Friday, October 7, 2011

2011 Pisgah Stage Race

I knew I should have tried to keep up with race write ups each day as now it all feels like a blur. Like, really? Did I just ride my bike for 5 days over 195 miles and 28,000 feet of climbing. It sure felt like it on Saturday, the final day. But it is a funny thing about racing, you somehow forget the pain. Despite the last day being a very tough one, I actually still feel like riding my bike.

After riding sort of conservatively on the first day, I was ready to amp it up a bit on Day 2. It was going to be a tough, but they all are. We had a remote start today but finished up at the usual start/finish area. So we had to take a trolley ride through Brevard. It was a tad boring. Pflug had wanted to carpool over to the remote start but I didn't think that would be a great idea as I knew I would be finishing well after him and he had a massage appointment in town he had to make it to on time. So I rode the trolley that took forever and he carpooled with Garth Prosser ( his fellow competitor). I was sort of jealous but it didn't really matter as we all had to wait for the bikes to make it over to the start. It was kind of chilly that morning, but it was supposed to warm up nicely into the mid-70s.

The bikes all finally showed up and we rode a short distance up to a field campground for the start. We did a very short lemans start and down the dirt road with shallow creek crossing right at the beginning and then a sharp right to start the day's first big climb. The climb went on forever and got progressively tougher the higher up and then we dropped into the 'toughest/most rugged' trail in the forest that bikes are allowed it. It was crazy - super steep, with waterbar drops and, well, I got off an ran as did probably 98% of the racers. I am not too keen climbing forever and then having to ride a trail that's well not -rideable. Then it was on the bike, off the bike, on the bike off the bike. There were several rocky, slippery stream crossings that weren't rideable and then some steeply pitched sections that were also not rideable. It was tough to get into any sort of rhythm. I had been feeling pretty good thus far though and tried not to let it get to me. I did initially have intentions of trying to stay with Melanie, the first place woman, but she was just too fast climbing and I knew I couldn't hold that pace without exploding. Not a good thing to do on Day 2.

The rest of the trails that day didn't seem too bad as far as being super technical. There were some more hike a bike sections which although annoying to be pushing my bike versus riding it, didn't feel as bad as it did on Day 1. We finished up on the same downhill as the previous day. It seems to help make all the hurt and pain and suffering melt away. It really is a super sweet downhill. I definitely rode a bit harder than on day 1, but I still felt reasonably well. I grabbed a sub on the way back to my hotel since I ate like every snack I had after finishing up the day before. I went back to my hotel and cleaned the bike, then cleaned myself and ate my sub. I massaged my legs out and rested with them elevated for a bit trying to do all the recovery stuff I could.

I headed into town for the podium awards and then chatted with fellow racers at the reception afterwards. No alcohol this evening. Gerry and I then went to dinner at the same place. I got the same thing - turkey, stuffing, potatoes and green beans. Seemed to do the trick the night before. Gerry went for the pot roast and said it was delicious.

I slept ok that evening. I'm not sure why I was getting race nerves now a couple days in. I knew after today that to catch Melanie would mean her having a serious mechanical issue or totally cracking, not super likely. And third place woman was pretty far back. I had planned on taking it easy on Thursday, our shorter 'recovery' day, since Day 4 and Day 5 were both going to be super hard. Se la vie.

Day 3 was a remote start and finish and thus a later start time, 11am. It was only 25 miles with 3,200 feet of climbing. I had heard it was fast and flowing, but I didn't totally buy it with quite a bit of elevation gain in short miles. I was feeling relatively good still which I was quite pleased about. So much for taking it easy. The trails were really fun and fast and flowing for the most part. It was hard not to ride them hard. I was having a blast. There was one gnarly downhill section that I had been overly warned about so I rode it completely backed off and walked a good portion of it. It was really short in comparison to previous days' hiking with the bike. We hit the huge climb of the day late in the stage, but I was still feeling pretty good and climbing pretty strong. I was determined to stay on the bike as much as possible and managed for the most part. The end of the stage was deceiving. We came out onto the dirt road climb that we started in on and I figured we were just taking it all the way back to the finish, but we turned off it onto a jeep road that rode as mostly singletrack and that was rolling climbing. It seemed to go on and on especially since it seemed like one more corner before we turned on to this trail and we would have been done. It finally turned off onto some fun downhill singletrack to the finish. Yeah!
But boy, was I feeling tired by now. I drove back to the hotel ate a sub, took a shower and napped with my legs elevated.

The nap did me a world of good. I would have been a crabby monster at the awards podium and reception. Gerry and I decided to branch out tonight with a group of racers and check out a Mexican restaurant. It looked like that had some decent, not overly heavy chicken dishes so I was keen on it. Plus, the mariachi band was playing! It was quite entertaining. It did seem to take a bit to get service. My dinner was quite yummy and quite large, enough so that I had lunch/post-race food for the next day. I was sitting next to Clair, who was racing the open women's category. She raced it last year as well while visiting from Australia. Funny, she ordered burritos and two very large burritos came on her plate. She was served before most and waited till everyone had their food. I wasn't quite sure why she was so patient as others had started eating already. I finally got my plate and took a couple bites and then I looked over at her plate and only part of a burrito was left. I was like, hmm... maybe she only got one burrito. Nope. She really ate it that fast. Amazing. And she wouldn't do the pie eating contest the last evening!! Anyway, everyone was a little anxious about the next day's stage which had been touted as the hardest, or at least the longest time wise.

Day 4 entailed 39 miles and 8,000 feet of climbing on mostly singletrack. I had guessed based on the finish times from last year that I would likely be out there for ~5.5 hrs. It was a long day out there but some really awesome trails. I was still feeling pretty good, had some climbing legs etc. It did seem to take forever to get to Aid Station 2 at 20 miles. I seriously started to think that maybe we had missed it somehow. But nope. It took a good 3'15" to get there. I was banking on the 2nd half of the course to ride must faster and thankfully it did. I still felt good up the last climb and was railing the downhill that we finished on Day 1 and Day 2. Super sweet. It really makes you start to forget all the pain of the day's ride. I was still annoyed with myself for chickening out on two short sketchy parts and running down them. Maybe tomorrow....
One more day... one more day.

After the stage, I decided to take the time to drive up the road a bit and check out a couple waterfalls. It is so beautiful down there in Pisgah National Forest. I highly recommend a visit to the area to anyone who appreciates the beauty of the mountains and thick, lush forests. It's a outdoor enthusiast's paradise. I then went back to the hotel and showered up and rested a bit. I didn't get to nap really and probably should have but I seemed to feel ok and thought I'd be fine getting through the last day. I went to town for the podium awards and reception. Everyone was talking about the cold weather coming in for the final day. The temperature for the start was going to be ~40 and only get up to mid-50s. Brrrr....and to top it off we had a bunch of creek crossings early on. Yuk! I hate being cold. The first Aid Station was a mile 14 so most racers dropped spare shoes (if they had them) and dry socks. Hmm...I had both so seemed like a good call. Off to bed and unfortunately not solid sleep.

I woke up feeling surprisingly ok. Once I moved around some though, I could tell the week of racing was catching up with me, although really not too bad. It was chilly out and thankfully I had a bunch of cold weather riding clothes with me. It was a base layer day, leggings, ear warmers, warm wind vest kind of morning. I started out wearing my older bike shoes and had dropped my better shoes and dry socks and other dry items just in case one fell in the creek. We had a 7+ mile road start and it was windy. In the pack it wasn't too bad but it fell apart some. I could tell on the first climb that it was going to be a tough day. The legs were stiff and tired. And the cold in general was making me feel like I was in a fog. I was hoping I would warm up and come around some.

Early on a couple guys who I had been riding near a lot this race were with me again. One of them was riding my tail tight and I offered a fair warning of being overly tired and a bit cranky so I might bitch at him if he kept riding too tight. He took heed. He eventually passed me thankfully. We descended to the creek and then proceeded to have to cross 8 times! It was only about knee deep but long enough and strewn with boulders that you had to carry your bike across. It was quite cold. I still can't understand why they couldn't just keep the trail on one side of it... duh! j/k My feet were freezing. It seemed like a very long 14 miles considering half of it was on the road to get into Aid Station 1. I was very very happy I dropped shoes and socks. It took a bit to change since I was so cold and stiff but the volunteers were awesome. I had 4 of them helping me at once. It was a bit overwhelming at that point as my brain was not functioning to efficiently yet. One of them asked me how my warm socks felt? I said, they aint warm...but at least they're dry. And off I went.

I was wooped. I was definitely struggling to stay in the game today. We had a long climb up to Pilot mountain which of course included some steep hike a bike sections. I got to the top of the steepest portion and had a near hissy fit trying to get to my now crumbled odwalla bar in my shirt pocket under my vest under my camelback.... arggh! I got some of it and figured I should get pedaling. It took a while to crest Pilot Mtn. The views were pretty amazing up there but I was too tired to really care. Then it was a long harsh descent with super tight switchbacks on loose rocky terrain and of course lots of drops. It was mostly rideable if you weren't five days into a stage race. I had a rough time on this descent. I think I may have been extra frustrated in the fact that i was too tired to ride it and if I weren't so tired, it might have been a lot of fun. Well certainly a lot of fun on a dualie suspension bike. My hardtail was beating the crap out of me today. My long fingered gloves also don't have pads in them so that didnt' help either.

