Monday, July 30, 2012

NUE #7, The Wilderness 101

So, this past weekend I did another 100 mile mtb race.  No surprise there, right?  It's one of my favorites, a grand-daddy of the sport and also one of the closest ultra endurance races to my home in PA.  It is the Wilderness 101, which starts and finishes in Coburn, PA. 

After doing a 100 mile race in Bend, OR last weekend, traveling and working this past week, I was sure hoping my legs would find time to recover a little bit for this race.  As most know, my season has not gone as smoothly as some of my past race seasons have.  I've done my best to keep my head up and to keep racing strong, so I was hoping my positive outlook on racing and life in general would all come together at the W101.

Things seemed to be fine at the start of the race.  The pack was actually riding at a slower pace and making it quiet easy for the SS group to keep pace with the geared guys on the fast gravel roads leading to checkpoint #1.  It was probably a little too slow for me actually, as I like to gain some separation from other SS riders on this section of the course.  But, when I looked around this year, I saw SS riders all around me.

This scenario quickly changed, however, when the pack went through checkpoint #1 and started the long rocky climb out of that checkpoint.  Suddenly, I only saw two other SS riders at the front with me: Patrick Blair and Matt Ferrari.  I am pretty familiar with racing against Matt; we seem to always battle it out at the beginning of these 100 mile a good way.  On the other hand, I have very little racing experience against Pat and I wasn't sure what to expect from him in a 100 miler.

Riding the bridge at the end of the "Beautiful" Trail.
I learned soon in the race that Pat was a very capable climber.  He was definitely putting a hurting on me as I tried to hang with him.  But, on the second big climb out of checkpoint #2, at around mile 50 or so, Pat put about 30 seconds on me going into the first real technical single track downhill.  I chased after him and paid the price for doing it by getting a flat tire from one of the sharp rocks on the descent.  Thinking my flat was 100% caused by hitting a rock too hard and not a puncture, I did a fast repair and didn't feel the inner part of my tire for anything sharp.  I almost always feel the inside of my tire, but in my rushed state, I failed to do this important step.  And, sure enough, my haste left me with another flat a short 100 yards down the trail.

This time my repair was not as quick because I only had one tube with me, which was used for the first repair.  Luckily, after I did some trail side begging, my friend, Vegan Rob Lichtenwalner, gave up his one and only tube to me.  That, my friends, is the sign of a true friend.  With a tube now in hand, I completed my repair and jumped on my bike to start racing again.  I knew my time gap behind Pat was going to be hard to overcome, but I also knew it was a long race with a lot of miles in front of me.

During my tire repair, I was also caught by Matt Ferrari and my TOP Gear teammate, Justin Pokrivka or J-Pok for short.  J-Pok and I rode together off and on until a short distance past checkpoint #4.  He was slamming the technical stuff like he always does and I was riding the climbs hard like I usually do.  In the end, my climbing ability out-paced his descending ability and I was able to get a gap over him.  During this time, I also received some on-the-trail- intelligence from another rider telling me that Matt was only four minutes up the trail.  Hearing that bit of information gave me even more motivation to keep riding hard.

On the long and rocky Panther Hollow descent, I finally caught Matt.  I thought for sure Matt was going to give me a fight all the way to the finish, but he never caught up to me after I passed him.  I didn't think there was a chance of also catching Pat, but I stayed on the gas anyway with hopes of reeling him in by the finish.  Pat was able to maintain his lead until the finish and I came in second about 13 minutes behind him.  I would guess that was about the same amount of time I wasted with my tire issues, so I'm sure the race would have been a great battle if I didn't have my mechanicals.  But, mountain bike racing is full of issues.  I've learned this very well over the years. Some days a race is filled with luck and other days it seems as if nothing but bad things occur.  When good fitness and luck combine, racing a bike seems a lot easier.  But, learning to overcome the misfortune of bad luck sometimes feels as good as winning...well, almost anyway.

Congrats to Patrick Blair for having an outstanding Wilderness 101.  I'll definitely be looking forward to testing myself against you again, my friend.  And, there is no way I can finish this post without saying thanks to Chris Scott and his hard working army of race day volunteers that make the W101 one of the best 100 milers around. 

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Photo Credit: Bob Popovich - (Bridge Photo)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

NUE #6, The High Cascades 100

This past weekend I raced in NUE Series Race #6, the High Cascades 100, in Bend, OR. It was my first NUE Race since I had a DNF at the Mohican 100, due a tick bite infection, and I was hoping for a good come-back race. I’ve raced in the HC100 the past two years and have really enjoyed riding the trails in Bend the last two years. The course has changed a  little each time I've done this race, as it did again this year. In previous years, the race was comprised of multiple different loops to complete the 100 mile route.  This year, the course was made into one big epic loop.  The course started in Bend and then climbed all the way up to the base of Mount Bachelor and did a loop around the circumference of the old volcano, before heading back down to the city of Bend on different trails.  I thought it was the best course design ever for the race.  Click here to open a link of the course map.

