Friday, September 20, 2013

Peaks Adventure 6 Hour Mountain Bike Race on Green Mountain Trails

Great, now there's yet ANOTHER destination riding location in Vermont that I need to go to again- Green Mountain Trails in Pittsfield Vermont.  I went over there for the first time this past weekend for the Peak Racing 6/12/24 hour mountain bike race.  It was a pretty last minute decision to go- I hadn't done a ton of riding since Shenandoah and hadn't planned on doing anymore racing for the year.  However, I had been keeping an eye on the New England Endurance Series standings.  Sitting in 3rd going into the race only 2 points behind the leader I knew that I had a good chance to turn the tables and see if I could walk away with the overall title.

The few days leading up to the race were a little nerve-wracking.  For two days I sat here in Maine watching it rain, and rain. and when they called for the skies to start clearing, it kept raining.  So I could only guess what the mountain biking in Vermont would look like.  There was also a little bit of confusion surrounding the race start time- originally scheduled for noon, it got changed to 8:00 AM a few days before.  Not that big of a deal, but did change travel plans a bit.  In the end I liked the 8:00 AM start, still later than the 6:30 start for the 100 milers I've been doing.

So Friday afternoon Jackie and I piled into the truck and headed over to the Green Mountains.  There was camping on site at the race, but we knew with getting so much rain trying to set up a tent in the wet grass at 10:00 at night would be no fun, so we opted for crashing in the bed of the truck.  Mocha was satisfied that there was plenty of room.

The race itself went off without a hitch.  A short Le Mans start on the dirt road spread the field out a bit, which was pretty essential as we immediately started a single track climb.  I was 6th or so heading into the trail, taking it easy trying to let my lungs recover from the 50 yds of running I just had to do (I'm not a fan of running, or getting off of my bike in general if you couldn't tell...)  As we made our way to the top and into the technical single track I picked my way through riders as they dabbed, and soon found myself with the two lead riders- Jonathan Modig, who I was chasing for points in the series, and a 12 hour rider.  I sat in and we rode pretty comfortably for the first lap.  In the last technical section Jon looked back at me and said "hey Greg, this stuff is right up your alley!" and graciously allowed me to roll through.

We were told to expect the 12+ mile lap to take roughly an hour and forty minutes to complete.  That seemed long to me, but did't seem completely unreasonable as the entire course was on trail.  So Jon and I were surprised when we rolled onto the road at the start/finish in 1'10".  Okay, well that definitely changes the nutrition thinking a bit!  Being fueled for long laps, I rolled through the start finish without grabbing anything.  Jon stopped to grab bottles, and that made him have to put in an effort to catch back on.  At this point I decided that since we were doing a "quick little 6 hour race" I should attack sooner rather than later, so I rode a quick tempo up the first climb.  Jon held on, but the elastic was stretched to its max by the top of the climb.  So when I got into the technical singletrack the elastic snapped completely and I started to pull away.

The rest of the race went pretty much that way.  Ride strong on climbs, stay smooth in the single track, and keep the speed rolling on the downhills.  Doing this I was able to complete 5 laps in just over 6 hours.  Enough to get the win over Jon, tie him for points leading the series (the rider placed 1st in the series didn't show up) and take the series win because I placed 2nd earlier this year in the Carrabassett Backcountry race.

While the race went well, the major focus of the day really was the trails.  AMAZING.  My concerns of the trails being wet?  Not a problem.  The director had emailed us that 'trails were drying out' which I assumed was being overly optimistic.  No, he was spot on.  All the singletrack was perfect- rooty, rocky old school New England single track on top of the mountain, I loved it.

The downhills were a hoot.  They've been doing a TON of work on Fusters, making this crazy huge flow trail with rollers and rhythm bumps.  A couple needed to be dialed in as I, and a few others, almost lawn darted ourselves on the first lap because they had a little too much "kick" for the speed we were carrying.

Most exciting for me was the climb up Noodles Revenge.  Beautiful switch back climb that took almost 30 minutes to get from the bottom to the stone house on top of the hill.
 I really appreciated the climb having just done a lot of reading on trail building- excellent gradient to not cause washout, grade reversals to let you pick you speed up, and well placed switch backs.  If there's a place in the east you want to practice negotiating switch backs for climbing- this is it.  Its amazing how much time and energy you can save or lose by being about to negotiate the switchback properly.

