Friday, September 29, 2017

Marji Gesick 100 Race Report

While I am laid up on the couch in a supine position after throwing my back out on this morning's road ride, I figured I might as well tell you about the race that put me here.

In just 3 short years, the MG100 went from 68 racers to over 600.  Granted, there is now a 50 miler as well, but toeing the line on Saturday morning for the 100 were 366 poor souls. I did this race last year and finished in 12:41.  My goal this year was to finish sub 12 and earn that #damnbuckle. The course had a few small changes but wouldn't really be a factor.

After finishing up my pre ride on the Epic Trail leading out of Jackson Mine Park, the heavens let loose with buckets of rain. As if the trails weren't hard enough already, now I would get to ride wet rocks and off camber trail. At packet pick up that evening, Todd Poquette, the satanical race director, even went so far to say that the trails handle the rain well.  Needless to say, that did not bolster my confidence.

Waiting for the 7:30 am start

The start was delayed by 30 minutes so that was just more time for it to get hotter.  The temperature was 72 degrees at 7 am and highs were expected in the upper 80's. Although I was acclimated to this kind of weather, I was nervous about how the engine could handle the heat/humidity going full bore for 12 hours.

I laid out my bike shoes, helmet, Camelbak, and all that I would carry with me over the next 100 miles next to my bike.  Because before that, I would get to run 0.5 miles ... yep, a LeMans start.  I thought those had died with the 24 hours races!  This year I decided to start in running shoes and then change into my bike shoes.  I calculated that the time running in full bike gear would be the same as the time running in appropriate footwear + the transition, but that my feet would be happier.

After the bass guitarist played the National Anthem, with even Death showing respect, the bottle rocket went off and I started running.  Upon transitioning to the bike, my legs felt pretty good.  Thank goodness for all those 5K runs over the summer.  I took it easy in the early miles.  No sense getting all worked up in passing trains of people.  Things would sort themselves out soon enough.

The first few miles were XC ski trails: wide, open, nothing too strenuous.  Then onto single track to the Top O' The World Climb.  After seeing a video of Jeremiah Bishop not being able to clean it, I don't feel near as bad having to walk the second half.  All the good lines were taken by HAB'ers.  I was tickled to be able to at least ride the first half of it.  On a non race day, with no one in the way, it would definitely be doable.

It was just after this descent that I met FaceBook friend Lane Myers.  It was his first time doing this and he wanted a pacer.  And I wanted a wind blocker! We were working well together and making small talk when the trail dictated.  I was thinking that this was going to help the time go by more enjoyably.  Together we rode the rail trail (with the railroad ties still embedded), some forested road, some loamy North Shore feel single track, and enjoyed Mr. Bagpipes as we crossed a field.  Then we hit the infamous rock garden going straight up!  Second HAB of the day.  At the top I remounted and continued to proceed through more rock gardens.  When it was safe enough to take my eyes off the trail, I turned around to say something to Lane, but I was all alone.  Ahhh! I hated he was no longer on my wheel.

Angry Bear was a trail that was used last year but had since been decommissioned. It was a super slicky, slimy, rocky, rooty trail that ate up all sorts of time.  But Danny made sure to replace it with an even harder trail, Pine Knob!  A double black roller coaster of rock gardens that eat tires for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  A trail where I used every millimeter of my suspension as well as my dropper post.  My Rescue Racing team mate, Scott Mormon, was tubing his tire as I rolled through.

Once off Pine Knob with knobbies intact, I blew a sigh of relief.  The upcoming trails were still gnarly, but not as tire-deadly.  I managed to catch up to a small group of riders and sat on their wheels.  They were going slightly slower than I wanted, but my strategy was to save all my matches for Ishpeming.

The family that was on the Lowe's climb last year was there this year as well.  Just one of many unofficial aid stations.  Their young kids were having an absolute blast handing out cups of water to the racers.  I thanked them for their service and continued as I knew Zeke was just up ahead, around mile 30, to resupply me.

