Thursday, July 3, 2014

Riding the Bull at the Tatanka 100

Ride the bull is the motto for the sixth stop of the National Ultra Endurance Series, the Tatanka 100, which was held in Sturgis, SD this past weekend. This race motto fit the course conditions perfectly this year because there was nothing easy about doing Tatanka.  The Tatanka 100 course was made even more difficult than usual with heavy rain falling the night before and during the race, which made the trails muddy and slick.

After doing this difficult course last year on a single speed, I was very excited about riding it with a full-suspension geared bike this year.  I was certain my ride time would be faster than last year because I figured the long steep hills on the first part of the course and the 22 miles of flat bike trail on the second part of the course could be ridden much faster with the use of a geared bike.  I thought there was a chance of possibly beating the eight hour mark and winning the gold ring for being the first person to do so.  But, while standing at the starting line in poring down rain and with the temperature only being 55 degrees, I knew that eight hour winning time would go unbeaten for another year. 

The cold, wet start of the race did not initially take away from the speed of the race.  A group six riders, including me, was able to breakaway from the other brave riders starting this race in miserable conditions.  I stayed with this group until we entered the single track and then I backed my speed off a bit.  I decided going at my own pace would be a better way to conserve energy for later in the race and my legs were still feeling a bit tired from doing the Lumberjack 100 the weekend before this race.  It's always hard to let other racers out of my sight, but I knew the race was going to be a long one and I didn't want to burn through all my matches this early in the day.

Riding along with AJ and D-Rapp early in the race.
Once I started riding the trails, I was shocked to see how much worse the conditions were from when I rode on them Friday morning.  Many of the steep hills I was excited about riding on my geared bike were so muddy that I could not even ride them with gears.  As the course continued through the mud, muck and deep fast flowing streams we had to cross, I was beginning to think my single speed bike would have been a better machine to use for the race this year.  In addition to my drivetrain being covered in mud, I could tell my brake pads were wearing quickly from the extra grit and I wondered if they would last until the finish. 

When I got to checkpoint #2, I saw Tinker Jaurez standing there because he had worn through his brake pads and could not continue.  I was also given the time splits for the other riders in front of me, which motivated me to ride harder.  For some reason, however, it just didn't seem like my pedaling stroke was right, or that I was able generate any power.  I figured out a bit later that my seat post had slipped almost an inch from where it is normally placed, so I stopped and adjusted it and immediately felt better. I don't know how long I was riding with my seat in a lower position, but I did know that my pedaling felt way better and was now riding faster.

Around mile 45 or so, I went off course when I missed a turn.  Luckily, after riding about a mile, I realized there were no tire tracks on the ground and I quickly turned around to make my way back on course.  During this time, the sun had finally come out and I was starting to feel warm.  The heat felt good on my cold wet body and I am sure this is another reason I felt like riding faster.  A few miles after getting back on course, I moved into third place overall when I caught Drew Edsall.  

When I got to the 50 mile checkpoint, I removed my rain jacket, had my chain lubed and was told that second place was only a few minutes a head of me.  Hearing this news and knowing that the toughest part of the course was over only encouraged me to ride harder.  I finally moved into second place at the beginning of the Michelson Trail when I caught Matt Woodruff.  

The Michelson trail is a recreational gravel bike trail that climbs gradually to the highest point on the course.  It makes up just over 20 miles of the course and was very brutal to ride this year because of the driving head wind.  I had to go into full-on time trail mode to keep on pushing myself to go fast.  I was very happy to make it to the 75 mile checkpoint and to put this section of the course behind me.
A shot taken shortly after the 75 mile checkpoint.

Shortly after leaving the checkpoint and entering the trails again, it started to rain hard.  I left my rain jacket at the checkpoint where I removed it because I thought the rain was over for the day. I was beginning to regret that decision.  The cold heavy rain was making me shiver and I couldn't wait to start descending the mountain to warmer temperatures and finally end this hard day of riding. 

At around mile 83, I climbed up a long hill and when I got to the top, there was a split in the trail. Neither direction was marked and I started to panic, thinking I had missed another turn. I stopped and looked around and then saw the race leader, James Meyer, coming towards me.  He stopped and said we were off course and needed to descend the long hill I had just climbed.  As we headed down the hill we first ran into single speed racer AJ Linnel, then Drew Edsall and then Matt Woodruff.  We told them the course was mismarked and they all turned around.  The five of us made it back to the last course marking we saw and discussed things. James Meyer had the course GPS file loaded on his Garmin and it was telling us to go down a trail marked with a "W", meaning the wrong the way.

