Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lumberjack, Sweat Shaker, Boyne Marathon and fat bike fun!

The summer has been flying by, especially with the demands of training, no shortage of good weather and lots of fun stuff to do! After TS Epic my main focus was a good recovery period followed by a build stage to prep myself for Lumberjack. Unfortunately, as i have heard to be the case with many others, i came down with an intestinal bug post TS Epic which threw a wrench in the works. I was already down in weight and feeling exhausted, add to that the inability to keep food in me and you have a recipe for an unpleasant week or two. Already having been at a good race weight, losing 10 pounds destroyed my energy levels and will to train. It was a full two weeks or more before i felt ready to handle any sort of serious riding or racing. Lucky for me i had a full 3 weeks after TS Epic to prepare for Lumberjack because i needed every day of it!

My first workout to speak of after Pennsylvania was the 8 hours of Cannonsburg. Eric Wolting of Freewheeler Racing was kind enough to team up with me despite my lack of enthusiasm and race legs. Each lap at the ski area took an exorbitant amount of effort compared to what i'm used to, and i was more than happy to sit tight for an hour or so at a time to recover and try to get some energy back. I had been following the BRAT diet for the entire week post Trans-Sylvania and needless to say was a little low on fuel. Despite the rough day a good time was had, followed by a top step on the podium for Team Redline/ Freewheeler Racing.
Beautiful day at the Cannonsburg Ski area!

Jenny and I got some fun rides in the week following Cannonsburg, and it was nice to start eating real people food and to feel awake for the majority of the day. I was getting impatient with the limited ride time, and had the usual panicked feeling of how much fitness i was losing every second i missed on the bike (which usually just turns out to be a good thing in the end). To qualm my fears though i got out with a few rides with my Bissell buddies and could feel my legs coming back, if ever so slightly. I was also distracted by the prospect of an awesome gravel century that was looming on Saturday the 14th. I love to plan new bike routes, and through in unique terrain and challenges, and i was particularly proud of the route i had cooked up to the NW of Grand Rapids. It included many miles of scenic gravel countryside, some two-tracks and some creek crossings as it would turn out (Sorry guys haha!). Since the terrain was so remote i used my half-day friday to plant two coolers stocked with beverages, chamois cream, snacks and water at the 25 and 75 mile markers roughly as we had planned to stop in Ravenna at mile 50. The ride turned out to be a big success thanks to the good company of my friends, and was excellent training for Lumberjack since i rode it on my Redline D680. To top it all off, the ever awesome Minnema family played host to a cookout and pool party post-ride where our families/friends joined for a relaxed afternoon.
Awesome group of friends!

Cooler stop number 1

Looming large on monday was the moment of truth... had i lost half my fitness as i had speculated/obsessed over the past two weeks or was i doing just fine? The moment of truth for me was the race of truth as the Time Trial is often referred to; a person, their bike, the road and the clock. I have ridden the Ada TT many, many times so i know exactly what to expect, and with reasonable weather conditions what my time reflects in correlation to my fitness. I realize that a 15 mile TT doesn't tell me how well i'm gonna do at a 100 mile MTB race, but it tells me where my cardio fitness falls. I left the starter at my usual pace, fully expecting to feel deflated after a mile or two, but was surprised that after i hit the 3 mile mark i was feeling pretty good. Also helping to motivate me was having Tom Burke start 30 seconds behind me. I knew he would ride me down but the question was where? At the turn i could spot him coming my way, but i still had a pretty good gap and my legs felt fresh. I kept the pace high and my torso low as to cheat the wind as best as possible. It wasn't until the last two miles that i really started to get that feeling of wanting to pass out at a moments notice. Half a mile out i could hear that familiar sound of an aero setup rolling at high speed. It was a sprint to the finish and i stood up to really gut it out but there was nothing left. I rolled down to the end of the road gasping for air and continued along the bike path trying to compose myself and not drool too much in front of the park patrons. I waited some time before looking down at my Garmin, but finally decide to reveal the results of the litmus test; was i going to be relegated to DFL at Lumberjack or would i come in on form?!?! The time was 32:47, and a PR as it turned out at 27.5 MPH. I felt the cool rush of relief wash over, it was true, i could still ride my bike.

It's important to be a cool operator and not show your hand before a bike race, and i'd like to think i'm usually the laid back type before a race, not too stressed, just ready to go, but no matter what anyone says, i don't think that it ever changes from your first race to your hundredth; that fear/anxiety of being prepared. There are sponsors to provide results for, friends and family that anticipate that podium finish, and other racers that look forward to being slower than you...err, wait, maybe not that last part so much haha! Nonetheless, a little validation can go a long ways leading up to a big race. Lumberjack 100 may not be the Tour De France, but it would be my first NUE event and there would be fast folks there vying for the title. I'm very fortunate in that i have an awesome support system in the form of teammates, family, friends and Jenny. I have a dog that needs to be watched, check that off the list, my mom drives from Grand Ledge to pick her up and watch her for the weekend! I need a place to stay and cook food before and after a long race, check that off the list, the Brower family opened up their cabin for us to stay and relax. I need a support crew for nutrition and any mishaps that may occur, check that off the list, my teammates setup the tents, have tables ready and are ready to provide any support i need (they even rebuilt some guys fork during the race...). I need someone to provide all of that from one time to another, to share fun pre and post rides with, and provide encouragement, check that off the list, Jenny is at the ready! And i can't leave out my main sponsor Redline that keeps me ready with the best gear, kit and support and Freewheeler Bike Shop which is the best shop around. Very lucky indeed...
Thanks Browers and Freewheeler Family!

