30 July 2010

Barely. able. to. walk.

After a couple of much-needed recovery/rest days this week, training resumed last evening. And continued this morning. They're right: it doesn't hurt any less. I just hope I go faster :-)

I can barely move after climbing a couple of mountains, let alone hold a coherent thought. So here's a few random things going through my mind:
  • Good luck to everyone headed to Wausau24 this weekend. Full disclosure, I thought Laird would be good to the race. I'll be the first to admit I was wrong. Very, very wrong. I have ultimate faith, though, in Adam and his crew, and am a little bummed I won't be there this weekend ripping through Redbud.
  • As some of you know, Kim and I have been looking at houses here in WNC. Well, we found a place -- halfway up a mountain, half an acre (half of which is fully wooded), ridgetop view out the front windows ... truly a dream house for us. Inspection was yesterday -- funny how the presence of a 4-1/2 foot black snake in the basement makes you think hard about your priorities ...
  • We're four weeks out from my next race, and five from my next A race -- which is quickly followed by the most insane September I've ever had. Training is going well, and I owe a big thanks to my coach Steve of Bell Lap Coaching -- after 10 years of racing, I'm stronger than I've ever been. But did I mention it doesn't hurt any less?
  • Kate is awesome. Just had to say it. New words every day, and words she's been almost-saying for a while now are getting more and more clear. It's incredible to watch her put complex ideas together without speech, and a ton of fun to watch her mimic our every move. Elbows off the table young lady! (oh, damn, me too!)
  • Work is going well. It'll be interesting to look back at 2008-2009-2010 in a few years to really grasp what a massive shift the bad economy precipitated in the bicycle industry. I just hope we all survive. Two things to check out: Cane Creek's Facebook page and the Bike 2.0 blog on Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.
  • Corollary to the house hunt: our geographic world has gotten very, very small. This is not a bad thing -- both Kim and I are about 15 minutes from our workplaces by car, and for the most part we can get everything we need within a 10 mi x 10 mi square from Hendersonville in the south to Fletcher in the north, from Howard's Gap to 280. Incredible recreation opportunities are just outside of this square, so our time in transit has reduced significantly since moving here. And that is very, very good.
  • That said, "bigger" opportunities are not far away, and I'm having a lot of fun riding around these beautiful mountains. As a family, we've not had enough chances to go exploring, but things are settling down enough that we will soon!

28 July 2010

ORAMM, oh man

I realize a race report is overdue, given that it's now Wednesday and the race was Sunday, but things have been just a bit -- well, crazy around here. My run-up to ORAMM was far from "perfect" and included a quick trip to the doctor, a long day in the hot sun, scoping out local real estate and ultimately finding our dream house and putting together an offer ... Oh, and prepping for the race too!

Maybe it's all the stuff taking my mind off the race itself, but I slept great in the days prior, and race day went really, really well. It helps that this regional "epic" race is just an hour from home, and that I was able to get out to the trails several times in the recent past months -- knowing where to go and what to do makes a huge difference! Even if Nolan and Stephen tried to confuse the heck out of me the first time ...

First off, this race was hot. Africa hot. I think it hit a record 92 or 94 out there, and even the stream we jumped in afterward wasn't all that cool. Add in humidities that felt more like the Tropics, and you can just imagine how much we were swimming out there. This was the first race where I could actually feel my feet sweating in my shoes -- I even had to put them on the boot dryer when we got home!

Seeing Stephen and Greg before the start helped calm the nerves a bit, though I seem to have lost some of my Superweek-trained front-of-the-pack ninja skills -- by the time I lined up, I was fourth or fifth row. It didn't take but a minute to move to the front, and before I knew it, we were off ...

Out of town, heading toward the Point Lookout Greenway/Old U.S. 70, I passed Stephen on a short uphill and wished him a good race. I wasn't too concerned about getting to the front, but maybe I should have been -- they didn't open the gate to the greenway! All of a sudden, we're off the bikes and jumping the bars, and the leaders are way up there pulling away ...

