Monday, October 5, 2015
Anyways, if I can say nothing else this has been a year of things not going according to plan and yet having the perhaps the best collective race results particularly in the “bigger” races.
I love however the past 5 years I’ve been able to wind down the MTB season with what’s becoming a standby venerable MTB racing event. The Deerfly Chase at Hickory Ridge Trails just outside of New Auburn, WI.
This years edition went unconventional & pushed it’s date on the calendar into the first weekend of October, but the same fantastic weather conditions that have blessed the now 5 time event in the end of September hung around as well.
Fortunately due to some fitness, skill & a healthy dose of luck I’ve had a front row seat to the previous editions of the event going back to 2011. I was hoping that this year that streak could continue going into Saturdays (Oct 3rd) event.
A concentrated effort on being prepared & to the race ahead of schedule would surely throw off my would be competition, who knows all to well my lack of timeliness & the regular squealing tires of the Swanson minivan as it’s known to slide on two wheels into the closest parking space for any given race.
Well, this year didn’t play out much different… still the last to sign off at registration, 15minutes before the starting horn. Hey, I’m thinking it’s all about marginal improvement year over year. Maybe by the time I’m 80 I’ll have gotten to the point of arriving an hour early.
As I regretfully digress …. back to arriving this year, brought the whole fam along, van deck out in bikes inside & out. Unstrapped & unloaded, checked for tire pressure & Stages power meter signal & it was off for a pre-ride of the last 1/2mile of the course. Alittle snafu last year in not knowing where the finish was likely caused my demise to a single speeding demon Nate Lillie for the victory & an attempted threepeat.
Got a good look on pre-ride, saw some new single track that replaced former ski trail finish & headed for a last minute bathroom break & to the line. Looking around…. Hmmm…. many of same cagey characters from previous editions. Robo-leg Lillie, Mr. Universe Ryan Fitzgerald, Matt O’meara, Kevin Roytek, only to name a few. Others missing but replaced with new fresh faces ever eager to get rolling into the mix. The line of races was 125 deep on the pavement rollout behind the two 4 wheelers. Race Director Noah, gave timing extraordinaire Bob Schwartz the high sign & off for a pleasant mile or so rollout. The rollout is a nice touch for how this race starts before unleashing the hounds….
I don’t recall what Noah calls it after that mile rollout but there’s a sharp left hand turn onto some Gorilla Gravel road climb. I know the race is only 5yrs old but had to be going big time at this point as there was a helicopter drone, probably straight out of Jeffrey Bezos, Amazon black ops garage filming us, trying to get the secrets of what makes this race so special & spectacular…. look for your Youtube posting, I’m thinking this stuff is somehow gonna get leaked by some Edward Snowden looking type…
Well, the race takes off in earnest this point with Fitzgerald taking to the front at a nice pace. I’m happily settled into 3rd or so behind Nate Lillie. The climb this year had a Prime of untold value on it, only I couldn’t get Noah to confirm if it was Optimus or not.
A few racers whom I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing opted to raced to the front & collect ahead of Ryan, Nate & myself. From there it’s a nice rolling gravely section that has good speed & stretches the race out alittle. So we tooled along that for awhile with Ryan, Nate & myself taking turns at the front.
Noah has a nice breaking point in the race as it detours over what appears to be old logging roads. I find this part of the race course one of my favorites as it’s rock hard fast terrain but with parts to still be mindful of. One can just power down hard, so when Nate looked over at me on the left hand corner I assumed & correct me if I’m wrong Nate -- it was “go time?” I may have had a devilish smile as my legs were aching to drop the hammer & so they did as I started drilling it, later easing up for Ryan to take the lead on the next incline. This was enough to stretch out the race for good as Nate & Adam Tripp brought in the troops from behind.
A quick transition of some single track where I took to the front again & I had a gap over everyone, but knowing it was a long race opted to ease up as I assumed we’d regroup for the next gravel section. Only the pace put all but Ryan in the hurt locker & we had a 30-50 yard lead coming out of it. Looking behind a few times, we hmm’d-haw’d over keeping up the pace or easy off. Without trying to pull away or ease up the gap stayed & it was appearing it’d be a 2 man race for all the marbles. As we could only later see Nate & Adam working on catching but not closing the gap.
