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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Never Say Die

The Stats:
  • 44.5 Miles
  • 6667' of Elevation Gain
  • 1st-Place Singlespeed, 9th Overall
  • 3:51:45 to the finish.

I had to dig deep to pull off the win yesterday, possibly deeper than I've ever gone, and had a Brand-New Experience to boot.

The event was the Draper Fall Classic 50-miler, the final race in the Utah State Championship Series, and once again I just happened to be in Salt Lake City so why not give it a go?  (The Alpine XCO from earlier in the season is part of the same series, and I happened to be in SLC for that one as well.)  Erica's whole family congregated in Salt Lake this weekend for her grandmother's 95th birthday celebration (happy birthday Bubbi!) and they were kind enough to give me a hall-pass for the race.

It was good to see friendly faces in the parking lot before the race, including Corey Larrabee who would be racing on his backyard trails.  After a couple of years of racing against eachother we've developed a great competitive camaraderie.  He's wicked strong and has a good head for racing, so I knew this was going to be a fun 50 miles of chasing him around the course.

The race started in waves with the Pro Men first, followed by the Pro Women, and then two Expert Men's waves before the singlespeeders finally got onto the course.  As expected, Corey led into the singletrack and kept the pace hot for the first couple of miles until we started catching racers from previous waves.

That broke up the flow until the course turned up a dirt road climb and there was ample room to pass.  It was a little horrifying seeing the mass of racers who would end up ahead of us on the next stretch of singletrack if we didn't start cranking, so I made my day's first foray into the red zone and sent my heartrate through the roof in a passing frenzy.  I expected Corey to come with me, but when I turned into the singletrack I was all alone with a mostly clear course ahead.

That gave me some confidence; if I was able to keep my lead on the climbs I might be able to hold Corey off on the descents to stay in the lead.  (Corey came blazing by me on the long descent into Park City at the Point2Point; he's clearly faster on the downhills.)  So I stayed hard on the throttle as the course climbed up and up, accepting that I was going to pay for it later on.

But then Corey blazed by me again on a long, exposed, kitty-litter descent.  Dammit!  He led the rest of the lap and was out of sight when I rolled out for lap two.

I began to have serious doubts about getting the win when we got further and further into the second lap's climbs and he was still out of sight.  I knew that I would need to open a lead before we started descending again if I had any hope of staying out front, but I just wasn't catching him!

I started contemplating that I might have to accept not winning my final race of the season, until I looked down at my toptube...

...and remembered the words of my friend JayP, "No negative thoughts."  Don't let yourself get dragged down and lose motivation with self-destructive thinking.  Just know that you're strong enough, and getting stronger by challenging yourself, and get it done.

So with that wave of inspiration I cranked up another surge and found Corey just after starting some fun, twisty-turny singletrack in the forest.  He let me pass and I just pinned it, heartrate soaring, legs throbbing, and willed myself up to the top of the course.

Starting out the rolling singletrack to the big descent I risked a glance back and saw empty trail behind me, and knew that I at least had a chance.  So I kept a light touch on the brakes, accepted a modicum of beyond-control, and chanted my own mantra, "Focus forward."  Don't worry about who is behind you; all you can do is race your best race and let everybody else race theirs.  Stay focused on propelling yourself to the finish, as fast as you can.

The downhill flew by, miraculously I stayed all alone, and then I had the Brand-New Experience on the Clark Trail climb.

Cyclists dread the mythical (inevitable?) event of "cracking".  We refer to it as "the wheels came off" and "the bottom dropped out" but before that Clark Trail climb it had never happened to me.  I had caught one of the Pro-division geared riders and went to make a pass on a wide stretch of trail, and much to my surprise discovered that         I                         just                                couldn't                                   do     it.

For the first time in my racing career I couldn't make the surge.