I found myself riding with Eddie O'Dea, an endurance specialist from Atlanta, and we started working our way up the climb. I've competed against Eddie for years now, and his climbing style and mine are direct opposites -- he surges, whereas I'm more like Jan Ullrich and keep a steady pace. Thankfully I knew this, and so when he surged I moved up to his wheel and just rolled it over. I was feeling good, not going too hard this early in the heat, and towards the top we caught up to Wes Dickson of Sycamore Cycles and a couple of his teammates. We were third group on the road, sitting probably 10th through 15th or so, and just getting going ...

I dropped to the back to let everyone else take the lead on Kitsuma -- I didn't want to be that roadie guy who held everyone else up. Instead, I swapped places with a couple of folks going up, and got hung up behind one guy before rolling smoothly past him and finishing out the climb. I lost time and places going down -- if I ever really learn to descend, watch out! -- but I was safe and felt good at the bottom. We rolled out of the woods and I even caught air through the picnic area, before heading up the road to aid station 1.

Quick in-and-out with a high-five for the little girl, and onto the trail heading to Heartbreak. I was with a kid from a local college, an affirmed roadie, so I took the lead through the river and to the base of the hill. The hike-a-bike took a bit out of me, so I stopped to catch my breath, before continuing up and cresting the ridge. I was with the kid and one other guy, and I let them go ahead -- I wasn't in crisis mode, but I was a bit on-edge, and wanted to have my own line through the switchbacks.

I popped out on Jarret's Road and started to make up some ground. A lot of ground -- I'm not sure how I did it, but I managed to catch back up to Wes and his group before we crested the ridge and started the drop to Curtis Creek. WTF?! That's when I knew I was on a good day, and made sure to eat and drink and drink some more to keep it going ...

Into aid station 2, another high five for the girl and complete bottle refills, and off we went. One of the Sycamore guys had stayed with me on the downhill, and he and I chatted a bit as the pavement ended and gravel took over. This is where the race really begins, and though I was thinking about cramping and starting to feel the heat a bit, I was in good spirits and kept up the positive self-talk -- vitally important with a 9-mile gravel grind of a climb ahead of you. The Sycamore guy, however, was already thinking about how he only ever races for 3 hours or less, and started to lose some ground ...

Local knowledge is important, and in a race like this can make all the difference. With two full bottles, I knew I had enough water/Heed to last me to the top -- but I also knew there was a clean spring at the start of the real climbing. Off and down, three bottles' worth of freezing-cold water over my head, I was ready for the assault and pulled away just as the Sycamore guy got there ...

What a bastard of a climb. Curtis Creek saps the life out of you, and even on race day is something like 70 or 80 minutes of suffering. It's more or less one gear, but with no reference points to speak of, you're reduced to just making it to the next corner, hoping that it's the last before the Parkway. But of course it's not, and you just have to keep going ...

I caught two guys on the climb, though one of them stayed with me. I sort of don't remember much, other than the apparition that was Rodney and his wife Holly, giving me a bag of ice to stick down the back of my jersey. Where they real? I can't say I know for sure, but somehow I crested to aid station 3 with enough energy to remember to wish Cara Applegate a happy birthday.

Down the other side, 10 minutes of relief before the long pedal section and the next climb. The other guy got away, so I was on my own, and damned if my legs wanted to cramp but felt pretty good. I raced along the river and started to see the guy ahead, churning a big gear and bouncing up and down on his full-sus ride. He looked sloppy, but he was super-strong, and by the time I caught him at the top I knew I wouldn't get away. I grabbed a refill at station 4 and he went ahead on the road, and when I caught him I let him lead the hike up to the top of the ridge.