Then an early race agreement was struck between riders, Ryan opted to make his efforts on the gravel & open sections, allow me the pleasure of taking the lead in some of the most fantastic single track the state of Wisconsin has to offer. This stuff holds a cherished place in my racing heart a close second to the Seeley Pre-fat race course trails. Tight, twisty, not all the artificial man made jumps & bumps from machine building & the ever growing “Starbucks singletrack” IMBA world. Rather it’s more like real world, ducking, weaving, corning, diving, twisting& turning thru the woods. (Ok, ok, sorry for the Starbucks/IMBA comments, I like that stuff too. Just wish EVERYTHING wasn’t starting to look that way.)
The first hour of racing went by so fast, had to have pretty high concentration, I was definitely pushing the pace, out of pure enjoyment more than any kind of racing savvy (more on that later). Ryan would drop off the pace at times but then like some yo-yo or a damn piece of chewing gum stuck to your shoe come screaming back up to me.
I shouldn’t speak for Ryan but I think we were having a good time. We’d get out on the open stuff he’d do a nice strong pull even on some shorter single track when I didn’t get around him fast enough.
In the later third of the race, in talking to Ryan figured we’d finish with at least a 4 minute lead. But this is also where the trails wander in all sorts of directions and in that same moment our thoughts of a comfortable lead come to a screeching halt as we first saw Adam Trip thru the trees… what the!? Where did he come from! Later realizing maybe he wasn’t as close as first thought. Next it was a another switchback around a hill & there was Nate Lillie! Dang, we’re pounding it on the trails & keep thinking these guys must be catching us, what kinda horse power is Nate driving in that 27.5 bike of his?
Time splits were starting to be given to us and we heard 35 seconds, almost in disbelief, perhaps we heard it wrong. So much for the 2-3minute gap I thought we had. About this time I get out of the blue a twinge in my leg. What the heck is that? I don’t cramp, this is not happening. Dangit! I also know what this means, a bonk is on it’s way & I’m not near enough to that finish line. So I put on a higher cadence effort & conserve at every opportunity and like waves my energy level would come & go. I was now hoping the repeated efforts Ryan had been making earlier to stay close in the single track maybe was having a fatiguing effect on him as well.
We navigated the multitude of long race/short race junction points, made it thru boulder heaven and a mud bog that flat out stopped our bikes faster than some gooey campfire cooked marshmallows.
In the final 15 minutes I started to go really flat, energy wise, not mechanically. Like the life force is being sucked out my body through my eyeballs. I started the early phases of blacking out, for real. I had a serious bonk coming on. My vision started to get darker & gray. I’d blink hard thinking it’d go away. Na-uh, wasn’t gonna do it.
I hung with Ryan on the final gravel section & open ski trail section with only a mile or two to go. Noah added a new near 180 degree turn onto single track & in my near unconscious state I bobbled that & let Ryan off to the finish on his own.
I pushed in that final mile seeing the friendly faces of my wife Kate & son Marshall (11) to finish 2nd on the day. Happy for Ryan to have had such a solid race & it was a fantastic time riding as hard & fast as we did. Only weeks earlier on a Chequamegon 40 pre ride we’d had a sorta flip flop of events. That’s the great thing about bike racing you can never tell how it’s all gonna play out.
After I came thru the finish, we chatted for a bit and waited to see how things played out behind us. Nate came in for 3rd, a super effort for a great guy. His first race back from a major broken leg in March. Goes to show we as capable of coming back from pretty big problems & to never give up or feel like you can’t get back. Just gotta put your head down & keep trying.
It was a rush of riders after Nate, all with some good stories & tales to share.
Did a cool down ride with my 2 favorite girls, Hope (9) & Grace (7) & then off to the Deerfly post race party of eats, drinks & awards. Noah & his leadership have put together an extraordinary event with a feel like none other. I personally greatly appreciate all the efforts that go into making the Deerfly Chase possible and a huge thank you to all the volunteers and incredible trail builders who have made the Hickory ridge trails the very special ones that they are.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Yeah, gotta love defying conventional wisdom. Take 11 years of training and keep breaking thru to new peaks.
It’s been post season power testing the past 2 weeks. Despite all the personal challenges and adversity of this past year. Cranked out some awesome power tests.