Probably about half-way down the super rough part ends in a rock garden that I almost made it through but had scrubbed too much speed. Thom Parsons (of was there filming some of the riders (check out the website for racer interviews). He told me it smooths out after that and gets but BS.. It went on and on. Not so rocky, but still lots of waterbar drops. I was so beat up and tired. I finally made it out to the dirt road and nearly broke into tears. I was kind of surprised at my reaction since usually I just get to the point of telling myself "you don't ever have to ride your bike again if you don't want to" to get through a race, but I seemed to have skipped right over that phase and was near breakdown. What do I do? I talked myself down and told myself to just think of the funny things my doggie has done and that seemed to help me snap out of it enough to finish up. But I was not a happy camper out there. There was one more super rough descent and I was so ready to throw in the white flag. I just had to finish that's all I had to do and I'd still be in 2nd.

I finally made it to the last climb and knew I was ok. I started to relax a little and take in the scenery since this was the last day. And the descent into the finish was still really sweet. I still didnt' ride the couple short sketchy sections but I didn't care at this point. At the finish I was rather cranky and knew I just needed to get out of there to unwind and recover so I headed back to the hotel asap. I showered and ate and tried to nap a bit. Then it was time go head to the Music Center for the final awards and dinner. I was much better by then and add a couple beers to that and's all a memory now. The dinner was great and hanging with all the racers was good fun. I was surprised I wasn't completely trashed but I was ok. I headed back to my hotel around 9pm and was probably in bed shortly after that.

I woke up feeling a bit sleepy. Walking up and down stairs was a tell tale sign of weary legs. Although, they really weren't as bad as I thought I would be coming out of this race. I packed up the car and drove through the forest up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was another cold day. My car thermometer was saying it was only 35 degrees up in the mountains. It was a gorgeous day out and the views were spectacular. I took the parkway to just about Asheville and then it was all highway back to Doug's in maryland and being reunited with one happy pug.

It is an odd feeling now being done the season I felt so done before the race but now it feels like it shouldn't be over. I even went hunting for ice cream tonight and the seasonal shops are closed :( What happened?! I guess it is October. Time for some fun riding, hiking, relaxing, etc.

Till next year! Probably more of the same -- or different same long distance races... something like that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2011 Pisgah Stage Race Day 1

I drove down to Brevard, North Carolina (just south of Asheville) yesterday. I got in around 3:30 and checked into my 'swank abode', per race standards, and quickly unpacked. My hotel is only a couple miles from the race start/finish. It's very nice to be so close to the venue, have a clean shower, clean room, wifi, etc. Registration and the opening ceremony was scheduled for 5pm. I had hoped to get a decent ride in to flush the long drive out of my legs, but a half-hour was all I could fit in. I felt ok. It was a warm, humid mid-80 day.

I drove the ~10 minutes to the Brevard Music Center where registration, race briefing and dinner were taking place. I pulled into the parking lot next to Lee and Brenda Simril (my 100 miler buddies). They have done this race the past two years and love it. Dinner was pretty yummy and super healthy. I had trout with pesto sauce, quinoa, veges and some bread. During dinner, the race directors went over the various courses and other race 'stuff'. Some of the trails sound pretty rough and gnarly and bordering on dangerous. Oh boy. I do like technical trails but traveling around the country had made me realize there are different 'technical' trails -- like the rocks in PA/MD are different than the Northeast, etc.. and much different than out west. Each place has it's thing.

I was feeling pretty wooped from the long drive and taking in all the new sites and trying to wrap my head around having to race my bike for 5 days. Did I really sign up for this again. It sounded like a lot of fun back in August. Now, after a long season and busy month of work etc., I was feeling a bit worn out from wanting to push myself to the point of exhaustion. But here I was in North Carolina, better get pedaling. At least the weather forecast for the week looked great - mid-70s and sunny, until Saturday which will only be in the low 60s.

I woke up at 6:30 and ate a bagel for breakfast. I headed over to the race start for 8am and finished getting and had plenty of time to kill before the 9am start. It was really damp out with a lot of the humidity burning out of the air once the sun really came out. I knew it was going to be slick out there on the trails. They have had a lot of rain down here recently and the forest is really dense so it takes a while to dry out. I figure we'll be getting wet and a bit muddy every day with stream crossings, etc.

The course today started out with a mile on a flat road and then turned onto a dirt road rolling climb for about 6 miles up to Aid Station 1. Then we had a nice smooth gradual descent. It was a bit tacky but pretty smooth sailing down to a river crossing and then up a really steep, greasy climb. I was feeling pretty good thus far but was riding conservatively. I saw the woman who came in 1st only at the start and she took hard with the lead men's group. I just let it go and rode my pace reminding myself it's a long week, lots of tough trails, lots of tough climbing and lots of tough descending. No need to kill it on day one. I also wanted to just get a feel for the terrain. It was very slick and greasy in spots. Mid-race we were riding a very narrow trail with lots of off camber roots and a nice steep drop off. I just took it easy through there and enjoyed the terrain. Put a foot down or whatever to get over some of the really badly angled roots so as not to risk crashing down the mountain. It was kind of nice in that the trail made you have to ride conservatively and not put out a big effort.

Aid Station 2 was at 22 miles. I refueled there with my 333 carborocket mix - best stuff ever. From there it was an extended road section, mostly down for a while and then some climbing back up to a double track trail. It was rocky and rough at first and then smoothed out into an almost tunnel like track with the brush growing over. Then we eventually come out to Aid Station 3 at 32 miles and hit the dreaded hike-a-bike section. Thankfully I had been well warned about the numerous and very long hike-a-bikes at Pisgah and today's hike-a-bike would be like 20+ minutes. It was hard to get the legs to come around to pushing the bike uphill versus riding but they came around a bit. The views from on top of the mountain were spectacular but I was in race mode then and didn't take too long to take it all in.

It was slow-going descent off the top part. Many deep ruts from water runoff would make 2-foot drops or more so if you weren't careful in picking your line, you were sure to go over the handlebars. So I continued in my 'conservative mode'. Further down the terrain less hairy, but you still had to really keep you eyes ahead and paying full attention. The final descent into the finish, which apparently we finish on a few more times, was super super fun and fast with nice banked turns and just enough rocks to keep you honest.

I finished in 2nd about 9 minutes back from 1st place. I felt pretty good. I hadn't gone all out although post-race now I do feel the effects some. I headed back to the hotel and cleaned up, ate some snacks, massaged the legs some. Then, I went into 'town' to check out some shops before the evening awards. There was a reception afterwards with some finger foods and beer. I had a beer. I admit it. Then I grabbed some dinner with Gerry Pflug - 100 miler single speed champion. He's amazing. He's racing on gears for this one though.

well off to bed. four more days....

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

2011 Shenandoah 100

I am done the final 100 miler of the 2011 season. I have to admit I was way more excited about that fact last year as I was truly done my season and on to the 'just play and have fun' part of the season. This year, I have one more big race, the Pisgah Stage Race, in a few weeks. I am looking forward to the race (well maybe when I feel fully rested again) and racing on all new trails for me. But it's kind of hard to imagine riding 5 days in a row on tough trails just after finishing up being on the bike for 9 hours.

I had my best placing at Shenandoah this year, coming in 2nd. I wish it felt like a wonderful second but it seemed to be another race of just getting through. I was hoping one of the 100 milers this year would feel good, or I'd feel really. I realize it sounds funny to say racing a 100 miles will feel good, but there are those days that the legs are there, the body is there and the head is in the right spot too. I had moments here and there of that, but certainly not a whole 100 miler this year. I probably felt my best right around the Transylvania Stage race, until I got sick :( So, maybe the upcoming stage race will be my redemption on that front.

So, Shenandoah is truly a great race and I highly recommend it to any mountain biker out there interested in doing a long distance race. Chris Scott knows how to put on a good event the whole way through the weekend. The volunteers are amazing at the aid stations, pre and post race...great. The course is amazing, hard, lots of steep climbing, but amazing (when you can keep you head up and enjoy it, and even when it's difficult to keep your head up, you will still at least enjoy the really sweet downhills).

Heading into Shenandoah, the week was not without some drama. I was out riding some local trails post-hurricane Irene. I kind of had the thought in my head of "I have no business riding these trails with all the debris down from the hurricane and having a huge race a few days out." I rode the 25 minutes from my house to the trails feeling pretty good, just having a mostly chill ride and when I got on the trails they were a mess with twigs, sticks, leaves, etc everywhere, so I told myself to just stay chill and not risk catching a branch or anything to break spokes or deraillers, or derailler hangers. Well, I caught a few stick nonetheless but stopped immediately to pull them out before any damage could be done, or so I thought. I was started to hear some skipping in my rear cassette and stopped to try to adjust it, but to no avail. Upon closer inspection, I realized I had managed to bend the derailler hanger, or, I was hoping maybe just the derailler. I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes so I walked out of the wood to the nearby road to try to fiddle the derailler to see if I could manage to straighten it out. I was kind of starting to panic as A. I had ridden over here and would have to figure out how to get back home and most importantly B. I did not have a spare derailler hanger and it was likely to get one, it would have to come from Switzerland where the bike was made, which likely would take longer to get here than I had time for. Stay calm... Stay calm.

