Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Peak 2 Peak Race Report


Blogging really took a backseat this season. Chalk it up to being busy at my day job, and taking on more responsibility with a non-profit that I volunteer for. The result has been a pretty quiet 2016 blog life. I’m planning a few summary catch up posts, but my last mountain bike race of the year, Peak 2 Peak, deserved its own post. 

I decided to race the Peak 2 Peak event after watching a race video on Youtube. The race is held at the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort in Thompsonville Michigan. The race video looked fantastic, and since we have a friend with access to a cabin 5 minutes from the ski resort, I decided to jump. 

I pre-rode the course the day before and ran into no big issues. I hadn't been riding as much of late, and I was a little concerned about the lack of "pop" in my legs. I've been doing a lot of running in preparation for a marathon, so I was concerned how this would impact the performance. 

The course is a nice mixture of flowing single track, jeep trail/double track, and a few short sections of dirt road. The start was on grass at the bottom of the ski hill, which led to a short paved section before a left turn onto double track which then transitioned to single track on the south side of the Crystal Mountain property before transitioning to trail on state property. The single track flows for a few miles before a short dirt road section and then the trail descends into a shallow valley of the Betsie River. There are a few steeper and fast descents, before you climb out of the valley. It isn’t a huge climb, only about 100 feet, but since the course is mostly flat, it was a notable feature. Plus, the climb was a little slick from a previous day’s rains.

Following this climb was more trail, some double track, a short section of dirt road, and then the hard part of the course…a climb up the top of the ski mountain (about 320 feet of climbing). The climb was in two parts…the first on steep single track, followed by a short descent, and then a continuing climb up the ski slope via two track and a gravel road. Once at the top, you dove off the gravel road onto a fun downhill trail to the finish. The downhill was a bit dicey since much of it was new trail which still needed to be smoothed out. Feel free to check out the Strava track from the race. 

I arrived at the race Saturday morning and things got off to a bad start. As I was riding away from my car with my water bottle stand, the stand got caught on another car’s bike rack as I rode by and down I went. HARD. Like face planted into the ground hard.

Lots of bleeding and a headache, along with embarrassment were the result of this pre-ride face plant. A large cut over my left eye from my glasses, and my chin was bleeding profusely. I also had a large cut along my wrist. I didn’t dwell on the injury and hoped adrenaline would be enough to block any pain, which it did admirably. Anyway, I dusted myself off, wiped the blood away and went for a quick warm up.



I was racing in Sport 30-34 which was the first wave off at 9:30 am. About 20 riders were racing, which was actually one of the smaller groups that day. The start went along a grassy stretch at the base of ski hills, before hitting a paved path and then a paved road. I was near the front and immediately a mechanical claimed a rider in front of me when his chain snapped.

There was some jockeying, but by the time we hit the single track, I was sitting in 3rd, and we started steady progress forward in what was a fairly large train of 10-12 riders. The pace was fairly fast, and no one seemed interested in attempting a break during the first few miles. Still quite a bit of race left.

We hit the first section of dirt road and everyone seemed to take a breath and grab some water and a gel. There was a bit of chatting…one rider came up next to me and asked if I was from Indy. I responded yes, and he said that he saw my Matthews jersey and that he had raced for Marian University and remembered the shop from his time in Indy.

The road section ended with a right hand turn on to a section of sandy double track. Not long into this section was a large sandpit. I had ridden straight through this during my pre-ride, but at race speed, I very nearly bit it and struggled to get through. However, several riders behind me took a solid line to the left of the sand pit which I had not seen, and got around me. Recovering from the sandpit, I had fallen back to 7 or 8th place.

The pack dropped back into trail and started a gradual descent down in the valley of the Betsie River. There were a pair short steep downhills, one with a nasty right turn at the end before we started the 100 ft climb out of the valley.

The climb got slow a few times as we had an accordion effect as some of the lead riders slowed down at the front. Part of me wanted to attack and try to get around, but I told myself to be patient…the climb up the ski hill was the place to make moves.

Some more trail, a bit of double track, and we popped out onto a dirt road. There was some jockeying but everyone was still being very well behaved. However, far down the road we spotted another rider turning off the road and back onto trail. I asked if he was part of our group or a recreational rider (we had seen several such riders). Someone said they thought he was part of our group and someone else said he had broken away when we had gone through the sand pit.

Either way, we were now a chase pack and the escaped rider had quite the advantage. The last section of the course was the ski hill climb. The first part was single track and steep….and slow. Being in a large train did not help and more than once I thought I was going to have to stop because the speed dropped so much. After the single track, there was the brief descent, and then the second part of the climb to the peak, which was primarily on double track and gravel roads. As soon as we hit this part, I accelerated and pulled away from the pack, although I was marked by a rider in a white jersey. 