The group then decided to follow the directions being given on Meyer's Garmin, but also decided that we should change the mixed-up course markings, so other riders would not make the same mistake.  A short while after getting back on course, Drew Edsall recommended to the group that we should all ride to the finish together and maintain our placing prior to going off course.  Everyone agreed with him and a gentlemen's agreement was made to keep the pace up, but to finish together.

It felt strange to not be racing into the finish, but I do think it was the best choice.  From the point where the course mistake occurred, I doubt if there would have been any change in the finish anyway. The course is very fast from that point and mostly downhill, which would have made it very difficult for any time to be made-up on riders ahead.  It was actually kind of nice having some company during that part of the race too.  It was such a long and hard day, of mostly riding alone for me, that I enjoyed being part of such a good group of people.

You've just got to love the irony of the podium shot having blue skies!
Even though the conditions for the Tatanka 100 were super tough this year, I still say this race was awesome to do.  The trails are challenging and fun to ride and the race promoter, Kevin Forrester, and all his staff/volunteers do a great job at putting together a great race.  I must say a big thank you to everyone that helped all the riders make it through this difficult day of racing!  Tatanka!!!

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Lumberjack 100 2014

     This past weekend I did the Lumberjack 100 NUE Series Race for the sixth time.  On my first two attempts, I used a geared mtb and then I did it three years in row with a singlespeed mtb.  I missed this race the past two years due to other obligations, but finally made it back to Wellston, Michigan this year for the 10th anniversary of the race.  I returned to the race with my hardtail Specialized Carve, a Lauf Suspension Fork, a 1x10 drivetrain and a desire to finish the race with a time of less than seven hours.  I’ve been close to breaking the seven hour threshold on all of my LJ100 attempts, but could never quite get there.  
My last three LJ100 races were completed on a singlespeed mtb.  Lumberjack is a pretty good course for a singlespeed, but I was pretty certain that my fastest time on the course could be achieved on a geared mtb.  I also added my unique Lauf Suspension Fork to my ride, as opposed to the rigid forks I’ve used at the past few LJ100 races.  I also gave some thought to using my full-suspension Specialized Epic at the LJ100, but thought that I didn’t need that much suspension for the fast single track making up the LJ 100 course.  Overall, my Carve was a pretty good ride, but looking back at things now, I think the Epic would have been even a faster bike.  
For those of you not familiar with the LJ100 course, it is pretty much an all tight single track course, on a 33 mile loop, which is completed 3 times.  The race actually starts with a mile or two of pavement before heading into the woods and there are a couple sandy fire roads mixed-in with all the tight trails, but I would say at least 95% of the race is single track.  To change things up a little this year, the race promoter, Rick Plite, reversed the direction of the course.  The change in direction seemed to make the climbing easier and also seemed to be well liked by all the racers.
The start of the race was not super-fast.  I stayed near the front until we entered the parking lot at the trail head and then threw an attack to get the hole-shot into the single track.  I was surprised my attack worked and that I was leading the race.  I wasn’t planning on going for the $200 KOM preme, but decided to give it a go with my good position.  My thoughts of winning the preme were quickly erased, however, when Jorden Wakeley came around me at the base of the hill with a couple of other riders.  I then rode the rest of the climb in recovery mode, wondering why I wasted so much energy leading out everyone for the preme.  I should’ve known better than doing that.
Jack Kunnen Photography: Lumberjack 100 2014 &emdash; IMG_7624                           Getting the Hole Shot!
After Jorden won the preme, he just kept going and my teammate, Christian Tanguy, was in hot pursuit.  That left me in a chase pack with about seven other racers.  The pack was moving along at a good clip, but not quite as fast as I wanted.  So, I made my way to the front and started setting a faster pace for a couple of miles, hoping my pace would split things up a bit.  The fast and flowing trails were not very good for splitting things up, but the crash I had shortly after going to the front sure did spit me off the back of the pack.
