Monday, May 19, 2014

The Wayne Ultra 2014

This past weekend was jammed packed with cycling events.  I was having a hard time deciding between doing a number of races including: The Mountain State Dirty Double Ultra CX Stage Race, the Pisgah 111k, the Greenbriar Regional MTB Championship, the OMBC Mohican XC Race, and the race I finally chose to do, the WVMBA Wayne Ultra MTB Race in Wayne National Forest near Marietta, OH. I guess the main reasons I chose Wayne over the multitude of other choices was because it was closer to home, only a one day commitment, held on a great course and finally because it always pays top riders pretty well.  After completing the event, I can certainly say that my choice was definitely the best one for me.

The Wayne Ultra course is 98% trail, which is true tight and twisty single track requiring a rider to use a lot of concentration to keep his bike on the trail because of all the technical features. These trails are never boring and are super fun to ride.  And, just because this course is in the state of Ohio, don't think for a minute that it has no climbing.  My Garmin showed 5200' of elevation gain over the 40 mile distance of the race.  

With all the rain our region received over the past week, I definitely thought the trails were going to be pretty muddy on race day.  But, overall, I was very surprised at how good the trail conditions at Wayne were.  There were some muddy spots here and there and traction was an issue on some of the steeper climbs, but the course was not the mud fest I expected after the record setting rain that fell on Thursday.  The conditions did require a little extra concentration at times, but this only makes the course more fun in my opinion.

A nice photo, but had a tough fall and break in getting it!
To add to the difficult trail features at Wayne, I had the pleasure of competing at this race with a broken rib I suffered from a fall I took on Thursday. How did I break my rib? Well, if you're one of my Facebook friends, I'm sure you've seen one of my many waterfalls pictures posted there.  I have a strange obsession with finding and taking pictures of all the waterfalls in the area where I live. While riding a trail in the heavy rain on Thursday, on my way to work, I heard the roar of a waterfall I had yet to view.  I decided to climb down a steep ravine to get a better view of it and when I did, lost my footing.  I was about to tumble a good fifty feet to the creek below, but was fortunate enough to catch a tree at the last moment.  Unfortunately, the small 4" thick tree I caught with my hands was dead and snapped off when I grabbed at it. As a result, my momentum continued forward and my chest went directly into the broken off stump.  This impacted knocked the wind out of me and caused instant pain to the ribs on my right side, just below my sternum.  

I've broken ribs before and I am very familiar with the pain this injury causes.  When I got back on my bike and continued to feel the pain, I knew one or more of my ribs had cracked.  Interestingly enough, my ribs actually hurt less riding than when I do regular activities like coughing, laughing, blowing my nose or getting in or out of bed.  Don't get me wrong, there is still pain when I'm bouncing around on my bike, but I guess this is something I expect from riding hard.  It's not normal to have pain when doing the everyday mundane activities of life, though.  

With my new injury, I decided to take the initial miles of single track at the Wayne Ultra a little more cautiously than I typically would at the beginning of the race.  Meanwhile, two other riders, Justin Pokrivka and Ryan Miracle, were pushing the pace hard.  I was pretty content to continue riding a steady pace with John Proppe and two other riders during this time.  Eventually, though, I became more comfortable with the jolts of pain in my ribs and decided it was time to push the pace a little faster to see how my body reacted.  When I came to a split in the course for the long and short distances, I asked a race volunteer how far back I was from the leaders. He said about two minutes.  

It's hard to make up time on the tight single track at Wayne, but I continued to push my pace and eventual caught Ryan Miracle.  He let me pass quickly and I then began my chase of J-Pok riding on a rigid SS bike.  Since I was using my Specialized Epic with gears, I figured that small amount of time could be made up pretty quickly.  Sure enough, when the trail exited onto a couple miles of gravel and paved road, I was able to increase my speed to about 23 mph and reel in my friend.  J-Pok and I then rode together for quite a while, before all the long and steep climbs started to take some wear on my singlespeeding friend.  I know at times the 34x42 low range gearing on my xx1 drivetrain felt like a little much on this tough course.  I'm sure the 36x21 Justin was using had to hurt!

