Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Xpedo M-Force 8 Ti Review

Now that I have ridden 1 P36, 2 PMBAR's, 2 Pisgah 111's, 2 Pisgah 55.5's, 1 Double Dare, and countless training miles, I can give an honest opinion of the worthiness of these pedals.

M Force 8 Ti

Prior to 2013, I had been a long time Shimano SPD user.  But, in 2012, after having two sets of XTR M-980's break at the spindle/pedal interface while just pedaling on the flats (could not even blame it on a rogue rock), I decided it was time for a change.

Although the Xpedo's were more expensive, they were also a heck of a lot lighter ... 100grams lighter!  The body and spindle are titanium and they have 3 sealed cartridge bearings.  There is a 180 pound rider weight limit.  However, they do have the M Force 8 Cr (cromoly spindles as opposed to titanium)that do not have a weight limit.

You can use the cleats that come with the pedal or you can use the Shimano SPD cleats.  Both have 6 degrees of float.

I have banged them on rocks; no breakage.  I have used them in the mud; they shed it like nobody's business.  The entry/exit is solid; no worries coming unclipped in the gnar.  I have done no maintainence other than cleaning them and applying a bit of ProGold LuberPen oil on the springs.

I also have the M Force 4Ti, with aluminum body and titanium spindle, on my road bike.  This set is two years old and is still going strong.  I have not had to rebuild them.  And they only weigh 15 grams more.

M Force 4 Ti

So if you are looking for a durable, long lasting SPD style pedal, take a look at what Xpedo has to offer.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pisgah 55.5K Race Report

If each kilometer of the Pisgah 111 equaled 1 mile, then I would have to say 111's evil little brother had a ratio of 1:1.5  It began raining at 3am the night before ... and, it was still raining when I awoke.  No cobwebs in my head and my achy back from the previous day was gone, so I knew I would have at least an average day.

There were a lot of new faces and clean bikes at the start.  I gave way to them, as I knew it would take a while for my engine to get up to speed.  With shower cap on, and a rain jacket at the start, I was ready for whatever.  At 10 am, I was off on my adventure.  As Black Mountain loomed ahead and the trail went up, my legs barked and I felt like I was going backwards.  Soon enough, I was off my bike for the push up to Turkey Pen.  Dang, my butt was sore!  My glutes were CrossFit fried from the previous day's HABs.  I was soon passed by Nina and Trish as I struggled up the steeper pitches.

Turkey Pen was a Slip 'N Slide.  I was just happy the trail was grooved which kept me from falling off the mountain.  I gave my left ACL a good test on the last descent run down.  Far above my skills level today, I wisely (or so I thought) chose to dismount just before the tricky, rooty left hander.  I cleaned that section but when my left foot landed on a rock covered in mud, it did not stop.  I felt a twinge of pain within my knee ... that was my ACL screaming.  Luckily I recovered before it gave way.  Close one!

The Bradley Creek crossings felt twice as cold today.  I lost all feeling in my feet after the second one and did not regain it until I hit the Davidson River campground shower at the finish, 4 1/2 hours later.  Try pedaling and hiking when your feet feel like blocks of concrete.  Not having that sensory connection with the bottoms of your feet makes it alot tougher negotiating the rugged Pisgah terrain.

With about 2 1/2 hours in my legs, I finally felt good and the climb up to Yellow Gap went fairly quickly.  Once again, I stopped at the second aid station to refuel.  I was in my own little happy bubble climbing up Laurel.  As I hit the $1000  climb, my little bubble burst!  I was a hurtin' buckaroo.  As I was sherpa-ing my bike up the mountain, I tried to figure out why.  I was definitely off the bike more today than yesterday.  I think Eric had gone out the night before and added a few more HAB's.