Jack Kunnen Photography: Lumberjack 100 2014 &emdash; IMG_7921                                 The lead chase group going into Aid Station #2
At my last two attempts at the LJ100, I’ve crashed hard by catching my pedal on two different hidden tree stumps. Both of those crashes slowed down my race and were probably a big reason I did not finish faster than seven hours.  I can’t tell you how shocked I was to be flying over-the-bars a third time this year by also having my pedal catch a third hidden tree stump.  This time my crash occurred about five miles into the 100 mile race.  It did cause some pain and mechanical issues, but I’m lucky that nothing more serious happened to me or my bike.
After my crash, I took a quick inventory of my body parts and everything seemed to be attached, so I jumped back on my bike and immediately noticed that my handlebars were pointed in one direction and my saddle in another direction.  So much for staying with the chase group, I said to myself.  I quickly straightened my bars and saddle, while I watched other riders pass.  Once my repairs were completed, I jumped back on my bike and gave chase and unexpectedly caught the chase group within a few miles.  Of course, putting out this effort wasted more valuable energy than I wanted, but I knew it was a necessary expenditure.
After recovering from my chase for a couple of minutes, I decided to go back to the front of the group to pick up the pace a bit.  In retrospect, I probably should have just chilled out a bit longer, but that’s easier said than done when my adrenaline is flowing.  So with our pack cruising along at a good clip, I started feeling pretty good about the race again.  My good feeling about the race quickly changed, however, when I attempted to shift into an easier gear on one of the last few steep climbs before end of the first lap  and I heard my chain go into the spokes of my rear wheel.  Apparently, my earlier crash had also bent my rear derailleur, which caused my derailleur to over shift.  I was then once again forced to do another repair and watch the other racers ride away from me.
I was able to catch back up to the lead chase group about two miles into lap number two.  From this point, I decided to slow my pace a bit and just ride tempo with this group. I needed to recover from doing another hard effort of chasing and I was hoping the accumulation of miles would start taking its toll on the group. But, the new course direction and mild temperatures did not seem to be as harsh as usual and the size of the lead chase group did not start falling apart until the end of lap number two. Eventually, the only remaining riders in the group were Gordon Wadsworth, Jan Roubal, and me.  
Throughout the race, Gordon didn't seem too concerned with getting away from the lead chase group.  He basically stayed at the back of our group and moved up when someone fell off the pace.  With a couple miles to go until the finish of the race, Gordon threw a hard attack.  Jan and I didn't respond to it because we knew he was not in our category and because the steep hill we were riding up at the time was a difficult place for accelerating quickly.  Once Gordon got his gap on us, Jan and I played a little cat and mouse.  Finally, I made a move at the top of the last big climb before the race finish.  I got the gap needed, but Jan was able to close the gap on the final fast descent.  Since I was still in the lead, I decided to lead out the sprint and increased my speed to 26 mph heading into the finishing area.  I hoped this speed would be enough to hold off Jan until the finish, but it was not.  I couldn't match the final effort given by Jan and I came across the finishing line in fourth.  I was still happy with my ride, however, because I was finally able to break the seven hour finishing threshold for a 100 mile race, with a time of 6:47.
Jack Kunnen Photography: Lumberjack 100 2014 &emdash; IMG_8340                   Losing the sprint for third place to Jan Roubal.
It is no surprise that the Lumberjack 100 celebrated 10 years of existence this year.  It is an incredible 100 mile mtb race and a ton of fun to ride.  Thanks to Rick Plite and his large group of volunteers for doing everything necessary to make the Lumberjack 100 an awesome experience for me and all the other racers.
Jack Kunnen Photography: Lumberjack 100 2014 &emdash; IMG_8055                      The podium for the open men class, minus Tanguy.