I knew he'd get ahead of me anyway, so I was good letting him go. Here's where I made my almost-fatal mistake: After climbing/pedaling for the past 2-1/2 hours, with only a 15-minute gravel-road downhill in the middle, and finishing with a 10-minute hike-a-bike, I hopped on my Siren without a second thought and started down Heartbreak. Holy crap! I had forgotten how technical the very top can be, and before I knew it, I was bouncing from rock to root to rock to root, barely in control as I attempted to clip in. D'oh! Visions of an untimely death flashed before my eyes, before my head wrapped around the descent and my trusty Siren flowed out to a smoother track. After that, it was full-gas downhill (with a couple of Pisgah uphills thrown in), and I railed Heartbreak faster than I ever had before. I was caught by just one guy in the switchbacks, and just as the cramping hit I decided to walk the last root section. All in all, not a bad way to make it down a mountain!

Out to the road, just one climb left, and though I could see him ahead on the switchbacks I couldn't quite seal the deal. No K sighting at aid station 5 (they missed me by minutes), but I felt good and the lack of traffic meant a cleaner ascent to the top of Kitsuma the second time around. Fighting cramps, trying to ignore the heat, knowing I only had two little climbs in the middle, I started down feeling confident but cautious -- last time I did Kitsuma x2, I almost broke my ankle! This time the drama came sooner, as I came around a left-hand bend and found the trail washing out beneath me! Thankfully my trusty Karmas got me back on the main tread, and I managed to finish out only walking a couple of spots that I walk anyway ...

I had one guy on my tail as we popped out onto the road, but when I asked him if he wanted to work, his reply was less than enthusiastic -- more akin to "no f*ing way" I believe. So I put my head down and drilled it -- I just needed to make it to the top of the bridge, and from there it was all downhill to town. I summoned all of my roadie mojo, turning a huge gear and getting aero on the descent, before crossing the bridge and coming to the line with a well-earned top 20 finish, right at the time I predicted I'd get. Woo hoo!

The post-ride dip in the river was awesome, and was a great way to pass the time before the Ks got there -- they had been told I never passed through station 5, so were a bit late getting to the finish. I spent time chatting with Andy Applegate, Eddie, Garth Prosser, Wes and eventually Rich Dillon -- always good to catch up with fellow endurance sufferers and swap notes about death-defying log ramps, errant trees and jumping in mountain streams ...

Overall, I'm pretty happy at how my first ORAMM went. Now I've got a few weeks to retool, as September is shaping up to be its own epic marathon of both bike and non-bike stuff. But just like ORAMM, getting in some prerides and knowing the course will make all the difference ...

22 July 2010

More different

The marketing guy at work hit me with it out of the blue yesterday: "So, we're doing the Double Barrel video at DuPont on Friday [which I'm ready for], and oh, we're also doing a road-bike photo shoot next week and you need to be there."

Say what? Road bike? I'm allergic to road bikes!

OK, not really. But it's been 22 months since I last clipped into a pair of Looks -- I cannibalized my Pony Shop System 6 for 'cross season 08, and haven't put it back together since. In fact, I think I only rode it maybe 4 times all of 08, after leaving road racing at the end of 07. Instead, all of my road riding has been on my first-gen Cannondale 'cross bike with road tires ... close, but not the same -- especially when your bottom bracket is high and you're bombing down switchbacks at 60kph ...

Thankfully, I've spent some time recently organizing my workspace, and I figured I had most of the parts I needed to resurrect the System 6. Truthfully, it's been on my to-do list ever since I got here -- the roads here are just too much fun not to have a sick bike that can climb like a goat and bomb the descents like a Maserati. And the System 6 can do just that.

It's not ideal to be building a road bike three evenings before your first big mountain bike appointment of the year, but it was fun to remember how to thread brake lines and set up deep-dish carbon clinchers, and I just wanted to get it done. And though the component spec is a bit long in the tooth, this is one sweet ride, with enough bling and almost-bling to make it hot. And it's fast -- the System 6 is the one with the carbon front triangle to absorb the road chatter, and the aluminum rear for direct power transfer that kicks ass going uphill. It's fantastic!

In honor of today's massive Tour stage, I decided to make my inaugural road-bike ride a tough long commute: 26-ish miles with about 1275 ft. of climbing, including my last tempo workout before ORAMM. Bearwallow is one of my favorite climbs, with pitches of 8 and 9% on the south face, and 10+% on the north, a solid 20 minute effort this morning with a screaming 7-minute descent thanks to those slick wheels ...

