Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Copper Peak Trails Fest 2019

Copper Peak Trails Fest 2019

There's a string of communities between the Midwest MTB triangular meccas of Cable, Duluth & Marquette/Copper Habor that have some unique trails & great community MTB races each year.  One being my hometown of Ashland WI, where every 3rd weekend July for over 20 years has hosted the Mudrutters Off Road MTB race.  A challenging, not completely typical MTB race but something for everyone & always memorable for some great stories afterwards.  

The other being more newly formed race in 2017 at the Copper Peak Ski Jump area on the western Upper Michange border near Ironwood.  The dedicated organization known as SISU Dirt Crew over the past half dozen years has created a most delightful trail from the top of Copper Peak to the base of the hill near the Black River & back up.   They have somehow magically transformed 600 feet of topographic vertical diversity into a playground of fun for riders of all ages & abilities.  The downhill of the trail is ear to ear grinning great & mind boggling long given the seemingly small area.  The climb back up while significant is laid out well, gets one to the top soon without a leg-tearing-off bad gradient.  

I certainly haven't hit all the trails of the previously mentioned Triumvirate Midwest MTB Meccas, but in near blasphemy I'd say what Copper Peak has rivals or exceeds the best stuff those well known areas have to offer.  

Saturday September 7th on what could only be described as a near perfect prescription for fall MTB race weather, SISU Dirt Crew put on their annual Copper Peak Trails Fest - a collection of MTB races (long & short) and trail running races.  Having gone to the inaugural race in 2017 I was hooked on this race like a grandma baking chocolate chip cookies.  I've found riding the trails at recreational speed is fun but racing them brings that whooping good time to a whole new level. 

I had a buzz filled day ahead of me having to split time coaching soccer that AM in Hayward, then rushing over to Ironwood for the 12:30 race.  Fortunately arriving in plenty of time for registration, I got in a quick warm up spin on the access road that makes up the starting climb of the race.  This years start area was a plethora of good time family activities & eats.  First class efforts in making it a great event.  In truth, I was eyeing up the bouncy house as a viable alternate to hitting the start line, but the inflatable slide was a biggest draw to my oversized 8yr old inner self.

Alas one must turn a blind eye & go to the start line.  As always, I'm looking for new & familiar faces at any race to see long time friends & fellow competitors.  This year it'd be once again that strong brute from Iron River Casey Lajoie,  his better half & more charming wife Ronnie (heck of a racer too by the way), Nikolai Anikin of Duluth, Jason Rouesch of Medford and a host of others that would start getting the list a bit long. 

The 16 mile expert race kicked off with host of racers jostling for the front on the pavement lead out, with Casey eventually throwing down a hard surge & making the rest of us submit to his driving force.  Once the opportunity came for a hard right turn onto the two track off-road portion of the race I did the ole slingshot around Casey & edged up the pace on the steadily increasing grade of a semi wet at times sloppy slope.  Glancing backwards there was band of merry travelers in single file, steadily holding the pace. Not what I was expecting.  So at the next turn upwards on a gravel section I amped it up just alittle more.  At which point things behind started to sputter a bit & gaps formed.   At one point, I heard an exclamation behind me, no doubt from Nikolai, it was along the lines of "Uh, Aaron, my legs are starting to hurt now, you can quit that any time".  Thanks for the tip Nikolai.

Shortly thereafter the riders behind me went into a more desirable pace while I pushed on to the first single track knowing many of them likely had a weight & skill advantage over me when it came to the next 2 1/2 miles of sweet luscious downhill corners, berms & jumps. 

Feeling like I put in a very hard effort I arrived at the top of the hill almost 10minutes into the race, albeit without the luxury to enjoy the amazing view one deserves.  The consolation wasn't bad though, it was into the downhill portion of the race.  1.5 miles to the parking lot/start area to the cheers of the spectating crowd & then another mile plus to the Black River bottom.  It was self interest & pure joy that I was doing everything in my skillset to pin it around the corners.  Dropping the outside foot, staying balanced over the bottom bracket, keeping my vision up, elbows bent.  Everything I'd learned from a Ride Better downhill riding clinic I'd taken years before.   Can't say I wasn't feeling rusty, ok alot rusty & that I almost smoked myself over a corner or two, but both bike & I made it to the bottom in one piece.  

