Wilmington Whiteface 100k: “Noah’s Ark Edition”

It’s rare that you get a weather forecast that predicts a 100% chance of rain. It seams like even when a hurricane is bearing down on you there is only something like a 80% chance on rain. So the weather forecast for Wilmington (100%) was pretty bold.

I figured there were a couple of good things about having rain in the forecast: 1. Not everybody would show up (thereby increasing my chances of getting a Leadeville spot); and, 2. Not everybody would finish (thereby increasing my chances of getting a Leadville spot). The only real drawback was having to ride in the rain and mud. The temps were forecast in the mid 50’s. I hate biking in a rain coat if I can avoid it, so I went long sleeve jersey, no rain coat. (BTW, that FC long sleeve jersey is the BEST long sleeve jersey I own. It was warm, even when wet.)

Wilmington 2016 Clean a

The gun went off at 7 am sharp. The rain started (literally) when the gun went off. I have documented the race course before. Say here for example. So I’m not really going to talk a lot about the course. But….. there are 4 major climbs in this race. The first was a dream (good). The rain tamped the sand and dust down. The road was tacky and the traction was good. The second was also in great shape. 1:30 into the race and the rain was a non factor.

Wilmington 2016 cant see

And then we got to the top of the second climb and the a very different dream came into focus. I rode the first half of the course a couple of weeks ago and knew that this section was rough. It was still rough, except that now it was also a muddy mess. This transitioned into the downhill, and that folks is where the wheels became….. completely unnecessary.

The road had deep ruts and now those ruts were filled will rivers of mud. The line you took down the descent was largely dictated by which mud river rut your wheel was in. In a lot of ways it was like being on luge run. Steering? Completely ineffective. OK, to be fair it wasn’t like a luge run. You can steer a luge sled. It was like a bobsled run (you cannot steer a bobsled 🙂 ). When I got to the bottom I looked at the guy next to me.

“I wonder if my face looks like yours.”

“Don’t know, all I see is mud.”

On the back side of Jay Mountain the roads were soft with a 1″ layer of mud. The net effect was that going downhill felt like biking on a flat, going on a flat felt like biking uphill. The turn around is a 3 mile section of “single track” that was really a muddy swamp. Then back up the river of mud.

Wilmington 2016 smile a

(Yes I AM smiling in the pictures from this race.)

Bike started to get really upset at this point. Every pedal stroke was accompanied by grinding (on my NEW cranks, NEW chain and NEW rear cassette). Shifting was a 3 step process: Index down, index up lightly (to release the cable so it could actually index down) and then index down again. I was in good shape though, I still had brakes (which many people lost).

The course “firmed” back up once we got back over Jay Mountain. My time wasn’t great but I was feeling good. Down the Jay Mountain descent back into Wilmington. Up over the last major climb. Into the Hardy Road “Trails” (i.e. mud pits). Then back to Whiteface to finish the day. We ride a set of trails called the Flume Trail. I was wondering if that one would be cut out of the race. It parallels a river and is ALWAYS wet/muddy, even when the world is dry. Those trails ended up being the best single track we rode during the day.

The final section is on Whiteface. Every year it seams like they change the end, never really finding the right mix. This year they carved a bit of trail that went up, down and then up the lower portion of the ski mountain. I rode it on Saturday to see what it was like. Like? Steep, loose, rocky and tight. Fun in the right conditions. A day of rain? Not the right conditions…. As I rode onto the mountain I realized they bypassed this new little section (yeah!) and I entered the final single track right before the finish.

That section, well it sucks in dry conditions. It is deeply rooted with a really soft surface. In wet conditions it was a nightmare. I did wrap myself around a small tree in a slow motion crash. Nothing serious. I went conservative and walked some. Only bad things would happen at that point.

And then onto the finish.

Wilmington 2016 finish2a

Wilmington 2016 finish1a

See, I got a medal and everything…

Wilmington 2016 finished

And that is where the real adventure BEGINS (and this episode ends……)

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Adventure by Bike

Authors Note: Leadville is today. I find myself wishing I was in Colorado. Getting ready to race and trying to eat pancakes right now.

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Ah well. Where I am is where I am supposed to be this year. And it’s not all bad….

