Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Hiatus from Racing...

So, the last race I did was the Lumberjack. Due to work circumstances, I will not be doing another race until the USA Cycling MTB Nationals at Mt Snow Vermont. This is an uncommon occurrence for me. Typically, I race just about every weekend. I do races whenever I get a chance not only because I enjoy it, but also because I think it is an excellent way to keep ones fitness near peak all season. I am sure many will argue that it is also a good way to burnout, but it does seem to work for me. Since I have this one month hiatus from racing, I am now in uncharted territory and I am not sure if I will be either flat or fast by the time I head to nationals.

I have developed a pretty specific training plan, though, to keep my fitness high and to hopefully reach my peak by nationals, but without testing myself out at the races I think that it will be hard to actually gauge my progress. I have also included two elements into my training that I do not usually do at this time of the year, or at least not at the amount that I am currently doing. Over the past few weeks, I have added core body strengthening and running into my training program. Almost daily I do sit-ups, push-ups and other calisthenics to build my core strength. In addition to this, I have been running a few miles about every other day.

Last year at the MTB Nat’s I was third and truly believe that it was because of my lack of preparation for all the running that was required at the race. Mt snow, when it is muddy, does require a lot of running and if you are not prepared for it, then a win there is not possible. Additionally, I believe that Mt Snow requires a strong upper body because of the long and technical descents there. Basically the course consists of climbing for three miles and then descending for three miles. Overall, I definitely think it will pick the strongest overall mountain biker because of the demands it makes on both a riders fitness and bike handling skills.

In addition to my preparing for a full-on 2 hour mtb race, I am also preparing for the next 100 mile NUE Series Race, the Wilderness 101, which is held near Penn State. Chris Scott is the promoter of this race and in my opinion does one of the best jobs at putting on a 100 mile race. I think this is because he is also a racer and understands what the proper support of an endurance race needs to be. The aid stations at his race are the best around. But, even with all of the good support, the 101 is not made any easier. It is tough course with a combination of long climbs, fire roads, technical single track and long climbs…I know I already said long climbs, but they seem almost to be never ending here. To help prepare for this race, I have been doing one longer ride every week since the Lumberjack. I consider a long ride as being anything over 4 hours.

Speaking of long rides, I celebrated the sending in of my entry fee for 101 this past Tuesday by doing a 5 hour single speed ride on a combination of trails, roads and rails to trails. I ended-up with 75 miles for the ride by pounding my 36x16 single speed gear for the day. This Tuesday, on my one day off from work this week, I am planning to do about 5-7 hours of riding…but with gears this time. I consider my single speed to be a weapon that must be used cautiously and wisely.

Well, that is my update to the blog for now…sorry I did not have any good race details to provide this time. - Gerry

