Monday, December 29, 2008

A 360 Christmas - 8 seconds into the future

Merry Christmas.....
I wish I had video or pictures for this post -- words don't quite serve it justice.

After winding up the multiple days of Christmas celebration Marshall & I are driving home from my parents house. We are in Kate's Mitsubishi Eclipse and Kate's driving behind with the girls in the Prius. It's about 6pm & the side country roads are drivable but covered with hard packed snow -- not a good recipe for quality braking in case of emergency. And wouldn't you know it that's exactly when you need it.

A few miles into the drive before we get to the main hwy, I see at the furthest reach of my headlights -- two forest goats (aka white tail deer), slowly meandering across the road. One touch of the brakes with little or no deceleration gives me immediate clairvoyance of what's going to happen 8 seconds into the future. The rest unfolds at the speed of the Richard Gere Intersection film.

A second tap of the brakes starts the car in a rear leftward slide, only to be quickly righted again -- still no significant slowing of the car and two venison slabs looking more and more likely. The only option left was to shoot the middle and hope for the best. Initially it worked dodging the first deer but the second forest goat was determined not to have a Merry Christmas, hitting the front of the car, passenger side, getting tossed fully airborne straight over top of the car. That in it's self would have been amusing enough if not aggravating enough, but the force on the front passenger side of the car was enough to send the car spinning. As the rear side started to swing out across the road, soon Marshall & I are facing the opposite direction the car is moving -- strangely enough at the same time seeing the headlights of the Prius coming towards us. Perplexed whether I should go back to braking, start accelerating, or shift into reverse to end this out of control motion. I turn the wheel hard and brake, sending us into a second 180 that as good fortune would have it kept us back on the center of the road and soon facing perfectly straight ahead again.... to conveniently continue our drive home.

Though I eventually stopped to reassure Kate everything was ok (who was probably more shook up than I) and check that the deer was dead. Car damage was surprisingly minimal but presumably nice & costly. Have yet to get an estimate.

Outside of that excitement, life's been pretty normal since my last post. Sorry for the infrequency you've come to know.

No matter how many winters you go through there's an acclimation process to get through. Fortunately, training hasn't suffered & has been going strong. It's a hybrid form of cycling, skiing & core training that's providing variety and keeping things mentally fresh. About once a week the weather has been warm enough to get in a 4hr ride, but generally 90minutes with some kind of fundamental intervals has been the top end effort.

I really was looking forward to CX skiing this year but either conditions or my fitness on ski's is sorely lacking so it hasn't lived up to it's anticipation.

Sometimes I'm asked how in the world can you get out & bike in this kind of weather. Well, first off I don't like getting cold more than anyone else. If you can evaluate how to keep that in check, it's not really any different than riding any other time of year.
What works for me, might be overkill for someone else but below is the windy 25 degree & less type attire.
  • Bibs (2) -- Full length winter bibs over a pair of summer bibs
  • Socks (2) -- winter wool sock over summer cycling sock
  • Boots -- wonderful winter Lake brand cycling boots (sometimes for overkill I still put plastic bags inside them for added wind protection) -- hand/feet chemical warmers I understand work well too. I've not needed to use them yet however.
  • Shirts(2) -- normal sleeveless under layer with long sleeve wind blocking jersey top
  • Jackets(3) -- fall/winter cycling jacket, lightweight wind breaker, rain jacket (tends to retain moisture inside but the wind NEVER cuts through
  • Gloves -- Lobster mitts (usually good enough, unless real windy -- should find some good old fashion chopper mitts)
  • Headcover -- if it's that cold, sorry but I drop the helmet idea. It's two balaclava. Otherwise it's one balaclava & the helmet.
Next, I try like heck to stay out of the wind. Looking at the forecast & finding times of day when wind is minimal and using side roads, back roads or whatever. Windchill is what tears you up -- find your way around that and you might just enjoy a nice ride out in the snow covered landscape.

Up next, 2008 recaps & sno-mo trail riding, if you've not yet done it.... You gotta try it!!!

Hope you all had a Merry Christmas - hitting deer optional.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Interesting Google

You never know what you might find when you run a "Google".
Any of you that have ever missed getting into the Chequamegon Fat Tire Fest and tried out your literary skills in the "50 ways" Essay -- read the fine print. Your essay become full property of the Chequamegon. Where it goes from there, one can only guess....

Or you can just google....

Thanks, Gary!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Iceman Cometh... & Go-eth...

It's quite a haul to get to the Iceman MTB race in Traverse City,MI -- but there's some amazing redeeming qualities to that event that make it worth the drive.
A quick recap with more later.
--For all the hoopla about the questionable weather going in, the rainshowers and/or snow held off other than scattered rain or snow pellets of precipitation.
--The race has a "wave" format instead of a mass start like Ore to Shore & Cheq 40. Great idea considering the quality & general width of the trails and single track. By the time our Pro race started at 2:30, despite a thousand or so previous racers, the trail held together, maybe soft in a few spots but no mud to speak of.
--I think whether you're in the pro start or any other the course is incredibly fast. Note, I DID NOT say easy, it's just fast. Winding 4 wheeler & ski trails with some forest road and single track tossed in.
--I didn't feel necessarily intimidated lining up with the best in the business, and held with the main group of 20 for several miles into the race, even climbing a space or two. It would get stretched and slightly come back together, but with each stretch the distance got further to Matter, Bishop and company to the front. I don't think it's insanely fast how they start... it's insanely fast the pace they continue at.
--After 20 minutes my legs just didn't stay "opened up". Many times I can shift into that 5th gear, but again like last week I felt stuck in 4th and the heart rate monitor showed I down a few beats from where I should be as well.
--From that point it made for an interesting race with a few highlights and a few more low lights -- more on that later but wound up crossing the finish line in 1:44, just a mere 17 minutes behind Jeremiah Bishop, the winner. Congrats to some good efforts by Brian Matter (2nd place I believe), Marko Lalonde (8th or 13th I think, he beat Sam Shultz but lost to the other brother Andy by 9 secs), Chris Peariso (10th) and Mike Phillips (12th) - guesses from the conversations I had but it should be pretty close.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Iceman Cometh - I'm IN!!!

Traverse City, MI - here I come!

Unbelievably, I'm going to make it into the third leg of the Midwest's MTB racing Triple Crown, the ICEMAN -- on a whim last night, after I'd pretty much ruled out getting in after not scoring entry via the lottery system and not winning any Ebay entry transfers. I thought to drop the Iceman contact person a brief email, on the infinitesimal chance with just 5 days to go before the race, that perhaps I could gain entry. Low & behold the answer came back, due to an unfilled entry, in the affirmative!

All I got to say is ....Thank you Jesse Lalonde -- sorry for the broken shoulder, bud, and the fact you won't be able to race & use your entry -- I'll do my best serve as your impersonator,... that is without all the tatoos.... & I guess I'll be using multiple gears, derauillers, etc. & maybe even two different sized wheels. And the results... well, let's just wait til Saturday afternoon before any podium posing gets started.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Red Barn CX Race - Taylor Falls,MN

This past weekends Red Barn CX race didn't end up being the challenging course I was wishfully anticipating. But my funk shouldn't bring down what was otherwise a great event enjoyed by a great many others with a big turnout (approx 200 racers)and post Halloween costume festivities.

A cyclo-cross course that traversed sections of a christmas tree farm, that made the occasional jump out to a gravel road, and some dirt trails. What it lacked in a smooth flow, it made up for in straightaways and sharp corners.

Arriving late to the course from some misdirections (note - Google maps on MN cycling federation get you to the city, not the site unfortunately) from Northern Wisconsin, I got in a short warmup before heading up to the startline. Nice big group of 40+ in the A race (Cat 1,2 & Masters) -- wide starting line created the need for the big group to whittle down quickly as the course narrowed within a few hundred yards. I settled in somewhere in front third may have been higher prior to be shuffled into a tree.

Alot of times there's some interesting race dynamics to share, but this course and the playout of the race didn't make for alot. The first 3 laps where pretty hard, riding the Gary Fisher SuperFly with 1.75" Bont Dry X's -- I had a breeze with the cornering but the straightaways & lack of other terrain made for a much harder effort to stick with the really skinny tire boys.

I remember coming through seeing the 7 laps to go sign & hoping somehow things would get more interesting. The mid laps had about a half dozen riders, including Harry Anderson of Duluth get by me, however a group of two other racers (Chris "push him out of tree" Smith & Jake "stormtrooper" Helmbrecht) caught up with me it proved to be group that stuck together. Eventually recatching a number a riders that had passed me after lap 3 and only Brian Koeneman of those stuck with us. For the longest time John Thompson hung out there just infront of us, but hats off to the guy as he held us off for the last 3 or 4 laps.