Build highlights: First-gen SRAM Force, still going strong; Flash Point (SRAM/ZIPP) 80mm deep-dish carbon clinchers, perfect for around here with little wind and the ability to climb and fly on the descents; old-school, pre-Keo Look pedals (can I still get cleats?!); Fi'zi:k Arione road saddle, the perfect compliment to my MTB Gobis; Easton seatpost and carbon bars; Jagwire cables with gold ferrules complimenting the blue-and-carbon finish on the bike -- Go Marquette, Blue and Gold reunion weekend! -- and the coup de grĂ¢ce: the new bar tape from Lizard Skins, which is insanely expensive and worth every penny. It's basically wrapping your bars with golf club grips, and even in the 1.8 thickness, are plush but grippy without being bulky. Totally rad.

One last note: I decided to stick with traditional gearing for now, 53/39 up front, 11x23 in the rear. 39-23 has been my lowest gear all year, a mistake of not inspecting my cassettes closely enough, and though I struggle with it up some of the ascents, it's helping to build my mind and legs into that of a climber. I figure I'm not racing it, road rides are for training, and so the work will make me stronger ... maybe turn me into Jens Voigt or something?

19 July 2010

And now for something completely different

Mr. Mojo Risin'

Ask anyone in the bike industry why they stay -- despite the long hours, lousy pay and difficult customers -- and there's usually three reasons: the people, the passion, and the chance to do some pretty freakin' cool stuff.

Sure, it may not be cool to, say, your average Joe or Jane on the street, but to us bike geeks, it's gold. I got to demo/prototype/ride some neat stuff for SRAM for the past few years, and this weekend I got my first chance to step out and step up on behalf of Cane Creek.

And holy cow, it was AWESOME.

Ibis is one of our bike manufacturer partners, and set us up with a Mojo SL on which we could run our Double Barrel shock, the most tunable coil shock on the market. It just happened to be a size L, and just happened to match my WBR-Siren kit to perfection ...

With 5.5" of travel, 26" wheels and a full carbon frame, the Mojo couldn't be more different than my beloved Sirens (who is also a bike manufacturer partner, by the way!). Add to it a completely unfamiliar parts spec, and I'll admit I was a bit worried about doing harm to myself and bike as I set out up FS 5000 toward Spencer Gap and Trace Ridge on Saturday morning. In fact, it's easier to list the things that were familiar: the saddle, seatpost, pedals, stem and 3x9 SRAM drivetrain. Everything else is different -- I've never run Hayes brakes or a Manitou fork, let alone bombed through Pisgah on 140mm of travel front and rear ...

We set the sag in the office on Friday, somewhere north of 25 percent for an "all-mountain/XC-oriented" setup. What we didn't take into account was the lack of water bottle cages, which meant I was schlepping 15 pounds of water on my back -- not a significant weight penalty, but enough that the shock didn't feel quite right as I started climbing. So I hopped off and rotated the preload just a bit in order to "tighten" it.

Only, I turned it the wrong way! As I approached the ditch marking the entrance to Spencer Gap, the bike felt like it folded in on me -- the front stayed too stiff while the DB just collapsed. D'oh! That's the thing about Double Barrel: when it's set up correctly, it is absolutely incredible. When it's not, well -- not so much. Finding the balance with the front suspension, as well as finding the sweet spot with your riding style, is absolutely critical. Thankfully, trailside fiddling with settings is a breeze!

So I made my way halfway up Spencer only to realize that it just wasn't happening. I turned the preload again, only this time the other way, until the rear end felt almost as stiff as my Siren. Aha! I can climb again! I knew it was overkill, so I backed it off half a turn, and oh lord did I find the sweet spot ...

