Friday, April 18, 2014

Hell Week

It is over.  I kept telling myself last week that time will pass and before you know it all this will be behind you.  What the heck am I talking about?  My own personal Hell Week......
It all started  two Sundays ago at the 2014 Ouachita Challenge.  This was to be my first big objective of the year.  Training leading up to it was lacking to say the least.  My last long ride/race was CIRREM. That was a personal hell in itself mainly due to lack of fitness.  This years Ouachita Challenge would turn out to be one of the hardest events ever for me to finish.
I always enjoy going down to Oden, AR to ride in this the event.  We usually get several Cow Town members to join in the fun.  This year Tim Greene did the tour and Jeff, Gerard, Tige and myself did the race on Sunday.  Tim had perfect weather for Saturdays tour.  As  you can see by the jackets, Sundays weather  sucked - 43 degrees and on/off rain for most of the event.  For those who dressed for the cold/wet it really was not that bad.  For those who dressed for speed (and for the rain stopping) like myself we ended up suffering and feeling like a freezing wet dog who has been run over and left on the side of the road to slowly and painfully succumb to death.  

As with most off-road endurance cycling, the race starts with a mass rolling start. I decided to start easy and before I knew it was as at the back of the large field.  Pacing yourself is very important and today's race would be near 6 hours long for me so I was not very concerned.  The only negative to the type of race plan is usually at the first technical section of trail there is a long back up.
Besides getting rained on and freezing at the start the first challenge at this years Ouachita Challenge is Blow Out Mountain and all those hills and slick rocks.  This section of rocks above is really not that bad, but there are hillier sections that are out of this world.  I had the pleasure of catching up with a group of riders that included one of the top women.  This young girl actually tried to ride those rocks while I got off and walked.  I was amazed by her bike handling skills seeing her balance and bounce her way from one rock to the next was cool.  It was also slow and hard on tires - she would end up getting a flat later on down the trail. 
Speaking of flat tires.  On Big Brushy and Blow Out I actually started to feel good and warmed up some due to the effort.  I was rolling along good and passing lots of riders.  For awhile I rode with Doug Long and Todd Fridley but Doug had a small crash and a mechanical and Todd was taking it real easy on the those slick rocks.  I started riding in a bigger gear and picking up the pace towards the end of Blow Out.  On one rocky section I went to pass a rider who did not make the section.  There was an alternate line and took it just like I had dozens of other times today. This time my front tire slid off a rock and sliced the sidewall.  Not much to do at this point but try and fix it.  I was really upset for a few minutes especially watching all the riders who I had just passed and left them behind pass me back. 

This year there was a new rule that no personal aid was allowed.  You had to use drop bags.  This took a lot of the fun out of the event for Carolynn.  She usually rides around to each stop and gets to see the event take place and offer me support if needed.  Oh how I wish she was at one of the later stops when it started raining and my core temps drop so much and my hands were frozen that I could barely keep my hands on the grips.  Hopefully they will allow spectators on the course at future events and bring back the good ole Ouachita Challenge that I remember.

I actually felt good by the time we reached the drop off bag location.  It had stopped raining, my energy level was good and the patch was holding up well after I repaired my tire.  I had also made up time on the road section after Blow Out mountain by hooking up with 5 other riders and forming a nice pace line. One of my drop bags had a rain jacket in it.  I made a huge mistake in not taking that jacket.  Not one hour later my body started to break down bad and combined with the 43 degree temps and rain I started on a slow and painful journey of misery.
How these two ladies are smiling is beyond me.  Maybe women are just tougher than men in general. 

This is more like it.  These male riders are about to cave in and are looking for any excuse to stop. I personally only stopped at the aid stations and when I did stop it was only to grab a quick source of food and some Heed.

