Wednesday, July 25, 2012

WORS#7: The Sun has burst

We were up early on Saturday, trying to do the nearly impossible. We were planning on getting up, having a nice breakfast out together, driving 2 hrs northwest to my sister’s house in Edgerton for a summer party, then driving 2.5 hrs northeast of there for a Mountain bike race. Traffic getting out of Chicago was terrible, and we ended up having to abort the trip to my sister’s house before we even got past the Edens. It’s a shame because from what my parent’s told us on Sunday, they had a great time on Saturday afternoon whereas my afternoon was rather miserable.

We headed 2.5hrs due north from Chicago and made it to Kewaskum with plenty of time. We toured the Kettle Morraine North state forest for a bit, before circling back south to the Sunburst Ski area where we got the lay of the land, found registration, and I got ready to preride. Morleigh sat under a tree reading a book, and I went out to suffer for 40 minutes. I was pre-riding so I tried to take it easy, but the first mile or so of the course was all up hill, winding in switch back after switchback along the west and south faces of the ski hill. It was not an easy climb. There were a few non-technical loops of single track wrapping around the top like a bad comb-over, but all too quickly the coursed headed down the far side of the hill into the abandoned X-mas tree farm below. The bulk of the course (in terms of distance) distance wise was wrapped like small intestines through the tight rows of trees. There were a lot of straight aways, 90deg or 180 degree turns, and a lot of climbing that didn’t really seem like climbing. They were deceptive because they were not as long as the climb up the mountain, but they were still steep and soul crushing. If Iola took us through the forest of Fangorn, then this course was the plains of Gorgoroth in Mordor. The sun had baked the earth, and it crumbled into fine powder which was projected upward as an aerosol. It was brown, dry, dull, and hot. Of the 40 minutes I spent riding less than 5 minutes was actually enjoyable. It was like the worst parts of a mountain bike race (climbing single track) combined with the most boring yet difficult cyclocross course I had ever seen.

I rolled back over to Morleigh and was seriously befuddled. Was I in such a serious emotional funk that I was incapable of actually enjoying anything? Or was it really that bad? Did I need to ride another lap, or was one enough? I went, registered, and came back, and I decided that riding another six mile loop on that particular course would do nothing for my performance the next day. There were no technical sections that required additional attention. It felt like the best thing I could do for my performance would be to go back to the hotel, get a good meal, and get a good night sleep. As I was changing back into civilian clothes my suspicions about the course were reaffirmed by a group of women who were having a conversation behind me. From what I could gather from their conversation the course was in their estimation both difficult and boring. I felt somewhat vindicated in my assessment, and my decision to not ride a second lap. We drove around the chalet and found a good spot to set up our tent. We staked it to the ground and then went back south to West Bend. We did the normal Saturday night things: we checked into the hotel, and looked for a restaurant. We have had good success with the restaurants in micro-breweries, and our experience was West Bend was no different. They had great food, and even had homemade root beer, and a delicious orange vanilla cream soda. We then topped our evening off with a little shopping. We had both forgotten the snacks that were sitting on the kitchen counter, and needed a few personal items, so we stopped at the Walmart across the street from our hotel. I sure know how to treat a girl to a nice Saturday night.

The next morning we enjoyed our make-your-own-waffles and headed to the venue. The southern parking lot was almost empty when we arrived, so we parked as close as possible to the tent and proceeded to unload. We set up chairs, pulled over the cooler, and started the process of getting ready. I did not bring my camera, because with the compressed timeline of the day I did not want the extra weight (both physically, temporally, and emotionally). So I had a race-only day, and I was able to focus on my preparations. I did help others prepare as well. Amy D from Half-Acre was arriving late, and I helped her with her final preparations getting her to the starting line on time.

