Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Marji Gesick 100 final preparations and thoughts

It doesn't seem as though a whole year has passed since tackling the inaugural MG100 last fall. Over the course of the summer as Jenny and I traveled to da UP we made several stops in Marquette to ride portions of the course and just enjoy the awesome trails in general. I've tried to pick out new sections i have yet to ride, unique parts of the course that aren't commonly ridden and the toughest sections to remember the ins and outs of the trail. I've also had the opportunity to chat with numerous friends and prospective MG100 participants about everything from course conditions to mental strategies for finishing. As the time to ride draws nigh i thought i'd pull these thoughts, ideas, and strategies together in a blog post to share for those who are interested.

A few of many great views on the trail!


As Todd and Danny have done a fine job alluding to, the course for both the 100 and 50 are indeed challenging to say the least. This doesn't mean that they're not completely ridable and achievable to someone with good fitness and strong resolution! I've had the pleasure of completing last years event and riding all of the new sections (thus far....) that are to be included in this years route. Is it getting a bit tougher? The answer in short is yes, but i feel that the changes will only improve upon the course from last year. There's a bit of everything you can imagine in a mountain bike event out there. You can see my previous blog post on the full course run down from last year. A few key changes are happening in the first half of this years course. First, the routing at the start is different and flows somewhat backwards from last year. The start at Forestville road should help with the increased number of participants, and give some time for things to spread out. We'll be tackling Top of the World backwards, so expect a tricky descent right at the top, but then a speedy downhill run towards Harlow lake. From there we'll take a similar path to last year down to the North Trails but will take a different route once we arrive there. Last year we hit the bike path along the lakeshore down to the South Trails but this year we'll be doubling back in the North Trails and tackling the Lowes Trail climb up towards Highway 28. Things are fairly tame in the North Trails, but once you get to Lowes Trail you'll have your work cut out for you. There are many steep punchy sections and roots to work your way over as you climb out of the Dead River valley up to the highway.
After crossing the highway we will get some respite cruising down the Heritage Trail towards the Black trail which connects up to the South Trails proper. Black Trail also has climbing (see a trend here?) but is a pretty smooth flowing trail leading to Grove St which climbs but gives you a moment to feed and breathe before launching back into singletrack. Since we're jumping into the south trails on the west side things are naturally a bit changed up from last year, but expect the first portions to be moderately difficult with the bulk of the technical riding coming once you cross over 553 and get into the Blue Trail. Blue has some healthy technical climbing with a ripping downhill before depositing you onto Mt Marquette road where suffering aplenty is to be had grinding up the steep gravel to the entrance of Scary Trail. Don't let the name deter you too much, while Scary Trail is steep it's not overly rocky. The most important thing is staying on your toes because it's got a few curve balls to throw your way.
From there to Negaunee is pretty similar to last year if i'm not mistaken with a hearty climb up to the top of the ski hill, a blazing descent, flowing along the Carp river and Morgan Creek and then slogging your way up to Jackson Mine Park where the drop bags will be located. The ride from South Trails to Negaunee is fairly uneventful and more challenging in the fact that it generally gains elevation, grinds through some sandy ATV trail and can be fairly exposed if it's a warm day. From there you'll spend the rest of your time attacking steep climbs and managing your speed down tricky descent in the Ishpeming trail network (RAMBA trails). While there are many difficult sections in this trail system there's also some short road  and trails connectors that offer feed zones and respite from the intense terrain. Expect to be rewarded with some cool views on bluffs in this area and take a moment to enjoy them and lift your spirit as you tackle this adventure!

Blame Todd or Danny


Last year i undertook this event on a steel hardtail 29er with a suspension fork, 1x11 drivetrain (34t with 11-40), 2.1" Racing Ralphs tubeless and two bottle cages plus hydration pack. I'm definitely making some changes this year based on experience, and not because my setup didn't work just fine, but to help better tackle the terrain and keep from beating myself up so much. Starting with the bike, i'll be riding my Salsa Spearfish which is a low travel XC full suspension rig (100mm front/80mm rear). Since my Spearfish is Carbon it's a wash from a weight perspective compared to my steel hardtail and the rear suspension will go a long ways in descending, soaking up rocks/roots and generally keeping fatigue lower. I've kept the same 11-40t cassette on the rear but opted for a 32t chain ring up front and there aren't really any high speed pedaling sections and the increased ratio for climbing will be welcome later in the ride. For tires i'm going to be riding a more agressive tread pattern than the Racing Ralph and a bit wider by using a Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.25" will full protection. The terrain gets burly at times, so riding a tire that has good puncture resistance and durable sidewalls is a must!
For accessories i'll be sporting a Camelbak with increased capacity since my frame only stores one water bottle. I plan to store tubes/tools on the bike as opposed to my pack since there's a lot of out-of-saddle time and every bit of weight you don't have to move up and down off the bike is important. To keep snacks handy i'll be using my Oveja Negra top tube bag. For navigation i'll be running the GPX file on my Garmin Edge 1000 to keep tabs on the course and my relative location. Having a GPS to follow the route is definitely clutch at this event as there are many trails/paths/roads cris-crossing the course. Last year many people missed the turn for the Carroll Jackson trail and went immediately to the ski jump bypassing a nice section of trail, it'd be a shame to miss out on those extra climbing miles :)
For lighting i'll start with a compact 300 lumen handlebar light to supplement the rising sun at the beginning of the race. I'll keep a higher lumen light setup in my drop bag to grab if i need it as well as spare batteries. Lighting is critical at the start of the race because it's plenty dark in the woods still at that time of day and there's plenty of roots and rocks that could end ones day early were they not prepared. For clothing i'll dress weather appropriate at the start but plan to supplement short sleeve jersey and bibs with arm warmers/leg warmers/cap or any other item as needed to be flexible for the long haul.
This is NOT a race that you want to skimp on repair items. No one really wants to haul a pound plus of tools and tubes around but even worse would be walking for 10 miles because you can't fix your bike. There's plenty of spots with bad cell reception that are far from any road. I'll be carrying the following:
2 tubes
Tire boot
Tire lever
CO2 inflator and 25g cartridge
Compact pump
Chain tool
Quick link
Multi-tool with a tool for every fastener on the bike (don't overlook this, not all multi-tools have every bit you may need!)
A couple feet of gorilla tape wrapped somewhere convenient
Derailleur Hanger
Presta>Schrader adapter (if you run out of air there's always the chance you may come across a compressor/pump)