Monday, June 16, 2008

Another Suffer Fest - The Lumberjack 100

This past weekend I traveled up to the northern part of Michigan to compete in the third race of the NUE Series, the Lumberjack 100. This course is different than all of the others in the series because it is all single track, well except for the first 1 mile of paved road section which leads the riders to the single track. Yes, that's right 99 miles of single track. In addition to being different by it's enormous amount of single track, this race is also a multi-lap race instead of being a one big loop race. At the Lumberjack, there is an inner loop that connects to an outer loop, which then forms one big 25 mile loop of trail. Riders then do 4 loops of this big 25 mile long loop to make the race 100 mile.
I think that having a predominantly single track course does make this 100 mile race tougher mentally than the others. Most of the 100 mile races out there provide a mental break by giving some road or fire road sections which do allow a rider to stretch out, eat, and just put the hammer down without having to worry about any unknown technical sections of trail ahead. At the Lumberjack, it is very important to stay focused on the trail during the entire race. Taking your eyes off the trail for even a split second could definitely cause an up and close visit with one of the many waiting trees which tightly line each side of the trail. The Lumberjack Course also wears on a rider physically by having many short steep climbs and fast descents added to the tight, twisty and sandy single track. The race information sheet says that a total of 13,000 feet of climbing is completed over the 100 mile course. In the end, it all just adds up to one tough race course.
Last year the Lumberjack was made difficult by the extreme heat that the area was experiencing at the time. Well, this year we did not have the heat wave, but we did get hammered by the biggest rain storm that the area has seen in 30 years. The storm dropped about 11 inches of rain on the area. Now, in Western PA and most place in the Mid-Atlantic Region, 11 inches of rain would create a complete quagmire of mud. In Michigan, this amount of rain did cause for some flash flooding and road closures, but no real muddy trail conditions overall due to the very sandy soil. The rain actually made the sand, at least initially in the race, more predictable. The rain, however, also created three long and deep water/sandy-mud holes at about the mid section of the course, which there was no way to avoid. These holes seemed very similar to the mud-bogs of the Blackwater Race in Canaan, WV. I found it to be faster to ride through these holes, but most riders were running/walking their bikes though these bike swallowing course hazards.
Why so much talk about the course in this blog writing??? Well, because I think that the course was the biggest battle of the day for me. I had probably had one of my best and longest sustained starts at this race. I started real fast, probably way too fast, riding with all of the big guns of the series, Schalk, Eatough, Price, Plews, Simonson and Tanguy. I was able to hold the fast pace for almost the complete first lap, until one of those big guns decided to attach up one of the bigger climbs on the course a few miles before starting the second lap. My legs and body said if you try to hang with that attack you will not be around at the finish. So, as hard as it was to do, I watched the group ride away from me. I was then left in no-man's land, with nobody insight, left only to do battle with my own demons on the course. And, that is exactly what I did for next eighty miles, other than catching some lapped riders and trying to pass them. So, it was basically just me and thanks to Sirius Satellite Radio Channel 22 (Firstwave) a bunch of old alternative tunes from the 80's dancing around in my head that kept me rolling towards the finish.
Not until the last lap, with about 15 miles to go, did I actually catch a rider on my lap. The rider that I caught was Trek Pro Michael Simonson. The interesting thing to me about catching Mike is that at the last three 100 mile races that we have done together, I have caught Mike every time in the last quarter of the race or so. He always starts off super fast, but for some reason has faded at the end of the race and has not been able to hang-on for the finish. This time when I caught him he said out loud to me "not you again, Mother F#*ker!" I knew he was saying it in kind of a joking/humorous way and so I just laughed and said back to him "No, I really don't know your mother in that kind of way." He then pushed on the gas and really started hammering the single track again. I was hurting, but managed to hold his wheel, until we hit the three deep mud-bogs. I did like I had done before and stayed on the bike. Mike, on the other hand, decided to run them. I picked-up time by staying on the bike and then heard Mike scream out something from behind. I knew that this might be my only opportunity to get a gap, so I dug deep and rode the next 9 miles to the finish as hard as I could manage. I did not see Mike again until the finish, with him about 4 minutes off my pace. This finish put me in 6th place overall out of 250 racers. Another suffer fest completed! -Gerry

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sprints, Manayunk and Pigeon Poop

Most people who know me know that I am not much of a sprinter. I like to do longer races and let things sort out that way, instead of in the last 200 meters or so. Well, this was a week of change for me for many reasons, which also included doing a short race, a very short race.

So, I changed some things up this week to help my shoulder heal. First, I took off my my rigid fork and put my Reba on my Mamasita. I probably should have done this before the Mohican 100 because I could instantly feel a difference in how my shoulder felt when on rough terrain. Secondly, I took off my Bontrager Satelite Mountain Bike "triathlon handlebars" and then installed my nice and wide carbon Salsa Pro Moto Bars with a 17 degree bend. I think these bars should give me more control over steering and a wider base to support of my upper body. These changes combined with the regiment of PT given to me by Fotia Physical Therapy has really seemed to help my shoulder to recover quite nicely so far. It certainly is not a 100%, but is coming along much quicker than I thought that it would.