It wasn't a race that I had a good drive for -- mishaps or problem areas came up. An early lap hard remount angled my seat up, a dropped chain on the next to final lap, a slide out in a corner and one christmas tree that attacked me leaving me bruised and bloody were part of it. But mostly I couldn't get into the groove of the course. I take absolutely nothing away from the likes of others that enjoyed it, I'm happy for them. I just found it to be alittle... well, boring. And I don't think I've ever said that about a race course. It had almost zero ripples to the terrain. Yes, it had one run up area but no rollers or hills to speak of. The corners are always up to a race designers layout, but it often felt somewhat like being stuck in rushhour traffic with stoplights that are always on red every couple blocks. Which after awhile I was wondering the sense of pushing hard throughout if the gaps were going to close on the corners anyways?

I've certainly had better races and placed ahead of riders much higher on the list today, but among other things I couldn't uncork that 5th & final gear that's helped me most of the season. The added drag of the MTB was most noticeable for a course like this. Which brings up the interesting dynamics of how different cycles handle different terrain. So, Red Barn with it's smooth course -- stick with the skinny's.
Beautiful weather, sunny & warm couldn't have been a better day. Got back to Ashland in time for a birthday party and was left to comtemplate going to Milaca's 'cross race on Sunday....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A week to breathe...

So often I have every intention of updating this blog more frequently, where does that time seem to go? Maybe the colder dark winter will improve that. I find it so hard not to stay busy. If it’s not riding and training, it’s running the business, and most everything else gets swallowed up in taking care of the family and enjoying the kids.

With the exception of the Iceman, the MTB race season wrapped up a few weeks back and it’s been onto cyclo-cross and that “Transition” period of the season. Generally, Oct thru December fits that bill. Training is important but also has a great deal of flexibility. If one’s body (& mind) ultimately needs recovery time from a particularly hard racing season now is a great time to get that in. Getting a jump start on base training isn’t necessarily that bad of an idea either and with the challenging conditions and temps of Jan & Feb it’s a precautionary training measure I like to take in case conditions this far North don’t work out as planned for those two months.

Cyclo-cross racing I’m finding to be most enjoyable this year, with little self-pressure to have to do well and the most delightfully shorter time period for the races of right around an hour. For the most part you can go all out and bonking generally won’t be an issue. Depending on weather and whatever other events come up, I’m hoping to jump into a couple more races while the season is going on. Plus it sure helps the body not to lose it’s high end fitness that one fights so hard to gain from earlier in the season.

One big aspect I’m taking charge of this year, that I can’t recommend highly enough, is that a person get an effective cross training or “pre-hab” workout program integrated in what they do this time of year. Something I don’t make known to a lot of people -- but I’ve gotten a chronic sore back and spent a good share of time in P.T. office & massage therapists getting worked on. This past year was probably my most difficult. Throughout the season, I struggled along dealing with it the best I could, fortunately I came across two things that have done something to immensely change what I thought would be a chronic lifetime problem. One was a book my P.T. got me onto, the other a program that put a 41 year old within .01 seconds of an Olympic gold medal & world record in Swimming.

The first was the book Core Performance – yes, we’ve all seen some fitness guru preaching there methods of how to build muscles, strength and/or endurance. Don’t discount this one or pass this one off. It’s the real deal and used as a bible of sorts in many P.T. clinics. Any endurance athlete due to the nature of their sport is begging for muscular imbalance. It’s a fact of life. Learn that and find out ways to round out your entire body’s needs and you’ll be doing yourself some huge favors in reducing injuries, doctor’s visits, hours of physical therapy or lost work time. The second is Dara Torres’ Resistance Stretching program – sure, yoga, pilates, give you good stuff, I’m not discounting them one bit. In fact the two things I’m doing share a lot in common with those two disciplines. I just found both Core Performance & Resistance Stretching gave better insight of the how’s and why’s.

Once you get some routines down they don’t take much time and doing something is always better than nothing. I don’t necessarily like to give away “training secrets” but I don’t believe anyone should have to deal with pain and stop doing something they love just because of ignorance or misinformation. I’m not saying these are the only programs out there, or that P.T. work may not beneficial. What I am saying is that I’ve had nothing short of incredible results in getting rid of pain I FELT EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Being 35 and able to tumble around with and chase my kids is totally worth the small investment for the information and 10,15,20 or 50 minutes a day it might take to do some of the routines. If anyone reading takes in this info and gives it a try I’d be interested in hearing back on what results it gives you. (There’s especially a certain Duluthian rider I hope takes up and finds benefit in it!)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ashland Baycross Part II

BayCross #2: Sunday 19th – unlike Saturday’s sunny beautiful weather this was a bit cooler and overcast. I’d not gotten in on any of the pre-rides or course work so I was riding it for the first time about 20 minutes before the race as I was warming up. Initially I had my doubts when I was told of where BayCX #2 was being held, at Bay View Park in Ashland, but that was quickly erased upon riding the mile plus course. It was one of the most perfect courses I’d ever seen, great use of small rollers for good cornering and momentum. Excellent variety, use of terrain/conditions including a beach crossing, a rock bed profile and a good sized run up.
Added to the mix was Shawn’s comment the previous day about some “better” cross competition coming down from the Twin Ports. Which I certainly welcome anytime. The more & better the racers -- the better the challenge. So I was definitely pumped up at those prospects and looking to put down some pain, as I was just having one of those strange masochistic-like-feeling days. The desire to go out and drill it from the start for one sole purpose of making myself and others hurt.
Lining up at the start among others was apparently a sponsored Specialized rider which was going to hopefully make things interesting. Scott “superman” Chapin was there on his Gary Fisher SuperFly with 1.75’s and rigid fork and most of the crew from yesterday. What I’ve learned is never try to gauge your competition from the bike they ride. It might just surprise you. The start had Specialized guy pull to the front only to nearly hit the deck rounding the first corner 50-75 yards out as we rounded a pair of crab apple trees. It’s October in northern Wisconsin… you can’t tell me you expect the apples to still be on the trees? Must have been like marbles under the wheels of roller skates. Nonetheless he got right up as the jamming up continued behind – then it was off to the next series of corners, straightaways, bridge crossing and then a quick dive down to the beach. Specialized lead to this point with Scott Chapin in tow followed by me. I knew I wasn’t going to be backing off today. When we ramped up over the rise that lead to the beach, Scottie & I pushed hard through the 50 yards of beach and Specialized got off and ran. We hit the 40 foot(?) run up close to the same time. As I recall Scott got to the top first but I clipped in sooner and jumped to the lead giving it my all as we crossed the 150 yard section of loose rock. This was a power zapper for sure but like any good course a great challenge where you could inflict damage on the competition. Apparently it worked cuz when I got to the end only Scott was remotely close by, within a short bit I eased up alittle and asked him to take over and continue to put the distance on the Specialized rider. By the time we reached the S-curves and rollers 3/4ths the way through the course we’d had maybe 15 seconds on him. I took one corner too sharp and slip down to the ground momentarily, it was enough for Scottie to get a gap and run with it. I thought oh, no not this again! I’d be chasing his tail around by myself for the next 55 minutes, great!! Scottie is an awesome endurance athlete, outside of some asthma and allegories he’s certainly the best all around endurance athlete I know. If I remember correctly he was 17th in the US Olympic marathon trials a few Olympics back, if that gives any perspective to the physical capacities he has. He may be a genetic freak, but I hope he stays around racing for a long time because somehow one of these days I’m going to finally catch him.
My next goal was to maintain and grow the distance on the Specialized rider, cuz you don’t generally come decked out in full bike sponsored gear without a resume for being half ways decent and the back side of the course lent itself very well to the cross bike he had. Sometime in racing it’s about breaking someone’s spirit, if you can do that enough times repeatedly, you’ve got them frustrated and if they’re frustrated it certainly doesn’t hurt your chances. So if I could maintain the distance or even grow it on the SuperFly (don’t rule this machine out as a very suitable cross bike!) he might start getting bummed and realize he didn’t come to just any cakewalk race.
Going into Lap 2 the distance I had was a good 50 yards so I’d been able to pretty much maintained the lead over the back half of the course, but in front Scottie had gotten a good 20 yards in front of me now and he was looking even stronger than yesterday.

The layout of the course was great from a spectator point of view as they essentially sat at a higher vantage point, were in middle of the course and could see a large distance both ways. So you’d get lots of cheering and encouragement. Knowing my bike handling skills I could probably gain time on the third place person and with any luck make small advances towards Scottie at the beginning of each new lap. And lap after lap, it seemed like the same thing was happening, the gap was growing in two directions, I was putting distance into third place but Scottie was putting time into me. I was content with the position for awhile until Kelly McKnight, who got lapped earlier due to breaking his pedal off and was now riding behind Scott Chapin and yelling back to me how it was too bad I was in third place now. His smartass remark got me to kick it up a notch to finally catch him when he had to drop off Chapin’s pace. I worked with Kelly for while his back & body held up before he decided to drop off.

Getting a bigger lead on Specialized guy with each lap gave me confidence going into the final three laps so I let up somewhat, and the fact is I wasn’t shrinking the distance to Chapin (but at least I would yell at him most times about how I was going to catch up when the trail would double back, if he heard me I think he just chuckled). I saved up alittle those final laps just in case I’d need it for a late surge from behind and I wanted to experiment with how much I could back off and how it drop my heart rate, as I had my PowerTap heartrate monitor on. From what I could tell, backing off didn’t do much to change the heartrate. Normally I’m 177 to 178 beats per minute at race pace but dropping to 175 and 176 in a long race.

