Saturday, August 25, 2012

New Hampshire 100 (K, that is) Racing Report

With tight trail and trees, I opted to run the GS1's

Morning came early at 4 am, with the alarm being a rumbling snore from the room next to Zeke and I.  Rice and eggs were washed down with Seattle's Best as we headed out the door for the hour drive to the venue.  This gave me time to decide what to race in as the temperature was 50 degrees.  Having not seen the 50's in months, I went through several options, settling on jersey, shorts, arm warmers, and embrocation for the legs.

The start was uncharacteristic with the hundies in two waves and the 64's in the 3rd wave, 1 minute behind.  I went from shivering uncontrollably to being warm in 2 seconds.  Ughh ... now I would have to wait 26 miles to drop the arm warmers and hope the embrocation would not light my legs on fire as the temps rose.

The first 3 1/2 miles blazed by as it was either pancake flat or slightly descending on a mix of asphalt and dirt roads.  I was through the single file bridge without incident before I knew it.

A bottleneck that never came to be ... nice!

I had a nice group to work with over the next 18 miles or so of  road (dirt/pave), rail-trail, double track, and short sections of trail.  Taking my share of pulls, my legs were allowed to warm up at a good pace, rather than the typical crazy VO2 max type of starts that are typical for this type of race.  There was nothing really technical about these miles, save for the tight trail alongside the RR tracks.  Riding here required heightened attention to not clipping my pedal on the ties or disaster would ensue.  The short bits of single track that seemed to wind through back yards appeared to be newly cut and was narrow, off-camber, and came with a healthy dose of slick roots and rocks.  That compounded with the sudden changes from the bright light of the roads to the darkness of the "King Arthur forest" made for a few "Oh, crap!" moments.  My photochromatic lenses were unable to keep up.

And then, BANG!  At mile 21, the road pitched up to a 20% grade for a mile.  I encountered HedgeHog Hill.  Holy crap!  What a leg shocker!  The group immediately broke up as we each settled into our own sustainable rhythm.  After a brief respite, BANG! again ... the Powerline Climb.  It was much like the powerline climb at Haw Ridge, except for a few energy-sapping mud bogs.  This put a real hurtin' on my momentum, and by the third one, I cried Uncle, and proceded to hike.  My feet began to bark.  "Shut up, feet!"  Only when I was able to hop back on the bike did they relent.

I rolled into aid station #3 (mile 26) where I had my first drop bag.  I had my own pit crew of volunteers who helped me get in/out in less than 20 seconds.  NASCAR style!  Huge shout out to the 100+ volunteers who made this race happen.

Everywhere I looked there were orange vests!

Somewhere along this next section of a series of climbs, I heard The Fiddler.  I tell ya, he would have given Charlie Daniels and the Devil a run for the money.  I must have heard him for a solid 5 minutes before I came out of a break in the forest and saw him.  Awesome and morale boosting!

The next 10 miles was undulating soft trail and double track.  I felt sluggish, not because of a lack of energy, but because I was either pedaling on loamy single track or recently logged double track that had been turned into one long mulch bed.  This section brought back TransRockies memories. It was here that I embraced the endorphin monster and began feeling really good when it happened.    I struck a large rock with my big ring and immediately went from 20 gears to 8.  My drive train was so gummed up with dark mud that I could not determine the specific issue other than my chain kept dropping off the large ring.  Not knowing how far ahead I was of second place I chose to diagnose while on the bike:  it was either a bent ring or a bent tooth/teeth.

After surgery.  Several broken teeth and 1 bent to the inside.

However, this was not too much of a problem as the remainder of the course was so technical with tons of short punchy climbs that I did not miss my big ring too much.  I also chose not to use my smallest two cogs as weird noises would ensue.  I was fearful of my derailleur wrapping around my cassette or spokes while I would be spinning down a super bumpy descent.

The promoters claimed the race was 29% single track.  But the double track was so heinous and at times more difficult than the single track.  All told, I would say the course was 75% trail, a real mountain bikers course.  "Old school raw," as Cheryl so aptly stated.  The elevation gain is only 7000 feet, but what they don't state is that 90% of that gain comes in the last 40 miles.

Throughout the single track there were stone wall crossings, most of which were ride-able.  The ones that weren't the guys in front of me were kind enough to lay themselves down over them and allow me to use them for traction!

About 10-15 of these I had to cross.

Miles 41-53 were by far the hardest for me.  I tend to have a soul-searching stretch about 2/3 into any race, no matter what the distance.  My legs were starting to burn on the punchy climbs, my feet were wanting to be finished, and I was getting pretty darn tired of pedaling 120+ rpm on the flat or descending sections.  I suppose someone at one of the aid stations might have been able to help me out with my big ring dilemma, but I was fearful of them doing more harm than good.

