Monday, June 24, 2013

Grafton Ponds MTB Race: Another Lesson in Singlespeed Racing

As I've mention in past posts, I've been wanting to race my singlespeed again.  The perfect opportunity came yesterday at the Root 66 Series' Grafton Ponds/West Hill Shop XC race in Grafton, VT.  Rather than try to learn anything about gear ratios or ponder what might be best for the course, I just went with the same thing I had for SSAP - 32X18.  Okay, okay...  I asked a little bit, but Charlie told me I'd be better off just not worrying about it.  He was right.  If I'd worried about it, I'd probably have realized just how hard that gear setup was, and I'd have made it easier.  As it turns out, I had only one option out there yesterday, and that was to just push through the pain because that setup was just at my limit.

In the past week, I've been struggling to do my training rides.  I did a decent road ride Monday morning on tired legs - something I don't normally do but thought would help better prepare me for the 100 miler in a few weeks.  I tried to do a solo MTB ride Wednesday after my job interview, but I just couldn't seem to get out of my own way.  It was one of those rare moments where I probably should have just done more mindless like go on a road ride.  Anyhow, if it wasn't for my teammate, Tracy, I probably would have had another bad day on Thursday.  I'm grateful to her for inviting me up to Wachusett for some climbing.  We got in 3 base to summit repeats, and I went home feeling mentally recharged.  Friday I went to Foxboro on the SS to explore and try to get my MTB mindset back to normal... ehhh....  whatever, I got to ride my bike someplace new.  I need to get back over there when I have more time because I missed a lot of the good stuff.

Because it's always important to be prepared, I washed my laundry Saturday evening...  "Sure, my clothes will dry overnight in this humidity... I'll just point this fan at them." Yeah, they were still damp in the morning.  If you passed me on Route 30 in VT, I was that crazy lady holding my bike shorts out of the sunroof into the wind.

Skyler brought a friend along this weekend; Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center is the perfect venue for racers with kids!  The girls were hula hooping and swimming all afternoon... unfortunately, this meant that they weren't doing a very good job handing up bottles.  I will give Skyler credit for being ready with one handoff - the one I didn't need... as I took off from the start line.  From there on out, I was pretty much on my own, and I had to stop and reach into my cooler every lap but the last one.  Usually I can go a couple of laps on one bottle, but yesterday I drank almost an entire bottle every lap.  The heat was pretty oppressive if you weren't in the shade, and the effort I had to put in to make all of the climbs on the singlespeed left me overheated after the first lap.  I was consciously trying to cool myself down on the descents by unzipping my jersey and relishing every bit of cool air that hit my skin.  Another conscious decision was to spin my legs as much as possible on the descents and flats to push the acid from the climbs out of my muscles - it seemed to work.

Karen Potter, Bryna Blanchard, Kate Northcott, and I made up the pro women's field, and based on past races, I knew this would be a competitive race for all of us.  For much of the first lap, Kate and I were close to one another and not far off from Bryna while Karen had already pulled away a bit.  Somewhere at the beginning of lap 2, I was forced by my singlespeed to pass Kate on a climb, and I continued to pull away from her.  I was hoping to close the gap that Bryna had made on us, but by the last lap, I was down to survival mode and didn't have anything extra left to work with.

Looking at the finishing times, I had thought I was closer to Karen and Bryna, and the results were good - but not as good as I'd hoped.  However, I looked at my Garmin time, and the proof is in the pudding.  I started my Garmin thirty seconds before the start whistle, and I stopped it immediately after crossing the finish line.  (I also semi-successfully pushed the lap button).  Anyhow, the timer on that thing doesn't lie like the satellite GPS function tends to, so my real time should have been closer to just under 2 hours and 7 minutes which would put me only 2:15 behind Bryna and 4:20 behind Karen.  I wonder if their times were messed up too...  All I know is, I still had Bryna within a minute of me on the third lap, so I couldn't have lost that much time on the last lap knowing that my lap times were consistent.  Yeah, I know this is boring and probably insignificant.  The point is, I don't think I've ever finished this close to either of those ladies, so this is rather exciting for me - especially since I was completely out of my element racing a rigid singlespeed.