This list covers my personal needs and most situations, but may not cover everything you may personally need so pack accordingly and don't blame me but rather Todd and Danny if things go awry...
Quick PSA: don't wait until the week of to go and get a whole new drive train installed, new tires mounted, wheels trued and cables replaced on your rig. Bike shops appreciate it much more when you plan ahead instead of rushing them, and you'll be less stressed about it as well! If you haven't readied your war rig yet then get on it, because you'll need a solid steed to carry you to your personal victory!

2016 Salsa Carbon Spearfish


No matter if you're doing the 50 or 100 mile event it will be a long day in the saddle. My opinion, and it's just that, is that energy gel and water won't be enough to get you to the finish (at least in a coherent/pleasant state). Solid food is your friend when you're spending the whole day pedaling and exploring Marquette county by bike. I for sure use energy gels and chews for those short energy bursts but you need a good long burning fuel source if you plan to go the distance. Everyone has different likes/dislikes but i find that the solids i choose that work best in conjunction with sugary fuels are more on the savory/salty side. Nothing is worse than bonking on a sour stomach and only having PB&J sandwiches or candy to survive on. I find that potato chips, jerky, veggie chips, pickles, etc... are great complements to the sweet fuels. Carry something to settle your stomach as well in case it starts to get sour on you, my secret weapon is a small pouch of to-go plain applesauce, but things like Tums and Pepto tabs work all the same.
Fluid capacity is equally important and personally i always like to have drink mix AND water. I'd hate to be caught hours in and have only drink mix to consume when I've had my fill. Having some straight water can be a life saver. Plan to carry extra in case of a mechanical or other unforeseen issue. This race is more of an adventure than most!
You'll have access to a drop bag so use it! I like to put a bit more than what i'll need in the when it comes to snacks so that i have options in case i'm tired of the other fuel I've been using. Toss some pretzels, a sandwich, pickle, fruit in there for a nice lunch/dinner to hold you over until the finish. Spending 5-10 minutes to get some hearty fuel in you could save you much more time in the long run if you were to bonk and have to walk all the hills in Ishpeming otherwise!

Options, options, options!


This event is most certainly unlike any other you have or will attempt barring a few individuals of course. When i rode it last year i treated it as an adventure over a race and started out with a nice steady tempo i knew i could do all day if i had to. There's literally all day to pass or be passed and it's much better when you're the one pedaling up a hill by people hiking than the other way around. There will be plenty of time to make up or lose ground so don't panic if you're caught going slower than you'd like for portions of the event, that's energy you're saving that you can burn later! Find some others to ride and work with that have a similar style and pace to yours and take turns rotating through to keep the tempo steady and moving. Use the few flat path and gravel road sections to your advantage for fueling and spinning your legs out as opposed to hammering. Many of the hills in Ishpeming are either full gas or hike a bike for keep that in mind when you're setting your pace!

You don't want to look like this guy at the finish...


Assuming you've covered all your bases  on the bullet points above then arguably the most important thing that you'll need to finish this event is a good attitude. I've seen strong people crumble under adversity and under-trained people surprise themselves just because they kept their head up, smiled and cheered on their comrades. I don't view this event as much as a race as i do an adventure that i'm fortunate to be able to enjoy. We're fortunate to be able to ride such fantastic terrain with a wonderful group of people, and don't let yourself forget. I have my own emotional roller-coaster that i go through during these long events, but when things get a bit dark i just remind myself that it's just a phase and to buck-up! What helps me is to cheers others on, whether i'm making a pass or being passed. Celebrating others success not only lifts them up but gets you out of your own head. Keep your thoughts simple and light-hearted. Laugh at your mistakes, cheer for your accomplishments and always keep pedaling. I'll wrap up with a quote i leaned heavily on at the Leadville 100 when i was really struggling and my body didn't want to go on:
"You're stronger than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can" ~ Ken Chlouber

This could be you! (beard sold separately)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

All things gravel!