At mile 48 I came into aid station #5 where my second drop bag was.  Awaiting me was another NASCAR style volunteer pit crew and a Red Bull shot.  I don't care if it was a placebo effect or a real "buzz" but about 30 minutes later, I was finding my rhythm and beginning to smell the barn.  But first I had to wade through a chamois deep 30 yard pond/watering hole at mile 53.  I saw a couple racers attempt to ride it, but even on a 29'r, the water was above the BB and hubs.  I chose to carry Faith (my Niner Jet9 RDO) across the pool.  My feet greatly appreciated the cool water.

Miles 53-59 flew by quickly.  It was a mix of snowmobile, jeep, and ATV trails.  I don't recall any single track.  The climbs were not too bad and the descents were blazin' fast.  I just had to be constantly on the look out for the rogue rocks, you know, the ones that either like to take out your front wheel out or launch onto your shins!

The last 5 miles were courtesy of the Greenfield Trails Association.  Tight, twisty, and occasionally flowy single track.  Even though the trails were well groomed by New Hampshire standards, those miles were tough; no downhill road finishes here.  Yet enjoy them I did, because soon the game was going to be over.

The last section of single track.

I had plenty in the tank to make this a fun section.  I rode it at cross country pace, or so it felt.  As I approached the finish line, I was happy with my performance.  I rode strong all day, my feet were relatively pain free, and although I had a mechanical, it was manageable.

The finishing stretch ... so glad I only had to see this once.

I really enjoyed this race.  It was stinking hard!  Harder than the Ouachita or ORAMM.  I rode through, 1st woman, and 17th overall in 6:12.  Even though my legs could have done another 35, my feet would not have let me.  I have absolutely no regrets changing to the 100K.  I am beginning to think the 50-70 mile distance is what's best for me.

Icing on the cake!
Zeke finished as well ... on his SS.  This was definitely an unfriendly course for single speeders.  At  least here he could not bail; the shortest way back to the venue was to just ride (or walk)!  I could only imagine the names he must have been calling me during the last 30 miles; after all, it was my idea to race this new (to us) course.

I was happy to have chosen my Niner full suspension.  Even though it was a bit more bike to drag on the flats, it was awesome in the techy stuff.  Never once did my back complain (I had injured L5 four weeks ago).

Thanks LW for telling me it is ok  to race shorter distances.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Rolling With The Punches

I love to suffer on the bike.  You know, that kind of eye-ball popping, lung-busting, leg-burning pain as you push yourself to the limits.  This type of pain is an endorphin-releasing monster that I welcome with open arms.  It is one of the many reasons why we endurance junkies race.

However, in the last few months, that "fun" kind of suffering has been replaced with a burning, stabbing, and sometimes even an electrical searing pain.  With each step or pedal stroke, I am constantly reminded that my neurological system is full functioning, albeit in a negative way.  If I am lucky enough, the pain is eventually replaced by numbness.

The pain is most definitely worse off the bike.  It hurts to stand, period, and walking barefoot is almost impossible on hard surfaces.  The only respite is when I sit, swim, or sleep.  Weightlessness is my friend, gravity my foe.

On January 15, 2012 when I registered for the New Hampshire 100, I was super excited to be headed to a new race.  LW had my plan dialed for me to peak for this one.  I was salivating at the thought of a 100 mile sufferfest and competing against some of the best endurance ladies in the US.

Fast forward to today.  I am headed to New Hampshire to race, but LW and I have re-set my goals.  As she so eloquently put it, "Setbacks that occur as your race career progresses are called insults.  Always frustrating and demoralizing.  When you have a series of setbacks holding you back from where you know you can be, the best course of action is to place a higher focus on the joy of riding/racing and less on the suffer part."

I have always placed the fun factor of racing first, closely followed by safety and seeking that top podium spot.  So I have decided to race the 100K.  At this distance I feel I can still have the "euphoric" level of suffering, yet not be hindered/frustrated/demoralized by the pain.  And at this distance, I will be able to enjoy 2 days of riding the Kingdom Trails afterwards.

In the meantime, I am following my doc's recommendation of using a trans dermal cream to help placate the nerves in my feet.  Two days ago I visited Choice Orthotics to get fitted for a pair of custom insoles.  Richie told me that my arch is super high and my metatarsal fat pad is non existent.  The insoles will help displace my weight more evenly along the entire foot.  I will get a properly placed metatarsal button and there will be a gel pad to help cushion the metatarsal heads.

They can also fit Ossur Cheetah carbon fiber foot prosthetics.

Right now the forecast looks pretty good for the race.  The 6:45am start will be a little nippy in the low 50's.  Zeke will be racing his Niner A9C single speed and I will be on my Niner Jet 9 RDO.  The legs are tuned and the GI is happy so hoping the rest of the body follows suit.

At least there is no target on my back!