Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fort Yargo 6 Hour Race Report

No pressure, after all it's just a number.

This race, put on by Dirty Spokes, would be my last event before "the biggie."  Being a lover of backcountry epic one big loop formats, I was having to really conjure up my inner ADHD hamster for this one.  But knowing what was looming on the horizon, this race was a perfect test of what I have been training for.

I had ridden the course the day before, running a 32 x 19, the same gear I had raced on when I did this race in 2012.  All the endless burpees, box jumps, shuttle runs, etc at Results Fitness had paid huge dividends, as the gear was way too easy! So I slapped an 18 on for the race.

While at the starting line awaiting the gun, I was happy that the short mostly upward pavement lead in to the trail was gonna be short and sweet.  I shouldn't get caught behind too much traffic. But then, at the last moment, Tim changed his mind as the original plan would have been too risky, what with a chicane style entrance to the single track. So he extended the pavement section another 0.3 miles for a total of 0.6 miles of asphalt to a straight single track holeshot.  I wasn't happy, but I understood. Challenge accepted!

Eying my competition at the start, I saw Amy and Rachel.  There were a few unfamiliar faces, and since the 3 hour racers were starting with us, I did not know who all was in my class.  No butterflies today, I am saving and growing my collection for the next race!  I spun my brains out on the pavement, trying to limit the number of racers I would have to maneuver around once I hit the trail. Once on the trail, I got to practice my track stand for the first mile, as the party train came to almost a complete standstill.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the course open up pretty quickly and by mile 2 I was moving along at a pretty decent pace.

I was able to pick up the pace once I maneuvered around two pile ups. The course was dry and loose in places, and lines had to be carefully chosen.  Finally, after an early season of wondering if my climbing legs would ever show up to play, today was their day to shine.  Now, this course only had about 900 feet of elevation gain per 10.3 mile loop, but the legs felt great whenever the trail shot up. My fave was the Monster Mile bypass climb, the longest on the course with a couple false flats.  It was here that I was in my element and able to pass quite a few racers.

All total, there were about 4 other short kickers.  These lap format races can get quite mind numbing, so in order to keep it "fun," I made a game out of it.  I would settle on the flats and descents and work on technique and using less brake.  I would "rage" the climbs, going as hard as I could, welcoming the burn.

By the third lap, I had Amy and another woman in my sights.  I slowly began working my way up to them, when at a cross roads in the trail, I saw two emergency vehicles with lights flashing.  Not a good sight.  Within minutes, my forward momentum came to a standstill, as the first responders were working on a downed racer.  We were slowly allowed to pass around the emergency vehicle which had the racer strapped to a back board.  I think I heard the injured rider speak, but could not tell how badly she was hurt.  I silently said a prayer as I passed by.

I finally reeled in Amy and the other woman halfway through the 3rd lap.  I followed them for the remainder of the lap, resting a bit, and figuring out how I wanted to play this out on the remaining 3 laps. Once I approached the Start/Finish area and figured out that the other woman was not in my class, I decided that I would catch back up to Amy and if my legs were willing, I would do what I could to try to open up a gap on the Monster Mile bypass climb.

I made my move when the trail opened up.  I dug deep into my reserves and pushed hard for the remainder of this 4th lap.  Not knowing how big a gap I had opened up, I looked longingly at my Red Bull in the cooler when I swapped bottles, but made the decision to use those precious seconds to devour more trail.

The last two laps went by quickly.  I felt much better the 2nd half of the race and just eeked in a negative split!  I enjoyed talking with Mike Johnson on lap 5, discussing old fart racing and ti bikes.

I rolled through the finish with 6 laps, 62 miles, in 5:19:21.  First place earned me a sweet pair of Scott bike shoes, but alas, a size 44, too big for me.  But a perfect fit for Zeke!  Over the years, I have been on the receiving end of his schwag bag goodies and prize winnings.  It was finally time for me to give back.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Big Frog 65 Race Report

Little did I know my finishing time would be 1 minute off my # plate.

Although I have ridden this course many times, I had never raced it before.  It would be a good benchmark to see where my strengths/weaknesses lie, so that I can have a solid 6 weeks to dial the body in for Marathon Nationals.

The weather was perfect, 60's/80's and dry.  The forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms, but I was confident I could avoid any precip. I had put in a solid week of recovery, but was still on edge because I did not feel exactly recovered.  Two ladies whom I did not recognize lined up at the front and I assumed they would be my competition. Lisa and I lined up in the second row, in an attempt to avoid any bar rubbing shenanigans at the start.

The race director started us off a few minutes early, which not only caught some racers off guard, but also the lead car as the front runners had to suddenly diverge around it.  The pace up the pavement was insane and Lisa and I popped off the front but managed to hang in the chase group.  These fast starts become harder and harder each year.  I need a good deep warm up to feel lively at the start, but it is hard to accomplish that AND have a decent starting position.

When I hit the single track right on Lisa's wheel, I thought there were 3 women ahead of us.  The speed on Brush Creek was not super fast, but neither did I get caught in any significant party trains. As the trail slowly began to climb upwards, my legs began to whine on all the little grunty ups.  Not good!  Sometimes it can take 1-2 hours for my legs to come around.  I desperately hoped for that.