Happy Trails... Gerry

Thanks to Jack Kunnen for sharing all the photos used in this blog post!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Change, Change, Change & the Big Bear 2x12

This past weekend I traveled a short distance south from my home in Pennsylvania to Hazelton, WV for my fifth attempt at competing in the Big Bear 2x12 Duo Team MTB Relay Race.  I've enjoyed doing this race in the past and have won it with different teammates during each of the past four years.  After winning the race with my Team Rare Disease Cycling Teammate, Rob Spreng, last year, we planned on doing it together again this year.  But, as my year of change would go, winning the singlespeed race at Big Bear for a fifth consecutive year would not materialize this year for me.

The main reason I did not compete in the singlespeed category was because Rob was unavailable on the date this race was scheduled this year.  I didn't learn about his unavailability until two weeks before the race, so I had to do some fast scrambling to find another partner.  I asked a couple of fast singlespeed guys I knew, but could not find anyone available.  After realizing my singlespeed teammate options were limited, I became aware of the completely different option of racing in the coed category with my fast female racing friend and Rare Disease Cycling Teammate, Cheryl Sornson.
Churtle doing her thing on the trail!

Unfortunately, Cheryl was not completely sure she'd be able to race at her top level after doing a week of racing at TSE, but she said that she would try.  I told her that she could wait until the Wednesday before the race to let me know for sure, which was the day before registration closed.  On Monday, Cheryl sent me a text saying she had caught the dreaded bug known as the TSE Stage #9 Plague that had spread among many of the racers attending TSE and was feeling pretty ill and fatigued from it. Thinking I might need to find another teammate for Big Bear in a rush, I set-up a tentative plan with another fast teammate of mine, Cole Oberman.  Cole said he was willing to race, if needed, but was also feeling a bit drained from his hard TSE effort and the Stage #9 Bug.  Luckily, when Wednesday came around, Cheryl said she felt like she would be ready by Saturday and so we decided to register our coed duo team.

The Big Bear 2x12 consists of two riders doing a relay on a technical twelve plus mile course.  Expert racers do three laps and Sport racers do two laps of the 12 mile course.  The course is an absolute blast to ride and it definitely does keep a riders attention focused on the trail a head.  Our strategy going into the race was to start fast and keep our speed up until we built up enough of a time gap on the other teams to ride more conservatively.

Since I was racing in the coed open class this year, instead of the singlespeed category, I decided to use my Specialized Epic geared bike.  I figured using a bike with gears and having full suspension would be the best way to keep pace with the other fast coed teams doing the race.  Plus, with using a bike with multiple gears at my past three races, I actually felt more at home on the Epic than I did on my singlespeed bike.  But, to keep with my recent theme of change, I decided to take off the Specialized Brain front suspension fork on my Epic and use a Lauf Suspension Fork, which I had been using on my Stumpjumper singlespeed, but had not had the chance to use at a race yet.

The painful start of the BB2x12
The Lauf Fork has a pretty amazing ride.  It's is super light at 990 grams, requires no maintenance and has a very lively ride.  I wasn't sure how the Lauf Fork would feel on a full suspension bike, so I made the switch a few days before doing Big Bear and was immediately impressed with the responsiveness it gave to the ride of my Epic.  I thought the quicker responsiveness I felt with the ride of the Lauf would be perfect for the tight and twisty trails on the Big Bear race course.  Also, because of the more than ample tire clearance given by the Lauf, I was able to ride a big 2.4 knobby tire on my bike, which only added more control to my riding and more protection from the rocks I would be hitting during the race.

This race starts by ascending a gravel road climb that definitely put the hurt to me early.  I wasn't quite ready for the race to start so fast and also had a bit of trouble clipping into my pedals, which was probably because I didn't think the race would actually start when and the way it did.  With my slow start, I went into the single track a little further back than I wanted.  The pace being set at the front was super fast and I decided to calm myself down and not go too crazy chasing rabbits.  By the second part of the first lap, my legs finally started to feel like they were ready to race and I was able to finish the lap as the second rider overall into the relay tent.  This fast ride set-up Cheryl for a clear track on her first lap.

Cheryl also had a fast ride on her first lap and by the beginning of my second lap, our team had a six minute lead on the second place coed team.  Cheryl and I continued to ride well on our next two laps and were able to maintain our lead until the finish.  It's great when a race goes as planned and no issues come up during the race.  I'm sure the preparation that Cheryl and I put into doing this race was a big help in getting the win, but I'm sure having a little good luck at a race is always a bonus too! Getting a win always feels good, but after changing my racing category, changing teammates, changing to a geared bike, and changing suspension forks at the last minute, this win felt really good.  I can say now that all of these changes were good and I'm happy with how things turned out!

Endurance racing seems to be the type of racing where I do my best, so doing this race was a bit of a shock to my system because of the fast pace that is needed on each lap.  I'm more like a diesel engine that likes to warm up slowly and then continues to ride at a fast, but steady pace.  This race was more like doing three cyclocross races in a row with an hour of "rest" in-between each lap.  But, I'm sure that the endurance I have did help in keeping my speed high throughout the entire race.  I definitely saw the times of a few other expert teams slow down later in the race, which was probably because of the riders having less endurance training.

On a final note, I need to say thank you to Mark Schooley, Don Parks, Big Bear Lakes Camp Ground, WVMBA and all the volunteers for putting on this great event and making it a very well organized race.  I know it was a blast for me and the others racers I saw at the race who said they had a great time too.

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Mohican 100 2014

Ultimately, the goal of almost every cyclist who races is to win, especially if the same event was won previously.  I must admit that after winning the Mohican 100 last year, I really wanted to win it again this year.  I knew it would not be an automatic win because nothing about winning a 100 mile race comes automatically or easily.  But, I did know certain steps could be taken that could be very helpful in giving me the best race possible.  One decision I made, for a little more advantage, was to do the race on a bike with multiple gears rather than on a singlespeed bike.