The weather where I live has been on the hot side of the thermometer this summer, so starting a race at nearly forty degrees at 5:30 AM was a bit shocking to my body. I started the race wearing only a short sleeve jersey and a pair of shorts because I thought it would warm-up a lot quicker than it did. I could not seem to get my body to move very fast with the cold weather, which made the fast start even tougher for me than it usually is. After maneuvering my way around an early crash that bottlenecked the entire field of racers on a steep climb, I found myself riding with two other strong SS riders: Jace and AJ.

Me leading on the "funner" trails with AJ and Jace close behind.
The three of us seemed pretty equally matched until things broke-up a few miles past checkpoint #1. AJ was able to pull away from me and I put a little gap on Jace. AJ seemed to be moving pretty fast, but I didn't put up much of a fight to hang with him because I had never raced against him before and I knew there were a lot of miles ahead. With AJ being out of sight and my small advantage over Jace, I decided to stop and take a leak and make myself more comfortable. As I did this, Jace rode by and then he also disappeared. But, even as I lost sight of Jace, I was still pretty confident that my endurance would help me feel stronger at the end of the race when it mattered more.  Other than two riders being a head of me, I was enjoying my ride because my body and bike felt great. I was happy to be riding on such awesome trails and was also happy to be racing in a 100 miler again. By mile 50 or so, I was able to catch and ride by Jace. He was on the side of the trail and not looking too good from a lack of food or something.  After passing Jace, I kept my eyes on the trail in front of me for a sighting of AJ, but he never came into my view.

Man, these trails are PFUN!
It was starting to warm-up a little as I rode into the checkpoint at Mt Bachelor and onto the Lave Lake loop.  And, with the warmth my legs finally felt like they wanted to move at a faster speed. The Lava Lake loop is the most technical trail of the race. There is rough lava rock scattered all over the trail and one bad move riding through this rock can tear a tire sidewall as quick as a razor blade. For this reason, I picked my lines carefully through this stuff. The last thing I wanted to do at this point in the race was spend time trying to repair a torn tire sidewall. At one of these technical sections, at around mile 60 or so, my eyes were focus on the trail and the rocks that were on it when I was suddenly thrown off my bike to the ground. I wasn't sure what happened, but my chest was in pain. I then looked around the trail and saw I had hit a log with a sharp broken off edge that was pointed directly into the trail. It was marked with some tape, but I never saw it because my eyes were focused on the trail at the time I had hit it.

Once I figured out that I had been jousted off my bike by this log, I was a bit nervous to view the damage to my chest. I wondered for a moment if  I might find a critical puncture wound under my jersey.  Sure enough, I did find a large wound to my chest when I lifted my jersey. Luckily, the log did not pierce me deeply enough to do any major damage.  I couldn’t help but think though about how an inch or so difference may have caused some very severe damage to my body. As I was trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding on my chest, I also noticed that part of the log had splintered off and was  still stuck in the bicep of my arm. This splinter had actually pierced and gone completely through my skin. I decided to pull it out of my arm and when I did, it started bleeding even more. I now had two wounds that needed treatment and I was not close to any assistance or checkpoints.

As I stood there thinking about what I should do next, a recreational mtb rider came upon me and asked if I was okay. I told her that I had crashed and needed help. She then stopped and pulled out this totally stocked first aid kit with Neosporin, a huge bandage for my chest, and medical tape for the wound on my arm. I’m not sure who this lady was, but I am very thankful she came upon me when she did. It was almost like she was my guardian angel following me for the day or something.

After the repair to my body, I was able to start racing again. I can’t say my head was totally into the game because I was still in a little in shock about how close I came to suffering a major injury. But, I continued riding and went into and out of the next checkpoint at mile 70. A short while after that checkpoint, I was caught by Jace. He was flying down the descents and I had no desire to travel at his speed because my ribs were hurting and I was still thinking about my nasty crash.  Eventually my mind and body felt like racing again, but the race was basically over by the time I felt like going fast again.  I made the return trip to the finish as much fun as I could and was very happy that I had survived the day when I crossed the finish line in third place.

If you're looking for an awesome 100 mile mtb race race to do, definitely consider doing the HC 100.  It is a top notch event with a great course.  Thanks to Mike Ripley and all of his helpers for putting on a fantastic event.

