Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Swany's

Alright, we've all heard about the Oscars, the Emmy's, even the ESPY's.... well, it's about that time of year for the Swanys.

With any luck a couple of installments of odds, ends and notables of the year going by. The content of which will be varied and attempt to exploit no single individual or effort -- but offer in humor and light heartedness with an occassional dash of sincerity a recap of the varied slices of the cycling related world that crossed my path this year.

But before that... what's been going on that so limited my entries of late. Well, of course. I left off with a 3 week past due recap of BayCross racing, the second day of that race is now 2 months past and with it any residual memories. Ah, no, that's not exactly the case. It was like Day 1, less Jesse Bell & his UP compatriot, instead Nic Anikin from Duluth showed up. What was interesting about the race? It was a great course at Ashland's BayView park overlooking Lake Superior, great weather and even proved to be respectfully fun racing. Out of the blocks I had some hangover effects from the solo shot the previous day's race. Nic showing up after skipping the first day wasn't exactly reason for a grand harrah. Even so, I was certainly looking to do the best I could, winning the overall title for the weekend was the primary objective, seeing what I could do in this race was number two.

After the heavy solo effort the previous day I was content to see what pace others wanted to take things out at. Early on it was 4 person lineup, myself, Shawn Gort, Nic Anikin & another guy I wasn't familiar with Bill Kuster. The pace wasn't slow but it wasn't fast initially either. I generally have a ton of juice in the early minutes of a race so as I recall I went to the front in part of lap one & two to move things along but also felt like I didn't have the all out power of the day before. So soon I was content to mark anyone else's moves and react instead of instigate. Within few laps Bill dropped back & it was just Shawn, myself & Nic. Now without going into alot of history, I'll just say Shawn's a guy I respect alot and coming in behind him fair & square I'd never have any issue with. Nic as a far as I know him sure seems like a nice enough guy, suffice to say, I can't say I've always been happy with his racing tactics. And I guess you could say having commisserated with Shawn the previous day, I took the approach of siding up with him. I felt I had nothing to lose Day 2, I'd put in the hero's effort the day before and didn't have anything to prove. Nic was going to have the upper hand of the three of us due to the fresher legs so I was satisfied with sitting in & covering his race. At different times he eased up looking for a pull through, but because of what I'd done the day before I felt I didn't owe anyone. Shawn & Nic took turns at the front, once or twice when Nic was likely trying to force my hand it gave Shawn the opportunity to get away -- which if would have been successfull , yes, would have taken away the chance at the overall, but it would have been worth it.

I almost dropped off once when I took a digger on the barriers, but got back into position soon enough before Shawn & Nic turned on the jets. As it turned out, in the final 3 laps or so, Shawn had a replay of what happened to me on the barriers only Nic took off & I was able to stay with him.

In the second to last lap, Nic put in a big surge and my legs just couldn't put out the effort they had the day before. It was strange because the previous day I could bury myself in an effort, but this day I totally had a limiting switch that never let me dig dip. It was like I never got tired all race long, but even so I couldn't go any harder. I did manage to crawl back to within a few seconds in the last lap but it proved to not enough to finish it.

Even so 2nd on the day was good enough to take the overall title & $125 purse for the weekend. Huge thanks to Paul Belknap & Sara Hudson for putting the weekend together as well as the sponsors, especially Ideal Market/Rivers Eatery in Cable. Shawn had flipped flopped positions with me in the two races for the same number of points awarded but the tie breaker was based on shortest cumulative time. In other words I had a bigger gap on Shawn day 2, than he had on me day 1.

Despite all my best of intentions to race again, after successive weeks of falling prey to flu's, colds & food poisoning, I opted out. However I must say, I really would have loved to join the fractious at the UP year, PB & I will keep those guys on their toes. Otherwise MN's State Championship is always on the radar.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

BayCross - Day I

Don’t know how to express what a refreshing ‘cross race Ashland BayCross is the 3rd weekend of October. It’s low key but ambitious at the same time. Geographically isolated in some regards, it’s draw is the uniquiness of the event. The atmosphere it brings and the beauty of Northern Wisconsin & Lake Superior.

As I mentioned in a previous post, didn’t exactly have ideal training & race preparations going into it. Ok, probably among the least ideal. Fatigue & sleep issues, making for a lot of time off the bike, just getting over a flu/food poisoning and having raced only once in the previous 5 weeks.

It’s always exciting because it’s the hometown race. In the 4 previous editions, I’ve had predominately had 2nd/3rd place finishes and a 5th or 6th place one year. Despite my poor prep time going into it this year, it was intriguing to finally race ‘cross – a shorter duration, speed & power race, something I felt was a real strength of mine this year but with the exception of Ashland’s Muddrutter’s MTB race, I’d not be able to participate in. Everything else had been 2hr+ MTB cross country races. I was kinda salivating at the prospects.

Downside and opportunity at the same time was that former winner, Scott Chapin. Friend as well as long time race nemesis, would likely not be there with his health related imposed “retirement”. As much as he probably missed doing it, we likewise missed having him there. It’s always great having a go at racing against Scottie and to a degree I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get a chance to avenge my numerous 2nd place finishes to the Hayward phenom.

Even so, for the 60 min A race, once everyone dropped their bikes up course for the Leman’s start and toed the line for the start, it appeared to still be a pretty respectable field. Kelly Mcknight, coming off a great Chequamegon 40; another great area rider who just doesn’t get enough opportunities to race, Scott Nesvold. Shawn Gort from Superior– who seemingly has had my number every year at the tail end of the Day 1 race. Matt Hudson, however 3 weeks removed from riding after his trip to Peru; Curt Cline of Washburn who’s made tremendous strides from ambitious rider to downright respectable racer. That just to name a few, in addition to a couple guys carrying team colors of UP race teams – with whom I wasn’t familiar by face but in name -- Jesse Bell & Weston Pernsteiner.

The BayCross Day 1 course is a perfect mixed course that’s one is equally matched on either the MTB or cross bike. Having forgone a ‘cross bike purchase this year, it was back to the SuperFly with the Dry X & XR1 Team tire combination. At the word “Go!”, I was 2nd or 3rd to my bike and quickly saw the two UP riders on their cross bikes jump to the front. Amazingly enough, given the limited training time on the bike in recent weeks, something snapped in me & I got immediately into race mode. With a couple hundred yards in, I went to the front to push the pace. Believe it or not, it wasn’t on purpose – it’s just what I felt. The initial part of the course that leaves Prentice part is across a wide open field, usually it has a cross/head wind and that day was no exception. When I looked behind Jesse & Weston were on my wheel with another group containing Kelly, Scott, etc several bike lengths back. I recall making several surges to keep everyone honest & working themselves on that open part of the course and not just drafting. The group of three of us, maintained the separation through the railroad corridor section and ensuing rutted up snowmobile trail. Feeling good I stayed out front for a good remainder of the first lap trying to get a sense of who would be riding strong and if anyone was already feeling the pressure of a hot first lap.

Coming through lap one start finish was cool because of the crowd and the volleyball sandpit… do the hero thing, get the crowd going and power through it or get off & run. The sand was deep & soft so you had to get a good “broken in” line and try to hold steady through the remainder of it. At the start of lap 2, I backed off to see how Jesse or Weston would do in carrying the work load or if it would give the other racers a chance to get back in touch. Again, crossing the open field, the pace felt reduced and I was so itching to get to the front again. I mentioned to Jesse & Weston, it’d be a good idea to step on it again as the strongest racer (in my opinion) that day was behind us. Meaning Kelly Mcknight. I’m not sure how to take this next point because one can’t always be sure they interpret things correctly but I could have sworn Weston made some kinda of seemingly (note I said seemingly) derogatory sounding comment about the fact “they’re on MTB’s”. Oh, boy! Not a smart thing to assume in a ‘cross race.

As best as I recall, I held back that lap to take alittle break but constantly had the itch to drive the pace harder. The backside of lap two I got to witness a very fine display of bunny-hopping skills by both Jesse & Weston, a railroad tied served as an inopportune barrier coming through a small single track section. It was like the guys grew wings & flew over that barrier, helmets off to them. I meanwhile did the front & rear wheelies without such a pretty effect. Jesse in particular also had really smooth barrier run throughs in the times I saw him do it.