All in all, definitely a network to check out.  They're doing great work on the Green Mountain Trails.  I think the race has potential to take off as well.  Peaks puts on a lot of events and they're eager to see this event grow as well.  So in 2014 if you're looking for a good way to spend 6 hours on a bike, you can't go wrong with ripping this course for an afternoon!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Lots of Excitement at the Shenandoah 100

I ventured down to Harrisonburg VA this past weekend to take part in the Shenandoah 100 miler.  Shenandoah is one of the last stops of the National Ultra Endurance Series of the season, and my last NUE of the year.  This race has become an annual tradition where Jackie and I take extra time around Labor Day weekend to spend with friends in Frederick, Maryland, and this year adding in seeing my brother in NJ.  This year turned out to be more of an adventure than we expected.

We drove down on Thursday leaving Friday to play around in Frederick; and by play I mean go explore crazy good technical singletrack in Frederick Town Forest and Gambril State Park.  The riding there is awesome, but it is all "unofficial", so exploring required.  I struck out Friday for a ride and Jackie mapped a long run to get her to the trail head.  An hour or so into the ride I was rolling down off of a great rock feature when I heard a sudden "hiss" from the front tire.  Hmmmm, thats a going flat sound that I've never heard before.  I stopped to inspect and found a nearly 2" gash in the sidewall.  With the size of that rip I doubted a boot/tape anything would actually hold, so I didn't even bother and hoofed it out of the woods.

Getting back to the truck I tried a tire change with no success unable to get a good seal, so I bagged it and decided to strike off to find Jackie, she should be running up the road any moment.  Well a few wrong turns and 45' of driving mountain country roads later, we met up.  She'd been saying she wanted to get in a 15 mile run, just didn't expect to do it this soon!  The rest of Friday was spent finding a local bike shop that carried a decent race tire with some kind of sidewall.  I had a back up tire, but it was the same one I just blew through, so I'm done with riding 'brand X' tires.

Saturday we took off from Frederick mid-afternoon to head to the race venue.  about an hour into the trip we started hearing something as we drove, like we were driving over rumble strip all the time.  We pulled over and when we stopped we watched the radiator void all of the engine coolant on the side of the road.  Rut row shaggy.  We called AAA and got a tow back to Frederick.  Our friends were totally awesome and let us load into their Outback and head back to the race.  So instead of getting into camp at 5:00, relaxing, setting up the tent, eating an early dinner and focusing on the race, we rolled into camp at 9:45, threw everything down, and tried to grab a few precious hours of sleep before the 6:30 AM start the next morning.  Quite the challenge when the single speeders were I think trying to kick the first keg of the weekend before the race even started!

Sunday morning's line up at the race came soon enough, and finally was into something that was routine and expected.  Ahh, this is better.  Lots of big names lined up- Bishop, Tanguay, and Kevin Carter was back on his bike after a collarbone repair.  We also had a couple pro road riders in the group- Ben King from Trek Leopard and Joe Dombrowski from SKY lining up.  Yeah, this might be fast.

I stayed at the front of the group knowing that 8 miles in or so we were going to hit single track.  last year this was where I was really able to move up so I was hoping to do the same.  I stayed in a group through the winding dirt roads, only to find out that my group was actually separated from the leaders of the race.  Crap, okay lets move through the single track and make time.  I did reel in some riders, but it was fast, flowy, purpose built trail that was a hoot to ride, but a difficult downhill to pass on.  A group of us rolled onto the road section together.  As we made our way to the next big climb, the pace was WAY to casual. 10mph on the flats in a group?  I don't think so.  I rode my tempo on the first riser, upping the pace a little bit.  I wanted to ride just hard enough to make everyone follow, but not so hard to solo it on the roads.  It worked and suddenly we were doubling our tempo.  As Garth Prosser joined us he reinforced the 'how about we RACE our bikes?' mentality that had apparently left our group.  We set a great tempo on the road climb into the next section of trail.  At this point I was at the front of the group and was able to spring ahead on the singletrack climbs- a necessity in my mind as I knew there was a lot of technical ridgeline traversing and descending to come.

Coming out of the downhill and back onto the road I was riding solo and picking off 1 or 2 guys here and there.  A small group of 4 of us formed and we rode together through Aid 2 and up the next climb towards Aid 3.  At this point the race got pretty spread out and lonely, which usually happens.  We also got one brief downpour on the road before our crazy steep, hard, technical singletrack climb leading to aid 4.  This thing was awesome.  This was what made the Shenandoah 100 an epic race.  Everyone feared the long 20 mile ascent, but this thing was way steeper and more technical.   Despite how hard it was I was loving it.