I managed to find a gear that worked and pedaled home single speed style. I immediately called Brian (if you don't remember, my best buddy in the world who fixes my bike for me :) ) and told him what happened in a very whiney voice. He didn't respond with any sort of panic, or much of anything for that matter, so I was like "Did you hear me?!" And it dawned on him that I didn't have a spare derailler hanger. He still didn't sound overly alarmed so that made me feel less worried myself. He had needed to work on the bike to replace the bottom bracket for me so a trip to his house was in order regardless. Although, he wasn't going to be home until Thursday night and we were heading out Friday morning to Maryland to get most of the way down to the race.

I took a picture of the rear of the bike and sent it to Brian, who said it didn't look that bad... so phew.. but still. Thankfully, Shannon, my team manager, had a spare frame with derailler hanger (out in Salt Lake City) so I had him overnight the part to a bike shop in Maryland to pick up Friday once I got down there. At any rate, Brian was able to bend the hanger back and everything worked fine. I did have the spare one to fall back on thankfully.

So drama over. Thankfully, it was otherwise a pretty mellow week. I was mostly packed before even having to head to Brian's to get the bike work done. He was heading down to race Shenandoah as well, which was also a comforting fact knowing if something happened to the bike before the race started then I had a good chance of it getting fixed.

I headed out Friday morning picking up Brandon in Millbury en route. This would be his 2nd 100 miler. I have a convert here :) It was nice to have company again for the long drive. We stopped in Scranton, PA again for lunch and made good time down to Doug's in Maryland. Brian was debating following us down but ended up leaving later than we did. Once in Maryland we basically jumped in Doug's car to head up to Gambril Mountain (local riding spot) to get a short ride it. Brian met up with there.

I thought jumping on the bike after being in the car for just about 8 hours was going to be painful but I felt remarkably great. This was how I had hoped I would feel on race day - loose, effortless, etc. The bike felt good and survived the rough terrain which made me decide to just leave things alone and just bring the overnighted derailler hanger with me during the race as backup.

We got back to Doug's, showered up and walked over to a restaurant nearby for dinner. Then back to hang out for a bit and off to bed. I slept ok. We didn't have to get up super early but we did want to be on the road around 9AM. It was about 2.5-3hrs to race site and it was important to get there reasonably early to get a good camping spot. We made it there around noon time and barely managed to get a decent spot. It was closer to the pavillion/registration area which I knew would probably mean it would be a bit louder than other spots we have gotten further off into the woods.

We set up camp and then hopped on the bikes to spin the legs. It was hot and wicked humid out. We were sweating in no time. I was feeling pretty relaxed still but my legs and body felt like crap. I was rather dismayed since I felt so good the day before. I chalked it up to the long drive catching up to me and hoped it would subside by the next morning.

On the way back from the warm-up ride we jumped in the river to cool off and get cleaned up some. It felt great. Then we were off to Harrisonburg to get some last minute supplies - Brandon in particular needed a new disc brake rotor having damaged it in our short ride the day before. Thankfully, he was able to get that done while we ate a late lunch/early dinner.

Once back at the campground, we registered and just got all set for race day. I was still feeling pretty chill, wondering if I was perhaps too chill. We were in bed really early, but sleep was hard to come by. I'm used to this fact though so I didn't let it bother me too much. I felt reasonably ok when we had to wake up at 5am. Time to rock and roll.

It was a quick bite of oatmeal and a banana, oh and of course some espresso. It was still really humid out and for once just being in shorts and short sleeve shirt was comfortable for race morning (although that meant it was likely to be really hot and humid later). Then it's the long wait for the port-a-pots, which seems to eat up all the time until it's time to get start, which in some ways is good.

I was smart this race and made sure I was up in the front group right with my competitors. This made the otherwise usually insanely chaotic start out of the campground quite pleasantly smooth. There weren't too many racers in front of me to be all cramming into a narrow road. The pace wasn't too insane but certainly fast enough for legs I had warmed up yet. I made sure to stay with Cheryl and Viccki, and a couple miles in I realized Brenda was already up front too. We all rode fairly tight to each other through the first 20+ miles and only getting small gaps on each other. I was sitting in 2nd heading up the 2nd climb of the day where Cheryl began to widen her gap that none of us would real in. I magically forgot how hard these climbs are. It was pretty damp so the rocks were slick and I found myself fumbling off the bike earlier than i would have like to have been. I stayed in 2nd place through Aid Station 2 and up the beginning part of the 3rd climb where I was starting to feel not so good and the legs were pretty dead already. I looked back over my shoulder and spotted Brenda and Viccki coming along. Ugh! I knew I didn't have too much in me at that point to ward them off so they eventually caught me and slowly pulled away. I could only hope they would burn each other out, but I knew that was wishful thinking.

I just tried to keep in my race as much as I could, which wasn't all that great. I tried to convince myself to just enjoy the scenery and the phenomenal trails. I at least felt like I was descending pretty well. I was in and out of Aid Station 3 at the bottom of the hill and was quick to jump on some wheels up ahead for the upcoming road section. It was an ok small group to draft off of. Brandon had passed me not to long before Viccki and Brenda but then I caught up to him again on the road section. He was singlespeeding it so he would spin out his gear on the flats and not be able to go too fast. We yo' yo'ed back and forth a bit for the next 25 miles.

The 4th climb is a tough singletrack climb. It's hard on a good day and today I felt like crap riding it. I fumbled and put my foot down and then the rock I had stepped on was slippery so I fumbled some more and just didn't have the energy to get out of my own way. It was starting to make me feel really demoralized about the whole race. I have done enough of these to know, you just have to keep going there's nothing else to do. So I dragged myself on. At least the descents, truly are so amazingly fun. It's a nice break from the misery.

I rolled into Aid Station 4 and refilled my camelback for the 2nd time with Carborocket and got on my way. I was dreading the next section. It's a really long dirt road section with several false flat sections and then it just leads you to the biggest climb of the day. It's definitely a section that can break you. Not too long into this stretch, Viccki was pedaling back to the aid station, dropping out of the race after suffering from back spasms all race. I felt bad, but now I was in 3rd place. Although, it's not a particularly great way to move up in placing. I thought Brenda had looked really strong riding by me before so I figured she had a good gap on me.

I had a hard time keeping my head up in this stretch. My lower back was really tight and my left foot was bothering me pretty good. It was a long stretch of not the kind of thoughts you want to be having while racing. I caught up with Brandon again and another friend from Kelly, from the Transylvania Stage Race. We were riding together just before you turn to start the 'big climb' and right as we were heading into the turn I caught a glimpse of Brenda and her husband riding not too far ahead.

Once starting the climb, the legs and body kind of came around some, some, not great, but some. It was a very slow reeling in of Brenda but I did finally catch her. I told her that Viccki had dropped out. She asked if anyone else was close behind and I told her no, but I wasn't sure. And then I began to slowly gap her. It was right around this point that I got to experience what the plant Stinging Nettle feels like. I suddenly felt this super intense stinging pain just under my left eye and thought, geez, what the heck? Did I get stung? I didn't see anything fly in my face. It was really odd, but incredibly painful. I thought my whole left eye/checkbone was going to swell up. It slowly subsided and went away. I had a minor worrying thought of it being some sort of spasm or pain due to pushing my body too hard and it finally rejecting in some odd way.

Anyway, I make it into Aid Station 5 at 75 miles. I try to be super quick about it knowing Brenda likely isn't too far behind. I drank some desperately needed water and grabbed another full water bottle to go. I was probably under-fueling at this point as far as caloric intake went, but I just didn't feel like eating anymore. It was pretty hot and humid by this point so straight water was the most appealing. I did keep trying to finish off my carborocket as well.

The big climb really goes on and on and on... I know this from experience, yet I kept thinking, this is the last field section and then it's just around that corner that we start to head down...nope, next corner... nope.. Finally, the descent, although, you only descend for a bit on a wicked rough stretch and then have some short steep ups to finish up before heading down the rest of the mountain. It was in the stretch I passed Michael Simonson (I didn't know it was him when I passed at the time) on a backboard strapped onto a all terrain vehicle -- not good. He had crashed hard and sliced his throat on something pretty badly, among other damage to himself. He was ultimately light flighted out to a hospital in Charlottesville. I read an update today that he was released today and should recover ok, but definitely did some serious damage to his body.

Once down the descent, I was in and out of the last aid station. yeah! One more climb to go and then downhill to the finish. I was feeling fairly confident at this point that Brenda wasn't going to catch me again although I knew I had to keep riding hard to make sure that didn't happen. The last climb is also the 3rd climb which was where she had passed me oh so long ago. I think my legs actually felt better this time around, or at least better for being 90+ miles into the race then my legs felt at 30+ miles. I don't know what that's all about - perhaps a motivation thing to be finally done pedaling.