Holy cow! It's impossible to describe the feeling of railing Trace Ridge on a well-balanced Siren softail, bike and body as one. With the Mojo, it was a whole 'nother experience as I channeled my inner Peatie and bombed through the rock gardens and over the drops, the bike soaking up the terrain as I flew downhill. This first pass was just a test, and I wasn't as confident as I might have been, but it was still fun, and I found myself grabbing lines (and air!) like I never have before.

Now that the bike was a bit more dialed, I decided to head back up and do some pedaling. 5000 > Spencer > Spencer, and though I chickened out on some of the knarlier stuff on the descent, I also found myself braving some root drops despite the small front wheel and unfamiliar brakes. I'd never followed the creek all the way down before, and though the full sus was a bit of overkill as the route flattened out, it also made it fun as I flowed through some of the creek drops.

I made it to the reservoir and started to head up Big Creek before the thunder started. In Pisgah, sometimes discretion is definitely the better part of valor, so rather than try to make the Parkway I turned back and headed out to the Trace Ridge trailhead. With time still to kill -- and a bit of tempo to work the legs -- I headed back up 5000 for one more bomb down Trace ...

... and what a bomb it was! Much more confident this time around, feeling good after working the legs, I crested the top and started down the other side, catching air off the rocks and dropping through the chutes. I've descended Trace fast enough on my Siren to build up the pressure in my ears, but this time around it started sooner and built faster -- I was flying! I'm still a bit cautious, especially with a race right around the corner, but holy moly was it fun as I dropped into the last bit and came around the sweeping left into the loose rock field, where BAM!
Why does it always seem to be the last run of the day for me?! The rock jumped up, hit the downtube and flew right, right into my shin. Thankfully I was almost finished with the singletrack, just three more jumps to go, but holy crap did it hurt, and I'm sure I scared some animals when I yelped.

Safely down, skipping lower Trace/Wash Creek in favor of the fire road, and just one more climb over 5000 and back to the car. Quick rinse in Mills River, and off for another adventure ...

The verdict is not in -- not by any stretch -- but first impressions are that this is one. fun. bike. The suspension is incredible, and after years of air shocks, running a coil is like being on another planet. I'll not trade in the efficiency of my Sirens anytime soon (halfway up 5000, all I could think was, 'wow, this is slooooow'), but this will be tons of fun to tool around and gain some confidence on the downhills of Pisgah.

And that is pretty freakin' cool.

14 July 2010

What goes up, must go ... up?

I've been pondering an interesting conundrum of late, as it pertains to racing and the benefits of training. There's an old saw that "it doesn't hurt any less, you just go faster" -- so if that's the case, by extension the only real training benefit is to your brain, right? Sure, your muscles get bigger and more efficient through training, but I can tell you that as I churned ever so slowly up Feathercamp Ridge on Sunday morning, the benefits of all this Pisgah riding were very far from my mind. In fact, my mind seemed to hardly be functioning -- everything just hurt. Bad. Yet somehow, my training instincts kicked in, and I managed to survive to the first aid station ...

I have been a huge fan of Chris Scott and Shenandoah Mountain Touring for several years now. Chris puts on the absolute best race of the NUE series each year with the Shenandoah Mountain 100 -- arguably one of the best races in the country, period -- and it's not a stretch to say my experiences in the George Washington National Forest helped reinforce the wanderlust that led to my uprooting from the Midwest and heading to Appalachia. So when I saw that he was putting on a race closer to my (new) home, at a perfect point in the calendar, I was sold.

The Ks and I headed to "Trail Town USA," Damascus, Virginia, on Saturday. It was a relaxing way to start a race weekend, with a very pretty drive north ending in the beautiful Mount Rogers Recreation area of the Jefferson National Forest. Because Mount Rogers sits above Damascus, the temps dropped as we climbed into the forest, and by the time we were setting up camp we were looking for extra layers and settling in for a very comfortable evening. We took a short walk on part of the course (surprise! it's only 100 meters from the campsite!), and I went into town for registration (darn it if the ice cream shop didn't close 10 minutes early), but otherwise we just hung out in one of the nicest campgrounds I've ever been in.