The most important thing about this race is the course.  I cannot stress enough how well-constructed those trails are and how ideally set up the course was.  While I'd heard the course was flowy, I had no idea just how smooth it would be.  Sure, there were rocks and roots, but with the right amount of tire pressure and the proper finesse, those trails rolled like they were made for bicycles (which they were).  I had a blast.  There was nothing unrideable, and there were a number of really nifty bridges that added to the fun of it all.  In between sections of stellar singletrack were wide fire roads that either went up or down and provided room for passing. These were interspersed just enough so that we weren't stuck behind (or in front) of anyone longer than absolutely necessary.  Sure, we had a few areas where we were held up every now and then, but we got around it eventually.  I'm looking forward to making that race my singlespeed bitch on a yearly basis.

Next up... a week of recovery rides and my first Pro XCT race ever on Saturday;  this will also be my first UCI MTB race, and I'm doing my first Super D Saturday afternoon.  The Windham Mountain XC course is a blast, and I feel like I've got my climbing legs this season, so my goal is to avoid getting lapped by the real pros and stay in the race to finish.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Pinnacle MTB Race 2013: Should Have Brought Training Wheels

by Rob Paton - I'm a blur because I'm so fast.
By definition a pinnacle is a high point.  For me, this race was nothing of the sort.  While I can't complain too much (I made the podium in a group of really fast and talented ladies), I know that I wasn't at my best on Sunday.  Coming off of two weekends where I felt in top form, it was inevitable that I'd have to come down a bit at some point, and I'd much rather have it be for this race than the pro xct race in two weeks.  Here's how the day went...

Tracy and I had a nice quiet ride up, and all was going well until we took a wrong turn.  Now, if you've ever driven up 202 through New Hampshire, you probably can understand how this might happen.  What a ridiculously obnoxious route!  If you aren't paying attention for even a second, you'll end up off in the wrong direction, and you won't realize it until you're 20 miles off course.  Yeah, we turned the GPS on after that, and all was well.  We even made it in time to hand our pal Tim his bottle at the start of his last lap.

We both got in a decent warmup between the little bit we managed to ride of the very beginning of the course and then cruised up and down the road, and we were able to ride the plummet a couple of times to get a feel for it.  The plummet is part of a ski jump. There's an actual jump on it that I suppose some people were launching off of during the race, but since there was no actual need for those shenanigans, I chose the smooth line to the right of the jump.  It's rather intimidating when you're at the top of that thing looking down, but it's a blast to rip down - you just let go of the brakes and fly!

by Laura B. Kozlowski - Ladies at the line
by Laura B. Kozlowski - Clustered start
Going into the race, there were 5 of us preregistered, but at the start, it was hard to tell who was racing elite and who was racing expert.  Seeing the results, I can see we had a whopping 7 elite women!  That's not too bad... in addition, there were another 6 women racing the expert category.  For once, we were starting the race with a decent number of gals.  It should have been a competitive start no matter what, but for some reason, when the countdown to takeoff ended, we found ourselves starting with the masters men and the juniors.  Ummmm.... what!?  Yeah, what a mess. This course only had a short section of double track to thin out the herd of riders before we were sent into singletrack for what seemed like an eternity, so it would have been nice to have broken up the fields.  Yeah, it's probably good practice for the bigger races, but the bigger races usually include more passing room.  I am definitely not complaining about the awesome singletrack we were racing on... I'm just saying that I'm unimpressed with the fact that they chose to stuff us all together like that considering the layout of the course.  Rant over.

Before I start to sound too whiny, I want to add that this course is unbelievably awesome.  There's a whole lot of climbing and a whole lot of really great trails.  You basically climb forever and then descend, but it's nothing at all like Pat's Peak was the weekend before.  This course has a lot more singletrack and a lot more tight twisty sections.  It also has a brilliant downhill complete with some pretty remarkable berms.  I wish I'd gotten up there to pre-ride the course because I had not raced there in at least three or four years.  I have to say though...  it's a well-designed trail system.  Everything on the course was rideable, and the mud was pretty minimal.

by Rob Paton - Put that tongue away. 
I had a decent start, and went into the race with Hattie up in front of me and expert racer Sheila Vibert right behind her.  I had both of them in sight for most of the first lap, but I also had to deal with a bit of traffic on the first lap, and meanwhile my ability to ride my bike had taken a catastrophic turn for the worse.  I kept doing that thing where you look at what's immediately in front of your wheel rather than down the trail at what's coming.  When I'm on group rides with new riders and dishing out pointers, I constantly lecture people about letting their peripheral vision take care of that stuff closest to them on the trail.  The brain will remember what's there while it simultaneously processes what's up ahead. Ugh.  I'm happy to say that I got that out of my system by the end of the race... for the most part.  Kim Quinlan, a girl with one heck of an awesome attitude, caught up on that first lap and tore by me on the downhill.  I kept her in and out of sight on the last two laps, but she took off like a rocket on the last lap passing Sheila and almost catching Hattie.  This week, Hattie had three and a half minutes on me (Kevin, I hope you're keeping score because she got me this week, LOL).  Kim was just a little over 30 seconds behind Hattie so she must have really hammered that last lap, and Sheila was about 40 seconds behind Kim.  So, I managed 3rd place for the elite women and fourth overall with Kate Lysakowski was less than two minutes behind me.