Going into lap three the gap to the others seemed to grow slightly, and the course officials announced laps to go. Weston, I don’t know if he’s exactly a happy person because he let out some exasperated expression at hearing 9 laps to go. Anyways, I’m feeling great, and at this point I couldn’t resist hammering down. On the third go around through the windy open field, Jesse & Weston were with me. Each time I turned around & saw them drafting, I put in a hard surge and a couple bike lengths would open. Jesse closed it once, then twice but the third time was the charm. I broke free and seemingly had 4 or 5 bikes lengths in short order.

From that point I figured it was Time Trial mode. Thinking put enough hurt into people, get a big enough gap and it’s going to be very, very difficult (though not necessarily impossible) to close it down. I was flying, feeling great. Lap after lap building the lead steadily. Powering through the sand section with the crowd cheering it was a lot of fun. A couple of poor re-mounts left my saddle tilted too far forward & too far backwards on occasion but otherwise I adjusted and tried to pour it on. I can’t say I’ve had too many races in my life where I was having that much fun.

With 4 laps to go, I was still building the lead, putting more than a minute into Jesse & company. At many points on the course there was no one in sight 200 yards or more back.

One thing I do know about racing is how long I can put out certain levels of efforts before things start to slow down. This one I’d timed at just slightly over 60 minutes. On that 4th lap to go my back which had been gradually getting more & more sore caused me to back off a knotch and try & bid my time the for these final laps. Even so we finished up that lap over 60 minute mark. The curious part of that? In all traditional senses…. Here’s the ‘cross story about the race duration…… “A” races are 60minutes plus 1 lap!! Not 60minute plus 3 laps!! A mathematical miscalculation by race officials had us going 2 laps longer than we should! Ugh!

When you have just enough fuel in the tank for the effort you plan even 10-15minutes longer can have very detrimental effects. I wasn’t exactly happy seeing three laps to go with my energy faltering & my back beginning to kill me. When finishing lap 4 I’d noticed the chase pack of Kelly, Jesse, Weston & Shawn Gort had bunched up like a pack of wolves & slightly reduced the gap, and near the end of lap 3 – either I’d backed off big time or one of them, Jesse Bell had put in a monster effort. Regardless, I’ll tip my hat to him because I didn’t think I slowed down that much. So that going into the start/finish area with what would have been the race finish Jesse had gotten back on my wheel! Would have loved for that to be the finish.

Despite desperate wishes, it was not to be. At the two laps to go mark, I took a digger in the sandpoint going end over end and Jesse was able to get out front & grab the lead and I was just too far gone to bridge back up. My next objective was to try & survive the final two laps with the least amount of damage. But in what has become a regular tradition at BayCross Day 1, with one lap to go Shawn Gort showed up on my wheel, passes, I have him drag me in the reminder of the race. This year instead of dawging him at the end, I was very satisfied to let him go with 100 yards left and I came in a solid 3rd place.

Not necessarily the end result I was looking for – however it was a great race in every other respect. I was incredible pleased with the first 60+ minutes. I hate to pound a dead horse the race duration, however this race with a winning time of 1:19 or 1:20 probably set the record for longest “A” ‘cross race held in the USA this year, if not the world. If that’s the technicality that perhaps altered what the results could have been, so be it. I feel fortunate to even be able to race, so I’ve got no gripes. And have a great event & atmosphere like BayCross offers – plain & simple it was a great day!!!

Stay tuned for … BayCross Day 2….. the battle for the overall title & the prize purse!!!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sleep, cumulative fatigue, lot's of weeks off

I find it interesting how different racer's seasons play out -- when someone starts their training, how well they keep up their performance throughout the season, when & if they train & race hard enough to finally come unglued at some point. Someone that's never really had that last aspect happen wonders "How in the heck does that happen? If you're in good to great shape how does it ever leave you?" Great question, and when posed that way I don't know that I can give a great explanation. However, it's just one of those things the human body does when pushed hard, perhaps repeatedly to it's limits. At some point, it says enough is enough and begins a process of shutting you down for your own good. I like to call it cumulative fatigue and until you can give the body enough rest to recover from it. It'll be banging at your backdoor trying to shut you down.

For all the reasons we are unique as individuals, so will the fatigue manifest itself. For me, I generally know something up when my sleep patterns get screwy. I can otherwise feel great, still race & train normal and not even feel overly tired after doing so. Alotta times that's because a person is so hepped up on the regular dose of endorphins the body has become accustomed to from the training.

What's a screwy sleep pattern, well for me, it's waking 2-3 times per night & not falling back to sleep immediately. There's also a nagging feeling that's hard to explain that tells me something's not right. It's completely different than when an outside noise or event wakes you up.

This year it started for me as soon as early August. The "if-I-ignore-it-it-will-go-away-method" didn't work as even though I cut back on the training during the week I still raced hard most every weekend. A back to back MTB race weekend mid August in Calumet,MI & RiverFalls,WI probably pushed me over the edge. The following weeks at Seeley's Pre-Fat & Copper Harbor's Fat Tire Festival though respectable races I was carrying a boat anchor through both of them.

With the sleep issues getting worse at the beginning of September Coach & myself settled in on the fact that rest & recovery was the priority. I'd still race, but do the most minimal work in between. It seemed reasonable that two weeks of rest should shake just about any cumulative fatigue....well... not for me. Mid Sept had arrived & time for the Cheq 40 -- without any training for the previous 2 weeks -- for whatever reason I was able to pull off a great race until a mishap early in the race finally caught up with me.

However still sleep issues followed me after the Cheq 40... whatever recovery I would get from my time off would get beat out of me the next time I raced. Finally I told coach, I'm taking off as much time as it takes until I finally get a solid full nights sleep! .... Three weeks later it finally happened now into the first full week of October. If you've ever had sleep deprivation issues for any reason -- you know how long time can feel like to get over them.

Sleep taken care now... time to get back on the bike... oh a 4 day battle of the stomach flu or more likely food poisoning to take care.

Here's the frustrating part of it all. You know when your season is mostly cooked, but you still have races you want to do & do well at. You want to be able to recover fast enough to still be able to to do reasonably well at. Well in the case of my last planned race of the season -- Ashland's BayCross race weekend Oct 17th-18th I'm down to 1 week to go and essentially haven't trained in 5 weeks, doing one race in that time and gotten sick.

The first time back on the bike after those 3 weeks & being sick I thought Kelly McKnight was going to kill me -- we were late to the start of the Whistlestop Half Marathon where we volunteer to lead the runners on the course. With still 3 miles to go and 8 or 9 minutes before the start -- I told him we had to move out. He went to the front & though I drafted off him very tightly, I could barely hang and after 6 minutes I had to drop off... not good and doesn't bode well for racing in a week. The next day I got out and tried several hard threshold intervals that are a standard part of my training... results... power that was 12-15% below my abilities back in May. Ugh!

Being far removed from what I consider my normal cycling abilities -- I carried through with some general workouts for that week & a few lesser intervals and hit BayCross that weekend. (Didn't want to add to an already too long post-- so I'll recaps the races later).

Only those two races or probably moreso Saturday's "hero" effort - sunk me right back into the poor sleep patterns.... AND yet MORE TIME OFF!! I think my coach said something along the lines "if you choose to do another cross race this season -- it'll destroy you". I don't know if he was serious or kidding.

Hence it's been another three weeks off the bike and a case of the swine flu later... but I'm finally sleeping decent again, Hallelujah!!

My 8 weeks previous to today? 3 races, 1 week of training....

Good thing I'm headed to the Iceman & then trying to decide on MI or MN 'cross championship the following weekend.... huh...go to the suposedly "can't miss" super fun MN event/party or bust out the big guns on Jeff, Jesse, the Tylers & give the rest of yooper country a run.

ok, I'm just kiddin'.....

At least about the Iceman that is....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

BayCross I & II - Ashland, WI

Super busy week hence behind on the update. More to come shortly.
Ashland's ambitious BayCross event of last weekend was a hit.