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Thanks to and Ryan O'Dell for the photos.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

ABRA MTB #2, Tomlinson Run Park XC

Before this weekend, I haven't done an XC distance mtb race since last fall.  It's not that I don't like XC racing, but it just seems like there is always an endurance mtb race happening at the same time.  I definitely prefer doing a longer race over a shorter one and for this reason, the longer races are usually chosen over the shorter XC races.  This weekend, however, I had a break in my endurance schedule and also had a nearby XC race, so my choice was easy to make.

The big difference between XC racing and doing a longer race is the intensity put out during the duration of the race.  Typically, an endurance race is started at a fast pace, but usually an hour or so into the race a more comfortable pace is set and maintained until the finish.  During an XC race, I usually have to start fast and maintain a faster pace until the finish.  Of course, an XC race is only about 2 hours long and endurance races are typically 5 or more hours, so it is easier to keep a high pace for the shorter distances of an XC race.  Nevertheless, I wasn't too sure how my body would react to the faster pace of an XC race.

Climbing one of the many short steep hills at the park.

To make my 1.5 hour drive to New Manchester, WV worth while, I arrived at Tomlinson Run State Park earlier than I usually do for a race.  I figured arriving early would give me time to do an entire lap around the 7 plus mile course.  Not only does this prepare me for the first hectic lap of the race, but it also gives me "bonus" training miles for the day.  I also did another entire lap after the finish of the race, so I could add training miles and "cool down."  But, when it is almost 100 degrees outside, I can't say my last lap cooled me down all that much.

The trails at Tomlison are pretty nice.  There is nothing too technical about them, but they were nice flowing single track trails with a lot of quick up and down sections of trail.  I decided to race the single speed category at the race on my Salsa Selma Ti bike with a rigid carbon fork and my Stan's Notubes Crest Wheels.  I figured it would be a good way to give my bike one final racing check before heading out to race in Bend, OR in a couple of weeks.  Overall, I would say Tomlison is not a bad place to ride with a SS.  There were not a ton of real fast sections and the up and down nature of the trails made riding a SS bike a hard, but fast choice.

The race started on a short stretch of pavement leading to a tight single track trail head.  I was sure things would bottleneck and jam-up there, so I went hard at the start to be one of the first riders into this section of trail.  A gap opened-up a short distance into the woods with me and four other riders pulling away from the rest of the pack.  Only one other SS rider, Nate Annon, was in the group and I was happy with the pace being set at the front.  It was fast, but not unmanageable with the gear I was using.  About halfway through the first lap, Rob Spreng made a move on a long climb.  I waited a few seconds for one of the other geared riders to respond to his move, but no one did.  I decided to try bridging up to Rob and Todd Latocha came along with me.  Todd and I got close to Rob, but we never did quite close the gap. 

A shallow creek crossing to help cool things off is always a good thing on a hot day.
 I was happy with how things were playing out after this move and figured I would ride with Todd for awhile, since I had created a nice gap over Nate.  A short distance later, Todd flatted and I found myself all alone in the race.  I could see Rob ahead, but nobody behind me.  Rob is one fast single track rider and I knew there was no reason for me to try and chase him down with the extreme heat of the day, so I kind of went into cruise control mode like I do in an endurance race.  I figured if someone started getting close to me, I could always turn on the gas again.  My strategy seemed to work for the rest of the race and by the finish, I maintained second place overall and took the SS win.

Once again, I need to give a big thank you to JR Petsko of ABRA Racing for putting together a great race.  The course was in perfect condition and a blast to ride even with the hot temperatures of the day.  Heck, I even got to take a nice cold shower after the race in the locker room at the swimming pool where the race day parking was.  What more could a guy want after a hot day on the bike?  I'm not sure when I'll be able to do another XC race with my crazy racing schedule the next couple of months, but I'll definitely be looking forward to doing another, especially if it is organized as well as this race was.

Happy Trails....  Gerry

Photo Credits:  Mike Briggs - Creek Crossing
                        Fred Jordan - Hill Climb

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mountain Junkies Fat 5 Enduro

After finishing the Hilly Billy Roubaix at the end of June, I had no definite race plans set in stone until the High Cascades 100 NUE Series Race in Bend, OR on July 21st.  I was hoping to find a MTB endurance race fairly close to home,so I could keep rebuilding my endurance fitness after my tick bite infection and treatment in June.  I did some searching on the internet and found a race in Bedford, VA (about a five hour drive from home) called the Mountain Junkies Fat 5 Enduro that seemed like a perfect fit.

I worked an early shift on Friday and was on my way to the Bedford, VA with my packed car by 2pm.  After knocking out the hectic drive down Interstate 81 (that highway is just insane) through Virginia, I arrived in Bedford with just enough time to do one loop of the race course.  I was really pumped to get on my bike after sitting in the car for 5 hours straight, even though it was still about 100 degrees outside at 7pm.  I took my bike out of the car, put on my cycling gear and then reached behind my car seat to grab my racing shoes.  Damn, they weren't there!  I tore my car apart hoping they might be some place else in the car, but I had no luck in finding them. 