by Denis Laliberte - Post-race smile

As far as how I felt physically during the race, I can safely say that I felt strong but not as strong as I did for the last two races.  That's to be expected.  I'm in the middle of a big push to add miles because not only is the New Hampshire 100 coming up in the middle of August, but I decided to add another 100 miler to the mix July 7th.  Since I don't want to completely wreck myself for the Windham Pro XCT race at the end of this month, I'm trying to wreck myself now instead.  There's only so much time to prepare, so I've been pushing it hard the past couple of weeks so I can take it easy next week before I face the national field at Windham in the pro xc race and my first super D.

I've been wanting to race my Singlespeed again this season too...  it's looking like the perfect opportunity this coming Sunday at the Westhill Shop/Grafton Ponds XC race in VT.  I'm trying to get the most out of the deteriorating fork on my Fate, so racing my Soma SS will preserve that fork a bit longer (although my wrists will be taking the beating instead on my SS's rigid fork).

Happy riding...  this week looks like it's going to be good for it!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pat's Peak: 1 Lap of Lameness + 2 Laps of Rockstar = A Win (followed by a dose of Kingdom Trails)

Sunday's race at Pat's Peak was inevitably going to be a mudfest based on the massive amounts of rain that poured over most of New England in the couple of days before the race.  In fact, the 6, 12, and 24 hour racers began their race on Saturday at the tail-end of that rain system.  Upon arrival, I ran into my friend Kevin (aka pants guy) from RI who had completed 6 laps in the 6 hour race the day before and was about to race the cat 2 XC race; he described the course using the term peanut-butter and described himself using the word stupid. I prefer to substitute stupid with "crazy-in-a-good-way" because that is essentially what most mountain bikers are.

Mike came up with me to the race - a rare treat for the both of us because he's usually working or driving to VT with his daughter on Sundays.  We reserved a campsite on Burke Mountain, and planned to ride the Darling Hill trails on Monday morning despite his slow-healing rib injury (don't wear socks on highly polished wooden stairs).  With him there, I was ridiculously spoiled.  My bottles were kept cool in the cooler in between laps, and he packed up the car while I changed after the race.

We'd gotten there early, so it gave us the chance to ride the ski lift up and down the mountain and get an idea of how much water was running down the course.  Even from that height, it was still pretty obvious that there were going to be some mud pits, but it didn't look that bad.  Last year's race came during a heat wave with a reasonably dry course, and there were still sections that seemed to hold water - that's something the venue will have to address eventually (I made sure to inform them of that when I responded to their race survey).  They've already done a lot of work in the past 5 years or so... there was a time when that course was insanely dull, and I absolutely hated it.  It's come a long way, and it's now my favorite race because it has everything: technical climbs, long power climbs, fast descents, steep technical descents, winding singletrack, challenging lines over rocks, and a rewarding section of slight twisty singletrack that comes at the top of the mountain before the longest and craziest downhill on a race course since Mt. Snow!

This is Kevin.  He likes to wear big chains around his neck.
As Mike and I were hanging out on the deck at the base lodge watching the cat 2 racers come through the start/finish area for their 2 lap race, I looked over to see a familiar face arriving - Kevin Ryan of team Bikeman.  As Kevin likes to say, "We go way back... old school CT crew..."  He lives in Maine, but he spent some time in CT doing some work with amphibians near the DAS stomping grounds.  You can find pictures and comments about him in my Colorado blog post; he's that Kevin.  Kevin's been saying for awhile that Hattie Freye (of the Maine stomping grounds) and I are the fastest girls he's ridden with, and he wanted to see us in a race against one another.  Neither of us had any idea that Hattie would be there that day, but we were both excited when we saw Hattie and her husband Andrew at the starting line.

