Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cheq 100… really 100?

100 mile race.  On a bike to the uninitiated seems like alot.  Just think of a place 100 miles away via car – and biking there in a single day.  Now if you’ve got experience riding a MT Bike on single track trails – consider doing that 100 miles via that means…

Eh?  Smarts alittle bit doesn’t it?

The boys at Chequamegon 100 put together another edition of an impressive piece of work.  Think of just trying to map 100 miles of singletrack?

Well, it’s wasn’t the most kind day of biking for me but pretty good for several other riders (if riding 100 miles of single track in a single day is good for anyone…).  For me, I prefer to concentrate on normal CrossCountry MTB length races (90-3hr races)  & cyclo-cross (60min) – never have had a particular skill or affinity for these super long races (8-10hrs).  Doesn’t mean I won’t give them a whirl, but I don’t put any pressure on myself to do well.  It’s takes a mentality & ability I wasn’t born with or have yet to develop (may that never happen…).  

Honestly for myself, I liken participating in more than one 100mile offroad MTB race to that of a women who gives birth more than once.  It can be incredible difficult, lengthy & painful …..BUT in time those aspects of the event are forgotten and somehow a person “signs up” to do it again!?  It’s nuts.  Faded memory of past events can be such a bad guide to the future decisions.  Which is why I empathize with how my wife managed to have 4 kids.  I’m not saying a 100mile MTB race is like giving birth, but it is difficult and can leave you wondering why you’d do it a second time.

This year wasn’t as good as a result as 2010 when I placed 8th.  Leading up to the race I was on my 6th week of hard training & racing without a significant break, I’d been in a slight auto accident, not to mention fallen down a flight of step leading up to the race and I’d put in 15hrs of trail building in the days leading up to the race – in hindsight I was probably doomed before I even started.

Long & short of it – things went well for the first 3hrs, but by the 4th hour I was hurting all over, my vision from dehydration or a head first crash into a 8” maple tree was spotty at best.  I’d keep blinking to try & clear the “fuzziness” but it just wouldn’t go away.  Around the 5th hour I knew it wasn’t probably safe to be out riding single track in my condition that wasn’t improving so at 6hrs I called it quits & got a ride home.  (I hate quitting anything!)  My wife & kids picked me up and I spend the remainder of the afternoon eating pizza and hanging out at the wonderful Rivers Eatery in Cable, rather than finishing the race in the rain…..

I gotta hand out a couple comments on racers & people I spent time with during that race however.

-Chris Schmidt – you dirty dawg, you are devilishly fast in single track.  When I said you made the 2010 UP series cyclo-cross champ go cross eyed trying to stay on your wheel I wasn’t kidding!  You’ve got some mad skillz my man!  Really enjoyed riding with you, would love to do it again sometime soon.  I could learn alot from how well you finesse the one-track. Congrats on a great race, you should be really proud.

-Larry Sauber, always like riding with you.  You appear to be the non-typical bike racer as you could probably kill any animal of the forest that tried to attack you by flexing your bicep.  You marched on brilliantly after I worked to catch up to you…only to leave me for the wolves later on…. thank alot.

-Ryan Hokey, Tim Ek, Greg Pattison, Geoff Schley & a few other guys, thanks for the riding companionship & conversation along the ride.  Help the time pass and kept up a pace that a guy by himself may not have done alone.

-Mike Haag, always good to see you out there –not a bad in the saddle for you considering it was 100 miles on a single speed!!

-Diana McFadden – all I know is you looked in alot better shape than me after 5hours!  Hope the rest of your day went well.

-Todd McFadden & Charly Tri– faint shadows I was chasing as long as I could – you guys put in some pretty impressive finishing times for runnerup & 1st place respectively.

150 starters or so, 80+ finishers – saw a bunch more of you  congrats for being out there & giving it a try.  But Charlie Farrow…. words can’t escape my dismay at your non-participation…

Will I do it again?  Give me 8 or 9 months to let time abate the memories and I’ll probably be signing up again.  What I won’t forget is how to better prep for sizeable task that the Chequamegon 100 is.