I blasted through the downhill, and my brake pads, on that descent into Aid 4, refueled and began the march up to the highest point on the day.  I was able to fuel and hydrate consistently.  I did have to stop and adjust my front caliper on the road- because of the wet conditions and long descent my front piston got pumped out too far, now on the road it was dragging, vibrating, and felt like it was going to lock up at any moment.  As I stopped Kevin Carter flew by.  Dang, missed that train.  Climbing with him last year was a huge boost so I wish I could have done it again.  I rode most of the climb with Zack Morrey of Scott Racing.  After Aid 5 he faded a little bit as we summited the highest point.  I caught one rider at the top who I think stopped because he wasn't sure of the where to go.  Getting by him on the downhill was clutch as now I knew I needed to fly to make up time.

I reeled in one last guy before the last aid station, and once we got onto the road I could peer back and see him trying to claw his way back up.  Okay, with 12 miles to go, no sense in holding back.  "Just ride your tempo" wasn't going to do anything for me.  I figured punch it on the climb whenever I could to hold him back, and if it worked, great, if I blew up, then I blew up.  Fortunately every time I rounded a switchback I would peer back down the hill and the gap was actually growing, not shrinking, and then he was out of site.  SWEET!

I rolled through the final downhill into the camp ground.  There's a great roller in the lawn that I aired it out on last year; I decided to roll safely over this time.  I wasn't about to crash within 100 yards of an 100 miler finish for the second time this season (stupid wet pavement).  I rolled across the line in 8:05, finishing 10th place.  The biggest success was that I completed all four NUE races I did this year.  Never finished out of the top 10.  Even though I placed better at Wilderness getting 2nd, I was much happier with this race.  I had a much better time, enjoyed doing the race, and was just grinning, (maybe grimmacing at some points) from ear to ear most of the day.

So the race was successful.  Even though everything seemingly fell apart leading up to it I didn't let it phase me.  Just goes to show that you can't get too comfortable in your pre-race routine.  If you get too wound up over something like that, you'll defeat yourself before the race even starts if things don't go your way.

Afterwards we got to spend a couple extra days in Frederick.  Unfortunately my truck didn't get fixed until Wednesday.  However, everything was covered under warranty, so even though we lost a couple days I wasn't out any $$ for it.  We made the long drive home late Wednesday, stopping only once for a horrific traffic accident on I-84 to provide medical assistance to a driver who may or may not end up losing his arm.  Scary.  But Jackie and I are back home, safe and sound.  Now I'm just taking the next few days to decompress from the trip, and really all the racing and traveling all season long since May.

Friday, August 23, 2013

That Hampshire 100 is a really hard race

I think the field was unanimous- there's nothing easy about the Hampshire 100.   Not to say that any 100 miler is easy, but because of the wide variety of terrain throughout the course every riders' strengths and weaknesses got a chance to be exploited.

So this past weekend I journeyed back down to Greenfield NH for the 2nd installment of the 100 mile version of the Hampshire 100.  Being a part of the National Endurance Series I was pumped that I finally had one of these events in my back yard!  Or at least for once I didn't have to spend more time driving to and from the race than I was actually on my bike for.

Saturday afternoon on my way to the race I joined old college friends for a BBQ all afternoon.  It was great getting to do something off the bike for a little bit, even though I didn't partake in the corn hole tournament.  I left early evening and got to the venue for the usual packet pick up and set up camp (ie bed of the Tacoma) this time rolling out an air mattress- yeah...fancy.  It was great to see that they even had events going on Saturday night at the race venue- cyclocross and short track mountain bike riders were doing a course right at the fields weaving through the venue.  So it was a great chance to see some action/ suffering while registering and catching up with fellow riders.  The race promoters really did a great job with it.

Saturday night turned out to be a little on the less restful side.  For one, I was lucky enough to wake up every now and then sinking lower and lower into said *fancy* air mattress.  Half way through the night I pulled the plug and resorted to the old reliable z-rest camping mat.  Tip for you out there- when racing, ALWAYS test your equipment.  On top of that it got cold at night!  Who said fall could come so soon anyways?

By the 5:00 AM alarm I was partly ready to roll, partly didn't want to escape from my warm cocoon.  So I bargained with myself- get up, make your breakfast and coffee, and you can eat it sitting in your sleeping bag. Brilliant!