After riding through the culvert that takes you underneath Hwy 41, I rolled up to Zeke who had set up in the Best Buy parking lot. At this point I was 7 minutes faster than last year.  But I had also completely emptied my CamelBak, too.  Last year I was able to make it all the way to the South Trails trailhead before needing anymore hydration.  I made short work of refueling and swapping gel flasks.

Next up was a short bit of pavement and then the Iron Ore Rail Trail.  With a couple miles of flat, I ate two salty peanut butter filled dates.  Hard right off the rail trail and onto Harlow Farms connector.  When I popped out of the single track onto a short bit of pavement, I noticed how intense the sun was and just how much I was sweating.  Just before getting into the meat of the South Trails, I noticed a large group of racers huddled around a woman who was soaking them down with water from a sprayer.  Another unofficial aid station. I opted to motor on.

Once into the Pioneer Loop, my autopilot kicked in.  The body is truly an amazing thing! While my mind may have forgotten certain details, the body knew exactly where I needed to feather the brakes for an upcoming technical section and where I could let the bike fly around blind corners.

Halfway through the Flow Trail, a machine cut fast descent with high berms, table tops, and doubles, I was ready for it to be over.  Although there was no pedaling involved, it still took quite a bit of energy to hit each jump just right.  My skillset lies with natural obstacles, not man made ones.  By the time I hit the bottom, my forearms were jacked!

Rolling into South Trails trailhead

I hit the South Trails trailhead and Zeke was front and center flagging me down.  I headed over to the truck and topped off my CamelBak and grabbed a couple more dates. At this point, I was pretty much on the same track as last year.  I was not giving up on the buckle, but my first priority was finishing. It was also stinkin' hot!  So hot, I felt like I was an ant underneath a magnifying lens.

The Doctor's Trail was a very bouldery trail, both up and down.  Last year, I had to walk a couple sections.  This year, with knowing what lay ahead, I was able to clean 99% of it. Absolutely one of my fav's.  However, on one of the easiest sections, towards the end, I was crushing it ... and then it crushed me.  I was approaching a bridge when my front wheel went all catawompus, and instead of hitting the bridge at a 90 degree angle, my front wheel caught the side of it.  And down I went, rolling around in the rocks.  My ribs and shoulder took the brunt of it.  Amazingly, I popped up, and upon triaging both myself and the bike, we were ok to roll. Jason Kunishier came by and stopped to see if he could offer assistance.  I told him to go on; I didn't want to slow up his race.

The bastard of a climb, Mt. Marquette, allowed me to settle down and regain my composure. Not long, only 0.6 mile, but with an average grade of 12%.  I saw people walking.  I take no shame in saying that my easiest gear was a 30 x 50 because it saved me alot of HAB'ing today.  Next up was the Scary Trail.  I remembered last year that the pucker factor was high.  Today, as I was rolling down, I wondered if there had been a reroute, because I was no where near as intimidated.  Body memory, I love ya!

I picked up my second token on the Not So Scary Trail.  I grabbed two, again.  One for my CamelBak and one for my Mountain Feed Bag.  Can you say I was just a little bit paranoid about losing one?  I just needed that added insurance for peace of mind. 

I can't say that the remainder of the South Trails blew by; I just can't remember anything notable.  Which probably goes to show that this was where I started to go into survival mode, around the 50 mile mark.  I remember looking down at my time when I was at the "half-way" mark and seeing the 6 hours.  I also remember that anytime I saw my HR go over a certain number, I thought my head was going to explode.  It was HOT!  Did I mention that?  I thought I would have been acclimated, but it still even got to me.  It is just that this course is so intense, all the time!  It doesn't let up!  And I think that is why even I was overheating.