I maybe should have thought this through, but here's the deal: Pisgah is toward the southern end of the Appalachians, and our trails get a lot more regular usage than ones further north. Moreover, the Appalachians get more rocky as you head toward and into Pennsylvania, so that by the time you reach Michaux, the trails are the opposite of Pisgah -- here, you have turf with relatively short rock sections; there, you have rocks with relatively short turf. Add in the usage, and even our most remote trails are buff by comparison to those found in Harrisonburg and north. Damascus, home to the Iron Mountain Trail, lies somewhere in between.

The Iron Mountain 100k starts off with a controlled start through town, and onto the Virginia Creeper rail-to-trail. I managed to position myself toward the front, and stayed with the one guy who decided to "attack" the field -- really, it was just a leg burn that didn't do anything. Last year the top 4 or 5 guys stayed together until aid station 3 at about 40 miles in, and I think everyone was trying to ensure that didn't happen again.

So we rolled along the Creeper, and I settled in for a day in the saddle. Although advertised at 100km, the race is really about 55 miles, and I was figuring for a long but not brutal day with aid stations about every 12 to 13 miles. I grabbed the Camelbak for this one, since I figured I could carry enough to not have to stop ...

This is where the aforementioned conundrum comes in. Throughout this spring and early summer, I've been training for this race season. That training has conditioned my body to a level above where I've ever been previously, and more importantly has conditioned my mind to be able to ride certain trail features faster, and to accept the suffering that comes with the physical improvements I've realized. What it hasn't quite conditioned me for, however, is a race like the Iron Mountain.

We jumped off the Creeper and I was third into the singletrack. I moved into second as we began to stair-step up a super-steep, rutted-out fall line, and was catching up to the back wheel of the guy in first. The Song was riding hot, the XX shifting well, and I allowed myself the luxury of thinking that I was doing alright. Big mistake -- sure enough, I spun the rear wheel on a water bar, and the freight train rolled on by.

I was able to remount and get going, putting some distance into the folks coming up from behind. I figured I was still top 10 or 15, and was optimistic that I'd maybe catch back onto the train that surely must be forming ahead. Maybe by the road section at aid station 1? Well, yeah ... about that. See, what the course profile of the Iron Mountain 100k doesn't tell you is that this whole race is uphill. The. Whole. Race. Or at least that's what it felt like as the first 10 miles clicked by and I was still a loooong slog out from the aid station ...

I popped out on the road and realized that my front shifting was wonky -- I pulled over and re-aligned my front derailleur, losing a spot in the process. The Ks were at aid station 1, but I was so far gone even at that point that I had no idea I had just ridden past them. Mind you, this was only 90 minutes into the race! Kim told me later that Sam had blown the front of the race apart, and there was no group at all ... I, on the other hand, realized the next 4 hours or so were destined to be a survival test as I tried to ramp it up on the pavement only to find pain and suffering as I chased down the guy who had just passed me ...

I caught him just before the next trail section, and stayed with him through the overgrown rhodo. But then I bobbled on yet another steep uphill, as he kept it rolling over, and when I stopped to regroup I realized my headset was loose. Quick fix and I lost two places, but got going again pretty quickly. With no idea of what lay ahead and no idea of where I was, I set out in pursuit ...

When you're 2 hours into a 5-ish hour race and the first hints of cramping start, one thing you can do is relax, stretch your back, and hope for the best. Maybe take a rest. The other thing you can do is ignore it, since you're not thinking clearly, and keep rolling a too-big gear as you chase after the elusive front of the race. Again, this is where the training effect comes in -- one thing all the Carmichael books don't tell you is to be careful what you wish for -- as you get more fit, you're able to make yourself hurt more. And holy crap did it hurt.

I caught the first guy on a fire road climb, and was able to put some time into him. I caught the second guy on the second half of the same climb, and was able to put some time into him. But then I got to the top of the next singletrack, and my legs locked up so tight I did, in fact, need to pull over and stop. My thighs looked as though they were being wrung through a manual laundry machine as I stood there in a state of complete helplessness, giving back the ground I had gained. Oh my god did it hurt.

