Sunday, February 8, 2015

Welcome to being Fat...

Feb 7th was Marty's Fat 50 race in Morristown NJ. Originally meant to be a 50 mile race, this course had to be shortened with the recent snowfall that buried the entire course. There were sections of the course that had 1-2 feet of fresh snow on it that left untouched would have made for an unrideable course. Thankfully for the riders, someone broke through with a snowmobile and packed down 80% of the now 50K course and made conditions MUCH nicer.

At this point I should probably mention that for this race, I had just received my fatbike a week prior. My Mukluk was picked up the previous Friday and with a few miles on it I thought it would be fun to see what happened for this 50K race. This was literally my 4th day on this bike and the setup seemed dialed and all I had to do was pedal and go right? ...right. I wasn't exactly sure what pressures to run since I had very little time on it and didn't even have a working gauge to set my pressure anyway. So I was running a bit blind but I'm ok with a little mystery now and then.

This off season has been crazy as usual with my ski team coaching, which leaves narrow windows for training. I always need a few early season kicks in the pants to get me motivated so I figure this was probably a good one. With no expectations except for finishing this race I set out with 44 others and hit the trails. The snow was packed but pocked full of holes from the hikers and dog walkers in the first few miles. This was fine and it kept things interesting until the first big road section. I was in the lead group of about 10 riders up to this point. On the road everyone was still in sight but the next loose climb was looming ahead. It was good and fairly rideable but a few sections were torn up and a quick hike had you jumping back on the bike to ride again. At one point I was having a hard time climbing and had to stop and adjust my tire pressure. It was just way too high and this let one rider pass through. The one section I was dreading was the railbed that was a mile or two before the half way - turnaround point. I descended to the railbed and started to make up some time on the rider that had passed me in the previous section of trails. I thought for sure I could put down some power and get back to him but to no avail. The previous tires had started to punch through the snowmobile tread making a 4" wide tire track that was like riding a balance beam. One wrong move and you were off, stopped, and had to start riding all over again. This was not pleasing.

So after 2 miles of this we reach the steep hike a bike and I see the rider that was in front of me crawling to the top as I start up the bottom. He wasn't too far ahead. Actually at this point the leaders should have been at the turnaround point so every minute I didn't see them was good as they would be coming right back past me. I got to the top and headed the last mile to the turnaround and saw the leaders coming back. They weren't too far ahead but definitely had a 5+ minute gap on me. I got to the turnaround and said hi and started on my way back. I was just over 2 hours in and the trail back to the start were more downhill than on the way out so it should be quicker. I headed out happy knowing this.

Then reality sunk in. That horrible rail trail was even more horrible now. The rut that the tires were creating was deeper, looser, and more tricky to ride. I was so frustrated that the course had deteriorated that I had to tell myself to relax and enjoy the ride. The meaning of this "race" was a good early season effort to help springboard training. That's all it was and that's how I had to treat it. The conditions were so bad that it crossed my mind many times that it would be so tempting to take the road back, but I couldn't. I will not let a race course beat me. I will do whatever it takes to get to the finish line. If that means carrying my bike the entire way so be it. So I kept on pedaling in misery and just wanting to get to the finish line. At least the rest of the trails would be even more packed down and the ride back should be quicker. It couldn't really be that bad could it???

Yep it could. The rest of the trails on the ride home were now not even packed down any more. They were all blown apart by the racers that couldn't ride the trails. The snow was so dry and powdery that if you stepped on the packed snow it didn't support the weight and broke apart the nice groove that was worn in. So that gave me the new fun part. Walking downhills...yup. That was killing me. At that point I knew it was just going to be a nice stroll in the woods walking my bike down the tranquil snowy path. I sure couldn't ride it so why bother. It was just futile. I was so frustrated that all I wanted to do was ride my bike and I couldn't. All I could do was keep walking with the bike - so that's what I did. I didn't care about the race, I didn't care about anything else but eeking my way to the finish so I could end the misery.