This day, I wasn’t getting fatigued or symptoms of cramping like yesterday and it felt so good to be riding that well relative to the rest of the field. Shawn Gort road a decent race but either he didn’t have the effort of the previous day or I was doing that much better. He told me earlier he wasn’t giving me any freebie’s today, fortunately I didn’t need them and he wasn’t handing any out. I believe he was 5th on the day.

Coming through on the bell lap, even if I wasn’t going to catch Scott, I was pretty pleased on the day. I had the distance now to hold onto second barring any mechanical malfunctions and it felt pretty good to have been able to put together such a strong race, feel strong throughout and put away a sponsored rider. I thought perhaps we’d demoralized him early but my wife, Kate said he looked just as determined as ever with each lap. He’s probably a real good rider normally, just having a tough day. We’ve all been there. He commented later on the rock section.… Well, we’re all entitled to an opinion -- I guess I could have complained about the smooth blacktop sections or having a shoulder/push a MTB over a lightweight CX bike. But in the end Scottie was the best and nothing on the course would have changed that outcome Sunday.

What was great about the race course was because it was so open you could see how other parts of the race were unfolding among other riders. Scott Nesvold had a good race nailing down 4th place, Kelly would have probably done significantly better without snapping off his pedal with his monsterous downstoke. Matt Hudson and Mike Weispfenning seemed to have good rides as well. We seem to have in the last few years gotten a great group of racers over here not to mention some super quality people. The biking outlook in the area would appear to be very positive for years to come.

Perhaps, the Baycross’s are the last races of the year for me but with how good I felt and having strong results it going to be hard to fight the temptation of tracking down another CX race or breaking down and finding an Ebay entry ticket to the Iceman Cometh in lower Michigan.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ashland Baycross Part I

Anybody looking for a great cross race weekend to put on your calendar seriously consider the Ashland Baycross races! Fantastic courses with good variety & put together in a top notch way. I may be from around the area but I was seriously impressed with the quality and work put into them and the great environment of the events. The settings for both couldn’t be better, with the Sunday event overlooking the shores of Lake Superior and the Saturday event held at one of Ashland’s oldest parks that offers great variety.

Saturday 18th: Baycross #1 – with Kate’s family in town she got the opportunity to partake in her first race in…..well…. quite a while. Having three baby’s in the course of 4 years puts a crimp in your racing schedule. But she did us all proud giving it a go in the B race despite having just given birth 3 weeks ago to our wonderful baby girl, Grace on Sept 26th.
As she was wrapping up that race I was prepping for the A race in what appeared to be a nice strong field of racers that showed up. I was however sorely disappointed to see that a favorite hard core racer, Duluthian, Charlie Farrow was no where to be found however (camping in the Porcupine Mts or something was his story I guess). He put on a heck of a strong race last year and I was hoping for a rematch.
I placed my bike way out front for the lemonds start so I didn’t get caught behind anyone as I was fairly certain from other events like this that my legs are in alittle better condition for sprint running that most cyclists. To my bike first, but late to clip in I grab the fourth position in the leadout train behind, Craig Kalscheur, Scott Chapin & Shawn Gort. Craig was hell bent on a fast start and it strung people out. When we hit the railroad corridor section a half mile in and a gap of a few bike lengths had seemingly extended to Bay City cyclists Kelly Mcknight & Matt Hudson. After Craig pulled off, Scottie took over and I/we probably made a critical error at that point, handing him a 20 yard lead and not closing it down. I figured if the three of us could back off alittle but keep it together and rotate through we’d have a better shot. Only thing was Shawn surprisingly dropped off before the end of the first lap when I was pulling and Craig was over the limit early in Lap 2. And Scottie now had a 15 second lead I’d be trying to chase down all day…. Only now by myself. So much for that brilliant opening lap strategy. If I’d only stuck with him instead. I think the closest count I could make was getting his lead down to seven seconds at some mid point in the race but by the final 15 minutes I was getting toasty from chasing and the unfamiliar all out effort and he was up by 45seconds to a minute.
That however didn’t make for a boring race by any means because for some crazy reason I still shake my head about, Shawn Gort comes storming back into my rearview mirror after I’d thought he’d been dropped out of sight. I shouldn’t be surprise because he did the exact same thing last year, dropping off early only to finally warm up and get all the cyclinders firing later and pour it on. I’d messed up the lap count and was expecting a bell lap when .....the official announced two laps to go, that with an overly rough remount had me off the bike fixing my saddle that was pointing to heaven – hence enabling Shawn to close the gap entirely.
It was now that I was really out of gas and on the edge of cramping so I just stuck to Shawns wheel as best as I could, if he’d only know how spent I was he could have ditched me with 3 or 4 hard efforts. I followed him around that next to last lap and on the bell lap I did the same. At one point trying to get to the front but the single track didn’t do make way for any kind of passing. Here I was at odds with how to finish, I generally hate sucking someone’s wheel and with Shawn doing all the hard work at the end it was going to be hard to try and take it away from him. But with about 100yards to go on this old railroad grade finish he made a strong move to pass a lap racer, I was tentative at first but soon shot around to follow and start to close the gap. From there the corridor opened up and the people and fans were getting loud seeing this close finish coming on. I figured to push and make for a good show and a tight finish so went to the left and pulled near even with Shawn. As we were nearing the chute I put my hand on his back to push him across first, but my momentum still had me carrying past him, so I hit my brakes putting in a skid 3 or 4 yards before the finish. We crossed the line pretty near simultaneously, not to the delight of the Liphart Brother race officials who weren’t too anxious about trying to make that close of call. When I looked down as we crossed I’d assumed he’d crossed about an inch in front me. But neither of us bothered to check with the officials who had actually crossed first. I assumed he had and I think he probably assumed the same. However when they did the awards later, they ruled I’d crossed first?! Wow, what a surprise to me. Who would have thought pushing someone in the back and hitting your brakes ain’t enough to lose a sprint to the finish line? I felt bad for Shawn but it was nice to get second place again after a disappointing 5th place finish at last years BayCross.
The rest of the afternoon was a great time, playing with the kids at the park and also getting to visit and catch up with everyone.
Paul Belknap, Sara Hudson & their crew (of the McKnights, Klines, Lipharts and more) put on one of the best races I’d ever been at. Little did I know that the next day they’d at least equal or top Day 1 of Baycross…. More later.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What's been shaking?

Alright Swanson, what’s with the bum of blog have you been keeping lately?
Let’s try this…

--stock market crumbling...

--a most precious gift...
--and a few more bike races...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chequamegon 40 .....Explosion

Subtle hints should lead you up to what one can expect heading into weekend #7 in a row of MTB racing. But why look for sutble when the definitive is so much better.

This past weekend was Chequamegon Fat Tire Fest and it's hard core 40 mile off road race. The strategy going in was -- rest, rest, and more rest and then leave it all out on the course. It's the fourth year in a row I've gone after it and with the exception of one year not played out to expectation.

From the training progress I'd been making this past year both in terms of power & endurance a finish in the top 30 to 50 was not out of reach. And from a skill & ability strength & weakness assessment, next to the Ore to Shore there isn't a better MTB race course on paper suited to me on a bike. So I came in with confidence, alittle better game plan, ....but with a long season of racing & training in my legs.

I road down with local Ashland rider Suzie Sanders and she was nervous but excited in her own way for the race (I must say congrats to her because she did by all consideration hit her goal in the race -- Way to go Suzie!) We got there in adequate time, picked up our race packets and with the weather a perfect temperature it made for a easy warmup and no logistical challenges. My plan was to position myself better in the preferred start area but again even at 20minutes before start 150 of the 200 racers had already lined up. Depending on where you want to finish in that race the start can mean nothing and everything. Huge gaps can develop in the front of the race between the start and Rosie's field 3 or 4 miles in. If you're not in the top 65 odds are remote you'll get in the top 50 at the finish. Whereas you could be in 200 or 300th place by Rosie's and still make it up to 80-100th place by the finish.

My goal was to get a better start than years past and true to form that didn't really happen AGAIN. Though I'd worked myself up to the very tail end of the 2nd pack at Rosie's field I was still probably between 80th -100th place. I did find one manuever to be very helpful and that was side walk jumping after a crash just before Hwy 77 involve Scott Kylander Johnson, I'm not sure what happened but I'll have to check Sara KJ's blog. It pushed everyone out of the center I was able to get up on the sidewalk and tear down the road grapping as many positions as I could.