It was a grind but the acceleration had an effect and the pack was strung out. We went over the top and hit the downhill trail. All went well to the finish, although three other riders from the main pack and closed the distance during the descent and passed me when I slowed to grab my second water bottle just after the finish. I closed with these riders and a new, leaner 5 member chase pack formed. The off the front rider was not in sight.

View from the top of the ski hill, not taken by me. Start/Finish is in the middle near the white tent. 
The five of us worked well and there were a few shifts as turns were taken pulling. I was actually feeling pretty good and started to think about putting in an attack. But I wasn’t confident in my ability to make it stick on the flat sections so I held my position.

There were a few glimpses of the escaped rider, but it didn’t seem we were closing, and I started thinking about getting the edge on the other riders in the group, as opposed to closing down the gap.

As we neared the end of the second lap and faced the second and last ski hill climb, I was getting impatient. I had left something in reserve and I began to seriously think about attacking. At one point, we were going along a long section of trail which was wider…not quite single track, but not double track. Still it was wide enough for an easy pass….but I still did not make a move. I decided all would be bet on the climb.

Our chase pack had a few glimpses of the breakaway rider on straightaways, and it seemed like we might be closing the gap although this may have been wishful thinking. As we neared the base of the climb, someone commented that it looked like he was going to stay out front.

Well, we hit the climb and things slowed considerably. Fatigue was clearly hitting, and it seemed like we were climbing in slow motion. At one point I had to take an alternate (and more difficult) line up and around a large rock on the trail in order to avoid stopping due to the slow speed. I regretted not attacking before the climb so I had clear trail. Nevertheless, we dropped down the short descent midway up the climb and the escaped rider was visible well ahead climbing up the ski slope and about to disappear into the trees.

Well, I had waited long enough. I upshifted, got out of the saddle and pushed forward. There were words of encouragement from our group (Go get’em, etc.) but it was clear that most were gassed. The only rider who went with me was the rider in the white jersey, the same one had pulled away with me on the first lap.

We quickly dropped the other three riders in our group and were off in pursuit of the escaped rider. The gap was coming down and he was visible and clearly slowing. The rider in white and I charged forward and continued to gain ground. We left the trail and double track behind and hit the final gravel road push to the crest of the hill. I was right next to white jersey as we climbed. It was an exciting moment. Lots of spectators had ridden the chair lift to the top so there was a great cheering section as we crested the top and then bombed down the trail. White Jersey got to the descent just before me and I was right on his wheel. About a third of the way down the single track portion of the descent, we passed the escaped rider. He had suffered some sort of mechanical, which looked like a dropped chain. Sucks, but that racing. White jersey and I got past him and were home free for the finish line. He got some distance on me when we came out of the woods and rode through some loose sand, and that was how it ended, with a 2nd place.


I chatted with a few riders afterwards, including the escaped rider. Turns out, he had made his attacked during the first lap climb out of the Betsie Valley when the lead riders had slowed. It was a well-timed attack which stuck until the very last half mile. Kind of wished I had tried the same thing. In retrospect, there were several places in the race, especially the second lap where an attack would have put some serious pressure on the rest of the chase group. As it was, the plan to attack on the hill worked out well enough.

In addition to getting a late season race in at a fantastic location, I also wanted to test myself against Cat 2 racers from another state. No blog post on this yet, but I won the Cat 2/Sport overall in the DINO series in Indiana, so I’ll be bumping up to Expert/Cat 1 next year in that series. I wanted to see how I stacked up against racers from out of state. I think I did alright.
Overall, a very fun race and a great result. The downsides was the pre-race face plant, and the long wait for the awards. The time for podiums was changed from an earlier time, so we had to wait until around 2 pm for the podium, while the beginner wave had their podiums much earlier. I know this was to keep people at the venue and the festival, but we had plans in Traverse City, and the wait was a bit long.

Still, I would definitely race again, although I will have to be in expert next year. Plus, the dry weather helped. I’m guessing that course gets pretty slick in the rain. 


Friday, July 22, 2016

DINO Warsaw Really Short Race Report

The 2016 DINO season kicked off like it always does, with a trip to Warsaw for the a race at the Winona Lake Trails. The first race of the DINO calendar was supposed to have been the DINO Tune Up at Town Run. However, that race is cursed and like last year, it was rained out. 

So, back to Warsaw. Last year's race was a muddy affair following overnight rains. THis year was nice. And dry in the lead up to the race day. Aaron and I arrived on Friday night for a pe-ride. Aside from my at first comical and then pitiful inability to negotiate a tight downhill right hand turn, all was well. The course was great and the bike was riding well. 

