Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Raccoon Mountain Enduro Race Report

This race was the second in a series put on by 3rd Coast Enduro Series.  For me, it was my first enduro.  I was excited and I can tell you, a bit intimidated.  I am used to pedaling fast uphill and then recovering (coasting) on the descents.  Today was a complete reversal.  Let's just say that I learned that it is just as taxing to go hard on the descents as it is the climbs.

I was riding a Specialized Enduro Expert 27.5 with 165mm travel front and rear.  I thought it might be overkill on this course, but I did not want to race my Niner Jet 9 as I am headed to North Dakota in little less than a week to race the Maah Daah Hey 100 and did not want to risk injuring her.  I am glad I did race the Enduro as it felt so buttery smooth on the trail.

The best Arrow in my quiver for this race!

While waiting for the pre race meeting, I was already sweating:  78 degrees, 90% humidity, and climbing.  I dumped ice into my Camelbak and sought some shade.  After a moment of silence (for those fallen soldiers in Chattanooga) Brent gave told us the hows, whats, wheres, and whens, including letting us know that we would be shuttled back after the final stage.

And at 9:30 am, he let us go.  Not the usual short track cross country start I was used to.  As a matter of fact, all the racers just milled around, no one wanting to take the lead.  Weird.  Not wanting to get my face and arms covered in a gazillion spiderwebs, I let a few in front and then followed in behind.  The transfer to the first stage, Live Wire 1, was fairly casual.  After I let a few racers by, I kicked it up a notch.  I wanted to be in my own little bubble during the stages and not have anyone "up my butt."  35 minutes later and I was ready to try this "enduro thing."

Pulling up my knee pads, tightening my helmet, setting my suspension to open mode, and putting it in the right gear, I scanned my RFID chip, and exploded down the trail.  I dropped my seatpost immediately; there would be no sitting and pedaling on this stage!  Elbows forward, I pedaled every chance I got, tried to go as easy on the brakes as possible, and kept my sights far ahead.  Leaning the bike through the switchbacks, I would stomp the pedals so hard coming out of the turn that my front end got a little light at times.  Nailing the two small rock jumps got me some air time:  hot diggity dawg!  Coming up on the finish line, I slammed on the brakes and skidded to the RFID scanning device mounted to the tree.  Beep!  I was done, 1.8 miles and 6:59 later.  My average HR was 178 with a max of 183!  That's crazy!  I have not seen those numbers in a long time.  I was pleased with having a good clean run.

I spent a few minutes talking to Shellie, Brent's right hand woman, allowing my heart rate to recover. After I could no longer feel it trying to rip through my chest like an alien,  I slowly pedaled to the next stage, Live Wire 2, less than a mile away.

This stage would be a little tougher as it had more ups and a few flats, and less descending than the first stage.  I thought that this might be to my advantage, coming from an XC/endurance background.  It was also the most technical one, with alot of rock gardens and bridges to negotiate.  Length of this second stage, was just a bit over 2 miles.  I did not start out near as crazy fast, as I wanted to be fairly consistent, clean everything, and not blow up on the couple of short, techy climbs.  As much as I tried to stay out of the saddle the whole time, I did not have the muscular endurance to do so.  I chose the flatter sections to raise the saddle, and pedal like an XC racer.  I had another clean run, and finished in 13:15.  Once again, my HR was right up their with a Ruby throated hummingbird.

The transfer to Stage 3 was long and included the 4 mile climb up High Voltage.  I took it as easy as I could, pedaling in granny, HAB'ing several sections to rest the legs, and drinking the remainder of my 50 ounces of fluid that I started with.  It was very enjoyable, even despite the sweltering heat.  I had a steady drip of sweat coming off my nose.  I was glad that I had spent the last couple of weeks doing my workouts during the hottest part of the day, for now I was very comfortable.

Topping out on the climb, I stopped at the aid station to refill my CamelBak.  A huge thanks goes out to Brent for keeping ICE COLD water in the coolers.  That was some of the best tasting water ever!  It was still a ways to Chunky, the start of Stage 3.  I was feeling rather peppy and rode a happy L2 pace.  It was during this transfer that I realized that I was the first one to hit Stage 3.  I chuckled, as only a crack head endurance racer would want to lead the charge during a transfer.

Stage 3 was Chunky --> Switchyard --> a small portion of Small Intestine.  There was little technicality to it, but it would be a busy 1.5 miles of pedaling.  Once again, I charged hard.  I was doing well until the last bit of Chunky where I overshot a turn and went through the tape.  Costing me precious seconds, I had to detangle myself, and get back on course.  From there, I maintained better control, but could feel the previous two stages in my legs.  They were not as happy to be turning the pedals over and were wanting more coasting sections.  I finished the stage in 7:50, legs burning with lactic acid.

