Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Late Summer Racing

It used to be easier to write up these race reports but whatever reason this year has just been a bit off.
I have three races to catch up on and anyone who reads my blogs knows I can write a book on each race so I'll try to keep it to just a book one these past three races.

So a few weekends back I raced the Hampshire 100 in Greenfield, NH.  I was totally psyched to have a 100 miler so close to home finally.  After doing this race last year as a 100k race, I knew it was a good candidate to try to get into the NUE series and the efforts to get the race into the series proved, obviously, fruitful.  It was also exciting to do a 'new' 100 miler course.  I have been a bit bored with the same old 100s that I have done for the past five years so here was a new course that had a lot of great singletrack and variety of terrain.

I was perhaps a bit overly chill about preparing and packing for the race.  I was still in fact camping out overnight and needed to have stuff all together.  But I was thinking, gee, it's only an hour and half away why do I need to get there so early so I kept delaying getting ready.  Finally, I was like oh, wow, I really need to get going and I have to get my breakfast en route and ice and dinner... Any of the other 100 miler races I would have already been there. 

I finally get all my stuff together and hit the road for my short jaunt to Greenfield.  It's kind of funny that many of the other racers think this is my home turf, but really, it's not. The only time I rode in Greenfield was last year doing the 100k race and I drove with my friend Steve so I really didn't know where I was going.  I managed to have to turn around three times getting there.  Pretty sad.  I did however procure my breakfast items, dinner and ice.  Phew..

I arrived at the race site around 5:30 and proceeded to totally over think where the best spot was to set up my tent.  I chose a spot close to where the course would lap through the race venue so I could grab my supplies coming through.  It worked out fine.  I had already ridden earlier in the day to stretch the legs so there was no need to go for another ride. 

I found my buddy, Brian, who does all my mechanic work for a few last minute tweaks to the bike.  Then registered and got my drop bags together, caught up with some friends, ate dinner late and hit the sack.  I was hoping the for the wonderfully restful sleep I had before the Wilderness 101 but to no avail.  I stayed up with lots pre-race nerves.  I knew this course was going to be a long 100, like 10 hours, when I'm more used to 8.5-9 hour times.

5AM comes quickly and I'm up trying to get a quick breakfast down and most importantly some espresso.  I check and recheck my the air pressure in my tires and my shock.  It was overkill but it was chilly that morning and the air pressures seemed off.  I have, for whatever reasons, checked my rear tire before a race thinking it was fine and then get into the race only to find it too soft so I was being overly diligent.  I was unfortunately over diligent in my shock pressure which my arms would pay for later on.

I warmed up a little but the beginning of the race is many miles of flat to slightly downhill so I figured that would serve a warmup.  It was however quite chilly that morning after having been so warm for so long.  I started at 6:30 with arm warmers that stayed on for a while.  It was pretty chilly those  first few miles.  The Hampshire 100 is the only 100 miler that has us start in waves which was fine by me.  I hate the mass starts and all the stress of starting with 100s of riders jockeying for position.  It was still quite a large group but it was good in that there was not quite as much chaos and allowed for a lot of drafting those early miles.

I felt pretty good at the start. Cheryl was off the front but I found myself in a group with Vicki Barclay and Kathleen Harding.  I didn't really know who Kathleen was but I was like, huh, she's pretty strong.  We three rode together for a while sharing pulls on the long flat rail trail section.  It wasn't until the 'wall' which I managed to ride while Vicki and Kathleen slid out on the soft sandy climb.  I put a little bit of a gap on them but Vicki caught back up and passed me when I stopped at an aid station to refill my water bottles.  I was wondering if the water bottles was a good idea at this point.  I always use a camelback and generally it's stopping twice to refill it.  The water bottles meant I had to stop a bit more often.

After that I didn't see the other women in the race and just tried to stay focused on my race.  It is a tough course with it definitely back end loaded.  It had rained hard a couple days before the race which left the many miles of singletrack pretty soft and slow going.  It would have been easy to over power through these sections and blow up but I reminded myself of how many miles I had to go and kept it in check.  The Hampshire 100 is truly a mountain bikers course that keeps you on your toes even if it's the jeep roads there's always something to watch out for. 