Finally back to the road section I was approaching patriots path towards the Lewis Morris section. That was well worn in and would be a nice section where I could actually pedal back to the finish and make some time. Well yes and no. Some parts were great and others had deteriorated again so that there was only that 4" wide tire print to ride in. I was so sick of seeing that rut that I'll probably be having nightmares of that for weeks. Through the last few road crossings I finally approached the river and knew that around the last bend would be the finish line. I crossed, threw my bike on the car, and was ready to get out of there. I was so done with this event. Frustrated to say the least but at the very least it was good training. Had this been an A race of mine I would have been REALLY upset. But it was training.

Looking back it was a well run event. Marty's did an amazing just setting up, supporting, marking trails, and having a killer vibe. It really was top notch from everything they had control over. Mother nature on the other hand decided to put her two cents in and really make it miserable for everyone out there. I give a lot of credit for those that perservered through the conditions and somehow found a way to enjoy the race. As for the rest of us out there suffering, it's just another day to either put in the memory bank or push it out and move on. Bike racing is a crazy thing. We all know that sometimes a given race won't be as advertised, but you need to make the best of it.

I found out later that 21 of the 44 starters finished. I was 7th overall and pretty happy with that given how much I pushed my bike that day.

Back again! Fall Updates

The last update was! I guess I've been busier or at least lazier the past few months. I was recently reminded that some people actually do enjoy reading this blog so that gave me the motivation to come back and do some more recapping and try to stay more current with the season behind and look ahead as well. Thanks Norm for the reminder and I hope I can entertain you with some of the madness that goes on or goes through my head. Anyway I have to see where I left off.

In a nutshell the fall was good and ok. When I last posted I was looking forward to the cross season ahead and I had a few longer MTB races up my sleeve as well. Crossnado, Cxmeur, SCCX, VT50, Grapes of Wrath, Wilkes 100k, and the 6 Hours of Cathedral Pines were all lined up for a good season end. The problem, like I mentioned earlier is that since I had surgery I felt like I was just behind in training. I put on a few pounds and I never really felt like I was riding well. This beat me up mentally as I just knew there was more in the tank but just couldn't put it all together. CX was good as I could still put together short hard efforts, but it's hard to mix that with my heart in the endurance game. Those two disciplines are just really hard to bounce back and forth between. My sights were set on the long MTB game and if the cx efforts suffered so be it.

Crossnado, CXmeur and SSCX all went reasonably well. Actually better than I thought they would go. Considering I had very little CX prep leading into the races I was pleasantly surprised with how I did. 9th of 14 at CXmeur, 7th of 10 at Crossnado, and 12th of 19 at SCCX. The first two I was putting down a good effort I just wasn't in cross form. The mindset was good as I tracked down people throughout the races, I was just too heavy and too out of practice to do much better. I knew I could have had much better placings if I actually focused on the CX game.

For the MTB game, I was much more focused but still not at the race weight I wanted which always left me wondering what if I was really in top form. The VT50 was going well and I had fun but that race just drains the energy out of you. Put that together with a bad run a single 36 tooth 1x10 setup was a total mistake. That gear was so rough, I had to walk a few of the uphills and really started to drain me towards the end of the race. That upsetted me as early on I knew that would play a major factor in the outcome of the race. I still finished well but not as well as I could have. 23rd of 65 in my age group and 60th overall.

