Wednesday, May 23, 2012

NUE #2, Syllamo 125

This past weekend I travelled down to Mountain View Arkansas for the second race on the NUE schedule, the Syllamo 125.  It is the shortest race of the series at 125K rather than the typical 100 mile length of a NUE Race, but the shorter distance doesn’t make it any easier.  Most of the NUE races have longer stretches of dirt road or at least some wider trail to allow for riders to eat and take a mental break from riding single track.  Syllamo, on the other hand, is probably close to 97 % tight and technical single track, which requires a racer to remain very focused for the entire duration of the race.  In addition to the technical nature of these trails, the high temperature of the day made this event even more grueling. 

The course seemed completely different to me this year from how it rode last year when it was wet.  It was almost impossible to get any traction on the slick rocks last year, which made riding many sections on the course very difficult on a single speed.  This year, however, the course was completely dry and almost everything could be ridden.  My course time was over thirty minutes faster than the finishing time I had last year.  I’m sure if the temperature was in the sixties instead of the nineties, the race times would have been even quicker this year.

From the start of the race, my legs felt pretty good at Syllamo.  I remembered suffering pretty bad on the first dirt road climb leading to the entrance of the endless single track last year.  This year my legs just wanted to go and I entered the trail immediately behind the fastest geared riders.  Another SS rider, Ron Harding, was right with me and I could immediately tell he was a very capable rider, but what I didn't know is that we would end up spending most of the day together.  At most of the NUE races, it seems like I spend a lot of time alone.  This can make the race drag by at times.  The time at Syllamo seemed to be flying-by with my fast riding partner.  Not only did Ron make the race more interesting with some good competition, but it was also nice to have some good conversation to help pass the time.  We were together so long that I started to wonder if our race might come down to a sprint finish.  I'm not much of a sprinter, so I was hoping that would not be the case.

Me and "Skinny Rivers" having some fun!
Eventually, I was able to get a small gap over Ron before going into checkpoint number five at about 57 miles into the race.  But, by the time I started to exit the checkpoint, Ron was entering it and I realized my gap was much smaller than I thought.  I knew then that I would have to ride the next 15 miles without any mistakes.  It was super hot by this time of the day and I could tell I was starting to become dehydrated even though I had consumed fluids constantly throughout the day (9 total bottles by the end of the race).  At certain points during the last 15 miles of the race, I started to feel week and dizzy from my effort.  When this would happen, I would just suck down more fluid and continue pushing myself toward the finish.  Luckily, my situation never got bad enough to completely wear me down and I was able to ride into the finish with the singlespeed win and in fourth place overall.  Ron came in just about 3 minutes later and Even Plews came in third about 2 minutes after Ron.  Next to my finish at last years Lumberjack 100 with Mike Montalbano, this was the most exciting finish I've had at a NUE Race.  If this is a sign of things to come, it is going to be a very interesting race year for me.

My totally cool (but very heavy) trophy.
Syllamo was certainly a race of attrition this year.  It seemed like the sharp rocks on this course were tearing apart tires and destroying bikes all over the course.  I was lucky enough not to suffer any mechanicals or flats during the race.  I did get a rear flat tire on Friday when a random rock on the trail tore off some of my new tire tread while I was pre-riding the course.  Fortunately, I was able to obtain an awesome replacement tire from my single speed racer friend Andrea Wilson.  She hooked me up with a 2.4 Maxxis Ardent Tire.  Since Andrea rides the Syllamo Trails often, I took her advice and put the Ardent on my front rim and moved my original 2.1 front tire to the rear.  I usually run a pretty low pressure in my front tubeless tire set-up on my NoTubes Crest Rims, but with the huge volume of the Ardent I was able to run a super low pressure of 14 PSI.  Andrea’s advice, the performance of the Ardent and my Salsa Selma Ti on the technical rocky trails were all a big key to me riding so well on a course that destroyed so many tires/bikes.  Thank you Andrea, Maxxis, Notubes and Salsa for helping me ride these trails so much better!