I crossed the finish line in 9:01 in second place, which was a few minutes slower than my time last year which got me 4th last year. Brenda followed up 8 minutes later in 3rd and that let her hold onto 3rd place in the NUE Series as well. I would have had to beat her by one more spot to take 3rd place. I was pretty happy with a 2nd place at Shenandoah. It is certainly one of the more prestigious 100s of the NUE series. I always joke that if I win Shenandoah I can retire, so I guess that means I have to do it again :( I wasn't completely relishing in my 2nd place as I was pretty wooped from the race, more so than usual. It took me a while to come around and even then I only managed to drink one beer barely. What's up with that?

I went back down to the river to cool off but it was not a fun short ride back up the hill into the campground. I then showered in the portable showers they had this year. Although, I was sweating right away again in the high humidity. I ate some food and chatted with fellow racers. It took a little bit to do awards for the race and then a while after that to do the NUE series awards. In previous years they only placed out to 3rd so I didn't think I would be getting a prize or even noted for my 4th place finish but I was, so we had to stay longer for that to finish up.

Doug, Brandon and I left a bit after 8pm finally in a state of delirium. We stopped in Harrisonburg to eat at a Chipotles before heading back to Doug's. I was super fidgety the whole drive back as I was so tired but just couldn't get comfortable. I crashed pretty much immediately when we got back to his place. I don't usually sleep all that well post-race night but I did sleep. I didn't wake up feeling like I slept well at all though. The usual back tightness was there that I seems to think is worse each time. I was surprised that my knees seemed fine, which isn't a bad thing. I was still feeling pretty wiped out and dreading the 7.5hr drive home but knew I should hit the road sooner than later.

It was a pretty uneventful drive home. We hit some rain but thankfully not for too long as it was pretty tough driving tired in it. Brandon and I stopped in Scranton again but this time for a sundae at TCBY Yogurt and a coffee. I dropped him off around 6:30 and met my mom in Westboro to pick up Bruschi from her. I dragged my butt home and half unpacked. I wanted a salad from Elsa's (my favorite local place) but they were closed, so I opted for another burrito to go with my beer. It was tasty and the beer put me to sleep.

It's all rest this week, although, I am quite busy working this week so it doesn't feel like I have had a lot of rest thus far. I plan on racing the Landmine 50 at Wompatuck Park in Hingham, MA this Sunday. I hope it stops raining so it dries out nicely since it's a really fun course, except when it's wet (slippery roots and rocks everywhere). It will feel good to race a flat course.

Till then!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Peak Race Vermont 6 Hour Race (Saturday) and Hampshire 100K (Sunday)

Oh, some time a month ago or so, my buddy Steve thought it might be a fun endeavor to race both the Vermont 6 Hour Mountain Bike Challenge (which goes by a couple different names, aka, 666 race and Vermont 30 - it's an awesome race, just needs to pick an identity and race weekend without other endurance races going on, or not, just a good name that makes sense will do) and the Hampshire 100k/Pro USA Cycling Endurance Tour Race.

I initially said "NO WAY". I was having a hard enough time staying motivated and focused to get through one day of racing. But then, I found myself signed up for the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race the end of September. It's a five-day stage race with 195 miles and 28,000 feet of climbing - ouch! Maybe back to back days of racing with some serious climbing will be some good training. So, I signed up for both, with the caveat of only doing both if the weather was decent. I did not feel like wasting precious brain energy on a mudfest, that and destroying my bike and having to replace all the parts I just replaced since it's been a rather wet, muddy race season. I had intended to race the 6 hour race in Vermont all along, just wasn't too keen on the second day racing 100k.

The adventure began on Friday driving up to Vermont with Steve. We both did this race last year and had a blast, along with a couple fellow comrades, Rob Paton and Chris Gagnon. And this year, I convinced Brian Spring (who does most of my bike mechanical work) that he would absolutely love the 6 hour race to join in the fun. He was already signed up for the 100k, but a glutton for punishment, like the rest of us, signed up for the 6 hour too (and loved it).

Heading into this past weekend, the weather forecast was rather iffy with chance of thunderstorms everyday. The only plus was that it was likely to stay fairly warm with the humidity in the air. I packed so many clothes in case it did rain and I got really wet, I'd have lots of spare clothes. That, and last year, it was absolutely freezing overnight camping out. I pulled out some of the cold weather clothes last minute since the overnight lows were only going to be ~ mid 50s at the lowest. I'd say they stayed much warmer than that.

We left Friday not quite early enough to be able to make it to the awesome country store in Pittsfield, VT before they closed at 8pm where registration was taking place. We could still register Saturday morning, but we needed to meet up with the race director who was going to show us where we could camp out. We made pretty good time getting up there but past 8pm, so we called Jason, the race director, who didn't answer. Steve left a message and we wondered whether we would be joining Brian who opted to get a hotel room since it was pouring when he got to Killington area. We drove the half-mile to Amee Farm where the race takes place to see if Jasn was there and luckily enough he pulled in right behind us. He told us that despite the numerous heavy downpours, they truly were 'scattered' as Pittsfield only got a brief light shower. I was psyched about that. He did say that there was some residual effects from the previous weeks' rain. I also found out that I was the only women signed up in my category. Hmmm, kind of a nice relief, but also a bummer to not have some competition to push me a bit or make me ride more laps. Although, if I didn't feel particularly great, I would be able to stop early and save the legs for Sunday. But, I decided I would have to duke it out with the boys then.

We drove up this dirt road for what seemed like a really long time. It was basically an access road to the upper part of the trail system we would be racing on the next day. It worked - it was quiet, open and flat enough for tents and surprisingly not very buggy. Did I mention, the stars were amazing. We set up our tents and were off to bed by 10pm. Chris showed up shortly thereafter. Steve and I were both surprised he found the spot in the dark.

I did not sleep that well that night. I'm not quite sure why. I didn't let it bother me too much as I had slept pretty well most of the week. I figured being semi-sleep deprived Friday night would make me sleep well Saturday night especially after racing. Beside, I didn't have any competition, I could stop after one lap... although, that would make this double weekend racing a moot point on the training front.

We woke up at 7am and headed down the mountain back to the country store for some breakfast. I got my double shot espresso, but it didn't seem like quite the enormous double shot I got last year, which was fine. We had a rather leisurely breakfast for a race morning. It's nice not having a race start until 9am. Spoils you.

We drove down the road to Amee Farm and got registered and all set to race. Since this is a lap race, we just set up a cooler and bag full of food choices and spare parts etc, at the start/finish area to refuel and/or get parts each lap. That's one of the nice aspects of doing a lap race - having the ability to have lots of 'spare' items. Of course, that same aspect just makes you pack way more stuff than you'll ever use, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I was also comforted by the fact that Brian was here so if anything major went wrong with my bike, I had a good shot at getting it fixed before racing Sunday.

The race starts with a lemans start - ie, making mountain bikers look ridiculous stupid running in tight shorts, shoes not intended to run in, and bike shirts with pockets full of tools, etc that jiggle all around... loads of fun...But it does help spread the pack out before hitting the singletrack which starts immediately pretty much. I actually ran fairly well the whole few hundred yards we had to run. I ended up pretty near the front of the pack. It is a fast downhill start and then across a bridge over the river, then the climb on up begins. I eventually caught up to Steve on the climb and stayed with him through to the top to take the Queen of the Hill title and stayed with him on some of the downhill. I figured he would pull away from on the downhill. He's definitely gutsier than I am flying downhill. He had his helmet camera on for the first 5 minutes or so of the climb up and then the entire downhill on the first lap - check out - (first 5 mins) and (downhill).

The course is really a blast. I reread my post on the race from last year and noted there were at least 100 switchbacks per a lap, well, I decided to count for just a quarter of a lap on the uphill and counted 32 switchbacks. So, perhaps, the number is more like 130 switchbacks per lap :) The switchbacks definitely help break up the climb and make it more tolerable inching your way up the 1,200 feet to the top. And then the descent just makes you forget about all the climbing. Sweet!!!

So, I felt ok on the laps one and two, not spectacular but pretty decent. My Zaboo definitely felt a lot more responsive and more like I was getting out of it the effort I was putting in, unlike the feeling I had at the Wilderness 101. It felt like a race bike again. Brian had worked on my Zaboo replacing some worn drive-train parts and getting my rear wheel trued again which was badly needed and likely the cause of a lot of inefficiency in my riding. The bike 'took off' again, at least when I put in efforts that would warrant such action. I actually started to feel better and smoother on Laps 3 and 4 and even 5 wasn't too bad. I reminded myself that A) I did have another long, hard race the next day, 2) I did not have any competition, but 3) this was all in a training effort for the stage race so keep riding relatively hard. So, I would remind myself to 'spin' the climbs a bit more even though they begged of pushing a hard gear and to stay relaxed in my upper body so my neck, shoulder and arms wouldn't get overly stiff. It all seemed to help.

I also did this race without wearing my camelback as I always do for endurance races. I figured a water bottle a lap filled with Lemon Lime Carborocket and a plain water bottle would work and it did just perfectly.