The next thing I remember is running out of water in my CamelBak, around mile 55.  In 15 miles, I had emptied a 50 ounce bladder.  I reached for my bottle on the bike and it was empty!  Rookie mistake!  I had forgotten to fill it back at the last stop.  Fortunately the Wurst Aid Station lay not too far ahead.  As I pulled in,  a volunteer filled up my bottle with ice cold Gatorade.  I chugged it, knowing I was ingesting Yellow #5, glycerol ester of rosin (WTF!?!), and "natural flavor," but that I would deal with those consequences later i.e. breast cancer, hair falling out, Alzheimer's. 

Hooking up with a Salsa rider, together we traded pulls on the sandy ORV/snowmobile trail and the Iron Ore Rail Trail.  This is probably the easiest section of the course, 6 miles of false flat to the Jackson Mine Park.  Today it felt like I was pulling a sled.

I rolled into the park, found Zeke, and refilled my CamelBak, once again.  By now, 8 hours in, I had drank almost 150 ounces of fluid.  While tending to my nutrition, Lisa and Chris were there talking about their "race" (they were doing the 50), while eating these massive waffles topped off with an Everest of whipping cream! They were in the process of heading out for the final 15 miles, while I had yet to tackle the first 20 mile loop.

This first loop was full on techy gnar.  Super tight and twisty, I thought I was going to fold my bike into a pretzel.  Although there were many individual trails, together, as a whole, they were called the Malton Loop, named after the mining company that utilized the land.  Over the next 3 hours, I saw so many signs with the words Malton Loop that I swore the next one I was going to rip off the tree and throw it into the next county!  Yes, I had some dark moments in those 20 miles.  Those dark moments started when I ran out of fluid with 8 miles to go.  How could that be?  I was drinking like a sailor!  By the grace of God, with 3 miles to go, a volunteer had set up a water station.  I filled my bottle with the precious liquid gold, drank 1/2 of it there, and then topped it off. 

With about 3-4 miles to go, I hooked up with a fat biker.  This was his first time and he asked whether or not I was going to put lights on for the last 15 miles.  Now, it was 5:30 when he asked this question and we still had another 30-45 minutes of riding until we got back to Jackson Mine Park.  This made me laugh ... evilly.  That poor soul had no idea!  So I told him.  The last 15 miles was gonna take at least 2 hours 15 minutes ... at least!  When I told him that, I think I just dealt him the death blow.  He weakly let out a string of expletives.

I arrived back at my pit at 6:30.  Zeke helped me get situated with my lights while I chugged down an ice cold Coke with all of its liver killing high fructose corn syrup.  It was then I fully came to realize that the buckle had eluded me once again.  I was o.k. with that.  I was going to finish this damn thing.  I had heard that racers were dropping like flies.  Many had not even reached Jackson Mine Park for the first time.  Not to belittle or disrespect the WWII veterans in any way, but compared to other hundies, this race is the equivalent to the Battle of Normandy.

Setting out for the final loop, I began to feel better.  Dusk was approaching and with it cooler temperatures.  Everything was aching, but I was going to make it, even if I had to crawl across the finish line.  But first, I had some bitches to deal with.  Straight the f* up climbs, like Suicide Hill and the one with the slimy rock slab that had to pitch to 20%!  Not to mention all the mud puddles I had to negotiate.  Most were as wide as the road, which required portaging my bike through.  And all this in complete darkness.  The one cool aspect, though, was the crescent moon which seemed to be sitting on the top of each and every climb.

I know I picked up my 4th and final poker chip somewhere in this last 15 miles.  I cannot seem to remember where I got my 1st and 3rd chips, however.  It's all such a blur.  But when I acquired the 4th, it was NOT at the top of Jasper Knob, so I was hoping that Jasper Knob was not in this year's race (I had not studied the GPS track prior or I would have known). So when I popped out on some pavement, I thought I might be home free.  But no! There she was, the arrow pointing to the Jasper Knob climb.  I got caught behind some 50 milers, but was content to HAB with them.  At least at the top, there were volunteers cheering us on.  That made me smile!  I turned around and raced back down, hitting some remaining single track before popping out onto the road that would carry me to the finish.  Or was I going to have to go back into the woods for a few more miles of torture (like last year)? 

