Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cheq-out: 100 miles

Haven't gotten around to recaping last weekends Cable Off Road Classic MTB race but I suppose if I'd not signed myself up for the Chequamegon 100, I'd of had some spare time on my hands.....

Not exactly known as an ultra endurance junkie rather more as a cross country racer -- riding this weekend's 100 mile MTB race, the Chequamegon 100 was done more of on a whim than with a lot of seriousness & preparation. Life lesson learned -- one shouldn't take such whim's lightly.

First off, sure I bike alot like any over-indulgent cyclist. Getting in double digit hours each week on the bike isn't anything new.... getting in double digit hours in a single day? Yeah, that's definitely new.

The day began with a 7am start out of Seeley. Arriving about 6:40am, greeted with a chorus of hello's from familiar friends & faces. And the regular comment of, "gee, Aaron you're alittle early don't you think".

Great to see Charlie Farrow, for whom I can't remember the last time I saw at a race, probably the last time he did a regular cross country MTB race & not some ultra endurance thing. Grinning from ear to ear he confidently said "You try this once and you'll be hooked!!" I don't think Charlie was smoking anything to make that comment but the thought may have crossed my mind. I like my 20-30mile races, the speedy 2hrs & done kinda races so this 100 mile thing was way out of my norm. As he headed off for the start line I figured that'd be the last time I'd see him on the day... little did I know what was to to come.

There was Todd & Di McFadden, also Mike & Michelle Flanagan-Hagg parked right next to me looking all ready for the day. Saw most of the guys from the Chequamegon bay area, Curt Cline, Kelly Mcknight, Matt Hudson, Paul Belknap, Scott Nesvold. Big Mike Weisphenning came over to assure me the clunking culprit with my bike wasn't so much the headset but likely some flexing in the fork.

By the time I strapped on the 70oz Camel back, loaded up with cliff bars & endurance "robot" food it was about 7 & time to head to the start line. So how does one "race" 100 miles? Most normal endurance athletic endeavors are designed to be a couple hours long, 2 or 3hrs perhaps. Generally speaking a well practice, trained person can put out a pretty high effort if it's only going to take that long. But 100 miles...on a mt bike... on lot's of undulating singletrack trails? It's pretty damn hard to figure -- it could take more than 8 hours at the most optimistic projection. Think about that. 8+ hours racing straight through. For those who have done events/efforts like it before I'm sure one doesn't flinch but if you've never done anything like it before it's tough to wrap your mind around.

The start wasn't necessarily fast however at some point a group of a dozen or more(?) picked up the pace and got away. Apparently Tim Wilkie, Charlie Farrow, Todd McFadden, Matt Hudson were all part of that group among others. Myself I was content to go at whatever pace felt right. Soon I joined Kelly McKnight and we cruised along eventually catching up with Curt Cline.

I'm not exactly good at referencing parts of the trails but I can get the gist out. By the time we reached the single track, Kelly must have smelt blood because he start running the trails like a hound. If I could have caught up to him I'd of punched him. In hundred mile race one generally does not push the upper limits of their effort so they near reach their maximum heart rate. Kelly's going so hard I'm at 170beats per minute and yo-yo-ing to stay on. Again I wanted to punch him soooo bad! Well, if his intent was to catch the group in front of us his persistance paid off. In seemingly no time we were back on a group that include Matt Hudson, Craig Kalscheur & company.

Finally we arrive at the first water stop at Hatchery Creek trailhead... some racers continued on without stopping others watered up. That had to be the most interesting part of this type of event to me.... a race where people stop, chat, chow down some food while standing still. My mindset of a race is maximum effort and efficiency, stop & get water if you need it, make it quick if you have to stop -- but keep moving forward even if it is slowly. The resting & not biking for 5-10 minutes just didn't register with me. Perspective is everything I guess. Soon it was off towards Hwy OO where Curt Cline took the lead and put down an impressive pace that managed to drop some folks... but again it would all come together at the next "sit & chat" at the OO crossing. It was relatively warranted at this time because Kelly broke a spoke I came to find out later.