Pilot was nowhere near as fun the second time around.  My upper body was so fatigued, it was all I could do to hang on.  I had lost that "connection" with my bike, both at the pedals and bars.  Finally, almost to the creek crossing, I was home-free!  And then something snagged my front wheel and slammed me to the ground.  I lay there a few seconds while the stars cleared my head.  My right quad and knee were not too happy as they took the brunt of the fall, but nothing was broken.  I walked through the creek crossing, as my head was still a little bit "spinny."

Hopping out onto 1206, I went to shift and my thumb hit air.  I looked down and both my shifter pod and brake lever were at an odd angle.  I about crapped my pants as I immediately thought one or both were broken.  After assesssing the situation, I thanked my mechanic for not using gorilla torque ... they had just moved on the bar.  A quick fix and I was on my way to the third aid station where a Red Bull awaited.  I needed some wings to get me through the final leg.

As I approached the aid station, I saw Trish.  She was up to her elbows in fresh pineapple.  She had lost her groove, too.  She made some sort of ridiculous comment about quitting.  This coming from the mouth of a GDR winner, a 2400+ mile mountain bike race.  I told her to finish up her picnic and get motoring.

The climb up South Mills and Buckhorn was a little softer and slower than yesterday, but soon enough I was at Black, with its 20 minute HAB.  This section is relentless.  Cresting the top, I was shrouded in mist.  Normally I look forward to the gnar on the other side.  But with my forearms still pumped from Pilot, my left ACL being all twingy, and my right quad turning colors already, I wasn't too keen on racing down at breakneck speeds.  So I did the smart thing and did not ride above my means ... which unfortunately meant I walked alot.  Pisgah has a way of humbling you; and today I was very much so.

I may have lost more time than I wanted to during the last 1/3 of the race, but I did cross the finish line in 2nd place and intact.  Just one of the many reasons why I keep this on my bike's top tube.  And as many times as Zeke has reminded me, one of his favorite quotes is ingrained in my mind, "You don't get old by being stupid!"

Mom first, racer second!

With a time of 6:22, I was "put a fork in me" done.  I immediately headed off to thaw my feet out and clean up.  Once again, the shower cap thing warded off the rain.  While I did not need it to keep me dry, I must say it kept my head warm.  I even kept my rain jacket, unzipped, on all day.  The only time I got hot was on the initial Black Mountain climb, but I was glad I had it on Pilot, where the temperature got down to 37 degrees.

Nina "fast kid" Otter in 1st and Brenda "lovin' my cold muddy chamois" Simril in 3rd

Thanks to Eric and all his amazing volunteers for a crazy insane weekend in the woods.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pisgah 111K Race Report

Pretty much sums up my day.

In case you have never ridden Pisgh, 1kilometer = 1 mile.  This was the third year and my third go at it.  Each year the course has been different.  After last year's epic weekend I told myself I would not do it again.  Well, time seems to erase all memories of pain.  At least this year, I did not have to start out in my shower cap.  There was, however, a 30% chance of afternoon showers.  I was hopeful to outrun Mother Nature, but I did place a shower cap and kitchen sized garbage bag at the third aid station.

It was a cold, but dry start.  90 toed the line; I wondered how many the forest would devour throughout the day.  This race is as much about attrition as fitness.  The start was slow, even by my standards.  Although my legs appreciated it, I anxiously awaited the pace to increase so I could try to put some distance on my competition.  The legs had some spark and I wanted to take advantage of that.  Once we turned off 477, the rabbit was let loose and the greyhounds gave chase ... only to come to a complete stop at the gate.  We all scurried around it and were off again.  Greg was just ahead of me and knowing how strong he is on gravel, I let him pace me up Clawhammer.

Right on Black and so began the numerous HAB's (hike a bikes).  On this section there are several rideable sections.  I pick and chose some to ride and just pushed the rest.  Over the years, experience has taught me that just continuing to push takes less effort than mounting/dismounting and if the pace is the same, it just makes sense.  After 5 years of riding Pisgah, my body knows the trail, what is around each corner, the rock or the stump where I can easily step up and mount my bike, where to quickly dismount before it is too late, etc.

