Monday, August 18, 2014

Hampshire 100: Twenty-Fourteen is the Real Deal (with a bonus CBCC mini-report - otherwise known as making up for slacking off)

Hampshire 100 

It’s important to go into a race like the Hampshire 100 with some sort of a goal.

But it is also important to be comfortable with letting go of that goal when things don’t go as planned.

This year, I’d done everything right leading up to the race.  I even trained a little bit and then took some time to recover.  I’d figured I would be able to shave some time off from last year’s 9:48 and hopefully finish around 9 hours and 15 minutes…

…but then the race started and the course was different and the ground was soft and it took me a really long time to complete the first 63 miles.  Goals and expectations?  Forget about them.  Just finish the damn race. 

It all started off with the usual hammering down the road, but instead of the infamous railroad tracks section, we were sent around the block, back past the park and onto singletrack much earlier than what is customary for the H100. From there, everything is a gigantic blur in my mind.

The first lap was spent in the company of a variety of people I’d either never met before or perhaps only met once. We chatted about other 100s, the terrain, the mud, and how hard the course was. 

The second lap was lonely. I didn’t see a single person for miles and miles and miles (except for the aid station volunteers who I believe are some of the most spectacular people on the planet). When I did finally start to encounter some other people, they were 100k participants in the final miles of their own battle.  I felt spectacularly douchey hammering past them as fast as I could possibly go (which probably wasn’t actually all that fast).

Like all the 100s I’ve done, I felt myself begin to tear up with joy in the last mile of the race. At that point, I still had no idea what place I’d gotten, and really only cared that I was done. This version of the Hampshire 100 was officially harder than the Patapsco 100 (despite the fact that there was less climbing).

With 5 women preregistered for the 100M (there was also a 100k race happening at the same time), it was a smaller field than the previous year, and I was only able to see one of my fellow competitors on the starting line – Anne Pike.  In fact, we played some back and forth during the first 30 minutes of the race, but I didn’t see her again until she crossed the finish line less than 4 minutes behind me.  As it turned out, she’d had some mechanical trouble that stalled her trailside for several minutes.

The next, and only other female finisher for the 100 miles, Lenka Branichova came through about an hour later. Unfortunately, the other two women were unable to finish. It was a brutal day for everyone, and I am pretty sure we were all just happy to have it over with. 

There were some interesting moments during the day. On one of the fast descents during the first lap, I lost a contact lens, but it decided to land on the inside of my glasses so I was able to carefully remove it, replace it, and carry on with the race.

Then, as I was slowly slogging up some singletrack towards one of the road crossings on the final lap, I heard a familiar giggling. It was Alby (the only 100 mile person I think I saw on the final lap). Apparently, he’d done an extra twelve miles of climbing after missing a turn. Too bad there are no bonus points for extra hills (now that I think about it, I wonder what his GPS said for elevation…). He blew past me, putting about 15 minutes on me before the finish.

Another cool part of the day was coming through the first lap to see my dad cheering me on.  I’d left him directions to the venue and told him it would be cool if he could make it. It gave me a nice boost to know that he’d still be there when I crossed the finish line. He certainly had to wait a long time to see me again, and I’m sure it was pretty boring waiting around. But having him there was awesome.  It’s the first MTB race he’s ever been to, and it was one of my longest. 

If you’ve read my recap of this year’s Patapsco 100, you know that I had a really tough time eating during that race because my stomach felt off the whole day. With that in mind, I was really concerned about fueling for this race (I even dreamt about forgetting my bottles and missing the start as I went in search of them – one of several dreams I had about missing the start of the race in the week leading up to it). 

I did some research based off of lots of things I’d heard on podcasts about endurance racing, and I ended up using a concoction that Ben Greenfield (Ironman racer and fitness expert) uses during long events – a combo of Superstarch, amino acids, MCT oil, Nuun and water. I drank that along with water from my camelback all day long, and I didn’t eat a damn thing.  I never got hungry, and I felt just fine the whole day. 

Admittedly, I never felt very powerful out there, but I’d felt pretty flat all week long anyhow. It felt good to go the day at a pretty steady level of energy without the spikes and crashes that come along with sugar and caffeine. However, there were moments when I thought maybe I’d like to have a ding dong and a coke (maybe that means my concoction wasn’t working as well as I like to think it was).

Yes.  I know you aren’t supposed to try anything new during a big race.  But the old routine just wasn’t working for me anymore, and I tested this concoction twice in the two days leading up to the race (so there).