I’m now onto a nice well accepted rest & recovery week before getting back to training.  Next races upcoming look to be WORS Wausau, Keweenaw Chain Drive & perhaps the WORS Cup. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cable Off Road Classic

Lived up to it’s unpredictable reputation. No snow. No sun. But plenty of wind, water & wet. Still a pretty amazingly good race and one that should be on a persons not-to-miss-race-list. Rippin’ good challenging single track. Fast roads & fire lines and just enough repeated climbing to sometimes feel like the 12th round in a heavy weight title fight.

Everything a good MTB race should be…. or perhaps I’m just biased because it’s a great relatively close race.

Having pre-road on Thurs and knowing conditions would be on the wet & slicker side. I opted to do something I’ve never done before… raced with tires wider than 2” and large knobs!! It was pretty crazy given my affection for skinny & fast tires. I was nothing short of reticent as I mounted them that morning – thinking I must be nuts, I’m going to be giving up at least a half dozen places today because of it.

So the high volume Schwalbe brothers went to work for me – Rocket Ron & Racing Ralph 29x2.35”. Gotta say this…. I was impressed, sure there was a trade off but I found myself really enjoying riding them on the bumpy & sketchy sections of trail. And only when an impressive crash two riders in front of me --by CJ Faulkner & lack of or inability in the moment of Charlie Tri to attempt to bridge back up to the lead group of 6 – was I left in no man’s after passing Charlie & going on solo after those 6. I would have loved smaller faster tires in that section & bridging up would have been a much better prospect. Later Chad Sova, who was in the lead group, would tell me he looked back and thought to himself “Man, I’m soooo glad I’m not that guy. Missing out on the break and trying to catch back on.” When I told Chad, that guy was me, he just laughed all that much louder.

Overall the race was something I was pretty happy with. It started out fast relative to other years with Todd “I’m riding out of my mind fast this year” McFadden and Chad Sova driving things at the front of the race, despite the strong winds swirling around.


Normally that kind of start suits me but I found myself struggling and having to work pretty hard to hang in there. Was it my warm up (or lack there of) or the big tires? Not sure. Fortunately I surged enough to get in the top 10 or 12 to enter the first section of single track. Usually an adequate spot because after the first section of single track despite the gaps a good sized group comes back together on the section of Rock Lake road that follows.

Exiting the single track, me, Mike Bushey & Nathan Lillie worked back on the lead group of 8. May have even been a couple other racers as well. The pace was decent and looking to hold together for awhile…. that was again until CJ hard crash when we turned off the road into some quasi-single track. From what I could gather he clipped a recently cut blow down tree with his handle bars or shoulder – it was enough to send him sideways in the trail and tangle his seat into Charlie Tri’s rear wheel. The fracas created the earlier mentioned gap. I respected Charlie & figured in his competitive ways he’d be hitting it to get back on so I didn’t look to go around him right away, that proved to be the tactical error of my race. I think Charlie was still trying to get his legs about him & maybe having a brief asthma isssue. I do not envy that. When I went for the pass the lead group already was 30 to 50 yards up. Probably a mile or more of pursuit only brought it down to about 20 yard and then I was spent.

Eventually Charlie, Mike Bushy & CJ caught back on and with them Nathan Lillie. That was a group that essentially yo-yo’ed around me for a good share of the rest of the race.

CJ slowly started gapping Charlie in some single track with Nate “I plow through small spruce trees” Lillie, myself & Mike behind. Both Nate & I tried passing Charlie to chase CJ but were foiled by the cornering nature of the trail. It was here too I had a good reminder no matter how adapt one’s handling skills are the unexpected can & will happen. In what could have been an ugly ending I clipped hard against the first of a series of trailside rocks. That tweaked my line and from there I probably just gave a trailing Mike Bushey a good laugh in my crazy attempts to correct & get back in line on the trail.

When it did finally opened up Nate & I got by Charlie – unfortunately, CJ had a gap out of sight. First Nate, then myself took turns pouring it on and by the half way mark of the race we had CJ back in our sights.

Cable Off Road Classic 2011-#1

Upon crossing SpiderLake Firelane & just over 10 miles to go – there’s a series of 5 to 7 punchy hill climbs. Taxing in normal dry conditions and here no one with remotely low traction tires was going to be able to climb them. If you did hat’s off to you. Not only do they drain you with the pitch, but the sloppy, slick conditions came into play and without reasonable knobs a person was just going to spin out. That’s what was happening to CJ & it’s where we caught him. I’d taken a pretty much permanent front place of the group for the next 6 miles. Initially CJ & Nate following with I assume Charlie & Mike Bushy following alittle ways back.

