Monday, August 23, 2010

Peak Adventures Vermont 6 Hour Race

So instead of driving all the way down to Georgia to race the Fools Gold in the pouring rain, ruining brake pads and risking limbs crashing into the wood, I instead raced a really awesome course for 6'40" in Pittsfield, Vermont. Peak Adventures 6 hour mountain bike race was a blast. I have to say this race exceeding my expectations of how fun of a course it would be. The race organizers have definitely spent some serious time making some sweet trails on their vast, privately owned track of land. I definitely see this race growing in participants quite rapidly next year.

I headed up on Friday with fellow training/racing sufferer, Steve Segenchuk. We drove the scenic way up all back roads through quaint little Vermont towns, passing like 20+ ice cream shops and various homemade pie signs (mmmm...) thinking we could stop at like 1/4 of them on the way home. We made it up to Pittsfield, which is just north of Killington on Rt 100, about 6pm and registered for the race. I only had one other competitor signed up in my category all week so I was feeling rather chill about this race. When we got there to register there was a woman from New Zealand who had come over to train for next weekend's World Cup race in New York but opted not to do it since she wasn't happy with her speed thus far. I was like, uh oh... world cup racer making the trip from another country must be pretty good.. OH well. Competition is good.

We then checked out the sweet little Country Store to see what they had for dinner possibilities so we wouldn't have to drive 10 miles back towards Killington to find dinner. They had sandwiches, etc. so that would work. We then drove up the dirt road from there to the National Forest to find a camping spot, and had to drive 1/2 mile down the forest road that I'm certain my Matrix would not have made it down in one piece (or rather up, or back down). We found a good camping spot and set up our tents and drove back down to the country store for dinner and to wait for our buddy Rob to show up. Did I say I love these quaint country stores. They even had rocking chairs out on the front porch area. Rob showed up just after 8 and we drive back up to the camping spot.

I take out my lantern to use to finish setting up camp and attach it to my little propane canister and light and it turn it up high and well, it's not getting very bright. To my dismay, I realize that I never really checked to see how much propane was left and it was quite clear there was not going to be enough to boil the water that Steve and I were going to use to make oatmeal in the morning :( I used to be a 'good' camper.. . Thankfully the country store was opening at 7am and the race didn't start until 9am. And Rob built a fire so we had something to do :) It was very very quiet in the woods there, much better camping experience than my previous time this year back in July where my sister and I were stuck next to party people at a "family' campground. And, it was nice and dry.

We wake up early at 6, pack up and head down to the country store for coffee and breakfast. It is really foggy down in the valley. My oatmeal does the trick and some good dark roast coffee. The race is 1/2 mile down the street so we head over and get the bikes all set up and all the necessary items for the cooler for the transition area. I warm up for about 1/2 hr since I hadn't really ridden all week and was somewhat worried the legs would feel dead because of that but they seemed pretty good. The only concern was that my stomach was a bit off, but not too bad.

The race begins with a lemans start which just about all of us hated - running in bike shoes is no fun, but it did spread us out so that the immediate turn to the downhill double track wasn't so sketchy.
We continue down a double track with a table top and a few jumps, that I mostly avoid as I don't like to take too many risks in a race. The course continues to drop down with a few other sweet jumps along the way until it bottoms out at a river and then the long climb up the mountain begins. There must have been 100 switchbacks over the 8.5 mile course (although my computer put it closer to a 9 mile lap). The 1,200 feet of climbing flowed nicely with all the switchbacks up what would otherwise be an nearly impossible steep climb. I rode it mostly in a power climb mode in the middle ring save one section almost in the middle of the climb that on the first two laps didn't feel that hard, but by the third, I was definitely granny gearing it. I was hammering the first lap to win the King/Queen of the Hill Climb and to also use it as training for Shenandoah since the start there will be super hard and fast. I messed up a couple of the switchbacks coming into them a little to tight and leaning. But I got those all down the next time around. It was a pretty fun climb as it would rise up some, traverse the slope with some short downhill and then switchback to continue climbing up and up and up... All the switchbacks also offered the opportunity to scope out the racers below to see where the competition might be.

I was working hard and made it to the top in just under 40 minutes to win the climb. The top had spectacular views of the surrounding area. I thought we were just heading down from there but the top included a pretty technical, twisty rooty, rocky section that had many racers walking. I fumbled a couple corners myself and it took a few laps before I figured out the lines that would get me through it cleanly. Once out of the twisty technical section it was ear to ear grinning on the way down with a series of banked turned, super fast descending reminiscent of big mountain riding on the edge of a cliff hoping you don’t lean too far the wrong way and slamming the brakes into hairpin turn after hairpin turn. It was a "working downhill" in many regards as there wasn't too much just letting it go and not having to focus too much. At the bottom, we cross over the bridge and ride through a flat field, up a short but painful climb, especially after a few laps, into the start/finish area. I was riding through with another ride saying, man, that course is a lot of work. There's no real resting until the flat field section that takes all of a minute to get across. But it was really fun and the there was an immense amount of work put into these trails. I kept wishing I had put my camera in the cooler and I would have taken it out on one lap to get a shot of the downhill where there are about 10 banked/bermed switchbacks in row and you can down a few. It was really sweet.

