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 wait....now 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....