Mike Bushy was my bike handling hero for the day. Running with my favorite normal weather condition tire the Bontrager XR1’s or maybe they should be called XR!… they are a small block, light weight tire that must have felt like being on slip & slide for 50% of the race.

After the first series hills, Nate apparently had a small crash though a puddle but recovered & got back on. I was the first to climb the last of those hills & where the short & long course split again. I could have & maybe should have pressed my advantage there but opted to ease up, drink & take on some fuel.

I knew there was a sharp left corner heading into the Ojibwa trail and gave loud warning to those behind but still nearly got t-boned by a someone flying through. From that point I never looked back to see who was along. I could hear bikes behind me but no one was complaining to pick up the pace so though I’d backed off it must have been adequate.

So mile after mile, me & my merry gang were cruising along in a nice Saturday afternoon ride. I was feeling decent, not great – going on 6 weeks of training without a block of rest probably had my power held back a couple notches and the last thing I wanted to do was bonk out. If this new training program I’m on works out it could yield some even nicer dividends it’ll undoubtedly take some rest time before that happens though. Then watch out McFadden!

With 5 miles to go or so, finally Charlie came to the front. Whatever early race holdbacks he had going on seemed to be past him as he looked to drill it a couple times probably hoping to shake a few people loose. Eventually it worked as a gap occurred and it was he & I going into the final four miles. But both riding full suspension 29ers we had a distinct advantage in that rough section of trail.

The final 3 or 4 miles of the Classic is something I always look forward to. Longer downhills, gravel road flats a short climb or two and a 2 mile time trial down the railroad grade finish. Charlie hit the Randysek road downhill section with a fury. I’m sure figuring in his weight advantage of perhaps 30 or 40lbs he was going to drop most anyone else. (It’s the ole’ Fat man wins the downhill race theory – no offense Charlie, it’s just gravity). Well it worked in keeping the gap on Nate & Mike Bushey, but my 165lbs stuck to his wheel just fine.

He was eager to keep Nate away and asked for a pull from me, but considering Nate’s such a good guy and worked with me earlier I didn’t feel overlying incentivized in dropping him. And much to Nate’s credit he earned it. He just really had some serious gas the final 3 miles, caught back on & even came through for a pull.

There’s one chronically 500-600 yard mushy section that leads to the final 2 mile railroad grade finish. In hindsight I should have stuck closer and gone in the moment with Nate when he powered through.. I delayed and Nate got a good gap and I let Charlie stay within striking distance. So at the railroad grade Charlie caught back on. We exchanged pulls to the finish but couldn’t match the super riding Nate was doing. At the finishing stretch, in a gesture of fairness rather than taking my turn in drafting, I pulled along Charlie and opted for the gentleman’s a “drag-race” to the finish. In a quick spin up I took the early lead but stayed seated as Charlie stood and eventually passed by into the finish. He won’t have the luxury of that outcome the next time :).

Regardless of the outcome at the line, I had a fun and good day. My wife Kate was an awesome cheerleader and getting my handoffs at just the right time. Riding in 6th for most of the race, doing alot of work and still ending 8th overall in my best finish at the Off Road Classic can’t be disappointed. In years past there have been some pretty respectable racers I admire, in that position so I’ve gotta be happy with that. I always say there’s hope to the next aspiring racer, young or old -- I’ve gone from 46th, 31th, 15th, 14th & now 8th place the past 5 yrs at CORC.

Big congratulations to Todd McFadden on his 2nd place finish, he’s riding on fire this year. Scottie KJ got a nice 3rd place following up Todd and it’s only his first race of the year. But what is it with those couples – the McFadden’s & KJ’s? Diana McFadden races in for 2nd place in the women’s race and an impressive 31st overall and Sara KJ 1st & 16th overall?! The offspring of those couples…. I’m telling ya one of ‘em is gotta be heading to the 2030 Olympics.

Great seeing so many friends & familiar faces and catching up for awhile. T.C., Matt Myres, Chad Sova, just to name a few. Fellow Ashland rider Paul Belknap pushing out what I think has been your best CORC race nabbing 22nd on the limited riding I thought you were doing. And lastly, thanks out to Nate Lillie, Mike Bushey(one of my favorite all-time racers -- always awesome to see you out on the course) and Tri-guy for pushing a great race together rather than slogging it out alone. Looking forward to some more of the same as the season goes on.