So, I rode my first two laps at ~1hr each. I was calculating out how many laps I would likely get in. We were allowed to go back out for another lap so long as it was before the 6hr mark, which meant, by my calculations, that I would have time for 6 although it was a question of how much longer after 6hrs I would be taking to finish that lap. I stopped to refuel after lap 3 feeling pretty good overall. My stomach was still off but I was trying to keep up with fuel/h2o intake. I downed some water when I stopped but forgot to take electrolyte tabs which I was semi worried I might cramp up since the course was so much work, even on the downhill. So, I stopped again to take some after finishing Lap 4. I was definitely starting to tire on Lap 5 and had to battle my head some on whether or not to do a 6th lap. I was pretty sure I was in the lead and likely didn't need to do a 6th lap, and, well, obviously I'm out there much longer when racing the 100s so it would be good training. I was at the top of the climb on Lap 5 and there had been some m&ms at the aid station there so I was craving some and figured I'd stop to get some "fuel" and of course, they were all gone :( so I had to settle for a nature valley granola bar instead. I stuff it in my mouth and scurry off, convincing myself I can do one more lap. I make a couple bobbles on the downhill and make note to self that I better be more cautious since I was getting tired. Coming through the transition area I just kept telling myself not to think about stopping, and to consider that Steve was likely going to do 6 laps too and I'd hear about that the whole way home if I didn't do 6, and it was good training... so I put my head down and kept going. It was fine. I calculated that it would definitely not take 40 minutes to climb up and it would definitely not be a 1 hour lap...but it would be fine. It was. I came finished in 6:39 to win and 7th overall. Steve was about 10 minutes back. I did get a lot of comments on how sweet and light my Felt 29er looked... I know :) It rode awesome.

I cleaned up the dirt and little bit of mud off my legs and arms. My arms were a mess. I must have hit every single pricker bush/branch out there and really, there were not that many. But I kept hitting the same spot each on lap, and go, geez, I have to stop hitting those...Really, my arms are a mess. I convince Steve to ride the 1/2 mile down to the country store (it's probably really like 1/4 mile) to get some chocolate milk for recovery and some espresso. Yummy. My double shot of espresso was like a small coffee. I gave half to Steve and probably still had a triple shot... woo hoo.. We rode back to the race and partook of the pig roast post-race dinner, drank a beer, ate a huge chocolate chip cookie. Yes, my stomach was a bit concerned with this. Needless to say, we didn't stop for ice cream on the way home. Awards were around 5pm and then we chatted with the race organizers who knew my buddy Brian, who does the crazy 50 and 100 mile runs Peak Adventures hosts. I also threw out the idea of them putting on a 100 miler, which would be crazy long, and there was definitely interest. Maybe I'll only have to drive 3 hours to a NUE series race some day :)

We drove home the highway, no ice cream, but hoping for a pie shop, but it was too late in the day for that apparently. It was a stop at Moe's about a mile from home instead.

Next up, local EFTA race - Treasure Valley Rally Sunday August 29 and then Shenandoah 100 Labor Day Weekend!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wilderness 101 Report

Yeah! A good 100 miler... I felt good, had good legs, had a good time (even on one of my lesser favorite courses) and came in 2nd in 8:15!

So, a month off from racing was probably a good idea to regroup and get refreshed. I wasn't sure what to expect coming into this race as sometimes time off is good and sometimes not. That's the way of racing I guess. Training had gone pretty well heading into the race. I had put on some new tires, WTB Woleverines which I won at the Transylvania Stage Race, that I've been pretty happy with as far as rolling resistance and grip goes. I got back to handlebar grips I'm happy with and just other minor bike adjustments so things should be good. And the weather forecast for race day couldn't be better - sunny, dry and low 80s! Pefect!!! The past couple of years the course has been a tad wet or at least the numerous rocks have been "sweating" which make them nearly impossible to ride a good line through them.

I drove down on Friday coming off a pretty "normal" week which was nice, instead of being crazy busy and stressed out. Traffic was fine except the stupid Pennsylvania highway construction just south of Wilkes-Barre, a few miles before getting onto Rt 80, where you go from 4 lanes to 1 in oh a mile... sucko! I was about to get off the highway and figure out another way to get down to 80 but thought, oh, it doesn't look too bad... 20 minutes later, 3 miles later, I'm on 80... but I was making good time so no worries. I got off of 80 quite a ways east of Coburn and much more east than I have taken in the past but I figure I had driven enough highway by that point that a nice country highway through the beautiful farmlands would be nice and it was... drove through a couple really quaint towns... I think Pennsylvania is growing on me.