I changed the grips on my MTB a month or so ago. And when I took my grips off I saw this message that my friends at Salsa Bikes left for me:

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Yesterday I think I took the spirit of this note to heart. I am in CT and had a 4 Hour “Ride How you Feel on Trails” ride on my training schedule. This ride is one of my favorites. Ride, forget the whole heart monitor thing. Just ride. And so I did. Adventure By Bike.

We are in Connecticut this weekend to visit with family. (Which is why I am “OK” with not being in Leadville right this very moment, and not home feeling sorry for myself.) Near my mother-in-laws house is the Metacomet Trail. This is a trail that runs north to south in central Connecticut. It’s designated as a hiking and mountain bike trail and it was my destination for yesterday. And on a MTB, well its an adventure.

I have ridden this trail once before. I remember it being more of a hiking trail than a riding trail having spent a good portion of my time hiking my bike. This trail is rocky, as rocky as anything I have ever been on. There are times when this trail feels like you are riding on one of those Crystal Growing kits you can get at a museum gift shop. You know, the ones that grow the spiky crystals. When you ride on this stuff you know that this is a bike eating, body damaging place to be. It has rock gardens on steep rises to challenge your skills on a bike.

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This time I rode a lot more than I walked. I am feeling stronger technically and the trail, while challenging was more fun and less frustrating this time. It was still hard since I don’t know the lines. But when I got off my bike I looked and saw how most of the parts could be ridden. And sometimes I went back and tried them again.

My little voice reminded me that I was alone and really pretty far away from help, but I managed to keep the voice in check. (Hello Yeti 😉 )

The rewards for getting off the beaten path? Well you see things that you wouldn’t normally see

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Like a two story fireplace sitting out on the middle of the mountain top along with the chimney from what must have been the servants house

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The mountains in Connecticut are old and worn. They are not high, but they are steep. And even here they provide a view of the land that you don’t get from the bottom.

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A little bit of adventure in the back yard. It was a great ride.

Now if you will excuse me I need to look at the live feed from Leadville. And think about what I was feeling like last year at this time.

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And remember that it wasn’t all fun and games

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And send my friends who are riding strength.

And to think about the fact that my good friend Jenni said “So what are you going to do differently next time?”

And to realize that……..

Leadville and ORAMM

A little under a week has passed since I finished ORAMM. The 2014 Leadville Trail 100 is set to go off on Sunday (not for me 😉 ). I have been thinking on the two experiences and what they mean to me. ORAMM has provide a bit of a counterpoint to what happened to me at Leadville last summer. Both were great, challenging fun experiences, but somehow Leadville still has a hold on me. There is a very distinct difference to me between Leadville and ORAMM. It’s the aura and mystic.

What makes Leadville a truly big event is…well… that it is an event. It’s more than a race. It’s something people dedicate themselves to.

Both ORAMM and Leadville were well run. The courses were well marked and well supported. Both races are hard. Finishing them says something about who you are (perhaps a little crazy in both cases). I have no complaints or qualms about saying the ORAMM is a super fun, well run race. The course is challenging, and in many ways its a more fun mountain bike course than Leadville is. I would definitely like to go back there and race again. But I want to go back to Leadville to EXPERIENCE it again. I struggle a little bit with putting the difference in words. It’s a feeling, something from deep inside.

ORAMM feels like some guys got together and created a race. I guess I would say it has a more grassroots feel. Old Fort, where ORAMM starts and ends, doesn’t really have much. Coreen commented that they really missed and opportunity to take advantage of the race. I agree.

Leadville is big. I went to that race and I felt like the entire town was part of the race. Yeah, the race has become more “corporate” but it still felt like something that the town embraced. Personally, I think they have done a good job of keeping that grassroots spirit. We can argue about the size of the field, the difficulties of getting into the race, and the unfairness of the “lottery”, but at the core it feels like a community supported event. I felt like for a short time I was a part of Leadville. I didn’t get that feeling at ORAMM.

Along with that, Leadville is something that people bring their families to. It feels like something more than a race.