See you next at that Chequamegon 100 ….. what the hell am I thinking? I thought I gave up on those crazy 10hr races last year…..?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cable Off Road Crap-Shoot..uh I mean Classic

The Off Road MTB race season up North traditional kicks off with the Cable Off Road Classic. 

--First time alot of the guys are taking too the one-track stuff. 

--Weather?  Sunny & beautiful, rainy & wet or snowing and cold… take your pick the last 10 years has pretty much seen any & all of it at race day.

--Competition, I was looking back at the past 10 yrs that I’ve been doing the CORC & it’s a crap-shoot who going to show up year to year. 

---Some of the strongest field showings came in ‘10, ‘08, ‘06.  Not to mention in the past 10 years there have only 2 two time winners on the men’s side– any big surprise or guess who those guys might be?  Let’s try the legends Jeff Hall & Doug Swanson, each taking wins against each other & then dominating in the field in other years.  I think Jeff’s driving a fork lift pretty fast these days not sure about a bike, but the guy could be in a coma & still probably beat the top end guys on the line.  Doug’s probably still doing his 2 day a week workout & racing on “willpower” – there’s a machine who could have quite easily gone professional.  Anyone remember how he was crushing everyone including Olympian JHK & 10 time US Champion at the Cheq 40 a few years back until an untimely flat?  Anyways you’ll rarely find a funnier, good natured guy than Doug – sure wish he was around racing more always brought the good stuff to the races.   I don’t know if it’s just my historical sentiment or what, but the best racers in recent years --Woodruff, Moore, to name a few, can match up to how good Hall & Swanson were.

--Then there’s the Duluth racers they always seem to pack a bunch of top finishers as far back as I can remember.  Back in the day Mike Bushey & Bob McVeen, even good ‘ole Charlie Farrow (please make a comeback to XC racing Charlie!)   Todd McFadden coming closest of the bunch to the “W” in a sprint finish with Dan Swanson in ‘04 (Sorry Dan, you dawged Todd that day for the W).  Todd gets my thumbs up for still racing like a mad man long after the other guys find other distractions in life to pursue.  Then there’s the “SKJ’s” – Scottie & Sara, I wouldn’t be surprise if one or both took home the the wins this Saturday – can you imagine how good their kid is going to be on a MTB bike if she chooses? They female Taylor Phinney of MTBing.  Now beside Todd & Scott, there’s Adam Swank, Nicolai Anikin too.

--Can’t forget the icon of Midwest MTB’ing who rarely misses the Classic either– Jay “Hollywood” Henderson – there’s another dude who when he had time to ride was scary fast.  Still in his reduced time riding he holds his own nicely. 

--The Yooper’s made a voyage over in ‘10 and held there own in a year marked by constant misdirections in the race course.  That topped with a 220mile drive it takes a bigger haul & commitment to get here.

--Could probably go on & on – adding in names like Gaier, Swift & Sova, the local CAMBA boys who can ride the stuff almost blindfolded. 

--It’ll be interesting to see who shows for ‘11 will the southern Twin Cities guys make a getaway weekend of it, the Charlie Tri’s, Oftedahls & Moore come up?  Wonder if Charlie can avoid the asthma or a broken bike what seems like the banes of his otherwise impressive racing.

Last note of things however…. I pre road Thursday night

--The course….

----you’re gonna be wet & muddy no matter what the weather between now & Saturday morning.  PERIOD. Bring the beaver tires. 

----The start, no matter what is said about the change of course to improve the bottleneck – it’s still a cock block, going to be just as bad.  A big hill needs to get in the way if they ever hope to improve that part of the race.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Back in the swing of things – WORS #1 Iola

Blog updates or not, life marches along.  The past couple months have been full of….

-New addition to the family

-The most hectic time of year in business

-Training hours and training hours…..did I say training hours?

But with race season finally happening it’s only fair to get around to an update.  Opted to jump start things a bit earlier than normal this year and give the 1st round of WORS racing at Iola,WI a go last Sunday.  Normally on the farther end of how far I prefer to travel to race, but with a big winter/spring of training & some good signs from that -- to see how things could go was a temptation that was hard to pass on. 