Knowing my approximate position and what goal I'd set for myself I was in a bit of a dilemma once getting out of Rosie's field. Do I continue to go hard and work through each pack of riders effectively doing a time trial or do I sit back in a group work hard only as my turn comes up and save some for later. Well, unless I'm already hurting, sitting and having patience isn't my forte' and I felt fairly good so on I went chasing down racer after racer, Carlos Hackel, Matt Muyres, on & on passing through several groups. About 40 minutes into the race the pickings started looking lean and it was 200 yards up was the next group. I'd only had 2 other guys remotely close. So then becomes an even greater dilemma -- effectively I'm in No Mans land and you're truly by yourself, do you sit up take a break until the next group catches up again or bury yourself to bridge up to the next gap. Again, I opted for the latter. So at where the course crosses Cty OO I'd just about caught the tail end of a 8-10 person group and come across in 68th place. And got my water handoff from my ever wonderful wife, Kate while little Marshall was clicking away taking pictures with the digital camera -- viewing the pictures later it's interesting to see the perspective of a 4 yr old.

I'd come across OO faster than I'd ever in the past and wasn't really feeling that bad, I could still go pretty good, but I was rather uncertain. Uncertain of how much longer I'd be able to pursue without getting some kind of break being in a group. Because I slowed down in the spectator area of OO I let the gap get bigger to group in front & wasn't thinking to catch it again. So again I was in No Man's land. I don't know much about that place but it sure costs you alot of time and energy. And if it's energy you don't have to spare it can start causing problems.

The next 8 miles or so either myself or one or two guys that came along would push up to another group as there were scattered groups but instead of taking a break I would just keep pushing through. It was a 11:19am, around 24 miles into the race when I realized two things had happened. One, I was now aware I was running out of juice and two, the long season of racing and the season long burn out in my legs was moments away from exploding. So, like a lollipop thrown to the playground by a third grader I cracked.

I'd been with Adam Swank, Mike Johnson and a few other guys when no matter how much gel or water I took in, I was condemned to a much slower sustainable pace.

The remainder of the ride was one of no longer trying to race but to enjoy this festival of riders... and figure out just how many flippin' people can pass you!!!! How I didn't finish 300th place is beyond me because that's what it felt like. If you've never understood the term "riding backwards" it does give you the impression that is what is happening.

Not much longer Paul Belknap came crusing by and in that crew of riders was also Kelly McKnight. They both had super races by anyone's standards coming back from the 120's at the OO point to get in the 65th & 83rd respectfully. I still gotta figure out how Paul & I swapped out racing styles this year. It's down right bizzare. The single speeds which he rides ultimately get their advantage in courses with alot of single track yet somehow this year he came out on top in the two non single track MTB races while I, barring any mechanicals, had the advantage in the technical courses.

I walked much of the Seeley Fire Tower and just before hitting the top another Ashland racer, Matt Hudson came by and he likewise finished a strong race. Basically a top 100 finish to a guy that sporadically road his bike this year. That's some awesome riding.

About the best thing after bonking is you get to take the spectator point of view. I was quick to enjoy the donut holes at the aid stations, (donut holes at a race? Just doesn't make sense to me, ya know -- but who am I to judge as a bag of Baked Lays & Coca Cola will pull me out of any post race funk).

The race wasn't without a mechanical issue, my rear hydraulic brake failed completely half way through which lead to some excitement on some fast corners but apparently from comments of nearby racers they got a good show of some pretty good moves to save the ride.

Did the Cable Criterium on Sunday and on a Gary Fisher SuperFly... maybe if I get it dialed in I'll like it better but I certainly can't complain how well the Trek Top Fuel 69er was this year.

All in all, I'm happy with the effort I gave sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but with a few more weeks of rest and some fun riding there'll still be a few more MTB races or at least cyclocross races to take in.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

On another cycling topic... really read this.

I'm not one to spend much time on stuff like this and being an armchair cyclists doesn't hold much interest to me. But with the recent Lance announcement of coming back to professional road cycling, it triggered my curiosity of what the other biggest "L" name in cycling has been up to -- Landis. Mr. Floyd Landis.

Being the armchair cyclist unfortunately provides the position of judge, jury & executioner. As such probably alot of people have already dropped their hammer in a way the doesn't favor Floyd. I found the entire ordeal rather strange -- two things stuck out to me -- one, is why the heck would you do some form of doping and win a big stage knowing you automatically get tested. Two, the guy in everything I ever saw, looked so bewildered by what had happened. Call me gullible but his doping story & persona never seemed to make sense to me. So why the heck am I bringing this up. Because of this recent article published last month. What follows is a snippet with links to the full article. I'm not putting it above other motives, other facts and evidence -- just read it for what it's worth ..... and as I read in another article you might wonder if Floyd got Richard Kimbled (reference... Harrision Ford, The Fugitive) in this one.

A study published last month highlights just how variable testosterone test results can be from one individual to the next.
Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm gave a single dose of testosterone to three groups of men who had either one, two or zero copies of a particular gene, known as UGT2B17. More than 40 percent of the men missing the gene went undetected by the doping test, while those with two copies of the gene showed testosterone levels 20 times higher.
Once statistical adjustments were made for the genotypes, the differences disappeared.Berry also pointed to the need for careful sample handling, advanced technician training, and precise instrument calibration during the lab analysis of the urine samples upon which the doping tests are based."The process in unlikely to be error free," he said, pointing out that the American Arbitration Association that ultimately ruled against Landis initially threw out the result of the French lab screening due to improper procedures.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Rhinelander Smokin Spoke .... What? Called short?

Ya-ow! Hitting a course like the Smokin' Spoke in Rhinelander isn't for the faint of heart. The word "Committed" comes to mind. Committed to seeing it through to completion and committed to break the beast before it breaks you.

It's the second year of it's tour on the WORS race circuit -- the trails tend to be newer and the topography plays into something of a body shuddering experience. A year since I last visited left my memory foggy of just how challenging it was. It's one of those courses you take your best super fast roadie buddy and watch him suffer and break like a small child as payback for all the road rides he has left your legs in smoldering ashes and eye's crossing til they bled. There's no faking it on this course -- you're either a mountain biker or not. Ya gotta love it.

Now, first & foremost, it's probably the wildest thing to think "Swanson, what the heck is up? A race report in the same afternoon as the race. How is that possible?" Huh? Well, that's part of how this race gets interesting.

It's a 1:30 start time. I arrive just about 45minutes early (without Kate, Marshall & Hope for the first time in memory. Kate's at the 8 1/2 month stage of pregnancy and been a trooper coming to the last several races despite dealing with contractions the past 2 weeks. I don't know how she does it, I just chalked it up to having one very special lady). Upon getting registered, I tried to squeeze in a quick warm up & pre-ride only to get to the start line about 2 minutes to start. Getting a back row spot ain't that bad because this was probably the smallest Elite field of the year at a WORS race, I want to guess 35-40 racers. The distance to the race for alot of the regulars and the time of year all play into it. I line up next to Adam Swank & Josh Tesch, listen to the National Athemn and before I know it we're off.

The winding lead out stretched things but gave ample opportunity to pass and get into a likeable position. When compared to the last several races in the U.P. and locally, it's always a reality check lining up in the WORS Elite field. Instead of 5 maybe 10 top end racers, it's everyone in the starting chute. There's a big boatload of racers that can kick ass, some even more than others, and there is no one you can take for granted. You gotta work really hard for your position and work even harder to keep it.

It was probably close to a 9 mile lap course with the Elite field set to do 3 laps. I was feeling decent so I moved from back row to mid pack in the initial forest roads in the first mile or two. I followed Ray Nelson of IL into the single track -- shortly there after the jackhammering began. Maybe it's a slight exaggeration, but I couldn't help but sympathize for anyone riding a hardtail (29er or not). I think anyone riding without a seat would have been best off because even with my full suspension 69er I was testing the limits of my back, forearms & triceps. Standing was almost the best way to deal with it. In hindsight, returning the pressure in my suspension(s) to normal limits would have help tremendously. Up until this course I've been very happy riding it "firmed up".

The great challenge of the course is that it really never gave you relief. Yes, there were open roads at the beginning & end of the laps but in between, back to my point above you were definitely "committed". You were either going to adapt or continue to take a beating. I settled somewhere in between. For a good share of the first lap I was able to hold my own, I think only little Carlos Haeckel got by me. At the end of lap one, single track pergatory ended and the flats and rollers gave me the opportunity to push the pace again.... but also drag along a 3-4 person contingent.

One of the best things about this year is finally seeing a step up in performance I'm experiencing. It feels like it's been a pretty big jump, as many of the guys I'm racing with I'd previously never been able to keep up to let alone stay ahead of. Now that's becoming a more regular experience. It's funny how when for years in race after race you get accustom to where you place and who places in front of you almost so much so that you don't think it will ever change. But I can attest if you keep up the diligence and perserverance and most of all have patience eventually things will turn around. I've found we all grow differently and our bodies adapt to the stress load we place on them in different time frames. Whatever you do, don't give up. Stay true to your goals as some of the biggest rewards come when you just about think they might be beyond your grasp.

Well, back to the race, the guys following -- it's John Lirette on his Superfly, Scott (?) and another guy I didn't recognize. We were able to catch up to Tim Drankus & another guy and ride through the first lap in about 45 minutes. At that point, I couldn't help but think -- oh, my god, 2 more of these -- it's going to be a lonnnng day.