By the time I finished all my digging, it was already 7:30 and I knew my options for finding shoes that fit properly for the race by early morning were not good.  I decided to ride my bike on the beginning part of the course with my Vans rubber-soled street shoes, but stopped riding after only doing about 1/2 mile because my Crank Brothers pedals were killing my feet.  Yeah, I actually did consider racing in my Vans up until that point.  I then searched the internet for a bike shop in town, but there was nothing in town and everything out of town had closed at 7pm.  My next thought was getting a pair of old school plastic toe clips and a cheap pair of caged pedals for the race at Walmart or something.  I found the pedals, but no clips to hold my feet on the pedals.  At this point, I was completely frustrated with myself about wasting all the time I did to drive to this race and not even being able to do it.  I was thinking about canceling my hotel reservation and driving home, so that I could at least do a long ride on Saturday with a proper pair of shoes.

But, before I cancelled my race plans altogether, I decided to give one last ditch effort of calling a friend a shot to see if he knew of any shoe options for me.  I decided to call my long time friend and Mountain Touring promoter extraodinar, Chris Scott.  Not only does Chris live in Virgina, but he also has more cycling contacts than anyone else I know.  Chris made some calls and before I knew it the Fat 5 Enduro race director himself, Kenny Palmer, was hand delivering me a nice pair of size 44 carbon-soled Bontrager shoes with Crank Brothers cleats already mounted to them.  Suddenly, the stress I had about my shoe situation was over and I could start concentrating on the race again.  I need to say a big thank you to both of you guys and to everyone else that assisted me in finding a pair of cycling shoes on such a short notice.

I checked into my hotel, moved everything into my room, put on the shoes and literally a few minutes later went outside to try the shoes on my bike, but was almost unable to open the door because the wind had gone from almost nothing to what seemed like an approaching hurricane.  Trees were blowing all over the place, branches were flying and thunder was booming.  I was shocked at how fast this storm rolled into the area and went back into my room to turn on the weather channel, so I could see the radar view of the storm soon to hit the area.  So, much for racing on dry trails tomorrow, I thought to myself when I saw the size of the storm headed to the area.

Oddly enough, though, very little rain came with the storm.  It was mostly a wind event, but the wind was so strong that it wrecked havoc to the trails where the race was to be held.  I did some pre-riding of the course when I arrived at Falling Creek Park to determine if I should race my geared Salsa Mamasite or my SS Selma Ti.  After seeing all the branches and debris on the trails I pre-rode, I decided a SS would be less risky.  The last thing I wanted was to start the race and then have it end quickly by a stick ripping off my derailleur a short distance into the 5 hour race.  I figured switching bikes later in the race was always an option if the trails cleared.

Kenny and his crew at the park did an outstanding job cutting down the trees that had fallen all over the course and after a few laps of racing, most of the debris on the trails had been kicked off by all the bikes riding over it.  The only issue riders had to contend with now was the heat of the day.  The forecast was for 100 degree temperatures and after a couple hours of racing, it felt like that threshold had been reached.  When it is super hot like this at a race, the most important thing to do is to keep drinking fluid.  On each 7.5 mile lap, I drank about 1.5 bottles of fluid.  I knew as long as I was still sweating all was good and I would not dehydrate.

There were no long sustained climbs on the course.  It was mostly a mix of quick up and down rollers on tight, rooty and rocky single track.  I race on stuff like this a lot and usually like it, but for some reason at this race my rigid carbon fork was not feeling very compliant and I was wishing my bike had a suspension fork in the worst way.  My hands actually started to hurt and with two hours of racing remaining, I wondered if I could forget about the pain enough to finish the race.  I'm pretty good at fighting through pain, so I focused on the finish and kept changing my hand position to get me through the remainder of the race.

The race started fast and I stuck to the two young geared riders ahead of me, Wes Lamberson and Gordon Wadsworth, for about a half lap.  I decided it would be better to slow my pace down a bit after the start because I knew the length of the race and the heat of the day was going to be an issue if I didn't.  Looking back now, I probably slowed my race down a little too early because I never felt too bad from the extreme heat.  I don't think the end result of the race would have been any different, though.  Wes and Gordon were flying and I was happy to finish in third place behind the two of them.  I got exactly what I wanted out of the race; a hard and fun workout.

I would certainly do another race promoted by Kenny Palmer.  He put on a class act of a race, especially considering how he had to contend with the extreme wind and heat Mother Nature gave him this past weekend.  Thanks to you and all the volunteers for doing a job well done!

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Photo Credt: Mark Morrow