Perhaps for most folks in the Midwest, & certainly in Northern WI Spring hasn’t exactly resembled anything more than slightly gloried winter conditions.  Wind, cold, rain… snow & more snow.  So the enjoyment factor on outdoor training wasn’t optimal as one could hope for but there is a pleasure in taking on what challenge Mother Nature puts before you .  (As long as you have time to clean up the condition she puts your bike in when you’re done. )  Also there’s a great saying that “However great the will to win, it pails in comparison to the will to train to win.”

May 1st & WORS #1 arrived with conditions not all that unlike March 1st (or perhaps even Feb 1st).  36 degrees & windy.   That said it’s MTB racing and it’s not like I’ve not been training 90% of my time in that weather or colder since last November.   Beside I’m guessing it would beat the Soggy Hundo training ride being done by my compatriots in the Chequamegon Bay area or the legendary La Flèche du Nord U.P. Spring Classic held over the same weekend.   We (Kate & the 4 kids) somehow got to the race well ahead of schedule – (undoubtedly that would shock someone like Tom Carpenter that it was even possible.)  Brought down both Kate’s SuperFly100 & my Trek Top Fuel 9.9, equally good bikes to be racing.   Which on a side note – myself, not bothering going the route of sponsorships for riding or racing.  I get to race machines & use equipment that I don’t “hafta” love, hence any critiques or comments come out are straightforward & without bias.   Not saying it happens out there but Sponsors want love even if what the athlete needs to do is provide Tough Love

The tires I had on the SuperFly 100 where slightly better for any unknowns I might incur – a Rocket Ron front, Bontrager XR1 on the rear – in hindsight the conditions would have been fine for any tire or bike.  The course was bone dry and perfect despite all the rain & snow of the present week & earlier.

After a brief warmup and shuttling the kids around between the kids race & the van, it was time for the start.  I was worried that a big Elite turnout & poor starting position would occur as Iola is normally one of the highest attended Elite races in the WORS series as those racers are looking to test their off season mettle.  Fortunately I got in behind Todd McFadden and after the initial call up of last seasons riders, we had about a 3rd row starting spot which was plenty fine given the open starting area & immediate hill climbs to follow. 

Now…. how did the race go on the hounds were released?  Ah…well, I’ve had better days and worse days.  The start had me in the high teens/low twenties early on.  I was able to pass people and settle in.  Thinking - ok, this is good.  Punching up the hills wasn’t overly taxing and weaving the single track went fine despite a 8 or 9 month hiatus since last doing so.   Iola has a genuinely enjoyable course, nice amount of speed on the open areas & single track that has very good flow and smoothness to it.  It was a 5 lap, 25mile-ish long race.  Lap one was fine, lap two got a little tougher and on lap three -- what I was counting on overcoming with the extra hours of winter training – didn’t come to fruition.  Just over 45minutes in I started to run out of gas and started on the slipperly downhill slope of losing positions afterwards.  In that time Todd McFadden went by, he was cruising and having a super day finishing in the top 15, couldn’t hold his wheel.  Not much later, a group of 5 or 6 including Tyler Jenema & Adam Swank picked me up – which by the way thanks for the encouragement guys – however I just couldn’t continue to hang with them dropping off and finding a pace to finish up on.  Lap 4 got alittle better and but by lap 5 I was ready for the day to be over.  Not that I was bonking but I couldn’t keep the heart rate or power up where I’d of wanted to be racing at.  Surprisingly with about 1/4 mile left in the race I came upon a familiar jersey in Adam Swank who apparently really lost the gas in his tank and after not seeing him for the previous 2 laps scooted past him before the finish.  34th on the day of 60 starters.

Not the debut to the season I was planning on, but I was at the tailend of a 3 week training block that has been beating me down something fierce.  Some top knotch training & workouts I’m getting in, in preparation for later in the season where my focus is but for a racer like myself it undoubtedly compromises the front end results of my season.

With any luck I’ll get back to a couple times per month blogging entries.  Up next on the schedule the 10th anniversary of my first MTB race – the Cable Off Road Classic.   If a new person to riding, or aspiring to race well, can  take a message of hope from my experience -- that time and effort is on your side.  In 2001, I staggered in 240th of 280 finishers.  A crushing finish to an endurance athelete, former collegiate XC runner & marathon runner.   But I got over it, within a few years got more serious and the past two editions of the race have 15th out of 186 & 14th of 246. 

Get out & ride!