After a 3 week hiatius following the Chequamegon 40 and a week of the flu or food poisoning. I had only a week under my belt of being back on the bike, but the body works in amazing ways & somehow things clicked enough take the overall crown on the weekend & pocket a very nice $125 purse. Equal congrats to Shawn Gort who tied on the points for the weekend for 2nd & Kelly McKnight who took third & enough beer drinking money to last him...well, I guess that depends on what kind of beer he's drinking.

(Big Thank you sponsors, Ideal Market, Rivers Eatery on the prize money... now if there was just a way to get those beyond delicious stone oven pizza's there too.) And to the two driving forces behind the events, the promoters Paul Belknap & Sara Hudson -- you're onto something really special with this weekend of racing. And be carefully cause at some point the secret is going to get out...

Nice competition both days, good stories I"ll follow up with. Considering how rough this October's weather has been we lucked out with some great days.

Ashland's BayCross is a different kind of race weekend. Considering putting it on your calender next year & check it out.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

H20 = 75, A tale of the Chequamegon 40

What's a water bottle cost? Not in monetary terms... but places. That's at least the measure if you're a horse in a camel race.....

Getting around to recaping the Chequamegon 40 ain't easy sometimes. Good race, bad race or whatever. I tossed around alot of spins on it I could blog about.

To start with a whole lotta congrats going out to many a racer & rider -- friends that I got to see & compete with. Many of whom had stellar races ... and some not so stellar. It was good to see the many of you, before, during and after. A great way to wind up a season.

For what it's worth, I had some big plans & aspirations at this years event. Physically I wasn't peaked, but convicted in my beliefs of how it could play out I was. So in that there's a silver lining or two in my Cheq40 story.

Starts out in the wee AM hours of that Saturday -- preping everything, tossing down a hot cereal, scrambled egg & sausage breakfast and hitting the road for a the hour drive from Ashland to Hayward. Got there in adequate time for the registration pickup and the seemingly on target 20 minute warmup. Ran into so many people, Michelle & Mike Flannagen-Hagg, Kyia Anderson. Rolling out on the bike caught up with Todd & Di McFadden on their warmup with the Adventure 212 mutant ninja turtles -- (what else can I say they're fast & their are four of 'em, it's not like there are 4 amigo's, stooges or musketeers.)

Main plan -- get to the preferred start early this year. I focused that as a priority which worked well for me at Ore to Shore and recalled Tim Swift's comments from the previous year of staying up front & getting into the moves when they are made. If nothing else I learned & developed this year was having power for the start of a race ain't a problem. I just have to remember to do it.

So thinking that arriving 20minutes before the start was adequate, I was wrong -- instead I had to settle in 6 or 7 rows back... Dangit, but not horrible. In the gates, I lined up next to Matt Myres on my left & was greeted by Adam Swank on the right. The wait wasn't as long as I thought it would feel like. Soon it was National Anthem time & the 4 wheelers were rolling us out. I worked my way out of the middle & to the right outside, amazing at my good fortune to work into the 1st/2nd row in short order. Very happy with that I settled in as we buzzed down the access road & stayed clear of trouble. When the hounds are released on hwy 77 it's game on! I love the challenge -- this year I was convinced riding the Gary Fisher SuperFly with a pair of skinnier than 2" tires there was no way if I arrived in good position I'd have any problems hanging in the front. Holy crap was I wrong -- the surges started & initially I stayed with them. Then a crash/slowup of sorts took out Darrin Braun early & caused a gap of sorts to occur. Somewhere in there a huge surge at the front started to pull away so I clicked down to the hardest gear... Todd McFadden just behind & on my left telling me I could pull in front. Todd -- dude, I was turning over the gears with everything I had. Was not spun out but I might as well have been. Could have been touching the 40mph range for all I know until we caught back onto the front. It's an amazing part of that race, when the front racers hit the gas, it's a wild time.

Road out the rest of 77 sticking to the right side, opting for the fighting any wind rather than counting on the draft of sure handed road skills of my MTB bretheran. Entering Rosie's field on the right, was less optimal as a mad amount of racers scooted along faster on the left -- in fact looking over to my left was like that of something out of a movie scene -- what looked like warriors scrambling by the dozens storming over the hill. It was pretty cool.

Feeling a bit of drain finally I did my best to hammer into a better position through Rosie's field. It would seem to be the place where reality & lactic acid start to bring alot of people back down to earth. Myself being no exception but I also knew recovery was only a few sections of the Birkie trail away. I can only guess but I assume close to 50 people were in front of me upon getting out of Rosie's field, Matt Hudson being one of them. I thought wow, my fellow Ashland guys are sure going strong early. The miles between the Birkie trail & the Misquito Brook 7 or 8 miles in are bit of blur. I remember trying to work in the bike "trains" that were forming but using my momentum on the up & down hills to leapfrog spots where I could.

Somewhere in there, occurred the lead up to my opening comment, as we rounded Misquito Brook I reached for my water bottle.... GONE. Now as I understand everyone's body composition is slightly different, some are camels... some are horses. I lean pretty heavy toward being a horse because there's never been a race whereby I could get by without a full 24 oz water bottle or more for every hour of racing. Some people might not think losing a bottle is that big of deal, but for others you've probably been there & know what I'm talking about.

Going into the race, I'd taken almost 2 weeks off or doing the most minimal of riding. Trying to undue the cumulation of fatigue that had built in me this season of racing & training. I felt iffy about how the race would go under those circumstances but now with a full water bottle that had ejected somewhere earlier on the course I was really starting to wonder. I knew what bad news it spelled out, but I knew there wasn't anything I could do about it. Just keep my head down, ride smart & keep praying that nothing short of a miracle would transpire.

For a pretty long time that actually happened. With 30 miles to go, Matt Muraski & a couple of us other riders were just off the back of a group of 10-15. I road up next to Matt, gave him some threatening encouragement that he had to get up there. He responded that "No, he was gassed" -- well, I don't recall if he got on my wheel or snapped out of his percieved inabilities to go any harder but the boy did hang on & didn't give up. I was real happy for him once he got on, because I believe he may have been the only other one that made the cut and it played out fantastic for him as he had a top 30 finish.... you owe me Matt!

I don't remember the name of the gravel road we get back out on after Birkie section past Misquito brook, but it was there I saw a big chance slipping out of our fingers. When we turned on a guy in a SkiHut jersey was in no man's land 20 yards behind another large group of maybe 15. This felt like the last train leaving the station and there was no way I was going to miss the kaboose -- I put my head down & closed down on the ski hut guy, initially thinking it was Todd M. it ended up being Jake Boyce. He was looking pretty spent & I didn't bother to look back to see if anyone else was going to make the final push, so I decided to dig real deep & close the gap myself and only a few others where able to latch onto my pull.

That's pretty much the excitement for the early part of the race, one big group road fast & hard. I road near Adam Swank for most of it. I didn't realize it until seeing the result later but at the "OO" crossing the collective group was almost 30 riders, positions 21 through 49. I was pretty psyched and still feeling good & riding a smart racing. Pushing when I needed to backing off when it was prudent. Kate & the kids had a great water handoff at Janet Rd which was fantastic but I was already behind in my hydration & still praying....

Well, after "OO" & Janet Road the casualities & attrition started to break down we'd lost 10 guys on a climb or two and prior to another long gravel road section I almost go dropped myself. At 25 miles in I could feel the signs of things starting to become unraveled, and there were now less than 20 of us in this group. We were all in the top 40. I was getting slow on the hill climbs and having to race the decents to catch back on. I would go between acceptance & exasperation -- having my best Cheq 40 race knowing it was just a matter of time before my body would quit on me with an empty tank. I figured the best plan was to do everything I had left to stay with this group & get pulled along even if it left me with nothing before the end.

Well, just short of the single track section & before the Fire Tower climb was went I finally broke. It was a relief at the same time. I stopped racing and went into the mode of enjoying the day for what it was. I was assuming people would be coming up on me right away but it felt like forever before Chad Sova, Nic Anikin, the Eppens, Trevor Olson, Scott Cole & some others would finally go by -- it didn't happen in groups but rather a single racer here & there or maybe a group of 1 to 3 racers.