The most unfortunate part of the weather leading up to the race was that it severely impeded race attendance.  There were only two of us at the start for the women's pro/cat 1 open and three in the women's cat 1 35+ race.  The earlier cat 3 and cat 2 races showed equally small numbers of women - maybe one or two more.  Hattie and I lined up separately from the cat 1 women, and while the registration website had said 5 laps, we were only doing 3.  The same situation happened last year - laps took longer than expected, so they cut us down to 3.  I have no problem with this, but I'm thinking that they should probably consider posting less laps on their website based on the fact that they consistently take a very long time despite the conditions.
Old-School Homies

At the start, I was able to clip in quickly and take the lead.  I'm not going to lie; that first lap was a pathetic attempt at expert riding.  I walked way more than I should have on both the ascents and descents.  Somehow, I found the strength to gain some ground with my climbing.  I was feeling pretty good.  Regardless of the gap I made on that first lap, I gave it all up on the main downhill of that lap.  I was off my bike in sections that I should have ridden effortlessly, and I eventually had Hattie back on my tail.  That girl can rip!  I let her by because I hate holding people up when I'm riding like a scaredy-cat.  As I came through the start/finish area, I told myself to get it together, and I mentally lectured myself about the fact that I essentially threw it all away on that downhill.  Mental reset? CHECK!  I quickly made my way back up to her, and finally made a pass after the first mile or so of the second lap.

My ability to remain on my bike increased, and I did everything on the second and third laps that I should have done on my first lap.  In fact, I completely killed it on the 3rd lap at every chance I got.  The climbs were starting to hurt, but I kept it in the big ring as much as possible and hammered the living crap out of every section I could.  I crossed the line beaming and was promptly told by my buddy Jon to take my happiness elsewhere (I've had races like that, so I forgive you, Jon).  I ended up with a 4 minute lead, and the fastest cat 1 woman finished 7 minutes behind.  I had the Garmin on while I was racing, but I failed to press the lap button while I was racing; other than my poor performance on the first lap, forgetting to hit the lap button is my only regret.  I'd like to see what my laps looked like comparatively.  Based on the fact that Mike was peeing in the woods when I started my final lap, I'd say that I was moving way faster on my second lap than my first, and knowing how I was riding like a complete psycho on the last lap, I'd say I was faster still.  It's good to know that I can push hard even after 2 hours of challenging riding.

Funny side note:  During my final lap, I came upon Kevin who promptly said, "I told you you'd catch me." We proceeded to converse with one another as though we were out on any old group ride until my psycho-lady climbing-style took me out of range.

With awards done, Mike and I set out towards Burke with the plan of finding a good dinner spot on the way.  He wanted to treat me to dinner for making Dean's List this semester - again.  We settled on The Flying Goose Brew Pub.  While the beer was absolutely excellent (we tried their oatmeal stout and a honey ale), their food was mediocre and pricey.  I'd recommend just hitting the pub for beer and apps and skipping the whole dinner thing despite the fact that they have an amazing view and a sweet old-school cruiser hanging from the ceiling and decked out with white lights and fake ivy.

On our way to Burke, we saw what every person traveling through VT hopes to see before they hit it at highway speed - a MOOSE!

I think we made it to the campground around nine.  We had a lean-to site because there was the possibility of rain, and lean-tos kick ass.  With the tent up, and no firewood, we showered and went right to bed.  I slept intermittently having had way too many chia seeds and caffeine throughout the day and my muscles still being all tensed up, and Mike slept not at all - bruised ribs are not meant for sleeping on a wooden platform.

Morning brought about a swift breakdown of camp followed by breakfast at the general store where we  eventually chatted with the only other people who had been camping.  They were there for their first time and up from Massachusetts.

Knowing that Mike hadn't been riding at all, and his ability to function on a bike would be questionable with that pesky rib injury, we decided to park at the top of Darling Hill so that he could go straight to town after the ride, and I would go back up for the car.  This worked out well.  We had an awesome 10-11 mile ride hitting some of my favorites - Harp, Troll Stroll, Webs, West Branch, Jaw, Maxilla, and Leatherwood.  After retrieving the car, I came back to find Mike chilling on a picnic table with a bottle of Switchback Ale.  We ate, Mike rested, I yoga-ed, and we hit the showers before heading off to Hardwick, VT for Mike's daughter's graduation ceremony to Jr. High.  Arriving early, we decided to check out downtown Hardwick.  I'm glad we did because I found myself a freakin' SUPERMAN BELT BUCKLE!  Yeah, I know... sweetest thrift store find EVER!  I told Mike he better not ever call me Howard Wolowitz.