Tuesday Gravel Adventure rides have been stellar lately thanks to cooperative weather, folks ramping up for Barry Roubaix and just a general spring fever for riding. The groups have been ranging from 30 to upwards of 70 with all kinds of familiar faces coming out of the woodwork. Seeing everyone out having a good time and chatting on the social lap has definitely put me in the social bike riding mood! The Salsa Warbird has well over 1500 miles logged on it with plenty more to come and has been a favorite of mine to ride lately. Lots of folks from the area have been gearing up for the big gravel races, and with Barry Roubaix behind us things don't seem to be slowing down. There's a large Michigan contingent heading to Dirty Kanza and a lot of folks have had questions for me about setup, training and nutrition. This got me thinking about getting a post out there on the many facets of gravel. Here's a quick rundown on what I've been using and liking:

Tuesday Gravel selfie

My Salsa Cycles Bird of War

Food storage and access has been on point with my new Oveja Negra Threadworks Snack Pack top-tube bag. I went with the Oveja Negra due to size constraints of the Warbird's top-tube and not wanting my legs to rub the bag when standing. The straps that secure it to the bike are ample and burly, and i like that the steerer tube strap has multiple positions. The construction of the bag is top notch which i would expect for a $50 bag. The sides of the bag are stiff enough to make it easy to get in and out of, and i can leave the zipper open on less bumpy rides for quick access to treats. I used it during the Barry Roubaix 62 miler with good success, and i was happy to be able to grab handfuls of chews and beans without rifling through my jersey pocket. On rougher roads you will for sure want to keep the zipper closed or risk losing contents. Pro-tip: find a small plastic container that fits inside and dump chews/chomps/salt pills and other snacks directly into it to avoid making a mess of the bag and for quick snacking!

Tires are always a source of discussion when gravel riding comes up. Dirty Kanza is a special kind of event that requires close attention be paid to wheel/tires as the course can do some serious damage! Lately i've been testing the Teravail Cannonball and Galenas (38c and 32c respectively) in the 120 TPI versions. The Cannonball is touted as being the official tire of DK200 so naturally i had to give it a shot. I prefer to run tubeless on gravel (and virtually all surfaces) so it's important to me for a tire to not only setup easily, but stay setup tubeless without a bunch of maintenance/headaches. I'm pleased with how the tires setup on my Ailerons and have been holding air rather nicely. I rocked the Cannonballs on some fairly long rides and was happy with how well they roll for a wider tire. Compared to the WTB Nano 40c, which is another good tire, they're definitely faster. One downside that gets noted frequently on this tire is the lack of a supple feel, but for a lot of the riding i do, i'm happy to forgo some ride quality over not having blown out sidewalls or frequent flats. Coming into Barry Roubaix i knew the course was going to be fast so i switched up the Cannonballs for the Galenas to gain a bit of speed. Like their wider brethren the Galenas setup tubeless easily and the tire profile goes well with the Ailerons. I had zero issues with them at Barry Roubaix despite the innumerable potholes, rocks and loose gravel. All around both of these tires are great options!

Teravail Cannonball 38c 120 TPI tires on Velocity USA Ailerons

While i have been using Ailerons for sometime now, i feel they're worth mentioning again. I'm getting a new set built up for Dirty Kanza to better match my bike and to also give me another wheelset to have a tire option ready to go for the race should i need to change at the last minute. My specific build of the Aileron through Velocity USA is a 28 spoke count disc setup with Sapim spokes, alloy nipples, industry nine hubs and Velotape and valves to finish them off. I love how burly this rim is and how well it deals with rough terrain. After about 4,000 miles of abuse on my current set the only thing that needs replacing is the wheel bearings! I've had these bad boys out on single track and cross races with tons of root and rock strikes and minimal damage to the rim. They've also only been trued once since they were built which is pretty awesome. 

Velocity wheels taking me places

Drivetrain boils down to personal preference in many cases as far as whether you want Shimano or SRAM, but i feel that it's the details behind how you set it up that can make a big difference. I'm currently running a SRAM Rival Hydro setup 1x11 on the Warbird. I chose the Rival 1 derailleur overl the standard 2x model for the additional cassette capacity but mostly the clutch and chain retention. It's essentially identical to the Force CX1 model without the extra hefty price tag. The cassette is a SRAM XG-1190 one piece model in 11-32 range. I prefer the one piece cassettes for their lightweight and simplicity over multiple cogs/spacers and am willing to pay the extra cash. KMC chains have a home on all of my bikes as they've treated me well. I like the design of the quick link, their strength and how well they wear. For my chainring i prefer Wolftooth and run them on all my 1x setups. They have boatloads of options on their website, are made in the US and have outperformed the other brands i have used in both mud shedding and wear (aside from Stainless models). The chain retention is top notch for 1x systems even as they continue to wear over time. For the riding/racing i do i prefer the 42T size, but for shorter/faster events i jump up to a 44T. One area that frequently gets overlooked on bikes in general is the routing/setup/quality of the shift cables. As ratios have gotten tighter from 9, 10, 11 and now 12 speeds this is even more crucial. For a bike that faces the grueling task of Dirty Kanza and other gnarly races i prefer a full length housing with sealed ferrules and cable lube. I happen to have some old stock of Gore Ride-on cables for those that remember them. They actually utilize a 5mm outer housing, an inner "lube" liner and the shift cable itself as opposed to just housing and cable. Nowadays Jagwire makes a similar setup called the Road Elite Sealed Shift. You'd be amazed at just how much an improvement proper cable routing (no tight bends, proper housing length, no unnecessary splits) and quality can make in the way your bike shifts!