Lap 2, didn't go as smoothly, going with a subsitute water bottle handling person ain't ever as good as the original. Kate's pretty awesome at doing handoff's. I missed the first attempt with my subsitute but got it the second time as part of the trail horseshoed around to give us another try. As an hour into the race was closing in I was feeling though I was losing a touch of that normal power output I've been used to having all race long in previous weeks. Despite gels & Endurance drinks, it didn't come back around. It wasn't til 1/2 way into the second lap, I could really feel the power drain happening -- ah, that seemingly undeniable season ending burnout feeling. Oh, great, that's not good for more than a few reasons, most imminently it's going to make the remainder of this current race really, really painful & long, and not to mention it doesn't bode well for next weeks Chequamegon 40.

I tired my best to hold a reasonable pace and not give up too many places. I recall Jan Rybar, Ron Knutowski, & maybe Bill Danielson getting by. There was still a more than few good racers behind, so I was happy with holding where I was at. I couldn't help but think in the back of my mind where Adam Swank must be -- and low & behold, before I know it -- there's his voice "Hey, Aaron! How's it going?" Oh, well, it was good to hear a friendly voice. We chatted how he used to CX ski in High School on alot of the trails we were racing (To put it mildly, most people would acknowledge Adam's a pretty accomplished CX skier) apparently, he was CX skiing state champion in H.S. his freshman & senior years.

Adam had one other guy with him and it was my good fortune to tag on & help with the ride into finish Lap 2. Now, here comes the unexpected part.....

The weather forecast had scatter thundershowers, etc, etc for the afternoon. Apparently, the Smokin' Spoke race course had the fortune or misfortune of being in the path of a biggie. So with 1/2 mile or so to go -- a course marshall is yelling, "Last lap! Last Lap!" Adam & I are bewildered, like what is that guy talking about, it's a 3 lap race. Being in the forest canopy we had no clue what weather might be coming our way. Finally other spectators along the course say something about "high winds, hail, rain, blah, blah... they are getting racers off the course". Personally, I can't believe my good fortune!!! It was only an 1 1/2 hrs into the race, but for how I was feeling I couldn't bare the thought of another lap.

The other guy with us understood right away what was going on and took off, when Adam & I finally figured it out, I just yelled at him to go and try & catch that guy. Myself, I was content on coasting in and not toasting my legs any further than they already felt. I'm not sure if Adam got him before the line but he was closing down the gap fast, I'm anxious for the results to show up.

It was kind of surreal at the finish line because it wasn't windy or raining yet, just very omnious clouds. Even so, I wasn't about to stick around to find out. As I got back on the bike & headed to the car -- their was a rise of this erie sound of high winds blowing through the trees and within moments, you knew exactly why cutting that race short was exactly what needed to be done. About a 1/4 mile from the car I got hit with a blast of wind from the side that nearly, nearly knocked me right over. I think I did the remaining 1/4 mile to my car faster than any point in the race. I quick undid the front wheel and tossed the bike in the hatchback of my Celica. Seconds later I'm jumping in my car as the rain is coming down in sheets.

Ah, what perfect timing!!! To home I sped and got back in time for a fun super & evening with Kate & the kids. Wish all the WORS races were so close.

The remainder of the racing season remains more up in the air. Kate didn't make it to the race today because of not feeling well and dealing with some notable contractions. So with her looming due date & her physical symptoms getting more unpredictable, it'll be a day by day (or hour by hour) decision making. Even with some pretty desireable racing coming up that may be missed, it's been a really good year. May not of hit all my goals and had more than my normal share of mechanical issues, but it was good jump forward performance wise and a great confidence builder going into next season.

The remainder of the Fall should make for some great unstructured riding and dipping into a cross race or two as time permits.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Race Reports: 1st of 4 - Ore to Shore Hard Rock

Rather than try to recall (now, weeks later) how the race played out I've cut & pasted the race report I gave my coach Josh Powers.

Great front row lineup –Kate said to me -- "that would be the closest to Marko I’d be all race long (ouch! Doesn’t that truth hurt?)"

Hard start after the roll out. I was in 30-35th place but when the front guys hit the hammer, dang it was it fast. Generally I can still pick up spots even when the pace is high but when the high gears kicked in at around 2miles in, everyone was just giving it.

Mile 4-7: somewhere in there after some hard bumps & sharp gravel rocks I had a soft squishy back tire float around. Pull over and hand pumped all the while feeling the repeated freight train of riders go by. How many? Psff? I have no idea probably 50, it felt like 100 (I suck at even doing the most minor repairs under pressure). It was a puncture, in my 7 day old Bontrager Revolts, that took alittle time to get plugged up by the Stans No Tubes Sealant.

Got back on -- wasn’t sure what too expect. No sure if any “target” racers had passed or not (assumably they had). So many thoughts pass thru your mind. Have I screwed the entire race? What should my new focus or goal be in light of this? Etc, etc. I got back to a bit of slow start, passing some slower riders but not going balls to the wall. It felt like in some places I’d get going other times I’d be slower.

As time ticked away, my gains would be steady, especially in any of the more difficult terrain, hills, whoop-di-do sections. There’d be what I’d like to call “pile-ups” – you’d go a good distance without seeing anyone and then “blam!” there’s bunch of people negotiating some tougher stuff.

Mile 19-20: Feeling pretty good as the previous 3 miles I passed a lot of people probably 20 maybe 30 and then Wala! I see this monster hill in the distance and all these people walking up it. Even better on that hill I see a number of racers I recognize, including some of the local guys that are exactly slackers when it comes to riding the big knobby tires. This is good! So I ride up as much as I can & similarly dismount and quickly begin trekking up the hill so I can catch on to this group of 6 or more before they hop on their bikes again. I later found out from Kate after the race that by the first water stop at the 12miles point most of these guys had 2 & 3 minutes on me so I was able to make up that 2+ minutes ground in 7-8miles.

Mile 21-29: Having caught this group of 6, the catching of additional racers gets slower as the point of attrition in the race where catching additional riders gets tougher and tougher as the racers are better and better. But I’m now in a pretty decent group and need to assess what to do next. Well, that was pretty much taken care of for me as a great guy out of the Twin Cities, Matt Muyres, which I was shocked to see in this group (as he can ride like a mother on fire.) Gets on the front in the open stretches and freakin’ pounds it. I mean pounds it. Shellin’ people, it was freakin’ awesome! (Now if he would have ended up dropping me, maybe it wouldn’t have been) One of the local guys was unfortunately dropped in the process. Fortunately Matt’s riding suited my training and style of high paced open road riding so I didn’t really mind. I got to front a few times for some pulls to see if we could drop anyone else. But it was also to tell Matt to save some as I knew I was going to want him around later so I didn’t need him to burn up into a crispy critter.

Mile 29-35: Open blacktop section with longer climbs. I knew this was going to be a 2:45-3hr race so fuel intake was imperative. I was steady on it with water & gels so I was hoping it would be enough to keep me from going over the edge. Two incidents in this area.
--That group of 6 was now down to myself & 3 others and Matt was chasing down yet another group of probably 8. As we were getting closer & closer to making contact I found myself of the biggest pricks in all of MTB racing I’d ever come across. Out of nowhere this guy behind me yells at me in an angry voice, “stay on his wheel & quit surging!” What!! Did I really hear that? I couldn’t believe it! Shocked, I quote back: “Why don’t you shut the #$%! up and quit your crying. Get your #$s up here if you don’t like it.” Not satisfied that I’d said enough. I furthered “You’re drafting you *&%#ing idiot! You don’t have one say in how the guy pulling your ass rides”. I was frickin’ steamed. I could not believe the audacity. In a road race, sure, I come to expect less than cordial participants. But this is mano-a-mano MTB race. Wild.
--Next we make contact with that group of 8, so it’s now a nice sized group and it’s approximately 35th thru 47th place. Next up in the line of sight was the other really good rider from my area about a qtr mile in the distance. This is probably the peak point of the race for me. Steadily, steadily the distance is getting cut but at the same time hitting the climbs I’m getting lead legs. The “oh-crud I can’t pound this hill and not have some serious leg burn going on”. It’s that breaking point you get to in a race where trouble is brewing underneath. I’d love to say what happens in the next mile is the reason I finished the way I did but it’d be a stretch.

Mile 36: Back on the bouncy double track was enough to re-open the puncture in the rear tire and after sliding around for 100 yards I had to pull over and re-pump as the 12 person train went on without me. My first attempt to pump and get back on was horrible. Only a few guys went by but it wasn’t another 100 yards before it was nearly completely flat & I needed to get off a second time and really pump it up. I’d probably got it up to 25lbs but not before getting passed me up again by a good share of riders we’d previously dropped.

Mile 37-48: I think it’s now probably 2 hrs 15 min into the race and given what’s just happened -- the evidence of fatigue, the flats. It’s here you hit the optimistically hopeful state of mind. You go like hell as best as you can and at the same time you know everyone else is hurting too. The thought is maybe, they’ll hurt more than you and they still can be caught. Once back on and knowing there was 10-11 miles to go I was able to go decent for another 4-5 miles. Not losing any spots, holding off some people behind me but also not catching anyone that I recall. But eventually it keep going downhill (and I don’t mean the topographically direction of the course) for me. I got passed up another 15+ spots by the time I rolled into the finish at 3:01:04 ending up 72 overall on the day out of 500 racers.