Any cycling athlete that trains regularly with watt measuring power device, knows of the sometimes dreaded 20minute Threshold test. Personally I hadn’t worked on one in awhile.
At almost age 42, most people are gonna say… “eh, you know getting up there.” I say, bullshit, our abilities are driven by many factors not just age.
Here’s a reference, much loved cyclist Jens Voight, last month set the world 1hr TT record. He did it targeting a power output of around 370watts. Does that effort hurt? Um… yes. Will there be faster guys that ultimately break his record at higher wattage out put. Sure.
Now I wasn’t going for a world 1hr TT record but I was going for a personal best 20min effort. I’m happy to say I landed just 11 watts shy of what Jens did for an hour. Could I have kept that up for another 40 minutes, hell no. But maybe 340watts, less than 10% off the world record holder? That’s actually not so far fetched.
Power is relative to weight on hills -- and frontal body surface on flats. Jens’ at 168lbs has got me by 3-7lbs on any given day.
I’ve got a point in all this. Don’t believe all the conventional wisdom. Wisdom that says after 10yrs of training you’re maxed out, you can’t possibly get any faster. Guess what? In 11th year and I just put 3% gains on my 20min threshold ability. Oh, you’re almost 42, you’re past your prime. Eh? Well, if that was the case it wouldn’t be a new peak right?
Maybe this is not true for everyone, but my point is don’t give up, try different strategies and approaches. If anything the worst that happens you still maintain a very high competitive form of fitness…
Some of my favorite athletes as a kid were the older ones. They inspired others as to what was possible. Yes, there’s a lot of things in life and we can’t do everything, but if you have a desire for something don’t give up. Believe in the unconventional. World record 1hr TT holder is 43, winner of 2013 ground tour Vuelta a Espana 41, even Olympian’s like Dara Torres can be in their 40’s. Pursue it as long as it’s of interest to you and you have desire. You might just end up amazing yourself…
Friday, October 10, 2014
Fat bike Plans & Parties…. for this Fall & Winter, read on..
New Fatabulous Fat bike getting some love & assembly…
Monday, September 29, 2014
What is it with this beautiful weather last weekend in September the past 4 years? Some say good luck, I’m thinking it’s the Deerfly Chase MTB race…
September comes around in MTB season and there’s sometimes this letdown after the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. Fortunately, the DeerFly Chase MTB race at Hickory Ridge 30 miles Northeast of Eau Claire has been a perfect event to wind down the MTB season the last Sat in September.
This year was no different. Having broken my left hand in mid August it really put the damper on my racing season in what’s normally a higher priority time . I struggled thru the Chequamegon 40 in a lot of pain but finished as solid as I could, it was nice to have a shot at another MTB race.
Now the good fortune of racing an end-of-the-season-burnt-out Nathan Lillie like last year wasn’t in the cards, if anything the odds were tilting the other way as I came in on a still healing fractured left hand that was about as appreciative of downhills, drops, roots and rocks as a blade of grass is to a trampling herd of buffalo.
Never knowing who might show up also puts some wild cards into play. Rumors of this particular racer or that swirled in the weeks leading up to the race. As it stood, a race fit, fresh off an outstanding top 30 Chequamegon 40 finish, Ryan Fitzgerald dropped in join the foray as well.
My best laid plans of getting to the race early evaporated with a late nite project the night before and a swirling household of busyness consumed my morning. Didn’t help I misjudged the time it’d take to get to the race either. So I’m peeling into the makeshift hayfield park lot as the line up of racers on the rollout section is 100 deep with 5 minutes to go. Oops!
I get the obligatory & deserved heckling from follow racers, as Noah Michaelsen, race director extraordinaire is helping me tie on my #1, defending champ racing plate before the starting gun goes off. I don’t know if he was laughing or incensed by it.
So I pop out with the “special weapon” I’d worked on setting up until midnite the night before. My up to this point completely unused 2014 race bike, sometimes a rookie mistake to do, but my still mending hand desperately needed the best suspension it could find.
Without warmup, I’m got to line & 60 seconds later we’re off, trailing Noah, & Brian Kelley on the lead out four wheelers. Fortunately, it’s a controlled rollout for mile & half that would have to constitute my warmup.
