Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mother of all Suck Fests

A sunny day MTB racer got a dose of what real mountain bike racers have been putting up with all summer. I hate riding off-road on muddy trails or in the rain. I hate racing in those conditions even more. The weather man was predicting rain, no chance for a miss even. If the VT50 didn't fill up in May and allowed day-of walk-up registration, I surely would have bailed on this one. It was my first Vermont 50 in eight years. The two times I did the VT50 in 2000 and 2001, we had pristine weather and conditions. What a welcome back greeting.

Dryness the night before

A long race deserves a long report, I suppose. So hunker down. A day of suckiness begins with a night of suckiness. I got minimal sleep. We had to get up at 4:30am and drive 30 minutes to make the 5:45am race announcements. Dave and Beth Penney and I stayed at the Super 8 in White River Junction. I was getting a little hungry, so I chomped a few Gu Chomps before bed. I almost fell asleep, but then I became restless. This wasn't regular pre-race restlessness. I pretty much already wrote this race off on the account of expected conditions. No, this was more like my heart pounding out of my chest restlessness. Then it occurred to me. Some flavors of Gu Chomps have caffeine. Normally, I have my last coffee before noon when I race the next day. I didn't get up to check the Gu Chomps. I just knew. What an idiot.

A couple hours go by, and I'm finally getting sleepy again. Then a freaking car alarm goes off right below our room. Wide awake again. Time passes, get dreamy, doze off, and the car alarm goes off again. Now I'm totally friggin BS. Of course, the three of us are awake. I said I was going to throw a brick through their window, give the alarm a reason to go off. The motel was packed, so there were probably a couple hundred angry awake people there. I wonder if somebody else "took care of it." It did not go off again.

I fell asleep for a little while. I awoke to a freaky dream. I dreamt that Dave had turned off the alarm clocks (I set two) and we woke up after it was light out. This meant the race already started. Dave was like oh well, we missed the race, might as well go down and get our free breakfast. We did, then went home. I think this dream was telling me to reconsider racing. I dosed off again, only to have the alarm awaken me. I thought I set buzzer, not radio. Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" blasted me awake. Hmmm, I don't think we were in for a magic carpet ride. It was 4:30am, 48F and pouring buckets outside.

It was a mad scramble for three people to kit up, eat and poop in 30 minutes in tiny room. I gave my plate number at check-in and went back to my car and waited. I lined up with just minutes to spare. Zero warm-up. With such a long race, I did not plan to go hard enough in the first hour to warrant a warm-up.

My biggest fear was hypothermia. I heard other riders talking about Goretex or rain-proof shells. I brought neither with me. I had a very light and very liquid porous windbreaker. I wore IBC team jersey under it with arm warmers, team bibs with knee warmers below. I was getting cold fast waiting to start. Fortunately is was just drizzling at the time.

We go off at 6:20am, the second wave of experts with 45+, 55+ and singlespeed division. The first large wave of experts went five minutes earlier. There were about 835 riders pre-registered. Not sure how many showed up. We're neutral through the first mile of pavement, then it's race on once the we hit the gravel road. This dirt road follows a stream downhill, it's been raining for several hours, so you can imagine what riding in a pack of a hundred riders is like. In two minutes I was soaked, my teeth were gritting, and I couldn't see out of my glasses. Plus, it was still so dark that you were just following the shadow in front of you. You could not see the potholes. That would be the easiest part of the course for the day.

Three miles into the race, we turn left and go up. This was a greasy two-track. I dropped to granny ring and crunch. Crank stops dead. Chainsuck. Frick! I tried two or three more times, and my granny ring was not happening today. I thought about bailing right then and there. My prospects of cataclysmically cramping up before finishing just exponentially increased. I needed that granny ring in this peanut butter crud. I was bitching and moaning about my predicament when one of many riders passing me hollered "Quit yer bitching and suck it up like a singlespeeder." Yeah, I deserved that I suppose.

So the slog is on. By the time we got back to a gravel road climb, I think there were about a dozen riders from my field ahead of me. I could see most of them. I was still debating whether I was going to salvage anything from this disaster waiting to happen or just go into self preservation mode and finish so I don't have to take crap from Penney about DNFing.

About 25 miles in, my hamstrings were not feeling all that great. All that seated mashing in the middle ring was doing a number on me. I have a singlespeed, but I generally don't do hilly training rides with it. I'm a spinner. Time-trials and hillclimbs go better with some rpm's in the legs. So I was way deep into uncharted territory here.

Some of the descents were nuts. Guys were sliding out left and right. One guy caught a dead tree and took the thing down. Nothing looked to serious. To my amazement, guys were not queuing up behind me, as on the SM100 descents a few weeks ago. More often than not, I gained on the guys in front of me on the descents. I brought my hardtail with WTB Mutanoraptor tires, 1.95" width with low profile knobbies that were half worn. I ran about 25psi front, 28psi rear. These tires have pretty sticky rubber and don't last long. Even though I've been riding these for many years now, this is the first time I ever raced them in mud. They are a surprisingly good mud tire. No up hill traction, but they were not slipping on roots and rocks at all. Normally I'm the rider dabbing on root or rock outcroppings, but not today. Maybe my ramped up trail hours this fall has something to do with it too. There might have actually been a crack in the misery cave, where I enjoyed myself on one or two of these descents.

Not all was well though. The discomfort in my hamstrings was now become spasms. I hadn't really been drinking from my Camelbak much. I'm experimenting with weaker Gatorade mix, stronger electrolytes. It was cool out, so I didn't think I was loosing too much through perspiration. I began drinking it in earnest though. Perhaps too late. I began having major hammy and inner thigh cramps. They sent me right off my bike to walk them out on even modest grades. I wasn't even to the 30 mile mark yet. Keith Button (NorEast) told me the course changed a lot since 2001, and the last half was way harder than the first half. I figured I was doomed. I emptied my Camelbak, then hoped I got to aid station #7 where I dropped two bottles with very strong Endurolytes mix before I totally seized up.

The finishing chute around 2pm in steady downpour. Half the riders/runners are still on the course.

There must have been 200 yellow drop bags at station #7. A spectator spotted mine for me. Wasted no more than a minute getting the bottles and wolfing down a few cookies. I forced myself to drink frequently from the bottles. I made a very weak Gatorade solution. Sure tasted salty though. I had to scale back to really not much harder than conversation pace for a while, choosing to walk the climbs to let the cramping muscles recover. Surprisingly, I was not giving up very many positions. Rich Brown came blasting by though, on his singlespeed. He said "I bet you're hating life right now!" Guess I have a reputation for whining about greasy conditions. We started together, but he sure had it going at this point in the race. And I was whining about being able to go down only to a 1:1 gear ratio. I'm such a wuss.

Shortly after Rich passed me, I'm riding this fantastic singletrack with another rider on my wheel. I'm looking down, and I don't see any tracks. Hmmm, it is harder packed here, but then I hit a mushy part. I was the first person to leave a 2" deep track. Oh man, that sucks. I rode off the course, and another rider followed me. A backtrakin' we go. The turn I missed was clearly marked. Must be the mud on my glasses. I have never finished a VT50 without going off course once. This one costed me at least five minutes and many hard earned positions.