I was feeling decent through most of the race and didn't have my mid-race fade like I seemed to have the past 100s.  I did find the last ~9 miles of the lap felt dreadful the first time through as the 100k lap seemed to be taking a lot longer than anticipated and it was a long hard slog those last 9 miles which we would be finishing up on our second lap through.  ugh!  I was a bit disheartened to finish the first 100k lap a bit slower than I had finished last year and last year I had done a 6 hour with a ton of climbing the day before.  I thought gee, am I really in that lesser of shape than last year?  It was nice to finally make it through the start finish area.  I grabbed my water bottles and lubed my chain since we passed through a few very deep puddles, one you could say was more like a pond with thigh high water!

I knew the beginning of the 2nd lap would be fast as it was the same flat/downhill we started on. I just unfortunately had no one to draft this time around.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect this second lap, where it cut off from the main loop etc.  It did thankfully ride fairly fast and helped make up some time so as to more definitively believe I would finish in under 10 hours...until around mile 85 or so that we had a huge steep climb.  I was half way up and hadn't seen a marker for awhile starting to worry I took a wrong turn.  I weakly convinced myself I was on course soon and that I hadn't passed any other trails, that I had noticed...Thankfully I saw another marker and could stop panicking that I was climbing this hill for nothing.

The course linked back up to the final 9 miles which I knew were super tough miles but then it was done so I rode strong knowing that and finished in 3rd in 9:21.  I was pleased with my ride and how I felt through most of the race.  I felt like my legs finally came around to racing this year.  It was also nice knowing that I would be home in my own bed that evening.  I hung out for a while catching up with fellow racers and still made it home by ~9.

It was a quick week until the next race, another local one in Rutland, MA only ~40 minutes away, Treasure Valley Rally.  It's totally a race course for me, lots of technical tough trails.  I was a tad worried about recover from the Hampshire 100 as it was truly a full body workout.  My arms, back, legs everything was pretty tired from the race.  I did a mellow road ride Tuesday after the 100 and could barely pedal.  Wednesday felt almost as bad initially but by the end my ride my legs started to come around.  By Sunday I was in pretty good shape and it was another beautiful summer day.

My field was unfortunately small for such a sweet race but it was what it was.  Kind of funny but I was racing against another Karin.  We started with the elite men so I tried to hang with them as long as I could, which wasn't all that long.  I also managed to miss a turn early on which is really pathetic as it happened in probably 5 seconds of putting my head down to keep some of the dust out of my eyes.  I got back on course quickly to pass by a confused Karin who didn't know how I ended up behind her. 

From there I rode a pretty strong consistent race.  I do love the technical trails there but it's funny how in race mode you seem to mess up stupid stuff and make a lot of the really hard stuff.  I'd say I rode pretty well overall and my bike handled it fairly well considering it's a total hardtail race bike on a course absolutely meant for a dualie.  We had to race 2 and 3/4 laps.  My lap times seemed slow to me and I found myself again pondering how much slower I am than last year but my finish time was 3 hrs which was actually 15 minutes faster than my time last year. I attribute much of that time drop to the fact that the course was super dry compared to last year.

Now the question was how well would I recover out of this race going into Shenandoah, my final 100 for the season and for a year or more.  I went back and forth all week as to whether to bother going down at all.  Since I didn't race lumberjack 100 I would not have 4 races in the NUE series to have any overall standing so what did it really matter if I raced Shenandoah or not. I have already done it 5 times, well 4, as I had to dnf one of those times.  The remnants of the hurricane were also predicted to hit Virginia by race day so that sounded like a great excuse not to go.  But the forecast changed and didn't seem so bad so I went.

I drove down Friday to Harrisonburg and stayed at a hotel.  When I woke up Saturday it was to light rain and gloom.  I checked the forecast which had changed to a much worse forecast and seriously debated for the next few hours about just heading back home where the weather was going to be sweet all weekend and how much fun I could have doing some epic rides back home.  But I had driven all this way and spent the $$ to get down there so I reluctantly stayed.  The thought of driving home still didn't really leave my head till dinner.

I checked out a couple local farmers markets killing time Saturday morning and finally headed over to Stokesville Campground to set up for the race.  I was kind of bored actually sitting in my car as it continued to rain lightly.  What a drag.  Why did I come down here?  Oh how I torment myself.