Lisa let me around her on Boyd Gap and for the first half I sent it!  And then I got caught up in traffic and had to use my brakes more than I liked.  But confidence building as I am beginning to hold my own on the downhills these days.

I managed to maneuver around some racers as they got hung up on the roots of Old Copper Road. As I began climbing up Bear Paw, my quads felt like they were on fire and I let Lisa back around as she was tired of getting tire rubbed by some dudes behind her.  Digging deep, I was able to latch onto her wheel as we entered River View.  Tooth and nail I fought my inner demons over the next 5 miles of single track to hold onto Lisa's wheel.

Once on the fireroad, Lisa slowly rode away from me on the climbs.  I was able to reel her back in on the descents, following a gentleman who gave me some entertainment as he surfed the gravel in front of me.  Once I caught back onto Lisa's wheel, she said that there was a woman in a green kit just ahead of us.  I could see her and this gave me a carrot to chase.  I pulled Lisa along the next couple miles, knowing that she had the strength ot make a move once we caught her. Slowly the gap decreased and as we flew down the Big Creek descent, Lisa made her move and bridged.  I was in scavenging mode at this point, ready to pick up any pieces Lisa left behind.

I watched the cat/mouse game ahead of me as I made the climb out of Big Creek.  Lisa and the woman went back and forth until the rubber band broke and Lisa pulled ahead.  As I approached the turn off to the Big Frog loop, I managed to crawl myself up to the woman.  As I approached who I assumed was the 3rd or 4th place woman, I noticed alot of facial hair, like a full beard!  Ha!  We had put forth a hard effort to chase down "this woman!"

Entering the loop, I dreaded the climb up to the highest point.  Going slower than biting fly speed, I was immediately savaged by them. Curse them and their painful bites!  I was finally able to get rid of them as I pulled up to 2 large fellows racing the hundie.  As I passed them, I got close enough for the flies to realize a larger surface area was to be had by jumping ship!

Approaching the top I was passed by SS'r Ben from Ohio.  We leap frogged the remainder of the race. He was great company with a super positive attitude!  Thanks for taking my suffer-0-meter down a notch!

The Big Frog descent had me all but forget my fussy legs.  Plenty of time to let them rest and enjoy the speed.  Hitting the flat stretch, I began to dread the climb back up to Aid Station 3/4.  I was also parched, as I had run out of water 1/2 way through the loop.  Once I began the climb, I decided to play a game to take my mind off the pain.  For 20 pedal strokes I would stand and hammer, pretending to be on my SS.  Then I would sit and pedal for 20.  This helped and soon I saw the signage:  Pedal ... Faster ... I ... hear ... AC/DC ... music.

Arriving at the aid station, run by Scott's Bicycle Centre, I was greeted with an ICE COLD COKE. Normally, I don't partake in soft drinks, but today I made an exception.  I found heaven!  Still in racer mode, I made short work of it, refilled my CamelBak, and motored on.  I had also grabbed a Red Bull and drank it while hitting the rollers on the ridge.  Come on, caffeine!

30 minutes later, I felt the life come back into me.  Feeling good again, I began to pick up the pace (at the very least, it felt like it). Legs pumping like pistons, I hammered up the steep climb out of Big Creek and soon enough I was rolling along the final ridge before dropping back into the single track. Yep, I was smelling the barn.  Once I hit the Quartz Loop, I was happy and energized!

It was good to feel fast again.  I thoroughly enjoyed the last 8 miles. Entering Thunder Rock, I was focused on setting a PR.  The legs were happy, the mind focused, and I was having a Zen moment. And then coming through the power line cut, I had to slam on the brakes!  Dudes were in the way! Argghh!  Lo and behold, Lisa was right in the middle of them, as frustrated as I!  At one point, the guy up front tried to stop and let us by, but that caused a pile up!  Fortunately no one went down, but bikes had to be untangled.

Oh well, if one believes that everything happens for a reason, perhaps this was a way of keeping me from flying off the trail "Thelma and Louise" style!  Lisa and I traded wheels on the way to the finish. In no way was I gonna sprint my team mate for 3rd.  She was the strongest today and deserved the last step on the podium.  We rolled through the finish line in 5:24:19 and 5:24:20.

The day could have gone better, but it could also have gone worse.  It is races like these that puts your "grittiness" to the test.  Although I was a bit down on myself the first half, I persevered and ended up in my happy place at the finish.  Although I did not make the podium, I did have a few small victories.  1) None of the hundred milers caught me.  2) I beat the rain in.  3) I was asked by a group of guys up from Florida for a picture with them.  One told me I had "mad descending skills," and he choked on my dust.  4)  A young woman told me that she enjoyed reading my blog.

I hope that through this journal of my life on the bike, I can show women that age is not a limiter.  I enjoy riding and racing/suffering as much now as when I first started 16 years ago.  Once the enjoyment stops, that will be the day I hang the bike up and look for something else.  I hope that never happens!