Because I was not distracted taking photos I was able to get everything ready, and start a long, slow, early warm-up. I was out on the road by 10:45AM and was able to roll up and down the road for a good 20 minutes, burning hard and working the sloth that was lingering heavy from my legs. I was off my bike because of work on Monday – Wednesday, because of laziness on Thursday, and did a light workout with some intervals on Friday. The one adventure I had with registration was realizing that my pull-tag did not have my number written on it, but was three less than my race number. I went to registration and got a new tag, but then spent the rest of the morning until my flight looking to see if anyone was registered with that number to have them check if they were wearing my pull-tag. I never did find anyone with that number.

We made it down to the starting line, and bantered a little bit before the start of our race. I let one gentleman know that he did not have a number on the front of his bike (I don’t know what happened to him). We pulled up to the starting line, and my though through my strategy again. I was not going to go out hard and try to get the whole shot. I was going to blend in for the first lap, and try to take it easy.


With my call-up I was near the front, but it’s always a crap-shoot being in the second line as to who is best to line up behind. I was in 8-10th place after the first turn, and the sight of riders within my wave disappearing egged me onward. But still I tried to keep calm, keep my heart rate down, because I knew there was much work left to do. We made it through the prologue, past the tent of my cheering family, and when we made it around the barrels at the southern part of the course those initial matches that my competitors had ignited at the start, started to sputter and fade. I tried to keep pedaling at a sub-maximal pace, and before the top of the open switchbacks I was in third place heading into the wooded switchbacks. I was happy with that, but my body was not. Before the second set of switchbacks my Garmin alarm started to go off. My heart rate was above 167 which is not a sustainable pace for me. Unfortunately there was no time to recover. We climbed on, climbed on, climbed on.

When we made it up to the top our first opportunity to catch our breath was a downhill straight away along the edge of the neighbor’s soybean field. It was straight and steep, and just coasting we approached 25mph. At the bottom I locked up the brakes, and slowed down as we turned right. I didn’t see what happened, but the leader of our wave (I think it was Jerry) went down hard. The whole line backed up, but he got back quickly and limped up the hill. When the single track opened up into a wide grass patch at the top, he pulled over to re-align his handlebars. I made a move on the C40+ who was in second place and took the lead of my wave. My heart was still thumping loud in my chest, and my garmin was still beeping.

We fiddled about on the top for a short while, and then dropped off the backside on the fast, steep, and all too short descent, and back into the plains of Gorgorath. At that point we had just started rolling up on the stragglers from earlier waves, so I was happy to have the extra space to pass, but I was unable slow down and catch my breath. Whenever I tried to back-off the speed to catch my breath Don, the number two rider from my wave was right behind me egging me on. My Garmin continued to beep. It was like watching the fuse of a cartoon bomb burn down toward the gunpowder. Would Elmer Fudd make it to the finish line before he blew up? Finally I hit my threshold and knew that I had to slow down. When we reached the top of yet another loop that went half-way up the ski-hill, I told Don that he could take the lead and pull for a while, because I needed to “drop 10 beats or I was going to blow up.” He said he was in the same place, so I continued to lead. The second lap was a blur. I was, after 20 hard minutes of riding, able to get my HR back down to about 160, and started to feel like I was in a sustainable place. Then I had to climb the hill again.

The second time up the hill I was able still able to move, and passed some people climbing on the wide grassy slope, and crawled by some people on the steeper uphill. When I made it back to Gorgoroth I had opened up a sizable gap the rest of my wave. I could see Dan and the other riders in my wave as we looped past on some of the longer switchbacks. I had no sense of how far behind they were, but their footsteps were ever ringing in my ears. The second time through Gorgoroth was marked by the degradation of fine motor skills that is associated with low oxygen to the brain. I was taking corners poorly, and was running off the relatively wide track into the grass and trees, and making the small kind of mistakes that would have been punished greatly in the woods. I had to shake my head and tell myself to wake up and pay attention a couple of different times. I came into and through the bulk of the single-speed field during the second trip through the plains.

