Monday, June 29, 2009

Steady as She Goes

On the way home from racing yesterday, I heard Steady as she goes by the Raconteurs on my favorite Sirius Channel, Alt Nation. The song reminded me of how I look at endurance MTB racing. When doing a long race, I find that it is much better to just get into a groove rather than go too hard. In my opinion, you have to find your happy place and stick with that pace. Going too hard at the beginning of a long race for too long is a sure way for me not to finish strong. I was able to test this theory of mine again at another ultra race on Sunday at the WVMBA Wayne Ultra in Leith, OH.

The Wayne Ultra race was a 42 mile XXC race, which is part of the WVMBA Ultra Endurance MTB Series. The 42 mile race was primarily made up of single track trails, but also included a few fire roads and some paved roads thrown into the mix. The start of this race (about the first 3 miles) was pretty interesting because it had a controlled pace monitored by a motorcycle rider. Before the start, he gave us very clear instructions not to pass him until he sounded his horn for the official start. Within the first hundred feet of the unofficial start of the race, a few of the crazy WV Night Club Riders jumped a dirt pile and passed the pace motorcycle. The motorcycle came to a stop and made all of the riders regroup and again told us to stay behind him. He then proceeded to ride at 7mph with all of us behind him in complete frustration with the slow pace. I have done many races with a controlled start, but never one that had to be followed so strictly and so slowly.

Anyway, this caused Andy to blow a gasket after about 2 miles of this crap. He sprinted around the motorcycle and went up the road like he was attacking a road racing peloton. He then proceeded to tell the MC rider to DQ him for not following the pace and off he went on his own up the road. At the time he did it, I thought maybe he had to pee or something and was riding up the road to relieve himself. But, no, Angry had his own agenda for the day, showing his disgust of the slow pace by removing his number plate, but continuing to race. He actually did finish quite well in fourth place....too bad it didn't count for anything. Remember, Andy, steady as she goes next time.

Being the calm, cool and collected person that I am (unlike Angry), I was able to maintain my composure and ride behind the motorcycle even as silly as I thought the slow pace was. I kept pedaling in an easy gear, spinning my legs, waiting for the first big climb that awaited our arrival. I attacked hard at the base of the climb, mostly to separate things before the single track. My strategy seemed to work and a group of about five of us created a gap on the other racers. Our group soon caught Andy in the woods. I said to him " I think you are DQ'ed" and he said he knew, but was going to race on anyway...crazy kid!

Tim Carson was flying in the early single track and after having my life flash before my eyes on a super steep descent, I was more than happy to let him ride away. I had found my pace and was just going to ride my own race like I have done so many time before. Our group of five began to splinter after about 10 miles or so and I then found myself all alone in second place. Ben Ortt caught me at a check point before a long climb about mid race or so, but I was able to open up a gap on him by the top of the climb and also gain time back on Carson. For the next ten miles to 15 miles, I saw Tim about 30 seconds up the trail from me, but I could not close the gap. Finally, on a long flat fire road section leading to the last check point, I was able to close the gap and get around Tim before the next section of single track.

At this point, with about ten miles remaining in the race and all of it seeming to be point straight up, I knew that I needed to ride a hard pace to put time on Tim before the long final descent to the finish. By the time I crossed the finish line, I created about a 5 minute gap over Tim and finished in first overall. It was definitely a fun race with some good single track. My finishing time ended up being 3 hours and 49 minutes. It felt like I had a little bit of an unfair advantage during the race because I did not use a single speed. I actually decided to do the race on a 1x9. It was the first time I have used a 1x9 for doing a MTB race and I must admit that I did enjoy it. I used a 36 tooth in the front with an 11x34 on the rear and it seemed to work perfectly for me. It was definitely a good course to use gears on because of all the steep climbing and the fast fire road sections. I don't think that I would have been able to get the overall win on a single speed at this race. I could get use to using a 1x9, but I will more than likely be using my single speed set-up at the majority of the races I do.

So, my theory of keeping it steady passed another test. I am hoping that one day Andy will find his inner Zen and also learn to keep it steady. Happy Trails, Gerry

Monday, June 22, 2009

Who Needs Gears?

I went up to Udell, Michigan to compete in the Lumberjack 100 this past Saturday for another NUE Series Race. As in my three previous NUE Series Race Starts this year, I raced in the single speed class. Unlike many of the other NUE Series Races, this race is 99% single track. Additionally, there are no long fire road climbs nor are there any long flat sections which kill us single speeders from being competitive overall. This course is just tight, fast, fun and rolling single track...basically, built perfectly for a single speed to do well overall.