I made a game of to count just how many places could a person riding in the top 30-40 lose in the final 10 miles of the Chequamegon? It wasn't too bad at first but kept getting worse & worse the finally tally by the time I hit the finish was something near 75 racers. Ouch!

I finally got caught by two the Ashland area riders Kelly McKnight got by with 6 miles to go & went on to ride a strong race. Which was great to see for a guy who only 6 weeks ago looked like his season was over with a broken shoulder blade -- how many other top 60 finishers can say they over came that with their training program this year? Impressive. Paul Belknap, finally latched on with about 2 miles to go, sounds like he had a hard solo type effort race. It's good for the ego & satisfaction but unless your Doug Swanson of a couple years back it's pretty hard to have a top end result. Even so Paul got a top 100 finish.

When mishap occurs that alters your race potential it's never a good thing, but you deal with the cards you have & make the best of it. For me, I'm still happy with a finish near the top 100 knowing I road the best race I could under the circumstances.

It was hotter than normal September day & I had some real bad dehydration going on so Kate soon rounded up me & the kids & we scooted home and called it a day. Despite having signed up for the Sunday Fun-day I opted out and worked on the trails here. Since then I've been off the bike trying to get my sleep patterns back in order and catching up on all the stuff that got left conveniently forgotten these past 6 or 7 months of biking.

October if I'm finally feeling recovered I'll get back on the bike, work in some fun rides & longer base miles again and find a Cross race when I can. It's been a fun year, and after a good break & some skiing I'll be itching for it again soon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I loved the subtle trail of dust off the wheel the picture in my last entry left. It was from the Copper Harbor Fat Tire race Labor Day weekend. Things are getting wrapped up on another MT Bike season. Unlike years past I can't say I'm feeling all that remorseful.

Alot of strides & improvements were made but didn't always show up the way I'd like in the scoreboard at the end of the day.

The Copper Harbor race was one of those days. Before giving a recap on the day, I can't express how absolutely exhilarating the trails up there can be. On Labor Day weekend in the Midwest MTB'ing community it seems to be a split --there's this loyalty about some riders that feel the Jay Richards Laddie's Loppett races at their resort near Callaway,MN is this end all great thing. Not having been there or done that, I can't comment. I would find it difficult to near impossible to think it tops what the Keweenaw Adventure Company has put forth for the past 16 years with the Copper Harbor Fat Tire race... Maybe someone like Kyia Anderson who seems to have ridden dang near everywhere could comment... Kyia, are you out there? Can you give us the word? (She's perhaps never read my blog so I might have to ask one you to ask her to take a look & toss out a word.)

Find yourself up there sometime and the combination of IMBA & non-IMBA trails make for a ride you can't help but enjoy. The race does kick your tail but in a subtle way -- I'm not sure how the 4000 total feet of climbing in 24 mile race does it subtly but some how it does.
The race starts off parade style through the small town, then climbing up a pavement road. Perfect start to any MTB race as it distills the racer segmentation proportionately and amongst their fitness abilities, making it tough for someone to get into a group they can't hang with.

At the peak of the pavement part apparently 2 miles in, the course kicks it up another knotch with a seemingly steeper grade & it goes off road onto a slightly rocky double track section. As we left the pavement a group of 10, maybe 20 at most were there. It quickly thinned out, after being towards the back of the group on the pavement I'd road the right outside corner to jump in behind the three leaders who started to punch it up the double track climb. To no surprise of mine, it was the regular WORS pro/expert racers of Chris Peariso, Darrin Braun, & Nate Guerra. As good as they were moving I felt equally good, it was intense but not the red-lining lung busting I would have anticipated to feel riding with those guys. However they must have been moving well because in relatively short order, the four of us had a reasonable gap with Scott Golomski, Tom Carpenter, Scott Cole, Todd McFadden trailing.

Chris & Darrin got slightly out front of Nate, while I held his wheel. When it seemed like Nate was falling back of the other two I went by & told him to hang on and pulled us back to the as the climb crested & we when into a flat section of old forest roads with moderate sections of rolling terrain. Through a few of the rollers we stayed reasonably together, I'm thinking "Yes! this is the race I was looking to have -- I'm riding well, feeling strong." I recall looking down at the PowerTap seeing we were approaching 20minutes into the race and something in me just started to peter out -- soon Chris & Darrin rounded a corner & were out of sight. Nate & I were still together upon hitting the first section of single track as it's a slight decline & you can really rip up the course. But exiting that things still didn't come around so I dropped things back a notch or two, and let Nate ride off ahead. By the next singletrack section -- a theme that would become this race started -- the next two racers caught up to me Scott G. & Tom C. I road with them but upon getting off the gravel roads & into the primary single track that essential wound itself up the major climb they eventually pulled away. I wasn't quite figuring out why after the great start things were coming unglued, I just keep reminding myself "You're here to race for fun, you're here to race for fun" something I really forgot about at the previous weekend's Seeley Pre-Fat. By the time I'd reached the top of Mt Keewenaw, I had Scott Cole & Todd McFadden breathing down my neck. Both of which where encouraging me "Thanks guys!" But it just wasn't to be. Drinking water, taking gels, and endurolytes caps nothing was bringing me around. At that point, I knew how much longer the race was & if I didn't settle into some pace that was sustainable I was really going to crash hard internally if not in a physically sense on the eventually rocky downhill sections.

And that's what I pretty much did -- it's a two lap race so from 1/2 way thru the first lap until 1/2 way through the second lap I put it in cruise control. Praying no one else would come up from behind & that I could get myself back together to finish relatively strong. Well, the people not passing was only a pipe dream, but it did take awhile for anyone else to come by. First Matt Zak just before the downhill section I encouraged him to go down first. I followed him down hill well, I should have probably gone down first myself. But he pulled away on the double track climb that started lap 2. Again there was nobody for quite awhile until Chris Schotz & I believe Greg Cullen (or Ian Dunlap), came upon me just before reaching the golf course on Mt Keweenaw.

The best part about getting to that part of the race & in the second lap is you know the course is 2/3rds downhill after that point. If physically I didn't feel much better, mentally I was -- however a speedy Jesse Bell from Ishpeming caught me before the final "Red Trail" downhill section.

"Red Trail" is this wild rocky completely non-IMBA standard trail, it's much more fun than scary, but it's all realative to how fast you try it -- I absolutely love racing my Trek Full suspension 69er on it. It feels like it's the completely perfect bike for -- and really I admire you hard tail guys & any single speeders for trying the race course on those bikes. It's a tall order to perform.

Getting to down Red trail is one thing, because what follows is a more narly section called Paul's Plunge, but this year it was more aptly described as Paul's Falls. Well, just before that Kate, Marshall & Grace were at the lap split & finish area supporting me & cheering loud. (I couldn't have the races I do without them and it's great having a cheering section especially at tough points in the race. )

Getting to Paul's Plunge I was still holding back some, I wasn't sure who was still behind me & could catch on, but I figured if I could get down the hill safely. I should have a good chance sprinting the last flat, fast mile against most anyone there.

Now Paul's Plunge may be one of the best spectator cheering sections of any race you'll find -- yes, even besting Sheboygan's infamous "Equalizer" hill at the Wigwam MTB Challenge - people are just screaming & cheering you down this nasty rocky downhill. One guy, I think it was Ian Dunlap, had caught on to the back of me as we hit this section & chose the "less ideal" line -- ended up having to "huck" this 4 or 5 foot drop off onto some rather nasty stuff. The crowd went wild!! I wish I could have seen it rather than just concentrating on getting down hill myself.

Once at the bottom, it was time to just lay it all down & keep anyone else at bay. It worked more successfully than I thought, as in the final half mile around the lake I caught & passed a really dying Greg Cullen. It was enough to get back into the 10th place with a finish time of just over 2:06.

Which is a note worth mentioning... on the competition this year versus last years. In '08 outside of a mechanically with 4 miles to go, I'd of finished in about that same time -- which would have been 3rd place overall. Ouch... guess word is getting out.