Illustration of rate of electrolyte consumption (orange), power output (blue) and intensity of muscle spasms (red)

Around the 40 mile mark, I noticing less tendency for my legs to misfire. I'm able to start ramping things back up. When I cramp, my energy level and desire to hammer are still there. It's just the legs don't cooperate. I rarely bonk in these long races. I suspect the combination of backing down a bit and the strong electrolyte solution I was sucking down was bringing things back into equilibrium. I started ramping the power back up again. There was another guy in my wave that was just up, so I though I should at least try to reel him back in. The plan was to play conservative, stay with him until the final climb, then put a minute or so on him. With three miles to go, I decisively passed him and another rider from the first wave. I was actually feeling pretty good again. Maybe it was "the horse smells the barn" syndrome. Either way, I was pushing my highest intensity of the whole race and not cramping, clearly in my LT zone and breathing the hardest I had all day. I caught Rich Brown back and passed him about as decisively as he first passed me. That means I not only made back the time he put on me, but the time I spent off-course too. I had emptied my two bottles before I got to the base of Mt Ascutney. I became convinced I need to aggressively manage electrolyte intake during races. This means drinking drinking earlier and often.

I remember the switchbacks across the ski runs from eight years ago. Off-camber, wet weeds, can't see the deep divots. Surprised I didn't take a header in the last mile of the race. I did not look at my time at all during the race. I though maybe a little over 5hrs when I crossed the line. My computer said 5:48, not including the stops! Wow, was that slow.

My official time was 5:50 and change. Preliminary results gave me 4th place in the 45+ group. Alec Petro (Team Psycho) won the 45's. I think 67 were registered, no idea how many raced or finished. It was hard to tell where I was overall, as they had the running and riding times combined. Many of the 50km runners posted faster times than the 50mi riders. Maybe 26th place? When I registered in May, I was targeting something like a top 20. I was 10th overall in 2001.
The timing officials said the attrition rate was huge. Talking with several top finishers after the race, it was agreed this was the slowest VT50 ever. It never stopped raining during the race. At times it slowed to a drizzle, but it sure kept things juicy. The last 15 miles were particularly slippery. I found if I just like the bike find it's own line, I came out ok. I never went down. Dave Penney finished about 15-20 minutes behind me. When he registered, he was hoping for a sub-5hr finish this year. Instead, he went over 6hrs. Yeah, that's how slow the course was compared to last year. Despite my chainsuck issues, I fared much better than I thought I would in these conditions. Dave and Zane Wenzell (Benidorm) both beat me at the SM100, now I got to return the favor under much more challenging conditions. Maybe I'm not such a roadie after all.

Here's a summary of the good and bad from this race -
What went right:
Choosing Hartail - dualie is overkill, heavier, holds more mud, more to break
WTB Mutano Raptor tires - great in mud
Fender - my one comfort item. Kept grit out of butt crack for most of ride.
Clothing - finished in all the layers I started in, perfect for 50F rain
Temperature - Hard to overheat in 50 degree rain
Stayed upright - earlier this summer I couldn't ride over a dry rock without endoing
Descents - held my ground this time

What went wrong:
22t chainsuck - I kind of new this was a risk. Dualie drivetrain is newer.
Water bottles - why do mountain bikers use these? Horse frequent the VT50 trails. One time I went to get a drink and got mouthful of solid matter. Poop? Loam? Who knows.

Next off-road event is the Ironcross race in Pennsylvania on Oct 11. A lot like the VT50, except a little more road content, 62 miles, on cross bikes. It will seem easy after this year's VT50.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Buying Local

On average, cyclists tend to be a little more environmentally sensitive than the average folk. A few don't even own cars and rely entirely on bicycle or public transportation to get about. Others make a conscientious effort to buy as much of their food from local growers, and organic if possible. Renewable sources of energy is another area some cyclists try to make an impact, whether buying electricity from a wind farm or putting bio diesel in the tank. While there is little doubt humans impact Earth's climate, I feel a good bit of our behavior is of the "keeping up with the Jone's" phenomenon.

It's like if you don't have the latest iPhone or wear the latest style shades, you aren't with it. Some wear environmental stewardship just like these other vain commodities. It impresses people.

So a few weeks ago, I was pressed to furnish our spare bedroom before my wife's sister came out from Michigan for a week. I wanted to buy quality furniture that we would keep the rest of our lives. I really wanted to check out Gardner, MA, the furniture capital of New England, but schedule just wouldn't let us get there in time. Jordan's in Nashua was the next closest bet, a mid-level retailer.

Having built a number of pieces of fine furniture myself, I would not accept products with veneered components. This eliminated 95% of the show room. I wanted 100% solid wood, meaning even the sides are solid hardwood. Many of the top brands will use a quality veneer on the sides. This isn't Walmart grade veneer (plastic), but natural wood veneer. I still didn't want that. I scored a nice 100% solid oak master bedroom set when we moved out here 13 years ago from Furniture World (now defunct).

Jordan's had a nice solid oak bedroom set for reasonable price. Very solidly built. It was made in China! I imagine that red oak trees were harvested here, sent to China where they milled the logs and assembled the furniture. Now I'm not a militant environmentalist, but something seemed terribly wrong with that. The price couldn't possibly reflect the total cost (material + labor + environmental impact).

So Jordan's had another suite of furniture that was solid hardwood, with a choice between maple or ash. It was made by Tubb's of Vermont, right here in New England. Trees harvested here, local craftsman building it, and very short distance to ship it to me. You'd think something that is so big and bulky would be more expensive to build overseas. Not when labor cost is practically zero over there. The Tubb's set was nearly twice the price of the Chinese set. With the economy the way it is with several friends out of work, I thought if I bought locally made furniture, maybe some guy in Vermont gets to keep his job another week.

So we compromised. To control cost, Cathy and I decided a full hardwood bed frame was not necessary. We opted to get just the finely crafted headboard and forgo the foot board and frame, getting an inexpensive steel frame (USA made) instead. This got the price down to only 50% more than a full-featured imported set. The Tubb's quality is superb.

So we furnished our bedroom without guilt. Or so we thought. Did we cave in to the current fad of "Think globally, act locally?" Should we feel guilty about being influenced in this way? Not all trends prove to be healthy. 25 years from now the next generation may know that trade imbalances and climate change were all hype and nothing bad came of them. And I will have foolishly spent more money and got less for it. You just don't know though. Today's hype is accepted as fact. It becomes part of our social fabric. We all are meme machines. That basically means we are designed to be susceptible to any new idea, fad or ideology that drifts by. It's unavoidable. So now I'm propagating this silly "buy local" meme. Maybe a reader will be influenced in making a local buy decision they are faced with. Perhaps in this case, buying local just makes sense on its own merit, regardless of any trendy fads. You be the judge.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Crit Racing

A week ago I got a call from Joe Reagan (NorEast Cycling) looking for help with the Portsmouth Crit. A lot of bike racing was going on over the weekend with CX races in other places. So a broad net was cast to pull in helpers to ensure this worthy event runs smoothly. I haven't been a NorEast rider for two seasons now. I have volunteered to help out with the Portsmouth Crit in the past. It is one of the premier events NorEast runs, an all-day city center festival with activities for the whole family.