Of course, overnight some rain came through. Luckily it wasn't that heavy and the course was dry at the start. The start line was interesting. Several Cat 2 Open riders had moved up to Cat 1 after last season. Aaron decided to stay in Open for this race, and I knew there was going to be a tough rider from Richmond named Robbie who had rocketed up from Cat 3 to Cat 2 last year and dominated at each step. Another rider from Richmond named Chris was also there. 

The start was fast and I was 3rd into the woods behind Aaron and Robbie. Chris was behind me as was Bryan. Early in the lap a rider who I did not know came charging forward and city through the top five.  I think he was on a single speed, but whatever he was riding, he was soon chasing the leaders. Aaron ceded the lead to Robbie at some point and he and Chris and I rode together through the field section before Chris made his way past me. 

View from across the creek. Photo: Eric Lewis
The second lap was a game of cat and mouse with Aaron. I kept making contact with him and then losing him again. I didn't have anyone in sight behind me, although that didn't mean no age groupers weren't braiding the gap and catching me. Aaron got a gap just before a straight portion along a creek which led to a bridge to the finish line. He accelerated and I spotted him on the other side of creek as I was coming up to the bridge. Not going to catch him, so I turned my attention towards not getting passed by any age groupers. I spotted one or two behind me and managed to stay ahead of them in real time, although they had closed the gap enough to overtake me in the official results.

Photo: Beth Bragg


I ended up 5th in Open, and 9/78 overall. Generally, I was satisfied with this result. I had hoped to be higher in the Open wave, but the overall was decent. Fitness seemed good, and the bike performed superbly. I could definitely tell a difference with the full suspension. 

Post race attitude. Photo: Dave Tozer

Cave Lake XC 2016: When In Doubt, Turn Left

Our neighbor to the south has more than just fried chicken and horses. It is also home to the Kentucky Point Series mountain bike race series. For me, KPS is a side show to our local DINO series. But, since the Barry Roubaix was not in the cards this year, I was looking for a tough race near the end of March. And the KPS delivered with their Cave Lake race in (or more appropriately, near) beautiful Morehead, KY. This was a 30 mile long Cat 2 Open race, which consisted of 2 laps on a mixed course, which included gravel road, some fire road, and single track. Word of warning...no photos from this race, at least none that I have found. So use your imagination. Or, you can watch the chaos with the Flyby feature on my Strava page for the race:

https://www.strava.com/activities/527676042

Aaron joined me for the trip south, and we arrived in Morehead in the waning hours of the evening before the race. We check into our hotel and then headed out to the course. Unfortunately, with light at a premium, we realized there would be no chance for a pre-ride. But we could drive part of the course. So off we went in Aaron's SUV up the first portion of the course which was a long gravel climb. Very long. Eventually the road took a hard left turn through some rocks....and continued on until it ended in a cul de sac, which was where the trail started. It was getting dark by now, so we turned back and navigated ourselves over a ridge line to Morehead itself for some dinner.

We chose Buffalo Wild Wings, along with the rest of the town. The place was jumping, with a nice mix of locals, out of towners, and at least two bachelorette parties. We sat down at the bar next to a gentleman who had already had too much to drink. He said he was from Lexington and he had come to Morehead because "the girls here are easy." No joke. After awhile, he sort of gave up and left. Apparently he was incorrect in his assessment of the women of Morehead, KY.

Anyway, back to the race. We woke up bright and early the next morning and got to the race venue. Problem was, there must have been some lack of communication with the guard at the gate to the campground where the registration was. He wouldn't' let us pass and said that someone better pay him for all the racers going through the the gate. We were then "detained" at a pull over spot near the gate along with several other racers... After a while,  someone with the race arrived and we were  able to proceed. After getting set up we decided to check out as much of the course as possible before the start gun.

As noted, the race started on a long gravel road section, with the start line being on an uphill. This was my third KPS race, and each has started on a climb. Not a flat stretch leading onto a climbs but actually on the hill. Anyway, the gravel road section was the first third of the race, followed by the single track and fire road second third, and then what appeared to be a screaming descent from the trail to the the main road through the park, which then lead back to the gravel climb. We decided to check out the steep final descent. Word was it could be a little dicey. We took off and immediately found a bit of mud, but once on the climb, things dried out. And boy was it a climb, keeping in mind that we would be going back down this back breaker of a hill. Keeping an eye on the clock, we decided to stop our climb before we reached the top. We stopped about 3/4 of the way up and headed back to the start/finish line.

So, we lined up at the base of the gravel climb, and off we went. Things were redlined immediately, and there were a few traffic issues. I was able to find this video from the start. Note the starting grade: 


I made steady progress on the climb and the pack spread out. I lost contact with Aaron along this stretch with him dropping behind me, Eventually the course turned and ended in the cup de sac we had seen the night before. This led to the first part of the single track, which was very rocky along the ridge line. This section was short, but we then crossed a section of dirt double track and dropped into a longer section of single track called the "Fingers." Take a look at the Strava track and these areas are pretty apparent.