Ahh, the race.  By now I was getting pretty comfortable with these 6:45 start to 100 milers.  Fellow riders would be rolling around asking "don't you even warm up?"  Ummmmmm- no.  For once I can say "I take the first hour to warm up"- not the luxury you get in a 2 hour cross country race.  We rolled out of the venue for the extremely mellow roll down dirt roads until this single file foot bridge which always adds a little bit of tension and excitement, but I don't think anyone hit the deck this year.  From here it was onto a lot of rail trail and abandoned rail lines. Meaning 1) it was flat, and 2) I was screwed if I got out of the draft in front of me, because I cannot ride that stuff on my own.  So for the most part I stayed in the mix until one of the first punchy ATV trail climbs leading to a ball field.  At that point I got spit out the back a little bit was was left with the decision- do I bury myself 12 miles into this race to try to catch up?  Or do I sit in, ride my tempo, and see who comes along.  I wasn't feeling fantastic so I opted for option B.  Soon enough another rider and a teammate- Brian Wilichoski (who was doing the 100k and had caught our wave already) settled in together and started working on ticking away the flat miles.  Before we knew it we were back up to the lead group of 8 riders or so just as we were hitting "the beach".

So the whole group just cruised knowing we were about to hit Hedgehog Hill- a 23% gradient washed out, loose, sandy driveway.  At this point the group really split up and a lead group of 6 riders got away.

I spent a good majority of the next sections chasing back, keeping people in sight on the powerline climb.  Eventually things got spread out enough that once again I was riding alone.  Sometimes I welcome this because I know I can ride within my capabilities- or is it just my comfort level?  Sometimes I get caught out and am left wondering, just how much harder could I have reasonably pushed if I was riding in a group?  Thats a dilemma that I'm still trying to figure out.

By the 30-35 mile mark we started hitting some of the really great single track in the race.  Brian and I had joined up again, and we were making good time.  I started to reel in Derek Treadwell.  We've joked in the past about trading places- I'll ride all the ST and descents ahead, and he'll motor back on the hills.  So that's basically how the next 10 miles went.  Unfortunately I started to do a little race within a race, and here's where I think I got myself in trouble.  I knew that we were both contenders in the New England Endurance Series, him leading me by a point coming into the Hampshire 100.  We would be awarded points in the race based on our 63 mile lap split.  So I got it into my head that I needed to roll through the start finish one place ahead to tie him going into the final race of THAT series.

Well at mile 53 we rolled into an aid station together and I swore that he was still filling bottles when I rolled out.  So I figured if I'm hammering I'm putting distance on him.  Come to find out at the venue where we started on our second lap he was already rolling through the start finish 30" up.  I think at this point the wind went out of the sails a little bit- I had just been geared up for a 63 mile competition for a while there, now I had to go do the final 37 miles solo.  This wasn't going to be pretty.  I stopped for a pit at my truck, grabbing fresh bottles, food, and hitting a 5-Hour Energy- these little guys are perfect for this situation where you need the mental clarity to get back in the game.

The second party of the course repeats a lot of the first section- wide open dirt roads and rail trails, which, as I mentioned earlier, I'm TERRIBLE at.  I kept plugging along, trying to eat and hydrate slowly, thinking that at some point I'd come out of my low energy funk.  The eyes were half open and I was hurting.  As I made my way down the singletrack on Crotched Mountain and up the opposing hillside I saw  Team CF jersey sneaking up from below.  Before I knew it Gerry Pflug and a Mason Racing rider blasted past me- at that point all I could do was watch them go, I had already resorted to just riding it home.

Finally things turned around a little- at mile 89!  I hit a feed zone for the last time, grabbed some coke and filled the bottles and as I climbed I actually felt like my eyes opened up a little bit.  I made my way back through the single track at Greenfield State Park and rolled into the venue.  At this point I felt a little energized- 1) I was done, 2) despite how I'd felt I knew I'd only been caught by those two riders, and 3) on a nearly identical course to 2012 I was about to finish almost 20 minutes faster than last year.  Finishing time was 8:06, just about 19 minutes faster than last year, and was good enough to grab 7th in the mens open class and 8th overall.

So that actually set me up pretty well for my final race in 2 weeks down at the Shenandoah 100.  Last year was a blast, despite the torrential rain, so here's hoping this year is just as good.  By just completing that race I'll qualify for national recognition in the National Ultra Endurance Series points standings.  I'll definitely be taking the lessons I learned at Hampshire and giving it my all!