Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wilderness 101 Race Report

Saturday morning I awoke and it was a bit chilly. The previous night the bike was all prepped and ready to go. I threw on the kit, all my supplies and lined up at the starting line. The race was off. I worked my way up towards the front of the pack anticipating trying to find a good pack to stick. If I found a pack using a good pace I could use them to keep the tempo and help rest into the first major climb. The first climb was shorter than I remember and the fireroad thinned out the pack and the groups started to form. I was in probably the 3rd pack from the front where they were setting a good manageable pace. In the group was Michelle Stopper and Carey Lowery so I knew if I could stick with them it would be very beneficial for me. We held it together through the first aid station and into the first singletrack. There after there was a new section which got back to fireroad and the group was staying together but setting a much faster pace. I held on as long as I could but the road pitched up and I fell off the back and paced myself on my own. I kept a nice pace and found a few people to latch onto and I made my way into aid 2 pretty easily. That was the problem though – I spent way too much of my energy keeping up with this nice group and didn’t leave a lot in the reserves.

After aid station #2 the LONG climb started and I knew I was in for a long time. I forgot how long it really was and was afraid to put the hammer down since I was so spent before. I kept the pace low and just struggled through the climb as a lot of my competitors got by me. I saw Kris Webber, Allistair Seibert, and Chris Baks get by me so I knew I had some catching up to do. Along the way there was a sweet sighting of probably a 4.5’ rattlesnake on the right side of the climb. Beautiful!!! Finally the climb ended and there was a competitor right in front of me and from other races I know that there are some tentative descenders out there so I charged ahead to create a gap which worked. Then shortly into the descent I realized that I forgot to switch off the lockout on my fork. So I was already feeling bad but that didn’t help. Into the next climb I had my nutrition working and regained some energy and did a lot better on this climb(which turns and turns and turns some more till it tops out). Then descending off the top of that ridge we got into the new singletrack and that was enjoyable but I was starting to get in need of water since the climbs were pulling the energy out of me. People were all scattered here and there but I made it to aid three catching the wheel of a few riders.

Into aid #3 I saw Chris and Kris and as they headed out I went with him. Unfortunately my teammate was having stomach issues and bagged it but I followed Chris up the horrible climb out of aid #3. This climb is especially tricky and strength draining. I made the whole climb minus one section of really rocky bottlenecked trail. On this climb I was feeling better and got through a bunch of people. I was feeling much better here than I was last year. I kept on the nutrition and hydration and kept on motoring. On the downside of this mountain was the crazy fast section of single/doubletrack that had my arms and shoulders wishing for it to be over…but it was so much fun. A couple of smaller climbs came and then it was time for the sweet – tight – loose downhill section. This section I usually see guys in the trees but not this year. It’s so loose and fast it’s crazy. I think I burnt through the rear brake pads on this one. The nice short section of road into aid station #4.

After aid 4 there was once again another long climb – in 2 parts. The first is a nice long dirt road climb that turns into a grassy/rocky/gravelly climb towards the top. Once the top is gained it quickly descends and then goes up to a trail that is very techy and rocky. It’s so much fun but by then it’s so exhausting it’s very tough to get through. It then turns to a downhill run on a nice scree slope that is tricky to descend and very unstable at high speed. It then goes to a nice overgrown trail that seems to wind downhill slowly and surely. It seems to take forever to get out since you are going very fast on babyheaded rocks forever. The hardtail was so brutal that I just wanted it to end. It was destroying my body and my will to finish. Attempting this race next year will require a full suspension for sure.***In hindsight - I was a wuss and had some bad bike setup. Too much front tire pressure and too much air in the fork can make you very cranky on rocky downhills ;-) ***