The Grapes of Wrath race was a battle of attrition. Upon arriving at the venue it was already pouring for the last couple of days and I knew it would be horrendous conditions. I decided to give it a go anyway. It was a 6 lap race, with each lap consisting of 3 smaller loops. So by completing 18 loops you would finish the race. This was absolutely grueling. Each loop started with a steep climb that would just shred your legs apart all day long. Like I said before it was wet and greasy everywhere else. On a dry day this place would be pretty techy in spots, but then at the grease on top of it and it made for a super hard course to ride. Off the parade lap at the start I took off and put my head down to see who would chase and come with me. I could see a few others at the top of the first lap pretty close and I needed to keep the pressure on. I rode steady and consistent and didn't look back. Towards the end of the first lap I couldn't see anyone but I could still hear the clanging of bikes on rocks so whether it was myself playing games or someone not too far away, I didn't want to worry. I kept my head down and kept pushing myself harder and harder. 3+ hours later I came across the finish line and never saw another soul near me for the entire race. I had won it. It was a great feeling of accomplishment and a very proud moment as I sat on the finish line and it was a while until the next rider came through. I found out later that I was the only rider to have finished 6 laps. Everyone else either quit or had a mechanical. That blew my mind...and made me ever more proud of what I had just accomplished.

The Wilkes 100k was a great excursion as I traveled down to Wilkesboro NC with a teammate of mine - Tom Kruse - and we geared up for the event. It was on some of the trails that I know very well in the Warrior Creek section of Wilkesboro. It also traverses the nearby Dark Mountain trails and would prove to be a demanding day. The start was crazy cold. It was below freezing at the start but we knew it would be close to 60 by race end. That's not exactly the ideal situation that you want to race in but we made the best of it. From the neutral rollout it was clear that an early jump would be very beneficial to whoever got in the mix. Tom and I had a plan to go for the holeshot and get away clean. We wanted to make the winners pass us and earn it - really we just didn't want to have to wait in line if someone botched the narrow entrance to the trails. So into the final turn that was about a mile before the narrow entrance I punched it and attacked the front of the group. Tom came with me and so did 2 others. I pulled up the hill on the entrance to Bandit's Roost campground and then Tom pulled through. Just before the entrance one of the other guys jumped ahead so we hit the narrow entrance #2 and #3. That was just as it had been planned. I felt good going through the system but then started to feel a bit wonky going up Dark Mountain. It was steep and relentless. I didn't know what the issue was but my legs just didn't seem to have the juice to really lay down the pressure. At this point I was sitting 8th or so. So I dialed it back and just tried to keep the lead I had built up if any. I knew riders were close behind. Back through the OVT up the paved climb on the backside I tried not to die. It was steeeeeeep. I was on the verge on cramping but I made it work and headed down the backside only to cramp on the next steep singletrack up. Ouch. I still had another 15 miles to go and my legs were falling off. I pushed as hard as I could and enjoyed riding the WC loop backwards from all the other times I had ridden it. Finally I got to the finish line to cross in 6th place open men and 11th place overall. That was satisfying to finish that well but again knowing that if I was a bit stronger then I would have placed a few spots better.

The 6 Hours of Cathedral Pines is a great race. Plain and simple. The issue with this one is it's usually the last race in a loooooong season. So who knows how this one will end up. It started out super cold and it was hard to figure out just how to layer with the temps getting slightly warmer. The previous year that I did this race I finished well but had no power for the last 2 laps or so. I really suffered. For this race I concentrated on putting down a solid race and not falling flat the last 2 laps. I did pull a really dumb move but it worked in my favor for a bit. I was second into the singletrack after the long drag race to the woods and took advantage of an early mishap. The rider directly behind me tagged a tree and I heard some commotion behind me. I took this as a sign to attack and take advantage of a gap. The rider in front of me was a team rider and I just stuck to his wheel and we killed the first lap. He pulled away towards the end of the first lap and it was me leading the solos into the second lap. I kept is steady but heard the train of riders steadily approaching. 3rd lap early on I was passed by 2 riders that were moving fast and charging through. I knew I had no hope of keeping their pace for long but I rode the rest of that lap with them in my sights. The remainder of the laps I rode steady exchanging places with another rider. We were both riding the same pace and I knew that a mistake here or there would be the difference between us. On the last lap he bobbled behind and I lifted the pace and was able to stay just enough ahead of him so he couldn't sneak past me. I finished up satisfied with a hard workout and a race that was pretty consistent as the last laps didn't hurt as much as the previous attempt. All in all a fun race.