The conditions for Lumberjack couldn't have been any better in my opinion. A light rain fell consistently the day before helping to knock down the dust and sandy spots. The temperature the morning of was pleasantly cool and the weather looked to be clear for a long day of bike racing. The actual starting line is just up the road from the trailhead a couple miles to make it a true 100 mile course, and to allow folks to jockey for position. To keep things interesting, Rick and Scott put a cash prime up for grabs for the first person up the first major climb. I had no interest in burning a match just a few miles into the start so i selectively held position behind those jostling for cash through the first few miles. As can be expected, the pace settled down pretty quickly after the first long climb and folks began to group into packs. I estimated i was in the 10-15th position range at the midway point of the first lap and was sitting in at the back of a group that was holding the pace i wanted. After some time though it became tedious to yoyo on the back while the different riding styles would expand and contract the conga line. As we finished the more open and flowy outer sections and came into the heart of the trail i decided to come up front and do a little pace making to liven things up. By the end of the first lap we were whittled down to a group of 4 or so and had picked up Gerry Pflug and Jan Roubal. We also had a powerhouse rider in the form of singlespeed and Gordon Wadsworth. Thus began the remained of what my race would consist of; working with a strong group of 3 other guys to keep the pace high and each other company. Not much changed coming into the third lap, and i felt pretty well if not a bit thirsty. This should have been an indicator to up my fluid stores but i grabbed my two bottles and headed out. In hindsight, this was to be my only major mistake of the day and ended up costing me a shot at 3rd place on the podium. Jorden and Christian were well up the road and showed no sign of coming back barring any major issues. My troubles were confirmed as i approached the aid station and was down to the last half of my second bottle. It was a tough pill to swallow letting the group i had worked so well with ride away towards the finish, but i knew better than to try and ride the last hour plus in the swelling temperatures and humidity. Leaving the aid station i picked the pace up, and tried to strategically gain ground where possible but it was to no avail. The minute plus i lost filling up my bottles was enough to keep the three away and keep me isolated for the remainder of the race. Was i bummed to not have a crack at 3rd place? Of course i was, but all things considered i had never expected to be where i was anyhow. My goal was to be under 7:30 (the stretch was to be under 7:00), and a finishing time of 6:49 put me well under that goal. Add to that the fact that i actually felt aware of my surrounding post-race and was able to recover reasonably well in the following days and i chalk the 5th place finish up to a victory in my book.
Lumberjack podium

Sweat shaker was next in line after lumberjack, and the 2 hour race was a pleasant surprise after spending nearly 7 hours on the bike in the previous outing. The start was lightning fast with Jorden going hard from the get go. I've relented on trying to match the initial surge and focused more on pacing well through the singletrack and trying to use handling and time to my advantage. After the first lap, Jorden had put about a minute into me and i knew i would have to start grabbing that time back if i was going to have a shot. After the second lap, the differential had come down but i still didn't have him in sight. And winding up the third lap it was obvious that victory would be elusive. I ended up missing the sharp end of the race by about 39 seconds. It was a fun race and i prefer the tight singletrack and "rough" course.

Boyne Marathon would be my first time ever riding the trails at Boyne which had me excited because i love to explore new trails and terrain. I also love long winding climbs that seemingly never end and bomber descents. I elected to head up the day before after work to scout the course and stretch the legs out. A friend of mine at work was kind enough to lend me his place in Mancelona for the evening so i didn't have to go through the extra trouble of setting up camp and whatnot. After i pre-rode the course i got even more excited for the race. It was going to be a tough one with lots of climbing, loose ascents and an awesome downhill section! Four laps wasn't going to be easy, but it was sure going to be a good time. There were familiar faces at the line, but the starting list lacked the Grayling Giant who was busy riding races in other places. I figured since he wasn't there it was a good a time as any to adopt the rocket-launch from the line tactic. From the word Go! i dropped the hammer and didn't let up a hair until the top of the first long climb to grab a swig of water. The tactic had worked, and i had gained a significant lead on my opponents. The question was just how long could i hold the pace and would i pay dearly for it later? I can thank TS Epic for my indoctrination into the world of enduro racing, and the descending skill set i had gained. After the first lap i had a pretty healthy lead. I spent the following 3 laps monitoring my fluids and pace to avoid any cramping or other malady that may take away my lead position. Luck was on my side and i rolled into the finish numero uno.
Boyne looming large

Don't tell me my business TV, it's only one to help me sleep before the race!

Boyne podium

I wish i had the motivation to write about all of the awesome interactions with good people i've had at these races, and the great training and group rides i am blessed to be a part of every week, but alas "ain't nobody got time fo dat" as the viral video goes... Kidding aside, one of the best parts of racing and training is the awesome people, camaraderie shared and stories that come from the gatherings. These are the things that i love the most about bike racing and that keep me coming back time after time for the abuse.