Kip, my Double Dare partner joined me here.  His usual jovial self was music to my ears.  Amazing how that man can ride a single speed and talk comfortably while grinding upwards.  I look forward to our weekend of adventure this fall.

For this race, I made a couple adjustments to my Niner Jet9 RDO.  Off came the bar ends, despite my hands' best efforts to dissuade me.  I swapped from a 2 x 10 to a 1 x 11 with a 30T chain ring.  I also invested in a Rock Shox Reverb 100mm dropper post.

Left on Turkey Pen and the hour of heinous downhills followed by steep pushes upwards toward the heavens.  The descents were definitely easier.  It was amazing how much better control I had by being able to lower my center of gravity 4 inches.  I felt so confident, I tried the sharp rooty left hander before the hardest downhill.  Would have cleaned it, too, had it not been for the large tree that grabbed my bar and slammed me down.  Having hurt nothing more than my pride, I motored on down the remainder.

The rhododendrons were thick through Turkey Pen and were all grabby-feely.  Being of small stature and with no bar ends to get tangled, those sections were easier, too.  I felt like I was riding a speeder bike on Endor!

I motored on through the first aid station, down South Mills, up Mullinax and Squirrel to Laurel.  It had been a couple years since I had been on Laurel.  The top section was a flowing river over multiple water bars.  A little puckering went on here.  After crossing the creek several times and working my way through sticks and roots, the last half was probably the second best descent of the day for me.  Fast and flowy with no deadfall!

Going into the third hour on the climb up 5015, I felt the first signs of fatigue.  Knowing my body, I knew this would pass.  Drinking and eating helped my engine to get back on track.  I stopped at the second aid station long enough to swap CamelBaks, gel flasks, and get a good whiff of bacon!!!  I chose to pass on that delicacy as bacon + L4 HR + arduous climb = rock in the gut.  Kip had different thoughts and pulled up a chair to enjoy brunch!  Eventually he caught back up as I was riding Mark's wheel and following his lines.

I was eager to get to Pilot to see what I could do and how fast I could descend on my rocket ship.  The additonal weight penalty of the dropper post is well worth it.  I am not a Sue Haywood nor a Rich Dillen by any means, but today I felt like I had conjured my inner Sue and Dicky on this downhill.  A lot of firsts happened for me.  The biggest was cleaning the Humvee section, even though by that time my forarms and triceps were so pumped my hand/bar connection was not the best.

With that little boost of self confidence, I got my second wind for the Pilot Cove-Slate Rock section.  Little did I know that I would definitely need that energy boost.  (Thanks, Rich, for suggesting this loop.)  A new to me trail, it starts out lulling you into a false sense of security with its peaceful flat ribbon of trail through the cove.  And then you turn to the left and up up up the trail goes.  Rideable if you are fresh or have a 22-34!  It has enough waterbars, roots, and loose rock to make it energy sapping to put forth an effort pedaling it.  So I pushed for 20 minutes.  Looking forward to the downhill, when I come to it, some expletives also came to my mind.  Tight, steep side cut with enough roots and mud to make me think twice about negotiating some of the more difficult sections on the bike.  Mistake = broken bike and/or body.  Let's just say there was alot of CX practice going on.

Popping out onto 1206, I ground some gravel to the third aid station.  Here I caught up to team mate Van Mixon, who was having some bike issues:  broken water bottle mount and broken tension spring in the right pedal.  He was still in good spirits, though, and motored off while I chugged my Red Bull.  Last year, I could not pop the top on the can with my gloves on.  This year I had transferred it to a water bottle, thereby buying precious seconds and having it go down the hatch easier with less fizz.

