Tuesday, June 26, 2012

American Ultra Cross #3, The Hilly Billy Roubaix

I race bikes because it's a fun thing for me to do.  I enjoy most races I do, but occasionally I'll do a race that is head-over-heals better than comparable races.  The Hilly Billy Roubaix was one of those excellent races this past weekend.  It had everything needed to make it great: a hard course, perfect course markings, nicely stocked aid stations, a killer post race party with food and beer, and basically I could tell the event was planned very well overall. 

The race itself was composed of gravel roads, a few dirt double track trails and some nicely paved roads.  There is a lot of steep hill climbing on the 72 mile course, over 7000 feet of it.  The interesting mix of riding surfaces, steep climbing and fast gravel descents is what makes this race so hard and what makes choosing the right bike for the job so important at this race.  Using a cross bike on the fast road sections and for all the climbing makes a lot of sense, but using a mtb to make the descending less tricky and to guarantee fewer mechanical issues is a wise decision also.

I was torn during the week leading into the HBR about what bike I should use: my Salsa Vaya Ti or my Salsa Mamasita 29er.  Ultimately, I decided on using my Mamasita because it was more comfortable for me to ride.  The majority of all my riding is done on a MTB and after doing a few comparison rides the week before the race, I could tell my body just felt more at home on a bike with a flat bar over a bike with a road bar set-up.  Since the top three riders finished on mountain bikes this year, I'd say it was the right choice.

My Mamasita "Hybrid" 29er.

Salsa Vaya Ti
While not completely set on which bike to ride until the day before the race, I was 100% sure of my wheel and tire choice.  On a rough and fast course like the HBR, there is no better set-up than a pair of Stan's Notubes Wheels to prevent getting flats.  I used a pair of Notubes Crest wheels mounted up with a pair of Clement  700x40 tires with just enough tread to give me some traction if I needed it.  I ran my pressure at 45psi front and 50psi rear and had absolutely no issues all day.  Hearing about the flat tire horrors that many riders had after the race confirmed that using a high volume tubeless tire/wheel was the way to go for the HBR.

After the fast descent from the park where the HBR starts and eventually finishes, the race almost immediately turns to gravel and starts climbing.  The first couple of gravel climbs and descents of the day split things up early and created the winning separation of riders.  My pace was just off the pace of the fastest group of about 7 climbers initially and I ended-up in a chase group with about 6 other riders.  With a hard effort going through the most technical section of the course, Little Indian Creek Road, I was able to bridge the gap to the lead group with a couple other riders.  From that point, which was only about 14 miles into the race, it became a race of attrition.

It seemed as if after every hard climb or fast and gravel covered descent, another rider would disappear from the lead group.  Eventually, by around mile 30 or so, the lead group was down to 4 riders: Garth Prosser, Adam Driscoll, Todd Latocha and me.  On the climbs between check point 2 and 3, there were times where I felt like I might be the next rider to fall from the lead pack.  I was starting to experience leg cramps  and was having difficultly matching the pace being set by the others when climbing.  I almost never have cramps during a race and I was kind of confused why it was happening to me at this race.  I was eating, drinking and doing things like usual, but my legs were not cooperating with what I needed them to do.  Eventually, I found that if I climbed in a harder gear rather than spinning up the climb in an easier gear my legs did not cramp.  So, for the remainder of the race, I rode the climbs like a single speed racer and muscled up them rather than trying to conserve energy by spinning. 

Going into checkpoint three there is a series of steep gravel climbs.  Garth was able to get a nice gap on the rest of our group on the last steep climb going into the checkpoint.  I didn't think too much about it when Garth got away because I figured he was trying to get into the checkpoint first to re-hydrate and get some food.  Instead, Garth completely blew by the checkpoint and continued riding hard.  With a hard and hot 14 miles to the finish, I thought that was a big mistake.  Unlike Garth, I took my time at the checkpoint, eating a banana and getting some water.  Todd also left the checkpoint before me and suddenly I was forced to put the hammer down alone to try and catch the two riders ahead of me.

