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