I had the itch to keep moving forward with the expectation that most of the guys I'd ride with would soon catch up. The other cavet to this whole adventure? I wasn't ever planning on being in a position where I'd need the cue sheet or need to read directions. When the guys didn't catch back up as I'd expected I busted out the map & proceeded to play navigator & pilot. A couple of other guys who's name I didn't catch caught on so the three of us proceeded to make most of the 10 miles over to the Rock Lake/Namekagon trails. They stopped for a food break and I proceeded on coming across Scott Chapin who waiting on the road & would be joining the rest of the Chequamegon bay guys. Shortly afterwards I caught up with Mark Parman whom I'd caught just as we got to the Rock lake trails. Mark followed me to the "point of confusion" -- all of sudden at this mapped trail sign there's this cluster of racer... Like 5 or 6 others, including Tom Meyer and yes of all people the infamous Charlie Farrow. All perceived to be lost of at least uncertain of direction. If the cue sheet had said "hard" right turn most folk would know what to do, but with two trails on the right side it was a toss up which to use. Fortunately, after some dialogue with Tom Meyer and some GPS comments by a guy named Mark. The 8 or 9 of us (some reluctantly) took the "hard" right double track and headed towards the Namekogen trails.

Fortunately we were now entering the one part of CAMBA land that I'm most familiar with and I tried to reassure the guys I knew what I was talking about. Most of 'em took the bait :).... Anyways, I knew the trail too well. My experience out there told me the cue card (as well as a posted CAMBA marker) for this one particular section was wrong. (A later discussion Sunday with Matt Hudson confirmed my suspicion). It said take a right.... I knew it was a left if it wanted us to get where we were going. I fly though the intersection going left dragging some guys along when someone in the back yells, you're going the wrong way we're supposed to take a right. Here's where social dynamics & a piece of paper screw up reality & a gut feel.

We took the right turn on (N12) and instead of getting to the Namekagon trail we end up on some crazy nearly unused trail & come out confused on Rock Lake Rd. DAMN!!! Here again 7 or 8 guys trying to make up there mind on which direction is nuts. Myself & maybe Tom Meyer understand we're on Rock Lake road but the North/South direction of the road isn't clear. So I take a look at the noon time sky, as anothe guy looks at his GPS. Then the craziest thing comes out of his mouth... he points away from the direction of the Sun & says it's Southwest! I'm like what the hell is this guy talking about? The sun (as best as I could see it in the mostly cloudy sky) is never in the northern side of the sky. But of course.... we all know GPS's never lie! I tell everyone we need to head North to get back on the trail or at least to Cty M. So we start heading in the "wrong North" direction and soon the guy's GPS registers correctly and he stops us & says... "oh, no North is actually that way.... pointing back in the opposite direction."

The whole time the misdirections are happening, I'm not really bothered it's just part of the this race's uniqueness & adventure. On Rock Lake road heading North we eventually get to the Rock lake single track. I offer everyone the option to take it to get over to the Namekagen Town Hall checkpoint or to continue North to Cty M & take that over to the Town Hall. Mark Parman & Tom Meyer & perhaps someone else opts for going to Cty M. Charlie, a guy named Adam & another named Mark opt to ride the Rock Lake trail backwards (obviously the longer of the two routes to take but still in good faith & intent of the ride.)

We stay together until the Lost Lake Road where Charlie & Mark opt to go North on that to Cty M & over to the town hall while Adam & myself opt for the longest of the routes & stick with the single track until reaching the town hall. At least this way we'd be crossing paths with the leaders of the race & see who'd already made it to the mid point & was heading back to Seeley. A couple guys in Gary Fisher jerseys were riding well but Todd McFadden wasn't far behind.

Upon arriving at the Namekagon Town Hall it looked sorta like a M.A.S.H. unit, not because anyone was hurt but just looked like a sizeable group of people who'd already trucked quite a few miles & were looking for respite. I grabbed my drop bag & shoved some food in my mouth & was ready to go again however it was "sit & chat" time again. Kelly, Matt, Curt, Paul, etc had tagged along some guys from that came over from the U.P. & one had a tire change so it was reasonable to wait up. Once that was taken care of a whole hoard of us took off & headed back with Paul Belknap at the front leading the charge. I was at the back with Curt Cline. It stayed that way until we'd reached Rock Lake trailhead parking area... where again there was a break & re-group.