I agreed to marshall the course and help with take-down after the last race. The children's races started at 12:30pm. I was amazed at how many kids lined up, at least a hundred in several fields. You have to crack up when Richard Fries is giving race instructions to 4-6 year olds - with training wheels. "Don't look at mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa. You are going east, don't ride north or south, just go that-a-way."

Fries giving pre-race instruction to a very attentive audience.

Interestingly, many of the bigger kids already have team affiliations. Several of the P/1/2/3/4 teams were represented in the kids races. Really. The 4-6 year olds, first a field with training wheels, then a field without training wheels, raced 600m. This was the finishing straight away to the line. Slightly downhill with tail wind to start, then slight uphill to the line. A few kids in each wave really got it. They drilled it all the way to the line. On the flip side, at least one kid in each of the first few waves was terrified by the experience and ended up balling. Yep, I can relate more to this second group than the first group. Crits scare the willies out of me too.

The childrens age groups went up to 10-12, which did two full laps around the course. Started to see some nice equipment in this group with one boy that nearly lapped the slowest riders.

So you didn't come here to read about kiddie races? Well, on bikes were all really just a bunch of kiddies. I have proof. The only difference between the four year olds and pros are how close they ride to each other. Ok, pros go a little faster too. Same circles on bicycles. I was stationed on the last corner before the finish all afternoon. I captured a few images. After reviewing the images at home, I noted a nice linear progression in pack density with field category. Hope the captions stay with images. Not all browsers handle this well.

The four's, 4-6 year olds that is, just after the start. Notice ample space between riders.

The Cat 4's. Could still drive my Scion xD between some of these riders.

Cat 3's. Field gets tighter, still possible to move around in this field.

The Pro/1/2's. These guys are so tight they're practically spooning!

After the races, I loaded hay bails onto trucks and trailers and then unloaded them at another location. Hundreds of them. My utter lack of core conditioning became fully apparent the next morning. I could barely roll over out of bed. Nothing in my body escaped unscathed, except maybe my quads. It didn't help matters that I rollerskied on hilly terrain for over an hour Sunday morning either. I'm sure I'll be feeling this come Vermont 50 this weekend. My plan was to be fully involved in core conditioning by now, but too much seems to keep getting in the way.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Season of Dubiousness Comes to a Close

The Catskills Clamber

Six riders from four states converged on Woodstock, NY for fun in the Catskills on Friday. The forecast looked bleak earlier in the week, but an ideal day for a hill fest materialized. Due to late start and two riders needing to get back home at a reasonable hour, our planned route was truncated to 92 miles. We kept the good stuff though, like six major climbs.

Riding were me and Dave from NH, Karl from ME, Charlie from NY, Brett and Jon from MA. We rolled out of Woodstock at 10:20am, right into Mead Mountain. None of us have ridden this climb before. This is the wall you see immediately north of town. Zero warmup, 12% grade to the top. My legs were still hurtin' from the 85 minute race-pace trail ride I did on Wednesday. Charlie (11th overall on Mt Washington this year) totally bolted on this one. I was hoping to go more of a steady state pace on this ride, but Brett didn't help the cause by trying to stay with Charlie on this first climb. We gained 1200ft in the first two miles of the ride and quickly had the group back together.

From left to right are Mead, Peekamoose, Glade, Sugar Loaf, Yeagerville, Peekamoose.

The route continued down the back side of Mead Mountain, picked up Rt 212, and was mostly rolling downhill for many miles. No cars really, except for a few on Rt 212. A few miles of Rt 28 and 28A brought us to Peekamoose Rd, the second major climb of the ride. This climb starts out very gradual but presents double-digit grades for the last mile or so. Charlie rode clean out of sight from the rest of us on this one. The Peekamoose descent towards Grahamsville is sweet. Lakes, streams, cliffs, waterfalls, and nearly all downhill for over 10 miles.

Once we bottomed out, the real spanker on this ride was next, Glade Hill. This climb punished me badly the last time we rode out here in 2006. Glade hill averages something around 15%, there are sustained sections over 20%, including a lengthy stint at 25% two-thirds of the way up. I had low gears, but apparently not low enough. My bike nearly stopped between each pedal stroke. Amazingly, Charlie rode away from us with 39x28 gearing. I used 38x32 gearing, a huge difference, but I wish I went lower.

Heading up Glade Hill. Looks steep in photo, but it's really "steeper than it looks."

Two years ago we did Glade hill as an out and back. The descent isn't all that much fun. It is too steep, requiring you to waste all those precious killojoules by heating up your rims. This time, we descended Moore Hill Rd into Grahamsville. Still steep, but you could really let your speed run out in places. Some nice views here and there too.

In Grahamsville, we stopped at the deli, 40 miles into the ride, and our only food stop. I ate a ton, just like in 2007. I'd rather risk being uncomfortable on the next climb than bonking before the end of the ride. Much of our climbing pace thus far has been near race pace. They had these brick sized fudge brownies chocked full o' nuts. 600 calories at least, I'd say. Had one. Half a turkey sandwich too. And a coffee, as they say a little caffeine promotes fat burn.

While there, another rider comes in the store, somebody we've not met before. After a bit, he asked me if I'm Doug. It was Steve from Brooklyn, and he knew of me through his friend Mendel, whom I've had some email dialog with on Catskills riding. Since he was focusing on the Grahamsville cluster of climbs, he decided to join us for the next two climbs before we started working our way back to Woodstock. The world is full of hillclimb nuts. Love it.

With full stomachs, a few miles brings us to the Sugar Loaf Hill climb, the biggest net gain climb of the ride. It gets steep too, near the top, but not as steep as the earlier ones. Charlie does his thing again once the going got steep, and Steve initially stayed with him. I felt like I was really sucking today, but I wasn't the only one suffering. Eventually, Charlie snaps the bungee cord to Steve and continues solo. The last mile or so of this climb is around 10% grade, gaining 1800ft from the bottom. On the descent, I had to stop at the spring part way done. Cycling tradition in these parts says you have to top off your water bottles here. I hear locals even fill jugs for household drinking water from this spring. It was good water. The Sugar Loaf descent is one of the nicest in the Grahamsville cluster, as very little braking is needed. You could easily top 50mph in places if you knew the road well.

A little flat cruising around the Rondout Reservoir quickly took us to the fifth major climb of the ride, Yeagerville Rd. This gem of a climb gains about 1200ft spread over several miles, so nothing too strenuous. This was good, as my calves were starting to feel a little tweaky. As a group, we got quite spread out on this one, requiring the most regrouping time at the top. Recent chip seal was put down on this climb and descent. It makes hairpin descents dicy, as you don't know if the stuff is bonded or loose. I'd hate to go down on this stuff. It is crushed rock, sharp as heck. Even a short slide would turn flesh into hamburger.

Buttermilk Falls on Peekamoose Rd. Drop is at least 100ft I'd say, which is hard to judge from photo. It sits about 100m off the road.