Into aid 5 for a quick bottle fill and then into the last section. I saw Chris again as I was pulling out of aid 5 and we rode together for a while discussing how 9 hours is very possible. I kept on pushing feeling the power dwindling and just wanting to make it over the last climb to the finish. Chris and I worked together to make it to the climb, both of us not knowing what we had left. The railroad beds were nice to keep pace and catch a draft whenever possible. I got to the road that leads to the last climb and it started pitching up. I tried to moderate power when I could to conserve a little but I wasn’t feeling that well. I could sense that the hard left that starts the real climb was coming up. It came and I was standing and pushing while seated just to make it to the top. Chris and I both started the climb together and told each other to go if we had it. I knew if I pushed it out it would make the rest of the ride so much quicker and easier. So every time it pitched up, I got out of the seat and killed it and waited for the next one. I came to the end of the hill and powered down onto the fisherman’s trail a few minutes ahead of Chris and catching one more rider at the top. Through the boulders I went and then onto the rail bed again.

Once on the final stretch of rail bed I pushed and caught a few riders. One jumped on my wheel and I did a couple of jumps to get him off the back but he stuck there so I grinded it out. Through the bridge successfully and through the tunnel I knew I was almost home. I got to the road and then I kept pulling this mystery rider so I was curious as to how much he had in the tank. I pulled over and said I wouldn’t mind catching a draft for a while so he pulled me for a little bit. I realized that he started to hold back and I knew he might try and snag me at the end so I told him I was just going to go for it. He said cool and off I went pounding the pedals down. Then he went flying by me with ½ mile left to go. Sonofabitch! …he used me to get to the line… So after he got a little bit of a lead and looked back twice to see if I would chase I mustered up all I had left and charged straight at him. He hit the final turn and I did shortly after although I had a lot more speed. He let up and I closed the 200 foot gap in seconds and I passed him in the final grassy turn to finish 2 seconds ahead.

What a finish…. 9 hours and 51 minutes

91st place overall

59th place open mens

Friday, July 25, 2008

Colorado and New Mexico were Amazing!

I was out in CO and NM for two weeks and it was great. I went out and did a few warm up rides before the Firecracker 50 in Breck and did a bunch afterwards. There were probably 7 rides overall and mostly over 10,000 feet. One ride was from Molas Pass to Engineer mountain on the Colorado Trail and it was some of the most breathtaking trail and some of the worst. Imagine snow for a mile followed by mud for 3. Not fun. But the other sections were cool. I eventually was doing better with the elevation but still was hurting. I got to stop by Pajarito Mountain outside of Los Alamos to ride for a bit and then take one of their downhill trails which was a blast. Nothing like flying off a jump or riding some of the ladder bridges in matchy matchy lycra. The downhillers were not amused. :-)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Racing at Altitude is Brutal: Firecracker 50 Report

The USAC Marathon Nationals were in Breckenridge CO this year as the Firecracker 50 . As part of a visit to see my brother in CO I was able to attend this race. We drove up Thursday night to a hotel in Fairplay CO about 30 mins outside of Breck to make the next morning a lil easier. Friday morning we arrived at the site, registered and prepared for the race.

As I was getting prepared for the race I was feeling a little jittery and checked my pulse to find I was at 98 bpm while sitting in the parking lot. I had wondered if this high altitude race idea was going to go well and I was about to find out. The town of Breckenridge is at an elevation of 9600ft and the race tops out at 11300ft. It was a little bit of a concern, but I figured I’d see what happened.

The race got started with a parade start from the center of Breckenridge and I was the 2nd wave out of the gate. It was cool to be riding in a group hi-fiving all the kids that lined the streets. The whole center of town was lined 4-5 deep as they saw us off. We rode at a relaxed pace until our marshall pulled off. Well, instead of our marshall pulling off, he faltered with the wave sign he was holding and had to stop before he fell. We then pulled around and the race was on.