No idea as to the gap behind me but safe to assume Casey & Nikolai weren't far behind I keep up the effort to best of my ability & reasoning.  I figured the ensuing uphill would be to my advantage so I pressed harder along the way back up from the river bottom to the top of Copper Peak again.  This was an effort that would need to be repeated 3 times.  By the 2nd time through the course though I'd gotten a better feel for the corners & speed at which to take them, I was paying a price for my overzealous starting efforts & fatigue was setting in.  However the gap back to 2nd place was fairly significant now & since I'm one of those nutso MTB-ers who actually love the quantitative side of it My power meter & cycling computer were my guide & self contest for the remainder of the race. Something to compare to previous years races.

Upon racing to the Peak the 3rd & final time there's this great sense of elation.  That though the race isn't over the hardest physical effort part is done & now its time to rip some wicked trail to the bottom & stay upright the whole time to the finish line.  I didn't entirely manage the staying upright as my giddiness & fatigue had a falling out of understanding with each other, but it resulted in no blood drawn.  So I dusted myself off, got back on & road smoothly to the finish. 

A 16 mile event might not seem like that long of race to some, but in bike racing it's about the amount of time it takes.  I came across in just under 1:30hour while behind Casey & Nikolai had a great battle going on.  Casey getting passed on the final climb but being able to hold onto Nikolai through the mile & half decent & positioning nicely for a sprint finish.  Though unfortunately those best laid plans came undone with less than 100yards to go as big man Casey dropped the hammer to go around Nikolai so did his narrow wide chainring do to his chain, so Nikolai came away with number 2 spot and Casey in 3rd.  His spouse Ronnie despite taking a bee sting to the forehead & wondering throughout the race if she was going to get choked out by an anaphylactic shock took 1st in the womens category & 9th overall.  Result can be found at 

Again thanks so much to SISU Dirt Crew and the fine job they do at the Copper Peak Trails fest and for a monstrously fun trail they've constructed over the years.  It's a great event for a great cause.  In your travels of the Midwest MTB Triumvirate, be sure to stop in & checkout the unique gems tucked in along the way.

Aaron Swanson

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Deerfly Chase 2017....

Deerfly Chase 2017.....

This event has some kinda golden rainbow over it.  7 years running and never it seems the weather is anything less than near perfect for MT Bike racing.  It's an event held near New Auburn WI at the Hickory Ridge Trail system at end of September  A collection of hard working individuals pull together under race Director Noah Michaelsen for full event of high quality mixed terrain racing (singletrack, gravel, cross country ski trail) and an excellent post event gathering of eats and awards.   It's expanded to a Long race, a Short race, along with a Middle school & High school categories and running distances as well. 

How did it go this year?  Personally, rather phenomenally and as a whole it was top knotch. 

Registration was probably the biggest surprise of all.  The demand was a significant increase over past years, so much so that the race start needed to be slightly delayed and yet took nothing away from the day.

Arriving early with the family, I got registered & looked for friendly faces as well as who might be out for a good fast time of racing.  My season up to this point I hardly could ask for better one.  Several wins and high placings in big events.  What most any competitive racer wishes for in a season.  It was went tempered expectation I entered the Deerfly,  having won the event in '12 & '13, it'd been a tough go the past 3 yrs there, missing out on opportunities, not having the legs or strategy to get to the top step again.   And now after almost 2 months of great racing & so much good fortune and fitness.  There was every reason to hold in check expectation.  Yet I couldn't help thinking "man, if today goes well...."  But many have experienced where fitness can & will eventually run it's course and being MTB racing anything from mechanicals, to getting off course, to crashing can alter an otherwise good day.  The nerves were sorta killing me, I just wanted to get down to racing!