The Yeagerville climb dumps back out on Peekamoose. Steve split off at this point, while we climbed Peekamoose again, but from the south. This was the last significant climb of the ride. Never steep, almost a non-climb, and drafting made a difference most of the time. I stopped to take photos of Buttermilk Falls and had to hustle to regain the group. Brett hates waiting, even more so if he's waiting for me. Amazingly, the group reached the top before I caught them, and they stopped.

The skies were clouding over and getting dark at this point. We even felt a couple drops here and there on our way back to Woodstock. It never rained though. We had trouble keeping the group together on some of the rollers along Wittenberg Rd. Everybody was spent, some a lot more so than others. My GPS logged 92.0 miles, 8690ft of climbing, in 5hrs, 20min riding time. Despite this ride being much shorter than our 130+ mile ride here two years ago, the three of us that did both rides felt the shorter ride was much harder. Seems the intensity on the climbs was much higher. We also felt this ride wasn't long enough to be categorized as "dubious training value." We needed another climb and hour of riding to get there, to dip into death march territory. Everybody thought this was a just-right proportioned ride. The group rode very well together.

The traffic was minimal on nearly every climb we did. Zero cars passed us on Glade Hill. Maybe two cars passed us on the Yeagerville and Mead Mtn climbs. Just a handful of cars on Peekamoose and Sugar Loaf. Our route minimized time on major routes. Still though, it seems New Yorkers are even less tolerant of bikers than Bostonians. We had one jerk deliberately buzz us with 2" to spare on Rt 212 coming back into Woodstock. And yes, we were riding single file on edge of road.

That probably does it for epic training rides this year. Of the dubious training value ride serious, only the Jay Peak Double Metric was missed this year. Last year the Catskills ride was missed. It was good come back.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Derailleurs and Horst Links

I'm stuck in Atlantic City, NJ on business. What a rat race. I think every-other building has Trump in the name. The boardwalk is kind of cool, right on the ocean and all. I have a meeting at the C4ISR Symposium on Tuesday (if you really want to know what that is, you'll have to Google it).

I don't evaluate bike gadgets very often here, but a recent tweak on my Titus Racer-X stands out. I originally had the bike built up with full XTR kit a year ago. I believe only one version of XTR derailleur was available at the time. I've actually been riding the current crop XTR for a couple years now, since I rebuilt my Dean Ti hardtail with the stuff. One thing I noted on the Dean was ghost shifting on gnarly terrain. I think the return spring (high gear normal) was weak, so the derailleur would actually bounce around a bit and cause missed teeth under power. Unnerving.

I put the same rear derailleur model on my Racer-X. It does the same thing. It is not a matter of adjustment or frame geometry. It just doesn't like to be jostled around. The Racer-X had an even more nagging problem. The derailleur would basically sit right against the Horst Link pivot and clatter away, metal to metal, on even the slightest bumpy terrain. This drove me nuts, almost to the point of abandoning gears.

Side view of Shadow derailleur. Note very short cable routing.

Then I caught a review of a Titus FSR suspension bike in a magazine. On that bike, they actually moved the derailleur hanger back, such that it was out of Shimano's spec, but avoided slapping into the bike frame. The review blasted Titus for this, as the chain now did not have enough wrap around the cogs and occasionally slipped. This is unforgivable. Fortunately I did not get one of those Titus models. The magazine article also pointed out that this was totally unnecessary, as the Shimano Shadow derailleur has a hard stop and completely avoids frame slap on Horst Link suspension frames. I promptly put an XT model on order.

Well, my Shadow derailleur came in last week. It is very different from a standard Shimano derailleur. Maybe you've seen the adds for it in the mags. It sits within your frame boundary, thus far less likely to get snagged by roots, rocks or sticks. This is a big deal in New England. They call it the Shadow because it sits within the shadow of your frame. Parts of the derailleur are inverted from a regular derailleur, so pieces come very close to your spokes. Since it has a hard stop about the mounting bolt, it does not need a long loop of cable housing. In fact, I cut out about 75% of the derailleur housing loop. The shift cable now pretty much comes straight down the seatstay into the derailleur. Sticks won't catch that either now.

The Shadow sits inside your frame, protected. End of cable had to be cut off very short, else it made a nice "card in spokes" sound.

I put 85 trail miles on it this weekend. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it not only eliminated derailleur slap against frame, it also completely eliminated ghost shifting on rugged terrain. The XT model feels very beefy, and the springs are very stiff in it. Yet it weighs only about 30g more than the too-light duty XTR model I replaced.

I believe Shimano went too far with the current XTR derailleur. Sure, shifting is feather light and fast, but ghost shifting every time you hammer over root or rock gardens suck. I'm tempted to replace the XTR derailleur on my hardtail too. I believe there is an XTR version of the Shadow available, but for big bucks. All derailleurs should be built like the Shadow.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chasing Peaks and Trails

Saturday's Rain Avoidance Ride

Seriously considered racing again this weekend. The weather wasn't very cooperative though. Some mountain bike racers are highly principled. They commit to a race come hell or high water. I admire their commitment. A low pressure system parked off the eastern seaboard for about 36 hrs and brought copious precipitation to coastal areas, including Wompatuck State Park, the venue for the Landmine Classic MTB race. Needless to say, having taken a beating last weekend during the SM100, I did not relish the idea of slogging 25 or 50 miles over brownie mix covered rocks. I did what any sunny day racer would do. Wimp out and head to drier land for some riding.

The weather system barely made it up to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I was dismayed to see a little rain up there when I got up Saturday morning. I waited until the Kingdom Trails office opened to get status. Word was light misting, and conditions were so dry they really needed the rain anyway. That sounded like a go to me. It poured half the way up, then some intermittent blue sky, but then light rain again just as I pulled into East Burke. I had trouble finding a place to park despite the dreary skies. It was nuts, easily more riders there than on a weekend in all of Durango. The Kingdom Trails continues to gain fame.

I was getting a late start, around noon, and risked running out of daylight. I wanted to get in a comparable ride to the Vermont 50 miler coming up. Plan was to hit a bunch of KT singletrack, then hit a big dirt road loop that included the summit of East Mountain.

I rode the new trail cut from Rt 114 by the cemetery to above the ski base area. It cuts out a lot of pavement when riding up to hit Upper Moose Alley. Sweet stuff, nicely climbable, but clearly designed with the downhill rider in mind. Of course, I was heading to the summit of Burke Mountain first, a 2500ft climb from town. I was still running the Kenda Nevegal's I used at the SM100. It is so much harder to climb Burke on a knobby tired MTB than road bike, and a heavy dualie at that. The wall measured 28% max grade, and above 20% for about 0.3mi. Much of the remainder of the climb stayed above 15% grade. Being wet and humid, my rear tire would slip when I stood.

The view from the summit alone was worth the drive up there. Layered clouds below in all directions from the lookout tower. No cars passed me going up, but seven riders on MTBs were coming up as I bombed back down. Nearly brought a tear to my eye, as I know how most MTBers detest pure hillclimbs, and on pavement to boot. The last few guys were in total struggle mode to keep the pedals turning. They get my kudos just for trying.