I could see Todd in front of me, but was having trouble actually catching him.  Garth was nowhere in sight and I figured he was gone if he didn't have a severe melt down in the last few miles.  I eventually did catch Todd a few miles from the finish and on the long climb leading back to Mylan Park I was able to get away from him.  Garth held onto the lead until the end of the race with his courageous move, I finished next and Todd grabbed the third position.  It was an awesome end to such a hard and exciting day of racing.  Congrats to Garth for scoring the overall win and thanks to JR Petsko and his army of volunteers for putting together a fantastic day of racing.

Happy Trails........   Gerry

Photo Credit: Race Shot and Podium - Fred Jordan.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Big Bear 2x12

Feeling like I needed to recover from my bout with some type of tick bite infection and two weeks of ingesting antibiotics I chose to do the Big Bear 2x12 relay race over NUE Race #4, the Lumberjack 100, this past weekend. It was a good choice.

The main reason I decided to do Big Bear over the Lumberjack 100 is because I was certain my body was not ready to do the hard and sustained effort a 100 mile race would require. Additionally, I only needed to travel about an hour from home to Big Bear instead of doing a 10 plus hour drive to the Lumberjack. To make the choice even easier, Big Bear offered a $1200 first place prize to the winning singlespeed duo team. It was tough for me to decide against doing the Lumberjack 100, but I knew it was the best and wisest choice.

With my decision made, my next issue was trying to figure out with whom I should do the race. I remembered Nathan Annon asking a few weeks earlier if I was going to do Big Bear. At the time, I told him I was not because of the Lumberjack 100 being on the same weekend. I also remembered riding with Nate during the first 30 miles or so of the Mohican 100 and thinking he was riding very well. I also knew Nate was familiar with the trails of Big Bear because he is a local WV boy, so everything about asking him about racing together seemed to make sense. Luckily, when I asked Nate, he was still looking for a racing partner and he said yes to racing with me. Unfortunately, neither of us was creative enough to think of a good team name, so we settled on combining our main individual sponsors: Salsa/ProMtnOutfitters/NoTubes/TOP Gear. Our duo team was now born and we had a common objective set to win the race.

The Big Bear 2x12 is kind of run like a 24 hour team race, but instead of being based on racing for a set period of time, it is raced on a set number of laps. For open racers, each team member must do three 12 mile laps and sport teams do two 12 mile laps. Fast times on the course are around one hour to cover the technical 12 mile singletrack loop, so the race is completed in about 6 hours for the fastest open teams. The course is a completely awesome mix of singletrack trails and when the course is dry, like it was this past weekend, it is one of the finest race loops I know.

My body seemed to be coming around after being treated with antibiotic for two weeks straight, but I was a little nervous about putting it the racing test so soon after being treated for my infection. But, sometimes the best way for me to know if I am actually healthy again or not is to stress it out just a bit. Doing a few repeats of racing hard for one hour followed by an hour of rest seemed like the perfect way to test myself without doing too much of an extended effort. I took my last antibiotic pill at 9am on race day, so I also wasn't too sure how my body was going to react to racing while medicated. I figured it would be okay to do, though, since I didn't experience and bad side effects while riding and taking antibiotics the past couple of weeks.

Nate started the race for us. He is definitely a faster starter than I am and also more aggressive when it comes to passing.  He hammered out his first lap and immediately gave us the SS lead. My next lap added to our lead and gave us a nice margin of comfort over our competitors. I think we both knew the smartest thing to do with our comfortable time gap was to ride a smart race and not blow our lead by doing something stupid out on the trails. With this in mind, we slowed our times just a bit for the next two laps, but at the same time still continued to increase our time advantage on the other teams. We continued to have clean rides during our last two laps and by the end of our 6 total combined laps, we were able to score the singlespeed win.

It is so awesome when plans come together and everything seems to work perfectly like it did for us at the Big Bear race. I was also very happy that my body seemed to feel healthy again. I felt like I could put out power on my bike without feeling so fatigued from my efforts. Hopefully, now I can get my training back on track for the remainder of the NUE Series races and work towards achieving my goal of winning my fourth singlespeed championship.