As of right now, I do not feel the need to go back and race the Hampshire 100 again.  This particular course may have done me in (or maybe it was just my own lofty expectations and the sound of them shattering like glass in the first 10 miles of the race that did it). I really don’t like races that take longer than 10 hours (except Patapsco, which is loaded with fast flowy singletrack that doesn’t suck souls); I really prefer races lasting around 6 hours…

…and that is why the next race I plan to attend is the MTB6 in VT.  I hear the course is fun, and I’m looking forward to it – just as soon as I decide I like riding bikes again. 

I have to say, it was an honor to win the Hampshire 100 this year, and I am finally a proud owner of the infamous winner’s wind chimes.  Thanks to all who worked so hard to make this challenging race an event to remember. 



…I neglected to write a blog post about the Carrabasset Back Country Challenge (apparently aka CBCC). 

To recap quickly, that race was really cool.  Not only did it include some of the gnarliest terrain I’ve seen in an endurance event, but it also featured some of the sweetest professionally engineered trails in the northeast – think Kingdom Trails with rocks.  The Carrabassett Valley (Sugarloaf Mountain area) of Maine is quickly becoming a mountain bike destination that you’ll want to consider adding to your “must visit” list. That said, the race was extremely challenging. 

I managed to pull off the win with a respectable time and a strong finish.  When the promoters asked the post-race crowd if they’d be interested in a 100-mile version of the race, not a single person raised a hand.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Patapsco 100 (2014 edition) - my first 100-miler on a full suspension, and the most fun you can have on a bike in 12 hours

If you like to race your cyclocross bike on gravel roads, then you should not sign up for the Patapsco 100.

But if you’re into railing what is undoubtedly some of the flowiest singletrack on the east coast, you enjoy pushing yourself to the limit of your physical ability (all day long), and you’re not afraid of endless log-overs and some painfully steep and rocky hike-a-bikes, then this is the race for you. 

Dereck and I drove down to Maryland on Friday (yes, the fourth of July was spent in a car – it’s the American thing to do).  We decided to avoid the disaster that is I-95 and took the longer toll-free route through NY and PA, stopping at the Lackawanna park area to get a short ride in (fun trails!!  I love PA!). 

While folks at home were trapped indoors all day or faced with braving monsoon weather, we were gifted with good weather for most of our trip. 

We arrived in PA at the hotel recommended by AAA.  As it turned out, that hotel hasn’t had many updates since it was built sometime in the early 80s.  In addition, it is a mecca for drug deals, local prostitution, and what appears to be full-time residence for a few families.  In other words, it is a shithole. 

Somehow my non-smoking room reservation was reserved as smoking; arriving late that night, we toughed it out until we could get a better room the next day (a room that had seen some updates – like a microwave, coffeemaker, and a comforter without cigarette burns in it). 

I digress. 

Saturday we made our way over to the Hub – Cantonville’s kickass bike shop, where I checked in, picked up my race packet, and met some really cool people, including Ray – read his story here.

Our next stop was Patapsco Valley State Park.  We followed another rider to a parking lot just up the road from some of the trails that made up the race course, and one of the park rangers, leaving for the day, came over to offer us lots of useful information.  He even gave us a fantastic dinner recommendation – Great Sage in Ellicott, MD – a vegan restaurant with one hell of a selection.  As it turned out, he raced the Patapsco 33 mile option on Sunday. 

Saturday turned out to be a really nice and mostly relaxing day (as compared to last year when I arrived to my hotel at about 11pm the night before the race after delivering mail in the morning). I made up my drop bags and prepped my race fuel before crawling into a bed that did not smell like a dirty ashtray.

Race day got off to a good start at 4am with some coffee, microwavable oatmeal, fresh berries, and nuts; we were at the race venue by about 5:15 and greeted by some familiar faces.

Before I knew it, I was on my bike, lined up on the front line with a bunch of fast dudes.  I’d decided to shoot for the front this year so I wouldn’t get held up in a pack of people going slower than I wanted, and it worked out perfectly. I held a pretty steady pace for the first lap. I climbed easy so I wouldn’t burn up my legs before the last lap, rolled through the aid stations because I had all I needed to complete one lap of the 33 mile loop, and blissfully hammered the swoopy sections of singletrack with as little use of my brakes as possible.

There was just one problem: stomach issues.

I don’t usually have a problem with my stomach once a race has gotten underway.  Normally, it’s before and/or after the race that I find myself with any sort of GI issue.  But for some reason or other (possibly eating too much for dinner the night before), I felt off and had a really hard time forcing myself to eat throughout the day. 