My legs the day before felt decent, but the race warm-up was very so-so.  But here's how the front of race went down....
--The Start: It's a 1 mile 4 wheeler lead rollout, with fireworks starting in mile 2 on a modest gravel climb.  From my perspective, there had to be at least 5 to 8 quality racers duking it out. Each one at some place or time had bettered me some type of racing.  All with different strengths & weaknesses.  You had perennial big power output guys like Ryan Fitzgerald and Matt Muyres.  Gravel extraordinaire Drew Wilson.  In my mind singletrack pheonoms like Matt O'Meara & Dustin Marsh.  Dave Christianen was in the bunch.  Another guy whom I hadn't met but looked certainly very capable as well, all driving the pace. 
In those early miles what would seem like a convincing 2-3 man break away, in no time was back to a group.  I picked and chose when to drive & when to back off.  I just wasn't gonna be passive & wait for someone else to do it though.  It seemed given the caliber of racers it certainly wasn't in my interest to haul 7 guys into the single track.  Having gonna have guys breathing hard was the goal.  If the pace backed off I went to the front to bring it back up.  Being their forte, Ryan & Matt M were instrumental in keeping the pace up along with myself and a mystery guy with a BMC jersey.

--The Singletrack: The early miles were a combination gravel road, ski/4 wheeler type trail.  Soon enough though the miles & miles of singletrack would be coming up.  This BMC jersey guy I didn't know from Rochester MN took up the lead just before the single track & went in first.  I followed behind him.  For some reason we got a few bike length gap on Ryan Fitzgerald & Drew Wilson.  I kept talking to the guy asking him to push it faster, keep the gap up.   He had game & skills & was doing fine however pretty soon I asked for a pass as I wanted to see if a gap would stick over Ryan, Drew & co. held.  On the front I was at my limit for long range output efforts.  In switch backs I would count back & see if anyone was in the rearview mirror.  It'd be 10 seconds & eventually 20 seconds.  I kept thinking as long as gap didn't get shorter, the longer into the race the harder it would  be to close.  They were some solid good racers behind us.  

So just humming along going good, almost too good,..... as I clock a inward leaning tree on a left handed corner and did the obligatory 180 degree spin wipe out & crash.  Oh my god, that did not just happen was my first thought.  Did some vodoo evil singletrack Gnome just come out and pop me off the bike?!?  I could not believe I just did that!  Rattled, I scramble to get up, told the racer with me (later found out it was strong endurance guy Danny Whipple) to get going as he checked if I was ok.  Losing 5-7 seconds to the guys chasing, banged up fingers and front brake lever twisted ugly underneath the handlebar making proper front braking a practice worthy of making a carpel tunnel rehab therapist cringe.  Danny carved out a good 7 or 8 seconds on me and didn't appear to be letting up so I drove hard where I could to latch back on which took a 1/4 mile or more.  

The race continued to cook along and eventually I wanted back in the front on the tougher/tighter single track that was coming up.  I wasn't necessarily an kind of expert on that trail section but it's trail that being familiar with gifted you with seconds or being unfamiliar cursed you by taking them away.

I only looked down at the cycling computer a few times and at 85minutes in I was starting to feel the efforts.  For those into power stuff my output was a modest avg of 274watt avg, but pedaling effort was 337watts.  Danny & I had worked well together, there hadn't been a time he shook me off or I him.  He likewise suffered a Evil Trail Gnome issue.  Apparently  two trees were too close together for Danny's liking and he went carbon handlebar lumberjack at 'em.  Resulting score - Trees-1 Danny-0.  Knocked down he got back up and caught back on.
Sensing this type of effort, the on/off of single track racing, wasn't gonna let me have the steady cadence "forever legs" like at the Cheq 40 two weeks earlier.  Later I prudently let Danny take some time at the front when he requested and at the same time the trails we were slightly less technical & easier to ride along with several gravel & ski trail interludes.  I didn't know how he was feeling but neither us seemed to give away any inordinate amount of weakness or fading. 

With 6 or 7 miles left we exchanged friendlies, chatted, conceded that we likely had an adequate gap, decided to put it in slightly more of a cruise control mode and chatted about family/kids for a bit.  Though we backed it off it still felt like we were going at a decent clip and the legs weren't necessarily any feeling better, they just weren't feeling any worse....

