Tuesday, August 21, 2012

NUE #9, The Hampshire 100

I travelled up to Greenfield, NH for the the ninth NUE Series Race of the year, the Hamshire 100.  It is a new race to the series, so I wasn't too sure what to expect at the race.  But, what I did know was that it was going to be an important race for me if I wanted to keep the lead for the overall NUE Series win.  The singlespeed field of racers was stacked with most of the contenders for the series title.  Of course with only three more races remaining after the Hampshire 100, every race has gained greater importance anyway.

Since this was the first year for a 100 mile race option on this course and because I didn't have too much information about it, I used the 100K GPS course data from the 2011 version of the race to learn what I should expect.  The course did not seem to be very fast from what I saw and I figured my finishing time would be around 8 hours and 30 minutes after doing a little math.  For this reason, I decided on using an easier gear than I usually do, a 30x18.  I thought this would give me an advantage to climb the steeper climbs that others might need to walk/run.

While my gear choice was nice in the single track, it was torture on the fast stuff.  I was completely spun out and not able to keep any meaningful speed on the very long flat stretches on this course.  Additionally, the long steeper climbs I thought my gear would give me an advantage on were too steep to ride with any single speed gear choice, so I ended up doing a lot more walking than I expected.  As a result, my easier gear choice was probably not the best one to use during this race and cost me a lot of valuable time.

Other than all the long fast stuff at the beginning of the race, about 20 miles of it in total, I really enjoyed the course.  It had a good mix of everything and really kept things interesting for the entire race.  If I would have been racing with the geared guys, I think that even the long rail-to-trail section would have been alright.  I thought the course markings were good, the aid stations were abundant, and the overall organization of the event was run very well.

The start of the single speed race was made a little more interesting at the Hampshire 100 with the open mens category starting on their own.  This left the single speeders to start with the master men and womens categories one minute after the start of the open mens race.  And, even with starting in a slower group of riders, all of the single speed riders were having trouble staying towards the front because the beginning miles were so fast and flat.  About ten miles into the race, the SS group I was riding in contained all of the NUE contenders I expected to be there, except A.J. Linnell.  Apparently, he didn't feel too hot at the start of the race and his absence from our fast SS group left us wondering about his status. 

Our SS group stayed together until we went up the longest climb on the course, which is known as the power line climb.  I was planning to ride it, but had to jump off my bike when there were too many other riders walking on the trail.  Patrick Blair and Ron Harding were in front of me at this point and they were both started running up the climb.  With it only being like 25 miles into the race, I decided to save my energy by doing a fast walk instead.  I soon realized my choice was not a good one when I saw Ron and Patrick ride away together.  I knew they would be feeding off each other and riding hard.  I knew then it was going to be hard to catch this fast pair of SS riders, especially being all alone.

I'm not sure if this is the end of lap 1, or the finish, but I do know I rode in this position a lot.

I caught a few geared riders here and there during the remainder of the first lap, but never spent much time riding with any one rider.  I was kind of hoping that either Patrick or Ron would pop from the fast past they were setting, but I was losing hope this would happen after starting the second lap and not seeing either of them.  To make matters worse, I was stuck alone on the long, fast and flat beginning miles of the course and was going insane from spinning my legs off with my easy gear choice.  Man, I would have done anything to be able to shift into a big chainring on this section.  About four miles into this section, I did get caught by my buddy Ernesto, but I couldn't even begin to keep up with him with my small gear.  Frustration started to set in and I longed for the single track a head to come quickly.

Sometimes it's difficult to keep riding hard when there is nobody else around me.  After being passed by Ernesto, it seemed like I was alone again forever, but I somehow still seemed to be very focused on the finish and felt good about how I was riding.  On a long gravel road climb, at around mile 80, I saw Patrick in front of me and the thought of catching him made my fire burn stronger inside.  When I rode by Patrick a short distance later, I could tell he was spent and I wondered if Ron might be feeling the same way after his hard morning ride with Pat.  I put everything I had into the last 20 miles, in an attempt to catch Ron, but he was riding too strong for my late race effort and stayed away for the win.  I came in about six minutes later, securely in second place, with a finishing time of 8:26 place. To round out the podium, A.J. had a strong second lap recovery from his slow start to finish third.

Ron Harding (aka Skinny) and me sharing our race experiences when it was all done.

The Hampshire 100 was one of the toughest single speed battles I've experienced in a NUE Series Race.  And, without a doubt, I would have to say 2012 has been the toughest season to date in the NUE Series.  Not only in the SS category, but in all the other race categories, too.  It's so exciting to see how fast everyone is now doing these long and hard races now.  Over the next three NUE Series Races, so many things can happen to change the overall series results.  At this point, I am still the leader of the overall SS category, but Ron has a chance of taking the series if he can win both Shenandoah and Fool's Gold.  It sure is going to be interesting to see how it all plays out at the end. 

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Thanks to Sherry McClintock and Thom Parsons for the photo above.

Monday, August 6, 2012

NUE #8, The Pierre's Hole 100

This past weekend I traveled to Alta, WY for the eighth race of the 2012 NUE Series, the Pierre's Hole 100. It would be my third 100 mile off-road race in as many weeks. I was hoping my legs would be ready for another long and hard race without much recovery time over the past three weeks. I've found that if use the days in between these long races for recovery and pre-race preparation rides, I usually feel okay for the race. With only having two NUE Series race wins this year, I really needed to have a good day at Pierre's Hole if I was going to have a shot at winning another series title.