The trails were fantastic, though relentless. Whereas SM100 gives you some long pavement and gravel on which to regroup for the next tough climb, Iron Mountain gives no quarter. There is but one pavement section (the one after aid station 1), and just two gravel climbs linked by singletrack. Everything else is fun-but-rough trail (think Pisgah in April, before everyone gets out to ride, only rockier -- like a cross between Heartbreak and Kitsuma), or fire roads that haven't seen a grader, mower or leafblower in 5 years or more. And did I mention? There may have been a downhill or two throw in, but I think I missed those turns. Everything felt like it was uphill.

I caught the second guy again somewhere on some climb, and as I rolled through aid station 3 I passed the first guy again, who had stopped. Quick up-and-over, and as I dropped into the next section there were a couple of folks headed back my way ... is this right? Two guys were sweep and didn't say anything; the third said he was in second place but had taken a wrong turn. WTF?

Just then, the other guy came up from behind and told us to head out straight. We started to climb (yet again!), and the Chris Eatough look-alike took off while we slogged it out behind. I did OK for a few minutes, even asking him how certain he was of our direction (60 percent he said, but thankfully we saw an arrow just then!), until he was able to churn it out and gain ground. I would see him a few more times here and there if the climbs were long enough, but his full-sus bike and my lack of cajones meant that he put time into me on anything remotely resembling a downhill ...

So yes, there were some downhills in there, most notably at the end. In my defense, though, even those downhills had long uphills in the middle, and boy did they hurt! Here in Pisgah, I've come to expect a short stab or two on a long downhill; there, it was all short downhills with yet more climbing. Subtle difference, but when you're cramping and out of water, you're ready to be done!

I really enjoyed the trails, though, rocky as they were. My time here has done me well, and I found myself riding trail features I wouldn't have touched even 6 months ago. In fact, I had no forced dismounts the entire race, and only two dabs on super-crazy off-camber stuff until the very end, when I chose to walk some rutted downhill rather than risk cramping over the stair-steps. Otherwise, I rode everything, well, except some of those insane uphills ...

I rolled through aid station 4, the last one, and was told I was in 9th place. Sweet! For once I didn't conserve/preserve, and instead set out in pursuit of the guy ahead -- there was some climbing, and I could just see him, until the last bombing downhill that had me flying down the "road" at more than 30 miles an hour. Along the way I passed a rider whose rear derailleur had exploded, putting me in 8th place or so ...

I flew down the last "fire road" descent, praying that the payoff would be a finish line. I don't think I could have gone uphill even one more time - even the flat-ish contour stuff hurt! Thankfully I blasted out of the trail and under the banner, not catching the guy ahead but not losing any spots either ... Official results haven't been posted yet, but I think I was 8th in 5:20 or so -- a time that would have been inside the top 5 last year. Sam blew apart the race, which was funny in that no one seemed to know who he was until he won. I rolled back through the neutral finish into the town park, where I was greeted with a huge smile and a big "DA-DA!" from the littlest K ...

Which brings me back to my conundrum. Yes, I'm racing faster than I ever have. But at the same time, I feel more wasted from this race than I ever expected to. I figure I've done 55 miles, or 5-1/2 hours or so, in Pisgah probably 20 times already this year, sometimes back-to-back. Never fully at race pace, but often with race-level efforts thrown in. So I went into Iron Mountain with respect, but thinking it wouldn't trash me. After all, I've built the fitness, right?

Instead, I'm on the other side, barely able to get through my workout this morning, and doing everything in my power to avoid needed to walk to the back of the building for any reason. That ride home over Terry's tonight is going to hurt, and I can't imagine what Laurel is going to feel like on Sunday ...

The good news is, the first effort is always the hardest. And now I have a new level-set for 2010, and I know it's going to hurt. I just need to get my head around that, train the brain, and it'll all be good.

Right?