The last two hours I kept thinking of this moment.  My entire body was frozen, my hands stopped working and I was shivering on the bike.  I could not shift and had to use my palms to change gears due to my fingers being frozen.  I can not remember ever having frozen hands this bad. Every time I saw a car or passed aid stations I wanted to quit and get into a warm vehicle.  I can not tell you how happy I was to see the finish.  My time of 6:49 sucked ass, but at least I finished.
Check out the guy photobombing me....I do not look that bad, but I felt miserable and very, very cold.  I was so happy to get some hot coffee and a slice of pizza. Oh and a very special thanks to Tim Greene for washing my bike and helping Carolynn load it up in the truck after I finished.
My hell week continued with the realization that I still have not completed my taxes. Not normally a big deal in itself, but with a large project at work (upgrading our wireless network) that is taking all my time and the fact that the 6th Annual Bone Bender Mountain Bike Challenge was in 6 days I started to get really stretched thin and very stressed.
On Wednesday I had to make time to head over to Clinton to finalize the course and to recon a possible rain course because the long term forecast did not look to good.  It also became apparent that we only had a handful of volunteers to help.  It is hard to keep asking the same people to help but in the end that is what happened and thankfully most of them were able to help out.

To make matters even worse the USA Cycling Regional Awards had not arrived by midweek.  Turns out they were not even sent yet.  An oversight at USA Cycling.  Thank God for overnight delivery.
The stress of event promotion is hard enough, but for mountain bike events around here is twice as bad due to the fact that most events are not held if it rains.  I personally always try and have a rain course to use just in case and hold the events,with trail coordinator permission of course, come rain or snow.  The last time we had to change the date of Bone Bender was back in 2009.  Rain a few days before the event caused us to push the event date out a couple of weeks.  This year it was the complete opposite.  Weather leading up to the weekend was great. The course was in awesome shape.  The only thing was Sundays weather was supposed to be 100% rain with thunderstorms.  We had a lot of out of town riders signed up to participate.  Some as far away as Minnesota.  Heck one participant was even flying back from South Africa to make our event.  Talk about pressure.

On Thursday morning at 3:12 am I awoke with what I thought was a brilliant idea.  Let's move the event up a day to Saturday.  Sure some people might not be able to make it, but at least we would have an event in good weather and keep everyone safe.   I discussed with Heather and we decided to do it if we could.  I had sent emails during the wee hours of the morning to all parties requesting to move the event up.  The big if was if the Clinton Lake State Park and USA Cycling would allow it.  By afternoon all parties had responded with a Yes.

We offered a full refund to anyone who could not make it.  To my surprise only three out of town people could not make it.  The remaining 29 were all local riders.  Luckily we got a fair amount of race day entries and ended up with a little over 150 riders.   The lowest turnout in Bone Bender history and I believe is a sign that Mountain Bike racing around here is in serious trouble.  On a day with perfect conditions and trails that could not get any better we only get 150 riders and a large portion of those are from out of town.  I do not know the solution and I am beginning to think I might be part of the problem.  All I know is my Hell Weeks are over.   Looks like someone or some group needs to step up and  take over off-road racing in this area.  Other area events are getting over 200 riders per event so I know the demand is there. Hopefully this new group will also have a good base of volunteers/staff to run these events because I do know nothing happens by itself.  It may look easy, but a lot of hard work and hours go into promoting an event. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

God's Country Report

The off-road season around here has started in earnest.  Plenty of events to satisfy most fat tire lovers.
The God's Country Fat Tire Festival got things started.  By the looks of the full transition off-road multi-sport could have a future. A record number of entries for the 12th annual event.  A small amount of snow fell the night before the big event but this did not stop most from coming out and taking on the challenge. 
I was actually very surprised at the turnout for the mornings off-road duathlon.  Last year we had snow before the MTB race and turnout was only about 30% of normal.   Runners are hard core.
The run course was changed up a little and routed separately to keep them off the bike course for the second run.  Basically it was 1 mile of single track and 1 mile of levee.  I would have liked 100% single track, but I think it worked out o.k.

Course conditions for the cycling legs were awesome for the all the short course racers.  Some said it was a little icy in sections.  I was very bummed that I could not race.  I love those type of conditions.  I just wish there were more events held during the winter and early spring, especially multi-sport events like off-road duathlon.  