As I pedaled the road back to the single track, I tried to maintain an easy spin.  I knew I was getting tired and the final stage, Stage 4, would be long, and both technically and mentally demanding.  Once I hit the single track back to the aid station, I began coming upon racers who were headed out to the third stage.  Some of them already looked whipped, taking a beating by the extreme temps as well as the long transfers.  When I approached the aid station, there were at least 12 racers hanging out and having a picnic.  It was here that I realized that there were alot of racers still making that transfer up High Voltage, which was the trail that I would be racing down for the final stage.

Oops!  Even though I had been riding the transfers at my casual pace, it was still way too "enduro fast" and would now have to wait 35 minutes before Stage 4 cleared.  Awww ... now my legs were pretty pissed off.  While most would have liked that time to recover, I do better by just keeping on keepin' on.  My muscles begin to shut down after about 5 minutes of down time.

So, while waiting for the stage to clear, I rode back out to the pavement and did some laps around the finish area to keep the legs warm.  Finally I thought that the coast was clear and started the stage.  My legs barked for the first 1/2 mile, but then opened up.  There were still a few racers coming up, but they heard me and gave me plenty of room.  Those first few switchbacks were buggers!  Tight and steep, I felt awkwardly slow through them, like a newborn giraffe.  The trail finally opened up and I was able to get that speed up again.  Seat post was slammed so I would have to pedal.  I felt great until the middle section where it flattens out and then climbs.  Ouch!  That hurt!  I had to pop the saddle up and grunt my way seated, in granny or close to it.  Rookie error, no doubt, but the legs just could not sustain the higher end torque.  After what seemed like an eternity, the trail steepened, and I was happy again, raging over the whoop de doos and switchbacks.  4 miles and 15:57 later, I had just finished my first Enduro.  Put a fork in me, I was done.

While waiting on the shuttle, I sought a small piece of almost non existant shade, and layed down beside my bike.  Having left it all out on that last stage, I got a little light-headed.  It took almost 10 minutes for my heart rate and breathing to recover (normally it only takes about 2-3 minutes after an endurance event).  SO GLAD I did not have to pedal back up that damn mountain in 90+ degree heat.  The shuttle back to the start was a Godsend.

With a total time of 44:01, I won the Women's Open.  And yes, I was the first to finish.  Absolutely loved the way my Industry 9 Trail wheels got me through the rock gardens unscathed.  And how my Xpedo Baldwin's kept me safely connected to my bike.

Total ride time was right at 4 hours and total distance was 30 miles.  I definitely have a lot to learn about this style of racing.  And a few skills I need to sharpen.  But I am definitely hooked!

A big shout out to Brent and Shellie.  They worked their a$$es off to make this happen.  And thanks to the SORBA Chattanooga for getting out in the days leading up to this event and clearing the trail of multiple downed trees from some wicked storms.

Already thinking about Stanley Gap.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Iron Mountain 100k Race Report

This was the 6th running of this backwoods old school trail race.  After having raced it, I could kick myself in the pants for not having done it sooner.  Jeff Bartlett could not have said it better, "... you take something you really enjoy, then you do it as hard and fast as you possibly can, to the possible detriment of enjoying it as much as you would on a casual ride, and eventually everything hurts and you can't wait for it to be over."

I pre-rode the course several weeks ago.  While it was enjoyable, and I got to stop and smell the roses and take lots of pictures, for me, it is just not as fun as racing it.  I am addicted to endorphins and I cannot seem to get my "fix" unless I am suffering.  I categorize suffering into two sub-types, suffery good and suffery bad.  Suffery good is when your system is firing on all cylinders.  Yes, there is pain, but it is welcomed and bearable.  Suffery bad is when you are struggling to get to that level you know you can achieve, but it is just not happening.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Never knowing how my legs are going to respond, until the race starts, I felt great during the neutral roll out of town to the Virginia Creeper Trail.  The pace on the Creeper was a casual 15-17mph.  And then we hit the 1+ mile technical climb up the Beech Grove Trail.  After a couple hundred yards of negotiating the slick rocks and roots, I entered my suffery bad zone ... where I would stay for the next 3 hours.  As Zoe so eloquently put it, my legs tried to "grow roots" on every climb.   Surprisingly, my HAB legs were happy.

The first 10 miles is 95% climbing.  After Beech Grove, the grunting continued on Iron Mountain Trail.  With flailing legs, I focused on my mental game.  My mind immediately went to Eleanor, who recently surpassed mile 2000 on the Tour Divide.  Zoe caught me as I was fumbling around on a loose cat head climb.  With her bubbly persona and a mini-Eleanor sitting on my shoulder, it was easy to stay positive.  My grimace turned to a smile.  Over the next 25 miles Zoe and I sorta rode together.  She would drop me on the climbs and I would reel her back in on the descents.