EVERYTHING was cramping, and gravity inexplicably doubled.  Each turn of the cranks was a willed event.  Just staying on my bike was a matter of will.  Lying down and crying seemed like a reasonable option.  I was doubled over, only able to focus on one pedal-stroke at a time while my vision alternated between being excessively bright and dimming out.  We were 39 miles into a 45-ish mile race and I had just cracked.

It felt like eternity before I reached the top of the climb (in reality only about 10 minutes,) and when I finally turned down the pump-and-jump descent to finish the race I was fatigued beyond the point of relief.

I did my best to stay off the brakes and on the trail, and thankfully after a few minutes my brain and body kicked in again and I remembered how to have fun on a bike.  Soaring down that few miles of trail was ridiculous fun, mixed with some niggling anxiety about being caught by Corey, and then there was the pitch-black tunnel to the finish loop and I was still in the lead and I felt elated and awful all at the same time.

Riding up the final pavement climb, trying to put in a strong finish, was agony.  Quads in full-cramp, body empty of energy, stoked on a winning end to the season but really just wanting to collapse off my bike.  And then Erica and Rue and Aunt Martha were there cheering me across the line, and I was done.  Spent.

Corey finished strong a couple of minutes later, continuing our trend of pushing eachother to give it all and win by a slim margin.  Over bottles of chocolate milk (brilliance on the part of race director Bob Saffell) we told stories of the race until Erica warned me that I had better get moving to re-join the weekend's family celebration.

Hall-pass rescinded, I said good-bye to Corey and the rest of the crew, thanked Bob for a rad event, and called it a solid finish to my 2013 racing season.  I love this sport.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fools On Wheels

The Stats:
  • 96 Miles or 102 Miles (depending on whether you believe Garmin Connect or Strava.)
  • 12,500' of climbing
  • 1st-Place Singlespeed, 3rd Overall
  • 8:19:08 to the finish

The 2013 NUE Series came to a bittersweet ending at the Fool’s Gold 100 in Dahlonega, GA.  I was amazed by the riding in north Georgia, and astounded at the lengths people will go to in sabotaging a mountain bike race.  What the hell?  It's hard enough to stay upright on a bike in these races, let alone deal with goons taking us miles off-course.  Aargh.

In the mix at the start line.
Photo: Erica Linnell

My body was slow getting started on the neutral spin away from the Montaluce Winery and the early stages of forest service road, which allowed Gerry Pflug to get a pretty good gap on me by the time we started the Cooper Gap climb.  Thankfully that was when things started flowing and my legs woke up, so I was able to reel in Gerry and Drew Edsall just before the top of the climb and ride with them over to a key turn in the course where the course markings had been sabotaged.  When we saw the arrows pointing right we all said, "Aren't we supposed to go left here?" but then we saw pink course-marking ribbons continuing down the righthand fork and that was that.

Those guys opened up another gap on me descending the forest service road there; not sure what was going on, but somehow gravity provided them with more downhill momentum than me.  Maybe they’re riding faster-rolling tires?  Maybe my bigger body catches more wind?  Maybe I’m just a big sissy?  (Golf-ball gravel is scary!)  Either way, by the time my Garmin had beeped at me enough to make me seriously question our course direction, they were too far ahead for me to communicate with them.

Trusting a Garmin while riding in the forest is always a little weird; with the tree-cover the satellite signal comes and goes enough that the GPS beeps “Off-Course!” with some frequency.  So it took me a long while to believe that I was actually miles away from the course, and turn back.

A couple of geared riders joined me there and we dicked around trying to decide what to do, ultimately continuing even further down until we reached a fish farm and finally accepted that we were hosed.  (The GPX file shows that we descended about 5 miles and 800’--brutal.)  We picked up a few riders, then more riders, and more riders as we climbed back out of there (including the entire singlespeed field) ultimately accumulating a pack of 30 or 40 lycra-clad, cursing cyclists.