Thanks to the town of Copper Harbor & the organizers for a fantastic setting for a great race. If it doesn't ever work out for a Labor Day weekend to join the race, make it a point to drive there & spend a day or two riding the trails -- you'll be hard pressed to be disappointed.

Post race was great catching up with everyone, my apologies to Nat Guerra for not being able to toss out my Big Air when his tire went flat on the first lap. The Ashland crew of Paul Belknap, Matt Hudson & Curt Cline that eats up courses like this unfortunately had their share of challenges, but just getting to ride at Copper Harbor seems to get their rocks off so I think they got over their disappointments quickly. Kelly McKnight, we missed you man! Stop breaking shit, stay healthy and do a race already. Congrats out to Diana McFadden, winning the female division -- taking home a sweet first place award in the long race!

Although there's plenty of races one can still take in -- I pretty much burned up everything I had for the season. I was tired out of my mind for the next three days that followed the race & topped off with sleeping terribly. Signs for me that the cumulative fatigue of the season is shutting down my body from doing any more damage than it already has. It's probably what was happening in the Copper Harbor race as well. Coach Powers tells me I'm a speed goat of sorts, I've got a big engine to hang with the fast guys but the candle burns out pretty quickly. Well, see if he's got any tricks up his sleeve to turn that around next season.

The obligatory Chequamegon Fat Tire 40 is now less than 2 weeks away, I plan to do as little as possible between now & then except rest & recover & hope to pull out a miracle ride. I'll either be more stale than 2 week old potato chips or fresh enough to finally the top 50 finish I've been aiming for. Fatman... know I'll be trying!!

Good bye biking season

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rough day at the office

Some days make you want to quit racing, maybe even biking altogether. Saturday 29th at the Seeley Pre-Fat was one of them. Good race, just a very bad day. The festivities, awards & giveaways after the race are great & even the misty rainy weather couldn't dampen the spirits of alot of happy bikers.

Congrats to some really good races by Tim Swift taking 3rd, Todd McFadden & Bushy (thanks for help with driving the pace early on), Matt Muraski & the comeback kid Chad Sova (insane result for a guy that only got back in some serious riding 4 weeks ago). Tom Meyer really had a breakthrough day as well. And Curt Cline if they'd of had a 3rd lap, you most certainly would have passed me as well. Great job.

Note on MTB racing etiquette I've been meaning to get around to. In MTB'ing there's generally a really great camaraderie -- one of the reasons for that is as a MTB racer versus as road racer --almost everyone suffers all the same. Why is that? Because everyone that can -- DOES TAKE A TURN at the front pulling. If you sit on & wheel suck the guys in front of you -- you're sinking yourself pretty low on the cycling totem pole. And WILL NEVER garner the respect of your fellow racers. Wheel suck alot and a reputation will develop that will follow you for a very long time. Win a race or beat others that you've suck wheel at for the entirety of a race, or end up attacking them at the end of the race & they'll never respect you because you never did your share.

Which by the way -- let's get alittle mathematical about the benefit of wheel sucking -- anytime the speed exceeds 10mph there's a tangible benefit of drafting, that includes mtbiking. Benefits are reduced energy expenditure and recovery & lactic acid discepation at a higher speed than otherwise possible.

If the energy output required saves the drafter 3-5% -- you're getting a "free tow" of nearly a 200 yards every 20 minutes. (Resource: Over the course of a 2 hr race that's 1200 yards, almost 3/4 of a mile or 2 1/2 to 3 minutes in finishing times.

So what I'm saying is race however you like -- but understand there's no glory or respect without sharing the burden. MTB racing ain't road racing. Remember that next time you see your fellow racer pushing it at the front while you sit in, recover or at least have it ever so easier. Take your turn at the front. If you can't pull at all or are just barely holding on yourself, at least have the decency to not attack at the finish if someone else has pulled you along. Sit on, enjoy the fact that their efforts and your smart racing saved you from being caught from behind by someone else. But don't take their efforts and squeeze them out at the end.

Lastly my personal opinion alone, it was great what TJ Woodruff & Jeff Hall did for the finish of the Pre Fat. The last 300-400 yards is an old dirt railroad grade 4 wheeler trail and to my understanding neither drafted the other. They had an old fashion drag race to the finish -- That's the right way, the honest way to finish a race in style.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Double Time

Busy race weekend.
Hit up Calumet, MI's Great Deer Chase Saturday.
River Falls Border Battle Sunday.
Ironically the finishing times of both races were within 3 or 4 seconds of each other. What are the odds of that?
Work on a recap after I get some much needed sleep & rest.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Onto Calument Deer Chase, maybe River Falls Border Battle

Ever get those times in life where you get a bunch of work & obligations behind you and it coincides with alot of fun & exciting stuff going on in life? I couldn't be happier now that it's the tail end of the 2nd week in August.

Got the annual audit behind us at work, it went exceedingly well. Softball season is at it's climax - there's essentially a 5 way tie for first place each of the teams have 12-2 records - it all boils down to a bunch of head to head games for those teams next Monday & Tuesday. It's pretty exciting our team (5th Qtr/Dairy Queen)is in the drivers seat if we win when it comes to any tiebreaking factors for the league championship. I'm having my highest batting average season ever & am in a 2nd place tie for lead triples. In that category where most of the guys are half my age it's pretty cool (but also sad at the same time how too many guys my age let themselves go & don't maintain their speed/fitness to stay competative.)

Then to top everything off there's a couple MTB races this weekend!! Yoo-hoo! Calumet has their Deer Chase Aug 15th, a 27 mile mostly singletrack race. Flat, generally well laid out and challenging to the point you put speed into it. Hammered it last year with Jeff Juntti. Missing the "W" by .22seconds.... note to self: in a sprint finish remember to lock out the fork. But I gotta hand it to Jeff, he deserved it. Not to often was I able to get to the front as ge drove it hard all race long. I would have almost felt guilty winning. However this year I can't say I'll necessarily be feeling so charitable. From the sounds of it could be an even stronger more competative field this year. I guessing (perhaps hoping) 2nd place O2S guy Mike Anderson finds the 370mile drive from Alpena to be too far. In which case it could be a wild shooting match for a bunch of characters, Jeff J.,Tom Carpenter ('09 Miner's revenge winner) & Ty Gauthier, who placed 10th&11th last year but had great O2S races. Maybe even Jesse Bell - all of the UP. Myself, Paul Belknap, Bart Rodberg and whoever else that crosses the border from WI & MN. All one can do is get in the mix, give it a go, keep the mechanical issues out of the equation and see what comes of it. As a dad however I gotta admit I'm almost more excited about my little guy Marshall being able to race here -- last year he did the 3 mile race on the Trek Jet on training wheels finishing way far behind everyone. This year it's significantly different for him & he should really see a big improvement.

Provided that goes well... or terrible. There's always the WORS River Falls Border Battle Sunday -- I hear the course is great so that's always tempting and as a "bragging rights" race. It'd be great to help set the record straight as to what state (WI or MN) has the faster MT bikers.

Well, gotta wash up & prep the bikes -- hopefully some good race updates to follow soon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ore to Shore

Awoke that Saturday morning with sights set on a Golden Bike & a top 20 finish – what was standing in my way? Well, of course the reigning Golden Boy and 600 other racers mixing it up in Marquette’s Hard Rock 48 mile MTB race. Anytime you take a look at the start list, or previous years results I tend to marvel at the caliber of racers (at least the ones that I’m familiar with) to know if the race distance doesn’t hand you your ass, there’s some stiff competition that more than capable of it. A think a fair note to say about the Ore to Shore is that results are all over the board & much more unpredictable than ANY other MTB race I’ve ever done or seen result on that includes any WORS series, MNSCS series or Chequamegon 40 race. Just because you race one way someplace else… toss that idea out the door at O2S because it’s a different ballgame.

Well, back to the waking up that morning… honestly, I didn’t feel too great, was really questioning whether I had it in me to compete where I set my goals at. On one level I should have the confidence, when I share my power stats from training efforts with some of the heavy hitting regional pro’s & compared to what they do I’m not all that far off. On the other hand, I like most everyone has some kind of kryptonite hanging out in the saddlebag now & again ready to bring one crashing to earth.

