Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stony Death March

For 3 years this race has haunted me. Severe cramps, 2 flat tires, and over training. So this year I wanted it to be different. I was not looking for a win or even a podium, I just wanted to finish! And finish with out any mechanicals or cramps. I wanted to beat Stony itself! Of all 3 years, this 4th year would be the toughest Stony XC Marathon yet for me. Now that I am racing expert, my mileage would increase from just over 40 to 63 and some change. Going into the race, a couple things crossed my mind. The longest ride I had done this year on my mountain bike was 40 miles, and the longest mountain bike ride I have ever done was 60 -- and that was not a race. So I was expecting to feel some pain. But would I survive?

I felt great at the start. This was my last week of my "race" period so if I was going to perform at my best, this would be the week to do it. The first 2 laps I felt like a rock star! And my bike handling was finally razor sharp for the first time this year. I stuck to the wheel of Brad Lako and Greg Donnie. We caught Adam Naish, and finally dropped Greg. I thought I may be having a race of a lifetime. The pace was not phasing me. Then Adam said he would not be able to hold Brad's pace for the entire race and decided to back off (Smart move by Adam). I stayed back with Adam, but then decided to try and catch back to Brad's wheel. But could not. I put a gap in Adam again, but he soon caught back up. We talk a bit and decided if we both had the legs we would work together like many times before. As we made our way to the pines on the 3 lap, my legs started to feel it. I told Adam, I was not sure I would be able to hold on and told him to go. Him did. Soon out of sight, I was by myself. This killed my morale, but I still had my basic goals to go after. My neck shoulders and wrist were killing me. But I pushed on. Around the end of lap 4, Greg caught and passed me. And I still pushed on. As much as I wanted to quit, I told myself I would not unless I began to cramp. But I never did. After each lap, I would see other racers fixing chains, rubbing cramps out of thighs and I thought if I could just push through a lot of other guys would DNF and this would improve my chances of cracking the top 10. It worked! 8 guys in my class DNF'ed. I am glad I stuck to my guns as I was awarded 7th place out of 15. It was not my most stellar performance, but as I saw a few weeks ago at Ruby, my team mate Todd Shorkey stuck out his race with a bent wheel that had duct taped spokes to earn his first podium ever. Thanks for the inspiration Todd. I will never give up so easily in a race, because anything truly can happen.

My hats off for some awesome performances by the follow folks. YOU GUYS ROCKED!
Adam Naish -- 3rd (his highest expert podium so far!)
Brad Lako -- 5th (Finally cracking the top 5 in the toughest MTB race in the Tailwind series!)
Greg Donnie -- 6th (What a come back!)
Tom Payn -- 1st (I am gald I could help! You were flying)
Shawn Schaffert 2nd (You were riding like a freight train! Great job!)

Things learned --

Don't train for 20-30 miles for 60+ mile mountain bike events and call it your "A" race.
I would rather line up for a 45 min cross race than a 5 1/2 hour mountain bike race.
I am starting not to like mountain bike races that are longer than 30 miles. So we will see if I do this race next year.
I finally got my nutrition and hydration down during a race. No cramps!

Well it is time for a nice week off the bike. I will be leaving for my out of start bike trip in a few weeks to New Hampshire, Vermont, and possibly a day in Maine. This will be the beginning of base 3 for me as I start my training for Cyclocross in a few months! That is when my real season begins....

Monday, June 15, 2009

My First Expert Podium! - Ruby XC

Maybe it's home field advantage, but I finally got to taste my first expert level podium with 5th place at the Tailwind USAC Ruby Campground XC race. This is the beloved "Ruby Trail Project" that we (Team Sandbag) take care of and is one of the most technical MTB trails in Michigan! You either love it or hate it. This is MTB racing old school style. Super steep climbs like "Lance" and "The Wall". Puckering descents like "Ruby's Remorse", "Out-house Hill", and the "Wash-out". Handle bar wide single track. Enough twist and turns to make a plate of spaghetti look straight, and then there is the unpredictable water crossings. Oh yeah, this is Ruby and we love it. However, mother nature was not kind to Ruby this year. Before the race several re-routes had to be cut and much of the trail was washed away. Thanks to Lee Tremp for giving up his time and hard work to make this palce ridable for not only Team Sandbag, but for everyone that came out and raced Your efforts gave all the racers a positive experience about what "Ruby Trail Project" is all about!