My race nutrition was a combination of rice cakes (Feed Zone Portables style that were either savory bacon and pineapple or coconut-blueberry-chocolate), “hippy snacks” (those bite-sized energy blocks you can buy in bulk at health food stores), and Accelerade. 

I quickly found out that rice is difficult to eat while pedaling, and decided to save those for my stops in between laps; there was just enough time for me to eat them while Dereck cleaned my drivetrain and lubed my chain.  I popped a hippy snack here and there, and I only ate three caffeinated GUs throughout the day (to avoid the seemingly inevitable can’t-sleep-after-racing syndrome I usually get). 

The second lap actually felt pretty good, and I didn’t slow down much at all (the lap was only 10 minutes slower than my first one, which could possibly be attributed to the fact that I started my Garmin about 1 mile into the race on lap one). 

Lap 3 was a different story. While I managed to stay on my bike for the sections I’d been riding all day long, I could feel my body slowing down.  I knew that I hadn’t been eating enough, and I started craving coca cola. Dereck was riding that lap with me, and he was really encouraging. It was fun having him along to see all of the really great trails out there (and even more fun to be able to talk about the course with him afterward and have him know exactly what I was talking about).

At the halfway point aid station, I finally stopped and had about a half a can of coke, and the volunteers politely offered me some salt and vinegar chips from their own cooler after I declined a peanut butter sandwich in search of potato chips.  I didn’t want to leave that table. 

I don’t think I stopped for long.  The final miles of the race were intermixed with thoughts of last year’s finish (and the terrible thunder storm that had erupted all around me during the last miles), the realization that I finally felt like eating, and attempted ignorance of the painful situation arising in my shorts (diaper rash, anyone?). 

I’d hoped to finish in less than 12 hours this year, but I slipped past the line at 12:03 (guess I’ll have to go back next year). 

My first 100 miler on a full suspension is officially in the books.  

Can you say 'game changer'?  

I bet you can... 

The Kona Hei Hei Supreme is a smooth, slick, buttery ride, and I even managed to drop a dude or two on some descents and close a gap or two on a climb.  Big thanks to the guys at Kona for hooking me up with a sweet deal!  

This year’s racecourse was very much like last year’s, but there were some new sections of singletrack, making what was an awesome loop even more amazing.  Ed Dixon (one of the promoters) had been working his butt off (along with his wife and whoever else helped out), and the new trails are some of the nicest I’ve ever ridden. Who would have thought Maryland would be a mountain bike destination? 

So the next time you’re headed down to Pisgah, or some other place down south, make it a point to stop by Maryland and visit the Hub in Cantonsville, get some tips on the best place to put your rubber to the dirt, and stop back in town after to grab a latte from Atwater’s (right next to the bike shop). And bring me with you!

Monday, June 16, 2014

6 Hours of Pats Peak 2014: smooth really is fast!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

When I signed up for this race back in the winter, my only hope was that the course would be relatively dry on race day. Of course, when the forecast showed the potential for 3 inches of rain in the two days leading up to it, I freaked out a little bit.

And by freaking out I mean that I thought about riding my singlespeed because I figured I’d be walking anyhow or my cables would be so destroyed with mud that I wouldn’t be able to shift. 
There was some mud, but there also wasn't
photo cred: Pats Peak Facebook page

Fortunately, the thought of railing that downhill on the Kona Hei Hei kept me sensible through that moment of temporary insanity; I wisely chose gears and suspension.

On the morning of race day, the sun was shining, and the temperature was perfect. I rode the first mile of the course as a warm-up, and I was delighted to find that even though the course was damp, it wasn’t as bad as it’d been in previous years. Plus, it was supposed to be nice all day, so I was hopeful that it would continue to dry out.

Climbing happened a lot
photo cred: Pats Peak Facebook page
I ran into Leslie Timm just before the start – she’d been pre-riding the course for Sunday’s XC event, and she told me that everything up at the top of the mountain looked really good as well and was completely rideable. I was pumped. Plus, I was stoked to see her smiling face – I miss my TSEpic pals! Later when I was out on course, I came across Gary Hoenhe with a cowbell and a "Liz A is my hero" sign. 

The race went off right at noon with a short Le Mans start, and we were instantly climbing.  I wanted to get into the woods ahead of some of the pack (there were 6, 12, and 24 hour racers taking off) so I went a little hard at the beginning but never hard enough to feel a burn or suck wind (you know what I mean, right??).

I didn’t want to waste any energy by riding poorly, so I relaxed and just kept my legs turning smooth steady circles. As it turned out, steady and smooth also meant pretty fast for a 6-hour race. I finished the first lap at around 46-47 minutes (I can’t be sure on actual time because I forgot to hit the lap button on the Garmin and remembered a couple minutes into the next lap), and at that rate, I was pulling faster times than I had in the XC race in 2013 (and it felt almost effortless).