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Thanks to Tony Barrett for the racing photo!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cranky Monkey

Overall, I didn’t feel too bad after doing the Cohutta 100 last weekend, so I decided to do another endurace MTB race this weekend called the 9 hours of Cranky Monkey held at Rocky Gap State Park in Flintstone, MD, which was promoted by EX2 adventures. My initial plan for the weekend was to head over to Delaware to do the MASS 4 hour endurance race at Iron Hill. But, the plan didn’t seem to be the best idea because of the driving time involved and the need for me to find a place to spend the night. After doing some online searching, I found out about the Cranky Monkey and was totally psyched that it was less than two hours from my hometown and was a longer race for me to do. And, to make things even better, a ton of local riders from the Pittsburgh and Morgantown Areas were also headed to this race, so I knew it would be a lot of fun, too.

A lake, mountains, tents, friends, cars and plenty of fun.

Even though I’ve never done the 9 hours of Cranky Monkey, I've heard some good things about the race and venue. When I first pulled into Rocky Gap State Park, I could tell right away the location was perfect for having a multi-lap endurance mountain bike race. The beautiful park is built around a large lake, which is surrounded by mountains and has a host of facilities right at the start/finish area to help riders get through the race. This was a striking and nice contrast to some events I’ve done in the past that seemed like they were located in the middle of nowhere with few amenities for the riders.

The Cranky Monkey course had a nice mix of everything, but it was primarily an 8 plus mile loop of single track that traveled around the lake in the middle of the park. There were some fast trails and some slower more technical trails mixed along with a few short sections of paved surfaces and some wider double track trails. About mid way through the loop, there were a couple of short steep climbs that led to a technical, but fast rocky descent. The course was pure fun and fast to ride at the beginning of the race when it was dry. About halfway through the race, the skies opened-up on the backside of the course, which made it slick and muddy. This definitely made the riding on the technical trails trickier and also slowed down the lap times significantly.
I'm smiling at the start because I'll soon be riding for 8 plus hours.

Like many mass-start, set-time races, the Cranky Monkey had a Le Mans style start that required all starting riders to run about 400 yards to their bikes. I’m not the best runner out there, but I do like how this method of starting separates the field before heading into the tight trails. I decided to save some energy during the run and not push myself too hard, so I managed to only be in the top 20 riders heading into the trail. I was fine with this and within a couple of miles I managed to work myself up to fourth overall. I knew everyone riding around me and they were all on multi-person teams instead of the solo race, so I just continued riding at a fast, but comfortable pace. The last thing I wanted to do was blow all my steam on the first few laps and not have anything left in the tank for later in the race.

A glimpse of the mud on El Mariachi after 3 laps.
For the most part, the laps ticked by pretty quickly for me. I did fall over in a technical section on either lap 2 or 3, which caused some pain in my elbow and gave me limited use of my right arm for most of the race. I also had a couple of mechanical issues to include a broken left carbon crankarm and a flat tire on my last lap. My elbow eventually went numb, so it really didn’t concern me too much during the race. My crankarm never completely fell off, but it became so weak that I could hardly put any pressure on it for about a half lap. Luckily, I brought a spare bike to use for the last three laps of the race and was able to switch my bikes without losing too much time. My spare bike is nice, but it was not nearly as smooth to ride as the Ti Selma I am so used to racing. The flat tire I had would not have been an issue if it was dry, but the muddy conditions required a little extra time to do the repair properly. One thing I’ve learned over my many years of racing is to never give-up because of problems encountered out on the course. Everyone has them and it is just a matter of resolving these issues quickly and then getting back into the game.

The SS podium...with the fastest 3 overall solo times, just saying.

By the end of the race, I was able to hold on to my solo single speed victory, finishing with 11 laps (or about 90 miles) in a time of 8 hours, 5 minutes. This time was actually fast enough to give me the fastest overall solo time also. I Initially though I finished third overall in the solo class, but the riders that had a lower time in other classes actually had fewer laps than I did. Click here for a link to the overall race results. I certainly would have preferred if the day would have stayed dry, but overall I have to rate this race as a very good time and a great test of my endurance. I attribute the fun I had to the large group of my cycling friends being at the race and to the incredible job done by the race promoter/volunteers. I would certainly recommend this race to anyone looking to do a fun multi-lap team or solo endurance race.