SRAM Rival 1 rear derailleur

SRAM XG-1190 cassette

Wolftooth 1x 110 BCD chainring

Jagwire Road Elite Sealed Shift kit

Bartape is also an items that can get overlooked, there's many brands and styles out there and I've long enjoyed the Lizard Skins DSP bar tape. They offer it in several thicknesses which is a huge bonus for rough road riding. I prefer to run a thicker bar tape on my Warbird to help soak up vibration and shock as much as possible. The only downside to the Lizard Skins tape is the cost. With that being said i have been really enjoying the Synapse Gel bar tape from Cannondale. It's held up well for over 1500 miles, wraps well, and comes in an awesome green that looks killer on the Warbird for about half the price of the Lizard Skins. Pro-tip: they've got it in stock over at Grand Rapids Bicycle Company and i'll bet they can wrap it for you if you ask nicely!

Cannondale Synapse Gel tape in bomb A$$ green!

A power-meter is one of the best training tools available to cyclists today. While a heart rate monitor may be the cheaper option, measuring your power output on the bike is the best way to take the "static" out of your true performance. By static i'm referring to fatigue and other outside factors that can cause your heart rate to vary. Power is simply the amount of energy you're putting out to propel yourself. Just like any tool you can use it as another simple metric or spend days sifting through the data. Personally i like power to not only check how my fitness is progressing but also how i'm handling fatigue and other issues. On any given day you may have the same heart rate but the amount of power you are putting out may be vastly different. I use power when performing intervals and other structured workouts as not only a metric to aim for but also a sign of when to call it quits. As we all know, some days are better than others, and if you're not "hitting your numbers" it's often a sign from your body to give it a rest as opposed to further digging yourself into a hole. I have been running the Stages crank based power meter on 3 of my bikes with good success. It's relatively cost effective compared to other options, but you have to keep in mind it only measure the left leg and doubles that number so it can't give you left/right balance and efficiency data. It runs off a simple coin cell battery and is both Bluetooth and Ant+ compatible. I use a Garmin 1000 to talk to mine and record the data.

Stages Hollowgram power-meter

Water bottle cages are a seemingly inane item to spend much time talking about, but they;re not all created equal. I like to run 2 cages on my bike most times, although there is room for a 3rd on the Warbird frame, even if i'm using a Camelbak because i don't like putting sports beverages in my hydration bladders. Really a bottle cage just needs to perform a few tasks; hold my bottle, don't let me bottle fly out, let me get my bottle when i need it and don't break. This seems relatively simple, but I've found my share of bad bottle cages over the years and cost doesn't necessarily guarantee a fool proof bottle cage. My favorite cage has to be the King Cage Titanium model, but the downside is that it will set you back about $60. They look classy and I've never had one break. I only have them on my handmade steel hardtail due to the price, so with that being said i keep Velocity Bottle Traps on the rest of my bikes. The  Bottle Trap is available in a slew of colors, it's made of recyclable plastic in the event of catastrophic failure and it does what it's supposed to for the low cost of $6.99.

Bottle Trap by Velocity USA

Moving along, lets get into discussing nutrition. This can be a more personal taste/need based item, but i'll share what i use and you can go from there. Everyone has different needs when it come to nutrition; some people battle cramps, other battle nausea, some don't like sugar or certain flavors, and some prefer solids over liquids. My best advice is to try out several different kinds and options on your training rides before implements them in a race or other bigger event. I prefer to use Skratch Labs and Infinit Nutrition for the majority of my liquid needs. I like the flavor subtlety of the Skratch mix but the Infinit packs a lot of good stuff into one mix. A downside of the Infinit is that it can be quite sticky so beware of leaky bottles or spills. For long rides i'll use the Go Far by Infinit or the Orange Skratch Labs mix. For shorter stuff i prefer something with some caffeine to give me that extra boost. Be sure if you do use caffeine that you test it out to see how sensitive you are to it as some folks don't need much to get them revved up. When it comes to gels my go to has always been Powergel Strawberry Banana because it has more sodium than most other brands which i need to stave off cramps and it's less viscous than some brands so it's easy to ingest. For long rides i like to interchange chews with gels so that it's not all the same texture/flavor. For really long rides i also prefer to add in some "normal" food of a solid nature to keep from getting "gut rot" by just drinking flavored drinks and sugary gels/chews.
For "normal" food i prefer to eat items that are more savory and salty to offset the sugary stuff. Beef jerky, plain potato chips, crackers, trail mix and other quick snacks are great items to give good energy and are easy to ingest at a quick stop or on the bike. Granola bars are okay but beware that they're not overly sweet or difficult to chew/swallow. ERG energy bars are a good balance of sweetness, nutrients and are easy to chew and swallow. I find that Clif Bars and more dense varieties can be too dry or dense and difficult to get down especially while putting in any effort. Pro-tip: for a sour stomach or to help prevent intestinal distress try carrying a to-go package of applesauce to help settle your gut as it has a more neutral flavor and is part of the BRAT diet for digestive issues (i eat it during all of my long races).