I had to work this past weekend, so doing a long MTB race was not an option for me. But, since everyone I work with knows that I am an avid racer, I was volunteered to do a law enforcement only bicycle race competition, which was a part of an event known as the Delaware County Hero's Challenge. Not only did I get volunteered into doing the race, but also into setting up the race course. I did not have much terrain to work with in designing the course because it was all to be held on the athletic grounds of Widner University in Delaware County, PA. After, checking out the area on a few training rides, I was able to create about a three mile loop that included some natural and man-made obstacles on it, to make it at least a little fun to do. At the time I designed it, I thought that 3 loops (9 total miles) of the course would be good for a law enforcement only race.

So, after spending two hours marking out the course on the day of the event, I took the 20 competitors around the loop to make sure that everyone understood where to go during the race. It was amazing to me that most of the riders were barely able to make it around the course at a very slow warm-up speed with many catch-up and wait stops. I mean granted it was 95 degrees at the time, but these guys were suffering before we even did one mile on the course. By the time we finished the warm-up loop, I could tell that this was not going to be much of a race. Most of the riders then approached me and the event organizer before the race started to request that the race only consist of one 3 mile loop instead of 3 that I had initially planned to do. I didn't argue with their choice, even though I did not agree with it, because I really did not want to be responsible for rescuing one of the guys from a myocardial infarction during the race.

As I expected, it was not much of a race.... I won the race, about two minutes later another trooper from my station came in second, in about another two minutes another local PD officer finished, two minutes after that a female officer finished and then the rest of the male officers limped across the finishing line. At the end, you would have thought that these guys had just finished one of the 100 mile races that I do instead of a 3 mile race by the look of exhaustion on their faces.

After seeing me win the bike race event, the other troopers from my station then requested that I be apart of their 1 mile running relay team. I was a little hesitant at first because I have not really done any running, especially sprinting and because I was not certain of how my shoulder would take the running. But, I did agree to do the run for the team anyway. So, I started my second sprint race of the day and surprisingly enough actually won my lap. The other troopers on my team also won their relays, so we were the overall winning relay team. I still find it hard to believe that I was able to win a sprint, not to mention while I was running. I was also happy that I had no discomfort in my shoulder during the run, or afterwards.

Well, after my day of sprints on Saturday, I decided to do a nice long ride. To make the ride more interesting, I decided to ride from where I am living in West Chester, PA down to Manayunk to see a lap of the Commerce Bank Philadelphia International Pro Road Race come through town. I arrived in Manayunk about ten minutes before the pack was to arrive, thanks to the guided help of a rider named Tom that I met while on my ride. Once in Manayunk, I found a nice shaded spot under the SEPA Train Bridge, next to another guy that seemed to me like he might of been homeless. Anyway, this guy, like many others in Manayunk at the time already had a nice beer buzz going and was heckling just about every girl that walked near him. I really did not pay much attention, though, because I just wanted to make sure my camera phone was ready to take a picture of the riders when they came. Suddenly, I heard and felt a big splash on my left shoulder, you know the injured one. Well, I look down to my shoulder to find a big pile of pigeon poop sitting there. I then looked up to see the actor of this crime perched above me, almost as if he was laughing at my misfortune. The drunk, heckling, homeless guy seeing my bad situation then pulls out the largest wad of fast food napkins that I have ever seen one person possess and offers me one to clean-up. I accept his kind offer and then ask for another because one napkin is not enough to handle the pile on my shoulder. From what I understand, it is good luck to have a bird poop on your shoulder...maybe it was meant to be a sign from above that my shoulder is healing. I don't know either way, but I will say that I am thankful to the man carrying an endless supply of napkins with him.

