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.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lost Athletic Goals

 After Saturday's Sweetlove Gravel Grinder I spent the rest of the weekend cleaning up the garage and getting our bikes ready for our trip to Bella Vista, AR.  I found a few old items including the below water bottles.  They reminded me of some of the crazy stuff I used to dream about doing.  Some I was fortunate to achieve but most lost.

The Western States Endurance Run. A 100 trail race in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  I somehow caught this trail running bug back in 1992. It was around the same time that I started doing all these insanely long rides and runs.  Not to mention a few Ironman Triathlons.  I worked my way up to 50 mile trail runs, but never did make it to Western States.  That is one goal I am glad I lost.  One thing I was never good at is running.  Then again most slow runners do make great Ultra marathon runners.

Over 30 years ago I had some big athletic goals.  I actually believed that I had the skills to become a professional motocross racers.  I did have some talent and was crazy enough as a young man, maybe too crazy and sustained some serious injuries. It took me many, many years to ride that fine line between going extremely fast and crashing.

I can remember racing with my brothers like it was yesterday. We all did some stupid insane stuff.  I am not talking about having race numbers #911 and #666.  What that heck were we thinking?

I wish I had pictures of some of the things we used to do as kids.  I found this gem when I had this great idea to become a dare devil. That was my big goal back in 1980. I failed at that.  No one wants to see a kid jump a Kubota tractor.
That is me in 4th position.  Keeping up front in a road race in Tampa, FL.  My road racing career was hit and miss.  I got into it really heavy for a few years.  Won a handful of races.  I think if I had stayed single I would have continued up through the ranks.
It is kind of sad to think of all the goals you have had over the years.  Most are never reached - with me they were lost to injuries, lack of support and some really bad luck (if I just had tubeless tires when I raced mountain bikes seriously).  Some goals kind of just faded away slowly.
 You keep trying to reach them but most of the time seem to painfully fall just short of reaching them.   The one thing that keeps me going is that every once in awhile you reach your goals. You have that perfect day. I am hoping in 2014 I can have a few of those days.

I only bring all this up because this may be my last year of racing.  Christopher is all grown up and has lost interest in riding all together.  Carolynn and Christopher have both competed with me over the years.  It has been one of the things we have done together.  Carolynn still really enjoys riding but racing not so much.  She would like to do a triathlon and maybe an adventure race but it would be more for a personal challenge.

Back to goals.  I really do not have many this year.  Many are just completion type goals.  For example I want to finish the Ouachita Challenge and I want to finish a tandem cycling tour with Carolynn.  If my summer goes well I may just line up for  season of cyclocross this year.  Next year in cross I will be racing with the 50+ guys.  Damn I feel really really old.  Maybe it is time to give all this racing stuff.  But then again they say your racing career starts over once you hit 50 :-)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Changes to God's Country and Bone Bender

I sit here on this Sunday morning working.  Little bit of everything.  I usually have my year all planned out by now, but this year I have really been contemplating several changes and I am behind. Most of these changes are in what I do for fun which is usually outside riding - bicycles, gravel, motorcycles, single track, snow, etc. It doesn't matter what form, I enjoy it all.  As you know one of my biggest passions has always been racing.  You need people to put on these races and this is why I have been promoting races for over 12 years now.  There are only a few that will actually step up and make an event happen.   I mostly do it to give back to the sports I love.

The first change would be to one of the first events I ever helped promote - God's Country.   Gerard and I put on the first God's Country Off-Road Duathlon in 2001.  The turnout was very low.  This was most likely due to the torrential storms the night before and that the course was very technical since it was at Clinton Lake.
 Back then I knew a change in location was required for this event to succeed.  We moved the event to its current home of the Lawrence River Trails.  Long and Short course options were also added.  These changes proved to be very successful with nearly 225 participants in 2002. To this day Anita will still not help with race day registration due to all the people we had signup on race morning.

A couple of years ago we changed the name of our event to God's Country Fat Tire Festival.  The plan was a weekend of fun with several events.  Last years duathlon was again a success, but the cross country race was not very well attended as in previous years.   Was it due to lack of demand for those type of events?  Is March too early for a traditional cross country race?  One very important thing that must be present for an event to succeed is passion for that type of racing.  Luckily there were riders with passion that did come out last year and this is the only reason I am continuing on with this event with a little change this year.  The festival will be reduced to one day.  Our two main events will be the off-road duathlon in the morning and a mountain bike time trial in the afternoon. We also have plans for a short track mountain bike race to be added in the future if demand for early season mountain bike racing increases.  There are a lot of people in this region that enjoy off-road running and cycling.  We just need more of them to come out and try racing.  Hopefully these format changes will encourage more participation.
The second change will be the format of the Bone Bender mountain bike race.  Traditionally this event has been a 3/6 hour mountain bike race with solo and relay teams. The demand years ago for these timed events was high, but over the last couple of years timed distance events have fallen in favor of distance events.   This was actually my original idea when this event was created anyway.
The 6th Annual Bone Bender Mountain Bike Challenge will be a 50 to 60 Kilometer race (depending on final course).  Heather and I decided on this distance based on past demand and how long it would take the typical mountain bike athlete to complete this distance on the North Shore Trails of Clinton Lake State Park.  We will have a shorter course option available for beginners.  I believe this change will be positive and allow participants to set a personal challenge to meet. Complete details with be coming out later this month.