My decision to do the Mohican 100 on a geared bike was not an easy one.  Racing singlespeed bikes has been good to me and I do love the simplicity of a SS.  But, I've got to say the ride of my full-suspension Specialized Epic with the SRAM xx1 11 speed drivetrain is so incredible.  The Epic just makes riding a whole lot more comfortable and faster for me. Additionally, I found that riding my singlespeed was a lot more difficult after my rib injury occurred three weeks before the Mohican.  I found that sitting and spinning up a climb was a lot easier with my injury than standing up and pulling on the bars of my singlespeed to get up any sort of hill.  So, with all these issues at hand, the Epic was made my bike of choice over the SS.

My decision to use gears was solidified even more when four days before the race I started to suffer from symptoms of a respiratory infection.  First, I just had some sinus congestion and a runny nose, but the infection soon moved into my lungs and I was painfully coughing up mucus.  And, with my cracked rib still healing, it was like a painful punch in the chest every time I tried to expel some mucus from my lungs. On Friday morning, my conditions were so bad I started to wonder how I was even going to race the next day.  I did know that I was now even more happy about making the choice to use gears because I was going to need all the help necessary.

Amazingly, however, when I woke up on Saturday, my energy level didn't feel too bad.  I was still painfully coughing up yellow mucus chunks the size of small animals, but at least I wasn't feeling too drained.  I did my normal pre-race routine of drinking a cup of coffee and eating a bunch of French toast to fuel up for my long day of racing a head.  I arrived at the camp ground about an hour before the start, but somehow just barely managed to make it to the starting line before the crazy-fast start would roll down Main Street in Loudonville.

600+ riders rolling down Main Street.
The first few miles of the race were new this year because of some issues with riders poaching trails on private property apparently.  I liked the new start and thought it allowed the race to calm down a bit before entering the woods.  I guess there was an issue at the bridge crossing for some riders further back in the peleton, but it was not an issue at the front.  Luckily, I made it into the woods as one of the top ten riders and my plan was to just ride as smooth and consistently as I could to stay near the front of the race until the trails exited onto the roads leading to checkpoint two.

On the trail with Gordon in hot pursuit.
My plan seemed to be working and I actually moved up a few spots before hitting the road and by
checkpoint #2 was riding in the third place position overall with my singlespeeding friend Gordon Wadsworth riding along with me.  We pretty much rode everything in the first 50 miles together, which I thought was an impressive feat for Gordon since he was using a singlespeed.  After Gordon and I went into checkpoint three together, we somehow got separated when he started to follow the 100K instead of the 100 mile course markings.  Initially, I thought my direction of travel might be wrong, until I arrived at the turn for the long, hard and unforgettable grassy climb off Wally Road.

After being separated from Gordon, I rode by myself from checkpoint 3 until the finish.  During this time, my Rare Disease Teammate, Christian Tanguy and Tinker Juarez were leading the race.  I was getting times from the checkpoints saying the gap between us was about 10 minutes.  I figured it would be hard to make up that time by myself, but I continued chasing hard anyway.  During the second half of the race and my pursuit of the two in front of me, I definitely noticed how nice it was to be able to shift into a big gear on all the fast sections and also into an easier gear on all the steep climbs. There were so many times I questioned my sanity for ever attempting these sections on my singlespeed bike.

Well, the rest of my race was pretty uneventful.  Christian finished in first place, Tinker in second, and I came in third.  The first thing I noticed at the finish was how less taxed my body felt doing the race with a geared full-suspension bike over a rigid singlespeed bike.  I also noticed the next day my body felt like it was ready to go again instead of feeling pretty beat and tired.  I may not have gotten the win I wanted at the Mohican, but I had a blast doing the race and getting a chance to experience the course in a somewhat different way.  I've decided change is good and I'm excited about trying the other NUE courses on a bike with gears this year.

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Thanks to Butch Phillips for the photos above!

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Wayne Ultra 2014

This past weekend was jammed packed with cycling events.  I was having a hard time deciding between doing a number of races including: The Mountain State Dirty Double Ultra CX Stage Race, the Pisgah 111k, the Greenbriar Regional MTB Championship, the OMBC Mohican XC Race, and the race I finally chose to do, the WVMBA Wayne Ultra MTB Race in Wayne National Forest near Marietta, OH. I guess the main reasons I chose Wayne over the multitude of other choices was because it was closer to home, only a one day commitment, held on a great course and finally because it always pays top riders pretty well.  After completing the event, I can certainly say that my choice was definitely the best one for me.