Fortunately, Todd took mercy on us and did not include that final trail.  I rolled through the finish at 9:44pm, 14 hours and 14 minutes after starting my journey.  First woman, 28th overall, but buckleless once again.  I can't say I didn't try.  Any disappointment was quickly washed away by the fact that I completed the hardest 100 miler America has to offer! 

Completely spent, but ecstatic!

I have got to hand it to Danny Hill, Jedi Master of trail building, and Todd Poquette, Lord Punisher and race director extraordinaire, you shitheads guys did one helluva job devising this race. I also want to thank their wives, for allowing them to devote huge amounts of time, so that we racers could push and carry our bikes, puke, roll around in the rocks, hallucinate, and oh, ride our bikes some,  all ... day ... long (and into the night for a majority)!

I earned these badges of honor!

Thank you to the volunteers and the community!  You prevented a lot of heat casualties, including me.  And the cheering was an enormous boost!

5 out of 13 women finished.

Other notables:

- You know the course is a beast when it takes Jeremiah Bishop 10:24 to finish (average speed 9.9)

- 70% DNF rate.

- Only 9 earned a buckle.

- Don't put your GPS or other tracking device on Auto Pause unless it can detect speeds less than 2-3 miles per hour.  I had to turn mine off pretty quick into the race.  It was mocking me with its incessant beeping!

- Closer to 107 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing.

- Equal payout for men and women.  $1 to the winner!

- No less than 5 racers told me that my quote, "There is no free trail," was spot on.

- I got to meet two of my Rescue Racing teammates, Scott and David.  I even got to race alongside Scott for awhile until he scurried off on the Mount Marquette climb.

- I got to commiserate ride with so many cool fellows:  Lane, Piotr, Tom, and so many whose names escape me.  Everyone was so nice.  I suppose because the competition was not necessarily each other, but with the course.

- 200+ ounces of fluids consumed (Skratch, Coke, Gatorade, and water)

- Most of the trails were hand built and amazing!  Wish I could ride the Ishpeming section while fresh.

- Last year I had to walk the Bluff climb.  This year I nailed it and all of its heinous switchbacks.

- I had amazing traction with Specialized Ground Controls 2.3's with Gripton.

Note the fine print

And so there you have it.  A hundie unlike any other.  Although I highly recommend this one, most that toe the line will not complete it.  But to those that have the courage to come out and play, I commend you, for this is a challenge like no other.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Black Bear Rampage Race Report

First race for my new LBS.

Another prefect day to make great bike race!  The rains earlier in the week made the tacky and the starting temperature was 54 degrees.  After a brief warm up, I made my way up to the 6th row.  My starts are in no way "lickety split," so I did not want to inconvenience any of the greyhounds.

There were 5 of us in the Expert Over 35 class.  When the gun went off, everyone seemed to be in slow motion. I had to "Flintstone" my bike a few yards before I could safely clip in.  By this time several of the women had gotten 20-30 yards ahead of me.  As I pedaled up to Starr, she was wondering why she was out front, thinking maybe she had started in the wrong wave.  I put her fears to rest as I pedaled on by.

I tried to get rowdy on the paved climb up to Brush Creek, but I felt like I had a governor on my engine.  I could just not get my heart rate up at all.  With no blood flowing to my legs, they were like blocks of concrete.  I was a bit frustrated, so I dialed it back until I felt good again.  A woman I did not know passed me, riding on the coat tails of one of her team members.  Good enough for her so good enough for me.  I hopped on the Wood N Wave train and let them drag me up the climb. Having someone to pace off of allowed me to give the engine a little more time to come to life.