 Art King enjoys the rewards of the day........A big Thank You to the Lawrence Mountain Bike Club and all the volunteers that came out the week prior to the event to help restore the trails. 

How I wanted to earn a bottle of champagne.  Duties prevented that, but plenty of others got to take home some cool awards.  I always struggle to try and come up with prizes/awards.  Hopefully those that did earn an award liked them. 
I did not think we would need sides on the tent, but mother nature proved me wrong once again.  It was very cold on race morning and having a heated area for signup was a life saver for our signup crew.  Thank you to Roger Harrison for the heat once again.

Hopefully no one needed to visit Cliff Jones and the Lawrence Mountain Bike Patrol on this day.

 The big winners of the day.  Renee Thierry won the overall long course in 2:25 and Tige Lamb back on top with a 1:55.

The second event of our fat tire festival was the mountain bike time trial.  After last years poor turnout for the traditional cross country race I was not even going to have a MTB race.  There was just not enough resources nor volunteers for a two day event.  I then thought of what type of event we could have after the duathlon.  The only two events that I could think of was a short track or time trial.  I decided on the TT mainly because I like racing against the clock and the other is we could crown the King and Queen of the Lawrence River trails.  Forget all the Strava crap, the "Race of Truth" is the only way to find out your best time. 
I only expected about 50 riders to signup for the TT.  To my disbelief we actually had 126 register.  Due to the snow in the morning, cold temps and some duathletes who decided they would not try to double up,  we ended up 99 finishers in the mountain bike time trial.  After some hard negotiation on my part we ended up with sending riders off in 30 second intervals.  Overall I think the format worked out well. 
The Kings and Queen of the Lawrence River Trails.  Garet Steinmetz laid down the fastest time of the day covering the entire 10 mile Lawrence River Trail system (with new sand section) in 35:24.  That is a super fast time my friends and is the new official record time on the LRT.  Jason Knight took second in 37:55 and Kent McNeil made the trip down from Nebraska pay off with third place in 38:00.  The Queen of the LRT is non other than Karen Brocket in a time of 47:25.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Collins Report - A Real Ass Kicker

Another season of off-road racing began yesterday with round #1 of the 2014 Forward Motion Hare Scrambles Series.  Location was Eagle Ranch in Collins, MO.  This course is tough.  Rocky as hell with several very steep climbs.  Rain/sleet the day before did not help conditions.  Crashes were common place. A quote from another rider describing the course "Did someone dynamite the first 4 miles of track, or was that just a sick gift from Mother Nature?"
This winter just never seems to end.  It was no different on Sunday.  Temps in the morning were in the 20's.  Poor Carolynn and Karry froze their butts off.  At least Jason, Christopher and I got to get our heart rates up and stayed warm while pre-riding the course.
For 2014 I moved up to the Vet Advanced 35+ class.  This class might be a little bit of a stretch for me but time will tell.  I might be a little old for the class and the pace is a lot faster than I might want to go.  In any event,  things got off to a great start with me grabbing my first holeshot of 2014.  I led for the first 2 miles including all the really rocky stuff.   The rocky slick sections gave me fits, but I tried to focus on taking good lines.  Sometimes taking the good line was not possible.  On the first lap at one of the steep rocky/rooty climbs the good line was taken by a fallen rider.  I took what I thought was the next best option - it was not.  Ended up going down hard.  It sucks crashing out, but doing it while leading hurts the worst.
Christopher moved up to the Sportsman class for 2014.   I actually was not going to let him race this year.  I told him at the beginning of the year that if he did not train and apply himself I was not going to let him race.  Racing is just too dangerous to not be at the top of your game.  He got a late start on training, but has done very well the past couple of weeks.  It showed on Sunday with a great start.

Jason will continue to ride in the Trail Rider class for 2014.  He used the power of the KX450 to his advantage at the start.  The big bore bike may have been a little disadvantage on such a rocky technical course.  Good thing he got the Recluse clutch like I suggested. 

