Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Stagg Creek Shakedown

This was my first race at Poor Farm in a long time.  I've always had a love hate relationship with these trails.  This years course seems to have been designed with purely evil intentions based on the multitude of super steep, loose, and rooty climbs. 

I was racing the Cat 2 Open race which originally had a start time of noon, but was changed to 9 am the day before the race.  At this point I wasn't sure if I would be able to make it since I had to rearrange my family plans for the day.  I had planned on going out to pre-ride the course, but there were too many kids birthday parties in the way and I ran out of time.  With my participation in question I abandoned my usual pre-race dinner routine and ate too much Mexican food washed down by some good IPAs.

Later that evening I was able to get the family situation straightened out thanks to the help of my wife, some friends, and my in-laws.  With the race now on in the morning I focused on trying to get to bed early since I rarely get enough sleep.

I made it out of the house around 8 and arrived at Poor Farm Park about 20 minutes later.  Once I got there I found out that the race start had been moved back to 10am.  I was a little annoyed since I could have gotten a bit more sleep and probably would have eaten a more substantial breakfast.  I was surprised though to get the #1 number plate.  I'm not sure if I got it due to alphabetical order or my current 1st place series ranking that was attained due to consistant mediocrity and to well timed absences by some stronger racers.  Either way I figured that if I'm going to rock the #1 plate I better try to ride like I should have it.

Since I now had over an hour to kill before the race start I decided I would pre-ride a lap and see what the course was all about.  The trails started fast and flowy, but soon became a continuous up and down roller coaster with sharp turns that made you slow down to a crawl and then accelerate hard to get back up to speed over and over again.  Near the end you did get rewarded by a fast flowing section again.  Since climbing in not really in my skill set I was a bit worried, but determined to ride hard and try to make a break in the flats before getting to the climbs.

I got to the starting line and didn't recognize anyone that was starting with me.  All of the usual suspects were missing.  Could this be an opportunity to grab my elusive first race win?  I was prepared to blast off the line and get the hole shot using David Reids advice of "If you want it you gotta go for it".  When the starter said go I powered down on my pedal and my bike answered with an awful metallic crunch.  I looked down with panic to see my chain completely twisted and jammed on the outside of my big ring as the rest of the field went sprinting away.  I've had puzzling chain dropping issues all year, but on the first pedal stroke, really?  I quickly tried to yank my chain out, but it really looked like it was done.  Someone ran over and reminded me to stay relaxed and helped me get it unstuck and I finally got to start my race about a minute after everyone else.  I immediately noticed that something was wrong because my chain skipped every time it came through the derailleur.  I decided to ignore it the best I could and focus on chasing down the others.  As soon as I hit the first rooty section in the woods my chain dropped again, but I was able to ride it back up onto the ring without stopping.  I decided that I had to stick with the little ring only. Some quote about winning races in the corners popped into my head so I charged through the flats really pushing the corners to the highest of my abilities.  Pretty soon another racer appeared in front of me.  I pushed hard up a shallow gravel climb and got past him at the top.  I kept up my pace and soon came across another racer in the distance.  I chased him down and soon came upon the first steep climb.  It came right after a fast downhill toward the stream and went right back up after a 180 degree turn.  I had identified this climb as a hike-a-bike during my pre-ride so I dismounted at the bottom and ran up.  At the top I found another racer who was already gassed and let me go past.  At this point I reminded myself that there was still plenty of time and told myself to stay calm and steady.  I kept up a steady pace and once again saw another racer through the woods which motivated me to keep pushing harder.  Every time I found another one I put an imaginary target on their back and attacked.  About 3/4 through the first lap I came up on a racer at the top of a climb.  I rode his wheel a bit and sprinted past him on a short straight away.  As I went by I asked him if he knew how many were in front of him.  He said, " no one"!  Had I really caught everyone?  I wasn't sure if it was correct or not.  I wasn't sure exactly how many were at the start.  I assumed there were more and put the hammer down during the final flat section to put some distance between me and the last racer I passed.  When I crossed the start finish line at the end of the first lap I looked back and saw him just leaving the woods.