Beartree Gap descent.  Photobomber showing just how rad this descent was.  

The Beartree Gap descent was blistering fast.  The most technical part of this trail was getting across the 10 foot slicker 'n snot bridge at the bottom.  I was debating as to whether to ride or walk it.  The decision was made for me when the single speeder in front of me went down HARD on it.

Bypassing aid station 1, I began the 3 mile paved climb.  My bike decided to creak with each pedal stroke, so much so that when I caught a racer, he politely pointed it out to me.  What he was really wanting to say was, "Please pass me and end the torture!"  Once the pavement ended and the climb up the Lum Trail began, the creaking subsided.  Zoe caught me again and passed me, all while answering 100 questions from the racer behind her in a RPE voice of 4.

Picking up the Iron Mountain Trail again, I was glad for the descent, marbly as it was.  Crossing over a highway, I began the "arduous for me" climb up FS84.  Normally I am the passer on climbs, but today I was the passee.  I just focused on how fun Jerry's Creek was going to be.  As I descended Jerry's with its half-track, off-camber wet footprint littered with slick 45 degree angle roots, I had my left foot unclipped most of the way and praying to make it down in one piece.  Only mountain bikers would say that fun includes being scared sh!tless.

Catching back up to Zoe on the lower half of Jerry's, I enjoyed her sound effects as she got sideways in several slick corners.  We rolled into aid station 2 together.  As I was refilling my CamelBak and choking down a couple gels, she was having a picnic.  I hurried her up a bit as she was thoroughly enjoying the smorgasboard.

We rode together on the next fireroad climb up to Barton Gap.  I jokingly told her that I had put a spare set of legs at the next aid station.  I was now entering my third hour of suffery bad.  So I started asking Zoe questions that required more than one word answers.  She gladly answered in detail, but soon she was talking to herself as the rubber band broke and she pulled away as we entered the Barton Gap Trail.

Even given my grumpy legs this trail was a hoot!  The climb up included several section of soul sapping soft trail.  However, on the descent, recent trail work opened up the undergrowth allowing for stupid fast speeds.  I felt like a Jedi knight on a speeder bike!

Popping back out onto FS84 for the 4-5 mile climb back up to more trail, my legs finally began showing some signs of life.  Hallelujah!  I saw Zoe way up ahead and slowly began to reel her back in.  With about a mile left of climbing, I passed her at warp ... err, turtle speed.  As I passed her for the final time, she cheered me on!  This sign of sportmanship shows just how (insert desired adjective of awesomeness) she truly is.

Iron Mountain descent.  Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Heading down the Iron Mountain Trail towards Skulls Gap allowed my legs to fully re-energize.  By the time I passed by aid station 3, I was in my suffery good zone.  The remaining 20 miles flew by.  I HAB'd back up the marbly cat-head section of Iron Mountain twice as fast as I could have ridden it.  The ridge line section of Iron Mountain leading to the Chestnut Mountain Trail was similar to the Snake.  I was in my element, floating effortlessly over the rocks.  The Chestnut Mountain descent was like the Turkey Pen descent.  Towards the end I was two-fingering the brakes as my forearms burned with lactic acid.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Rolling into aid station 4, I chased a gel with a Red Bull and began the 4 mile climb back up to Iron Mountain.  This climb was a mix of gravel, unmaintained fire road,  rocky double track, and super steep fall line trail.  During my pre ride of this section, I remembered it being painful.  Today, it was as if I had wings.  Before I knew it, I was on the FeatherCamp Ridge Trail.  I passed one poor racer whose legs were having a mutiny.  Back on the Iron Mountain Trail, it was a 6 mile descent to the finish, save for a few short climbs.  I was able to hammer these last few climbs without so much of a whimper from my legs.  Passing several racers gave me renewed energy and focus for the final 2 mile descent that littered with baby heads.  My forearms were like Popeye's by the time I sailed through the finish line.

This was a super hard day on the bike.  But also a very rewarding one.  Endeavor to pesevere is one of my mantras and today it was ever so true.  There is not a greater feeling on the bike than to conquer the suffery bad.  And that endorphin rush when you have left everything out on the trail is why I prefer racing to riding.

Might I mention just one more time how awesome of a competitor Zoe is.  To having not raced any longer than 2 1/2 hours and having no real structured training leading up to this race shows how strong this lady is.  Not to mention her class on the trail.  Her bright and bubbly character led me through the darkest of pain caves.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

This race will test you more than any 6 hour lap race can.  So if you like old school single track, fire road climbs of death followed by single track descents of death, all sprinkled with some sh!ts and giggles flowy trail, you must put this on your calender.