The 4 wheelers let us loose at the gravel turn off and the rpm’s kicked up. The first to lead the charge up the first hill that splits up the race was ever affable Matt O’Meara with engine as good as ever, just carrying more on the racing chassis. Following Matt things stretched out abit and two quasi lines of racers formed. An ensuing descent and more gravel dwindled things further but still a group of 8-10 including top 4 female finisher at the Chequamegon 40 Rebecca Sauber riding strong.
I knew within a short distance we’d finish go off road to some ski trails before hitting the first short section of single track. I was itching to get things rolling, yet trying to exercise restraint knowing my legs hadn’t had a chance to get warm up yet. However I let my need for speed override any other decision making capabilities and hit the off road section mix of ski trail & single track at an earnest pace. Seeing if anyone would struggle abit. The result as I turned around was I had gaps, Nate Lillie was off several bike length and then at least 4 to 6 racers behind him.
I felt alittle winded coming off that effort and knowing we had more rolling gravel sections, I held up and waited for them to join again. I could tell it wasn’t gonna be a super day, but if I road smart I should hold my own. The single track had my left hand twinging at the pain but the new bike suspension was helping to tame it as good as was possible.
On the open road, Ryan Fitzgerald went to the front and lead our group for a bit after me and he & I exchange that lead for awhile. As best as I could tell, it contained Ryan, myself, Nate Lillie, I believe Matt Zak and this other guy I couldn’t identify at first.
The race eventual becomes a domain single track race interspersed with ski trail and gravel road riding. My guess is 15-20minutes into the race we finally got riding the Hickory Ridge single track, Nate Lillie took to the front and had a controlled pace. With me trailing, followed by who I later found out was the up & coming Logan Schlough. I’d know of him racing from seeing result over the years, the kid is getting fast. I tip my helmet to his efforts. With Ryan Fitzgerald bringing up the rear of our fearsome foursome.
My inclination was to pick up the pace while the single track was tight, rougher in the beginning and we could get gaps but Nate backed it off ever so slightly to pace his single speeding efforts. We continued thru the single track ebbing and flowing the lead group as conditions warranted. The trails had dried up substantial since I pre-road on the Thursday before, so the same level of caution I thought was gonna be needed could be thrown to the wind.
Hickory Ridge trails a quite the gem of trails that don’t get the press they deserve. Really a substantial & diverse set of trails for all levels riders. It presents timely and adequate challenges.
It’s there that’s where the first break in action at the front of the group happened. After navigating a bridge or two, we then hit a longer “skinny” serpentine bridge over a wet area. Nate cleared it fairly easily, I took a funny line onto it but stayed steady enough to cross, from behind I could hear Logan didn’t exactly have the same luck. I could hear him go off, and correspondingly I was guessing Ryan wasn’t gonna make it either.
I told Nate we got a break, to put it down. Not sure if he heard me very well, but he picked up the pace abit for a short distance and the sounds of racers behind us disappeared. I’m thinking, “Ah, good, now it just down to Nate & I, a rematch of last year.” Little did I know, but Logan was able to pick himself up and hammer back as he steadily kept creeping back up closing the gap. I still didn’t know it was Logan at that time, so I thought -- crap we’re really going have to go hard somewhere later in the race. Ryan in the meantime had a harder fall wasn’t coming back into the picture.
With about 11-12 miles to go, and Logan almost back on, we transitioned thru a short uphill ski section at a hard effort, on top of his chase back, it was just enough to hold him in check from getting back to us, then later I heard him have a bike issue and he was off the lead for the remainder of the race having used up a lot of proverbial matches to chase on.
Nate continued to ride the single track smoothly on his Pivot Singlespeed 36x17 gearing. I had a few hand issues happening and was working my own pace staying close when I wanted to and dropping back some if it felt right. With just under 10 miles to go we got back out on the rolling gravel roads and Nate had a 6-8 second lead and hit the first climb putting more time into me. I’d started to have some cramping in my hamstrings, the last thing I needed was to go over my limit when I knew I should be able close a lot of the gap on the ensuing downhills. Sure enough, weight helps and hurts both ways. Climbing makes for a harder effort, but as I like to say “the fat man wins the race to the bottom of the hill.” Being that there’s a 30+ lb weight difference between myself & Nate that’s the yo-yoing we did as I caught back up.