The hardest part of this race for a single speed racer is the start because it is about two miles of flat, paved road until you hit the trails. Luckily this year the speed was not kicked up to almost 30 mph like it was last year. I managed to stay in the top ten to fifteen riders going into the woods, but by the top of the first loose, steep and sandy climb, I was in the lead group containing Schalk and Eatough. Unfortunately, I was not able to hang onto their blistering pace very long, so I slowly let them slip away from me into the forest. I was content to go my own pace, though, knowing from experience that if I tried to match their pace too long there was a good chance that I could blow-up. Additionally, I was pretty sure that no other single speeders had made the split into the lead group, which meant I was leading the race and feeling very comfortable with things.

At this point, about 5 miles into the race, I decided to look behind me to see if anyone was near me or coming up on me. When I looked behind, I heard and saw nothing. The lead group was also out of sight and I wondered how long I would be riding alone and forced to do a solo time trial. It ended up being a long time, almost 50 miles to be exact. It was not until right before I finished my second lap that I came upon another rider. This rider had fallen off the pace of the main group. We rode in and out of the start/finish area together and did part of the third lap together before he then dropped off my pace too. Not much later, I then caught his teammate, another casualty of the lead group. He rode with me for a couple of miles and then also fell off my pace. I really could not believe how good I was feeling on the bike. Most times when I do these longer races I start to wonder about my sanity and why I put myself through such a large amount of pain. I never had these feelings during this race.

Near the end of the third lap I caught another rider off the lead group that appeared to be having a mechanical issue. I hung with him for a few minutes, but once he learned that I was a single speeder and on his lap, he decided to take off. I went into the pit and did like I had done the two previous times, grabbing two bottles, two Fig Newton Cookies and then jumping back on my bike less than 10 seconds later. Not long into the fourth lap, I caught another rider from the lead group and passed him quickly. I was not sure what place this put me in overall, but I knew that I was getting up there and still feeling really strong with maybe 15 miles to go.

With about two to three miles to go, I saw the rider that had escaped from me earlier in race once he fixed his mechanical issue. I rode behind him for a bit, but could tell he was suffering, so I attacked him on a climb and was able to stay away. I was then able to ride into the finish without any issue with my hands raised for the single speed win. I soon found out that I had actually finished 5th overall and only 30 seconds out of fourth place and almost 40 minutes faster than the second place single speed racer. I would never had done it, but my body and legs actually felt good enough to do a victory lap...yeah, right!

To me, the amazing thing about my race was the fact that my finishing time of 7 hours and 17 minutes was actually faster than my geared bike times from the two previous years. Maybe I should have switched over to the racing endurance races on a single speed years ago. Oh, by the way, Andy did not make this race because he had more important business to do; a Dave Matthews Concert. What...Andy actually going out and doing something social. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus. Happy Trails, Gerry

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Scratch my Back with a Hacksaw!

You can't start a blog entry with scratch my back with a hacksaw and not say way to go Pens! For those of you reading this entry that have no idea what I mean, let me give you an explanation. When the Pens score a goal, long-time announcer of the Stanley Cup Winning Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike Lang, is almost guaranteed to say this after the Pens score a goal and so it has become a Pen's Tradition. To keep in the winning tradition of the Pens, I have decided to start my own strange scoring expletive for when I win a bike race.

I would bet that Mike Lang has an interesting story behind the hacksaw thing just like I will tell you my story behind my winning phrase. Let me start by saying that I was torn about doing the Stoopid 50 MTB Race this week. I wanted to do it, but since I am doing the 100 mile Lumberjack Race in Michigan this coming weekend, I thought it would be too much to do both races. Well, I decided that I needed to do a long distance ride over the weekend anyway, so why not just do a 50 mile race. I registered on Thursday Night and was feeling pretty good on my bike ride into work on Friday Morning. I thought that since I was feeling so good on my ride I would push it hard at the Stoopid 50 and try for a great result rather than doing it for just a training race.

After work on Friday, since I already did a ride in the morning before work, I decided to do some yard chores around my house. Nothing special about yard work; you do a little trimming and then get out the mower. Well, I get my weed whacker out and trim around my bushes and landscaping in the hurried fashion that I usually do it. Now, keep in mind when I am telling this story that I am highly trained with all types of firearms because of my line of work. I clearly understand that you should keep your finger off the trigger of a gun until it is ready to be fired. The same should hold true for power tools of any kind. Well, I certainly did not abide by all of this training while using my weed whacker on Friday. I am not sure exactly how it happened, but I think I was going to pull a weed while still running the weed whacker and while wearing shorts with no socks. The next thing I know I feel this intense stinging across the bottom of my leg and realized that I just weed whacked my upper ankle to a bloody pulp.