Anyway, once I was clear from Justin, I rode a fast but conservative pace to the finish to take the overall win.  J-Pok continued riding strong, placing 1st in the SS race and second overall.  Jim Mayuric was the next open class rider to finish, followed closely by singlespeeder Don Powers.  Again, it was pretty cool to see such a strong showing from Pittburgh Area riders at an out-of-town race.
Mens Open Podium
Definitely put the Wayne Ultra on a list of races to do.  The course was well marked, the trails were well groomed for the event and overall, the race was a lot of fun to do.  It's a shame there were so many good races happening on one weekend because I really was torn on which race I should attend. As I wrote earlier, though, I absolutely think the best choice was made when I decided on doing the Wayne Ultra!

Happy Trails...  Gerry


Monday, May 12, 2014

The Beast!

I did a local endurance MTB race this weekend in Beaver Falls, PA, which was named The Beast Six Hours of Brady's. And, just like when I did this race last year, it was without a doubt a true beast to conquer.  I kind of think it's funny how I travel all over the nation to race, but find some of the toughest courses in my back yard.  I'm sure this is why there are so many fast racers coming out of the Pittsburgh, PA area.

So, anyway, the Beast was a timed raced based on the total number of laps completed in six hours of racing on a mostly single track course.  The lap distance was approximately 7 miles long and had around 1000 feet of climbing per lap.  After suffering pretty badly on the course last year, I decided to use my Specialized Epic for the race this year and was so happy with my decision.  Using a full suspension bike with gears is not my typical choice, but I must say that having the ability to shift and having a bike with suspension to absorb all the bumps is something I'm beginning to like more and more.  Maybe my age is finally beginning to catch up with me?  It did seem weird for me to not be on a singlespeed bike at the beginning of a race. Others must think it is strange too because I definitely heard more than a few people say, "You're using gears, Gerry?"  

The Beast starts and travels on a rough gravel road before entering the singletrack.  It was so nice to be able to power along this stretch by shifting to a harder gear.  The use of these gears allowed me to get the hole shot leading into the trail and made the first long climb almost a breeze to ride.  My teammate Rob Spreng and I got a nice gap on this first climb, before I let Rob by so he could do his thing on the trail.  Rob rips the singletrack as good as anyone I know and following his lead for the first three laps was a blast.  But, eventually, the fast trail riding pace being set by Rob was a little more than I felt comfortable with doing in a six hour race, so I backed off the speed a bit.  

The cool thing about racing on the Brady's course is that it never gets boring even though it is a multiple lap race.  There are enough technical features on the course to keep it interesting and fun, even during a six hour race.  To make things even more interesting this year, Mother Nature decided to change the course from fast single track conditions to very slick and muddy conditions about halfway through the race.  Once the conditions got bad, I backed my speed down a bit more because I didn't want to make a stupid mistake and lose the lead I had.  I was still the second solo rider on the course at this time and was first in my age class.

With two laps to go, the singlespeed race leader, Joe Malone, caught up to me and we got to ride together for a while.  It was interesting for me to compare what I was able to do on a bike with gears to what Joe could not do on his singlespeed.  It made me wonder about how much time I could gain if I used a geared bike at an NUE Series Race and how my overall finish at these races would be affected. I will admit that this curiosity has entered my mind many times before, but recently has been at the forefront of it.  I'm thinking now might be the time for me to put my singlespeed racing on a temporary hold.  Change is good and after winning the NUE Series Singlespeed Championship the past five years, doing 100 milers with a geared full-suspension bike sounds very inviting to me.  I'll definitely be giving this idea some more thought.

But, my mind will think of things like this during a race lasting for six hours or more to help me pass the time. Having Joe along for the last part of the race was a big help too, especially with the conditions seeming to deteriorate more and more with each passing lap.  By the end of the race, my bike and body was completely covered in mud and I was absolutely ready for the finish.  I took the masters win by over a lap and finished as the second placed solo rider behind Rob, but most surprisingly, beat all the duo teams except for one: the Mihalik/Gorski Team.  It must have been the bike I was riding....

Thanks to Chris Miceli and his volunteers for putting together a great race.  It's always great to have a quality local event to attend and this race was certainly top quality in all ways!  Also thanks to Mike Briggs for his camera work and for taking the photos used in this blog post.

Happy Trails...