I gapped off the front with a geared rider named Josh Fix (who would take 2nd in the Men's Open), pulling eachother back up to the course and back into the race.  After that, the rest of the race was awesome, other than running short on water before reaching Erica and my first re-supply at the Bottom-of-Bull.  I rode with a couple of 50-mile singlespeeders for 15 miles or so before pulling away on the first Bull Mountain climb, and they were the last singlespeeders I saw.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur--I kept spinning and spinning and working and working, and the miles went by and it got hot and humid and my body hurt and I loved it.  Michael Danish passed me at the mid-course aide station after leading the race down the wrong turn (riding a couple of miles beyond where I turned back) and raced to the overall win, finishing 13 minutes ahead of me.  Pretty impressive.

When I came through the Bull Mountain aide for the last time Erica told me that Gerry had dropped out of the race once he realized how much time he had lost in the wrong turn with the lead group--that was a bummer.  I felt badly for Gerry and was super disappointed that our opportunity to finish the season head-to-head was gone.  Aargh.

Rolling into the Bull Mountain aide.
Photo: Erica Linnell

But Erica also told me that Ernesto Marenchin was only 5 or 6 minutes back!  Rallying the last 15 miles to maintain my lead was some of the biggest, and most painful, fun I've had on a mountain bike in a long time.  I'm discovering that I really like riding the margin of control--bobbing, weaving, pumping, pushing, cranking, sweeping, one-wheel drifting, two-wheel drifting, pedal-pedal-pedal, stay off the brakes, push through the corner, float those roots, momentum is your friend, whoa that was close!

Mountain biking is fun!  Enough to forget about the heat and cramping.

The cruelty of an uphill grass finish.
Photo: Erica Linnell

And then it was a cruel uphill finish on grass to the end of a solid NUE season.  Bittersweet, but good.  I managed to hold my lead over Ernesto and Dwayne Goscinski to take the singlespeed win, but when it comes down to it I had a great race in Georgia and was one chip-timed minute away from competing for the overall series singlespeed win. 

Photo: Erica Linnell 

That stings a little bit.

It was also frustrating how much the sabotaged course markings altered the outcome of the race--I really wanted to see how Gerry and I would end up competing with eachother.  Next year...

Sharing stories with Ernesto Marenchin and Dwayne Goscinski--they finished 2nd- and 3rd-place singlespeeders respectively, only 5 seconds apart!  We three ended up finishing in the top 5 overall, on singlespeeds!  First time in an NUE race that SS'ers took 3 of the top 5 spots?
Photo: Erica Linnell

I gained some good experience and learning out of this race, and some confidence:

I learned that I am indeed capable of racing well after flying to the East Coast.  (After last year's Hampshire 100 debacle, I wasn't so sure.)

Proud to share the podium with these guys after a tough race.
Photo: Erica Linnell

I also learned, or was reminded, that I can produce strong performances on back-to-back weekends.  After going hard at the Point2Point I was happy that I felt good racing the Fool's Gold.

And I learned that I actually am able to race on twisty, turny, root-strewn trails unlike anything we have in the West.

This podium too--for the series.  Gerry took home a sweet poster of himself at the True Grit 100, and a free entry into La Ruta!  Looking forward to getting back out there with these guys next year.
Photo: Erica Linnell

So that feels good.

But the real hero story of the weekend isn't even mine; after losing her driver's license and missing her flight Erica arrived in Dahlonega at 1:30am on Saturday, slept 3 hours, and rallied to support me all day at the race!  How did I get so lucky?!  (How did she pull that off?!)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Curse of the Park City Point 2 Point

The Stats:
  • ~75 Miles
  • ~14,000' of climbing
  • 2nd-Place Singlespeed, 13th Overall
  • 7:04:49 to the finish.

I'm not really sure what to think about this year's Park City Point2Point--still shocked by the outcome.  But let's get to that later...

I loved the racing at this year's P2P--I felt strong throughout and REALLY enjoyed the riding; Jay and Shannon have built a truly amazing course--they nailed it this year!