Of concern on Saturday was getting some serious mud down my shorts and causing some chaffing and well, the mud causing some issues with bike function. I loved Rob Paton's writeup on this matter: "So on the first ascent it took about 10 minutes to entirely negate all the painstaking bike cleaning I had undertaken two nights before. Mud. Everywhere. Under my riding glasses in my eye, In my mouth. In my drive train. In my brakes. Everywhere. Mud. All varieties. Wet, runny mud. Thick, gloppy mud. Everything in between." (Rob wrote a great write up -

I did have a spare pair of bike shorts with me back at the car and debated stopping to go get them, but opted for a outhouse break to try to get some mud out, which worked for the most part. The only other menace was some rabid pricker bushes on the top section of the course. The pictures looks odd on the left, but my arms and legs were a mess. All of us had nasty scratches across our arms, although I seemed to be the only one who got attacked on my legs too.

While I did not have any competition for this race, I had come into it with a goal of five laps. The laps were longer this year at just a hair over 10 miles so I knew getting in 6 was out but that would be silly regardless given I would be riding a 100k on Sunday. I debated for a bit doing just 4 laps and figured I would decide based on the time when I finished the 4th lap. My thought was that if it was under the 5hr mark, I would go back out for lap 5 but if I were over 5hr of riding I would stop as that would mean my lap times were pushing 1'20" or more and thus being well over the 6hr mark, which just seemed absolutely unnecessary. I finished up Lap 4 just catching up to Steve and just shy of 5 hours...ok then, one more lap.

I finished up 5 laps in 6'14" which put me in 5th overall. Steve arrived shortly thereafter having been slowed up by some leg cramps. Rob finished 4 laps a bit before that as did Chris finishing 5 laps. Brian finished up 3 laps. We all grabbed a quick bite to eat for recovery and headed back down to the river to 'ice' our legs for recovery and clean up. What a mess we all were... and the mud was just stuck all over the bikes :( The water felt really good though cold, but good.

We then enjoyed the post-race dinner and chatted for a bit before packing up and hitting the road for the Hampshire 100k in Greenfield, NH, just over 2 hours away, but on the 'way home'. We stopped at Panera's in W. Lebanon/White River Junction to grab a sandwich for dinner and ate on the road so we would get to set up camp before it got dark in Greenfield.

I was feeling the effects of the race a bit. When we got out of the car, I was more stiff than I would have liked. It was also a bit difficult to focus on directions to the race. And then we got distracted by a silly sign in New Hampshire - one of those flashing ones that typically just warn you of 'accident ahead' or what not. But this one was flashing "Don't Drive Drugged" "driving drugged is same as a DUI". We were like, what? Did that really say that? And then almost missed our exit because we were laughing so hard. I was like, I think we're driving drugged on race endorphins.

Anyway, we arrive in Greenfield, NH around 7pm and set up our tents and then get to work on fixing/cleaning our muddied, muddled bikes. Mine really wasn't too bad. Steve and Brian had some work to do. I hit the sack by 9:30/10ish but found sleep hard to come by. I was a bit nervous about how my body would feel for this race. The 6 hour race course is a tough course and takes its toll. I had 'iced' my legs, rolled them (massaged) and ate well so that was about all I could do, except for getting good sleep. I figured I was going to be so wrecked by the end of the race and be hobbling home.

We were up at 5am to be ready for a 6:45 am start. I surprisingly didn't feel as tired as I probably should have been. I got ready and waited out the long race brief and toed the line with the elite men and my one competitor (who has not done any endurance racing). I appreciated that the race start was in waves so we were all bunched up, especially since there was one short piece of singletrack half-way around the track that would bottleneck up even with our small wave. The only bummer about starting in waves was that the first 15-20 miles of this race are pretty fast, flat and open terrain conducive to drafting. My guess was that the elite men would be going off to hard and fast for me and it might be up to my competitor and I to work with each other. I ended up dropping her early on. My guess was she was riding conservatively since this was her first endurance race. So, I was hoping the next wave of Expert Men would catch up to me sooner than they did. But by the time they caught up to me, it wasn't in an area that was great for drafting and they were flying. I was riding hard, but didn't want to ride that hard, especially since I had been warned that the first 20 miles are easy and it's all tough going after that with lots of steep climbs. So, they came by and went. I was fine with that. They assured me I had a good lead already.

I was quite pleased with how good I felt. I didn't quite have a good power climb in me but I had a good pace that I felt comfortable with and spinning up the climbs in an easy gear felt fine. The first 20 were pretty flat, mostly downhill. Brian had warned us that around mile 20 you take a right turn and hit a wall. He was correct. We were riding a super flat snowmobile trail for maybe 3-4 miles which was getting boring and then the right turn came up and it was 'click, click, click...down to the easiest gear. It was a wall - holy crap, Brian wasn't kidding. I was sort of happy that Brian had me worried about the ridiculousness of the climbing in the course as it made me just take it in stride. Also, none of the climbs were as long as what I climb in the 101 or Shenandoah. They were super steep though. I used pretty much every gear I had in this race.

So from there on out, it was a lot of short, steep punchy climbs followed by generally equal descents which allowed for good recovery in the legs. I played it smart and just dropped to the granny gear for the climbs and sometimes, if the climb was short enough, I just power climbed it and recovered on the downhill. I rode sort of similar to Saturday - hard, but not digging too deep. I'll save that for when I really need to dig deep.

I really enjoyed this course. It felt like a good mix of dirt road, rough jeep road, smooth fun singletrack, ragged, jagged rocky singletrack etc. It had a bit of everything and interspersed quite nicely, well more back end loaded then front end, which I appreciated more than most coming off the 6 hour race. Steve and I both thought the course was a good mix of trails/dirt road, although we wondered if had we not rode sweet singletrack all day Saturday would we have felt there wasn't enough singletrack in the 100k... my guess is probably not. It seemed on par if not more singletrack than many of the 100 milers I race.

I was also really pleased with how well organized the race was from registration, to volunteers at road crossings or major turns, to the aid stations, the course markings, etc. It was a really great event. They even added some comic relief. About half-way through the race on some rugged singletrack there was a sign "warning: babyheads ahead" .. I was riding near this one guy and we both read the sign and were like huh? oh boy.. and then you climb up this short little hill and scattered all about are a 20+ baby dolls and barbie dolls, and we both started laughing. And then about a couple hundred yards later, we're both fumbling on real baby heads (basically a large rock garden with no good line through it) and laugh again, oh, real 'baby heads'... The picture on the right is not the baby heads, but just a shot of some of the terrain we got to ride.

So my goal for the 100k was to finish around 6 hours. The winning men's time for last year was right around 5 hours, so I figured 6 was a good goal having raced the day before. Actually, it was more like I was hoping for 6hr and thought I would be capable but realized I might be more fatigued and be slower and I didnt' know how hard the course was. I managed to finish in 6'06" which I was pretty happy with. It would have been nice to be under 6 which would be doable with fresh legs. But I was really stoked with feeling good throughout the race and actually feeling better after Sunday's race then on Saturday. That could be in part because I knew I survived my crazy double weekend. I think staying fueled properly played a big role too. I used Carborocket 333 raspberry mix for the 100k. I went through two 70-oz camelbacks and a bag of Cliff Rocks and couple water bottles.

I showered up post-race which felt great since it had been since Friday morning. This camping out thing is rough. Oh, I forgot to mention, I broke a tent pole :( I managed to tape it well enough to hold for one night. Steve finished not too long after me. He had wanted to go eat before taking down the tents but I convinced him that a storm was brewing and I'd rather take down the tents before it rained. The wind was starting to really kick up and blew out un-staked and un-weighted down tents down the field a bit. It was pretty funny. I grabbed Steve's only to watch mine blow away. We finished packing up and then ate a very delicious post-race meal of chicken, pasta with pesto sauce, sauteed zucchini and salad. Yumm.. Awards were while I was stuffing my face, so I had to chew quickly before getting on the podium. I won some $ (which help pay for my tires on my car) and a beautiful windchime with my medal hanging from the bottom.

We hit the road a short while later in a torrential downpour. I felt bad for Brian as he was still out there on the course, but then thought better of that... he loves the crazy, nasty riding conditions and was probably having even more fun in the rain. I was happy to be in the car and also happy to feel not totally cooked. I even was able to enjoy my very yummy double IPA when I got home. I figured I'd be too tired to care.

So in standard post-race fashion, I didn't sleep all that well Sunday night. I woke up earlier than I had to on Monday and felt ok at first. After eating breakfast and walking my dog, I was like, ugh.. I'm wooped. And I still am rather tired today. I think a good night's sleep is in order.

Next up - EFTA Treasure Valley Rally (~25 miles) so long as Hurricane Irene holds off until late Sunday evening, not racing if it's nasty out. It's a tough course, which I love, but no need to risk getting hurt before Shenandoah - the final 100 of the year Labor Day weekend.

Monday, August 1, 2011

2011 Wilderness 101

Third 100 of the year done. I came in 3rd place which was great considering I wasn't feeling really 'on' and I got a major mechanical at about mile 85.