Proper nutrition on the bike will get you through that long ride or race but it's equally important to fuel up and take care of your body the rest of the week too. I'm not going to get into daily diet tips or overall meal plans but rather recommend some items/ideas to help along with a healthy diet. One things that endurance riding and training does is drain your body and gut of good nutrients in an effort to keep you moving. It's important to get these vitamins, minerals and bacteria back in balance to keep from getting sick or worn down. I have a few vitamins that i supplement my regular diet with because i don't get quite enough in my normal foods such as C, D and E. To keep joints healthy i like to add on a joint compound to keep my knees and ankles moving freely. I realize that the use of supplements is debatable so feel free to agree or disagree with any of this, it's simply what i have been doing for a long time and seems to work out. I have dabbled with getting probiotics in my system via foods (kombucha, yogurts, etc...) and via pill form and have recently found a good boost from taking Sound Probiotics Sport supplement. The majority of your immune system comes from your gut so it only makes sense to treat it well and take care of it. I've been taking this supplement for 6 weeks now and have decided to make it a part of my regular routine.

Sound Probiotics Sport

People always look at my bike saddles and cringe in dismay on behalf of my nether region. Yes, it's true, i use narrow firm carbon saddles with little to no padding. If it weren't for awesome padded bib shorts this would not be the case. When training or logging the hours it's important to pay attention to the position and fit of yourself to your bike. If it weren't for a good bike fit and setup then i wouldn't be riding the gear that i do. I'm fortunate in that I've been doing this long enough that i can setup a new bike to my needs rather quickly based off measurements i keep written down, saddles i know and trust and shoes/pedals that i keep around. You can spend all the money you want on a bike, but if it's not the right size or fit for you then it can be just as unpleasant as riding a Walmart steed. Take the time whether you go into Grand Rapids Bicycle Company and get the Guru fit treatment or enlist the help of a trusted friend/athlete to get you squared away. There are different theories on bike fit, but listening to your body is one of the best indicators. If you experience any numbness, back pain, joint problems or hot spots then you should probably enlist some help to solve the issue. Once a bike is setup and you're happy with it, be sure to record that info somewhere you'll remember so you can always go back to it if things get adjusted.

Skincare can be another neglected area in cycling. Some people prefer to use chamois cream and others not so much. I'm in the camp that uses chamois cream and can't get by without it for long rides and races. I've tried a lot of brands and my favorite one that i always go to is Soigneur Hors Categorie which has a touch of menthol. It has a good consistency that's not too runny and not too thick, lasts a long time between applications and is readily available through local shops such as GRBC. Soigneur also makes a great embrocation cream which is wonderful for the colder seasons, but can also be of use in the summer. I like to apply a small amount of embrocation to my upper and lower back along with my hips to help keep the muscles warm and loose during long efforts. My lower back is usually the first thing to start crying uncle on long rides and applying a small amount of embro keeps it warm and loose. Pro-tip: keep track of your embrocation cream and clearly identify it from your chamois cream to avoid maximum discomfort!

Soigneur Hors Categorie chamois cream

 Body work outside of training helps make training and riding all the more pleasant. I keep a leg rolling stick at work in my desk and bust it out when no ones looking to work those pesky knots out of my calves and thighs. A simple lacrosse ball works well to get into those hips and calves as well. If you have the connections or resources a deep tissue massage can do wonders to keep the body feeling good. One thing that i don't go too long without is a visit to Train Out Pain chiropractic for a good active release session with Dr. Jason Ross or his comrade Dr. Eric Graf. If Jason is good enough for the US Olympic team i suppose he can probably keep me straightened out. Not only do i see Dr. Ross to work out problem areas and injuries but also for strength training tips and exercises to help activate weak muscles and balance out the various muscle groups i need to perform my best. A good doctor can help point out your weak spots and recommend exercises to beef those areas up.

Speaking of all of this training and riding it's probably best to talk about what great options there are out there for making routes, riding with groups and testing yourself in fun races. I spend a fair amount of time marking the gravel roads that exist in West Michigan on It's a great tool that has gravel roads highlighted in yellow to help create fun routes. I like to use this map as a reference in combination with the Strava route builder (i have a prior blog that covers this subject) to come up with fun routes such as the Farmland 50 Fondo, the Tuesday Gravel Adventure loops and all of my bikepacking adventures up in the Manistee National Forest. If all of this sounds like a headache and you're like "come on Matt, all i want to do is go ride my bike on gravel with fun people then have a beer!" then there are options for you!


With gravel riding being a "thing" now there are more group rides and Facebook events than ever out there to jump in on and experience for yourself. Yours truly has a group ride every Tuesday departing  from Townsend Park in West Michigan for a two lap gravel adventure. The Tuesday Gravel Adventure is composed of two laps; the first lap is group/social pace and the second lap is a fire breathing free for all. It's a great way to get comfortable riding in a group, to learn new roads/routes and to get a good training ride in with friends. Check out the Facebook group for more info; Tuesday Gravel Adventure group. Here in West Michigan we are lucky to have so many great bike shops, teams and groups to ride with so don't hesitate to search out something that fits your schedule and desire. Has all of that training got you fired up and ready to throw down? if that's the case then maybe you ought to get out and mix it up at a local gravel race!
Tuesday Gravel Adventure!

