Monday, May 20, 2013

The Syllamo 125: All Is Good!

I had a few concerns about travelling to Mountain View, Arkansas this past weekend for NUE Series Race #4, the Syllamo 125.  The biggest of these was the fact that an infection I got from a tick bite at this race a year earlier was still on my mind.  Of course, I had to deal with all of the other normal  race concerns that are present before doing a long and hard National Ultra-Endurance Series Race.  But, in additionally to my normal race preparation thoughts, I had even more concerns with the Syllamo 125 Race than other NUE Races because of the sharp rocks on the course which can tear a tire sidewall and ruin a race very quickly.  To make the race even more worrisome, the hot and humid weather in the forecast for the day had me concerned because I've had very little opportunity to ride in warm temperatures this Spring.  There was certainly no doubt in my mind that Syllamo was going to be a hard race on my body and bike.

Preparation for a race can sometimes be more important than actual physical conditioning for a race, especially for a difficult course like Syllamo.  One thing I did special for this race, to prepare for the rough course conditions, was to put on the heaviest tires made by Specialize, the Grids. I also decided to use a heavier pair of wheels instead of my light Carbon Roval Racing Wheels, to add further insurance that the rocks would not give me any issues during race day. Additionally, I put in a little extra time studying the course map and route.  Not so much because the course is not marked properly, but because of the multiple lap and checkpoint format this course has.

Before beginning the endless miles of single track this course has, the course goes straight up for about a mile on a fireroad climb. This climb does a very good job is separating all the riders.  I was one of the top ten riders to make it into the single track and there were three other singlespeed racers along with me. My goal was not to go particularly hard at the beginning of the race due to the predicted heat, but that is easier said then done.  I like riding alone and having a group of competitors surrounding me was not how I wanted to spend my race day.  For this reason, I kept my pace a little higher than I initially planned through the opening miles of the single track.  This strategy seemed to work and I was able to get a nice gap over the other singlespeeders about 5 miles into the race.
Some of the Syllamo Sweetness!

Once I had my gap, my plan was to keep my power output at a more sustainable race pace.  Doing this allows me to pay closer attention to the trail features and the course markings, which seems to help me stay on course and also helps in preventing my bike from getting damaged by trying to ride too fast through the technical parts of the course.  My plan was going well until a new pair grips I installed began to loosen, which caused my right grip to become like a motorcycle throttle.  This was mostly an issue when I was climbing because the grip was moving all over the place.  At one point, the grip came completely of my bars and I had to pound it back on.  I thought about stopping to fix it, but I did want to waste any time doing this since I was not sure of what my time gap was over chasing riders and I figured it would do little good after diagnosing the cause of the problem.  Luckily, the rest of my bike worked flawlessly and I learned to deal with my motorcycle grip to keep the bike moving fast through the trails.

I was happy things were going pretty well and that my body did not seem to be feeling the effects of the hot weather conditions.  I was drinking a lot to stay hydrated and using every opportunity the trail gave me to force fluid into my body.  I knew this would be important to do on such a hot and humid day.  Unfortunately, my plan of drinking a lot the entire day was derailed when I arrived at checkpoint four and was told not to pick anything up because I would be coming back into the checkpoint.  I didn't think this was right, but I rode away from the checkoint with about 3 gulps of fluid left in my bottle.  A couple of miles later I realized the second lap of the yellow loop was beginning and that I would be riding for about an hour with almost no fluid.

Realizing this was not a good situation on such a hot day, I made a plan to ration my 3 gulps to one every 15 minutes so that I could limp back into the next checkpoint. I also kept my eyes open on every descent I went down for a bottle that may have fallen from another rider's bike on the first lap of the yellow trail.  Unfortunately, I did not find any stray bottles on the trail and my body was starting to feel the effects of not drinking enough fluid.  Once I notice my body had stopped sweating, I knew my situation was not looking good.  By the time I noticed this, I started catching up to riders riding between checkpoint two and three and I was able to beg a gulp of fluid from three separate riders heading into my last checkpoint.  I quickly re-hydrated myself at the checkpoint, grabbed my gear and hit the last section of the red trail before the finish.