--The Finish: The final 2 1/2 miles of the race.  This is where you exit the majority of single track.  It's onto gravel roads and ski trails with a short section of single track 1/2 mile before the rolling ski trail finish.  We road even or Danny pulled a bit more on the gravel.
Once on the ski-trails we were in for a surprise.  The Race Director had cryptically  texted me the night before these 2 words - "Think Cobbles".   WTH?  Well, on the race course there was a problem -- a section of trail was deeply rutted up with recent monsoon rains & logging operations.  The logger had promised Noah to clean up the mud before the race.  Well, he did... sorta.  There was something like 1/4-1/2 mile of 3"-5" rock dumped on the ski trail.  Mind you, it was mostly rock squished into the mud, uneven and very bumpy, true to the nature of "Cobbles"  and at subsequently also had leg draining soft areas where small rock & gravel was placed.  I think both Danny & I laughed with an "oh boy"  in dismay at what we were going to have to go through.   

I lead through that section trying to find the best least worst lines and as we approached the final single track I found enough in the legs to up the pace so Danny didn't come around me on the final single track section.  The single track was only about 1/4 mile or less before the final 1/2 mile rolling ski trails to the finish.   I eased back riding the single track figuring I'd better stay with my bread & butter power on the ski trail for the finish. 

I jumped immediately upon exiting the single track -- it would be the final 2 1/2 minutes of the race.... I drove it hard for about a minute over a rolling section or two.  Danny was obligatorily there right on my wheel.  I wasn't losing Danny..... so, I slightly eased up as we crested the next roller.  He then wisely & prudentally jumped & took the inside line, drove  past me like the wind & dodging an asteriod belt of the racers finishing the Short race.  That dirty dawg what an Excellent move on his part!!  My legs really weren't liking me & didn't feel good but I sucked it up and went with what I had to follow him, hoping the finish wasn't too far...

He maybe got 2 bike lengths on me as we started on the final incline before last 75 yards flat to the finish.  Unlike in 2014 against Nate Lillie, I recognized where we were and knew I had to bury it with everything I had.  Just before the crest I was able to pull even with Danny and he let out an expression only a fellow competitor could love, that had me realize he didn't have any more to give and I pulled away, glancing over my shoulder I kept a couple bike length distance.  And perhaps for my first & only time I gave a race celebration.    Crossing the line a second ahead of Danny in a fantastic well fought MTB battle!  Good, good stuff.  What a race, what a season to have.

Our chasers weren't that far off rolling in less than 2 minutes back Drew held off Ryan for 3rd, with Matt Muyres taking 4th, followed by Dustin, and Matt O'Meara  passing Dave Christiansen shortly before the finish.  

Many thanks to Noah and everyone that assists him to pull it together from Doc, to Bob Schwartz.  The support he gets deserves much appreciation & our gratitude.  It's an event and a good time that deserves consideration on anyone's season ending calendar.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Copper Peak Trails Fest Race 2017....

Copper Peak Trails Fest Race 2017....

This might come as a surprise & delight for many that travel on thru to the Central U.P. for excellent MT Biking but Marquette Area & Keweenaw Pennisula isn't the only part of Upper Michigan that's got game with MTB trails.  On the eastern edge of the U.P. the Ironwood area has an association that's quietly putting in some great trails.  Known as the Sisu Dirt Crew, they've utilized terrain around the famous Copper Peak Ski Jump & created some very high quality single track trails that even the most discerning connoisseur of dirt trails would have a hard time not getting some big grins out of.

With enough distance of trails in place it was time to show case the gem they've been working on by hosting an inaugural event this past Saturday Sept 9th.  
When I got word of new trails & a MTB race in less an hour drive, living in Northern Wisconsin, it's hard to pass on that opportunity.    So to the chagrin of some buddies I passed on the Chequamegon 40 pre ride slug fest & opted to head to the Copper Peak Trails Fest.... 

I'd pre road the trails the Weds with my son after a day or two of rain & I must admit some sections had me wondering what it would be like in time for Saturdays race but mother nature came thru with some sunshine & wind & made from some perfect conditions on Saturday.

Arriving for the 10am start I saw a nice crowd of riders, registering & warming up.  Even a saw flashback from the past, as all around accomplished endurance athlete Scott Chapin was there on his plus bike back from a 9 year racing hiatus.   