With this race really begins the core of my race season – interval training since February brought with it some very decent power into my game, but I did it at a cost of well…. skipping base mile training – just sprinkling in a longer ride here & there. So I guess it's fair to say I’m pretty fast… but only for so long. And these 48 miles would be testing every bit of how far I could push it.

Fortunately, in a brainstorm of sorts between me & coach Powers – I concluded that my kryptonite – was my body’s chosen path of blowing through it’s electrolyte stores like nobody’s business. Think-- free weed samples at Grateful Dead concert. That’s why after every race exceeding 90 minutes I’d feel destroyed only to be back to normal in about 5-10minutes after consuming copious amounts of Baked Lay’s potato chips & drinking a Coca-cola. So by fending off the body’s radical consumption of electrolytes – with some salt pills (no offense Hammer Nutrition to my simplification of your Endurolyte product). It might be enough on top of the normal Powerbar gels & water that I consume during the race to give my body’s engine the fuel & lubrication necessary to keep racing at it’s high end & not bonk. I’d fought this idea for awhile because I almost never cramp up (one of the more common signs of electrolyte depletion) but the miracle of Baked Lays kept me coming back to this possibility.

Kate, I & the kids drove over mid day Friday. It was pretty exciting, almost an electricity in the air, between the phone calls to other racers on the drive over & seeing others once we got there. It’d been awhile since I’d felt so amped up about a bike race. Though I was questioning things Saturday morning, Friday night I was as confident as I'd ever been. I had a stellar ride in the Gary Fisher Superfly hooked up on 29x1.75” Bontrager Dry X tires – on a flat, open & descending course I for one couldn’t feel better. I’d have no excuses resting on having picked the right gun to bring to the sword fight. Kate, in checking out water handoff areas, dropped me off at the 20 mile to go mark & I pre-road the course to the finish that evening.

Saturday morning, awoke to it having rained alittle, perfect to knock down the dust on the course, drove over to the start area – got a premo park spot right next to the start area. Warmed up & before I knew it I was parking the bike on the front row. Questioned only by one person whether I should be there -- considering the lung impairment of some walking pneumonia I’d had in the weeks preceding perhaps he was correct – regardless I was there, lined up with Marko, Tristan, Brian, Nathan, Eppie 1&2, not to mention the Golden boy, and determined to ride like I belong there.

And belong there I must have as the race rolled out, I maintained a position in the top 20 thru 40. The rollout can be alittle sketchy but generally it goes smoothly. I got in a brief word with the long, lost “ace” racer Chad Sova – I was shocked out of my mind to see him when he rolled up next to me. Great to see him racing I hope he’s able to do more, he’s done marvelously well before & he’s a heck of funny good guy to have around.

A couple miles in the race finally gets released from the leadout vehicle & it’s here that in last years race I wasn’t prepared to get on board, but this time around I was on it like ice cream to a cone. Stayed with the lead group of 20+ people that broke away at the initial hill climbs of the race. The race was on an auto-pilot of sorts as it went into Ishpeming, but upon exiting things started to break up. I could have & probably should have jumped up a few spots to better position myself into the top 10 or 12 but hindsight proved that wasn’t the best idea….. just ask cousin Doug, or maybe Mike Phillips, or Jeff Hall or even Marko Lalonde, among others.

Instead I pushed adequately hard after the section parallel to the railroad track & stuck with Paul Gorbold. At some point we came across a struggling TJ Woodruff working his tire over and passed him. It’s at some point down the course that Paul & I eventually get into something like a virtual 3rd & 4th place – worse case it’s 5th & 6th. What? Huh? Just about all but two of the guys (Brian Matter & Mike Anderson) in front of us had taken a wrong turn & gone off course. Sorry for them, really, but how many times or how many people can say… yeah 18 miles in the Ore to Shore I was in 3rd place. Coming from my humble background of athletic inability, it’s pretty cool.

Not much more time elapses before TJ catches back up and refuses to let anyone else pull. He would go to the front & when someone else tried to he’d attack & go back to the front. For a guy that thought he needed to or could catch up to the leaders, you’d think he’d been smarter about conserving some energy & picking & chosing his battles better. Regardless it made the ride to the trails leading up to the Misery hill zip along pretty fast – so thanks TJ, appreciate it. It’s one those hills I start seeing the collateral damage of top end racers materialize either with bike or body problems. Nathan G. & Chris Peariso. I couldn’t tell if Chris had bike problems or was still struggling to get back to racing condition after his monster BC Bike race effort (not to mention a couple weeks of R&R in Europe).

My mindset for the race was about going strong but also “containing” my efforts & racing smart. So once the Lost big guns got back on track they caught & passed us in the Misery Hill area. It was like a confusing flurry of racers. Not knowing until after the race they’d taken a wrong turn when I was talking to Doug. I’d only recognized Marko & wondered what had happened to him that he was coming from so far back. In hindsight it was a great opportunity to hop on & I missed it. Nonetheless, a group consisting of places 16th thru 22nd formed once we hit the pavement beyond Misery hill, including Spooner native, Matt Muraski as well as the Golden Boy. Kate had a great handoff & off we went into the final half of the race course. The group of six worked well together, I met a couple good guys Lance Beuning who road races for Grand Stay & a younger guy Tyler Gauthier from Ispeming who had a cheering section on every corner & aid station it seemed. We road up into two or three other guys on the long pavement section with the three hills of various sizes.

I felt decent and sat in content to work with this group, who always had someone at the front giving ‘er. Those next 15 miles went fast & slow at the same time – I was actually feeling stronger as the race went on, but in the back of my mind I kept wondering when the engine would start to sputter. With 5miles to go I started to work closer to the front & wanted to be in position of anyone else took off. We’d ditched the Golden Boy & a few others so it was looking like all of us would be in the money positions (top 20).

Here’s where the heroic nature of this adventure takes an adverse course – the sand dune downhill section that is known to any & all that race the O2S – was my nemesis. My pre-ride indicated that I should take the inside line to avoid the massive deep sand, only I took it too far to the inside. On a big bump or hump of sorts I came down at the wrong angle & burped some serious air out of my tire. With no CO2 (already donated earlier to a needy rider) I was screwed to continue at race pace. Despite my pleasant requests for a pump or some air – no help was forthcoming as racer after racer went by. The low pressure eventually took it’s toll & broke the bead & left me completely flat.

Agonizingly & helplessly I couldn’t believe my best race ever, let alone in one of the BIG Three (O2S, Cheq 40, Iceman) was slipping out of my fingers & there was nothing I could do about it. I rolled in on rim & tire, despite my hometown buddy Matt Hudson finally stopping & willing to offer up his camel back with air & pump. (Thanks Matt). Too late to do any good, I rolled in on tire & rim to the finish 51st on the day. Perhaps it’s not all bad to drop 38 places in 4 miles.

Not sure how many chances you get at having great races. Coach was pretty ecstatic about the race regardless of the outcome & really pumped about how good 9/10ths of the race was & indicative of my fitness level. I’m a bit more reserved before I start calling on Team Radioshack for a contract.

Well, if you race enough & train smart, you’re opportunities will eventually come. Four more races to the season, Calumet Deer Chase, Seeley Pre-Fat, Copper Harbor, & Chequamegon 40. Sure, there’s WORS River Falls & MNSCS Duluth-Spirit Mountain that might be hard to pass on.

It’s been a long season but I’m very fresh after coming off three easier recovery weeks in July due to illness. At the same time too -- however much I look forward to these great races coming up, I’m glad the season is wrapping up when it is.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Return of MudRutters: Ashland Bay Days MTB race

Try as I may, staying caught up on a blog ain’t easy. Wish I was better at it.

Nonetheless on what should seem like a low key mid July weekend, there was an abundance of MTB bike races… only too close together and on the same days! Ugh! Too bad as events this far north (in Ashland & Duluth) could likely have drawn bigger numbers if set on different days or weekends.

What’s been an almost uninterrupted event for the past 20 yrs, held the 3rd weekend of every July, is the annual Ashland Bay Days festival. With it’s Off Road Bike Race – this year being renamed Ashland MudRutters, brought for by the same folks that put on the Ashland BayCross cyclo-cross races in October.