                                                                    (End of 1st Lap)

  I had a good gap and sprinted the best I could with my skipping chain to try and put more time in between us.  When I came across the guys that were directing the beginners to the other trail section I asked them how many were in front of me.  They replied, "No one" and I had to ask them if they were serious.  I've never been in this position this late in a race and I didn't want to let it go.  I kept picturing my chain breaking on me shortly before my first win or someone coming back to catch me since I'm famous for fading hard at the end.  I adjusted my race plan to ride any flats really hard and to "recover" on the climbs by spinning up them in my easiest gear.  As I started to get tired I began overbraking the turns and really got worried that I would get caught.  Near the end of the lap I saw some riders in the woods somewhere behind me.  I couldn't tell who it was (turned out to be some racers warming up for the noon start time) and picked up the pace even though I was pretty spent.  I momentarily lost my concentration and clipped a tree with my handle bar and did a superman over the top that ended in a good slide on my forearm and hip.  A little dazed I jumped back up and gave all I had left for the final mile or so to avoid the chasers that I thought were lurking right behind me.

I ended up having almost a 4 minute gap over 2nd place.  I know that I wouldn't have won if some of the other racers from my group had been there, but I'll take it.  The gift card will pay for a new chain.  :)  I'm happy to get my first win and will now train harder to make sure I do it again soon! 

                                                                    (Finish Line)

The rest of the team also had a good showing.  Our team should continue to lead the VAMTBS series!

David Reid  - 1st Cat 1 35+
Erik Bleecher - 1st Cat 2 Open
Tom Richeson - 2nd Masters
Sonya Richeson - 3rd - Women Cat 2

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pocohantas State Park Mountain Bike Race

Racing at Pocohantas. which is my home trail system, is something I have never been able to do.  I missed the race last year, and the only other race has been a duatholon.  The duatholon was fun, but not a true mountain bike race.  After some heavy rain in the week leading up to the race, we were fortunate to have perfect weather and excellent trail conditions on race day.  Huge thanks to the Friends of Pocohantas group for maintaining these trails. Support this group!

In the middle of the week Joe Fish threw out the idea of riding from his house to the race, then riding for a few hours after the race as well.  This seemed like a good idea, so I followed suit.  I was concerned I would get a bit of a chill on the ride to the race but didn't want to wear to many layers with near 70* temperatures expected at the race start.  I threw on some extra wind protection and arm warmers and hoped that would be enough to keep me warm for the 8 mile trek to the park.  Hard to believe it would warm up by 25* in the 90 minutes till the race started.  Needless to say, the pace of the post race ride was pretty mellow.

I was greeted by what seemed like a ton of mountain bikers as made my way through the park to the area where the race would start.  It was nice to be racing on trails that I am so familiar with heck, I even built some of these trails  I was even able to spin a loop the prior day so I knew exactly what to expect. The only varialbe was the bike I would be racing.  Endorphin Fitness just finished building my Scott Spark on Friday, so this would be my first race on this bike but also my first race on a full suspension bike.

Before I knew it, we were lining up at the start line.  The Pro/Expert field was small, but pretty stacked with some quality riders including Dylan Johnson, Matt Bailey, and of course Joe Fish. I lined up on the second row behind Matt figuring he would be a good wheel to follow.  The race was pretty frantic from the start.  This race has about a mile of fire road before entering the forest which seemed to go by in blur. I found myself in 3rd nearing the trail entrance which I felt good about although I knew it would be a battle to maintain it. About halfway through the first loop I made a pass leaving only Dylan out in front.  Bailey had gotten a bad start and I knew he would be pushing hard to join the leaders.  He passed me soon after and looked very strong.  I maintained my 6-8 second gap to the now leading group of two for most of the first lap, but eventually lost sight of them.

Nearing the end of the first lap, I had some drivetrain issues and couldn't get my bike into the big ring.  Frustrated, I stopped and manually put it in the big ring.  I was feeling strong and hoping to jump back on with the leaders during the second loop, but this small mechanical seemed to dash all hopes of catching them.  I continued to push hard with hopes that one of them would pop, but this never happened.  The 4th and 5th place riders eventually got close enough to me that I could see them on some of the longer switchbacks.  I was able to stay away and take a third overall, my best finish in my second XC race as an "Expert" racer. 