Soon it was time to line up & let the rpm's rip.  Organizers very wisely constructed a level rollout followed by a long gravel climb to string things out before starting the single track to the top of Copper Peak.  

I went to the front near the beginning of the climb followed closely by Casey Lajoie with Scott & others following.  All was humming along pretty well up the climb until some robot drone-like killer bee got in behind my glasses & started stinging my lower left eye lid.  Wow!  That'll wake you up, I swatted my glasses aside,  stopped & tried to collect myself.  I couldn't open that eye & it just kept watering something fierce.  Casey went by, asked what happened. I told him & he acknowledge having a similiar experience a few weeks back.  Hoping no anaphylatic shock kicked in I remounted with a one eyed grimace that even a nasty Chequamegon 40 pirate would be proud of.
Eye watering & nearly to the single track entry point I make a push past Casey & hope that sometime soon I'll be able to use 2 eyes & get some depth perception before heading down Copper Peak hill.  Casey brought some serious game as he held a respectable distance to me on the uphill where I thought my weight advantage would be most helpful and though I got a gap he came screaming down the front side of the hill through berms & swoopy turns like he didn't know what brakes were for.  So whatever gap I managed on the uphill he effectively was closing me down on the descent.  
We went thru the start/finish area fairly close to the lower trails that come near the Black River and no gap I could make would stick as Casey was never fair from sight on a switch back. 

Once getting to the Black River the trails once again begin the ascend 600 feet up to top of Copper Peak.  Here the time of incline played more to my favor & started to get bigger margins on Casey as well as Scott. 

We raced on for 3 1/2 laps, scaling the mountain & descending back down.  Each round had it's share of painful climbing but pure joy on the descent as you got to be more & more bold with the cornering, berms and jumps.  Justly rewarded is how it felt.  

Though only 16 miles in distance, it was harder than that as finishing times were 90minutes plus.  
It was nice to come thru with a win but more importantly some super fun riding and hard efforts in preparation for next weeks Chequamegon 40.  

The Sisu Dirt Crew had a nice post race awards program & post race party.  One note on the podium I can reassure you no one in the entire WORLD will have you stand on a higher one -- huh?  Well, they sent us up the chair lift to the ski jump tower.  From there we took the elavator, then the stairs to the very top for pictures.  Holy moses that's the toughest part about winning the day, that's one crazy high tower and to dudes that ski jump competitively -- whole new found appreciation.

My hats off to Sisu Dirt Crew, you guys did a super job on your trails & a very smooth run first event, hope to see you grow your event and trails.  

And for those travelers going thru the U.P. take a stop on the eastern edge and visit Copper Peak Trails -- the sight is amazing and the trails are equally good!

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Grind...Giants Ridge: 2017....

The Grind... Giants Ridge:

The Grind?  Huh, what can that possibly be?
I recall last year, sometime after the fact, there was some MTB race up in northern MN over labor day weekend.
So this year, the weekend arrives having family plans for the remainder of the weekend... what options did a I have? Well, the forecasted rain of Sat AM kept some would-be partners from doing a Chequamegon 40 hammer down prep ride, the thought of doing it myself wasn't so appealing but late Fri afternoon I got to thinking.... hmmm, what about this Grind thing?  Giants Ridge?  Heard of it, where the heck is it?  Google maps to the rescue.  Ok, less than half distance to Copper Harbor MI for their race and still quite abit shorter than Maplelag (Callaway MN) for the Richard's crew much heralded MN MTB series weekend.   So I sleep on it overnite, knowing the weather was the unknown.  

I slept in til 6:30, the rain is pounding down in Ashland.  I check the forecast for Giants Ridge though - huh, little to no rain. Excellent, what the heck let's give it a go!  In one my fastest pack jobs ever I got my breakfast made & training bike in the van & hit the road by 6:50.  Must have rained steadily for first 45min of my drive, but I'm trusting the Underground Weather App that somehow further west & north, MN has sunshine.