It’s one of those nice community races – and for myself after logging miles around the Midwest tracking down MT Bike races month after month -- it’s always great to have one in your hometown. Folks of all calibers show up – it’s nice to see everyone in the community trying, as well as the competition that comes in from the surrounding areas.

Back in ’01 when I first got into any form of competitive riding it was one of my first races. I remember placing 18th and thinking how I wanted to do so much better. It wasn’t that I was some kind of slouch, but it’d been 5 or 6 yrs since I was a competitive track & cross country runner and having suffered a very stubborn stress fracture in my ankle that vaporized several years of my life endurance activities. From that point in ‘01 I started my climb & journey in cycling & mtb racing. A year later in ’02 I finished 6th place & cut 6 minutes off my time.

It’s always been a race that I looked forward to. In a flash forward, after several years of near misses & untimely racing mistakes, I finally pulled out a victory in ’06. In ’07, a ringer of sorts, Scott Chapin of Hayward, shows up (on time that year) and makes it a really hard fast race, pulling away in the early miles on some inclines & puts down a good race winning leaving me back some 50 seconds. ’08 looking for a rematch & assuming Scottie among others may show up – the event lost it’s main contributor/sponsor & was shelved. Fortunately, this year ‘09 that all turned around as Paul Belknap & Sara Hudson took over, did a ton of work, got a lot of people involved and put on a really great race. From the planning, to the volunteers, to the awards it was all very nicely done.

The race itself starts on the west end of Ashland in Prentice Park, wraps itself around the southern outskirts of town & squirms back into the heart of the city for the finish. Having won in the past, I was equally happy volunteering or participating. The biggest goal I wanted to see was to have a good event & help in any way possible. Paul said he had adequate volunteers & getting race participants was the objective… so gee, twist my arm, make me race . The great part about it comes back to what I said earlier; you get to see & race against very good riders from both inside & outside the area that don’t have the time or desire to race the more distant events. (And in Ashland, everything seems to be at a significant distance).

Having pre-road the course, some of which actually utilizes the trails here on our property at Farm Road, I chose the SuperFly over the Trek Full suspension 69er, not so much for any other purpose than I wanted to get used to some racing miles on that bike before the Ore to Shore.

All this jibber-jabber and no race details? Ok, ok – so the start line has probably 4 or 5 guys capable of putting down some fast times & will make up the main competitive group, my 24-9 teammates Matt Hudson & Kelly McKnight, along with the Cable/Seeley/Hayward Toms – Meyer & Gaier (cool, that rhymes). Anyways, I’m feeling good, but taking absolutely nothing for granted. Matt & Kelly have knocked out huge miles so far and really improved over the past couple years, Tom Meyer has taken victory in just about every “short” MTB event he’s taken on & the more open MudRutters course favors his strengths. Gaier, well, he’s no slouch either and a really smooth rider.

At the start I figured to be content to sit behind whoever took off initially, at the “Goooo!” it was Hudson, the brute that he is. Riding good at about half mile in I felt it was a good time to take over and see what would happen & who would stay with me. Kinda just test the waters. I told Matt to hang on and then I went to the front. Not trying any big surge I went forward going steady, not knowing if a gap would happen or not. It’s at that point the race enters a ¼+ mile rutted up four wheeler trail, “pit of despair” and ends with an incline. To me it’s always a hard section, doesn’t look like it should be but it always feels that way. My eyes & attention focused on making it through cleanly I didn’t bother to look back until I reached the old railroad grade/corridor section. When I do I see a 20yard gap. Two thoughts cross my mind… Oh good, guess I gotta hit it know,… followed by an Oh shit, they’re going to work together & hang me out to dry. Which left me with no other option than…. I’d better make this hurt for everybody. So I tuck down as far as I could & TimeTrialed the remainder of the corridor section as much as the body would allow. Upon turning off that section & up another incline I looked back to see the gap got larger and continued to push my limits the first couple miles of the race.

It seemed to me at one point they re-grouped & were going to have a successful chase, but somehow the gap stayed the same or slower got larger. I kept wanting to get to the forested off road sections & to get out of sight (& hopefully out of mind). I couldn’t tell if it was Tom Meyer or Kelly McKnight that was leading their charge. Approximately half way through, the fear of getting caught began to fade & confidence that without mistake or mechanical this race could go pretty well. By the time we went around the back half of the course & past the water tower the lead was going past 40 seconds. I thought to myself -- do I enjoy the rest of the race or kept pushing it. Well, I went for the desired positive training effect and kept pushing it for the most part.

At about 3 miles to go I reached the corner of our property & trails. At that point Kate, Marshall, Hope & Grace were perched out in & around the 15 foot tree stand taking some video, yelling & cheering. It was pretty neat. Marshall asking “Daddy, why are you in first?” as I sped by. What I’ve come to find out is 4 years olds do not run out of questions at anytime or anyplace.

It was even more fun speeding through our single track then normal especially when doing it under race conditions. When I popped out back on Farm Rd, I knew if I could hold it together things would be fine, but I was tensed up & surprised for a moment to see one of the guys still within sight before reaching the Elementary school. I thought “Gesh, how did that happen?” but in actuality it was still pretty much the same time/distance as it had been for awhile – open section can sometimes create a good old optical illusion.

Racing down the closed off streets & through RailYard park let me cruise into the finish. Interestingly enough it was Kelly McKnight that next came through just over a minute back followed pretty closely by Tom Meyer. I had thought it was the other way around. Matt Hudson apparently hadn’t been feeling well and faded earlier in the race finishing 5th, but Tom Gaier put in a good effort on the day finishing 4th (even if he did take abit of shortcut ). Good job of racing by everyone.

Interestingly enough, I couldn’t help but check back against the ’07 finish & finishing times because of the course similarities. One of the few course you can do a reasonable comparison. The ’09 course was arguably longer, if not it certainly had a replacement section of a couple hundred yards that were more challenging. Yet, despite all that the four top finishers in ’09 had faster times than my second place finish in ’07. Kelly was within 11 seconds of Scottie “superman” Chapin winning time in ’07 and I best Scottie’s time by over a minute. So I think everyone can feel pretty dang good about how the increased caliber of racing around here is coming along.

That all said, the gathering afterwards was a great time, very nice plaque awards for 1st thru 3rd place overall, as well as age group awards. In the years to come according to Paul they’re looking to add a second longer race and make things even bigger & better. It’s a good time and if you missed it before consider putting it on your calendar in the future.

Up next, “What have a I lost my mind?” 24 hour racing at 9 Mile forest in Wausau Sat/Sun 24th-25th….. oh boy, that’s going be interesting!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Like a Timex....the Chippewa Valley Nutcracker...uh, I mean Firecracker

What's that saying about a Timex watch.. takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'? Holy crap, that's about all I need to say about this past Sunday's Chippewa Valley Firecracker MTB race. Race #5 in the WORS series. Sunny skies, hot one in the 80's with four 7 1/2 mile laps to knock out.
In the Timex commercial if I recall correctly, they repeated show this watch getting beat up. If I only had pictures, I could illustrate a similar pattern of my experience in the bike race. (I'll try to include some of the bike later.)
--6 crashes, I don't know what kind of drugs I was on or something but how in the world do you crash 6 times in a race? Twice into the same flippin' tree on consecutive laps
--Rotated rear shifter/brakes 90 degrees down (2nd Lap)
--Bent front rotor (2nd Lap) to ensure sufficient friction with brakes pads -- making sure undo force was necessary to continue bike's forward momentum at all times.

Helmets are a great thing however, it's never ceases to amaze me the magnitude to which you can slam into something with your head and walk away from it. I took a full on hit to the left side of the head into a 6" tree when my handlebars caught it. First thought, wow, I'm not unconscious,that's cool.

If the crashes weren't enough, try one legged pedaling a good share of the final lap. Towards end of lap three I crashed & landed on downside of a benchcut trail. I was stuck however because my hamstrings cramped & locked up -- I couldn't standup to get back on the bike because each time I bent my knee my hammy locked like a vise. Eventually after a minute (& another 6 racers went by) I was able to right my bike & get back riding, however the right hamstring would periodically cramp forcing me to pedal with just one leg.