This trail was fun with some technical sections, although there was also a few long sections of brand new trail which was very rough and in the need of more tires. Along this stretch Aaron began to catch up with me, along with another rider. He was still behind me when we popped out onto the double track, and rode this along the ridge line for a few miles before getting into more single track for a faster descent. Aaron had passed me at this point and as we raced downhill, we pass through a intersection. The trail we were on went straight while there was another trail which branched off to left. Aaron was out of sight ahead of me at this point but another rider had just passed me. He went straight, and so did I. I glanced to to the left at the other trail but there was no markings, so I followed the other racer. A few minutes and a very long descent later, we came out on the main park road....but it was not where Aaron and I had scouted earlier before the race.

A sinking feeling hit me and I realized we had gone off course. Several other racers, including Aaron were out on the road and started to ride it back towards the start/finish. I wasn't sure how this would be scored so I instead turned around, along with the rider I followed,  and started to go back up the hill I had just ridden down. And quite the hill it was....about a 350 foot climb. Along the way we collected quite a few more racers who had also gone straight at the intersection. No one was particularly thrilled with this detour, or with the lack of course markings, but at least they didn't have to ride all the way down the hill like I had.

Once back at the intersection I confirmed there were no markings. I also had to stop and tighten my front axle as it had come slightly loose during the last descent. With that done I bombed down the nasty descent Aaron and I had pre-ridden and crossed the time line to start my second lap. If only we had gone to the top of the climb during our pre-ride...we would have known which way to ride, even without the course markings, Oh well. 

The course ran along the main park road and back to the start line. I gabbed a new bottle and then started the loop again. I was mostly alone, although the rider I had followed down the wrong trail was around here and there. Near the top of the climb I passed a rider with a flat tire. I took my mini pump off of my bike and handed it off to him. Hopefully it would allow him to get going again. If I needed, at least I knew he was somewhere behind me.

Going off course had left me uncertain of where I was in the field. As the gravel road ended, we were to skip the finger sections and stick to the forest road. I forgot that and bombed onto the first section of single track. As I popped back onto the forest road, there was the rider who I had followed off course, I had been ahead of him by several minutes, but now he had caught up. He said something about not having to do the trail sections and we rode on. The rest of the race was rather uneventful.

There was much discussion about the unmarked turn on the course, and it appeared almost half of the field had made the wrong turn. Aaron and I were well down in the standings for Cat 2 Open due to the wrong turn. However,  some post game analysis and Strava Flyby showed that we would have likely been in the top 5 if not for the wrong turn. Aaron would have no doubt beat me down the final descent had we not missed the turn, but I think I would have reconnected with him on the main climb at the start of the first lap, and we would have kept ahead of the chasers. 

Still all speculation aside, the wrong turn really screwed with things. There was no penalty for those who stuck to the road versus did climb back up to the wrong turn. Further, the rider listed as the winner for cat 2 open was 14 minutes ahead of second place. His time looked strange, so I checked it out on Strava Flyby. It appeared he had some sort of mechanical and was stopped for almost 30 minutes before starting again.  He did two laps but came in behind everyone yet still was listed as the winner. I keep expecting the result to be updated but it never has been. Strange. 

Anyway, Cave Lake turned into one hell of a training ride, but it was also a lot of fun, The course was a nice mixture of gravel, trail and double track. Despite the problems, my fitness felt good, and I enjoyed the race. Hopefully they will continue with this venue next year. 













Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Let's Talk About A Race From Three Months Ago: Death March 2016

So far behind and so much water under the bridge....so time for a quick catch up! First up is the Death March. 

Despite the doom and gloom of the last post, training had been going along well, and I am feeling much stronger. I've had three races so far this year, the first two being the DINO Death March and the Kentucky Point Series XC race opener at Cave Lake Kentucky in late March.  Unfortunately, no Barry Roubaix this year as the race was pushed to mid April and did not work with my schedule.

So first, an overview of the Death March. As in the past two years, I partnered up with my Matthews Racing teammate Aaron for another round of questioning our sanity in the HNF.  Coming into this race, we both agreed we were not quite where we were last year in terms of fitness. (see prior post!) The best laid plans are often undone by the Indiana winter and real life responsibilities.

Nevertheless, we were still a go for the race. I did my usual detailed planning and based on the first three mandatories (Hawkins, Cornett and Lutes) and our reduced fitness levels and came up with the "Just The Basics Route" which would send us directly for the three mandatory, with detours as necessary depending on the other two required cemeteries which are pulled the day of the race. The name of the game was efficiency with a limit on our wide ranging excursions from last year.

Weather leading to race day was iffy, with some rain, although things dried out the day before. The day of was threatening rain in the afternoon but the morning appeared to be mostly dry.