Enjoyable drive.  On my way up checking in with different guys, one being Tim Andrew who did race last year gave me the "Yeah you'll like it, it's your style, you'll do well."  Solid.  Now to see if that's true.  I arrive much to the dismay of ALL that know me, with more than 10minutes to spare.  A rather leisurely 45minutes in fact.  So I registered, found my power meter battery was dead, dangit - no data from this effort.  Got tires pumped, chain lubed and then noticed.......oh boy there's alot of standing water around this place!  Prudently leaving mud fenders front & rear installed as might come in handy.

Scoping things out as who may have come to play today?  In a short spin around I see gravel racing extraordinaire Drew Wilson the Cyclo-carbon wizard, Sam-I-Am Olson of Duluth among others.  When you're used to arriving at the last minute, must admit it felt like a lifetime for the race to start.  But got a reasonable warm up & it was soon national anthem time & a ready, set, go with 120 other racer ready folks.

The race started with a 1mile controlled roll-out with a few guys politely leading the charge.  With an short incline approaching & 4 wheeler lead out moving aside.  Matt Lee lays down a rocking acceleration waking up the crowd, and Sam Olson stealthily sliding in behind.  I figure might want to be getting with this as things start to stretch out.  Soon 4 wheelers peel away & it's "go time" over the top of a tight left corner, followed by a downhill right turn off wet pavement onto the promised punchy XC ski trails that start the race.  The wet pavement & quick turn... not a great combo.  Following Sam & Matt I slide out slightly but stayed up right, however behind one or two others weren't so lucky with sounds of clashing bikes the hitting the deck.

Matt kept drilling it pretty solid at the front from one punchy climb to the next, followed by Sam, then myself.  With a 4th rider doing some yo-yoing on each climb & descent.  I noticed I was breathing much harder than I would have desired but knew it was best to hang in there until I could confirm who all was going to make this front group.  Once confirmed it was in fact Sam & Matt, pleasantries were exchanged, we began a steady effort working together and the 4th rider was in the distance.  

The XC trail rollers provided opportunity to speed thru the descents and gain momentum for the ensuing climbs.  It extended for some time but eased in pitch.  Whether the pace changed or I was finally settling in & feeling much more comfortable I stayed to front frequently with Sam coming in to take turn.  At some point Matt seemed to be getting distanced. I yelled back for him to get back with us, but post race I found out he started dealing with cramping issues and sticking with us was no longer in his game plan. 

Sam & I continued on eventually hitting the middle of the race, characterized by gravel roads, 4 wheeler trails of various composition rocks, dirt, etc.....but all holding a very common variable -- water!  For the mentally prepared this had to be one of the best parts of the race.  We got to play/ride in the worst kinda-bike-hating-riding conditions.  Mud holes that you hit square on that went axle deep.  A full quarter mile of riding with 6"-12" deep water & simply no where else to go. The trail was completely underwater.  Paradoxically then be treated for a few miles of smooth bike path pavement, it was bizarre but cool going from heinously to heavenly riding.  

At just over half way mark in the race we were circling back towards the resort on some really rocky 4 wheeler trails, loose rock combined with bed rock and off course the constant obligatory overnight "stream crossings" that frequented the course.  I noticed Sam falling back alittle, he's technically superb rider so I wasn't sure why.  Post race I found out he's still working himself back from a broken wrist/arm earlier this summer and from personal experience '14 I know how painful that can be on certain sections of trail.  

Sam got out front again shortly afterwards & said something to the effect "let the pain begin - we've got 3300 feet of climbing in this race".  Honestly, My first thought?  How to make this upcoming pain stop....  Slow down? No?  I didn't feel up to that point we'd done that much climbing so I thought oh boy this race is gonna make up for it at the end as advertised.  That's when we headed into why they probably call this race The Grind.  I start to get my answer.  The organizers set up the last 15+ miles of race with loops that weave & circle the vast area of ski hill terrain.

The race went vertical at that point.  While I found a combination in the back cassette with a 40 tooth chainring in the front that worked, soon I was in heated front derailluer shifting mode.  Sam & I started the climb together but after a short while I noticed he was back a few bike lengths & then some more & more.  I yelled back to get back up to me again so we could ride together but the climb was really long & the pitch was not easing up & the distance between Sam & I would yo-yo.