Everyone and their spandex wearing brother seems to know about the Barry Roubaix, and i can;t recommend it more as it's an awesome event, but the gravel season doesn't start or stop there! It's a bit late this year now to get in on the Spring Lowell 50, Melting Mann and Barry Roubaix but there are plenty more events to have a good time at. The Hellkaat Hundie makes for an awesome DK200 training race and is only 15 bucks on Bikereg. The Arcadian Grit and Gravel has gravel AND singletrack, not to mention beer and awesome scenery. The Sturgeon 100 may be a bit of a hike all the way up in da UP but it's worth it for the beauty and all you gotta do is send in a psotcard! If you're looking to travel then head out to Spring Valley, MN and bear witness to Almanzo 100. Dirty Kanza 200 may be sold out for this year, but it's not a spectacle to be missed if you love riding gravel and seeing new places. The list goes on and on and the fall has it's own set of sweet events.
Barry Roubaix Bling

That's a lot of info and whatnot in one blog post, so i'd say it's about time to wrap it up. Naturally these are my opinions and preferences so take that for what it's worth. My goal in this post was to get some info out there for folks who are curious about gravel riding/racing and share what i've learned in my time partaking. I'm on Facebook, Instagram and always finding my way to some beer tent at a race near you so don't hesitate to look me up if you've got questions or want to get in on some gnarly gravel grinding!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Staving off Burnout

Odds are if you race your bike, train a lot, run marathons or any other kind of athletic pursuit that you’ve come to a point where you’re feeling burnt out. No one is immune from burn out if they don’t take the proper precautions, and even doing so doesn’t guarantee your body won’t revolt at some point. Despite this fact, there’s no need to worry but rather harbor the knowledge you need to stay fresh and dig yourself out of that hole should you ever find yourself in one. Recently I found myself feeling the effects on traveling long hours, racing every weekend and dealing with the realities of winter. I’ve talked with people multiple times about this subject and thought it may be useful to get some thoughts down.

A Frequent scene during winter race travel

Taking yourself seriously is like building a tolerance to caffeine. At first it has the benefits you’re looking for, but as time goes on and you indulge more and more the benefits are less and less. Sometimes you need to take a race or training session seriously, the focus and attention can help to amplify the results, but if you apply this to every action regarding cycling then you’ll soon find the affect to be diminished and over time it can actually become a hindrance. Keep perspective on what events you need to take serious, and focus on being more relaxed with the rest of your schedule and training. Training won’t always be fun, but if you’re not stressing yourself out beforehand then you have much better odds at enjoying and embracing it.

Be forgiving to yourself. It’s easy to console others on lack luster races, goals missed, or lack of fitness due to outside circumstances, but I find that a lot of people have trouble applying that same mentality to themselves. If work has kept you long hours, the kids haven’t been sleeping well, or your motivation just hasn’t been there, take a step back and don’t be hard on yourself about what could have been or chastize yourself for “where you should be”. Where you should be is most likely where you are based on lifes demands. Fitness comes and goes, sometimes we loose our edge temporaily but it doesn’t mean that we can’t resharpen it and come around stronger than ever.

Find time for fun in your schedule. There are going to be rest days, low volume days, spin-it-out days, and “free” days, be sure to take these days “seriously”. I don’t mean “seriously” like wake up at 5am to carb load, but seriously like sticking to keeping things fun and the level where they need to be. All too often people will stick a hard ride or tempo pace group ride in where a rest day or easy day should be just because they feel like they need the fitness or it will benefit them. The rejuvenation from a proper recovery or easy day will go much farther in the long run than cramming in another 2 hours of threshold effort. Get creative with your easy days, go explore a new park, ride somewhere scenic and stop frequently for photos, ride with a friend or spouse who rarely rides and stay next to them.

Fun group ride adventure!

Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. It’s easy to get excited and feed off when your body is hitting a fitness peak or you’re really in the groove. You can feel the hard work paying off and you’re dropping foolson all the stop sign sprints, but what happens when you’re the one getting dropped? As much as we can embrace the peak fitness we can deny the signs of burnout. Sometimes we all have off days and that strava segment remains elusive, but when you start to notice multiple symptoms (chronic fatigue, mood swings, lack of enthusiasm, lead legs, etc…) then it’s time to face the music. Don’t get upset or depressed because you’ve reached this phase, but rather accept it and take it “seriously”. By “seriously” I mean give it the attention it deserves along with the rest and recovery your body needs physically and mentally. The french have a saying “c’est la vie” which translates to “that’s life”.

Treating yourself well both mentally and physically is the key to getting over the hump. Give your body the rest that it’s looking for, and I realize this is always easier said than done, but try to get the sleep your body is craving or at least hold the couch down when you can. Don’t focus on “how burnt out you are” or “how slow you’ve gotten”, but rather try to excite yourself about getting some time off and the impending comback to strava greatness! Negativity will always hold you back, and letting go of those bad thoughts and embracing the positive will go a long ways in recovery. Give your body the food it wants (obviously use discretion here) and don’t fret over indulging in some Taco Bell here and there. During race season or heavy training we all too often withold what we really want (Taco Bell) in favor of giving our bodies the healthiest and leanest food. If you must get on the bike keep it super fun, go out without a route in mind, go practice wheelies in a park, go in search of some rogue trails or alleyways, go on a fun pub excursion with friends, etc… If you are really tired of the bike, find some other fun activites like running with your pet, hiking at a park, backpacking, kayaking a river you always ride by.