Looking at the pre-regs, we could tell this year was going to be tough. Many of the contender men's division racers had either missed last year's race, had mechanical, or participated on co-ed teams so competition would be fierce.

Look how positive we are at the start line. Photo cred to Bryan Downs and his cool sunglasses. 
The final two cemeteries to be pulled were Thompson and Todd, both along the path of least resistance route we had planned. Our route called for us to first go south, cross Hwy 37, and grab Hawkins, which we did in good order. Unfortunately, the few short hills on the way there revealed holes in our fitness, and it began to rain as we returned to the the highway. This stuck with us as we climbed McPike Branch Road and picked up Hickory Cemetery en route. Our next stop was Callahan Cemetery, the only checkpoint only accessible by trail, but worth a 50 minute time bonus for your trouble.

And trouble we had. I had been to Callahan 4 or 5 years ago when I first did the Death March, but had approached it from a different direction. Our route for this year was taking us past where I had exited during that past race, but I was aiming for another trial farther down the road which also accessed the the cemetery but by a shorter route. I had figured the trail head we were looking for was .6 miles from a major intersection. .6 miles came and went and we didn't see anything. Instead we made two detours into campsites which had dead end trails associated with them. While standing in the bush at the second site trying to figure out where the hell the trail head was, we saw the World Bike Relief convoy roll by on the road below us, slow, and make a quick right turn into, the woods. Well shoot. If we had ridden another 300 feet, we would have found the trail. So we followed WBR, passed them, as they had stopped for a quick nature break, and continued down the muddy and slick trail to Callahan. two creek crossings, one endo (me, not Aaron), and a really steep climb later, we snagged Callahan and made our way out of the woods and back onto the road.

By this time the rain and stopped and the sun was out, and my arm warmers were no longer needed. We made quick work of Cornett and Hanner, and then skipped Gorbetts, choosing instead to climb over the Buffalo Pike Rad ridge to get to Houston, Indiana and the two cemeteries in that vicinity.

There was the option of going to Elletsville, but the prospect of fighting our way there was not appealing, and the legs were starting to have issues. We headed for the final stretch, which was the climb up Tower Ridge Road and the always fun climb up the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower for the 30 second bonus. After that we hightailed it towards Hwy 446 and the long downhill to the finish line.

Nature wasn't going to allow us to escape that easily and a steady rain began to fall as we rode down Hwy 446. Upon arrival back at the Midwest Trail Riders Camp, we found were back fairly early, but in a race with time bonuses, this is not a good thing. 

The Return. Where is the Yats!?!?
We ended up 21st in the men's duo division. Not where we were hoping, but the fitness wasn't quite there. From looking at the results, it appears we should have tried to nab the bonus for Gorbetts and Gil Gal, although our legs would have been toast after the additional riding needed to reach those two.  Elkinsville again provided a significant boost for those teams that attempted to get there. Again, not possible for us this year, but something to keep in mind for 2017. 

And this photo sums up the Death March 2016 experience (which was still very fun!): 

We are thrilled to be on top of this rickety metal structure which was built in the 1930's. Blurg.  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Stuff Has Been Happening, Although Very Little Of It Notable.

This blog has gone dark for quite some time. The reason? Well, not much was going on during the past 2 months. My training started off well in January, and I added a regimen of running for cross training purposes, and so I could accomplish a personal goal of running a 10k this year. 

The hiccup in all this was an eye surgery I had during the last week of January. An outpatient procedure on my right eye socket, which came with strict instructions to not engage in physical activity for the 10 days following the procedure and until my first post op visit. 


Insert pirate joke here. 
Maybe some would have disregarded this, but being a medical malpractice attorney, I tend to take doctor's instructions very seriously. So no riding. Once I got back on the horse, things seemed to go well enough, although the next two weekend involved significant out of town time, once in Chicago, and another, a ski trip to Michigan. Turns out I suck at skiing, but I did get some fatbiking in, along with snowshoeing. Unfortunately, that same weekend temps hit the 70's in Indianapolis, so everyone who I will eventually see at the start line later this year were getting huge miles, while I was not really doing that. 

Fatbiking in Michigan. 
More recently, my wife caught a cold/flu that has been making the rounds which has made her miserable for the past week. I don't usually get sick, but I must have caught some aspect of this, as I have just felt off, with some congestion and headaches. I have still been able to train and I completed a 8 mile running race last weekend and ran 4 miles last night, but training levels just don't seem to be that high. 

And, to cap things off, the Death March is just over a week away. My partner Aaron and I got 4th last year and we had hoped to repeat or better that performance. Unfortunately, due to my surgery downtime and quasi-sickness, and his busy business trip schedule, our joint Death March training schedule has suffered. Right now, the plan I have mapped out for next weekend is titled "Just the Basics" and only has us getting the mandatory checkpoints before beating a hasty retreat back to the finish line. We'll see how all that plays out. 