I hit the all the trails with Moose in the name on the way back down. It had stopped sprinkling, and it never really got wet under dense cover, but most of the roots and rocks were nice and greasy. Really kept me on my toes. I had hoped for dryness, but what I got was still pretty good. My plan was to go right into the East Mountain loop once back to Rt 114. I did this on a prior trip but bonked severely due to running out of water and carbs. I opted to go back to car first and top off supplies. I hit White School and then Kitchel on the way back. I heard they were working on Kitchel, but I had no idea what. We're talking a track worthy of a world cup dual slalom course here. Huge six foot high berms, table tops 6-8ft tall and 10ft long, and many sets of doubles, 6ft tall and maybe 10-12ft apart. There were many sets of each down the lower half of the run, and they are still working on it with heavy equipment to the side. I did not dare go fast enough to clear any of the doubles or table tops. I might have gotten nearly horizontal on a couple berms. Sidewinder will be small potatoes when Kitchel is done. The sandy base might be hard to maintain during dry spells though.

I topped off the Camelbak and headed up Rt 114 to pick up dirt Victory Road. It gained steeply at first. A little ways up, a huge black Labrador joined me. He scared me at first, but he just wanted to ride. I could not get him to go back home. I was afraid he'd get hit. He ran along side me for three miles and about 1000ft of gain. I was humbled by his ease of climbing ability. Either he got tired or he reached the perimeter of his turf at the top, as he final gave up running with me. Only three cars went by the whole time.

The next couple miles dropped steeply into Gallup Mills, a village consisting of a couple mobile homes. Radar Road was taken next, climbing gradually along the highly scenic Moose River with many small waterfalls. This went for about 4-5 miles until a gate on the main radar access road that goes to the summit of East Mtn. No cars or people out here. Getting later in the day, the thought of having a major mechanical, no cell service, and no lights crossed my mind.

Burke and East Mountain peaks.

The climb to the summit of East Mtn is almost as steep as Burke Mtn. The road is rarely traveled here. Parts are intact asphalt, fully decomposed asphalt, or loose gravel. The last mile or so averaged around 15% grade, and the asphalt there was still in pretty good shape. It was slicker than snot. I could not stand to pedal whatsoever. It was pretty much as slippery as one inch of snow. I would have to be extremely careful coming back down this sucker. The legs were getting weary as I reached the summit, over four hours into the ride. A truck was up there, but no people in sight. I suspect they were servicing the solar powered communication equipment up there, maybe ham radio stuff. The radar installation was dismantled many decades ago, leaving behind gigantic rusting structures with asbestos warnings all over the place.

View from near East Mtn summit looking down skinny single lane road.

It sucked having to descend like riding on ice, as I essentially was. Going off into the trees and getting hurt bad would likely be fatal. Nobody would find you. The trees are very dense here. The descent wasn't all down. Half way down there is a 500ft climb, the same ridgeline I climbed on Victory Rd. This ridgeline effectively blocks the view of East Mountain, or Radar Mountain as some call it, from Rt 114. This out of the way location may have been picked for this reason, as I'm sure this was a highly classified sight back in the day.

Mossy descent. Like ice.

I got back to East Burke after 5pm. There were still a lot of mountain bikers milling about. I logged 53.6 miles, 6960 feet of climbing, in 5hrs, 3min. The mix of trails and dirt roads I think will be what I'll see in the VT50 in two weeks. I tried to ride a nice steady endurance pace, although 3mph on 20% grade is pretty much VOmax effort. No cramps, no bonking. The pizza from the deli hit the spot. It was piled high with peperoni, sausage and ham. Salty as heck, exactly what I needed on this sticky day.

Sunday's Great Brook Horse Poop Ride

Begin rant. I have a knack for hitting Great Brook on horse days. The parking lot had at least 50 horse trailers in. After seeing the mess they made a few weeks back the last time I rode there, I was not feeling very charitable toward equestrians. As expected, areas visited by equines were thoroughly churned up and fertilized. So why is it, per DCR rules, dog owners are required to clean up after their dogs, but equestrians are not required to clean up after their horses? Really. One pile of horse shit is equal to about 50 dog dumps. Put a hundred horses down a trail, well, you get the equivalent of about 5000 dog piles. Don't the walkers have anything to say about this? I see babies in strollers there all the time. You'd have to hose down and scrub the stroller after coming out of there. Most city folk would have to double bag their shoes and through them in the trash, because that stink doesn't come out easily. I don't mind the stink so much as the damage they do to the trails. I think to force the issue, the DCR should have the horse clubs do a clean-up day after their weekends at parks. It is not too much to ask. I see an arbitrary, double standard here. Dogs usually poop off the trail anyway. Horses? They never miss filling the width of the trail tread. I'm sure I got my daily dose E. Coli supplement. I had to wiped off my Camelbak bite valve every time I went to take a drink. End rant.

I booked out of Great Brook for Russell Mill. I dropped my tire pressure ridiculously low to contend with the greasy rocks. It wasn't muddy, but recent rain and high humidity kept everything slick. The Nevegal's hooked up much better running low psi but still rolled reasonably fast on pavement. I cleaned everything with ease in Russell Mill, despite tired legs and slimy conditions. I was having one of those rides where I couldn't do anything wrong. That was a far cry from earlier this summer when I ramped up my off-road riding.

Russell Mill pump track.

I managed to find more bits of NEMBA build singletrack in here I haven't hit before. Small area, but it really feels big with such a variety of trails, terrain and features. I stumbled upon a pump track, which was actually right by the soccer fields. I was quite large and extremely well built. I don't really know how to ride one of these things, but I went around a few times. Some jumps were obviously meant to be doubled, but I couldn't get enough speed to do it. Call it wuss factor.

Stone Rowe drop.

I hit more of Great Brook, not encountering any more horses as they were all packing up. I cleaned Stone Rowe with ease. That rock plummet scared me though. Normally I inspect it before committing. This time I just went for it. The bottom half was a mess. The slabs of rock are loose and move around, the the best lines change each time I hit it. Nearly soiled me chamois.

Whitetail deer on Heartbreak Ridge loop.

Still going strong, I hit dirt Old Morse Rd, then Towle Forest near Carlsile center, a fast 2 mile loop off Rt 225. That was good to get my mileage up to 32 miles, with 1990 feet of climbing, in exactly three hours riding time. That's 85 miles, 9000ft vert in 8hrs over two days on dirt. Not only a superb training weekend, but I'd say one of my best trail riding weekends in New England ever. How do you top that off? A Clover machine Kenya AB Auction Lot coffee. I think this one tops the Panama they had for a while.

The last planned dubious training value ride is Friday, a Catskills epic. Looks like five of us are in so far. Starting from Woodstock, expecting around 100-110 miles with ~10,000ft of climbing. Drop me a note if you'd like to join.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mustangs and Jettas

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about where I want to go with cycling next year. I've clearly discovered a niche where I don't suck, mainly non-technical efforts lasting from 20 minutes to not much more than an hour. These consist of hillclimbs, time-trials, "roadie friendly" MTB races, and hilly road races. What I enjoy most though, are ultra-distance type of events, like our annual 6-gaps ride, D2R2, or the epic trail rides I do on trips a couple times a year. But therein lies an issue. While I may not totally suck at endurance riding, it is not a strength. In competition, cramping always seems to rear its ugly head. In non-competitive events (this rarely happens, unless I'm riding alone!), fueling and hydration always prove to be a challenge. Seems I go through way more calories and fluids just to keep the motor running than others I participate in these events with.