Thanks to Mark Schooley for putting together a fantastic event and thanks to Nathan for being a fast and PFUN teammate.  Here is a link to the race results: Big Bear 2x12, oh yeah, baby!

Happy Trails...   Gerry

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tick Talk

With as much time as I spend in the woods, it was just a matter of time before I was bitten by tick and given a nasty infection. I’ve had hundreds of ticks on me over the years, but I’ve always been able to get them off before they have become deeply embedded in my skin. I wasn’t so lucky with my last tick experience.

A picture of the Lone-Star tick.  This is the nasty little bugger that got me.

After the Syllamo NUE race on Saturday May 19, 2012, I went down to the river that runs through the middle of the park to clean myself up. The water felt great on my tired legs and it was a convenient way to remove all the dirt from the day. While washing the grime from my legs in the river, I found four ticks latched onto me. They all came off fairly easily and it appeared as if there were no others anywhere else on me, so I thought everything was fine.

A "tick key"
By Monday, the poison ivy I got at Syllamo was starting to itch a lot on my lower legs. I was even itching around my groin area and wondering how poison ivy had spread there. I checked that area out a little closer on Tuesday morning when I was in the shower and I was shocked to see that the itching was being caused by a tick buried in me. I used my tick key to remove the little guy and he came out without any further issue. I rubbed some Neosporin on the area and figured I would be fine since the entire tick was removed.

I didn’t think much more about my tick bite until the Monday after the Mohican 100 race. As most know now, I didn’t feel well when I did the Mohican 100. I had a headache, a sore throat, swollen glands in my neck, tired feeling muscles and basically just felt run down. I thought maybe I had these symptoms because I was coming down with a cold or something.  Then, on Monday after the race, I noticed the lymph gland near where my tick bite was had swollen to the size of a large marble and was very tender to the touch. Everything seemed to click right then and I was able to put two plus two together in regards to my symptoms being associated with my tick bite.

I called my family doctor, told him about my tick bite and described my symptoms. He told me to come in that afternoon for an appointment. I was given a prescription for an antibiotic and an order for a Lyme disease blood test. The first antibiotic I took helped a little, but my extremely swollen lymph node on my leg did not go down too much. After doing some research on the interweb, I found that doxycycline is a preferred treatment for tick bite infections, so I had my prescription changed. Within a couple of days of starting my new prescription, my symptoms made a much better improvement. Additionally, I received the good news that my Lyme disease blood test was negative.

One of the best websites I found while doing my research on tick bites and Lyme disease was the American Lyme Disease Foundation site. It is clear, concise and full of information.  If you spend any time outside, please take a few minutes to look over the information on this website. There is a lot to learn on there from the prevention of tick bites, to the symptoms and treatment of different tick bite infections. I am certain the information I have gained this past week about ticks and the infections they carry will be useful in the future.

I feel like it won’t be long now until I am functioning at 100% again. I’m not there yet and for this reason, I've decided to NOT do the Lumberjack 100 this weekend. I think all the traveling and stress of doing such a hard race would hinder my recovery. Instead, I am going to try racing this weekend at the Big Bear 2x12 in Bruceton Mills, WV on a duo SS team with Nathan Annon. Big Bear might not be a NUE Series race, but it will be good fun and a good way for me to check on my fitness without putting my body through too much stress. Hopefully, things will go well this weekend and give me a good indication that I will be ready for the six remaining NUE Races I have planned this year.

Happy Trails...   Gerry

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mohican 100 - DNF

To say I had a bad race at the Mohican 100 yesterday would be an understatement. The funny thing is that a few days before the race my body, mind and bike seemed completely prepared for the challenge. Heck, Cyclingnews.com even wrote that I might be “unbeatable” and it kind of felt that way since I had won every NUE SS race after the Breckenridge 100 last July until yesterday, 7 consecutive wins.