We got going again only for a big bummer to happen Paul Belknap who'd be riding so well fell victim to an angry stick that did battle with is derailluer & rear wheel spokes.... the stick definitely won. It gave me an opportunity to pump up my rear tire which was getting really low & could have been a good place to jump out of this craziness. I was spent, tired, had had enough and my rear was getting seriously chaffed by this point. Offered to head back out with Paul Belknap but he wouldn't have it so I had to chase back to Matt, Kelly, Curt & company.

At this point in the race 70+ miles in I'd had pretty much enough, my water supply was dreadfully low (which is another crazy part about this event.... 2 water stops in the first 30-40 miles & nothing in the remaing 60-70.... just didn't make sense to be in the course design & safety. It's one thing to say it's a self sufficiency event but common sense would make water options towards the later part the smarter way to go. Just a humble opinon mind you). Well, back to the race, I'm in a survival mode of sorts trudging along & forgetting parts of what transpired next. Eventually when I got back on Rock Lake road by myself, Matt Dale of Cable came by & apparently knew the remainder of the course by heart (couldn't have made it the rest of the way without you Matt!! Thanks a million!!) Myself, & two others (one was a guy from the U.P. that'd dropped off Kelly, Matt & co) worked with Matt who got us to Telemark, through the Ojibwe trail & back to Timber Trail. That time in the race was a very dark place for me. Running low on fluids, knowing you don't have directions & getting dropped due to bonking would very likely mean getting lost and ultimately being really screwed. It was sorta on the edge of being scary.

Fortunately getting to Timber trail meant we were in the home stretch. How close I wasn't sure but at least the single track was close to being done. It was here we stopped to figure out the next move. A road closed sign added to the confusion as well. It was about that time that Tim Wilkie & a guy in a Nature Valley jersey road up & between Tim & Matt we chose to ride Timber trail to our next turning point.

It was here Tim was another lifesaver with whom I can't say thanks enough. I'd been completely out of water since mile 80 & knew it was just a matter of time before I was done for. Fortunately Tim was gracious enough to share some of his water, it tasted like heaven. The darkness of the ride was starting to leave & I was coming around again. Had a great chat with Tim from that point out. He's a darn good guy. And you gotta be amazing given his background how well he rides. The guy puts in 40-50hr weeks doing heavy labor concrete work and somehow still manages to train to do 100 mile races. Add to the fact Tim is in his 40's -- I don't think you could show me a single person in that race or probably any race that is capable of pulling off that feat. Heavy manual labor for a living & endurance training is one combination that no ordinary human being should be able to pull off. Try it just once in your life and you'll have an immense respect for what Tim is able to accomplish. (Not to mention it'll take any excuse away from anyone who says there're "too tired" to train.) If bike racing was a handicapped sport like golf Tim would blow folks out of the water.

The narrative of this story is soon coming to an end if you've hung in this long. I had a lot of nice conversations & cool experiences in this race day but nothing tops what happened shortly after riding Timber Trail. I was still low on water but Tim said his ride support "Beth" would be able to hook me up shortly at the next trail mark. So as we are cresting this hill we see some vehicles and people and to my utter & complete disbelief --- there's my wife Kate & kids Marshall & Hope & Grace! Totally unexpected. Maybe you've got to be at the right point in life to appreciate that but combined with the intensity & emotion of a long race it was really hard not to break down. You can't believe what a lift it brings to you when someone special in your life surprises you when you completely unexpect it. Kate's an amazing woman... just 2 days previously she broke her elbow & is in full arm cast. Should totally be at home chillin' out & getting herself waited on, yet here she is rounding up & managing a 5,3,& 1 year old and tracking down "Daddy" at a bike race. Wow, words can't really put it out there.

Kate handed me a bottle, asked how shocked I was to see them and started to laugh & laugh & laugh. How I must of looked? Well, I soon got right back on riding as Larry Sauber went by with two other guys & we caught back onto Tim's group.