We made our way from main street, took a hard left and the paved climb was on. From here it was a 6 mile climb to the first aid station. I took off pretty hot with my group and realized soon after that that recovery was going to be hard and that I would need to tone it down a bit to survive. The road kept winding up a gorgeous valley overlooking the ski area of Breck and turned onto a gravel road and kept going up. The incline persisted and I kept trying to latch onto the faster riders coming through but I just couldn’t push enough to keep on. We were all marked on the back of our right calves to signify what age group we were in, and I watched as the faster riders of each group came through. I did what I could to keep a nice pace and made it through the first aid station and turned into the singletrack.

The singletrack was nice and flowy and kept slowly working its way upward to it’s highest point and then the loose, babyhead downhill started. This section was treacherous and had to be done at blinding speed to ward off the group that was coming up from behind. Then there was a crazy fast smoother hill(that we would be coming up later) that was easy to reach speed of 35 – 40 mph. After flying down that hill we made a right past aid #2 and the worst climb of the course started.

There was a trail up to Little French Gulch that was really difficult. It was a loose shale climb that took a lot of effort to make it up. It was a slow granny gear climb that took lots of balance and motivation to keep going. There was 3 or 4 chilly runoff crossings that we would make and then continue upwards. Riding was hard or impossible as the conditions became looser and looser. We were passing snowdrifts and even part of an elk carcass. Finally as the top of that climb became completed we traversed and descended down Little French Flume which was a great singletrack that flowed on a sweet off camber section through scree and lots of loose dirt.

The trail continued down and took a sharp right to where another long climb continued. Again it was time for granny gear as the lungs were just not recovering and I was not feeling well. One by one riders came through and I just couldn’t get back any of the positions that I lost. I made most of the climb, getting off to walk a small steep section and continued up to a nice downward flowy singletrack that once again had babyheads everywhere that would pull you down in a heartbeat if you weren’t careful. There was also a sweet section of downhill with waterbars that were way to fun to play on. If I couldn’t climb well at least I was descending well. The next spot popped out to a field where it looked like it was going to get mellower and that lasted for about 5 seconds as it lead into the worst – loose off camber rocky rooty – downhill of the course. Brakes were squealing and fingers were tiring as you fought to stay in control and make it to the road below.

The gravel road then began again as aid #3 was passed and then climbing on the section that was descended before. It was a slow – not steep but descent climb that again was tough at altitude. I just kept steady as people passed one by one. I tried a few times to latch on but it still was not happening. I knew what my body could do and it wasn’t doing any of it. Finally at the top of the hill I knew it was mostly downhill to the end of lap 1. This was the most fun section of the course because it was a very fast downhill that lead to a sweet final section of flowy fast turning singletrack. I knew I could make up some time here so I kept on it and flew through the ST. The last section was the “Pinball” that entered into the start/finish area. It literally pinballed back and forth switchbacking down the final hill to the lap area. It was already getting rutted out and worn in from the tons of riders that were there. I finished lap 1 in 2:41 and seriously debated about bowing out do to the serious lack of energy and feeling horrible since I wasn’t acclimated to the altitude, but I persisted.

Lap two was the same as lap 1, just MUCH slower. I was really in survival mode as I worked through the 2nd lap. I rode most of the first 6 mile climb and got really dizzy at the top of it. I chose to stop and eat and drink to help recover. I popped a Gu and some Accelerade and it seemed to work for a little while. I reserved myself and realized any of the decent climbs I would be walking. That’s exactly what happened. As I rode the rolling stuff I put down a little power and climbed when I could but walked the steeper stuff. Actually I had to stop walking a few times in fear of totally collapsing. But, then I kept on. Through the final climb I knew it was coming to an end so I put down what I could and just enjoyed the final few miles through the tight twisty switchbacks.

As a result I finished with a time of 6 hours and 11 minutes. In the open 19-29 category I came in dead last of those that finished with at least two that DNF’d. It wasn’t what I’d call a successful day of racing but one for the memory bank as far as experience. I guess what it comes down to is that I’d rather be DFL than DNF’d. It was a hard day and one I won’t soon forget. I’ve been getting accustomed to the climbing over the endurance races, but that altitude is an adversary that I will remember for years to come.