P.S. I was watching Season 5 of The Big Bang Theory, and Howard does indeed have this very belt buckle.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Domnarski Farm XC MTB Race 2013: Squishy Tire Sprint Finish

Photo Courtesy of Matt Domnarski - Joanne Grogan, me, and Ellen Noble 

In 2009, I raced one of my first "expert" races at Domnarski Farm - back before we called it cat 1.  This was the first year that the Root 66 Series visited the venue, and it was same the year I got the iron rider award for finishing every race in the series.  Racing sport (now cat 2) all season, I moved up to expert after nationals (which were at Mt. Snow), and finished the season out at the Farm after having completed the Marathon race at Landmine the week before.  It was an awesome start to what has become a real passion in my life.  It took me 2 hours and 53 minutes to complete two laps on the course  that year.  Last year, I finished at about 2 hours and 16 minutes, and this year it took almost two minutes longer...  regardless, this was by far my best performance there.

There were only three of us in the pro/open field at the starting line, but as usual, it was a stacked field.  Ellen Noble is the junior national cyclocross champion, and Joanne Grogan is a strong racer on the cyclocross scene as well.  My goal for the race, as usual, was to stay with the leaders.  As always with my starts, I chose to ease into it.  The course starts out with a fair amount of climbing, at it was over 80 degrees out, so I didn't want to make myself sick on the first lap.  Joanne was having some trouble settling in, so I made a pass as soon as we hit double track and tried to make my way up to Ellen who had already put a decent gap on us.  I kept her in sight on the double track, but when we hit the singletrack, I managed to loose site of her.  In the past, I've found that area to get bottlenecked with racers, but this year, I rode that section without anyone to pass or anyone trying to pass me - it was nice and I was able to relax and settle in.  

The first lap went pretty well.  I rode a little bit sloppy and flubbed some stuff I should have rode smoothly, but I managed to keep my pace in check and stop myself from overheating.  The loose rocky fireroad downhills had lines made by the many sets of tires plowing down them, so I was able to relax in those sections where I normally ride horribly.  As I came towards the end of the first lap, I was told that Ellen was only about a minute ahead of me.  Hearing that and knowing that I was feeling pretty good, I knew it was time to get moving.  

I went into the second lap telling myself to relax and ride strong.  As I started the climb up "halfway hill,"  I looked ahead and saw a rider in the distance.  I immediately honed in on the bright pink socks and knew that it was Ellen.  Telling myself not to count my eggs before they hatch, I tried not to get too excited as I consistently closed the gap.  I kept the heat on, but tried to prevent myself from blowing up.  As I came into the singletrack before the infamous power line climb, I was mentally preparing myself to close the gap and take the lead.  Unfortunately, I made a sloppy move in the singletrack and burped my rear tire...  as I started to climb, I could hear a strange hissing sound.  Coincidentally, a cicada was buzzing right in time with the air leaking from my tire so I let myself think that's all it was.  As I completed the series of climbs and cornered back into the woods, I knew that I had a problem.  At that point, I started deliberating on whether or not I should stop and put air in or just be careful and keep going.  It was really squishy.  

Skyler in the background
(photo courtesy of M. Domnarski)
Definitely lost 50% of my air.  10 psi is a little too soft.
Ultimately, what prevented me from putting air in my tire was the fact that my CO2 pump was in the bag hanging under my saddle, and it's a complete pain in the ass to get that thing unzipped.  It would have taken me twice as long as normal because I would have been so flustered at having to stop.  Well I  think about it now, I should have stopped... or better yet, I should have just been carrying that pump in my pocket like I used to do...  anyhow, I did not stop.  I kept going - cursing every time I felt my rim hit a rock.  Somehow, I managed to stay with Ellen.  When I was finally able to pass her, I should have been aggressive and stayed in the lead, but I was worried I would make my situation worse if I got too crazy.  Being as gentle as I could, I kept up with her... right down the very last downhill.  I don't usually ride close to other riders - especially going down hill, but I knew I was close enough that even if the tire gave out, I could run if I had to.  We ended up coming into the finish area for an epic sprint to the line.  Bummer about that tire...

Regardless of the tire issue, that was one of the most exciting races I've had to date.  It was nice to be able to actually race someone at the end.  We were actually back and forth a bit, and I had to make decisions that I knew would affect the outcome of the race for me...  THAT is what makes racing extraordinarily fun!!  

(photo courtesy of M. Domnarski)
Domnarski Farm always has the best payout!  $200 for 2nd!
Thanks, Matt!!

Ladie's podium: Joanne Grogan 3rd, Ellen Noble 1st, and me 2nd
(photo courtesy of M. Domnarski)