If the guys that put on the race did something right it was how they structured the finish. Most of it was & certainly felt like it was downhill. It made for some pretty fast group riding and it helped that I was getting my second wind. If there was 10ish miles left it went by faster than any other part of the race. The group I was with wasn't satisfied with riding to the finish easy. It was pretty hard core fast riding to the finish where you had to be on your toes not to get dropped. Of the likely 10 that started in the group with a mile or two to go it was down to 5 guys, myself, Tim Wilkie & Larry Sauber included. I did well on the hill climbs using momentum & getting to the top first and the final two Birkie trail climbs were could either be called awesome or awful but they were certainly tough.

With alittle more than a mile to go I went to the front of the group and said I'd pull 'em into the finish. Well, the dig I put in for a half mile only served to drop all but one guy (certainly not my intent). I'd saw one of the yellow Cheq. Bay guys jersey and thought... "hey, I might just be able to catch 'em!" I wasn't sure who it was at first but myself & my breakaway companion went into time trial mode and keep closing the gap & closing the gap... it was Kelly Mcknight. From the bay area, Matt Hudson finished up 5 minutes back, Curt Cline about an hour back & Big Mike Weisphenning another 30 minutes behind Curt (and both those guys did single speed bikes the entire

And just at the tail end of Northern light road/aka the finish we were within a bike length or two. With only a "soft finish" and no line to cross or shoot for we softpedaled in right behind them as we approached the people & cars. Pretty amazing that after 100 miles & not riding with someone for a generous amount of time that two people would end within a second or two each other.

Results not in yet but from what Kate witness at the finish we were perhaps in the top dozen or so of the 200 racers. It'll be interesting to see when the results are posted what the tally sheet of how the finishers & DNF's pan out.

Finishing time was just over 10hrs (10:13 as I recall). Put that in perspective... get on your bike at 7am & don't stop pedalling or more then 5 minutes until 5pm that evening.... somethings just aren't made to make sense.

After chatting abit at the finish with fellow racers & having a brew, I had some serious chaffing to attend too and the need to EAT! 7000 or 8000 calories is no small task to working on... but definitely an enjoyable one. So Kate, I & the kids headed up to Rivers Eatery (home of the world's best pizza) for chow & then on home.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rhinelander Rasta Rally

Jumped into my first mountain bike race of the season today. Rhinelander Rasta Rally, kinda goofy name but a good bike race.
Couple things I would not have expected....
--With it having been one of the warmest spring seasons in memory
--And one of the driest on record.....

Who'd of thought the first race of the season on Mother's Day weekend would start with temps in the high 30's and 2 inches of snow on the ground!! There's this expression that has a 3 letter acronym -- W.T.? I'll let you fill in the question mark but you can perhaps imagine some fine noun, adjective or adverb that will do the job (I'm no English major so whatever fits, use it).

What's snow do in high 30 degree temps? It turns into a potentially wet sloppy mess and that was the story of the day with certain areas of the single track. Different areas in the region had more snow while others less so it was hard to know what the best tire choice would be. I was banking on the latter for the Rhinelander race ... further south... less snow -- it proved to be wrong.

Still I can't put out a complaint about the race itself. Perhaps how I did yes, but not the course.

In what can happen on occasion, the Swanson-mobile got a late start & ended up getting to the course with 9 minutes to start. Enough for me to run in get my race number, toss on my helmet, put a water bottle on the bike and get to the start line.

You're sorta running on amped up adrenaline when put into a time crunch like that, so at the start I came around the left side and immediately went to the front. It wasn't like there wasn't already enough other very good racers to lead things out but it just happened. I felt good, the bike felt fast. That might have been for close to the first mile before Chris Peariso or perhaps Justin Piontek came around. I stayed in 3rd for the first couple miles of the race & there was a string of perhaps 6 or 8 guys total when I glanced back. Upon hitting the first bunch of single track... it became blatantly obvious trouble started brewing. The more heavily wood area of the course had snow that stayed on the ground & was causing some slip 'n slide issues. I did my best initially to dance around the hot spots but some of the stuff was unavoidable and the options were slim at best -- wipe out or slow down. Obviously that wasn't to the liking of 2 or 3 racers behind me who either had way better mud handling skills than I but I believe it was in more likelihood their delightfully knobbier & wider tires. So Seth Lens & Scott Golomski scooted by when I spun out on a hill, later I was double deckered by Adam Swank & perhaps Tom Carpenter when they both when for a pass on each side of me. Something that has never happened before -- I took two sets of handlebars into my kidneys, one on each side. Ugh!