My buddy Brian finally showed up and it actually stopped raining after a little bit so we hopped on our bikes to spin the legs out which was a good idea as they felt like crap.  We rode for an hour, cleaned up some and headed back into Harrisonburg for some early dinner.  It's funny being done dinner by 6ish.  We headed back to the campground, got our registration packets and finished getting ready for race day.  The forecast was for rain in the morning with thunderstorms later in the day.  Lovely. 

I was in bed early and read for a bit.  I slept so so for a race night.  It did rain lightly a couple of times but thankfully it was not raining when I woke up.  Bonus.  It's so hard to start a race or a ride in the rain.  It was so humid out though that it wouldn't matter all that much if it did start raining lightly. 

The race was off at 6:30 with the usual hot pace up the first climb.  I told myself to just ride my own race and not go too hard at the start as there were plenty more climbs to come to make up time if I was feeling good.  So I rode my own ride.  It worked out well.  I tried to remind myself to enjoy the scenery and trails as I do truly plan on taking a break from the 100s next year.  I found myself fortunate to be in a good spot on the trails.  I got to enjoy the first couple of long descents without someone going to slow in front of me or breathing down my neck behind me.  The trails were awesome, how did I forget that?  They were in great shape too from having some rain on them as they tend to be a bit dusty and therefore soft in the corners.  There were some slick spots here and there but pretty sweet overall. 

It did start to rain a couple hours into the race and was intermittent for a while.  The third climb I reminded myself just goes on and on like all the others so it actually went by a little faster than normal.  I caught Kathleen Harding at the top of the climb which put me into 2nd.  I was pretty sure that Brenda Simril was behind me and I had passed Vicki who had flatted on top of the first climb.  This helped me be a bit more inspired.  Then part way down into Aid Station 3 I started to cramp. I thankfully rode out of it but knew I better watch it. I grabbed some electrolyte tabs at the aid station and carried onto the road section where I pushed hard to catch a couple other racers wheels to draft. 

The 4th big climb went reasonably well.  I remember last year feeling like crap on this climb so it was nice to feel like I had some legs even if it was only legs enough for my granny gear.  I could hear the rumbling of thunder off in the distance and sure enough it started pouring not too long after that.  I was thankfully on the descent by that point but it made for one messy trail down into aid station 4.  But at that point I was a bit more than half-way so I kept it together, refilled my camelback at the aid station.  The volunteers at the station were awesome (at all the aid stations) - cleaning off riders chains and lubing them to help them through the nasty conditions. 

I carried on for the long death march dirt road section that just goes on and on and on...only to turn onto the death march climb of the race.  I was starting to feel 6 hours + of riding by then.  I was a bit worried I was going to get caught on that climb since I felt like I was starting to go backwards.  I made it to the Aid Station and grabbed some swedish fish and twizzlers and headed out to finish up the climb which still was quite a ways from that point.  I managed to go down in a huge deep puddle that made me laugh.  I knew there were some really deep ones even when it's a dry year but this one caught me off guard and took me down. I sat in it and had to put my whole arm down to keep my head from going in.  It was funny. 

From there it continued to be a complete slog of a ride to the top.  Totally slow muddy nasty "please don't break my chain" kind of riding.  I just kept telling myself if I make it to the top I'm pretty much home free.  And finally I made it.  There was more climbing to be had but mentally I could deal with it from that point.  I grabbed some more swedish fish at the last aid station.  My back was super stiff and the volunteers kept asking if I was ok and I'm like yea yea.. isn't everyone like this coming through here. 

It was one more big climb and then a sweet descent into the finish.  I pulled off the 2nd in 9:27.  I was starting to think this one was going to be a 10 hour 100 with nasty conditions so it was nice finishing up in 9 1/2.  By then it was sunny and still super humid.  Sue Haywood crushed the course in ~8.5 hrs. It's her home turf and she is riding really strong and back on form this year.

It was a great feeling to finish up the 100 milers strong.  It was also kind of odd to know I would be taking a break from these next year.  I need to mix it up a little to keep biking and racing fresh and fun for me.  The 100s will always be there so if inspiration hits again, I'll be back.  They are somehow strangely addicting and I'm not quite sure why.

One more planned race for the season, the Landmine 50 miler in Hingham, MA this coming Sunday.  Weather looks decent.  It's a flat course, should feel like a piece of cake!  Ha!!

Thanks for reading.