RACE NOTES:--My back tire had about 12lbs of pressure in it at the finish line. I’m not sure how long it was that way.
--I stood up a lot throughout this entire race, because of the problematic rear tire. Something I don’t normally do as I stay seated almost 99% of the time when racing.
--Felt really good the morning of the race, relaxed, energetic and my back was feeling decent. It was as good as I’ve felt going into any race in the past 2 yrs.
--Most positive aspect of race: The Chase Back – It didn’t feel overly taxing and for what it’s worth was the fun part. I’ve never previously ever been able to race back into my original position after losing it. So that brought about a level of satisfaction.

With a pretty lengthy detailed honest recap above, you’ve got a decent scoop on what went down. This was a big race for me. I’m left with some disappointed and questions. The first being the mechanical issue – how would I have done without the flat and not having to chase back? How would that have played into energy output & conservation? Now I could fall back on the flat tire excuse but what bothers me more is that essentially I was cracking already on mile 35 and by mile 45 I wasn’t crawling but I wasn’t going to be able to hold anyone off. Even without the flat would I have been able to pull it off?

So, although going in I can always take a mechanical “excuse” or issue in stride and not be upset because it’s out of one’s control. But personal performance, essentially what is me, is very, very difficult for to deal with. I have these goals and personal beliefs of what I should be capable of. And time and time again, I keep coming up short. And to me, how I measure it, I’ve not even been close to knocking out any of these goals. I can’t begin to describe the intensity of frustration that it creates within me. You’ve warned me about, told me about, and even so, unfortunately it doesn’t make it any easier. Putting in so much effort and dedication I just don’t know what else to do at this point or what I should even be doing.

I’m just saying I’m in a tough spot right now. I don’t like how things are going. It’s not one race, it’s not the Ore to Shore, it’s the collection of things so far this year and last year. I like this journey because it provides plenty of opportunities to succeed but something has to happen and come through. Understand all of this is on me. You’ve done everything you know (and you do know a hell of a lot), I just don’t know how to pull it together any more than I already have.

Lastly, with all the 29er talk of what a great bike it is, of which I’m not taking anything away, how about the fact that a 69er is the bike that took home the big prize at Ore to Shore.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Upper Michigan MTB Race Circuit

Circumstance or chance found me spending 3 of the 4 past weekends visiting that barren but beautiful state to the east – more precisely the northern part -- Upper Michigan. A diversion from the course of WORS and MNSCS racing that normally takes up much of the season. The U.P. races though generally lesser in the caliber of competition are still a great deal of fun.

How is it that 3 of the 4 primary MTB races in Upper Michigan happen in August? I’m not sure but each race had highlights (and some low lights). First, Marquette’s first leg of the Triple Crown the Ore to Shore, then the fairly new race in Calumet – The Great Deer Chase, and lastly Copper Harbor’s Fat Tire Fest Labor Day Weekend. (In between it all and not to be forgotten – the always great Seeley Pre Fat race.)

What has faired well and come to fruition was this year’s solid training program that was put together by my coach Josh Powers. After what I considered to be some rough and below expectation performances earlier in the year things have really turned around. The early season disappointments -- part of the compromise of racing while spending multiple days each week of hard training & intervals – have been worth it from both the physical gains and the fortitude & determination to turn things around. I’ve mentioned it before, but this year it could be no better said, the hard efforts aren’t what make you better, it’s the rest and recovery you provide your body that builds up to it’s maximum potential. I was one tired & fatigued dude come the end of July, but by taking time off the bike, doing easy riding and getting lots of sleep changed that significantly over the past four weeks.

As I write, it’s 9 short days til the Big Dance of the Chequamegon Fat Tire Fest, not the last race of the season but getting close. Good luck to you all that plan on taking on the 40 or the Short & Fat. To offer out some reading fodder as the excitment to that day builds, I’ll finally post up every couple days how the abovementioned August races played out and then wrap up with a preview & prognostication of Chequamegon 40.

Oh, by the way did I mention my 'cross bike might be arriving tomorrow? Pictures..... hmmm..... maybe?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Racing to get caught up on updates

Whew, time goes by – 4 additional races to update on since the last entry.

Well, here goes, coming off a big three weeks of hard training it was time for a recovery week in late July/early August. What better way to test the results of that training than cranking out a road race…. Only one problem, my wife, Kate also plans a 4th birthday party for our son, Marshall, that same day. Hmmm… sometimes you just got to work with the situation. The first Saturday in August puts Grand View, WI on the cycling map as the site of largest road race in Northern Wisconsin the Firehouse 50. The event carries a choice of road races and time trials. Fortunately when a birthday party is scheduled for 10am, it leaves the Fantasy 50 as the only option to pull things off.

Start at 8am, finish the 33 mile course in under 90 minutes, jump back in the car for the ½ hr drive home and I should be safe, right? Got it done & back home with five minutes to spare as it turned out! As far as the race -- it’s the much more relaxed version of the two Firehouse races yet still there’s adequate competition. I got to the start line with about 30 seconds to go – I wasn’t stressed by it, at least not in the same respect as fellow racer, Scott Chapin who was at Grand View to do a team time trail with girlfriend Julie, he happened to be parked next to me assisting with some minor bike adjustments when the count down over the loudspeaker was announced. He’s like “Would you get out of here already! You’re making me nervous!” I just chuckled and told him “Thanks”.

The race rollout was smooth and as long as I was within 15-20 spots of the front I was comfortable with my racing position. It was a moderate pace with everyone staying together for the first couple miles. Upon reaching the steeper sections of the climbs that make up the first 5 miles of the race, I decided to move up to the front and push the effort, to see who would be racing at the front and who would be sightseeing the race. I pushed it enough to cause separation with the larger group and by the top of the Great Divide (5 mile mark) it was down to 6 racers with 2 more later catching on. There group of 6 consisted of two sets of 2 person teams, myself and one other lone rider. Interesting dynamics & tactics come into play anytime you have a small group with more than one rider from the same team.

Two against one isn’t the odds you want to be stuck with so most of the time so making a break away move is sometimes better than hanging in the group. When the other lone racer made an effort that got him 50 yards out front and held it for awhile I decided to bridge up to him on the short climb after turning onto Pioneer Road. Fortunately, the move stuck, but at the same time it was a big commitment to make with 20+ miles to go. It was the two of us to hopefully work together in a team time trial effort, to hold off the group of 6 other racers. That group of six didn’t make it easy forcing us to hold a high pace in order to keep the 200-300 yard lead we’d built from going away. The guy I was with wasn’t overly talkative – maybe cause he was constantly pushing it but he shared he’d done the FH 50 in the past and a FH time trial.

With the chasers closing things down we needed to push it on the Ryberg Rd just prior to Lake Owen drive about half way into the 33 mile course. I assumed if we could just get out of sight with the rolling hills and winding corners maybe they’d give up their valiant effort. It must have had some effect as we didn’t see them again til well into the final 8 mile section from Drummond to Grand View.

With the final miles closing in and the break away appearing to that it would succeed the pace stayed high and how the race would play out remained a question mark. My idea and that of the rider with me must have been different. Having worked together to make this opportunity possible for both of us, I thought it only right to have a gentleman’s agreement to drag race it out side by side at the end. Instead, after taking equal pulls, he failed to come through to the front when I pulled over. Rather he sat on my wheel. In hindsight I should have really eased up and starting conserving energy to prep for the move he was going to make but that’s what you get for assuming such things. He dogged me – rather than having a friendly understanding, he jumped hard at about a mile out after sitting on my wheel resting up. I gave it a go but my long effort at the front didn’t leave enough to pick back up. It was 2nd place on the day for the one road race I do a year. It was very satisfactory but also a very hard effort as we averaged a greater mph pace than any of the 2 person TT teams or even the large pack in the full FH 50 race did that day.

My coach Josh Powers had preferred me pass on this road race to get more rest going into the first big MTB race I was hoping to peak for this year, Marquette’s Ore to Shore 48 mile Hard Rock. As usual he’s probably right so maybe I burned up a few more of the “matches” that a season of bike racing gives or it was excellent late season high end interval training. Only the remaining races and the duration of this training peak will hold that answers. Given last years early burnout I’m hoping for some a turn of good fortune this year.

Getting home at 9:55am was just in time for Marshall’s birthday party. Great time had with family and friends coming over. A pleasure in life that can’t be beat is watching your young kids celebrate and grow. A good friend once told me of the best things about having kids is being able to do your childhood over again. You know, sometimes I think he’s gotta be right.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fixin' Tubeless Tires

Ok, ok, for those of you who know there's been a bunch of racing going on my apologies for not yet getting caught up on the recent race reports. There's coming....