The Wayne Ultra course is 98% trail, which is true tight and twisty single track requiring a rider to use a lot of concentration to keep his bike on the trail because of all the technical features. These trails are never boring and are super fun to ride.  And, just because this course is in the state of Ohio, don't think for a minute that it has no climbing.  My Garmin showed 5200' of elevation gain over the 40 mile distance of the race.  

With all the rain our region received over the past week, I definitely thought the trails were going to be pretty muddy on race day.  But, overall, I was very surprised at how good the trail conditions at Wayne were.  There were some muddy spots here and there and traction was an issue on some of the steeper climbs, but the course was not the mud fest I expected after the record setting rain that fell on Thursday.  The conditions did require a little extra concentration at times, but this only makes the course more fun in my opinion.

A nice photo, but had a tough fall and break in getting it!
To add to the difficult trail features at Wayne, I had the pleasure of competing at this race with a broken rib I suffered from a fall I took on Thursday. How did I break my rib? Well, if you're one of my Facebook friends, I'm sure you've seen one of my many waterfalls pictures posted there.  I have a strange obsession with finding and taking pictures of all the waterfalls in the area where I live. While riding a trail in the heavy rain on Thursday, on my way to work, I heard the roar of a waterfall I had yet to view.  I decided to climb down a steep ravine to get a better view of it and when I did, lost my footing.  I was about to tumble a good fifty feet to the creek below, but was fortunate enough to catch a tree at the last moment.  Unfortunately, the small 4" thick tree I caught with my hands was dead and snapped off when I grabbed at it. As a result, my momentum continued forward and my chest went directly into the broken off stump.  This impacted knocked the wind out of me and caused instant pain to the ribs on my right side, just below my sternum.  

I've broken ribs before and I am very familiar with the pain this injury causes.  When I got back on my bike and continued to feel the pain, I knew one or more of my ribs had cracked.  Interestingly enough, my ribs actually hurt less riding than when I do regular activities like coughing, laughing, blowing my nose or getting in or out of bed.  Don't get me wrong, there is still pain when I'm bouncing around on my bike, but I guess this is something I expect from riding hard.  It's not normal to have pain when doing the everyday mundane activities of life, though.  

With my new injury, I decided to take the initial miles of single track at the Wayne Ultra a little more cautiously than I typically would at the beginning of the race.  Meanwhile, two other riders, Justin Pokrivka and Ryan Miracle, were pushing the pace hard.  I was pretty content to continue riding a steady pace with John Proppe and two other riders during this time.  Eventually, though, I became more comfortable with the jolts of pain in my ribs and decided it was time to push the pace a little faster to see how my body reacted.  When I came to a split in the course for the long and short distances, I asked a race volunteer how far back I was from the leaders. He said about two minutes.  

It's hard to make up time on the tight single track at Wayne, but I continued to push my pace and eventual caught Ryan Miracle.  He let me pass quickly and I then began my chase of J-Pok riding on a rigid SS bike.  Since I was using my Specialized Epic with gears, I figured that small amount of time could be made up pretty quickly.  Sure enough, when the trail exited onto a couple miles of gravel and paved road, I was able to increase my speed to about 23 mph and reel in my friend.  J-Pok and I then rode together for quite a while, before all the long and steep climbs started to take some wear on my singlespeeding friend.  I know at times the 34x42 low range gearing on my xx1 drivetrain felt like a little much on this tough course.  I'm sure the 36x21 Justin was using had to hurt!

Anyway, once I was clear from Justin, I rode a fast but conservative pace to the finish to take the overall win.  J-Pok continued riding strong, placing 1st in the SS race and second overall.  Jim Mayuric was the next open class rider to finish, followed closely by singlespeeder Don Powers.  Again, it was pretty cool to see such a strong showing from Pittburgh Area riders at an out-of-town race.
Mens Open Podium
Definitely put the Wayne Ultra on a list of races to do.  The course was well marked, the trails were well groomed for the event and overall, the race was a lot of fun to do.  It's a shame there were so many good races happening on one weekend because I really was torn on which race I should attend. As I wrote earlier, though, I absolutely think the best choice was made when I decided on doing the Wayne Ultra!

Happy Trails...  Gerry


Monday, May 12, 2014

The Beast!