I arrive at my cabin about 3ish and check in. The crew from Bike Barn, a shop in Whitman, MA, were all staying at a house there as well so I got to see all them (buddies I rode with a lot in the winters down on Cape Cod (when they don't get hammered with snow). I then drove the 3 miles to the race site and to register and get a warm-up ride in. It was a beautiful day out Friday as well. I ran into the same group from Pittsburgh who have an adorable black pug, Mia, so I could get my "pug fix" while away from Bruschi :) I hopped on my bike and rode up the first climb of the race and was feeling, happily, pretty good. I even got a "view" shot in part way up. After getting back from my warm-up ride, I finished getting my bike ready for race day and headed back to my cabin to eat, hang out with some old friends, and hit the sack relatively early. I was feeling pretty relaxed, but it was still tough to sleep well, which is usually the case the night before a big race. I thankfully had slept well the previous nights so I didn't get too stressed about it.

Up at 5AM, eat and .... and.. wait till it's time to head to the race site and then make sure everything is all set with the bike and that I have with me what I need for tools, fuel etc. It was pretty cool in the morning and I hate being cold so I was probably 1 of like 300 who wore arm warmers despite climbing within a few miles of the start of the race. I was catching up with my competition, Cheryl, Selene, Brenda pre-race and then all of sudden we were off. It's a "neutral" start for a couple miles then we take the left up the dirt road climb that starts to separate everyone out. I was feeling pretty good still but it took me a bit to really warm up. I got up the climb pretty well sitting in about 4th place and by the top was in 3rd. I got into a good "train" to draft and hung with that group for a while and we eventually caught up to the group teammates, Cheryl and Selene were in. We were all in a group working together until the first aid station at ~20 miles in. It was there that Cheryl took off and I was back and forth with Selene for a while. I was happy with myself that I wasn't letting myself get stressed about riding so close together with my "competition". I was just happy to be feeling pretty good so far and just hanging with them and reminding myself that it was so early in the race still.

I ending up passing Selene for good when I noticed she that her saddle bag had come undone and was hanging down almost hitting her rear tire. I told her it was coming off so she stopped to fix it and I didn't see her again after that, although, I kept anticipating her catching on again at any point. From there I just rode steady and within my pace. I was feeling pretty good most of the race which was so nice compared to the first 100 milers this year. I found myself actually looking around and enjoying the scenery some. I got lucky coming off trail sections and being able to grab onto a wheel to draft for most of the first half of the race. By the second half of the race we were pretty spread out and drafting was pretty non-existent at the point. I'd occasionally get updates that Cheryl was ~2-5 minutes up. I just kept trying to ride my pace and if I caught her, I caught, and if I didn't, I didn't. She's an amazingly strong rider. I was having a good race and enjoying and that was my goal.

I was finding it interesting how much of the course I had "blocked out" or was confusing with other courses. Coming into Aid Station 5, I was like, no, it can't be coming up that soon. I must have forgotten about some other trail or climb we have to do before hitting it, but nope, I was there and in amazingly fast time and still feeling pretty. I knew there was one more pretty good climb and one technical trail section but otherwise, I was home free... yippee. I started up the climb and passed one racer who was happy to be on the last climb as well but worried about cramping. I offered him my electrolyte tabs but he didn't want them so I scurried on. I was thinking, wow, so this is what it feels like to have some legs left at the end of one of these races, but the climb kept going on... but it was certainly not the hardest in the race. I made it over the top and was trying to calculate my finish time and was pretty excited about how fast it was going to be. I pedaled hard from that point as it was a motivating factor, and thankfully so as 3rd and 4th place weren't too far behind. Brenda (3rd) had caught Vicki (4th) in this last stretch hammering it to get a couple minutes ahead of her... thankfully I had enough of a gap by that point... I crossed the finish line quite pleased with 2nd and in a smoking fast time! Yeah! I was about to say that it was the first time being quite pleased to finish there but the 1st year doing this race my legs cramped big time about 60 miles in and I didn't think I'd be able to finish and when I saw the finish line that year, I was quite ecstatic if I recall correctly...

anyway, it was nice to have a good race, the body was there, the head was there and it all worked this time. It was good to catch up with friends/fellow suffers and make new friends, get my "pug" fix... I think most racers felt this year's 101 went pretty well, mostly on account of it being so dry so that the super technical rocky trails weren't quite so obnoxious. My hands and arms were killing, don't get me wrong. I think some of the downhills took more out of me than all the climbing.

Well, hopefully everything will be "on" again for Shenandoah which will be my last 100 for the year. I've had some 'bad' luck there the past two years so... hopefully, I'm due some good luck!!! and good riding, and good mindset, and good legs..