I first off have to thank a great mechanic, Brian Spring, for some necessary bike fixing late Wednesday night before heading off to race. I was being nonchalant about how race ready my bike was and thankfully, a couple issues forced me to seek his help before heading to the race as the bike most likely would not have made it through the race had he not fixed it. My bike still needs some TLC since I have been riding it a lot this year in wet conditions and haven't done too many miles on my road bike to mix up the wear and tear, so many parts are pretty worn out.

The adventure started out Friday morning. I picked up Brandon in Millbury just after 8am. I was looking forward to actually having some company for the 7 hour drive down to Coburn, PA (just outside State College area). It was Brandon's first 100 miler (hopefully of many) so there would be lots to talk about. Although, I was thinking by the end of the weekend I would be completely 'bike' talked out. But here I am, writing about a biking...

The drive was pretty uneventful. We stopped in Scranton for some lunch at Panera's followed up with some frozen yogurt from a random TCBY yogurt. We headed off with bellies full to finish the drive. By the time, we were on to Rt. 80, there seemed to be just enough traffic on the two-lane highway to start making me rather cranky. I decided it might be wise to get off the highway and take some back country roads to relax and enjoy the scenery a bit more. Despite the back country route being somewhat of a main route, we did pass an Amish horse and buggy along the way. They seem to typically stay to lesser traveled roads.

We made good time for a ~3:15PM arrival at a friend's house maybe a 1/10 of a mile from the race start/finish. It is the perfect location for the race. It was myself, Brandon, Doug and Lee and Brenda Simril (a couple we had met here a couple years back and run into often on the 100 miler circuit) staying the weekend.

Brandon and I went for a short ride up the opening climb of the race to shake out the legs from the long drive. It was in the low 90s and very humid out. I sweating in no time. I did a couple hard efforts which hurt, but felt good to get the body revving. I felt pretty decent and was hopeful that was a good indication for race day.

After the short spin, I got my drop bag items ready - lots of Carborocket (my sports drink mix of choice), spare tubes, CO2 cartridges and cliff bars or the like, that I never seem to eat but want on hand just in case I decide I want to eat something other than what's at the Aid Station. You generally get two gallon sized ziplock bags to have brought to two of the Aid Stations on the course for the 100 milers.

I then headed over to park where race starts and finishes to register and tried to hurry back to shower up and go grab an early dinner with Brenda and Lee. After doing several 100 miler races, the Transylvania Stage Race, and just riding with lots of different groups here at home, I know lots of folks at these races so it's hard to 'hurry'. I'd make it maybe 20 feet and run into another friend to catch up with quickly. It is a nice aspect of these races - getting to know your 'community' so to speak.

We ended up eating at a local spot, the Ale Creek Cafe which was quite delicious. They provided the post-race kegs of delicious beer (see picture of me post race).. I had a turkey club wrap and shared a delicious salad with Doug that I could have easily eaten on my own. Brandon's pesto pasta dish looked quite tasty. After dinner, I went back the race site to catch up with some more friends - including my travel mates from the Lumberjack race. It was good to catch up. Although, I was starting to feel all chatted out and the heat and humidity was making me feel pretty sleepy. So I headed back the short walk to get to bed at a decent time.

I typically start getting nervous or anxious about the race the day before, but maybe I am becoming more of a veteran this year as I seem to be less so this year. I hope that is not speaking to my motivational levels. I prefer not being anxious as it certainly helps me to try to actually get some sleep the night before the race. Most of these nights are spent convincing yourself to stop thinking about the race and how it might 'go down.'

I was thinking, though, that I was maybe a tad bit cocky about feeling good for the race. I have done enough racing to know that you never really know until you're out there racing how you are going to feel. I did slept ok for a night before a big race and woke up feeling fairly rested. I ate a couple pieces of toast for breakfast and drank some espresso.

None of us had heard a peep from Brandon's that morning, so I eventually went to see if he was up. He only peeked his head through the door to say he didn't know if he was going to race since he came down with something flu like overnight. I was really bummed out for him. I remembered I had brought some Alkaseltzer with me as sometimes I don't feel so hot the day after a race and wish I had something to take. So I offered those to him which he took. He said he didn't want to come down to breakfast and risk passing anything on to the rest of us. But, I was thinking uh oh, I just spent the whole day with him yesterday...hmmm...might I be feeling terrible later on today myself. Amazingly, Brandon mustered up the energy and courage to start the race with little sleep and a just a banana for breakfast.

I was still pretty calm for race day, although every now and then the thought of 'you know this is going to be hard, why do you keep doing these..." passed through my head, but I pushed it aside. I was here. I was going to race. There was no room for those thoughts. And before too long we were racing.

I know I always say this, but I don't like these mass starts of a blob of mountain bikers all trying to vie for the front position. It can be totally unnerving. This is probably the one reason I should do some road races to get more comfortable racing in a tight pack and either holding my spot well or getting better at moving up in the group. Needless to say, I didn't start that well and had to work hard on the first climb to get myself into a good position. Vicki, the eventual winner, and Cheryl, the usual winner, were way off the front by then. I had passed a few women but I had no idea who else might be up ahead.

The first 30-40 miles are pretty fast. Getting into a good group to draft is crucial but that was not panning out that well this year. Last year, I got into a really big group that held a fast, steady pace. It was great. This year I felt like I was having to waste a lot of energy working with other riders who would surge and fade and surge and fade. So I would work hard to keep their wheel. Then they would drop off and I'm on my own working hard again. It was a tad frustrating. I'm wasn't feeling particularly great at that point either so it was hard to not worry I was putting out too much work then so early in the race.

Brandon caught up to me between Aid Station 1 and 2, maybe around mile 35 and we rode together into the Aid Station 2. He was a good draft, riding super strong, especially after feeling sick all night. He was looking forward to the Aid Station to finally get some food in him. I was happy he was feeling much better and looking like he would be able to finish the race. I stopped briefly at the Aid Staion to refill my camelback with my 333 Carborocket mix and fill up on water. It was definitely a day to stay on top of water intake.

I was still feeling mediocre at this point but I know by now, that all you can do is keep pushing on. I am thankful that my body knows this and just keeps going, even if it doesn't feel great. Heading out of Aid Station 2 was a long, gradual climb and part way up Cheryl comes bombing down the other way. I was with a couple other riders at this point and we asked if she was ok, but she just flew by. So we weren't sure what had happened - apparently she got sick and pulled out. She's the kind of rider though that makes you worried that she just went back for who knows what, something she might have left at the aid station, and will turn around and catch you again. But she did pull out of the race.

A bit further up the climb, Brenda and Lee passed me. I was worried about her 'being trouble' this race since she seemed to start really strong and that's not her usual pattern. She's a steady racer and generally gets stronger as the race goes along. I wasn't feeling like I had much gas so I knew this would be a struggle to keep up with her. I did find some oomph to get climbing and passed back by. We then hit the first of some nasty technical descents that I rode down well. Although my hands and feet and back and well, most of my body was pretty mad at me by bottom of it. Unfortunately, the downhill did take a toll as I started back up a steep climb shortly thereafter, my inner thighs cramped up on me. I had to soft pedal and down some electrolyte tabs. Brenda caught back up and passed me again.

There was a new singletrack section that was nicer than a long slog climb the race route used to use. But I was feeling like I was going no where on it. I was getting a bit frustrated at this point with how I felt. I felt like I was putting out a good effort but just going no where. I kept thinking that I didn't remember it all hurting this much last year or at the stage race, that it felt like this much work. I just kept plugging along.

I eventually made it to Aid Station 4 about 70 miles in. I refilled my camelback again with my 333 carborocket mix. I ultimately went through three 70 oz camelbacks of 333 carborocket mix and 5-6 bottles of water. That's definitely a few more water bottles than normal for me. It was hot out there. Thankfully, my body handles the heat pretty well. Out of Aid Station 4 is a long long climb that's kind of consistently bumpy. It can take a lot out of you at that point. It seemed like an eternity even though I knew from having done this race several times that it just keeps going on and on. I just wanted it to end. It did...eventually.

There were some more changes to the course between Aid Station 4 and 5. We ultimately ended up on this ridiculous jeep road descent that was just strewn with jagged rocks everywhere. There was no good line. It wasn't steep at all but just enough of a descent to have a lot of speed but with all the jagged rocks, it was super painful to the feet and arms and back. I just wanted to sit but there was no way that was happening. Well, I would sit, but for maybe 2 seconds. I had caught back up to Brenda. She was just in sight and I figured I would see how I felt heading into the last of the climbs out of Aid Station 5. But then, pssshhtt... *%%#@@! I flatted like instantly. That was not good.

I stopped immediately so as not to ruin my rim if I hadn't already. I pulled off the trail and saw right away that I had sliced the sidewall of my rear tire. I was done I thought. I tried to guess how long of a walk out it might be and then convinced myself that I should try to fix it as it's probably a long walk. Miracle of miracles - Wednesday before having Brian work on my bike, I had to get some parts from the bike shop last minute and when I was there I asked if they had any tire patches or whatever they use to patch up a tire. I was handed a sheet of 3M tape and happened to take them with me. Premonition? This race doesn't have a ton of sinlgetrack, but the singletrack it has is super rough, rugged rocks. I had passed many many racers on the side of the trail already so I was trying not to let myself get too frustrated or stuck in a 'why me' mode. It happens and as far as racing goes, I have been pretty fortunate to not have a lot of mechanical issues in races.