I did a local endurance MTB race this weekend in Beaver Falls, PA, which was named The Beast Six Hours of Brady's. And, just like when I did this race last year, it was without a doubt a true beast to conquer.  I kind of think it's funny how I travel all over the nation to race, but find some of the toughest courses in my back yard.  I'm sure this is why there are so many fast racers coming out of the Pittsburgh, PA area.

So, anyway, the Beast was a timed raced based on the total number of laps completed in six hours of racing on a mostly single track course.  The lap distance was approximately 7 miles long and had around 1000 feet of climbing per lap.  After suffering pretty badly on the course last year, I decided to use my Specialized Epic for the race this year and was so happy with my decision.  Using a full suspension bike with gears is not my typical choice, but I must say that having the ability to shift and having a bike with suspension to absorb all the bumps is something I'm beginning to like more and more.  Maybe my age is finally beginning to catch up with me?  It did seem weird for me to not be on a singlespeed bike at the beginning of a race. Others must think it is strange too because I definitely heard more than a few people say, "You're using gears, Gerry?"  

The Beast starts and travels on a rough gravel road before entering the singletrack.  It was so nice to be able to power along this stretch by shifting to a harder gear.  The use of these gears allowed me to get the hole shot leading into the trail and made the first long climb almost a breeze to ride.  My teammate Rob Spreng and I got a nice gap on this first climb, before I let Rob by so he could do his thing on the trail.  Rob rips the singletrack as good as anyone I know and following his lead for the first three laps was a blast.  But, eventually, the fast trail riding pace being set by Rob was a little more than I felt comfortable with doing in a six hour race, so I backed off the speed a bit.  

The cool thing about racing on the Brady's course is that it never gets boring even though it is a multiple lap race.  There are enough technical features on the course to keep it interesting and fun, even during a six hour race.  To make things even more interesting this year, Mother Nature decided to change the course from fast single track conditions to very slick and muddy conditions about halfway through the race.  Once the conditions got bad, I backed my speed down a bit more because I didn't want to make a stupid mistake and lose the lead I had.  I was still the second solo rider on the course at this time and was first in my age class.

With two laps to go, the singlespeed race leader, Joe Malone, caught up to me and we got to ride together for a while.  It was interesting for me to compare what I was able to do on a bike with gears to what Joe could not do on his singlespeed.  It made me wonder about how much time I could gain if I used a geared bike at an NUE Series Race and how my overall finish at these races would be affected. I will admit that this curiosity has entered my mind many times before, but recently has been at the forefront of it.  I'm thinking now might be the time for me to put my singlespeed racing on a temporary hold.  Change is good and after winning the NUE Series Singlespeed Championship the past five years, doing 100 milers with a geared full-suspension bike sounds very inviting to me.  I'll definitely be giving this idea some more thought.

But, my mind will think of things like this during a race lasting for six hours or more to help me pass the time. Having Joe along for the last part of the race was a big help too, especially with the conditions seeming to deteriorate more and more with each passing lap.  By the end of the race, my bike and body was completely covered in mud and I was absolutely ready for the finish.  I took the masters win by over a lap and finished as the second placed solo rider behind Rob, but most surprisingly, beat all the duo teams except for one: the Mihalik/Gorski Team.  It must have been the bike I was riding....

Thanks to Chris Miceli and his volunteers for putting together a great race.  It's always great to have a quality local event to attend and this race was certainly top quality in all ways!  Also thanks to Mike Briggs for his camera work and for taking the photos used in this blog post.

Happy Trails...

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Cohutta 100 - 2014

As I laid awake in bed trying to forget about the itching caused by the poison ivy rash spreading about my body and watched the hours counting down on the clock, I knew the second stop of the National Ultra Endurance Series at the Cohutta 100 in Ducktown, TN was going to be a tough challenge.  You'd think after 35 years of racing one type of bicycle or another the nervousness I feel before doing a big race would be almost nonexistent by now, but my mind never seems to rest before these events and my constant desire to itch wasn't helping matters.  My sleepless night ended at 4 AM when my alarm went off and the reality of doing another 100 mile off-road race, without any meaningful amount of sleep, stared directly into my eyes.  I've conquered these sleepless night demons before, however, so I put on my game face and lined-up with 250 other riders at 7 AM to do my best at winning a 5th Cohutta 100 singlespeed event.

Surprisingly, even with little to no sleep, my legs felt pretty good on the paved road climb leading to the first section of single track.  My travel companion to the race and teammate, Rob Spreng, set a fast tempo on the climb, which allowed me to get into the trails about 20 riders back from the lead.  I was able to keep my pace fast enough to eventually catch back up to the front of the race to join Rob and Jeremiah Bishop.  During this time, only one other singlespeed racer, Gordon Wadsworth, was able to ride with me, which is exactly what I expected from my SS friend.