I did a little pre- and post-race SM100 analysis to see where I might finish on an unknown course. Before the race, I had a perfect test case. I raced against Gunner Shogren at the Ironcross race last October, finishing 9 minutes behind him. He finished in 4:03. He races singlespeed, but makes no difference in this comparison. Gunner also did the Shenandoah Mountain 100 last year in 8:33 on a singlespeed. That's a 2.1x multiplier, meaning it took Gunner a little more than twice as much time to do the SM100. So all things being equal (such as no mechanicals, similar conditions, etc), I should have been able to do the SM100 in 2.1x my Ironcross time of 4:12. That would have put me at 8:52. But I finished in 9:25, so something doesn't match up here. It is actually much worse than this. Conditions were exceedingly fast this year, as course records were broken, and Gunner finished in 8:16. This should have put me around 8:33hrs, not 9:25hrs.

Here's another example. I ride and race with Dave Penney frequently. The weekend before the SM100, we both raced singlespeeds up Mt Mansfield in Vermont. We are of similar weight. This was a much shorter event, falling in my "sweet zone." I finished in 37 minutes, Dave in nearly 42 minutes. Now extrapolating this to SM100 a week later suggest I should come out an hour ahead of Dave. Not all things were equal here, as I rode a plush dualie with gears, Dave was on a hardtail singlespeed. Thus one could make the case I had the unfair advantage in this comparison, so I should come out even further ahead. I didn't. Dave finished 5 minutes ahead of me. It is well known Dave doesn't suck at ultra endurance.

When Dave and I go on cycling trips, I seem to eat 50% more than he does for the same effort and duration of rides. I will even lose weight doing this. Since we are of comparable weight, obviously I burn more calories for a give power output than Dave does. This is called cycling economy, and cyclists can range from around 17% to as high as 26% efficiency. I suspect I am near the bottom end of that range.

I've owned Mustang GT's for half of my adult life. I love those cars, but they are not very practical for my current lifestyle. The fuel economy sucks, around 23mpg for current models. But if you want to get somewhere fast in an hour, they will do a nice job of it. My wife owned a diesel truck when I met her, a small Isuzu that got something like 30mpg. We've never owned a diesel Jetta. These will get over 40mpg highway. Say you put one gallon of fuel in each tank. The goal is to go as far as you can. Optimal speed might be around 50mph. It will be no surprise the Jetta will go much further than the Mustang. Now with that same one gallon in the tank, say we want to see how quickly each can go 10 miles. I'd dare say the Jetta would take 50% longer. It would use less fuel getting there, but getting there fast it won't. So in distance, the Jetta wins hands down, in speed the Mustang triumphs. So what does this have to do with bicycle racing? Everything!

You see, I'm something like a Mustang GT. Big motor, runs hot, guzzles fuel. This could be result of muscle composition, but many factors could be at play here. Dave, on the other hand, is more like a diesel Jetta. A Jetta doesn't fare well on the drag strip, but it will leave the Mustang in its dust on a cross-country trek using stock fuel reserves.

So after the SM100, Dave and I were talking about if we could choose our muscle composition type, such as Type-I (slow twitch), Type-IIa (fast twitch endurance) or Type-IIb (fast twitch sprint), what would we like? Interestingly, I would love to trade my in-betweeny performance for copious amounts of slow twitch. I have no sprint anyway, so why not go full slow twitch so I can enjoy the ride-all-day and not bonk benefits. Dave would like more fast twitch performance.

Genetics have come a long way in the last few years. There are now several companies that will characterize your DNA for certain athletic performance markers. One such company is Cygene Laboratories. I suspect this will become all the rage over the next few years, by far eclipsing VOmax testing, LT profiling, Power Meters and HRM's combined. I suppose there is some potential there. I don't think they have muscle composition mapped out yet. Best bet for that is old fashioned biopsy. I'm not willing to part with muscle tissue to get an answer. Suppose they can tell me my muscle composition from a cheek swab. Would it change anything? Could make me depressed. Genetics don't map 1:1 though. Nurture is a huge factor (mental and physical). Even if my genetic make-up says I will never excel at ultra-endurance, how I was brought up and my mental perseverance can make up for much of the deficiency such that I can be happy with the performance I achieve. That is the bottom line.

Since posting my SM100 race report, I've gotten several emails and blog comments with links to more info and suggestions on cramping solutions. A few of these seem to hit on supplementing with protein and amino acids during endurance events. I've tried Accelerade a long time ago, and Sustained Energy more recently. I think products in this family warrant a fresh look. Some riders swear by EFS for solving stubborn cramping problems. Might be worth a try. It contains full spectrum of electrolytes, like the Enduralytes that I use, plus amino acids.

I have noted almost since I first took up cycling, that long, hard efforts make me reek of ammonia. Supposedly this means the body is metabolizing protein. If you are not ingesting it, it can only come from muscle tissue. Not a good scenario. Looks like I'll have some more experiments to run this fall. Would really like to sort this out before ski season gets under way. Yep, I did 16km on rollerskis at lunch today. Felt great.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Shenandoah Mountain 100

Tale of Two Experiments

As an engineer, I like to experiment with things. What makes a good experiment? Many things, among them are some knowledge of the process, a variable you'd like to twiddle, and an objective means of measuring the outcome. Last week, I experimented on Mt Mansfield. I have lots of knowledge of hill climbing. I twiddled with the weight of my bike (and drive train). I wanted to determine if doing such could capture a faster finishing time. It did, although I twiddled with two things (weight and going to singlespeed), so it was not a perfect experiment. I can't be sure it wasn't the drive train mods that made me faster. Don't confuse a successful experiment with one that produces desired outcome. Any experiment that answers a question whose outcome is not known is successful. Still with me?

Lets move to this weekend's experiment. I have never finished a race much greater than 5hrs. Two years ago I chalked up my failed Everest Challenge race to a sport drink (HEED) I was not familiar with. I figured if I could consume my familiar drink on a long course, the cramping demons would not surface. Simple enough experiment, yes? Hang with me a moment more, a race report is coming, I promise.

At bib pick-up the evening before the race, I dropped off baggies of Gatorade power with some added electrolytes to be strategically placed on the SM100 course where I anticipated needing them. They served HEED on the course, the product I am deeply suspect of. I figured I was good to go, and for such a long endurance event, cramping was unlikely. See where this is heading?

The Race

The drive down was not without incident. Seems in PA, every statie was on overtime this holiday weekend. I was with group of cars hauling-A. Deal was, the guy behind me stood on his brakes when we spotted the cop, opening just enough gap for the statie to pull in behind me. He did not find my suspicion of how on Earth his radar picked my speed out of that group. You know, the car in front or cars behind could have been going faster. His answer was "but it was you that I pulled over." Tempted to fight it, but they got you over a barrel. I'd probably have to drive to PA. Haven't even raced yet, and the event was now costing me more than Mt Washington's $350 entry.