In the meantime, I thought I'd pass along a super helpful link on how to fix your tubeless tires when you get a slash or puncture that any of the interior sealants (Stan's, Bontrager Juice, etc)can't quite handle. If you're a tubeless tire fan it sure beats having to throw out a decent tire and drop another $40-$50 for a replacement each time.

You'll find out more on why I tracked this info down once the race reports are updated. There are three of 'em, Grand Views Road Race, Marquette's Ore to Shore and a last minute additional to the race schedule Calumet's (MI) The Great Deer Chase.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Duluth Powder Monkey

I'm surprised I didn't see any flippin' monkeys given how hot & humid that Duluth Spirit Mt jungle course was today.
Coming of the tail end of a very hard three week training block, racing this course wasn't a prescription for the best possible results. Even so, the race didn't go all that bad.... at least for awhile.
Anyone that's done it will agree, it's a tough challenging course, not overall built for speed except for the most technically adapt racers. That's not to say it's can't be fun, it's just a different kind of fun than any other race course or trail in the Midwest that I've experienced.
I overcame last minute indecision on whether to go or not but still arrived plenty early(for me that's anything close to 45 minutes before race starting time). Got in a good warm up (perhaps too much of one).
By far the most relaxed I've ever been at the starting line of a race, but actually now for most races I like to steal the line from Kareem Abdul Jabbar in what I recall to be the 1985 NBA finals. When asked if he was nervous, he simply said "The butterflies are dead." Fortunately I consider that to be a good thing going into most races.
The uphill start went well and though I lingered somewhat back thinking to not get in that position of holding up more technical riders as we entered the first section of single track. But once we got there I realized that was foolish as there wasn't anybody within 10 people of me that were overly skilled at pounding through the "gorilla heads", rock outcroppings and tighter twists and turns. (File that on in the memory bank -- go hard from the start, giving someone else the benefit of the doubt ain't necessarily the best strategy).
The rest of the race makes for an interesting tale which I could probably elaborate on at a later time, but it boils down to some fun riding with alot of guys I know and enjoy racing with. Early on I caught up to Charlie "Mr Ultra Endurance" Farrow, road a good share of the first lap with Bart Rodberg, chased down a surprisingly slow starter (no offense) Ross Fabroni and took advantage of a nice spill by the single guy I trade racing positions with more than anyone this season Larry Sauber. And not only that, I'm leading Mr. incred-ski Adam Swank for the first lap. Only he must have afterburners cause he put 14 positions in between us by the end.

Well, the cumulative effect of the training or the heat or something had me struggling by the 1/2 hr mark of the race. It was two laps and took 2hrs to finish. The big 20minute climb on the back side of the course had me surviving more than climbing only to relive the experience on the second lap. However that time I did have the opportunity to have a nice chat with fellow Trek FS 69er enthusiast Charly Tri from Rochester without an ill-timed flat he'd of done quite nicely today.

Side note -- you big wheelers don't knock it til you try it. I appreciate you express the opinion you like what you have but the 69er is a dead on sweet bike. (Not to mention you can ride an impressive rear wheelie with it, ah, but that's another story for another day).

So in the end, I'm out of water, out of energy, out of luck. I make some semblence of a scramble up the final hill and hope to avoid the nearby vultures circling overhead. Graciously giving up an additional three or so spots out of the kindness & mercy in my heart in the final mile and winding up 28th on the day.

My coach Josh Powers had me scheduled for another 90minutes -2hrs of riding afterwards but that could have resulted in heat stroke so I hit up the Baked Lays Chips, Pepsi, automobile A/C & took Kate & our clutch of children on home.

I must say an upcoming rest week never looked so appealing....
....maybe a Firehouse 50 this coming weekend (Aug 2nd) otherwise next up the Big 'Ole Ore to Shore (Aug 9th) I have a strong feeling it's going to be one of the best races of the year.

Til later....

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Riverbrook MTB Time Trial: Hatchery Creek Hayward

What are the odds?

Went to Riverbrook’s weekly Thurs nite MTB TT’s – great little summer MTB racing series put on by the cycling communities of Seeley, Hayward & Spooner. Some time ago they came up with a “Equalizer” format. Racers are handicapped with different starting times -- the least speedy go first and progressively the faster racers are released in 30sec to 1 minute intervals. When done to perfection, everyone hits the finish line at the same time. But regardless, everyone gets to compete both on an overall as well as handicapped basis.

And there’s no motivation like being forced to catch the slower person in front of you or to avoid being caught from behind.

So, this past Thursday the TT was held at the Hatchery Creek Trailhead in Hayward. Never having done the series before they use the best educated guess of where to start you in the lineup. Lucky me? With Scott Chapin, Jesrin Gaier & Tim Swift having good reputations & past experience I put 4th to last leaving only those vultures to hunt me down. With that kind of motivation it’s easier get a quick start. I left the start line with Tom Gaier & Tim Wilkie. At first I figured with Tom’s familiarity with the trails I could benefit from staying behind him but then I decided I was better off getting the biggest gap I could muster on the open Birkie trails at the start before the course entered the single track. Then let the chips fall where they may after finesse and handling skills in the single track took precedence over for straight up power in the open sections. The strategy paid off as I had gained 15 seconds or more by the time we entered the single track. After busting it wide open, the trails were a relief and my heart rate returned to a more reasonable sustainable pace. All I kept thinking, is I’ve got the gap, just keep it steady and don’t give up too much ground and recover to pound it again when (and if) it opens up again.

Even with my unfamiliarity with the trail, I managed to keep the miscues to a minimum. Taking note to listen for sounds of turning wheels and skidding brakes and glancing out of the corner of my eye on switch backs for any movements on the trail. Ten minutes in still all good, fifteen minutes still clean without any sign of trouble coming.

That’s when the bike gods released their fury – mind you not just on me, as I came off a S corner I got that sloppy feeling in the rear of the bike that can only come from a blown tire that’s rolled off the bead. End of the night for me. So hiking down the trail and counting time for the next racers Tom came through 30 seconds later and another 30 seconds later Scott Chapin with Tim Wilkie now behind him. Tom was out of any CO2 but was kind enough to toss me some bug spray (for which I was grateful on the next half hour walk back to the start/finish). I assumed I’d be seeing Tim Swift any minute and certainly Jesrin – I counted off a minute and then 90 seconds and still no sign of either of them. Only to discover when I finally got to the end that they’d both incurred flats within 20-30 feet of each other. What are the odds 3 of the last 4 riders flatting out on the same night.

So though it was a good hard effort, it didn’t provide the feedback I was hoping to get on how my racing speed is coming along. Though I was feeling pretty good and holding off Chapin felt like a distinct possibility. Next Thursday it’s a toss up, I’ve got league softball and the TT being held at Seeley which is notoriously challenging singletrack to ride a fast speeds. ….. we’ll see, maybe. Especially if I can drag some certain other individuals in the Chequamegon bay area who shall remain nameless unless they don’t start showing & participating in some local races pretty soon.

Regardless, it was a good time as Kate, Hope & Marshall were able to come along and have fun at the park with the other families and riders.

Up next, it’s WORS in Franklin, WI or MNSCS at Spirit Mt in Duluth – with a 4 1/2hr difference in drives times – I think Spirit Mt should be the easy choice. A hard core course that’s great to ride… it’s just racing it successfully is sometimes another story.

Chippewa Valley FireCracker

Like in real fireworks sometimes the anticipated “blast” becomes a “poof”. That’s much of what the 2008 edition of the Chippewa Firecracker held in store. In the training program I follow it had me coming off a rest week which theoretically should have made for some fresh legs and a great race. Rather the legs were a bit starchy and a fast opening lap had me backing off half way through. After dropping 4-5 spots I got back in the groove and followed John Fang (BKB rider) who was pushing it really well until he rounded a turn too hot & slide out just over half way thru lap 2. Feeling like some mojo was coming back I took to the front and pounded through lap 3 gapping two chasers. That worked well until the end of lap three when 2 additional riders caught back up and I messed up a water bottle & gel flask handoff. It doesn’t take long to lose 100 yards and the energy required to close it back down can be extremely consuming. I was able to get a few places back by the middle of lap 4 but the culmination of the hot day, and consistently running low on water each lap had me pretty zapped coming in the last few miles.
From each race you hopefully learn some lessons, pack up the experience and better know how to tackle it on the next go around.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Where to train at

A little while back I mentioned passing along a great article about training and a key component of what could be said to have the greatest value in helping a person get faster. For those who are familiar it's reiteration of what you already know. For those who haven't or have gone through different regimens trying to figure out what works best -- give this article a good reading. I may never hit the absolute top of cycling scene, but the basics behind this have taken me slowly & progressively from a very, very average mediocre cyclist to a mid pack elite racer with a positive outlook of still reaching the upper tier. I hope wherever you are as a cyclist you can find a benefit from reading this.