With just over 5-6 miles left we hit our final single track section of about 2 miles. Some new parts are really super well designed and other more challenging, only in respect to the copious amounts leaves that had fallen. Making the single track line difficult to follow. It was here I was starting to get gapped not by choice, Nate built up a gap of over 12 seconds and my cramps were getting more profound, I was braking more, my hand was taking a beating and I was on the verge of letting him go when we exited the final single track and began the final romp home thru gravel roads and cross country ski trails. I kept thinking, gosh, this race has gotta get over soon. It was longer than years past due to course changes and my body, legs and hand weren’t appreciating it.
But much like the prior section of gravel, we yo-yo’d the up and downhills, but being that gravel riding is very familiar to me from training I seemed to get a renewed strength and felt like maybe, just maybe I’d be able to get back into this race to make a decent go at the finish….
Once I caught Nate at the next climb and corner back onto ski trail I rolled to the front pretty hard, not sure if I’d be going over my limit but I was willing to take the chance. I lead out a good share of next few miles and Nate would do his best to stay like glue to me.
Though I hadn’t pre road the final miles of the course, I figured I’d be able to remember enough of it. In years past, it seemed endlessly long, this year it was the opposite. After awhile I let Nate take the lead again & kept looking for familiar signs we might be near the finish but holding back slightly because I kept thinking we had another 1/2 to full mile to go and it would be unwise to cramp up before then. That would prove to be most unfortunate.
In what seemed like a blink, we rounded a left corner on the ski trail and Nate stood up and started pedaling really hard. I looked further up, and oh my goodness, there’s the finish line!! I jumped on it then and in what seemed like slow motion I kept coming further & further around Nate as he angled towards the finish line, only to run out of real estate to get around him before crossing the line and going thru the finishing gate.
It was an awesome finish, giving the spectators some excitement. Slight body & bike contact and Nate squeezing me out by a foot. The win couldn’t have gone to a better guy. He worked hard, road smart and deserved it for sure.
Had a great time afterwards catching up with follow racers. Organizers have a nice party afterwards with food, beverage, awards and prizes. Besides the tale I shared I’m sure there’s a bunch other great stories from other racers and their experience at the Deerfly Chase both the race and the event afterwards.
My many, many thanks to Noah Michaelsen, Brian Kelley and volunteers for all the support and efforts they put in to make the Deerfly Chase happen each year and to make the Hickory Ridge trails one of the best kept secrets out there. Do yourself a favor and consider checking it out both sometime…
Full results and info here…https://www.facebook.com/events/926845487341829/
Monday, September 22, 2014
Ok, probably when one of the quiet moments of life occurs, I might just catch up on a great season of stories and adventures in this blog.
Nasty crashes, Broken left hand, knocking at the door in big races, … and lot’s of good friends and people that make a summer of cycling and mt bike racing so much fun!!!
Quick note out to fellow racer Devin Curran, dude took a monster crash at the Cheq 40 the other weekend. Details aren’t my speciality on this one, but when you end up taking a helicopter ride because your body & head has bounced off the pavement it ain’t the best. If you know Devin keep him in mind, we wish him well.
Speaking of the Chequamegon 40, don’t think it’s the last time in the season to get out and use that fitness you gained or to have some fun racing bikes. There’s one race in now it’s 4th edition I’d say serious consider checking out. Head over to the Bloomer/New Auburn area (approx. 30miles NE of Eau Claire) and check out the Hickory Ridge trails.
Noah Michaelson, race director of the Deerfly Chase does an awesome job of putting on a great race and a race atmosphere that is perfect for end of the season race. Here’s the details…http://chippewaoffroad.org/events/deer-fly-chase
Whether I’m nursing up the broken hand & taking pictures & sipping a beer or strapping on a number and racing hard I’m gonna be there enjoying a wrap up to a great season. Hope to see many of you there!!
Monday, July 14, 2014
Life’s been on a roller coaster since my last post. Probably the reason for not getting in any posts since. I keep thinking to myself… someday, someday….
In a nutshell, training is coming along, there were some low’s but last race at the Chippewa Valley Firecracks (www.wors.org) confirmed maybe, just maybe this change of routine is working. More on that later….