My prepared feeling started to change Friday evening before bed. I noticed my throat was feeling a little raw and that the glands on my neck were a little swollen. I thought for a second I might be getting sick, but did my best to ignore the thought. I sucked on a cough drop before bed and hoped that would make things feel better by morning. I didn’t sleep too well the night before the race, but didn’t think too much about it because I usually never do. Anyway, come morning my throat was still scratchy and I had a throbbing headache also. I sucked on another cough drop while driving to the race and believed I would be fine by starting time.

At NUE #2, the Syllamo 125, my legs felt great on the first climb. My legs usually do feel great on most climbs and I feel like this is what gives me the ability to create the gaps needed to win races. My legs did NOT feel great going up the first steep road climb at Mohican. Actually, they felt like someone pored concrete into them. Regardless of how my legs were feeling, I was still mixed-in with the lead group of SS racers at the start. It was one of the biggest trains of SS riders I have ever seen stuck together for so long at the beginning of a NUE race.

The lead group for the first 20 miles or so consisted of me, Justin, Nathan, Dwayne and Matt. Justin and Nathan were riding the beginning single track like it was a cross county race and were creating gaps on the others and me. Eventually, Justin pulled away from the rest of us and Nathan came back to the group. During this time, I just wasn’t feeling comfortable on my bike and could not put out the power I felt capable of doing. I also noticed my heart rate was elevated, my breathing was labored and my headache had not disappeared.

On the steep road climb after the technical water bar descent, I was having trouble riding with the other single speeders up the hill and knew then something was very wrong. At that time, I looked down at my seat post and noticed the electric tape I use to mark my post position had sunken all the way into the frame.  I thought maybe this was the issue that was holding me back from riding at my potential and figured this was why I couldn't get enough power out of my pedal stroke. I stopped, raised my post and retightened my clamp. I couldn’t figure out why my post had dropped and never had an issue with this happening on this bike, but figured it was an oversight on my part when I tightened the clamp last.

I rode a short distance with my readjusted post, but almost immediately could tell the position was too high, so I had to stop again and readjust everything. Valuable time was ticking and my gap behind the leaders of the race was increasing, I was now stuck alone and knew my day was going to be a long one. Then, a couple miles outside checkpoint #2, another single speed rider, Ron Harding, caught me. Ron was riding with a big gear on his bike and was killing the road section. I was trying to hang with him, but was having trouble. My legs just didn’t want to roll and after riding with him for a few miles, I noticed my seat post had slipped about a half inch again. I didn’t want to stop, but knew that I was doing my body no favors by riding with my seat position being too low. This time when I stopped I wiped all the grease off my post and tightened the clamp until I thought it was about to strip.

After my adjustment, I was lucky enough to be caught by my friend and fast master racer, Ron Sanborn. Ron gave me a nice pull on the road section to the single track leading to checkpoint 3. During the ride into checkpoint three my seatpost position was finally holding, but my body and legs just weren’t coming around. I stopped at the checkpoint to get my bottles and remove a base layer under my jersey. I then started the long climb out of the checkpoint and was having trouble riding the climb that I have cleared with ease in previous years. The thing that made this even more irritating is that I was using a slightly easier gear on my bike than during previous attempts at this race.

To make matters worse, another SS racer caught me on the climb out of checkpoint three and I felt like I was going backwards faster than I was moving forward. With my finishing position not looking too good and my body feeling like crap, I made the hard decision to pull the plug at the top of the climb and to ride back down to the checkpoint. After getting back down to the checkpoint, I got directions for the quickest ride back to the finishing area and started my slow ride back. The road heading back was completely flat, but my legs could barely muster the energy for me to keep pedaling. I knew then my decision to quit the race was a wise one. I don’t like quitting or having a DNF next to my name on the results, but I do know it’s important to listen to what my body is saying and it wasn’t telling me anything good at the Mohican.

I’m not exactly sure what my health issue was yesterday, but it sure did kick my butt whatever it was. I’m going to take a few days to recover from all this and then start my preparations for the Lumberjack 100. Hopefully, I will be back on track by then.

Also, I can’t finish this post without saying congratulations to my TOP Gear Bike Shop teammate Justin Pokrivka for riding a strong race and getting the SS win. Nice ride, man!

Happy Trails… (kinda) - Gerry