Happy Trails…. Gerry

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

NUE #1, the Cohutta 100

The 2012 NUE Series began this past week with the Cohutta 100 Race in Ducktown, TN. This race would be my 42nd NUE race since 2007, so I wasn’t real nervous about the start, but I was interested to know how my body would feel. I asked myself if I was ready to race hard for 100 miles. I thought I was ready, but knew the only way to answer this question was to take the tough test of doing the race.

This attempt at the Cohutta would be my sixth consecutive time doing the race. Little has change with the event over the past five years, other than it alternating between being a wet and dry race each year. This year, however, brought a few interesting changes to the course. The most important change was directing the route to be an out and back course with a lollipop head of single track at the far end instead of it being one big loop like previous years. Additionally, the beginning and ending single track was changed around some, too. These changes added an additional 2000 feet of climbing to the course for a total of 14000 feet of elevation gain.

The start of the craziness!
Initially, I thought the course changes would be a good thing for me because I do like to climb and because of the elimination of a long flat section on the old course that was very monotonous for single speeders. But, after doing the race, I don’t think the changes made that big of a difference because there was still a fair amount of fast flat stuff to drive me a little crazy. I will say that the additional 2000’ feet of climbing did make the course a lot slower and harder, especially for those of us using only one gear. My finishing time at Cohutta is usually around 7:15 or so. This year it was just over 8 hours.

So, anyway, I lined-up in the large group of riders at the starting line anxious about getting my test started. When the gun went off the pack raced up the couple miles of pavement leading to the beginning of the single track. It would be nice if the pavement continued climbing all the way to the trails, but the road levels off and actually becomes a pretty fast downhill before taking a hard right into the trails. As a single speed rider, it is impossible to get a good position going into the woods with the final section of road being so fast. Somehow, though, I managed to make it into the woods in the top 30 or so riders.
Sporting a #229 on my Salsa Selma Ti 29er.
The initial single track at Cohutta is pretty fast and fun. There is basically a paceline of racers riding single file through the trees, making attempts at passing a difficult task unless someone is willing to give up the trail. At this point, I was pretty sure Matt Ferrari was the only single speed racer ahead of me and he was only a couple of riders up. I remained patient as I picked my way through the pack because I knew it was a long race and I didn’t want to be too forceful about moving forward.

Eventually, the trail opened up to gravel roads and I was able to start riding more aggressively. Matt hung on to my pace very well during this time and we were lucky enough to be riding with a fast group of geared riders to help us out. As our group of riders came into checkpoint two, only Matt and one other rider stopped. My supplies were at checkpoint 3, so I continued riding with the fast group until it gradually fell apart because of all the climbing.

By about the halfway point, I would ride with a rider here and there, but spent a majority of the time alone. I was climbing well and had moved into 7-8th place overall before the course started flattening out and becoming too fast for my gear ratio. I enjoy “racing” against the geared racers when I have the single speed lead. It gives me motivation to keep pushing hard. But, unfortunately, when the course gets to be too fast, I come to the hard realization that there is no big chainring on my bike and I can’t compete with the speed of the geared racers. This does play with my mind a little bit until I can convince myself that I only need to be concerned with the other riders using just one gear.

The only good thing about being caught during a long race by a geared rider is the gathering of tactical intelligence. I like to ask the geared guys that catch me if they have seen any other single speeders and if so, how far back they are. I learned at about mile 70 that no other single speeders were close to me. This information helped me relax a little bit and brought my focus back to the single speed race. I decided at this point to ride a little more conservatively on the descents and to just go hard on the climbs. This strategy seems to work well for me and keeps me from taking any unnecessary risks.

By the end, I was happy to pass my first test of the NUE Series by taking the victory. It felt good to win another NUE race and to know my fitness was where I wanted it to be. And, with an awesome skateboard as the winning trophy, the fun of the day will be remembered for many years.

Happy Trails… Gerry