Upon entering Brush Creek, I jumped ahead of her.  Not knowing her skill set, I did not want to be caught behind.  Henry Trent and his tribe had put a lot of hours into making this trail a super speedway (cutting back the underbrush and clearing out the muddy spots).  It was so ... much ... fun, even if I was dying.  I still could not get my heart rate out of zone 3.  The Wood N Wave woman stuck with me for awhile.  Her bike, also a Niner, but with Stan's Wheels, had a distinctive sound, so I did not have to glance back to know where she was.  About half way through, I did not hear her wheels anymore and so assumed she popped.

Boyd Gap was blistering fast!  Harold, also racing for Scott's Bikes, was hot on my heels.  Not wanting to slow him down, I took a few more risks (= less brakes).  At least here I did not have to pedal!

I bumbled a bit on the rooty section of Old Copper.  Man, I think those roots have grown!  Either that or I was just sloppy through there. Heading up to the bridge, Zeke handed me a bottle.  I probably didn't need it, as I barely touched the one on my bike.  This would come back to bite me later.

Henry gave me some smiles for the upcoming miles along Lower Chestnut, Thunder Rock, FS 45, and Poplar Hollow.

Nice coconuts!

I grabbed another bottle from Zeke at the entrance to Poplar Hollow.  I didn't see Fenton, but heard him screaming at me to "get after it."  I truly love people hollering at me along the course.  You guys don't know how much that means to me and how motivating it is, especially when I am in the pain cave.

Once I hit the Quartz Loop, my body began to feel better.  The pedals were a little easier to turn.  I began to pass some people back.  I felt the flow through Riverview and hit all the good lines on Bear Paw.  Old Copper Road flew by and the roots were no problem this time.  The climb up Boyd Gap was still hard, but I found a good granny gear rhythm and actually enjoyed it.

As I was coming through the parking lot at Boyd Gap, Zeke told me that Beth and Starr weren't too far behind.  That was all I needed to dig deep for the last 6 miles.  I buried myself for the first 3 miles. Brush Creek has a groove worn into it.  Envision a slot car track and that is the trail.  I got sketchy in several spots, but that worn in groove kept me from sailing off the trail.  Midway through, I got out of the saddle to power up a short climb.  Immediately I felt a twinge in my left quad.  Uh oh! Don't cramp!  Don't cramp!  I sat down and spun the pedals easy for a few revolutions.  Whew!

I slowly increased the power to the pedals.  As long as I was sitting everything was good.  But whenever I attempted to stand and hammer, the twinge was back.  As I am not one that is prone to cramps, it was most likely due to not hydrating properly during the first half of the race. Fortunately I was able to keep the full on cramp at bay.

I rolled across the finish line in 3:36:16.  Not my fastest time, by far, but still good enough for 1st. What I am really excited about were Beth (2nd) and Starr's (3rd) finishes.  They absolutely rocked the course.  And when Zeke told me they were right behind me, indeed they were!  Beth finished 4:59 back and Starr 8:00 back.  These ladies have stepped it up in the past year.  Hard work, eating clean, and attention to recovery has allowed their bodies to excel!  I know because I did a Whole 30 with them last fall.  I may have to stop giving out my trade secrets! 😁😁

Mighty impressed by these fassst women!

I also must give a shout out to my team mate Noel who made her goals and took a sh!t ton of time off last year's result.

Thanks to Scott's Bikes for another great event, good food, and support! Can't wait for next year!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Cherohala Crossing Gravel Grinder Report

In its 10th year, the Cherohala Crossing is one of my favorite gravel rides.  It is about 50% dirt and 50% pavement, has 3 monster climbs, and covers two states, NC and TN.  The turnout this year was small, only 10 of us.  That was ok with me, as I got the chance to get to know everyone during the roll out to the Tatum Gap climb.  

The start was unusually chilly, but I was not complaining.  The weather fore casted a perfect day to ride.  The first 15 miles was pretty neutral and my legs were happy with that.  In the past two weeks leading up to this, I had logged some hard miles.  For me today was all about pushing through fatigue and finding that zen.

Party pace roll out.  Photo Cred:  Jimmy Deane

David Goggins, an ex Navy Seal and motivational speaker, has a 40% rule that I am struggling to embrace, but bound and determined to by September 23.