I made short work of South Mills and Buckhorn, catching back up to Van.  At the intersection, Josh of Threshold Provisions pointed us to take a right.  Huh?  What?  I am supposed to go left, like last year or so I thought.  In my oxygen deprived state of mind (and that's the story I am sticking with), I actually questioned Josh after seeing the 3 strips of tape leading up to the right.  He nicely replied, "Yes, you are going up that way."  Once I began to climb the stairs, I came to my senses, laughed out loud at myself, and apologized to him.  And then I continued to laugh at myself for probably the next 10 minutes. (So that is why Eric mentioned Avery Creek this morning at the pre race meeting.)  After the HAB on this section of Black, I was thankful of this course change as I don't ride this section of Black very often and Avery Creek is just so friggin' fun ... well, at least until you get down in the hole and have to claw your way back up.  Mean, Eric, just mean, when you could have directed us onto Buckhorn!

Once I saw the horse stables for the second time today, I began to smell the barn.  Up Clawhammer to Maxwell to Black.  A short HAB up, where Kip caught up to me once again, and then we let it rip down the Black descent.  We rolled under the finish line together in 7:56 after 61 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing. 

1 tallboy = 1/2 kitchen pass. Have my eye on a 2nd one come Sunday.

Knowing what lay ahead for Sunday, I did not partake in any post-race shenanigans.  A walk over to Davidson River to soak the pistons while recovering with my chocolate almond milk concoction.  Then off to the Sunset for more fuel and some leg squeezing courtesy of Elevated Legs.  A big shout out to Zeke for tending to Faith, my trusty Niner steed.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

2014 PMBAR Race Report

The weeks leading up to this race are almost as fun as the race itself.  Laying out all the gear I think I will need, deciding how I can downsize, and then where to put it all.  Pouring over the map looking at potential routes.  Eating clean, sleeping well, training right.  Checking out every little component of my bike.  Should I slap on some new tires?  Is the chain o.k.?  Is that creak I hear just an annoyance or something about ready to explode?  Watching the weather.

I look forward to this race more than any other.  With no set route and not knowing the checkpoints until the race start, this race is as much about strategy as well as fitness and skill.  I was ready and after Lisa destroyed the Big Frog field the week before, I was hoping she would stll have that spark in her legs.

Mother Nature could not have handed us a better day.  Dry and warm ... a first in Pisgah!  At 8:15am, Eric said, "Go!"  We opened our passport, skimmed quickly to make sure there were no stupid pet tricks (there weren't), closed passport, and began the climb up Black Mountain.  We fared a little better this year as traffic was light.  Once at the crossroads of Black and Maxwell, we stopped and began to plot our course.

Photo credit:  Kelly Klett

After about 5 minutes, we were off to get the CP on Black.  Push, push, push, pedal, pedal, push, push, stop and make sure bloodied-nose dude is o.k., pedal some more, and we reach at the CP. After we got scanned and stamped, we continued on Black to the next CP on Squirrel.  By this time, my legs and engine were warmed up, and I was beginning to sparkle!  How I love that feeling when all systems are running smoothly.  Finding the flow of Buckhorn, South Mills, and Squirrel, we made quick work and were soon collecting our second CP.

RX Bar fuels the diesel engine remarkably well.

Our 3rd CP at South Mills/Bradley was easy and fast to reach as it was mostly downhill.  The trails were in unbelievably fantastic condition.  It was here, along Squirrel, that I was able to take the time to enjoy the forest.  The birds were singing, the wildflowers were blooming, and the creeks were rushing with life-giving waters.  Quite the opposite of last year, when I was so covered by rain gear and could barely see the trail ahead of me.

Threshold Provisions provided every racer with a real food bar.  I chose the cherry coconut.

Our next stop would be Stephen Janes' grilled cheese station.  But first, we had to climb, climb, climb out of the hole we went down to.  What stood between us and the sammies were the 18 creek crossings of Bradley Creek Trail.  With temps rising into the 70's, these crossings did wonders for my feet and legs; I told myself this was active recovery as I plunged into the icy waters.  It was on this trail where Lisa and her adventure racing skills excelled.  She was just inches from walking on water.