Urban exploration

Racing year round is becoming more prevalent. If I didn’t find the time to take breaks and have fun I could literally race every single weekend of the year, and multiple events at that! There are more and more events showing up each year, and the overlap of seasons is really starting to blur the lines. Here are some things I do personally to keep things fun and fresh:

1.       I make a calendar document in Word or Excel and just toss all the races/events that I’m interested in on there. I don’t decide right that moment if I’m for sure going, but I get them on there to see how it all lays out. Once they’re on there I “edit” what makes sense and what is too tight. This calendar is fluid and just because a race is on there doesn’t mean I’m going. This helps to avoid over-committing or racing 200 mile gravel races weeks apart.
2.       I try to always ride different routes. Sometimes it’s fun to do a TT or loop effort to check your fitness, but in general I try to always keep my scenery changing.
3.       I switch up what bikes I ride regularly. Just because it’s “gravel season” doesn’t mean I won’t jump on the fatbike and shred some gnar or hit the road bike for some speed work.
4.       I take hard days seriously while my easy days are very relaxed. I can conjure up the serious motivation in droves this way and I don’t grow a tolerance by taking the other workouts less serious.
5.       If I hit a chronic fatigue phase I will reduce beer or alcohol consumption (say it ain’t so!), be sure I’m getting good vitamins and nutrients, stay properly fed, and adjust my schedule to get plenty of sleep. I don’t worry about it, and if I need to skip a race or two then that’s what I’ll do.
6.       I get out and have fun on my bike, after all, that’s really why I do this!! I’ll go explore fun urban trails or alleys looking for cool urban routes, I’ll go ride somewhere I’ve always wanted to explore but haven’t, I’ll go ride over to Brewery Vivant to meet friends for good food, beer and conversation.
7.       I try to turn training into fun adventures. If I need to get some high volume rides I’ll go bikepacking with friends, that way I’m getting the miles and effort in on the bike, but I’m also having a great time exploring. I’ll go do a gravel route that has a river or creek crossing and I’ll throw in some singletrack and a stop at the Otisco Bakery in Smyrna to baked treats!

Creek to River Fatbike ride 2015

Last weekend I found myself traveling to Minnesota for part of the GLFBS (races 5 and 6). The series is being contested by many awesome athletes so the pressure is on to perform, and with races on both Saturday and Sunday it was key to recover and relax whenever a moment allowed. I’m pleased with how the weekend went, and had a lot of fun with friends old and new, but come Monday I was feeling pretty wiped out. I had a feeling this would happen so I made this week a “whatever I want” type of training week. My goal was to take it easy on myself during the week and hopefully feel good enough to get some hard efforts in over the weekend to prepare for the next GLFBS race.

Cuyuna Whiteout race recon

On Monday evening Jenny and I went for a fun cruise on the fatties through some alleys, down by the Grand River, stopping at Broadway bar for a pint, and finishing over at Logan’s with some tasty food and a stout. Tuesday I felt better so I got a moderate ride in. Wednesday I wanted to get another easy ride in so I decided to go test out the ice on Reeds Lake, and I’m happy to say I didn’t fall in! Thursday Jenny and I met with my doppelganger to talk wedding photos and have treats at Harmony. After our meeting I was excited to go check out Reeds Lake again (feeling excited to go ride is a good sign that you’re recovering well). I went out onto the lake ice under the warm orange glow of streetlamps and soon left them behind for the frozen dark abyss of the lake with wind swept pockets of snow strongly resembling clouds. After promptly drawing an M on my impromptu route I made another fun lap of the lake. Nearing the end of my ride I stopped to get some photos to capture the adventure. I found myself standing on the crystal clear ice in the sharp winter air marveling at how awesome it was to be out there. I didn’t want to leave the frozen lake, but rather ride willy nilly about the lake under the dark night sky. I slowly crept off to the ice and headed for home, sidetracking through the 1 mile Hodenpyle trail for one last adventure. Heading home I knew I was in a good place to train hard and enjoy the weekend, and all I had to do was relax all week after racing and have some fun to get there.
Logan's Alley

Night ice riding

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Lake Michigan Beach Fat Bike Riding!

It's with some amount of shame that i willfully admit this, but until a couple weekends ago i had never ridden my fatbike on the beach. I feel better now that i've gotten that off my chest. Jenny has been suggesting for time over the past few months that we get out for a beach ride and it wasn't until the Sunday on the end of my winter vacation that we actually put this into action. I had been chatting with Joe and he said he was up for a beach ride so the die was cast. Anytime we get to put the Transit to good use hauling bikes and people my excitement level goes up a few notches and i was pleased that the 3 fatbikes, gear and people went in with much room to spare. After some recon on Strava and Facebook groups i had a rough route in mind. The biggest thing about planning routes on the lake shore is access to said beach (parks are easiest but be sure to check hours), any hindrances along the shoreline (major channels, barrier walls, bluffs, etc...), and of course lake conditions as excessive wave action can thwart the best laid plans. We would start at North Beach Park near Grand Haven and venture north to Muskegon. There are several good stretches to choose from that are relatively unencumbered by the constructs of mankind and this one provides a good 7-8 mile jaunt before having to side route.