Now the good things...well, I met my goal of running a 10k already. As I mentioned, I did an 8 mile race last weekend and maintained a 7:56 pace. A bit more than a 10k so I can check that off my list. I'm now contemplating a half marathon. Not to say the 8 miles was easy, but if I had watched my pace, I could have gone farther. Whether the running will help with cycling remains to be seen. But, I feel like the runs are a good workout and it mixes things up a bit. 

Lastly, I got a new bike. 



It is a Specialized Epic World Cup Elite. Pure race bike which will be my ride during the DINO season. Since getting it last weekend I have spent 10 minutes riding it in the driveway, and several hours just staring at it wondering why I would ever want to get such a great looking bike dirty, 


Friday, December 25, 2015

Looking Ahead To 2016

As 2015 slowly whimpers to an end, I'm once again in a retrospective mood. Let's take a quick look back at the high, lows, and meh's of 2015.

Highs!

The year started off well with a one spot off the podium performance at the Sub 9 Death March. Considering the huge mechanical Aaron and I had right at the beginning in the form of Aaron's tire blowing off the rim, we managed a solid rally and likely would have been 2nd or 3rd if Aaron's tire had not been such a jerk. 

Things continued going well at the Barry Roubaix with a solid 5th place podium finish. Too bad it appears I will be missing this year's iteration. Have to aim for 2017.

In terms of pure mountain biking, I teamed up again with Aaron for the Tr-State 6 Hour Series at Versailles State Park. Not only did we manage a second place in the two man team competition, but the high drama of an extremely close race was very thrilling. Looking forward to doing more of these races next year!

Cyclocross went very well this year. Consistent top ten finishes in my Cat 4 races, which improved into several top 5 finishes as the season closed out gives me hope for next year when I can upgrade to Cat 3 and never see myself get within the top 40 again. And yes, I will continue to ride my mountain bike. Not giving in to peer pressure now.

Lows!

The Gravel Grovel. Nothing more needs to be said.

The Mustcatatuck DINO XC race has turned into my white whale. In 2014 I crashed badly, sheered my saddle off of my seat post and my body hit a tree. First ever DNF in a DINO race. This year, I was bonked before the race was even 10 seconds old and had nothing in the tank and struggled throughout. Breaking a chain on the last lap and running the last 2 miles in to the finish seemed like a fitting end to altogether shitty race.


Meh!

The DINO season as a whole was one big Meh. Cat 2 Open wave was a eye opener, as I expected it would be. I failed to podium for the first time in a DINO season (I'm not counting the 2nd place in the STXC race) and was never able to break into the top half of the wave, always lingering in mid- to back half of the field. I allowed muddy conditions to stymie my best chance of a podium at Potato Creek, and then my own stupid navigation error robbed me of a strong finish at Ferdinand. May not have been a podium, but it would have likely been a 4th place finish. I already mentioned the debacle at Muscatatuck. Certain issues have to be addressed prior to the next DINO season.


Which leads me to.....

THE PLAN FOR 2016!

2015 fell short in many areas. In terms of training, I tried a plan with more steady, longer miles and did little to no interval work. Part of this was a have fun while out riding and the fitness will come with the miles kind of attitude. While I lost weight doing the miles, and felt good generally endurance wise, I did not have the extra spark of intensity needed for a DINO race.

So, the plan for this year is to incorporate more interval/intensity training in addition to the normal base and endurance work. I'm taking most of December off (still riding to work, doing for fun rides) but come January 1, I will set into my plan for 2016. Nothing spectacular at first....standard base miles, still some cross training, as well as some high intensity work. If we ever get snow I'm hoping my base miles will be done on the fatbike. If not....may stick to the road and standard mountain bike. 

What I think will be different are the workouts after the weather gets nicer. When riding inside on the spin bike, I was forced to do high intensity/interval workouts by doing various Sufferfest workouts. I would also simulate hill repeats on the bike when I was watching non-Sufferfest content, such as recorded bike races, etc.

In 2015, once I got outside, I didn't really continue the intensity. I settled into doing my morning 18-20 mile loop before work, but those were fairly mellow rides. Further, I did very little hill work. A staple of my training in past years, I think I only had two or three days when I went out to specifically work on charging up hills.

For 2016, my morning rides around the city will likely continue, although I will identify certain areas for interval work, in addition to selecting days for hill work. Weekends will remain reserved for longer rides on the road and trail.

I would also like to participate in some CIBA group rides. There are several of these rides which start near my home from early spring on forward. While known for at times being dangerous (running signs etc.) these rides also have good training potential and it is always good to ride with people who are faster than you.