I walk up to the house, ask my wife for a rag and something to clean my gushing wound. I can tell you it did not look good. Among other thing, I started to think about how I was going to do a dirty MTB race in one day with an ankle that was all hacked-up. Well, I eventually got my bleeding to stop, finished my yard work and re-bandaged myself after getting cleaned-up. On Saturday, I was able to find some thin high socks with the use of gauze and tape to keep my leg clean during a training ride, so I was pretty confident that I would be okay for the race too. As luck would have it, though, while doing my training ride on Saturday, I totally whacked the knee on my same wounded leg into the stem on my bike. So, now, I had two injuries to contend with and my legs were definitely not feeling as fresh or confident as they did only a day earlier.

Brian D. picked me up on Saturday Afternoon for our trip up to State College. After we arrived in town and checked into our hotel, I noticed that my legs even felt more heavy and tired then they did earlier in the day. I was pretty sure that my race on Sunday would become a race of survival more than one of winning glory...and on a single speed nonetheless.

I surprisingly got an awesome sleep at the hotel where we stayed ( I usually don't) and woke up Sunday feeling pretty good again. I was on my new ride with a rigid carbon fork and thought that it would be a perfect set-up after hearing that the course was 60% fire road and 40% single track. What I didn't know was that the single track was pretty much all covered with jagged rock. On the first section of single track, I realized that I probably made a mistake by choosing a rigid fork over suspension. I was still riding pretty well, though, and was able to hang with local rider Matt Ferrari though most of the technical stuff. Matt and I rode pretty good together until the last check point, before he lost contact with me on a long climb. I stayed on the gas up the remaining climbs on the course, knowing that the race finished on a very technical downhill. By riding hard to put time on Matt, I actually caught-up to and passed a single speed rider that had escaped from Matt and I earlier in the race.

By the end, I was able to hang on for the single speed victory and was also able to take a 5th place overall finish out of over 200 racers at the Stoopid 50. So, considering my injury, I guess my winning saying should be: Whack My Leg with a Weed Whacker! Happy Trails - Gerry

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Changing Gears

I must admit it is nice to do something different every once in awhile. Since the last Mingo RR on 04/19/2009, I have been riding my single speed mtn bike exclusively. I have a big 36x16 gear on it, with wide 29er tires and just ride it everywhere both on or off road. This past week I finally decided to do something different and ride my road bike again, so that I could get use to it before doing the Tucker County RR in WV. All I can say is WOW! The change from a single speed 29er to a fast and light road bike is absolutely amazing. It was like going from a beat-up 1973 Pinto to a Ferrari.

So, I spent the whole week riding my road bike and the first thing I notice is that my normal rides were way too short to get the time I needed on the saddle. I kept looking at my watch and trying to figure out where to go next because I was way under my normal 29er ride time, but already done with the same route. The other thing I noticed was how nice it was to change to an easier gear when going up a big climb. On my road bike, I did not have to "man up" and keep pushing a gear that probably should not be used for going up a hill. I forgot that climbing could be done easily...I guess that is why gears were invented in the first place.

Anyway, the Tucker County RR did go well for me and my hairy legs. I did the 40+ Master Race again, since I am not a roadie and did not feel like battling a bunch of Cat 1/2 riders all day. After doing a lap on the course, I was very thankful of my decision because it was one tough course loop. The last climb to the finish is probably one of the most difficult road race climbs that I have ever experienced. On one section, with my low gear of 36x23, I actually had to serpentine the climb to keep my gear turning. I could not have asked for a better designed course for me, though, because it definitely suited my climbing ability.

The race course was a lollipop type of design. We all started at the base of the last climb, rode a few rolling miles out to the main loop, did a very hilly main loop and then rode back up the stick of the lollipop, past the starting line to the top of the big climb where the windmills from the picture above were located. I was able to get clear from my race group on the first major climb on the main loop and then basically did a 35 mile solo time trial to the finish. The course pretty much destroyed every race pack out there, leaving riders to fend for themselves, pretty much like a mtn bike race and definitely the way I like it. At the end of my 37 mile race, or should I say time trial, I finish first in my class.

Well, enough for change and gears for that matter. Time to get back on the single speed and to start feeling the pain again. Today I am going to do a 4-5 hour single speed ride up at Seven Springs, then over to Hidden Valley and then back to home. It will hurt, but pain is good...Right? Happy Trails, Gerry