When you think that you are done, you are only 40% into what your body is capable of doing; that is just the limit we put on ourselves.

Once we turned onto the gravel, the pack broke up pretty quickly, as the road rose to the heavens.  I found my groove and stayed in it for the 4 1/2 mile climb, where, at times, I saw 18% grade.  Jimmy Deane (not of sausage fame) went up the gravel like a scalded pig.  I kept Don in my sight and used him as my pacer.

The legs were ok at the pace I was pushing, but there was definitely no sparkle. At the top, Jimmy and Don had stopped to wait on the rest.  I kinda wished they hadn't, but not wanting to be a douche, stopped as well.  Today wasn't really a race, but more of a group ride.  Over the next 10 minutes, the others trickled in.

The descent off the backside was super fun.  With the previous days' rain, the road was tacky and traction was superb!  Towards the bottom, it turned into pavement.  Still bombing the descent, just behind Jimmy, we almost became a hood ornament when a blue haired person in a mini van approached us, careening left and right across the road.  Thank goodness for disc brakes and quick reflexes!  I don't know if the person was drunk or having a stroke.

Once onto Hwy 143, I was treated to a bit of a head wind.  This road rolled steadily uphill, with a few small curvy descents to keep it fun. The first rest stop was at the Snowbird picnic area.  I quickly refilled my bottles and motored on. Some stopped longer, but I knew my body needed to just keep moving.

With my Garmin timer set every 15 minutes, I made sure to drink and take in some calories.  Just before we hit the second section of gravel, FS 81, the road pitched upwards.  I was hoping that I would not have to use the 40% rule until I hit the 3rd and final gravel climb of the day, but it was on the 9 mile climb up the gravel that I had to embrace the suffering.

Hero gravel.

Thankfully, the road was in perfect condition, unlike last year when it was so dry and loose that I could not stand without spinning out.  Today, climbing up to the Skyway crossing I alternated between sitting and standing.  Halfway up, Hill Billy made an amazing pass.  Good gawd, he was flying like he was on a moto!  Apparently those weekly group shop rides with the young bucks had paid off!

His kit was dialed! Photo cred: Jimmy Deane

At the top was the second rest stop.  Wayne and Jimmy were already there and I rolled in with Don. Once again, we waited on the others.  I learned a valuable lesson right here.  After 20 minutes, we finally rolled out onto the North River Road descent.  Most of it was so steep, there was no need to pedal.  By the time it leveled out and I had to re engage the legs, they were nowhere to be found. Apparently they thought the ride was over at the Skyway and so had completely ... shut ... down.

The struggle up River Road was real.  Fortunately, Don was feeling just as bad.  Together we agonizingly made our way to the final gravel climb, Harshaw Gap.  The first mile or so of this climb is pavement, which helps when it pitches to 15%.  When the tires hit the gravel, my legs had finally decided to come back to life.  I enjoyed the rolling nature of this climb. With so much traction, I didn't have to scrub too much speed in the corners and could carry momentum up small inclines.

Harshaw switchbacks of death!  Photo cred: Jimmy Deane

Plummeting off the backside of Harshaw, I found my smiley face again.  Once I hit pavement, I still had 11 miles to go, but now the legs were at least firing on 6 of 8 cylinders.  Most of the pavement was still downhill, but there were a few short but vicious climbs we had to "oomph" over.

I was glad to see the final left hander back to the start.  6:14 moving time, but the real kick to the body was the 6:54 elapsed time.  No wonder my legs were cranky!   Although I enjoyed getting to know everyone better, next time I will save the banter for the end.  So, in the future, if I don't stop, it is not that I am a "dickette," but that I have the engine of an old Massey Ferguson tractor:  once I get it going, I gotta get it done!

I definitely put the 40% rule into effect on this one.  Thanks Wayne for making it happen.  Now that there has been 10 editions, the CC has got to keep going.