So....for training purposes, When January begins I will begin to work on maintaining a good base for cycling. I will also toss in some strength work (twice a week) and running, along with some swimming. The cross training will continue into February, at which point I will begin to increase intensity, particularly hill repeats in anticipation of the Death March on March 14.

Another important component in my plan of attack 2016 is my bike. I have been riding a Orbea Alma Hydro 29er for the past two seasons. This past year I joined Matthews Racing, which has a grass roots discount program which applies to Specialized bikes, including their Epic line (not S-Works). My plan is to order a new Specialized Epic (specifically an Epic Elite Carbon....hence the For Sale post from a few weeks ago) with the team order in early spring. I'm hoping for a push of speed due to the carbon frame, as well as some assistance on descents (traditionally my greatest weakness) from the full suspension.

In terms of races, I will try to focus on the DINO series again, as well as at least two of the Tri-State 6 hour races. There is movement afoot to set up a mid week short track race series. If that happens, I will definitely be there as well. Limiting factors right now are the two trials in April and May. These have the potential of really disrupting the training regimen, while also forcing me to miss the Barry Roubaix, and possibly missing the first DINO race at Winona and a race in northern Michigan called the Arcadia Grit and Gravel that I had hoped to race. I'm also looking into a possible race in northern Michigan in October called the Peak 2 Peak. We'll see how things in 2016 shake out. 







Monday, December 21, 2015

Gravel Grovel Race Report 2015: Gotta Tear The Band Aid Off Sometime

I described last year's Gravel Grovel as the hardest one I had raced up to that time. My 2014 self had no idea what was in store for this year's version and in all honesty, I had to force myself to write this post.

So to get the bad news out there at the beginning, I DNF'ed. Not the way I wanted this race to go, especially after the good result from last year, but it did. And here is how it went down.

As you can tell from the prior, pre-GG weather posts, there had been a lot of rain leading up to race. It rained all day Friday and all morning Saturday. I arrived at the venue about 40 minutes before race time and found a much smaller crowd than in past years. I had been watching the registration numbers leading up to race day and numbers were down. Registration closed with 208 participants. signed up for the 60 mile race. Of that, 120 riders finished, although no listing of DNF's was provided  but there appeared to be quite a few no show's due to the adverse weather conditions. Last year, 246 started while 190 finished.

The rain had dissipated and actually stopped at the start of the race. I had bought a new Endura rain jacket for the ride and also was wearing by Lake 303 boots. Wind proof and water proof, I also used a foot warmer just to ensure my feet stayed warm. I also had a spare set of gloves in my jersey pocket.

The start was the standard fast spin along broken pavement before the left turn onto the gravel. I moved myself forward to a position near the front and made sure to pace off of some other fast mountain bikers.  Once on gravel the pack I was in broke away from  the rest of the field and kept a good pace. The paved climb up Hunters Creek Road fractured the group a bit although it reformed at the top of the hill.

The conditions were wet with lots of muddy spray from the other riders. Wish more people used fenders in conditions like these.  Anyway, the pack rocketed down Tower Ridge Road, and I began to drop back a bit, because I was being a little cautious on the slick descent. I wasn't too worried. Still lots of off road sections and climbing ahead and I had gone out of the gate faster than what may have been good.

After the descent the course breaks off and takes a side road past Robertson Cemetery. This road is dicey. It is low and close to a creek and can be underwater after heavy rain (Like the Death March earlier this year). It wasn't underwater, but it did have tons of huge puddles and numerous pot holes. This slowed me down and helped me lose the lead pack. Just after getting onto Combs road I was caught by a group of four riders, including a few mountain bikes. I stuck with them heading into Combs, but things started going downhill. I was expecting it to be underwater, and from the get go, it was.

Water was flowing down the trail and I took some less than favorable lines through deep water and mud, while also passing multiple riders on cross bikes who had stopped for flat tires and other mechanicals. So far, my boots were keeping the water from the course at bay, I even recall thinking how warm and comfortable my feet were as we entered Combs Road. Famous last words...or thoughts. Or whatever.

Just before the stair step climb to the top of Combs was a large water crossing  which was so deep that as I pedaled through it, my boots were actually underwater. No the Lake 303's do very well in most circumstances.  They keep the cold and rain out, and handle splashes from puddles. But when fully submerged, even the Lakes say uncle. As I exited the crossing I could feel water seeping in from the tops of my boots. Feet were still warm but the water was there.,,

I continued on with the same group as we started the steepest part of the climb. I was surprised that the shitty trail to the top was actually still solid. Some slick spots, but mostly doable. Around halfway  up the climb the trail is split by a large washout trench, the result of heavy rains running down the hillside. The trail runs to the right of this 1 1/2 to 2 foot deep trench. As it turns out, I ended up in this ditch,

I was still riding up the climb when I hit a slightly off camber section of the trial which was slick with mud. My rear tire gave way and slid and I tried to clip out to stop my fall. Unfortunately, I was falling to the left....where the washout was. So clipping out was not going to help. And down I went. Hard.

