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 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMvsQJ9G80A (first 5 mins) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUnKEigLGK8 (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 - http://pedalpushingpatons.blogspot.com/2011/08/race-review-vermont-30-mtb-endurance.html).

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.

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