I actually got some sleep at the hotel. I didn't not expect to. Dave Penney didn't even wake me up with his spooky sleep talk. One time on a trip, I woke to him saying "nasty, nasty, nasty" in his sleep. He had no idea what he was dreaming about. I got two cycles of deep sleep, maybe 3hrs each. Awesome. 4:45am was awfully early to get up. We get to the venue and it is still pitch dark. Race starts at 6:30 or as soon as it is light enough to see.

It hasn't rain in a long time down here. The air had a lot of crap in it. The dirt roads are essentially covered in a layer of talcum powder. It took next to no disturbance to kick it up. Send many hundreds of frantic mountain bikers down one of these roads, you kick up a dust storm of Biblical proportions.

I lined up somewhat towards the front. The deal was, riders kept filling in from the front and making more start lines to the side in the field, and all this had to funnel into a double track. By the time I started moving, there were at least 400 riders in front of me! The first couple minutes were stop and go. Sucked. Eventually we get out on a bit of pavement. Let the weaving begin. I passed Dave and wondered if I would see him again. He was singly geared, a 34x19 setup with 26" wheels.

The first climb gained about 1000ft, mostly on fire road. It would be the easiest climb we'd see all day. I passed upwards of a couple hundred riders I think. We get to singletrack that climbs the last bit of vertical. Transition from smooth fire road to bony ridgeline was harsh. Forgot to unlock my suspension. I found the descent hair raising. Many riders with pinch flats littered the side of the trail. The terrain was bone dry, dusty, essentially talus that moves all over under your wheels. Gets even trickier when the rider right in front of you kicks up a big slab right into your line. Survived the first little pimple of a climb just fine, but I was soaked in sweat and my legs were already black with dust sticking to them.

With a still full Camelbak, I blew past the first food stop around 14 miles in. The next climb, Wolf Ridge, got down to business. It gains around 1500ft, mostly on singletrack. I heard this is a conga line climb. A rider up there somewhere dabs, a wave of dismounts propagates backwards, until riders even at the bottom of the climb have to dismount because there's no way to ride through wheel-to-wheel hike-a-bikers. Well, I caught up to decent riders before we got here, and we rode most of the way up this sucker. Only when it got uber bony high up, did we start walking. If riding by myself, I could probably clean 99% of this thing. The last mile and a half averages 16% grade.

Fear of great bodily harm while descending ensued after gaining the summit. Very loose, always fast. A one mile segment averaged 15% grade. Lots of ledgy stuff, things to catch your tire and hurl you into a tree.

Food station #2 was my first stop. I refilled my Camelbak with my Gatorade/Endurolytes mix. Didn't eat a whole lot. Few hand fulls of grapes, Fig Newton's, and quarter of a peanut butter sandwich. Was in and out in less than two minutes. Average speed was over 12mph I think.

The Hankey Mountain climb was next, nearly 2000ft gain from lowest point since last climb to summit. First half is well groomed fire road, a segment we'd hit again at the end of the race. I don't remember much of the singletrack climb, other than it went forever and ever, but the descent was spectacular. Miles and miles of buff, benchcut, contouring singletrack descent. I got down to the bottom and commented to the rider that popped out behind me that it was just like stuff in Colorado. He said he just moved here from Colorado and he was thinking the same thing. It was that good. A lot of recent work was done on the trail, just for the race.

Climb number four, not sure of the name, entailed more tasty singletrack. It was steep, nicely doable and not too technical. The deal was, I was racing four hours now, and my legs were giving me the tale-tell signs that all was not well. You know the precursors to muscle cramps - the little twinges, the hot spots in the muscles. My mood soured very quickly. If this is starting now with five hours and the biggest climb to go, there was no way I was finishing this sucker. I motored on, but backed it down a notch. Thus far, I don't think anything I had done encroached on anaerobic territory. I felt quite confident I didn't start too hard. I couldn't really, getting stuck so far back. The cramping signs progressed to full-up cramping. I was going to have to drop at food station #4. There's no way I'd survive the 2500ft climb coming up that goes way out into the boonies.

Another ruckus descent on fabulous singletrack quickly brought us down to station #4. I had placed more of my special mix there. By now my stomach wasn't tolerating much. The fruit always seemed to hit the spot, but it doesn't exactly carry a high calorie payload. I told the volunteers I wanted to drop and asked how to get back to the finish from there. I couldn't find anybody that knew. Instead, they tried to coax me into not giving up yet. They had no idea how spectacularly I can blow up with spasms, potentially necessitating a rescue. They had chairs set up, so I sat. A long time. I thought I'd wait for Dave to come through to let him know I was bagging it. I watched at least 40 riders come through. After about 15 minutes I did not see Dave. I entertained the idea of trying to finish, as I had tons of daylight margin. I figured most of the big climb is not very steep, so I could just granny ring it at conversation pace and recover some more.

I got back on my bike to head back out on the course. This went against all reason, as when I got to this point in the Everest Challenge race, it wasn't that much later when I had a cataclysmic whole body cramping attack and laid in the road for 30 minutes unable to move. It was right at the finish, so there were people to help me. Here, in the George Washington National Forest, I could be completely isolated if something like that happened. How would they get me out of there? It was hugely risky.

A lot of riders passed me on this climb. I talked with a few. I even caught a rider or two also. I wasn't the only one in a world of discomfort. From food station #4 to high point of climb was 25 miles. That was a long way on cramping legs before obtaining the salvation of descent. Food station #5 was up there somewhere too. The ridgeline had numerous descents and re-climbs on it. I made it up to station #5, touch and go on the cramping front. I spent a while there to recover some more, no longer able to eat solid food. From this stop, there a big descent before climbing another 1000ft to reach the high point of the race around 4300ft elevation. This 1000ft took forever. Glimpses of the horizon from the ridge were spectacular. Definitely on one of the highest points in the area. There were very dark clouds to the west too. Looked like rain. I might actually have welcomed rain. No more dust, cooler, although it never got very warm today.

We cut in to the singletrack that takes us back towards Stokesville, the finish. The initial descent was total white knuckle material. The 32/34psi front/rear pressure I was running was clearly too high, but I wasn't flatting either. There were numerous, sustained steep drops, I bet well over 20% grade on talus. Scared myself silly the whole way down. The trail was marvelously brushed out so you could see the rock daggers and drops around blind corners. I was so far beyond blown by this point, it was hard to enjoy it. The Hayes Stoker brakes I have on the Titus really saved my wrists. They are one finger action even on the steepest stuff. Still though, my forearms were becoming so fatigued.

There were some steep rises along the way. Suffering up one of these, I hear a "Yeah Baby" screamed from below. It was Penney. He screamed it again, hoping to get a reaction out of me. I could almost hear him laughing. We ride with somebody else who gets irritated when yeah baby gets yelled as we unload punishment on steep grades. I wasn't surprised Dave caught me, maybe even more surprised it took so long. But how he blasted past me so decisively on such a steep grade 8.5hrs into this monster race is beyond me. He had way too much fun rubbing it in that he was kicking my butt with one gear. I got my laugh in a few moments later.

From Virginia Herpetological Society website.