When I came out of the plains into the “completely unnecessary switchbacks” that separated the plains from the finish line, I was reeling from the effort and from the heat. At the neutral aid-station I took two cups of water, one on the downhill side, one on the uphill side, and doused both of them down my back. I was using my camelpak as much for cooling (suck and spit) as I was for hydration. I took a hand-up of nutrients from my Mom (“Thanks Mom”) and went to face the last time up the hill. It was brutal. My heart rate once again spiked to almost max, and my speed dropped. I was in my granny gear, spinning as fast as I could spin, and it felt like I was not going anywhere at all.

Yet I was still passing people. I even had to burn a match against my will because I was stuck on the step wooded single track behind a rider who was going so slow I had to stop and track-stand at one particular point to keep from running into him. I made my way past, and continued to pass more riders. It was in the third pass through the planes that my systems started to shut down. I had come upon a number of riders, who were kicking up major dust clouds that were coating my skin, my nose, my mouth, and my eyes, but I could not push my way through them. It was feel the dust layering on my cornea, and I could not produce enough tears to wash it away. My core temperature started to rise, and my speed drop. I started to shiver and knew that heat exhaustion was eminent.

I could see the rest of my wave coming up from behind. There were two guys who were closing fast. Jerry from Wheel and Sprocket, Marcus from Titletown were closing as well. I could not hold Jerry. He would not be denied, and he passed me on the “completely unnecessary switchbacks”. Marcus was closing in fast as well. When I got to the uphill side of the neutral aid station, I could see him approaching on the downhill side. It was one thing for one of the older guys to pass me, but another Clydesdale slipping by without so much as a whimper? My pride roared up from within the deep within the pain cave. “Get down here and make him earn it.” I rounded the final switchback, and got out of my saddle and sprinted up the final hill. I looked back as I crested and saw a big enough gap that I let off the gas and coasted downhill into the finish. I was second in my wave, and had suffered for 1hr and 24 minutes straight. My average heart rate was 91% of my maximum over the course of 1.4 hrs, and my max heart rate got to 98% of the highest ever recorded. I didn’t know where I had finished in the pack, but the C40+ (Marcus) stopped by to congratulate me and say he was glad to learn that we were in different age classes. He had been chasing me thinking that I was between him and the top of the podium. He was relieved to realize he was already there.

Setting up the tent right next to the finish line was probably the best thing we did all weekend. I rolled across the course and I was in the shade, with cool water to douse over my head. It felt good to rinse off some of the dust and lower my core body temperature. It wasn’t quite as good as the Post-Gravel metric baptism, but it was very very close. It took a while before I felt human again, and the stress/fatigue I felt was comparable only in magnitude to the Gravel Metric. But eventually I got my feet underneath me, started to clean up, pack up, and get ready to go. I would have liked to stay for the podiums, but I ticket for a 7:07PM flight leaving O’hare, and we had a number of errands to run on the way home. We had to go to the Bike shop to drop off the team tent, then to my apartment to drop off the bike and stuff. We rolled out of Kewasum at 2pm, and I was standing at gate B10 by 6:05PM having accomplished all of the aforementioned errands plus a pit-stop at an A&W for some “to-go” food. Our guardian angels were looking out for us and clearing the way that day. Any number of traffic-choke points or lines at the airport could have left us short on time and me trying to duct tape myself to the wing of an airplane. Instead I was at the airport with plenty of time to relax and prepare for the early beginning of my work week.

WORS#6: Alterra Coffee Bean Classic (Fat Man's Misery)

It's been a busy week.  As start writing this post I am in a hotel waiting for sleep to overcome me before another MTB race tomorrow.  I have not even written about last week's race.  As we have done all summer my girlfriend and I headed to the WORS venue on Saturday afternoon.  We had planned to ride up with our friend Jackie, but other commitments pulled her away so we were on our own.  The race was close, just over the border outside of Milwaukee, so we took our time initially.  We drove up LSD to Sheridan, and followed Sheridan all the way north along the lake, a route that I have ridden dozens if not hundreds of times.  I pointed out landmarks and told stories of recent rides (Ba'hai temple sprints, etc), as we rolled past the endless fields of legitimate mansions.