So, even though I did not get to do any epic races this weekend, I did still have some interesting times and observations. Before I end this blog, let me say nice job to Ernesto for his second place at Big Bear and to all the others that did the race. From what I have read so far, it does sound like it was quite the death march. I will be going out to Wellston, MI this Saturday for the third leg of the NUE Series, The Lumberjack 100. I will be sure to update the blog after the race. Until then, Happy Trails. - Gerry

Monday, June 2, 2008

Keep It Moving

This past Saturday was the 2nd race on the NUE Series Calendar, the Mohican 100, which was held in Loudonville, OH. Andy and I left on Friday afternoon and had to make a quick stop at the Trek of PGH Bike Shop in Cranberry Twp., PA. On our travels to the bike shop, I was telling Andy about my crash at Granogue and about the shoulder pain that I was still experiencing. I also mentioned that it sure would be nice to bump into a doctor or physical therapist that might be able to give me an idea about how bad my injury actually was. Luckily for me, when I walked into the bike shop, I bumped into a long time friend and physical therapist, Joe Fotia.
I tell Joe about my injury and he did some quick assessment of my movement, so that he could give me his opinion of what might be wrong with my shoulder. As it turns out, he says that I probably either partially tore my rotator cuff or maybe stretched out my shoulder ligaments during the crash. He said it was a good thing that I still had most of my shoulder movement, but a bad thing that I could not resist his pressure when he tested my strength. He told me about some exercises that I could do to re-strengthen the area and also said to just keep it moving.
Of course me being in complete denial of possibly having a bad injury, still thought that it would be good idea to do a 100 mile mtb race on a rigid fork. To make matters worse, the race course was made very slick by an early morning thunder storm that hit just before the start of the race. My plan for the long day of racing ahead was to ride safe, keep the rubber on the ground and to do my best at not putting too much pressure on my shoulder; all of which is hard to do in any mtb race of any length, not alone in an endurance race.
I definitely rode safely during the race, almost too safely. I basically had to ride the beginning or the race very conservatively, due to the slick and muddy conditions, to ensure that I did not crash. Of course, this meant losing ground to the top riders and all other riders whenever I was riding through a technical section or a downhill portion of the course. I then would have to ride like hell to make-up time on the climbs and flats to stay somewhat competitive in the race. Somewhere before the second checkpoint (about mile 35 or so), I became so frustrated with my inability to ride hard and the horrid chainsuck that I was experiencing because of the muddy conditions, that I almost decided to give up on this race. At that time, I had just gone past Trek Regional Rep, Bob Myers, who seemed to be all over the course that entire day helping everyone out, and said to myself that it would just be so much easier to turn around and to ask him for a ride back rather than completing the rest of the course. Instead, I decided to keep it moving.
During the remainder of the race, I just focused on trying to make-up ground on the riders that had put time on me in the more technical beginning sections of the race. There are certainly other sections on the course that are equally as technical, but because the course was drying and with me feeling a little bit more sure of what my should could and could not withstand, I decided to press on and ignore the periods of pain that I would feel in my shoulder. I actually think, in a strange kind of way, this shoulder pain did help distract me from the typical 100 mile race pain that I do tend to experience throughout an endurance race.
The night before the race, Andy and I were talking about all the fast guys registered in the race this year and we both agreed during the conversation that a top 10 finish would be pretty good for anyone. I was certainly hoping for the best finish possible, but realistically knew that considering my shoulder condition that even being in the top ten would be an achievement for me. Well, by the end of the race and by going through much suffering, I did manage to finish 9th with a finishing time that was pretty much the same as last year's (around 8 hours) on a course which I would consider to be more difficult because of the wet conditions.
In the end, my shoulder was sore, but not any worse off than before doing the race I think. Hopefully this means that I did not do any further harm to it by deciding to keep it moving and that maybe it is not a severe injury (the denial thing, again). On another note, however, I am sure the doctor of Floyd Landis also told him to keep it moving after his hip surgery. Well, after a mediocre start and a crash on the slick singletrack, I saw Floyd bent over in pain and holding his hip on the side of the trail. This makes me think that there is probably a limit to how much one should keep it moving. I will try to take this into consideration the next time that I decide to keep it moving, but will probably continue to push forward anyway. -Gerry