For a slow speed up hill crash, I hit really hard and ended up with my head resting on the other side of the trench, most of my body in the washout, and the bike partially on the trail.

After figuring out nothing was broken, I started to run up the hill and remounted on one of the 'steps' on the climb and continued to the top and the descent from Combs. Which was just as wet and muddy as the first portion. Following Combs was last year's new section which followed the closed Blue Creek Road west of Elkinsville for a few miles. It was one of those lulls where you take stock of your status, and I realized that my left leg was hurting. As was my shoulder. My left side took the brunt of the fall into the rut on Combs. While the adrenaline of the moment had masked the pain initially, things were starting to come to the forefront.

 Included in Blue Creek Road was a steep climb which I was able to climb fairly well although the leg pain was progressively getting worse. The following old road bed/off road section was alternatively kind of dry or water covered. At one point my front wheel sank into what I had thought was a solid grassy patch but was instead thick mud. I ground to a halt and when I dismounted to get out of the mud pit, my boots sank almost to the their tops in the mud. Ugh. The last few hundred feet of Blue Creek Road was through a creek. Last year, this creek was mostly dry. During pre-riding, it was completely dry. On this day...it was full of water. My bottom bracket was fully submerged, and with each pedal stroke, my boots were completely under water. This did not help the cold feet situation, 

My moral was starting to suffer. Physically, I was hurting, and coming into the Nebo Ridge Trail head, my bike's chain was making an awful racket. I was hoping it could last until the SAG stop at the halfway point, but just as I came into the Nebo Trail parking lot, there was sickening grinding sound and my drive train locked up. I dismounted and found that my chain had some how doubled back over itself three times and was jammed into my front derailleur. A few minutes of cursing and tinkering revealed that several links were locked. Almost like they had been welded together, they were no longer moving. I had a small bottle of Pro Gold on me, so I lubed the bad links and a few minutes later was able to back the chain out of the derailleur and get things moving.

During this stop, I realized that my part in the competitive race was done.  My leg was starting to swell and was hurting badly anytime the road moved upwards. Plus, the mechanical was concerning and not like to be the last, and the cold had already taken care of my feet, and was leaching into my hands and the rest of my body. I could still finish, but last year's result would not be repeated. 

I pressed forward, hoping to at least finish and things went fairly well on Nebo, other than the pain in the leg, and the lesser pain in the shoulder. I kept up a steady pace and didn't crash on all the slickness. I was passed by a few other mountain bikes which ticked me off, but I wasn't in shape to chase. About halfway through Nebo, it began to rain. Nothing heavy, but steady. And while my jacket kept the rain out, the cold water on the outside of the jacket did a good job of finishing off the cold takeover of my body.

I exited Nebo and hit Barry Ride Road. I slowed briefly to take a gel, although I figured it was too late, and ran into Michael, a regular in the DINO Cat 2 ranks. He too seemed cold, but was doing better than I. He paused to eat, and while it would have been nice to ride with him, a that point I didn't want to stop until the SAG. 

But, as I rode down Berry Ridge, I began to take stock. My hands were blocks of ice (despite a glove change), as were my feet and lower legs. My boots still had water sloshing around. The cold had spread everywhere and I was beginning to shiver, even while pedaling at a steady speed. 

I called up the map of the area in my mind, and I knew I had a decision to make. Just before Houston Indiana, there is a fork in the road. Going straight, I will head towards the largest climbs of the day, namely Mount Baldy and the Buffalo Pike climb. Could I realistically finish the race as I was sitting right then? I was doubtful. Alternatively, if I turned right onto W. County Road 1000, I would end my race and cut off about 20 miles of course as I headed back past the Maumee intersection and up Tower Ridge and back to the start/finish. 

These options kept playing around in my head as I knew the miles were ticking down. In looking at the pro's and con's of both courses, one thought hit me. Was continuing on the smart thing? Was pushing on for a possibly epic, yet very low ranked and potentially health adverse finish, smart? Or was taking the right turn and getting my damaged self home asap the smart thing to do? 

I turned right and headed home. 

I was afraid I would look back on this and think, "You could have finished." But I haven't at all. I'm happy with my choice. Yes, many others, including some riders who I know are not as strong as I, finished that day. 

But sometimes you have bad days on the bike, days when things do not go as planned, and you are far from being 100%.  That is part of bike racing, and during these times, you have to be able to listen to your body, make smart decisions, and know when to fold'em. So I folded, got warm, recuperated, and am very much at peace with my decision to retreat from the field. There will be next year.