It was just that ugly in some spots, you'd go from dry to super slick pretty quick. Think of when you drive your car on asphalt & then come across black ice. You wondering W.T.? ... just hit me? That's what the course was like for me at least.

So out front it was Chris, Justin, Seth, Scott & Adam. Tom Carpenter was content to sit on my wheel and push me up hills when his front tire would come in contact with my rear tire. Only time I've ever been helped in a bike race by someone running into the back of me. (Thanks again Tom!!)

From that half way point in the first lap, things spread out and made for the rest of the race pretty much. I pulled away from Tom shortly after that and towards the end of lap one I caught back up to Justin Piontek & was now in 4th place. Justin was running abit slower after apparently burping some air out of one of his tires. We road together for just under a half lap probably not fast enough -- as we were chatting up quite the conversation. Nice kid, I wish him well this racing season.

Upon hitting round (ie Lap) two of the slick stuff, we parted ways as Justin's tires were stickin' & mine were slippin'. About the same time, my energy levels are startin' to ebb -- it's probably 90minutes into the race and I was paying the price for not making drinking & taking in fuel a priority in lap one. (So much for the endurance factor my big pre-season of high mileage training was doing... pooh, pooh.)

Shortly after I'm feeling the heat of others breathing down my neck, seeing 'em on various trail cut backs & reversals. Paul Belknap at first, later two other guys. Paul wasn't able to catch on & later dropped off, but eventually the other two guys did. Between the slickness of the trail, plain old getting tired & fighting off a bonk I was so looking forward to wrapping things up.

There was a new section of fresh cut single track towards the end of the laps that took us off the double track fire/forest roads. If I had to give a negative mark on the course -- it'd be that stuff .... with an exclamation mark. Obviously it was softer & slicker because it was freshly cut, but the lines & design of the s-track was just plain wrong. For me I lost a good share of time each time through it.

Nearing the end of lap two, the course wraps up the single track & leads out to the finish with a mile or so of double track. Just coming out of the single track, I hear some gears clicking & shifting. I quick peak over my shoulder & I see in the blue & white SISU jersey of Tom Carpenter. Crap! I thought I was going to coast in to the finish. I locked everything out & laid hard into it immediately when things opened up to put the pressure on Tom to play catch up. Managed to maintain or maybe even slightly grow the lead to maybe 20 yards. Tom finally made a push as we came to the gravel road finish but the lead was sufficient to hold him off.

The finishing time was around 2:09, for a second lap according to Kate that was 10 minutes slower than my first lap.

I wouldn't say it was a hard race, but the conditions made it longer than anticipated. Finished 7th overall, Chris Pearsio dropped out somewhere in the 2nd lap after a 4th flat tire.... Either Chris has the worst luck of any racer I've seen with DNF's & mechanicals in the past 3 years or well, he's stubborn & likes his lightweight tires & equipment almost to a fault. Ah, heck, who cares, that's the beauty of MTB racing you can do what you like. Whether you want lightweight low resistance tires or race a single speed -- it's all good.

Up next definitely a more challenging race in the new Cable Off Road Classic race. Definitely not the speedy open course they made in '09. So if any Twin Cities road racing lovers show up expecting that ... think again. This years edition laces up more single track & climbing than any other Off Road Classic that I've road in the past. Kelly McKnight passed along the potential amount of climbing in the 25 or 26 mile course to be close to 2000 feet.

Lastly if you're going to the Off Road Classic.... watch out for a nasty big Snapping Turtle on the Rock Lake cut off. I ran into him sitting smack dab in the middle of the trail while pre-riding last Saturday. The dude is a monster! He's gotta be the size of a small coffee table. I stopped to check out his snapping/crushing skills.... he was taking out 1 1/2" hardwood sticks like they were a tooth picks. Awesome.