In the Race Across the Sky movie one of the people being interviewed talked about going through the aid stations. He compared it to being at “le Tour”. Noise, kids, people, everywhere. That’s one of my fondest memories. Twin Lakes aid station was a half a mile of tents and people out there to cheer and support the riders. Riding through that chaos was totally, totally cool. Even having to dodge riders and spectators was fun. Unless you have experienced it, you just don’t know.

The aura and mystic extend to the course. For this eastern kid, big sky mountains are amazing. Being able to see the entire 3600 ft climb you are about to go up. Seeing that the trees stop at some point. Even not being able to breathe. Awesome.

Maybe the difference is simply that because I finished Leadville I knew that I could do ORAMM. Maybe because Leadville was the first really big race I did it is more special. Maybe its because Leadville is hard to get into and ORAMM is relatively easy it has an extra aura.

I don’t think so though. If someone offered me a ticket to Leadville next week I would go in a heartbeat. (Well to crew and to experience not to do. My legs are still shot from ORAMM! And I am still fixing my bike. And except for the fact that I am going to CT to see family and the newly sided cottage. Stoked for that.)

Good Luck to my friends Elden, Lisa and Dave who are racing on Sunday. Be strong, be safe, and enjoy the experience. Soak it in. I wish I could be there to hand you all bottles and make noise!

2013 A Year of…..

I’m not a big fan of New Years as a holiday. I mean, I understand that January is month 1 and December is month 12. But really why doesn’t the new year start on say February 7 or July 13. Really.

OK rant done :).

Training: 2013 was quite the year. I looked at my bike training record. In 2012 I road a total of 5440 miles (346) hours. In 2013 that went to 5716 miles (444 hours). I spent the equivalent of 11 days in total on my bike during 2013! My outdoor biking total mileage actually decreased from 2012 to 2013 (from 4742 miles down to 4623 miles) but that is because my mountain biking picked up from 1718 miles to 3213 miles. I think it is safe to say I became a mountain biker in 2013. I used my road bike as more of a training tool for endurance rides in 2013 rather than a dedicated riding bike.

Racing: I started 2013 with the Tour of the Battenkill (which I finished in the middle of my group). I didn’t have a lot of fun in that race and ended up with an injured knee. The knee got better with some PT and a trip to the chiropractor. I learned how to ride injured and be a little tougher. Still cross that race off the list. I don’t need to go back and do it again.

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The 2013 Willmington Whiteface Qualifier was my second race of the year and I had a goal: to cut my time down by 30 minutes. I ended up 45 minutes faster and finished right in the middle of the pack.

WW100k_2013_finish

And then of course there was Leadville (the focus of my year). Leadville was an experience. I look back at it now and smile (Laugh it up funny man….Hey Yeti, welcome back. Happy New Year….You hate New Year…..Yup, so Happy New Year Yeti 😉) During the two weeks leading up to Leadville I was tense and stressed. It wasn’t fun. Well it was fun for a while, then it dragged on and I JUST WANTED TO RACE! But I do have great memories leading up to the race. Picking my family up from the airport and having them at the cabin with me. Of course there were the donkeys. Having lunch with Fatty and the Hammer. And of course having my friend (and part of the BEST Leadville crew EVER) Jenni come be a part of the experience.

Two weeks may have been too long, but I was well acclimatized by race day and ready to roll. Race day? I remember feeling calm at the start. All of the nerves went away and I felt ready. When people ask me about the race and how it was I feel a little silly wanting to skip over the first 87 miles of the race. But in truth they were the most fantastic 87 miles I have ever biked in my life. I was strong, I passed people on the climbs. I rode my bike to the sky (12,600 ft) and never felt bad. In the Race Across the Sky movie they talk with people on Columbine who are just suffering. They show people puking. I never had that. I felt fantastic. I passed people all the way up that climb.