As we approached Lake Cook we looked at the clock and realized we had better pick up the pace if we were going to meet Jackie at the venue before the "Learn to Ride" clinic which she was thinking about doing again.  We hopped on the highway, and made a beeline for the venue.

We arrived just after 3PM, and we found Jackie (or she found us) as I was starting to pull my things out of the van and get ready.  When I was kitted-up, we headed toward the starting line, and Jackie decided she just wanted to pre-ride the course and not do the whole clinic.  We skipped going down to the start and continued around the first flat section without climbing out of the bowl one more time.

We took a very easy pace, Jackie is still building her bike handling skills, and has enough skinned knees under her belt that she was riding cautiously.  I was in no hurry, having not yet warmed up, so we continued through the first section of single track without incident.  When we reached the citizen cut-off we split up, and I took off on the sport track and we said we would meet up when the courses connected again.  I had the longer journey so I stepped up the pace.

The second section of single track looped long with many straight but very narrow sections, and a few elevated bridges that had to be carefully navigated.  I saw two deer next to the trail, but had no cameras with which to take photos so I powered on, trying to catch Jackie.  The Sport and Citizen trails re-united less than 100 yds after they split (although I had to ride at least a mile to get there), and Jackie was not waiting for me there at the bottom of the hill known as Fatman's Misery.

It was appropriately named.  It's a 8-10% grade of loose gravel that goes straight up for maybe a quarter mile, and has a lip at 12-15% at the top.  It is not a fun climb.  At the top, I did not find Jackie so I continued onward through Murphy's weeds, back to the parking lot.  I looked for Jackie in the parking lot, and then decided, after not finding her, to finish the loop.  I went back over to the steep hill and followed the Sport course around, and then dropped into the first switchback.  At the third switchback disaster struck.  I heard a hissing sound from my front wheel, and immediately pulled over to find a hole punched into the sidewall.

The tires were tubeless filled with Stans sealant so I flipped my bike on it's side and tried to get the sealant to cover the hole.  I've never had a flat with a tubeless tire, so I wasn't sure what more to do or what to expect.  I waited for 5-10 minutes, and the whole stopped leaking somewhat, but  when I tipped the bike back over it started leaking again.  I decided to walk over to the trek tent and seek professional advice.  The mechanic there told me it may or may not seal, no way to predict I could only wait and see.  It was holding air at 10psi, but when I went back to the car and pushed it up to 20psi it started to leak again.  I took it off the bike, and lay it on it's side in the back of the van and hoped.

This was our “one weekend in the big city” for WORS races and I treated my GF to a night at one of the nicer hotels in the city. That night we chose a quick dinner in the hotel restaurant. The restaurant was empty, and the food was okay, but the wedding reception across the hall made was rather loud and boisterous. It was certainly not quiet. Since we were in the big city we decided to go hog-wild and go paint the town orange. That is to say we drove south into the suburbs and found a home depot where we purchased a rubber mallet for smacking in tent stakes, and a 2 gallon yard sprayer to use as a portable shower. The room was pricy, but I went with a package deal and rolled in the breakfast buffet with our reservation.

We woke up early, and went downstairs for a quick breakfast. It wasn’t bad, but it was still not as good as a make-your-own-waffle. We ate, loaded up the car and headed to the venue. We found a row of tents right near the main driveway of the ski area, and squeezed into an open spot and set up our pop-up. It wasn’t the perfect location from a spectators point of view (i.e., not close to the start-finish, kind of on one edge of the course) but it was proximal to parking so there was very little distance to carry things. We set up the tent, and Morleigh ran to the Walgreens to pick up some more ice and some more sunscreen.