After my little mishap I started to chase the pack down.  I was not really making much progress and any that I was making came to a stop at a steep rocky.  I think this hill is called Hank Hill.  It was a real bastard of a climb. Riders were crashed everywhere  Only a couple of good lines with large slick  covered rocks everywhere. I decided to follow another rider up the left hand side.  That turned out to be a very costly mistake.  He crashed and ended up sliding out into me as I tried to ride by.  I tried to get going again but all I did was spin my rear wheel in a foot deep crevices.  I tried everything I could think and even pulled my bike back and tried to ghost ride the bike up the hill.  After several minutes of trying to pull my 250 pound mud covered bike up the hill I resolved to give up. It was totally depressing watching rider after rider go by.   I was totally whipped and my arms were dead. I pulled my bike back down the hill a few feet with a plan of riding back down the hill.  I decided to try one last time to make it up.  This time I picked a new line to the far left.  Thank God for electric start.  I would have still been there if I would have had to use a kick starter.  I mustered up enough strentgh to make it to the top and proceed on. At this point my race was over. 
Christopher was having a much better race than I.  Above he is leading eventual 2nd place finisher Shawn Chappell.   I guess my little talk I had with him a couple of weeks ago really lit a fire under his ass.  He was riding very well during the first lap. 

Jason working his way through one of the creek crossings.  Most of the crossings had a rocky base, and two of them got really bad.  Some foot peg deep sections. Jason ended up doing very well and earned 5th place which is his best finish yet.  Looks like riding at Chadwick has paid off.

During the 2nd lap Christopher continued to ride well and actually caught and passed me.  That is correct.  I got beat by my son. Sure I had some mishaps, but most everyone did. When he passed me I was actually in shock.  Was he riding that well or was I just riding like a candy ass?  I picked up the pace and caught back up to him and sure enough he was passing other riders.  I followed him by a few of the riders, but then when we reached the start of lap 3 and returned to the really slick rocky sections of the course, he left me.  Straight up left me.
I finally found a good line up Hank Hill and when I reached it on lap 3 I saw that Christopher
had gotten stuck in about the same place that I did.  He was lucky because by then there were course workers helping everyone get up. Where the heck were those guys when I got stuck????  I was going to stop and help him, but decide to let him get up by himself.  I set off and actually started passing riders on the last lap.  The last 5 miles I rode well and it ended up being my fasted lap of the day. 
 Christopher tried hard to catch back up to me after his mishap on Hank Hill, but time ran out. He still beat me on overall adjusted time.  He finished in 1:59:49 and I came in 2:02:11.  I knew this time would come eventually, but not for several more years.  Basically I got my ass kicked by a kid that could hardly ride just two years ago.  What I would give to be 18 again....
After Christopher's crash his bike was down on power.  Turns out he bent his header pipe in 3 places. 

Last year Christopher started off the season with bloody blisters.  This year only a couple of small ones.
Karry Schupp make us all some post event snacks.  I needed something to console me after a horrible event and those peanut butter cream cupcakes did the trick.
Christopher took home 3rd place on the day.  A very good result in his first race as a Sportsman, especially on such a tough course. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

2014 CIRREM Report

My 2014 race season began yesterday with the annual CIRREM gravel race.  This 100K gravel road race has become very popular.  It usually sells out in a few minutes when registration opens.  Why is it so popular?  Why do people what to ride their bikes on hilly ass gravel roads that during this time of year can be frozen, slick as owl shit and so muddy that it take a small part of your sole to drag your bike up them?  The answer can be found below.

Truth be told I did not really want to make the 3 hour drive up to Cumming, Iowa for the race. My longest ride so far this year was only 45 miles and that was in friendly gravel grinding conditions. The area got a few inches of snow during the week.  Most of it was either packed down frozen or quickly becoming a muddy energy sapping nightmare. 