Behold, the post TSEpic legs have arrived, and they are GOOD.

Going into the race, I was hoping to go fast enough to get in 7 laps. But as the hours ticked by, it quickly became apparent that I’d have the option to do an 8th lap. That wasn’t something I’d even considered until I was cruising along on lap 6.
Thank you, Clark Brothers Racing and Moat Mountain

There were a few things that sealed my decision to wait on course having a snack until 6pm rather than set out on an 8th lap: (1) hamburger and beer – we’d set up camp by Clark Brothers Racing and their magical cooler full of Moat Mountain Brewery’s finest assortment of beverages, and I wanted one so bad; (2) I was planning to ride at Kingdom Trails on Sunday and wanted it to be somewhat enjoyable; and (3) I had lapped my competitor a few times already and didn’t feel the need to risk doing it again.  And as I said already, (4) I was mentally prepared to do 7 laps.

Dereck churning butter on the ski slope
photo cred: Pats Peak Facebook page
So I milked the clock by waiting around for approximately 13 minutes, and with 3 minutes to go, Dereck came blasting by me all excited saying, “one more lap!!” He was heading out for his 7th, which would mean a 4th place finish him in the solo men’s 6-hour. I instantly felt like a chump for standing around when I could have been grinding out one more lap, but then I thought about that
hamburger again…

The course was in terrific shape considering all the rain it had seen in the days prior to the race, and a steady breeze all day Saturday meant steady drying. I imagine that by Sunday it was riding pretty fast.

Dereck descending
photo cred: Pats Peak Facebook page
Last year, many of the switchback climbs were just too slick to ride because the mud resembled something like peanut butter; this time we were gifted with mud that was tacky and firm (with the exception of a few water run-offs on the ski slopes). I found myself relaxing and riding some of the singletrack that I hadn’t even been able to ride in 2012 when the course was bone dry.

On each trip around the course, I rode different sections better (and sometimes worse) than the lap before, and I think I was able to ride just about every inch of the course at one point or other (with the exception of one or two awkward spots).

The Kona’s full suspension allowed me to sit and spin up the steep rooty sections and retain traction even though the roots were super slick in spots. And descending on that bike was amazing. I’m glad I didn’t fool around and ride the singlespeed (especially after watching those racers who were painfully grinding up the climbs in one gear). 

I’m really happy with how the day went, and maybe next year I’ll be more competitive with the guys since there’s a chance I could have placed in the top 3 there… if only hamburgers and beer didn’t exist. 

The hours after the race were spent cleaning up, eating hamburgers, drinking beer, and hanging out with the Clark Bros crew. We camped just at the edge of the course and were soothed to sleep by the random sound of 12 and 24-hour racers cruising by the tent. After a quick and hearty breakfast of spinach, eggs, and brats, we were off to VT to get a ride in at KT. 

Bone-chilling mountain water, a pumpkin roll,
and a hot black coffee
Poor Dereck took my suggestion of a 5-hour ride to heart, and I think he got a little nervous before we started riding that I was indeed going to keep us out on the trails for a full 5 hours (yeah, not really a pleasant thing to look forward to after a 6 hour ski resort race). Luckily, I tend to plan bigger than my legs will allow sometimes, and after about 3 hours on the trails, we rolled back to town to recover in the icy cold river for precisely 8 minutes and eat sweets from the general store. 

I’m really enjoying 6-hour races. They’re long enough to require some endurance and short enough to ward off a complete mental breakdown.

Next on my agenda is the infamous Patapsco 100 – destroyer of souls. This year’s goal is to finish that beast in less than 13 hours, and I’m really looking forward to my first hundred on a full suspension.  Two week’s after that, I’m racing the Carrabassett Back Country Challenge up in the middle of nowhere Maine, and I’m tempted to follow that up with 12 Hours of Millstone the weekend after (because they are both part of the New England Endurance Series – NEES). I’ll make that decision later. 

In the meantime, the quiet little tri-state area of MA, CT, and RI has a whole lot of fun MTB race stuffs going on. Team NESS has been putting on a summer-long MTB TT series, Team Bums have been doing something similar, and there’s a short track race series happening in Mass (I think all three of these events are on Tuesday nights). What a great community of off-road racers we’ve got in this area! 
Top step
photo cred: Gary Hoenhe

Monday, June 2, 2014

TSEpic Stage 7: Slow Rolling and “Recovery Drinks”

This is a little late in getting posted because (1) beer, (2) tired, and (3) driving home sucks.

