eroded section of Black in Pisgah; I was throwing F-bombs left and right!

Finally I hit flat paved road for the last 1/2 mile back to the finish.  My legs were trashed; I don't even think I could call what I was doing a "run" to the finish.  More like a shuffle ... in slo-mo 😂.  I finished in 3 hours and 28 minutes.  At least I met my goals: no face plants, no rolled ankles, and finishing under 3:30.  The women's winner came in at 2:17!


Ded



Not sure if more impressed by his running attire or age.


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Tour de Burg part 3

east ridge of the Ring 

 Stage 5

The final day was the Queen Stage:  Massanutten Twin Towers.  I woke up with a foggy brain and heavy legs.  Spirits were good, but I was a little concerned with having a PTSD moment.  You see, I rode (and HAB'd) the full pull on The Ring last year and today was two 11 mile stretches along The Ring.  

The peloton started at Roosevelt Camp and slummed over to Edinburgh Gap, about a mile from the top.  The first timed segment would start here, hit the trail at the gap and traverse the ridge to Woodstock Tower, and Super D it down to Little Fort campground.  I was grateful for this long transition, as my legs were soooo dead.  But they came back to life (a little) once the timing began.  I felt pretty darn good riding and then finishing the Waonaze peak climb pushing my bike.

The ridge riding was spectacularly rocky, but at least it was a slight steady descent, with just a few punchy climbs.  I was feeling the rhythm of the trail, about a mile into it, when I heard the sickening sound of my tire spewing sealant on the rocks.  I calmly dismounted, whipped out my plug kit, and quickly inserted the first plug.  But still it leaked.  So I shoved a second in.  Damn it!  Air was still leaking.  I tried to let what little sealant was left soak into the plugged area.  In the meantime, Sue came up on me and asked if I needed help.  Getting frustrated, as I realized I was going to have to tube it, I graciously accepted her assistance.  Together we got Blaze back up and running.

I was cautious at first, since the bead had not seated fully and I was scared to death of pinch flatting.  I knew I had to move quickly, to beat the time cut off, so I had to push it a little.  Man, that back end was rowdy, though, what with 30+ psi.  I slowly found some flow again, as I became more confident that the tire was going to hold.  I ended up finishing the timed section in 2:02, and had 3 minutes to get done what needed to be done.  I quickly ate some food, filled my CamelBak with ice cold LaCroix, and took a pee.

At least with not much time to mess around, my legs did not lock up, and the party pace over to the second segment was quite nice.  Well, at least while I was descending and pedaling the flats.  But there was a really steep climb up to Milford Gap that about sucked the life out of me.  Crikey! And I have to "race" an 11 mile east ridge section from the gap back down to Camp Roosevelt.  This was where the mental game came into play.  I would say about 40-50% was unrideable for me.  Kelly and I rode/walked together for a large portion.  We fed off each other's grit and fortitude.  I knew I would finish the full pull, even if I had to walk this whole damn section!


East Ridge vista

Towards the end of the ridge, the trail mellowed just enough to where I could ride for an extended period.  But my shifting was off; I thought it was due to chain wear, but when my rear wheel got all wonky, I stopped to assess the situation.  Well, shit!  My axle was 1/3 of the way out!  I had hit a rock a while back and I suppose it knocked my axle lever loose and it slowly was backing itself out.  Dang!  That could have been catastrophic had it happened on the final descent.


A rideable section

Finally, after 2 1/2 hours, the descent began down to Edith Gap, and then down to the finish.  But it was still really hard.  With nothing left in the tank, my rock riding skills were abysmal.  And then there was that damn double track section which had me thinking I was in Purgatory ... it went on and on and on and on.


The final 1 mile descent

I was never so happy to hear that beep as I crossed the finish of the final Super D.  Pedaling on back to Camp Roosevelt, my legs may have been heavy, but my heart was full.  I had a spectacular week at the Tour and had accomplished my goal of finishing this beast.  With this final section taking 2:32, today's stats were 32 miles, 5300 feet, and a total time of 6:34.  I had a total saddle time of 28 hours over the 5 days.  

Mike had a spectacular spread of food awaiting the racers.  I filled my belly with meat, more meat, and some yummy sides. I got to chat with Preston, the "Rockfather of The Ring."  He had put me up at his place back when Sue Haywood and I rode The Ring over 2 days back in 2015.  This master of rock crawling could make short work of Short Mountain.  So it was great to see him again.  


Sue, my trail angel and flat fixing buddy.

A big thanks to Melissa, for inviting me.  Had it not been for her, I would have missed out on an incredible experience.  Sign me up for 2022!