Monday, June 10, 2013

25th Annual Massanutten Hoo Ha

What a historic race celebrating its 25th year of existence.  I have wanted to do this race for a couple years now and it just never worked out.  Finally, this season the XXC fit right into my training plan.  I have never ridden any of these trails so was curious about what was in store for me.
The morning started early with a 4:15am alarm.  Before long I was out of the house and on the road to meet Donna Miller to carpool from Richmond to Massanutten for the race start.  With the forecasted rain on Saturday night, I was glad we had opted not to camp the night before.  We arrived in plenty of time so everything worked out well.  We got registered and found a small group to warm up with and check out some of the trails and see what this week’s rains had done to the course.  They were damp, with some mud on the fire roads.  Unfortunately, I noticed some major tension in my headset, not a good sign of things to come!  I raced back to the car to try and alleviate the tension before the race start, but had no luck.
Before long we were all lined up and the race was off.  The lead group quickly settled and I found myself in the lead group of 10 or so.  I felt good through the opening fire road sections but realized my headset would be a big issue.  I was swerving from side to side as I fought to keep the bike straight.  Not good with all the rocky climbs and descents I knew laid ahead of me.  After the first 30 minutes or so, I think we really started to get into the meat of the course.  Stupid steep climbs would be the norm for the day.  I was disappointed to find so many hike a bike sections.  I know I’m not the strongest person out there and I’m sure others could climb some sections I was forced to walk, but having an XXC course where dismounting and walking is the norm just isn’t very fun for anybody. 
The rock gardens did not disappoint.  They were plentiful to say the least and the rain had left many of these rocks a bit slick.  It was extremely challenging for me when combined with the tension of my front end (which only got worse during the race).  I was really fighting my bike now and often found myself walking rock gardens which I would have normally blown through, very frustrating feeling to say the least.   I wrecked a few times and went over the bars on the ridge line, far from my normal riding style.  One bright point was the Schwalbe Racing Ralphs.  These tires rocked in the poor conditions we faced!  I’m glad I decided to switch to these tires this week.
After we finished the GW loop and returned to the park and at about three hours into the race for me, we joined back into the XC course.  The conditions were far tamer here, but I decided it just wasn’t safe for me to continue.  While reflecting a day later, I’m glad I made this decision.  Your bike really has to be working 100% correctly in order to complete one of these events, and I felt mine was dangerous with the lacking control in the front end.  So for me the race was really just a good workout with some nice climbs plus some good technical riding which are often times hard to find.  All in all, a decent training day out in the mountains but I can say I have no interest in returning to this race after the stupid long hike a bike sections.
Teamates Tom Haines and Todd Green both hung on to finish the course.  Congrats guys, you both rock!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mohican 100 Mile MTB Race in Loudonville Ohio – June 1, 2013

I’ll spare you all the details, but it would suffice to say that Jeff and I both faced some big obstacles before we even mounted our bikes for this race!  I had to deal with inexperience riding wet trails, and some nagging knee issues that would hound me all day.  Jeff had to deal with lack of sleep caused by a rough night with a migraine and stomach issues.  Come game time though, we had a lot to be happy for – the glory of a meal appropriate to precede such an endeavor, suddenly improved weather, and a well-marked and well-supported ride through cavernous forests and beautiful rolling farm land!  So, we both sucked it up, and hit the paved start with hundreds of other stupids riding either a 100-mile or 100-kilometer race depending on their preference.  Folks in both races, and of all levels of competence, went off with no particular structure – which was very chaotic!  Avoiding the numerous crashes in the first mile was yet another thing I could consider going well for me that morning.

The field spread out pretty quickly on a steep road climb before the course eventually delivered us to the 25 miles of trail riding that would come next.  My position was good heading into the trails, but I was riding very tentatively on the wet singletrack.  Content with keeping myself from, “eating crap,” I gave up a lot of position over these 25 miles.  Jeff passed me at about mile 7 and would never be seen again.  At the end of the 25 miles, the trail alternated for a while between soupy horse trail and muddy hiking trail before turning us out onto the remainder of the course – about 70 miles of a mix of scenic road, gravel, doubletrack and singletrack.  At this point, I was pretty tense from a lot of cautious riding, and a little disgruntled by a number of sections that were not ride-able or generally ridiculous to be routed through.  My knee was really irritating me, I was on track to take 11+ hours (way too long) to finish, and I started seriously considering either quitting or taking the fork around mile 45 where the 100-kilometer race separates from the 100-mile race.

Once I was out of the first trail section, my pace and overall vibe rapidly improved, and I found myself re-gaining position as quickly as I lost it in the first quarter of the race.  I figured then that I probably wouldn’t quit altogether, but I still considered sparing my knee anything more than 100 kilometers of riding.

About mile 45, I approached the fork that separated the two races.  In a couple seconds of thought, I found it just as easy to opt for 100 miles as it would have been to opt for 100 kilometers.  I am really happy I made that choice since the rest of the course wasn’t terribly taxing at all.  I continued to improve my pace, and was motivated by the scenery, the weather, and the prospect of a sub-9-hour finish.  The course sent me over at least one narrow suspension bridge, a covered road bridge complete with horse-drawn buggy inside, and past numerous spectators and farm folk doing their thing – including one teenage Amish girl operating a gas powered weed whacker!

The last five miles navigated backward through some of the first singletrack in the course.  Conditions at this point were ideal, but I was too smoked to bomb through.  Although I slowed down at that point, I still finished 26th with a time under 9 hours.  I was delighted to see that Jeff also chose to persist through the race, and had finished about 15 minutes before me with a 20th place position!  In 16 100-milers, this was Jeff’s fastest.  We spent a while enjoying the post-race festivities before filling our growlers and heading back to our hotel in great spirits.

The next day, we woke up stiff and sore, and drove home in spotty weather.  Fortunately, rain had not hit the area around Douthat State Park in Virginia – which allowed us to take our creaky bikes for a not-too-hard and not-too-easy spin up and down some great trails in that park.  Bonus for me, since I had never rode there and had a blast rocking down some fast descents to make up for holding back so much the day before!  As we got back on the road, we felt refreshed by our ride.  Rain soon resumed, and we reflected on how much we ultimately lucked out over this weekend.

Great times!