The Pierre's Hole 100 is one of the few NUE Series races that has a multiple lap format. As a matter of fact, it actually does four loops around the same 25+ mile course, which is more laps than any other NUE race. Doing a long race comprised of multiple laps, as opposed to doing one big point-to-point race, can make preparation for the race a lot easier. For one, with the course only being a little over 25 miles long, it is very easy to pre-ride the loop. Doing this gives me an idea of what to expect during the race and also give me a better idea of what single speed gear ratio will work best for the race. The other nice thing about doing a multiple lap race is being able to put a cooler of my own drink and food supplies on the course, rather than depending on the supplies at checkpoints and my drop bags for nutrition. On the other hand, doing one big 100 mile epic loop is much more of an adventure and definitely makes for a more interesting race. I guess there are pluses and minuses to each race format.

The PH100 race loop has a good mix of terrain. Most of the course is on some very nice single track and for this year's race even more single track was added onto last year’s course. In addition to the single track, there are a few miles of double track/jeep road type of trails and probably about 5 miles of pavement on each loop. The majority of the paved road is a long climb leading from the valley bottom to the top of the mountain. It is where the course gains the majority of its elevation and it is a good area to re-fuel with food and liquid, while still being able to ride at a good pace. Overall, I liked the layout of the PH100 course and think it is a good design for an ultra-endurance race.

Early in the day at the PH100 and sporting the long sleeves.
It was a bit cool outside for me at the start of the race, with the temperature being in the low to mid forties. It seems like it takes my body a lot longer to warm-up when I race in colder temps than it does when it is warmer out. I guess this is because it is usually so hot outside when I do my training rides back home this time of year. For this reason, I started with a long sleeve jersey over my short sleeve jersey and removed it after the first lap. I didn’t do this at the High Cascades 100 and decided to not make the same mistake again.

I don't know if it was the cooler temperatures, the thinner oxygen content at an altitude of over 8000 feet, or just the fact that I was riding with some fast single speed racers, but I had a rough start at the beginning of the race. On the first long climb leading from the Grand Targhee Ski Resort base, I fell from the lead SS position to fourth place by the top of the climb. The initial wide-open dirt road climb was only used for the first lap to separate the field before heading down the long Mill Creek descent to the bottom of the mountain. I timed this descent from top to bottom while pre-riding the course the day before the race and it took over 20 minutes to do with all the newly added single track. Since I chose to race with a rigid fork, the three single riders in front of me on the initial climb increased their lead by the bottom of this long descent.

After the Mill Creek descent, there is a paved road that climbs about 4 miles before the course heads back into the woods. I was hoping to use this climb as my launch pad to catch the lead SS riders, or at least decrease my time deficit, and get back into the race at the front. I was able to catch one single speeder, Mike Shane, but the two leaders, A. J. Linnell and Trevor Rockwell, continued to build on their lead as we climbed back to the top of the mountain. I have to admit that I was beginning to get a little concerned about the increasing time gap, but decided to stay focused on my game plan of not over-extending myself at the beginning of the race.

After talking with the race director, Troy Barry, about the course changes, I was figuring my finishing time would be about an hour slower than a year earlier, meaning a finishing time of around 10 hours. I thought it would be wise to not go all out at the beginning of the race and wait until my body and the weather warmed-up to start riding hard. After the second trip down the Mill Creek descent and the start of the long road climb, it felt a lot warmer out and my legs finally felt like they wanted to roll. I hammered out the road climb and the super steep Dry Creek climb back to the ski lodge. During this time, I was given a time split of being 2.5 minutes behind the leader at the checkpoint before the Dry Creek climb. By the time I arrived at the ski lodge on top of hill, I could see A.J. and Trevor again. The true race was about to begin.

Trevor and I rode the beginning of Rick’s Basin together and caught A.J. about halfway through this section of trail. A.J. looked as if he was in pretty bad shape and I was bummed to learn after the race that he was suffering from some type of stomach bug and was unable to finish. Trevor rode with me for a short distance after we went by A.J., but I kept the gas on and soon found myself in the lead SS position with about half the race remaining. Once I had what seemed to be a pretty comfortable gap over my nearest competition, I put myself in cruise control mode and enjoyed the ride. It feels so nice to be able to ride my own race and not be worried about chasing down or attacking another rider.

I think only nine guys and one gal were able to beat the 10:15 belt buckle time.  I got one!
After nine hours and fifty-eight minutes of riding, I arrived at the finishing line with my arms raised high to celebrate the fun I just had on my bike and my first NUE win since May. Last year my NUE race wins seemed to come very easily, but this year it seems like one thing or another has set me back. Maybe I have finally knocked that monkey off my back for the time being. With having three wins and a second place finish as my top four NUE race finishes, I now have a pretty secure lead for the series championship. There are still four races remaining, however, so I know there is still a lot that can happen, especially with the championship race being a final decision maker for the series.

The new course changes have probably made the PH100 the toughest race of the NUE Series. But, with the help of Troy Barry, the race day volunteers and all the helpers at Grand Targhee, the difficulty of the PH100 was made bearable. Thanks for putting together an incredible test of endurance and determination! Also, I need to say thanks to Jon Davis’ son, Tanner, for helping me in the pit.

Happy Trails… Gerry