That all said, I can't say it wasn't a race without a few good moment & some fun riding. It was the normal hard start you get in this Eau Claire race -- everybody hammers that first mile or two to get in a good position on the single track. I got to the startline late so it was very last back row position. I don't get bothered by it too much as generally I feel comfortable accelerating out of the field to get into a spot I'd like. It works adequate in most races, but this one not exactly the case, as I've learned the past 2 yrs. I could only get up as far as the high twenties (from starting point of mid 60's). The two mile lead out has a dirt road section that in dry conditions like Sunday creates a smog-like condition that even Los Angeles can't hold a candle too. Have you ever biked in fog where you couldn't see any further than 3 bike lengths ahead of you? I couldn't imagine how bad it was for guys even further back. The dust was horrible for a 1/4 mile.

Lap one is somewhat of a blur. I do remember Adam Swank coming up along side me & we road together for awhile. He got a bad back row start as well & was trying to climb back in his normal top 10-15 spot, he ended with 28th on the day. Looking at the results afterwards it's pretty clear without being at the front to begin with a person had little chance to improve all race long. Todd McFadden may be the exception, as on the dust bowl rollout we were in the high 20's) & he might have made the best jump ended up 18th on the day.

Lap two though the start of my undoing was fun in that I road a good share of it with MN fast guy Paul Hansen. Maybe one of the few guys having a worst day than I. I chided him into hanging on & working together. Had a great conversation -- he's working himself back from an injured rotator cuff and the inconsistency of training brings it's share of good race days & bad race days.

Lap three the bent rotor is already making me labor way more than I should. Paul after gapping me on a crash, I passed him again with Jan Rybar & someone else. Jan is like 48 years old and the man can hammer in the open sections. Generally, that's my strength as well so it impresses me anytime someone that far into a race can keep pouring it on and make me hurt. Jan shortcoming if you can fault him would appear is single track. For as hard as he went in the open sections, I could repeatedly close down any gap in the s-track... that is of course until I crashed... again... and again.

The race had some interesting course additions this year -- a monster rock garden, which when recreationally riding if it's someone's cup of tea to risk tire pinch flat or puncture to ride over some stupid rocks great. To have a 100 foot section in a race... I got say ...dumb! I done what I think is a good share of racing, seen alot of courses but never have I seen anything as extensive as what they had. I don't know if flats or punctures happened or how many people wiped out (Kate witnessed a couple at least) -- but there are alot of other ways to make challenges in a race without risking undo harm to bike & rider.

Maybe from the multitude of crashes or hit to the head I lost track of laps & wanted to quit after 3, but a 4th was in store. Perhaps it was the crazy angle I needed to do my rear shifting & braking with. Fortunately I didn't truly bonk like at some previous races this year, but it still made for a long day in the saddle especially at the tail end of 3 weeks of hard training. Delighted to see Kate & the kids, who did some great handoffs (perhaps TJ Woodruff's bro could take a lesson... probably see TJ's blog on that one). The end of the race didn't come soon enough -- given what happened shocked to have even finished 51st out of 70+ in the Elite race.

Coming up probably a couple weeks of no to low key racing mainly just one final block of training before hitting a heavy Aug & Sept race schedule. Red Wing next weekend is a maybe just because we'll be visiting family in Twin Cities. The Seeley/Spooner Riverbrook TT's are a possibilities. And lastly ended up with month on a crazy whim of what they call 24 hour racing -- the 24 hours of 9 mile race held in Wausau.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Duluth Dirt Spanker

With some unexpected challenges occurring at the WORS Rhinelander Crystal Lake race had alittle change of plans with the racing schedule. Taking a hiatus for a few weeks to get in some specific training. Initially skipping the Wausau Big Ring Classic last weekend but finding it too hard to pass on one of the closest & as well as better races, the Duluth DirtSpanker held at the Mont du Lac ski hill.

Perhaps should have stuck with my original training plans, it was a tough day. A late start, plus getting held up by this --

Any time you add some reasonable heat with those long hill climbs at the DirtSpanker it's a day that can make and break alot of racers.

Had a reasonable good start, despite not clipping in for the first 100 yards, pushed it to get in the top 12-13 on the ride up the course's initial two pitch climb. That course does have some serious pitch to it's climbs and their long enough you can't bluff when your not having the best day because it shows pretty quickly.

The initial lap I experienced something I'd not scene before while MTB racing. Generally a group of 2, maybe as big as 5 racers will group up through single track before someone makes a moves and breaks it up. After the ascent of the initial climb a group of 8 formed and lasted for the entire first lap -- talk about a snake of riders in the woods. It was half driving me nuts because I was the 7th man itching to get around people and because the top 8 guys were quickly getting out of sight. However as Todd McFadden, riding in the 8th spot behind me ever so wisely pointed out it was going to be a long race. As normal he was right and he ended up pulling out a pretty decent race coming in 16th on the day. For a guy coming back from a real rough prolonged illness that's not at all a bad day in my book.

The start of Lap 2 & a repeat of bigger climbs broke up the group -- I quickly discovered my ability to climb wasn't yet too well honed this season & I held my own but still faded somewhat to the leaders of the group. Around the top of the hill Ross Fabroni came around me and the two of us caught up to a struggling Chuck Norrie (I'm not sure of anyone else that was racing for Hollywood Cycles) -- Ross I think pissed him off after a couple times with his inept & rusty MTB skills. Ross would be professing sincere apologies each time he'd bump Chuck's wheel explaining his lack of tack was because he (Ross) didn't even own a MTB. Poor Chuckie. Anyways, wasn't long before, Todd McFadden caught up to me again. If my memory serves me correctly, it seems like it's lap 2 every year that Todd comes up & starts to kick down the hammer. Kindly asking for the pass & telling me to follow his lines, and the guy took off like a jet rocket holding me in tow. We flew back around Ross and had a good rhythm going again. I think we keep it up for over half the lap Todd asked if I wanted to come around but I just didn't have the continuous energy to keep the push going any harder than he was.

The next two laps though not entirely uneventful wore on me. I had a lot of problems climbing when that's normally a stronger suit for me and my hands were getting raw from the intense single track downhill sections and the bumpiness of the course. Periodically I'd drop another place or two but still somehow ended up 22nd out of 45 on the day in the Expert/Pro field. Guess getting into the top third early helped and alot more people than just myself were having a tough day.

All in all, it was really a great day even moreso outside the racing. It was getting there & seeing all the friends and fellow racers I've gotten to know over the years and catching up with them. Having Todd around the first couple laps was fun exchanging some dialogue was nice. I also showed him the nifty handlingly techniques that are possible with a Trek 69er.. ok, maybe it was my lack of mature MTB skills as I'd pop the smaller tire rear end of the bike around certain corners. Todd's a great guy, a heck of a competitor but also does a great job of encouraging you out on the course. His wife Diana didn't do all that bad with a 4th place finish in the Elite women's race bad back & all.

I got to say a quick "hello" to Mike Bushey but he must have had something go wrong with his ride today. It was nice to see a familiar face from back home, Big Mike W. (& family Lisa & Calvin) came to race. I don't know how someone would want to tackle the DirtSpanker on a single speed but my hats off to Mike's 2nd place finish in that category. Also thanks to Lisa for her encouragement out there & for helping Kate with the kids. Got to also see those Lake Superior cycling guys Shawn Gort & Bart Rodberg, with Bart yet again coming from behind late in the race to catch me on his home turf. Lastly, got to see the SKJ's (all of them) for the first time since little Kiera was born. Neat little connection about all that is both my wife, Kate & Sara had very similar due dates last fall. Ended up it seems they went into labor at about the same time with Kate having our baby girl, Grace, just about 12 hours before Sara had Kiera. Pretty cool, when you think about it. So here we are 8 1/2 months later & both girls are cute as buttons and doing all the wonderful stuff babies do at that age and letting their parent swap stories.

So whether the race was good or bad wasn't all that it's about. Having some fun catching up with friends -- that's the good stuff in life.