When the potato gun went off and we charged onto the bike path, I stayed focused on just riding with the pack and staying upright; the 2 miles of pavement was the most chaotic "peloton" that I've ever been in.  Riders weaving in and out, cutting eachother off, slamming on the brakes and skidding to avoid hitting somebody ahead--it was nuts.  Big relief to get on dirt and focus on riding my race rather than avoiding everybody else's race.

After the Round Valley warm-up, the P2P is defined by long climbs and LONG descents, and lots and lots of singletrack.  Rare opportunities to relax the brain or body as you're either hammering uphill or hammering downhill, focused on staying on the trail and working the terrain.

Rolling into the Deer Valley aide station.

Without a doubt the highlight of the day was soaring down Corvair after exiting the Flagstaff Loop.   That trail should be named Carve-Air; it's a romping downhill full of fast, banked turns and air-inducing rollers through dense forest.  Some of the biggest fun I've had on a bike.

The Camelbak hand-off.  Erica has this maneuver dialed.
Photo: Sarah Hamilton

I had left Round Valley in the lead for the singlespeeders, with no other SS riders in sight, so I decided to temper my pace through the Deer Valley aide station and over to Park City, wanting to save some legs for racing at the Fool's Gold next weekend--that was my tactical error.  Every race is a race, and if I want to win I have to compete like I want to win.  Should have stayed on the throttle throughout.  I mean, I was certainly racing out there--it's just that now I'm kicking myself for not pushing harder early-on.

Leaving the Park City aide with a fresh Camelbak and a nylon stocking of ice on my neck.
Photo: Sarah Hamilton

In any case, when Corey Larrabee caught me on the descent into Park City I was caught completely off-guard; where the hell did he come from?!  So when we left the PC aide and started up the bastard climb to the Armstrong Trail I knew I was going to have to pin it up Armstrong and try to open a gap before the final descent.  Corey was spinning well but I managed to pull ahead just a bit and maintain a tiny gap.  I dug SUPER deep to stay out ahead--one of the harder racing efforts I've put out in one of these events--and at every switchback Corey would still be there, 30 seconds back, 45 seconds back.

It was infuriating.

When the trail turned down I opened the throttle as wide as I could, staying off the brakes and riding the margin of control to stay out front.  The final climb up Ambush was the kick-in-the-nuts that it always is, and then back on the edge of control down to the finish.  Corey rolled in about a minute later with a bloody knee and mangled front wheel.  (He rode beyond the edge of control.)  Damn close finish!

Almost done! Nearing the end of the final descent, with Corey in the background.


I guess she takes after me...

I was way stoked to have held my lead and stayed in contention for the NUE Series SS championship, so it was crushing to check the results board an hour later and discover that because Corey started in a wave 2 minutes behind me he had completed the course a minute faster and thus was the actual winner.  Brutal.  Seemed like everybody was a little surprised by that outcome--an unexpected side-effect of chip-timing, and a hard one to accommodate for.  How do you race head-to-head if you're not sure when you started relative to eachother?

As it turns out, Corey technically started in the correct wave; the way it's broken down, the Pro/Open Men start first, followed by the Pro/Open Women, then a self-estimated 7-hour finish time wave (where Corey started), 8-hour wave, 9-hour wave...  I'm accustomed to the singlespeeds being grouped with the Pro/Open division, so when I saw a handful of other singlespeeders in with the Pro/Open field I made an assumption...  Turns out that Jay wanted us mixed in with the finish-time groups. 

Disappointed, but stoked to watch for friends finishing up a hard race.

So there it is--the Point2Point gets me again.  Disappointed?  Yes.  It's hard to see a season's effort at competing for the NUE Series go south by one minute in the weirdness of chip-timing.

But fuck it.  I'm going to the
Fools' Gold anyway to see how I can compete against the singlespeed field at the championship event.

Here's to riding fast and racing hard...