On a personal note - Our 3yr old son, little Aaron, he’s made some amazing progress from his near drowning accident in May I last wrote about. Situations like that should never let you look at any day of your life the same, no matter how back to normal things can get. Both the accident and the recovery can be considered blessings as strange as that may sound for what they bring to your life.
It’s really profoundly changed some belief’s I’ve held.
Now on the lighter side I’ve got all kinds of amusing little race stories and other cycling tales to share. Hopefully all in good time and shortly.
And lastly if I can put in a shameless plug for a local races in the communities here……should any of you find yourself in the northern reaches of Wisconsin July 19th or July 26th. Consider taking in Ashland’s own Mudrutters MTB race. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152211981662876&set=a.481575512875.259134.321400402875&type=1&theater
and Washburn own Brownstone Days MTB Race
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Been a pretty rough week -- and I would do anything to say it’s because of training. Unfortunately it’s not the case.
My family experienced a terrible incident last Sat the 3rd. One of the worst a parent or anyone for that matter ever wants to experience. Prior to preparing for a family bike ride, our youngest (3 yr old Aaron Cooper) fell into a pond when playing. He was down for an undetermined period of time. I jumped in & pulled him from the pond, he was unresponsive as I rushed him to the hospital 1 1/2 miles away.
The ER team worked incredibly hard performing life saving measures and brought his heart beat back after about 35minutes and he was life flighted to Duluth, MN St. Mary’s Pediatric ICU.
Its now a week later. It’s been both the fastest & slowest 8 days of my life. There has been so many ranges of emotions, from gripping fear to elation, even writing now the mind floods with trying to get my head around it.
Besides the initial shock, there have been advances and setbacks that have been equally challenging. It’s so surreal most days.
I shared something earlier in the week with friends & family to try & comprehend things for our little guy…..
People may wonder what it is like?..... so I've pondered ways to share. From the scientific to the spiritual. But maybe a story is best...
Well, like any little boy might be, little Aaron is undoubtedly scared and he's still very deep in the woods. But I like to think he's got a backpack on his journey, one that's full of love, hope, determination & prayers. The way home is found with a compass guided from the thoughts, energy of so many. I'd like you all to know we believe every last one of you & your families help with that.
And the voices of prayer are those whispers he can hear in the wind blowing thru the trees for courage & strength & even a light hearted moment from time to time. (As he picks up a stick along the way to play imaginary games with... & believe me, we've seen him in the real woods, this is what he does :) ) He has some really big hills yet & logs across his path to climb over.
Whatever part of your day you have a moment to think, feel or express your love & support. Do so. Do it in how you care for others as well, love is an energy that radiates, that benefits everyone around & makes for a stronger draw for that little boy in the woods to keep moving forward...
In the days that have since passed, he traveled thru standard protocol of keeping the body temperature down for 48hrs, warming him up slowly but keeping him sedated while the major physical challenges relating to his cardiovascular system, lungs, heart & blood pressures where worked on.
Those struggles have minimized and his breathing tube removed. While it initially feels like a milestone, it’s only part of that journey. The most nerve wracking is to see his status coming out of sedation. What level of consciousness he regains. It feels every bit as difficult & emotional as bringing him into that ER last Saturday.
There’s has been an almost overwhelming support from so many people, well wishes, support & prayers. We are nothing short of blessed for all that people have shown. How to put it all into words is very difficult.
My wife, Kate has made it thru a birthday & a mother’s day this week and is somehow still standing thru it all. I’d love to believe her strength will work to forward the steps Aaron makes.
Those of you who have known of this and sent your prayers & thoughts, I can’t begin to tell you how supportive & connective it feels. Our most heartfelt sincere thanks go out to you.
Maybe the last thing I’d like to share is this -- & it’s what Kate & I wish onto all of you. Take your moments and enjoy them all, hold them precious. The support we’ve seen shows profound amounts of caring and love people are capable of. Please, please don’t extend that to just the tragedies and challenges in life, but look for moments to express it in your everyday life with your family & friends.
Updates on Aaron’s condition we post on www.caringbridge.com. If you’d like to read or stay in touch, you can search Aaron Swanson, the PW is aaroncd
Thank you again all so very much,