So, I pulled off the rear wheel, removed the valve stem, tried to dry out the inside of the tire from all the tire sealant, stuck the 3M tape on as best it would stay (it was still kind of wet on the tire), stuck a couple more on the outside and threw the tube in. But then, I couldn't get my CO2 head to grab the valve stem of the tube enough to blow it up properly. Thankfully, a friend stopped and helped me out and we got it blown up. I then rode as daintily as possible down the rest of the hill as the tube was bulging where it was torn a bit. I managed to make it out to the dirt road and into Aid Station 5, without getting passed by another woman, but Brenda was long gone by then.

I asked for a tube at the Aid Station so I would have a spare, but then thought better of that and asked the mechanic there if he thought I would make it the rest of the way on my torn tire... emphatic NO! He had a spare tire there and replaced mine for me quite quickly. I thanked him profusely and hit the road. It would have been a long 11 miles from there if I hadn't gotten a tire change. So I just tried to finish up strong from there and maintained my 3rd place. I wasn't entirely happy with how I felt out there, but given that, I was very happy to still manage 3rd place given the lackluster legs and the torn tire.

I finished up with little fanfare and went to sit in the creek to cool off. It felt great. Funny, Cammy, who's house we were staying at, came down to chat with me and asked me if I "saw the snake". I thought she meant there was a snake right there in the creek the way she was gesting and I started to panic, but she said that Brenda and Lee had seen a bit rattler out on the course. I missed that, surprisingly as it sounded like where they saw it was near where they had passed me on a climb. At least it wasn't right beside me ready to attack :)

I cleaned up and went back to get some post-race food and beer and chat my brains out. Oh, and do the podium thing. It was all good fun. I was definitely feeling my lower back and my triceps. Ouch. Note to self for Shenandoah 100 miler and the Pisgah stage race in September that doing some serious core exercises on a regular basis is in order.

We all went out to eat at Mt Nittany Inn which sits up on the mountain side with a great view out over the valley. The food was delicious. It was actually a fairly quiet drive back and in to bed. I slept ok for post-race too. A wonderful breakfast by Cammy in the morning and then Brandon, Doug and I did a short ride along the river to spin out the legs before driving home. Brenda and Lee had gotten up earlier and had already ridden.

I found the more 'obsessive' racer in me came out when I got home and saw my 'data' for the race. I would have guessed my average heartrate was low for the race given how I felt, but it was actually rather high. So, it got me to thinking about how was 'inefficient' then if I put out a hard effort but didn't feel like I got the result or felt like I truly had that kind of effort in me. I'm sure some it was due to it being so hot. In retrospect, I realized that taking off the time I lost dealing with my tire issue, my finish time would have been right around or a little bit faster than last year and last year I felt great at this race and nailed it. So, that was a promising note. The course this year, however, was riding about 10 minutes faster than last year due to a climb being taken out. I guess it's nice to see that I still have fast race times even when it doesn't feel that way.

I think the interesting thing of having a mediocre race is that it makes me reflect more on what could I truly have changed to have a better race or feel better - like rest going in? or eating more properly? is my bike as efficient as it can be? Getting the flat out there was absolutely just bad luck. I rode the same tire over pretty much the same trails for Transylvania race. So, it will leave me pondering and hopefully making those small changes that will make a difference in the next race. If it were truly a day of feeling totally off, I would chock it up to just that, and to some degree, I chock it up to just having a not so 'on' day, which happens. But, I wasn't totally off either. And as I've said before in my 'books', that is just the way racing goes.

Next up is my killer weekend - 6 hour race on 8/20 followed the next day by the Hampshire 100K... ouch! But this week, I will rest :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lumberjack 100 Miler 2011

Oh, where to begin my book...

The couple of weeks between the Transylvania Stage race and the Lumberjack 100 were incredibly busy, mostly in good ways. It was part of my motivation to bag the last day of the stage race after getting sick there, to get home on Saturday to have a all day Sunday to rest, recover, get caught up, etc., which I am very thankful I did. It was a full week of work and family stuff -- niece's high school graduation, dad's retirement party, which meant lots of family around to hang out with...etc., etc. It also meant I got little riding in and not as much sleep as I would have liked which was a tad frustrating but it was what it was.

Needless to say, I figured I should be "fresh" for the Lumberjack. The women's field was incredibly stacked, much like the stage race. I was trying to get in the mindset of "I have done enough of these 100 milers that I should really truly try to push and see what I have, and if I bonk, I bonk." Of course, I knew that would be semi-contingent on how the legs and body felt on race day. I was after all, feeling a bit spent from all the activity heading into this race. So, mostly, I wanted to have fun. I do not make my living off racing so there should be some pleasure in riding a 100 miles (haha!).

I had some new travel mates this time around. Down at the Cohutta 100 back in April, I had run into a friend/fellow racer I had met ~5 years ago at the Jay Challenge in Vermont - a 65 (er, I mean ultimately a 72 mile) torture fest that had 'broken' me and had me crying at the end of it vowing to never ride my bike longer than 2 hours ever again (that lasted huh?; what is wrong with me?). I didn't have anyone to travel to the Lumberjack with so Chris invited me along with his friend Matt. They lived in Poughkeepsie, NY so it would only be about 3 hours to get there. I told him I'd give it some thought as I had been debating bagging the race altogether for another one later on in the season, but I decided to go with them.

I headed out Thursday morning to Poughkeepsie and arrived at Chris' just around noon. Chris had given me directions to get there either via Rt. 90 or Rt. 84 to Taconic Parkway. I took the Mass Pike (90) since I've been driving 84 all the time. The directions seemed so straightforward that I didn't bother to look at a map before heading out. I got on the Taconic Parkway and thought it was 8 miles south from Rt. 90 to the exit I had to get off at, but I was chatting on the phone and had probably gone well over 8 miles by then, and started to realize, hmm., maybe I should have looked at this on the map. So I called Chris and well, it was 8 miles off the Taconic Parkway, but many miles heading south on the parkway first.. Got it. It was really simple.

I arrived around noon and Chris' buddy Matt showed up about a 1/2 hour later. We packed up Chris' mini-van and hit the road to Youngstown, Ohio, about 6 hours away. Oh joy.. the beginning of many many hours in the car. It was a pretty uneventful trip. We chatted a ton about biking of course -- training, nutrition, strategy, etc. Chris asked me what my goal was for this race. I was like, huh, I guess to do better than last year. I try not to set myself up for a bad head day on the chance that if I'm not feeling great, I don't want to have the added expectation of killing it, even if that is ultimately what I want to do. The Jay Challenge had taught me to be cautious of too lofty of expectations. I hadn't even looked at my time from last year on this course. I had guessed it was around 8:20 or 8:30 (it was closer to 8:30). Anyway, Chris and Matt were great traveling mates. We all got along well and were accommodating to each other, although I think they were perhaps a bit more accommodating to me, giving me, the "well you're the pro", which kind of cracks me up.

We ate dinner at an Applebees somewhere over the border into Ohio (or maybe still in Pennsylvania). Getting a beer was very tempting, but I behaved knowing I was probably still trying to 'catch up' from the crazy busy weeks I just had. Then we stayed at a cheap hotel in Youngstown. Matt is an early bird which wasn't a bad thing as it was probably a good thing to hit the road at a decent time since we still had many many miles to get to Manistee, MI. Chris had mapquested the various routes to take to the race with going through Canada being the shortest and fastest. He's from Netherlands originally and has a green card and thus didn't want us to get hung up at the border (and who knows how long it could take at the border regardless). By Chris' calculations we would have 7 hours to drive on Friday, but the GPS calculated it out saying 9hrs. Yikes! That would get us there about 5pm and we still wanted to get a ride in, get dinner, get everything set for race day...but thankfully, it did really only take 7. And, thankfully Chris and Matt were pretty chatty and fun to hang out with so the time didn't totally drag. Chris is also quite the cook. He quite generously shared his delicious banana bread with us.

We arrived at the race venue just after 3pm and picked up our race packets. I caught up briefly with some friends. Then we went to the cabin I had rented for us to settle in and get ready for a ride to loosen up the legs. The cabin is basically on the back side of the course so we rode from the cabin to the race start/finish area and back. I felt pretty good considering I had just spent 17 hrs in the car over the past two days. The legs were a bit heavy and dead at first but I did a couple of hard efforts on a climb that helped kind of open them up and that made me feel a bit more awake.

We cleaned up and headed into the small town of Manistee for dinner. It was reasonably early still so I suggested we head down to the waterfront on Lake Superior since neither Chris or Matt had gone in the previous times they had done this race. It was a beautiful evening out, warm, sunny, cool breeze. The water looked inviting (but chilly). I had been wondering about the "good morning buttercup" Matt said to Chris that morning, but then I caught a picture of them holding hands. I told them I would blackmail them to their wives :) (completely joking around here/silly).