Power at lactate threshold wins races
By Rick Crawford
Posted Apr. 4, 2008
Competitive cyclists are not patient people. They tend to go directly to the pain, work too hard too early, and mistakenly overlook the real limiter of their performance simply because it doesn’t hurt enough to satisfy their addiction to pain.
Overwhelmingly, the most damaging error committed by developing cyclists, from a methodological point of view, is spending too much time training aspects that do not efficiently contribute to the athlete’s potential. This is a double whammy for the aspiring cyclist, because it takes energy from the systems that contribute the most. The error compounds in that energy is being wasted working systems that aren’t effectively maximizing the rider’s output.
The most common example is cyclists that cripple themselves with an overdose of excessively depleting work (zone 5/ VO2). The systems involved in races of an hour or more are primarily aerobic, and the focus of the training for these events should also be aerobic. If an athlete is forced to go anaerobic in order to make a selection, then the racers in the selection that are able to maintain aerobic status are clearly in an advantageous position. Going to VO2 (lactate accumulation) against riders who are at or below LT, is usually a losing proposition.
Yet, consistently, the misguided athlete will spend a disproportionate amount of time at intensities over LT, thinking that there is gold waiting in the ensuing lactate induced burn. No pain, no gain, right? This is certainly true, but in the endurance game, it is the longer-term pain of patiently planned progressive training strategy — and metered control of the naturally destructive human behavior of type A people — that wins. The anaerobic work certainly needs to be there, but it needs to be metered carefully for best results.

Think of it this way. In an event an hour or more long, how long can an athlete accumulate lactate before he/she blows? In the aerobic state, an athlete can pretty much go until the fuel is gone. Doesn’t it make sense to develop power in the aerobic zone where the majority of the race will be spent? Think of making the opposition go into a state of excruciating lactate induced burn while you cruise along semi-comfortably at threshold. That is the essential element of training the physiology of an endurance athlete.
First a well-built base is critical, which by this time should already be done. Then, establish baseline levels of where your perceived LT is and get a feel for what the critical zones feel like when you’re training. Home in on your present LT output by ramping gently into intensity and taking note of where you noticeably load up. You can tickle VO2 in each of your intensity workouts, but do not hang out there. This is where you get into trouble. For every minute you spend at VO2, you cost yourself exponential amounts of LT training. Tickling VO2 will allow you to note when you have increases in levels, which you should expect if you are training right.
When you tickle VO2 to observe aerobic status, you will simultaneously stimulate and develop anaerobic energy systems, in the proper proportions they deserve in your endurance world. Racing and hard group rides will provide many opportunities to develop lactate tolerance and go anaerobic, so rest easy knowing that you will get your lactate fix. Don’t volunteer your body for more zone 5 punishment when your needs are best served by zone 4 discipline. Don’t avoid zone 5 completely, just don’t kill yourself with it.
It is critical to understand the load that VO2 training creates and the recovery it requires from the body. One of the main detriments of VO2 training is that it burns down the central nervous system (CNS), which can effectively shut down your whole body when it’s depleted. It take a ton of CNS resource to do structured VO2 intervals ... you leave a lot of mojo out on the road on a training day that would best be used in a race ... when the CNS mojo is gone, you will not have the oomph to push your hard-earned fitness. Moreover, it takes time to heal from the chemical wasteland that anaerobia creates at those incendiary levels and that is time you could spend increasing your power at LT which is the gold standard of endurance performance.
If you’re the kind of rider that depends on a good sprint for results, view this progressive strategy as insurance that you will bring that great speed to the line more often, being fresher for having had to deplete less of the precious reserves it requires to make the selection. Sprinters are typically born not formed. Patiently build your program from base to the top. Don’t fail to spend enough time and energy building power at LT. When it’s time to wake up the speed mechanism, it will be there with dividends. Racing, and hard group rides will quickly prod dormant genetics to life. A little patience go along way.
Editor's note: Rick Crawford is Director of Coaching and COO of Colorado Premier Training. He is also the head coach for the Fort Lewis College cycling team in Durango, Colorado.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Tale of 4 laps - Duluth Dirt Spanker

Lap 1 - good tires
Lap 2 - bad tires
Lap 3 - good tires
Lap 4 - bad tires

Craziest race conditions on a multi-lap race I've ever come across at this past weekend's Duluth Dirt Spanker. With scattered thundershowers in the forecast but only a 30% chance why bother with mud tires on a hilly course? How can a course go from dry to mud back to dry and finish out muddy? Not sure but it was rather impressive how it happened on Sunday.

Had a fantastic start up the monster hill getting in the top 12-13 with Mike "a single speed never looked so painful" Bushy, Jesrin Gaier and the rest of the speedy guys. Todd McFadden close behind. It was a tough climb but very doable. Was racing well with them, until another guy passed and unfortunately he lost the tail of the train, leaving Todd & myself stranded. Great quote from the seemingly never phased McFadden, "Not too worry, it's a long race, plenty of time to catch Brendan (Moore)". Saying it like he had no care in the world and was out for an easy joy ride. And woudn't you know it when the race was over, Todd, after having given up 2 or 3 minutes when we'd gotten slowed up, had climbed back 9 spots to finish 6th, just one spot behind Brendan. Mighty impressive.

Not for lack of excitment but even getting to the race was an off road adventure. Knowing the WI shortcut to Mont du Lac through South Superior Kate, I & the kids headed for the Oliver bridge only to be stopped short by road closed signs. This wasn't good because if we had to go back around thru Duluth we'd get there with about 5 minutes to start. So Kate stops at this bar in the middle of nowhere next to the road closure and asks this Sunday afternoon bar tender how to get through. Taking her for a pregnant woman out-of-towner -- he maintained the only way to get around was back through Duluth. The ever persistent Kate however insisted we didn't have time and needed to get through. How can we do that. With a chuckle and a roar of laughter from all the patrons in the bar he said -- "You're going to need to take the "goat" path". And sure enough, we off-roaded that Toyota Prius through some crazy over grown abandoned road and through the back yard of someones house and soon we were on the highway to cross the bridge and get to the race with plenty of time to spare. ..... sometimes when you're gonna be late for a race you just gotta be persistent!

I'll try to give a better race recap later but with the on again, off again conditions of each lap -- I skidded in a for an 18th place finish on the day in just over 2:13. Lot's of fun despite the slick as ice mud that would come & go and a nasty wet bridge wipeout. The hill climbing went great and gave it the best I could given the tires (Bontrager Dry X & Revolt) on the single track & downhill sections.

It was great to see everyone again and catch up for a while. Scotty & Sara KJ - as Kate & Sara got to swap pregnancy stories, their due dates are just 4 days different..... and right around the time of the Cheq Fat Tire -- oh, uh!. Also saw Michelle & Mike Flanagan-Hagg, Charlie "even worse tire selection than me" Farrow, Todd McFadden, Mike Bushey, Mike Weispfenning, just to name a few. Lastly, thanks a ton to Mr. all over the place - Tom Gaier, I think he passed out more water bottles yesterday than all the volunteers at the overheated '07 Grandma's marathon. Always cheering and encouraging, absolutely great guy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Field Test Day

Field Test Day
--Unfamiliar with the terminology? Just a another way of expressing the boiling of every once of steam out of the engine in a 3 mile ride that is used to best determine what optimal power & heart rate levels one should train at for different speeds. Myself, I get into the techie/physiological side of biking as much as I do for the calming delight biking brings into a day.

So one of the first things I hear from people that see me riding with that funny oversized yellow hub one the rear wheel, “What’s your watts, man?” And henceforth comes the conversation of how watts are objective but also relative to each individual cyclist. Watts as a measure of power are only of any use if they can move the given weight at the satisfactory speed & distance. What I’m trying to say is this – a 200+lb rider who can crank out 400watts might not be able to contend with a 130lb rider who maxes out at 310 watts. I’m not trying to be exact with the math but rather illustrative that it’s the watts/lb that matter more than watts alone or weight alone.

It’s a great geeky thing that works as an awesome training tool. Going back to ’05 a couple of 3mile field test revealed that I could produce on average 302 watts – that’s blowing my brains out, going for broke for approximately 8 minutes leaving nothing behind. Now, that same power serves as the target range of 30 minute Tempo intervals.

Today I cranked out 368 watts on the first interval & 346 on the second interval (a 5-10% reduction is normal) which I’m pretty excited about.

Would I like to see that number higher? Of course, everyone wants higher wattage but there’s another element at work to keep in mind and that’s the duration at which you can keep the power up there. It helps to have big numbers but if you can't hold a high percentage of that for duration of the race, another person who has overall lower numbers but does hold up a higher percentage for the duration has a good chance of beating you. Have great numbers, but be able to do them a long time.
Great example – Tristan Schouten, he’ll be one of the first guys to tell you he can’t produce insanely high wattages, but why does he do so well? As my coach Josh Powers like to say about him, he lives well in the pain cave. Tristan can hold a high percentage of his max output better than a lot of other racers who may have higher top end wattage numbers than him.

So if the opportunity is ever there, make the investment in a PowerTap or other power measuring device. Great feedback and immediately responsive to changes in effort -- unlike heart rate monitoring.

Next up, I’m going to shed some light on the cyclist mentality of training that causes so many people to be missing the boat of how to actually be making themselves faster. Great read you’ll want to check out......