Now, for those there, they know this wasn't a normal XC ski trail climb.  You had not only constant, but perpetual soggy wet areas with frequent streams of gravity assisted water crossing the trail -- finding it's way downhill after the multiple inches of rain the area had the night before.  This began the hilarious game of "find the best straightest line" -- think of it like this -- following a recently beheaded chicken running uphill.  Everytime you thought you had firm ground, it was squish or mud or water, zig across the trail to find something better.  Only as soon as you thought you had "it", it was back to the other side.  Relentless.  Matt Lee after the race said quite accurately he perhaps put in an extra 5 miles doing so.  Fortunately seated pedaling kept for the most tire traction and I found a really comfortable cadence and kept pushing it, eventually getting 20 seconds and 40 seconds on Sam as we did battle up the hill.   One climb would just lead to a switch back downhill corner that took finesse to stay upright before climbing again.

It came to a point you thought you might be in the Himalaya's as the climbs never seemed to stop, but then it popped out to a long moderate descent that sweep into the 2nd loop/start/finish area.  I shot down the hillside with a decent gap on Sam.  Passing the resort where the announcer was in full form entertaining the crowd and racers as well as we went by.  The course was mark fairly well but there was some uncertainty as to the direction of the 2nd lap.  That was probably my frantic moment of the day.  I thought this must be what it feels like to be Jesse Lalonde sometimes when he out front & gets off course.  Feel for you bro.  Seeing what I thought might be race course 4 wheelers to guide us to a second lap & I follow them shouting out "Where's the course?"  A shrug back & a "I don't know!" answer & things for a bit weren't looking good......So it was wait here til Sam catches back up or Lewis & Clark this thing & find the trail again.  Fortunately my short pre-ride gave me a clue where to go & I got back on track, losing not more than a minute and no Sam in sight behind.

With probably 8 miles left in the race I was still feeling fairly good, hadn't unnecessarily punched any of my red zone tickets and it was out for the final loop.  Well, this lap was gonna bring Narly to the already too wet party.  Most memorably part of the race course for me was on this loop.  A highlight was a loose rocky pitched climb had become a flowing downhill river.  Sorry sustainable, Starbucks singletrack loving IMBA folks, mother nature is pretty forgiving & self healing so sometimes you can afford to cut loose and tackle what is there.   This being an old jeep/4 wheeler trail she could take some tough love and I for one loved every minute of her.  By the top of that climb, Sam had road himself back into sight though approximately 2 minutes down at the bottom.  Amped up my efforts for a bit but measuring each ensuing climb, finding hills that required going full granny (26x36) to just keep moving.  I started feeling more confident but knew I couldn't let up nor go too hard & take the chance of blowing up -- because at one point or another all the hard climbing was gonna catch up to a guy. 

I looked at the clock and after 2 hour mark & no end in sight I thought there was a chance of things slipping away on me, maybe Drew was coming on strong, or Matt recovered or Sam's decending would get him back into it.   I started asking the course marshall for the remaining distance but the answers came back varied and I wasn't trusting the GPS.  So it became a serene steady effort the final miles with a joyous alleluia when I popped back out on the downhill straight that lead 1/2 mile back to the finish area.  Man that felt great, legs were good but ready to be done.   Came zipping through the finish area to surprise of the crowd & announcer.   Little did I know but the hurt was on everyone behind  with Drew coming in 2nd 9 minutes back having passed Sam in final 2 miles who cramped up but got 3rd with Matt holding on to 4th. has results or website 

Great time had post race.  Music, food, entertaining announcers.  Swapped stories with Sam, Matt, Drew, Tim Wilkie and many others -- hearing of the carnage The Grind had left people in on this memorable course & conditions.   Also in the evening was a night time party & cyclocross race.  Of additional note funds raised from the race went to support NICA student league of MTB racing.  Overall among the best organized events I've participated in.  Glad to have it as an option on a Labor Day weekend stacked with great riding and racing opportunities.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Deerfly Chase 2015....

It’s been one interesting year for me in the mt bike racing world.  Not a lot of posts (if any) but always something on my mind to share --perhaps as training time winds down it’ll get out there.

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

Old guy with crazy powers….

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…