By the time the single track ended and the long section of rough gravel roads began, the lead group was whittled down to five riders, including Gordon and I.  Strangely enough, the pace being set at the front was not super fast like it was in previous years when I've done this race, probably because Gordon and I were watching each other and the geared guys were watching Jeremiah.  But, eventually, two other geared riders joined our group and that was enough to make the pace speed-up on the endless climb leading to checkpoint #3.  This increase in speed dropped two riders from the pace and again left Gordon and I with three geared riders in the lead group and no chasers within view.

Our group was riding well together and we all basically cooperated at efficiently keeping up the speed. The group was riding so well together that we even all agreed to stop at the same time for a pee break.  But, I knew in the back of my mind that this cohesiveness to work as one unit would not last much longer.  It was just a matter of time before the attacks began.  Our last section of group fun was in the single track between miles 50-60.  Jeremiah led our group through this section of trail and it was an absolute blast to ride it faster than I had ever done before this attempt.

I was pretty certain the long climb out of checkpoint #5 would be the game changer of the day.  Sure enough, Jeremiah increased the pace and our group began to splinter.  I had no intentions of trying to match the pace being set.  The past experiences of riding this climb stored in my mind told me to be conservative and save my energy for later in the race.  Additionally, I felt the fatigue of not getting a proper nights rest starting to creep into my body.  It was hard watching the four other riders pedal off into the distance, but I knew going my own pace was my only chance at staying near the front of the race.

By the top of this brutal climb, I saw no riders in view behind me or in front of me.  I was all alone and riding
my own race, which was fine by me.  I felt like my pace was consistent and I did my best to keep moving along at a descent clip.  But, by the time I got to checkpoint #6, I learned that the rider directly in front of me was five minutes up the road.  I later learned that this rider ahead of me was a geared rider and not my SS competitor, Gordon.  I didn't give up hope of catching Gordon at this point, but I knew a gap of over five minutes would be tough to make up in less than 25 miles.

Before the last section of single track comes at the finish of the race, there are some pretty long climbs that switchback on their way going up the hills.  I would look up and down the road at these times in hope of seeing another rider, but saw nothing.  By the entrance of the last section of trail, there was a tent set up and staffed with race volunteers.  They informed me that 7 miles remained in the race and that I was in fifth place overall, still about five minutes behind the rider directly in front of me.  I was happy to hear this news and was going to give me best at bombing the remaining miles of single track to the finish.

Not very far from the this tent at the 93 mile marker there was a "T" intersection in the trail with no arrows, only a piece of course marking tape laying on the ground across the trail on my left side.  I hesitated for a minute at this intersection, but decided to go right because the tape seemed to be blocking the trail to the left.  My decision also seemed to be right because the course had earlier come from that direction at the beginning of the race.  I descended for a while and then climbed even further before coming to a gate blocking a gravel road with no course markings in sight.  I realized then a turn must have been missed and I figured it was a single track trail I had passed that was used at the beginning of the race, so I rode back to it and started riding this single track trail backwards.  When I saw mile 100 appear on my Garmin, I knew this choice was also incorrect and I began to feel overwhelmed with frustration.  A short while later, I eventually came across a group of riders standing in front of course marking tape.  They gave me directions of how to get back on course and to the finish.

I caught a bunch of riders in the last few miles of single track and hoped that I might still be the second SS racer across the finishing line, but the thirty minutes of time I lost while doing my bonus miles of racing was apparently enough to allow two other SS riders to get in front of me.  I would have been completely content with a second place SS finish at Cohutta because Gordon was absolutely the stronger rider of the day, but I must admit that dropping those finally spots at the end of the race definitely felt like a big slap in the face.  After having a day to think about things now, I guess finishing fourth in my class is not too bad considering the circumstances; it's just a bit disappointing and hard to swallow after riding so well for the first 93 miles of the race.

But, there will be good days and bad days.  And, overall, I've had a pretty good and long lasting string of luck to help me win many races over my many years of racing.  With the right preparation and little more luck, I'm sure my winning ways will return.  Until then, I'll continue applying Calamine lotion, hope for a few good nights of sleep and keep riding my bike.

Congratulations to Gordon for taking the SS win, to Jeremiah for taking the overall win, to my teammates Rob Spreng and Andrew Dunlap for their fine finishes in the open race, and to my teammate Roger Masse for taking second in the 50+ race.

Happy Trails...  Gerry