Fatbikes happily in their element

Jenny capturing the moment

The creek crossing at PJ Hoffmaster State Park

As we unloaded from the van we felt the northwest wind cutting across the beach and into the parking lot. Keeping skin fully covered is a good idea this time of year with the sand and steady wind. I started off with around 8 psi give or take and it was a good compromise of rolling resistance to flotation. The damp sand makes the best area to travel as long as you keep an eye out for rogue breaking waves ready to soak passersby. Thankfully the lake was relatively calm with just small whitecaps breaking and no major wave action on the shoreline. With the recent stretch of storms and high lake levels the beach has a fairly dramatic cut bank in this area so it's not very easy to just scoot a few meters inland to avoid the water. This stretch from the North Shore Park to the creek at PJ Hoffmaster is relatively un-barricaded with the exception of some long eroded dock pilings along the way. At the 4 mile mark we encountered our first true challenge which is the creek at PJ Hoffmaster State Park. Generally speaking the channel inland is around 2-3 feet in depth and the shallowest crossing point is the sand bar that builds up where the creek meets the breaking waves. I found the best method for crossing was to approach easy enough to not make a big splash and keep the pedals horizontal (think 3 and 9 o'clock) and use a stuttering pedal stroke to keep the bike moving forward without going through the full pedal stroke and soaking my feet. Each of us made it through relatively unscathed and dry. The 45NRTH Japanthers have a nice water resistant upper that keeps the frigid water at bay.

Talking creek crossing strategy

Posing for posterity

Preparing for battle

After crossing the creek we ambled northward battling the steady winds and enjoying a brief showing from the sun. The next barrier ahead would be more significant than the minor creek at the state park and that would be Mona Lake Channel. The channel makes an appearnce at mile 6.5 on this route and is surely not ride-able so we cut inland through a small community park and one half mile inland to Lake Harbor road in Norton Shores. After crossing the channel we turned back toward the lake through a county park and continued our adventure northward. Nine miles into our journey we encountered a man-made rocky outcropping that had to be overcome and ventured onward until we hit a major road block. The beach quickly disappeard and in it's place was a sharp forested bluff going straight into the crashing waves. On Google maps this still shows up as a sandy beach, but those times are long gone. To further complicate the issue there was a house just 50 feet or so up the bluff and it would require trespassing to safely surmount this obstacle. We chose this as a good spot to enjoy a snack and strategize. We all agreed that we wanted to make it to Muskegon even if we had to make a sizable re-route to get there so we ventured back south to that rock outcropping and the road that dead ended at it.

Said rock outcropping

Awesome views during our snack break

As we ventured down the road which i would later find out is Seminole road we found ourselves on the backside of a locked gate with No Trespassing signs facing outwards. We didn't pass any signage coming from the beach, but clearly this road was not meant to be a thoroughfare to access the beach. It seems that it is meant more to keep miscreants out as there's a community hiking/walking path the goes around the fence and we passed a local walking their dog. With that being said, this route leads to a dead end and i wouldn't recommend it. We hopped onto the pavement and set the navigation to Norman F. Kruse Park which we assessed to be the nearest access point to the shoreline. By the time we hit the beach again we were at a total of 13.5 miles. Upon regaining the coast we quickly found ourselves in a minor snow squall which made the adventure that much more excellent not to mention the lighthouse on the Muskegon Lake channel had come into view. We made short work of the last section and celebrated briefly at the lighthouse for our perseverance.

Photographic evidence

Stoke level is high

We were all excited for the return trip as it meant a tailwind would be ushering us closer to our vehicle. All was well until i looked back and Jenny was out of sight. After she caught up she informed us that her bike was acting funny and dropping the chain. I took a closer inspection and found the freehub to be frozen up a bit. With some work i was able to free it and we ventured onward (this omen would later rear it's ugly head in the form of a spice grinder style destruction of the pawls and springs on a different ride). We decided that we would head south beyond our last point of entry to assess the bluff which had blocked us from the northern view. As suspected it was more than just one house that lay in the way and there was no way to safely pass without basically climbing the stairs to their driveway and cutting through their yard. This did spawn some discussion which led me to look up the legality of beach access and private property in Michigan. Here's what i found:

Basically you can cruise, run, hike or skip down the beach but i wouldn't plan on having a bonfire or picnic on someone's property. Also, it never hurts to be amply courteous and wave and smile as you encounter other people. Back to the story though... So, we turned back north towards the park and followed the same roads which brough us around the obstacle. After looking at the map we also determined that the beach section between Mona Lake Channel and the encroaching bluff was not worth the extra hassle of re-routing twice so we just cut straight to the beach access south of Mona Lake.

Obligatory group ride selfie

Here's what i learned about this route:
If you're looking to just stay on the beach for an out and back ride, i would recommend turning around at Mona Lake channel for a nice 13 mile roundtrip. You could always add some extra at the end by looping down to the Grand River Channel in Grand Haven. If you want to make it from Grand Haven to Muskegon, do yourself a favor and take the roads from the Mona Lake Channel to Norman F. Kruse Park (count on about 5.5 miles of pavement). If the creek is too much to tackle at PJ Hoffmaster you can turn inland and there's a bridge over the creek. If your freehub body starts freezing up, slipping or not working, take it to a bike shop or check it out when you get home, the sand and water may have done some wicked damage.... At the end of the 30 mile ride i was wondering "why have i never done this before" and found myself scouring maps more more epic beach rides in the future.

The bridge isn't too far inland

Overall route map

Zoomed in map of our re-route areas