Bike setup and gear choice is always hard to do on days like this.  I wanted to ride my Single Speed, but the bottom bracket was all frozen up on it and needed replacing. Should I bring my old MTB with disc brakes?  Would I need the tire clearance?  How muddy was it going to get?  Would we get lucky and the temps stay cold enough to keep the ground frozen?  I decided to ride the Ritchey Swiss Cross.  I knew it was going to get a little muddy and wanted to test the bike in some adverse conditions.  I did not dream the conditions would deteriorate so much out on course. I am glad I rocked the Komando 700 x 32 tires instead of larger tires.  The added frame clearance helped. 
If you had a good pair of legs and could climb today your old challenge was how to deal with all the mud and spray.   The leaders were rocking the course. It was like they were just floating on top of the mud.

 Early on I got into a group with about 6 riders.   I tried to stay out of the wind as much as possible and save energy.  The problem with following riders was the mud spraying in your face.  My glasses were covered after the first hour.  I know first hand what damage gravel and dirt can do to eyes so I tried my best to keep them on. 

The check point offered a chance to refuel, fill up those empty water bottles and have a beer.  I want to know where the bacon is?  The Dakota 50 has bacon and bear.  Is that the best combination or what?
I arrived at the check point ready to call it a day.  My legs were already tired, I could not see out of my glasses due to the mud and my back was starting to hurt.  Carolynn said I was doing great and looked good.  I personally thought I looked liked hell.  I sure as heck felt like hell. 
I started to eat some and drank an entire water bottle. I had drank two full bottles and was started to get some leg cramps.  I cleaned out my frozen gears an and decided to keep going.  I knew if I quit I would be very disappointed with myself. How much worse could it get?

I rolled out from the check point with clean shifting bike, three water bottles and a new attitude. 
What does a wife do while her husband is suffering like dog?  Mine goes to sample the local Moon Shine.  Here I thought you were all worried about me.
Conditions really deteriorated especially on the hills where the sun shined on them.   The flats were really not bad.  Those bastard climbs were a different story. Trying to find the best line, one that would not cause your tires to sink down in the peanut butter mud, was very hard.  Usually it was best to ride in the wet mud.  If you got in sections that were drying out it collected on your wheels and you soon stopped rolling.  On some of the climbs I actually thought I was going to snap a chain.  

The last 25 miles I had no rear brakes.  This is not always a bad thing.  When you are flying down a frozen road the last thing you want to do is hit the brakes.  If I was with a group of riders I always made sure I was in the front if it was shaded which normally meant it would be frozen.  I lost the front brakes a few times but reached down with my water bottle and beat off the frozen mud off.  This worked to a degree.  Riders with disc brakes had the best set-up for sure.  If you had the legs to climb I think a single speed would have worked well also.  I only had three gears that would work anyways :-)

The last 10 miles was a suffer fest.  I started getting very cold and was out of water and food.  Not a good thing.  Not really much you can do other than keep pedaling.

I rolled into the finish line a happy to have finished.  I passed many riders that had given up or their  bikes had broken.  On one climb I bridged up to 3 riders who had just made it up the very muddy hill.  At the top they stopped and put their heads down on their hand bars.  I waved as I passed and wanted to say to keep going because if you stop you may just not get going again.  Endurance racing has a large mental part to it.  It is easy to quit.  That is one reason I felt so good about today.  I pushed past my current physical ability, powered through all that thick mud, used every muscle I had to make my bike keep rolling. Those last two miles worth it. Lately my mental attitude has not been the best.  Pushing past the pain and suffering through tough times does a lot for you. 
Results got posted.  Some interesting results.  I rolled into the first check point at 2:05. The last 2 times I participated in CIRREM I rolled that same check point in 2:05 and 2:08.  This year I lost over and hour on the back side of the course.  My best finish was 4:20.  This year it was 5:19.   Mostly due to conditions but it just shows how important conditioning is.  You can fake short events but once you get past the 3 hour range fitness really stands out.  Looks like I need some more saddle time.