Rachel and Cynthia 
Despite a horrible night’s sleep, I woke up the final morning of racing to mixed feelings of relief and excitement. 

Everything that happened after the race started is a complete blur, but I’ll do my best to recall what I can. 

photo by Gary Hoenhe
My outfit for the day consisted of a jetpack strapped to my Camelbak. Why? Because FUN. There weren’t a whole lot of other folks sporting fancy duds though. One guy was wearing his finest pair of underwear, and the Angry Single Speeder was wearing his shiny silver suit. 

Chris, Buck, and Dicky
I chose to join the singlespeed clan for Stage 7 because I knew they were going out to do the 26-mile loop at a leisurely pace that would include lots of rest stops. At about mile 3, we made our first stop, at which point it was declared that we were officially off of Boy Scout property. PBR was coming from everywhere.

At that point, I declined a sip because I still wanted to be able to put forth a decent effort in the east coast rocks segment (2.5 miles of it). I’m not sure if we stopped anymore before we got to it, but I do remember arriving at it and wishing I’d had more time to get ready – it came up really fast. 

For the final time during the week, I time-trialed the crap out of the east coast rocks segment. At about halfway through, my legs threatened to quit, and I was panting like a dog. But I kept pushing through, hoping that my effort would be enough to keep me locked in second (there’s no prize for being the first loser, but second place to an Olympian is f-ing sweet).
Done with the racing part
photo by Rachel Brown

Finishing that segment felt good – mostly because I got to stop and take in some air. I also took in an extraordinary amount of insects. But it felt good because I was done racing for the week. I waited a few minutes for the SS posse to catch back up (they knew that I was racing that section and had kindly stood aside to let me go ahead of them).

When we got rolling again, I realized immediately that my legs were cooked. WELL DONE cooked.

For the rest of the ride, which included lots of well-timed breaks. I was happy as pie in singletrack and on down-hills, and a miserable zombie-like creature on all of the roads and climbs.

At one of the stops (about halfway through the course and at the bottom of the enduro), the SSers chose to remove their tracking devices and leave them behind to throw off the race promoters. They were being tracked because last year’s antics had kept them out in the woods awhile. We all had some fig newtons and carried on our  
At the bottom of the enduro segment - goodbye spot trackers.
Photo by Rachel Brown

The rest of the ride, I fluctuated between getting dropped by them on hills, hanging with them in singletrack, and ripping past (some of) them on downhills (thanks to the FS). Yeah, that’s right. I totally cheated by having gears and using them on this ride. For a little while, I tried not to shift, but I was all out of willpower, and that granny gear was just too sweet to ignore. 

Taking a break to enjoy the view...
except that the view was behind them.
PBR time.
The second to the last stop of the day was at the rocky spectator heckle stop. I was provided with lots of delicious recovery fluids there after 2 failed attempts to ride up the rocks. If I’d had ANY power left, I’d probably have been able to ride that, no sweat. But I was lucky to be turning the cranks at that point. This was the first race I’ve ever been in where Coke had no effect on me. 

The last stop of the day was a group pee break about .25 miles before the finish line. 

We rolled through the finish line nice and slow.  I handed in my enduro timing chip, and felt a gigantic sense of relief. I was done!

I did a quick soak in the pond and went back to the lodge to clean up and prep for Stage 8.

Stage 8!? 

Yeah, the final stage was a 16-person derby around the pond. Each lap meant eating a food item (donut, then pretzel, then whoopie pie).  We started Le Mans style on one side of camp headquarters, but when we ran to grab our bikes, they were all over the place – it took me a while to figure out that mine was in a tree (I could barely reach the front wheel).

This race was completely absurd. I found myself getting proposed to while eating a pretzel (he was down on one knee and everything), I received my only injury of the week (a bruised tail bone from getting crashed into while I was eating my pretzel, I watched while people had air let out of their tires (I somehow escaped this misfortune because I was DFL), and when my “fiancĂ©” left his clothes on one side of the pond so he could swim across to the finish line, I put them on over my kit and rode to the finish looking rad in his sweaty clothes. 
The Lower Eagle Crew (minus Kaarin and Lawrence)
Photo taken by our pal Walking (spelling?) from Panama

By the end of those shenanigans, I was officially toast, and rather than party til the wee hours of the morning like many folks did, I attempted to sleep…

…we were on the road the next day shortly after 8am. 

So, you’re probably wondering if I’d do it again. 

The answer is unequivocally, YES – I’m signing up as soon as I can for TSEpic 2015.