So I guess it was finally going to be my day to see where my training has taken me. And what better way to do it in my backyard, and arguably the toughest race course on the Tailwind USAC State Championship circuit. I was a little nerved up knowing we would have a lot of folks watching and cheering around every corner (Ruby is very spectator friendly!!). In addition, I was not feeling 100% but felt like I would be able to give my best effort. I lined up with my heart pounding and just tried to focus. The goal at the start of Ruby is to be in at least the first 5 places going into the single track. So the whistle blew and we sprinted down the 500 meter gravel road. Instantly my heart pegged and I hit my first goal of the day. I was sitting in about 5th position into the single track. I tried to calm down but the lead group put the hammer down and never let off. I fell off the back a little, but maintained my pace. I was actually starting to put in a good size gap between the folks behind me. Around the 2nd lap my team mate Todd Powers fell of the lead group and joined me for the 2nd and 3rd lap. Todd helped motivating me by yelling insults about my riding style and proving to me that my handling is terrible by catching me after all the technical single track parts. You see, Todd has trained this year by doing 12 oz curls with rice beer and has a sprained ankle. But you get him at Ruby in a race and he is like a dog trying to hump your leg -- He don't stop! God Bless you Brother, and Thanks! So about half way through the 3rd lap, My good ol' friend Adam Naish Caught me. Dammit, he has my number this year. I rode with Adam for about another 3/4 of a lap and he finally pulled away. He was much stronger than me and way more smooth than I was through all the turns. However, this was enough for me to pull ahead of Todd and keep the gap. On the beginning of the 4th lap, I could feel the cramps beginning in tops of my quads. It was manageable, But I ran up some of the climbs like Lance and the top of The Wall to try and control them. It was enough to keep my distance from the rest of the field and hang onto 5th!

This is great for my confidence and with 60 miles of the Stony Marathon in a few weeks. I need all the confidence I can get. My lap times were strong and consistent. 27, 27, 28 and 29. The cramps took a little wind out of my sail on the last lap. But that was a result of the other weakness I still need to improve upon this year -- Climbing power. I just finished up my peak for training, and am now into my race period for a few weeks. Time to see what I can do in my "A" race at Stony.

I have a long shout out list so here we go --

Brian Crook 2nd - place, slow down so I can catch you!
Todd Powers 6th - Even though your all beat up and out of shape you still haul the mail!
Todd Shorkey 5th - First ever podium! And did it with a duct-taped spoke and taco-ed wheel! Way to stick it out!
Paul Wood 3rd - Best ever Expert podium finish!
Tom Payn 1st - Great job!
Ben Miller 2nd on the SS! Way to haul it Ben!
Todd Lawrence 2nd -- In your first ever MTB Race!
Masher -- Finished -- First MTB race in 20 yrs! We still love you mike.

(Thanks again Steve Balogh for use of the picture, and great job in the race!)
(Thanks to Chris Gho for allowing me to use the 2 bottom pictures! Great work!)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Brighton Stage Race

The Brighton Stage race is one of my favorite events in the Tailwind USAC XC Mountain Bike race series. You get a very old school technical rooty twisty single track trail of "Torn Shirt", the cyclocross flavor of the short track race, and the roller coaster fast trail of "Murray Lake Loop" all in one weekend. In the past I have done well in the stage race, and with my Build 2 complete and heading into my first peak week I was feeling good and ready to try and put up some respectable results.

Day 1 -- Torn Shirt 6 mile Time trial. I felt good through the entire race, but was not as clean as I should have been through some of the turns and short climbs. But I was able to shave off over 1 min. from my previous best time and snag 6th place out of 9. I'll take it. Then later in the day, it was on to the short track race.

Coming off of a real good cyclocross season, I was really looking forward to the short track race. I even brought along the cross bike just to top it off. In fact, I think about 50% of the field was on cross bikes. That was sweet! it was a mass start with 55 elite and expert racers all lined up and ready to sprint. I got to the line a little late and was forced near the back of the pack about 10 rows. Ouch! The whistle blew and I was off. I did not hold back anything. I picked my way through the pack all the way to the front. From there I continued to pass people every chance I got. I passed a lot of great racers. I'm talking about folks I felt I had no business passing in any race. And this just fueled me to keep trying to go faster. Throughout the race, my lap times got faster. And by my last lap, I was coming up on the tail end of the elite racers. I was able to snag 4th place this time and this really helped my confidence knowing that with a little more work, I can hang with the folks in expert.

Day 2 -- The Murray Lake XC race. Last year I cramped severely and this caused me to give up the overall lead for the series. So I wanted to perform better than I did the year before. I did not crack the top 5 but I did learn a lot and had a very solid race in which to build the rest of my season upon. My lap times were very consistent. at 36/36/37/37. I have struggled for 3 years to be this consistent. And my last lap felt just as strong as my first. I just need to go faster. The big difference from sport to expert is these guys can carve single track and descents like nothing I have ever seen before. I would be scared to go that fast on my bike through the woods! WOW! But I now know what I need to work on. I was rewarded with 10th place out of 18 for my efforts. So I accomplished one of my goals of at least cracking the top 10 in an expert race. I figured this is not too bad considering 5 of the guys that beat me only raced on Sunday. So if I had fresh legs could I have climbed up a few spots??? We will never know.

Overall I had a very solid weekend and am happy with my results. I even finished 5th out of 9 for the overall stage. So I will take it, as it puts me back into the points race.

Finally, great job to Brain Crook for his 2nd place, keep going! Brad Lako for his 3rd overall! Paul Wood for his 5th in the overall! Pete Thompson for his 2 second beating of me in the short track! And Mike Riffe for his great time he put up on Torn Shirt!

See you all next at Ruby!
(Thanks Steve Balogh for the great picture!)