06 July 2010

Shakedown-breakdown

This photo sort of sums up my weekend.

Well, sort of -- first off, it was super fun. Kim and I took Kate out in the trailer on the access roads around DuPont, both on Saturday and Sunday. She's not quite ready for the downhill race scene yet (and, truthfully, was more than a little scared I think), but we all learned that a little ice cream bribe goes a looooong way ...

As for me, though, things didn't go that great.

First, I'm still nursing my ankle just a bit, so decided to do my pre-race-season shakedown rides at DuPont, which got me on the dirt but doesn't beat up the body the way Pisgah does. Good thing, too, 'cause breaking stuff at DuPont also means a lot less walking ...

This will be my third season racing for Siren Bicycles, and I continue to be amazed at the craftsmanship Brendan puts into each bike. Each year I've been able to up my game, and each year, the bikes deliver. Last year I raced primarily on a prototype Song SL: mixed-wheel softail, Ti seatstays, full XX thanks to my days at SRAM. This year my races are quite a bit burlier, so I'm opting for my straight-up Song, reserving the SL for those days when the trail is buff and I can just hammer.

I've been putting in many hours in the mountains on my Song, and though I have to pick my lines a bit more carefully on, say, Trace Ridge, I've yet to be outclimbed and can hold my own through tech sections. I have made a few changes since moving here, opting to go with 160mm brake rotors front and rear, Kenda Karma tires front and rear and going with a standard GXP bottom bracket instead of ceramic since the seals are better for the inevitable multiple water crossings each ride. Otherwise I've found my Midwest sensibilities to fit in well here, as our climbs are long but descents short, so we're on the gas all the time.

So this weekend was to be my last rides in full race mode: Red Siren Song, full XX, bling-bling wheels, carbon bits and bobs to round out the build. I spent all last week getting ready, discovering a few odds and ends that needed attention but getting them fixed by Friday. Friday's post-ride bomb down Trace went well, almost keeping up with those full-sus guys at the bottom ...

... but I paid for it on Sunday. Though it's not an SL, the bike built up fairly light, and switching X.0 for XX and putting on the race wheels made the bike feel just a bit different. So I spent some time early on in the ride getting reacquainted with a narrower Q factor and a floating sensation as I railed the berms on Ridgeline. Then I headed down to the river, and blasted through Burnt Mountain and Cedar Rock -- dang, she was flying.

And then it happened. Heading back toward Corn Mill Shoals parking, I dropped off a rock and my right foot slipped out of the pedal. Only I have new cleats, and that couldn't have happened ... I looked down to see my pedal still attached, the small nub of an axle sticking out from the spindle. Holy crud. At the furthest point from my car possible. Ouch.

Half-pedaling all the way back, I thankfully got some help from a few folks at the High Falls parking lot -- I called Kim, who was heading out with Kate, to come early and bring me other pedals. By the time I got back and ate lunch, the Ks were there to the rescue.

Sort of. I had Kim bring the pedals that were still attached to the X.O cranks -- and the drive-side pedal had melded to the crankarm. Nearly 45 minutes in the hot sun of the parking lot later, I finally broke it out, drawing blood on the palm of my hand and enlisting the help of three tour guides in the process. Ouch!

That was only the start of my mechanical problems, for as we started to ride, I noticed my front wheel was flat. What next?! Thankfully our ride was uneventful, and we really did have fun -- Kate got to see High Falls from above and far away, and she was super-cute falling asleep in the trailer on the way back.

Only then it was time to put the bike back together ... busted this, rusted that -- it seemed everything that could go wrong, did. I worked late into the afternoon before finally declaring it "done" enough to try again on Monday. Which went much better ... well, except for that backward somersault off the rock face as my brand-new cleat kept my bad foot attached to the bike ...

... but I survived. My rear wheel's bearings are toast, so I'll be running a backup, but the XX is dialed and the brakes are bled and running smooth. The Song is flying, I'm feeling good, and the racing is set to begin! Oh, wait, is that a drip coming from my fork ?!?!?! ...