Once we topped out onto 1206, I was a bundle of nervous energy.  I had restless leg syndrome; they wanted to go, go, go.  So I did.  And I noticed Lisa did not seem to be as chipper.  I slowed, she hooked back on, and I went.  And she popped off.  Uh-oh!  Right then, I knew something was not right.  At this point we were 4 hours in, had been fueling well, bikes were running smoothly.  I blew it off, thinking that she would come back around after the grilled cheese.

The Super-Fantabulous Stephen!

I downed a 1/2 can of Coke and ate 3 slices of bacon (I had brought) while Lisa worked on a full can and a 1/2 grilled cheese.  I met Jaimee Johnson who said she reads my blog and told me how it has helped her on an occasion. That and Stephen's generosity was added fuel to finish this little race.

As we began our climb up Laurel to our 4th CP, Lisa's stomach turned sour.  Our pace slowed remarkably.  She likened the feeling to a volcano that was about to erupt.  I felt so bad for her, yet could do nothing other than try to liven the mood.  But I know that feeling when your body just won't respond ... I think we have all been there and done that.  We both tried to figure out what went wrong.  Lisa thought it might have been the Coke; I thought it might have been the all the bread she had eaten (she had a PB&J earlier) as she had just recently cut most of the gluten out of her diet.  It would not be until a week later when she did a training ride and discovered that it was the Infinit that was the cause.

Laurel Mountain CP -- Lisa was Grumpy McGrumbleGuts at this point

At the top of Pilot, Lisa was in such distress that we had to take a break.  While I waited I pulled out the map to look at the remainder of our route.  It seemed pretty straight forward, but I was running the numbers to determine if the 7th CP would net us bonus time or be a wash.  Highly unlikely as Lisa's GI was in mutiny.

We descended Pilot and then began to work our way over to our 5th CP at Slate Rock. Descending down 1206, I lost my focus as I was concerned about Lisa and our ability to finish.  It was here I had a brain mechanical and overshot the trail head ... like REALLY overshot it.  Lisa, even in her misery, still had the navigational skills of a homing pigeon and questioned my direction.  Sure enough, we were at the 2nd Pilot Cove Loop trailhead.  As we rode BACK UP 1206, I was mentally kicking myself for that stupid mistake.  As if Lisa needed more mileage and climbing.  I was more mad at the fact of letting her down than by losing precious time.

Getting to Slate Rock Overlook was hard and agonizingly slow.  Lisa was feeling so bad that she did not even realize that BJ was manning this CP.  Fortunately we were able to make quick work of the descent back down to 1206.  It was here that Lisa began to feel a little bit better and we motored to Hwy 276.  Pulling out the map while getting water out of the creek, we decided that it would be wise to get the CP at Avery Creek and then head home.

Descending Avery Creek

As we were getting our last CP stamped, Rich and his partner flew in!  I had not seen Rich in this frame of mind in a long time.  His face was fierce and full of determination.  They were racing like scalded dogs!  They won the SS division and had a top 5 overall! 

Once again, I must thank Lisa for her memory and clarity.  This year we took Buckhorn Gap out to the road as opposed to following Avery Creek to the end.  That saved us a solid 5 minutes. After my 15-20 minute mistake earlier, it was a small victory. I think we surprised the team that we had been yo-yo'ing with all day when we blew by them on the 477 descent after they had taken the Avery Creek route.

After all the hike a biking earlier in the day, the last little bit up Black Mountain seemed like a molehill.  Then it was all fast and happy down Black to the finish!

6 CP's in 10:20 (8:20 with the 2 hour bonus)

Even despite our misfortunes, we managed to make the top step in the Women's division (there were 6 teams).  I am SO PROUD of Lisa.  She endured to persevere through 6 hours of pain.  And when I really think about it, we still made pretty good time.  I am thankful to have her as a team mate; we are a good set of checks/balances.  I would not have wanted anyone else for this race.  A week later, I am happy that she figured out what turned her stomach upside down as she has some pretty big adventures left this year.

I am hoping that this weather pattern will hold and I will be able to see the trilliums in full bloom in a little over a week as I get ready for P111/55.5.