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(Me above the tree line, coming back down Columbine)

My race was really 17 miles long (the first 87 were just a warm up). The last 17 miles, that was my race. Ken Chobler says you cannot do Leadville without experiencing pain and suffering. At the rider meeting he promised that if we were expecting to do this race without finding something deep inside ourselves were we in for a shock. Powerline was the hardest 3.5 miles I have ever experienced on a bike. But I got up it. The climb to Carter Summit was just long. I experienced my suffering and found that place within myself that Ken promised me 1 mile from the finish line. Ironically it was at the place were the dirt ended and the pavement began. At the place where the people started cheering on the finishers. I remember feeling the strength drain from my body and having to stop. I remember people talking to me and asking if I needed help. I remember NOT panicking or worrying. I remember getting back on my bike and just turning the cranks over. I remember crossing the finish line and then looking up at a beautiful sky from flat on my back. I remember a granola bar that was awesome. I remember some chocolate milk that made my stomach clench. I remember I finished in 10:30:05.67 (dead in the middle of the pack 758 out of 1600(ish) people who started the race).

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(Before)

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(after)

In the end Leadville was a fantastic experience. One that I will cherish.

I’m looking forward to 2014. I am planning to solidify my position as a middle of the pack 40-49 male endurance mountain biker. Biking season seems a little far off right now. We are encased in ice and the temps today and tomorrow will not get above 0F (yeah daytime highs below 0 F, nice eh?).

Picture of the Day

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“Favorite” (Thanks for the picture Jenni…)

Coach Drew

“You are breaking up with Drew?” Coreen asked.

“Ummm. We are just taking a break.” I answered.

I have reached the end of my season with Drew. And we agreed to breakup. (Actually I think by contract Drew and I technically ended at the end of August, but he kept giving me stuff to do. And I kept doing it, well mostly.)

When I started this year Drew and I talked about my goals and what I wanted to accomplish. Some of them were easy to identify. I wanted to shave 30 minutes off my time at the Willmington Whiteface qualifier. (Got over an hour faster. Check). I wanted to finish Leadville. When pressed my goal time was 10:20 (for no particular reason other than that is the average finish time at Leadville and I am OK with being average there). I call 10:30 good. I also made some noise about not wanting to finish Leadville in crisis mode, but on my own terms. Well, we know how that one went. But I take responsibility for that. (Yep we know where THAT finish came from. Shut up Yeti.) And it was memorable if nothing else. (I may need to go back someday to get a picture of me crossing the finish line with a smile…You know that’s silly Doug, WHEN you go back you know you are going to go harder. SHUT UP YETI!)

My other goal was to learn about training.

Drew has been a fantastic coach. He answered all of my why questions about what we were doing. It’s somewhat counter intuitive to have a 6 hour ride be the longest ride you do for a 10 hour race. He redirected my crazy ideas (like riding too hard right before Leadville) and in the end I was rested, strong and ready for that stupid crazy ride.

The original idea had been that I would learn training from Drew and then work at training myself next year. But you know what? It was fun to work with someone else. In a strange way you get just a little bit of motivation when training sucks. Even if Drew wasn’t watching everything I did, I had that picture in my mind. I didn’t want to put lame efforts into my record that he would see. So I went just a little bit harder.

The plan has been updated a little bit. I am going to work with Drew again next year. But first the breakup. I am on my own for the winter. Drew is busy in his off season growing oranges (sorry I cannot get oranges from you Drew, but I have family connections that I need to use to get oranges!) and prepping for his own next racing season. Sometime around March (when I can get back outside again, unless Santa brings me this that is.) we will get back together. Things will happen fast. I am tossing around the idea of a race in May (The Wildcat 100). Then quickly into Willmington where I have already declared that I will do the course ANOTHER 30 minutes faster. (That would put me in the top 25%.) Then ORAMM (Not sure on the goal there. Finishing w/out breaking me or the bike would be nice). And then I want to try to get some shorter races in later in the summer. XC racing was fun.

I would recommend that anyone who is interested in hiring a coach look at Drew. You have to find someone who works for you, but I definitely think Drew is someone you should consider. He knows his stuff. Drew’s website is here: http://www.coachdrewedsall.com/ (If you contact him tell him Doug sent you. Heck maybe if enough of you contact him I can get something for so many referrals. Something like a Kenda jersey 😀 )

Motivation and Adrenaline

Yesterday my training plan called for a 2:45 endurance ride. “Ride how you feel. If you feel good include zones 3-4. If not keep it zones 1-2.” I geared up to head out. I knew it was going to be chilly (around 40F) and so I put on a base layer under my short sleeved jersey and headed out to the garage. Then I headed back in the house and put on a long sleeve jersey. Then I added shoe covers. Then I added full gloves. Then I added a second glove. Heck it felt cold. Riding on my road bike, into the mountains, compounded the coldness of the ride. (Work forced me to go out in the morning. It was 70 by mid afternoon, when I was in meetings and meeting with students…)

At the start of Leadville it was around 32 F (we had frost on the car windows when we went to the race). I had on a short sleeved jersey with arm warmers. No shoe covers. One set of full gloves. I didn’t feel cold.