Other then the drivetrain issue, the Scott Spark performed perfectly.  What an excellent bike!  It was great being able to lock out the front and rear and really hammer on the fire road sections.  The bike inspired tons of confidence in railing the turns as well.  Huge thanks to EF for putting in some overtime last week to assemble this bike for me.  Two of the top three riders at this race were on a Spark, I guess it was the perfect bike for the course.

The team had some great results:

Sonya- 3rd Cat 2
Tom R.- 2nd Masters
Frank Y.- 1st Cat 2
Jeff P.- 1st Cat 2 35+
David R.- 1st Cat 1 35+
Joe F.- 4th Cat 1

Full results can be found here: RunRideRace

Sorry, light on pictures for this race.  I will add a few more this evening.

Mark giving directions to the Pro/Expert field

Frank getting ready to lay it down!

Plassman, daydreaming of another deer encounter

Damon and Dave, ready to roll

How did Damon change so fast??

Monday, April 1, 2013

Another Day at the Scout Camp

The Scout Camp venue is always one I have had a love/hate relationship with.  Much of the trail system is very fun, but then there are the slow, tight sections that have no flow and really wear on you after a few hours in the saddle.  The trail system was built primarily by Ed Jones mostly out of passion for mountain biking and the art of quality singletrack. You can see this throughout the camp in the the bench cutting required on some sections as well as the numerous bridges throughout. While RA More and several volunteers help Ed out from time to time, he is really the driving force behind this system of trails.

Of course, it was nice knowing this race at the Camp would not be nearly as long as 18 Hour race many of us are accustomed to. For me, I chose the "Enduro" 4 hour +1 lap format. I need the hours in the saddle and the weather was great.  With all the rain early in the week, Ed and I were a bit concerned there may be some sloppy sections.  Frank and I rode out there Friday to check the trail conditions, get a few miles in, and ensure trail markings were adequate.  All checked out and I felt good, even after spending a bit more time then my normal pre-race plan calls for on the trails (thanks EF).

As normal, the enduro race started out pretty quick.  I'm normally able to settle into my "endurance pace" pretty quickly, but not today.  Me and another rider managed to break free from the pack and we laid down a pretty quick first lap, quicker then I had wanted actually.  I continued to try and find my endurance pace through the second lap, but still felt my heart rate was a bit higher then I was comfortable with.  I caught a stick in my derailleur and the next thing I knew the rider I had been riding with was quickly out of sight.  I continued to push on trying to maintain my gap on the pack I thought for sure was just behind us.

As I exited the woods from lap 3, I saw the first place rider dip into the trail for his 4th lap.  Sweet, less then a minute seperated us at this point.  I pushed pretty hard in chase of the leader and finally caught him a few miles into lap #4.  I continued to push throughout the lap to ensure I would not be caught.  When I didn't see him on some of the longer switchbacks, I figured I was in the clear as long as I could maintain my pace.  I knew at this point we would only be completing 5 laps (I initially thought we would do 6).  My fifth lap was pretty relaxed.  I rolled with the Cat 1 leader, Keck Baker, for a mile or two after he caught me but didn't feel the need to follow him up the punchy climbs.  It was nice to just settle into a comfortable pace and enjoy the singletrack for the last lap.  I caught teamates Todd (who finished 5th) and Tom near the end of my last lap and chatted for a bit before slidding by.

What a great day to be out on the Stijl!  Perfect weather and trails!  Turned out the rain made the trails just a bit tacky on race day so you could really rail the swoopy turns that litter the course with the Racing Ralphs proving to be the perfect tire!  The cool new kits finally came in as well, with several of us sporting them at the event.

Lets do this again next week at Pocahantas!!

Team results:

Tom Richeson: 1st Masters
Sonya Richeson: 2nd Cat 2
David Reid: 1st Enduro
Frank Yeager: 3rd Enduro
Todd Green: 5th Enduro
Jim Fisher: 4th Cat 1 35+
Eric Bleecher: 4th Cat 2