We ate at the restaurant I have eaten at the past couple of years for dinner the night before this race. I knew it was pretty good food and shouldn't pose any problems for racing the next day. I refrained from a beer or glass of wine again. We hit a grocery store for final supplies, post race snacks and beer etc. Then, it was back to the cabin and preparing for race day.

Man, the mosquitoes are ridiculous there. There was a nice little deck with chairs to sit outside and enjoy the evening with the very late sunset (close to 10pm since it's at the end of the eastern time zone), but we'd have no blood left to pump through our body for race day if we did that. So, it was to bed before it was dark out. I felt like I was like 5 years old again.

I didn't sleep all that great that night but I was, for once, actually not overly anxious or nervous about the race. It's usually race nerves that keep me up. Anyway, 5am comes early regardless and the thoughts of "why the heck do I do this" coming flooding through my brain. I ate some oatmeal and downed my coffee and then we were off to the race, about a 10 minute drive.

We set up our cooler and other bike parts/supplies for the race at the start/finish area. This is the one 100 miler that I do that is 3 laps. The mosquitoes were pretty bad that morning and thankfully I was able to bum some bug spray off a friend. I forgot mine in my car back in Poughkeepsie. I was still surprisingly calm for pre-race time, especially given the many talented riders in my field. I knew I should be pretty fresh, but I was worried that I hadn't done a ride longer than 4hrs in quite some time. Normally, by this point in the season I have done several 5 or 6 hour training rides. I also wasn't quite what kind of impact the busy few weeks would have on me once I got several hours into the race. I reminded myself again that I don't do this for a living so just try to have fun out there and if you feel good, go with it.

I actually did warmed-up with a couple hard short efforts to get the legs opened up. The race starts down the paved road a couple of miles to help spread out the pack before dumping onto singletrack for the majority of the race. So, you have to be ready to go super hard to make sure you have good position getting into the singletrack or else you can lose a lot of time on the first lap. I'm sure I have said this in my blogs in the past, but I hate the starts like this - a few 100 mountain bikers all jockeying for the front spots. It is quite stressful. I tried to stay pretty close up front as I could but wasn't doing an overly good job of it. Once we hit the singletrack, I realized I was kind of farther back than I had hoped to be. That, and I hadn't tracked who of my competitors were ahead of me.

I made some stupid passing decisions that I sort of crashed myself but thankfully didn't take down anyone else. I apologized quickly, but was annoyed with myself for the wasted effort. I wasn't overly happy with the pace of the group I was in and you can lose a lot of time right there in the beginning as there really aren't great places to pass on this course. And early on in the race, no one wants to let you pass since they all want to pass whoever is in front of them.

I finally kind of settled in and found a 'spot' of my own. I find in these race that I always seem to end up around the same group of racers for a majority of the race. You pass them, they pass you and so on.

I felt pretty good for most of the first lap. I can't say I felt like a superstar or anything, but my effort and heart rate and feel all seemed ok. But by the end of the lap, I had started to feel the effort already and was a bit disheartened by that. I also didn't know what position I was in. I knew there were at least 3 women ahead of me, most likely more. When I came through the start/finish area from the first lap, someone said I was in 3rd which I knew was wrong unless Amanda or Cheryl had dnfd. Highly unlikely.

I refilled my camelback with my Carborocket powder mix that I had pre-measured out in ziplock baggies. (I finally got to meet Brad Keyes, owner of Carborocket, my awesome sponsor - very nice guy. He had a great race on his single speed.) I made a bit of a mess on my camelback since I was in a hurry. I grabbed an Odwalla bar, ate half and stuck the other half in my pocket and hit the trail again. The 2nd lap is tough since you have gone pretty hard the first lap, especially since the trails are super fast, flowing awesome single track. There are no major big climbs which means you are pedaling all the time pretty hard. On a course with big climbs (ie, Shenandoah or Wilderness 101), you just find a smooth climbing pace you can hold for, oh, an hour or so, and then you get to descend for a long time and hence get a long recovery, or use you legs in a different way. The Lumberjack course is just go go go. So, now you still have 2 more laps and your legs are starting to feel the hard effort.

I got in my head a bit too much this lap. I was not enjoying it and how hard it felt. I have been starting to think I don't want to do these 100s anymore. Of course, they are always hard. I don't know why I assume they will ever feel easy. Anyway, I convinced myself that I would only do the two more on my schedule this year and next year, none. I would just take a nice break and go have fun riding some awesome trails out west and enjoy a good beer or two in the evening. Get up and repeat. And then, I would remind myself to make that decision at the end of the season. Nonetheless, I convinced myself to keep going. I just tried to keep riding steady and try not to worry too much about getting caught from behind. I was assuming I was in 4th at this point which was confirmed (if I wanted to truly believe the person telling me at the start/finish area).

I finish Lap 2 and stop to refill my camelback one more time. I figured I wouldn't want any food so I gulped some water and hit the trail for the final lap. It was nice to know it was just one more time, even though it was a long one more time in comparison to doing short 2 hour races where a lap is done in an half-hour or less. I actually felt pretty good starting out on the lap. Fairly early on in the lap I saw Vikki up ahead and eventually caught up her. This of course was motivation. I chatted with her briefly asking how her ribs were feeling after hurting them at the stage race (she came in 3rd still there with broken or badly bruised ribs!). I passed her on the next climb. She had told me Cheryl (2nd place) was about 5 minutes up. I thought, ugh, 5 minutes is pretty significant and Cheryl is such a strong rider.

I just kept riding strong and was happy to feel like my legs felt better this lap then the last lap. I had tried to calculate out whether I thought I would be able to do a sub-8hr 100 here, but I was guessing given my lap times and having taken about 8 minutes longer on the 2nd lap, and my last like would likely be at least the same or longer that a sub-8hr was not probable.

I was passing some guys on the final lap and one of them told me Cheryl was about 2 minutes up. I was inspired in that if that were true, I had been gaining time on her. And not too much longer after that I saw her up ahead. I finally caught up to her and just stealthily stayed behind her and a guy she was right behind. I hadn't quite decided how to play it out. We were about to hit the aid station which was half-way through the lap. I was starting to figure I would just see how we both felt on the next climb to see what she had in her legs still and to see what I had left. To my surprise, she stopped at the aid station for water and I didn't need to stop since I had plenty left in my camelback so I rode right on through wondering if she realized I was right behind her and/or saw me pass her.

I was hoping she didn't see me and then she would be less likely to dig deep to catch me again. I figured it was highly unlikely she didn't see me or that someone wouldn't have told her I passed. I kept trying to look back to see if she was coming up while reminding myself that she is a very strong rider and if she catches me, well she catches me. But I didn't see her and I just kept riding hard. (She told me after the race that she figured it was coming up on her that far into the race and at that point she had bonked.)

Eventually, I was in home stretch where I knew Cheryl wasn't going to catch back up to me. I started to calculate out my time and realized that hey, I have 6 minutes to get in for a sub-8 hour race. I have 5.. I have 4... and finally I knew I would make it in on time and finished in 7'57". Woo hoo!!! My first 100 under 8 hours and a 2nd place in a really strong women's field. I was stoked. My lap times were 2'36; 2'43" and 2'37" --very nice to see a big drop on the last lap :)

I couldn't wait to get my shoes off and get off my saddle. My shorts are getting a bit old and the seam for the chamois was digging in to my butt quite nicely, or not nicely, for the last few hours. It was rather uncomfortable to sit after that. I got cleaned up, which was a chore. My camelback mouthpiece has starting leaking a bit so I had carborocket sticky water on my legs that had attracted quite a lot of dirt/dust. It got warmer out than had been predicted too so it was a challenge to change when I was still sweaty.

I ate post-race food and chatted with some friends/racers waiting for Chris and Matt to finish up. They both had strong races, although not quite as good as they had hoped but they didn't get too hung up on that. We headed back to the cabin to clean up and then headed in to town for some food and a beer and ice cream!

We got back to the cabin and packed up the mini-van that evening as we were heading out at 5am since Chris and Matt both wanted to be back home to work on Monday. I was like ugh.. I usually do this drive over two days but oh well. I had figured I would just crash in Poughkeepsie Sunday night and finish driving home Monday morning. It wasn't too bad heading out at 5am, granted they both did all the driving. I had offered to drive but they were quite kind. So, I spent some time in the back trying to nap, and then riding up front to avoid getting carsick and so on for oh, 14 hrs. We made back to Poughkeepsie a little after 7pm. I wasn't completely cooked so decided to drive the 3 hrs home so I could sleep in my own bed and hopefully sleep in really really late.

I was pretty wooped driving home. My left eye kept twitching on me. I did make it home safe and sound, well except for one close call with a deer. It took me a while to fall asleep, probably too much caffeine. I did sleep in some, but not as much as I had hoped so I need to catch up. This week is looking kind of busy too though.

It's a nice long break till the next 100 - end of July. I will probably do some local short races before then - hoping to race Putney, VT Root66raceseries this Sunday.

Thanks for reading this far :)