The difference? Motivation and Adrenaline. It didn’t matter that it was cold. Motivation and Adrenaline make up for a lot.

Right now there is nothing on my race schedule. Yes I have ORAMM and Wilmington Whiteface on the schedule (look to the right, the count down timers are there), but those are for next year and they are just plans right now. They don’t feel real. There is a whole season of luge between me and then (with its associated bumps and bruises, a much MUCH more immediate threat!).

I usually get like this in the fall. Right now I have 3900 miles and 300 hours of riding on my legs this year (not counting indoor training time and distance). And its harder to get motivated to go out and suffer. Riding feels a little more like work. (Drew if you are reading this, don’t worry, have no mercy. I’m not burnt out ;))

It will be OK. This is just the normal days are getting shorter cycling cycle.

Picture of the Day

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“Fall Sunrise”

That’s the view from my office window, it doesn’t suck.

 

Again?

OK. So let’s get this one out of the way….

“Would you do Leadville again?”

Yes….

But…..

……..I won’t anytime soon.

Look Leadville was a lot of fun. The atmosphere at the race is cool as heck. There are people everywhere along the course. It has a great vibe. Yes, its a little more corporate now that Lifetime took it over, but it is a really fun race.

So why not do it again? Well logistically and expense wise it is too much for me to do. If I was in Colorado, or someplace close that I could drive easily to the race, I would do it again. Right now its too hard and too expensive for me to do it again.

“But, you had a great first race and could do so much better next time. You know you want to!” (Shut up Yeti!).

Here is the deal on that. I know I could do this race much faster. In fact I know I could do this race in 9.5 hours. But I do not think I could ever do this race under 9 hours.

“But…” (Shut up Yeti!)

I had hot chocolate with a friend yesterday and she asked me what’s next then. And I quickly rattled off what I was going to ride next year. She said two things…. 1. You are now officially a mountain biker eh? 2. You did not get anything out of your system this year eh? (She’s Canadian).

Here is my list for next year:

1. Wilmington Whiteface 100. I hereby declare that I am going to do this race in 5.5 hours (I am going to shave another 30 minutes off of my time). This is my “home” race. I know the course. I know how hard to go and when. I want to be top 100 in this race.

2. ORAMM (The Off Road Assault on Mount Mitchell) Its a 63 mile romp in North Carolina. An easy 11,00 ft of vertical gain. My brother wanted to do this this year, but had to delay to next year. Next summer’s vacation has turned into a trip to NC for a week which will include this race.

3. I want to do one of the NUE (National Ultra Endurance Series) races. I am thinking either Wilderness 101, Hampshire 100, or the Wildcat 100. It will depend on timing for the races.

Looking at that list, it is remarkably devoid of any road events. It is also much more technical than anything I did this year. Leadville is tough because of the length and the altitude, but it is not particularly technical. ORAMM is fire road uphill and single track downhill. Both Hampshire 100 and Wilderness 101 are about 40-50% single track. All of those races will be tougher than Leadville from a bike handling standpoint.

So….yes….I am settling into the mountain bike world. I like it and long distance MTB’ing fits me well.

And…..yes……clearly I haven’t gotten anything out of my system. I expected to have a real let down after Leadville. I mean I aimed and focused myself at that for over a year. It occupied a lot of my thinking. It was a big big goal. Then it was done.

When it was over I started to think about what to do next. I didn’t really feel like I had to “top” Leadville or do something harder. I was just thinking about what to do next. I’m excited about the races next year. I will really have to put in some time on bike handling over the next year. But that growth is part of the fun.

I think that ultimately all of this is aiming/prepping me for something like Tour Divide. But that is a couple of years off.

Picture of the Day

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“Mountain Biker”