A little further down the descent, I'm screaming down a loose steep section when I see Dave off his bike way off the trail, like 100ft off the trail. There was no way he could have crashed and ended up out there. What is he doing? So while I'm watching him, I realized I'm rapidly approaching something in the trail. It looked like a 29" MTB tire coiled up. Then it moved. I locked up my brakes so hard the three guys behind me nearly piled into me. There was the biggest, meanest black snake in the trail that I've ever seen. I came within three feet of riding over it. I thought it was a rattler. A local said it wasn't a Rattler, because rattlers aren't black. One thing was certain, it was coiled, head up in air, ready to strike any instant. It tracked my every movement. That fattest part was almost as big around as my forearm. I'd say it was at least four feet long. It was shaking it's tail, but I couldn't tell if it had a rattler on it or not. This thing totally weirded Dave out, thinking it might have little ones lurking around (it's not a bear, Dave), so he made a huge arc through the woods around the thing. He said he'll have nightmares about it tonight. I did a little research on Virginia snakes and found this. They do have black rattlesnakes [Sept 8 edit: I have to learn how to read. It is Ratsnake, not Rattlesnake] here, and this particular one is the biggest snake you'll find in Virginia. Record is almost 80" long. This precisely matches the snake I saw. I was so close I could see its large scales. And do you think Dave would warn me of impending death? Nooooo! Fortunately, snakes don't weird me out, but some snakes deserve respect.

The descent finished out on this wonderfully graded, abandoned fire road with a narrow ribbon of singletrack running down the middle of it. Insanely fast. Despite being on a dualie, I could not catch Dave. I did see Dave roll through the final food station, #6, without stopping. I had to stop. My legs have been right on the hairy edge of total seizure for the last 30 minutes. I needed time off the bike and try to force some food down. I only had 12 miles to go, but a thousand foot climb stood between me and the finish. It was fire road, the one we climbed earlier, but I was down to granny gear pace even on pavement.

Progress up the Hankey Mtn fire road climb was painfully slow. Once up top, we go left instead of right as earlier in the race. Then it was mostly downhill to the Stokesville campground. I got passed by police, rescue and ambulance vehicles on the way up. Report later was a girl augered in pretty badly. They could only get just so close to the mishap with vehicles. As long as I stayed below conversation pace, my legs kept making the pedals go around. I reached the top, and only then was I confident I would not go home with a DNF. Can't say I was enjoying myself, but I was glad I kept with it after all.

Caked in dust, bloated from junky carbs, and too spent to savor the finish.

The finish came much more quickly than expected. Maybe they cut two miles out of the last bit of the course from last year. The finish was rather anti-climatic. There weren't that many people there yet. I logged 95.5 miles in 9:11 riding time. There was no clock at the finish. I think they said my time was 9:25, which seems short to me, as I waited at least 15 minutes at one stop alone. Have to wait until results are posted. Dave was at least 5 minutes ahead of me I suspect. I was in so much hurt that I couldn't even enjoy that fact it was over. Cleaning up, I couldn't hardly do anything without my legs going on me. Couldn't tie my shoes either, else my hamstrings might have never let go again. Sucked.

So what about the experiment? It's not the HEED. It's me. Since I may be blessed (or cursed) with a preponderance of Type-IIa muscle fiber, I blow through my glycogen stores in a hurry, I run hotter, and thus lose my electrolytes in sweat too. In other words, ultra endurance is not my thing. Fast twitch muscle is good for going really hard for short durations. Perhaps I should stick to my hillclimb races, short MTB races and hilly road races. I could really have fun with these long MTB races, but if it means every time I have to endure this over and beyond level of suffering, it isn't worth it. To think of it, I have never done an event over four hours without cramping. Iron Cross last year went over four hours and I nearly DNF'd it. Both times I did Vermont 50 several years ago I was deep into cramping before the end. The problem seems to have gotten worse as I've become more fit and gotten older. Really don't know what to do about it. Despite the difficulties, it was well worth coming out here. The event is superbly organized and well staffed with volunteers. At one stop, I noticed when I got back on my bike the chain wasn't squeaking anymore. They lubed my chain! They have look aheads at food stations, so by the time you get off your bike, your drop bag is in your hand. Amazing. I've wanted to do a 100 miler for a while now. I know I can do it, but it ain't pretty.

Friday, September 4, 2009

SM100 Prep

Saturday, Dave P and I trek on down to Virginia for the Shenandoah Mountain 100. I already scoped out where the Sonics and Starbucks are. The SM100 race director's update said to expect fast, dusty conditions, although some rain may move in later in the evening. It will be warm. My risk will not be thermally blowing up like on Mt Washington last month, but keeping hydration and electrolytes in balance.

The SM100 does not allow Camelbak drops. Originally I was hoping to do that, as the things take so long to fill. Plus, I do not want to use HEED or whatever Hammer Nutrition product they have on the course. That stuff destroyed me at the Everest Challenge two years ago. I think my plan will be to drop Ziploc baggies of Gatorade powder with electrolytes and have to mix that with water in my Camelbak. That will kill five minutes per stop, but it beats DNF'ing due to cataclysmic cramping. The food that will be offered should work for me, so I won't need to drop my own. At the low intensities I anticipate for the race, I should do well eating solid food. I seem to tolerate that better than most.

I suspect the closest thing I've done to the SM100 is the D2R2 ride. Both rides entail similar amounts of climbing, although SM100 has more dirt and lots of rugged singletrack. The SM100 will probably take an hour longer to finish too.

This will be my first time racing this duration. I have no lofty goals, say finishing in the top 30. My only goal is to simply finish. As such, I will ride very conservatively the first half of the race. If I'm still feeling good, I will hit the huge Shenandoah Mountain climb later in the race with whatever I have left. If the race goes well, I may try Leadville or other NUE events next year.

The Titus Racer-X is ready to go. I replaced the Panaracer Fire XC's with Kenda Nevagal's. The Fire XC's stick like glue to any kind of surface. They are not the greatest in mud, but grip slimy rocks and roots with a tenacious grip. So why ditch them? The soft rubber rolls like flat tires on pavement. They have very high rolling resistance on anything hard. They are less than ideal for racing. The Nevegal's are an in-betweeny tire, not full knobby, not semi-knobby. Reviews are overwhelmingly positive. I put them on last weekend and only had one chance to ride them for an hour. I immediately noticed how fast they were on pavement, even at 28-30psi. I rode Mine Falls in Nashua where it was dry and hard, so I don't know how they do on greasy stuff. Hopefully we'll have none of that Sunday. The Nevegal's do hook up well on loose over hardpack as well as dry off-camber roots and rocks. The Bontrager XDX's I started out with on the Titus hooked up well on nothing but dry pavement unless I dropped the pressure to 15psi. I will probably race at 30psi since I lack any knowledge of the course. Definitely not lower. Might go a little higher if I learn knowledgeable others are doing so.

Dave P is going singly geared. I can't fathom hitting a hundred miler that I haven't ridden before with just one gear. He did some homework. We'll see how it works out. Dave's strength lies in ultra endurance. I'm sure he'll do well. He finished with lead pack at D2R2 in blistering heat a few weeks ago. The SM100 shouldn't be much harder for him.

Hope to properly meet Dave S. He came up to sample our 6-gaps ride this summer, riding with the early B-group. It turned out to be a spanker for him. I have a feeling the terrain down his way will be a spanker for me. That will make us even.