My focus was on the front tire with sidewall puncture that I had been wrestling with the night before. I left it in the van, over a tarp, on its side hoping it was going to seal. It held air at 20lbs but started to hiss at 25 lbs. I didn’t really have a choice. I headed to the Trek tent to see what, if anything, they could do for me. After some discussion and looking, they initially thought they were out of the tire they would recommend, and I was like..umm……I need something? After talking about selling me the demo tires, they found a suitable tread in the right size. I helped them with the one aspect of bicycle mechanics I am fully competent (removing plastic that has been lodged in a leather slot), and went back to the tent to wait for them to to do their thing. Morleigh came back with the ice, and two additional folding chairs despite me expressing a belief that they were not required. She said they were on sale for $2.99. It was hard to argue with that price, and completely futile at that point to try.

I had my camera out and took some pictures of the Junior racers scooting by, as well as the citizens, but my main focus was getting my own race prep taken care of. The spot we had chosen wasn’t ideal for photography (rather boring actually), but I wanted to stay close to the tent. I did what I could to get ready (fill camelpak, make energy drink, change into kit), and waited about a half an hour get my wheel. My friend Jackie had started her race by this point in time, I got a couple good shots of her cresting the first hill, and as she came around again she was much farther back than I would have expected. When she came down the hill by our tent I had my camera to my eye and she was not pedaling hard, and stuck out her tongue as she went by. I went back to review the photos after she passed to see if I got any good ones, and it was then that I noticed she had blood streaming down her leg from a cut that was at least 2 inches long…streaming to her sock. She finished the race, headed to the medical tent, and was told she needed to go to the ER and get stiches.

Oh yeah. You can get seriously injured doing this. My shoulder twinged as I made a mental note.

Before long, it was time to warm up. I saw a bunch of people from Chicago as I was tooling around the parking lot and up and down the frontage road including some Kinky Llamas, Half-Acres, and some Spider-Monkeys. It was nice to have a little home town vibe that far away from home. When it was time, I headed down to the starting area and waited for my turn. Don was merciful that day, announcing that the sport racers would be racing only 2 laps (only 5 steep hill climbs as opposed to 7 for a 3 lap race). I’m not afraid of hills, but I’m not a glutton for punishment either. The countdown and the GOOOOOO!!!! And we took off up the hill. I made a move and got to the outside, but did not burn any matches to get into first place at the crest of the hill. I was in 3rd behind Aaron and John. I was surprised with how hard Aaron was going out, but I did my best to maintain a sustainable pace for me. I reeled in around the first bend, and passed Aaron around the second switchback. I was right where I wanted to be, at the head of my wave heading into the single track.

The last feature of the course before dropping into the woods was a sharp and loose-gravelly 180 corner. Last year they had erected a wooden berm to ride up and around. This year there was no berm, so it was easy to cut the corner. The only problem was that I was over-excited from having passed Aaron and took the corner too fast, my front wheel skidded out and I was able to avoid going down, but I was not able to stay on the course. I ended up sliding down the hill into the weeds and almost into the trees. I came to a complete stop, had to step back up the hill, and get back on the course. I might have cut some guys off, but Aaron and Todd got around me. So I was back in 3rd place, flustered, and trying to chase. A few hundred yards down the road I made my second technical mistake catching my handlebar on a tree. It knocked my foot out of the pedal on the right side and I put my foot down, I unclipped on the left and started to run with my bike between my legs. A few steps and I was able to hop up, pull the bike forward, and get clipped back in. It did not cost me any spots, but I certainly lost precious seconds.