It was amazing to me how my large consumption of fluid at the checkpoint revitalized me and allowed me to ride fast again.  I was completely pumped during my last ride on the red trail heading to the finish.  The red single track trails are just plain fast fun and a great way to end a hard race.  Since I was unsure about how much time I had lost during my time of riding with little to no fluid, I rode this last section of red as fast as I could to maintain my lead. 

The final miles of the race went well and I was able to keep my lead for the singlespeed win, which was also good enough for third place overall in the 125K race. One of the first things I did after finishing the race was to do a quick look over my body for ticks.  I was so happy to see none attached to me this year. I also showered soon after finishing and did a more thorough check for ticks on my body.  All checks were negative for any of those little pesky pests and the day was a good one for sure!

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The 6 Hours of Brady's

I wasn’t planning to race this weekend.  I figured it would be better to recover over the weekend by doing long training rides after competing at the Cohutta 100 last weekend and having the Wildcat 100 on the race schedule for next weekend. But, the 6 Hours of Brady’s was just too hard to resist doing with a great course design of single track trails, being close to home, and also having a very nice payout to all of the solo classes.  So, I decided to skip my rest weekend and do the six hour race instead of resting.
I signed-up for the masters class because the payout for all the solo categories was the same and I was hoping I would not have to go super hard at this race, so I could save some gas in the tank for the Wildcat 100.  I also had a major landscaping project planned at my new home for Saturday that I knew would kick my butt.  And, kick my butt it did!  I ended-up spending 14 hours in my yard on Saturday planting 17 shrubs and shoveling 4 ton of river rock.  My arms and back were spent after doing all of this and I wondered how I was going to feel at the race the next day.
I woke-up at 5:00AM to prepare for the race on Sunday.  While drinking my first morning cup of coffee, I noticed my arms were still pretty spent from all the shoveling I did on Saturday.  I came up with what I thought was a bright idea during my next cup of coffee and decided to build-up my geared bike real quick for the race instead of using my normal single speed machine.  First, I tried moving my suspension fork to my geared bike, but it didn’t work because the steer tube was about 1/8” too short.  Fortunately, everything else built-up pretty quickly and the thought of racing with gears for the day seemed like it would make my day much easier than using a SS bike.
With nothing packed for the race and the extra time I spent preparing my geared bike for the day, I ended-up leaving home about thirty minutes later than I had initially planned.  Additionally, I forgot to take into account that my new home was an extra 15 minutes away from the race venue I have been to a number of times over the years.  Needless to say, I wound up arriving for the race a little late, like 20 minutes before the start.  I like feeling prepared for races, but I was certainly not feeling this way when I arrived at this race so late.
The start was fast, kind of like an XC race start.  As a matter of fact, the whole race kind of felt like an XC race.  This may have been because the mostly single track course did not give riders much of a break, or because there was always somebody to “race” against with all the duo class riders on the course too.  I rode in the first group for the first lap and most of the second lap.  Eventually, I decided this was not wise when I remembered about trying to save some steam for next weekend and also knowing I had a comfortable lead over any chasing master racers.
Initially, I found my geared bike to be just the ticket needed to help me deal with my sore, overworked body.  But, as the race approached the 3 hour mark, I noticed my arms were feeling really beat up from riding the course with a rigid fork and I was starting to not enjoy the whole shifting thing.  Luckily, my SS bike was waiting in the transition area and I decided to switch over to it for the last three hours of the race.  I immediately noticed a difference on my SS bike and my lap times came back down again. 
The next three hours of racing was pretty much uneventful and I pretty much just rode at a fast training pace.  My legs never felt real good at Brady's.  I'm not sure if this was from doing Cohutta and a hard week of training afterwards, or from the all the work I did landscaping on Saturday.  It was probably a combination of the two.  I do know that I was happy about deciding to race with guys my own age at Brady's because I certainly would not have been competitive in any other category with the way my body was feeling at the end of this race.  I did hold on to my lead to take the masters win, but was pretty much completely spent after the race.
I can't end this blog without saying a big thank you to Chris Miceli and all the riders from Beaver Valley Velo that made the 6 Hours of Brady's race one of the best endurance races I've done.  The course was in great shape, well marked and everything about the event seemed to be organized very well.  I may have beat myself up pretty good this weekend, but I'm glad I made the decision to do this race and will certainly be doing it again in the future.
Happy Trails...  Gerry
Thanks to Mike Briggs for the photo!