The rest of the first lap went pretty smoothly. I was able to squeeze by Aaron before the second section of single track, and started to open up a gap over the rest of my wave. There was still one from my wave in front of me, but he was not in my category so I was less concerned about catching him. I pressed onward. The first trip up Fat Man’s Misery went well. I was seated for most of the climb, yet still passing many of the stragglers from earlier waves. My garmin did not start beeping (above 98% max) until I was near the very top. It took a moment or two to catch my breath, but once around the corner I was moving again. I took full advantage of the open gravel road and passed another half dozen riders before getting into “the Weeds”. In the weeds I ran into the back of a few slower riders, and caught a break as I waited with growing impatience for an opportunity to pass. When we came back around by the parking lot I went off the trail to make moves on at least two guys who were struggling to climb the hill. I made up another few spots on the climb around before dropping into the single track switchbacks.

Here I took it a little easy. The gravel was very loose and I decided it was better to ride the brakes a little bit than it was to lose control. The starting hill represented another opportunity to make up some ground on guys, and I again focused more on keeping my heart rate down than making up time or space. I was starting to really feel the heat, and even at a slow spinning climb I was able to make up ground on slower riders. As we went down the straight away past our tent, I waved at Morleigh and saw out of the corner of my eye that our tent was full. I didn’t actually see him, but as I rolled by I heard the unmistakeable call of a male Mumford, and returned in kind. His enthusiasm energized me and I went and chased down a couple more guys before hitting the single track. I did not repeat my mistakes, passed a few more guys, and then in the extended loop for the second lap I ran into a major pile up. There were eight single speeders who were tooling through the narrow tight single track all in a row. It was at least 5 minutes of going sub-optimal speed before the trail widened enough to get around them. It was good for my recovery, but it was too long of a recover I started to get antsy as I lost more and more time on the field. When I cleared the single speeders I was moving again.

My next barrier to progress was a junior in the 13-14 age category. The thing I remember about him is that there was absolutely no meat on the bones, and hear I am this big Clydesdale coming up behind him looking for an opportunity to pass. There wasn’t one so I followed him through some single track. Then the two of us came up on another ride who was very gracious in making room to pass where there was not any. So little room that he had to slam on his brakes to avoid a tree as we passed him. I thanked him over my shoulder, telling him it was very gracious of him. Yes, I did literally say “gracious” in the middle of a highly competitive mountain bike race. What can I say, it was hot and I was fast approaching delirium.

The rest of the race turned into a blur quickly. I passed the junior at the beginning of my second trip up Fat Man’s misery, and stream onward past a bunch of people struggling on wheels and foot to make it over the steep lip. The double track was again an opportunity to make up places, and as I was coming up and over the hill the last time I once again made visual contact with Todd, the leader of my starting wave. I tried to close the gap by passing people who were moving slower, and when we hit the bottom of the final climb I was within 20 ft of him. But as soon as the ground pitched upward my legs gave out, and I was all out of matches. I conceded the victory to him, and just rolled up the hill to the finish. I was once again the fastest fat-kid in the 3rd grade, but as the results came out I found that I was much farther back in the Sport field than I had been in a while. I was 37th overall, and maybe 5 minutes behind the leaders. I returned to the tent, and as we waited for the Elite men (4 of whom had taken refuge in our tent, and three of which were asking us to do hand-ups for them).

Morleigh was concerned about messing it up, so I stuck around until she felt comfortable with who got what bottle when. As we were waiting I took advantage of the new sprayer we purchased to wash the dust off my legs and off my bike. My Mom and her friend Sue were actually really into the idea of doing hand-ups and were excited about the responsibility. When they were set I snuck away to the top of the hill (picking up my podium on the way) to take what turned out to be some of my best race photos ever. When I had more pictures than I could edit in a few days I returned to the tent. The guys were grateful for the help, and they even took advantage of the extra water to wash off their legs before getting in the car. We all packed up and headed south.

 It was then that Morleigh told me that she actually messed up Mumford’s hand-up. She was in position, bottle at the ready, and as Mumford came down the lane he looked down, looked up and yelled “No!”. Morleigh took a step back and then Mumford reached out for his bottle, but it was too late. He said, “nevermind” with a tone of frustration as he screamed past. Morleigh took off running toward the start/finish area hoping to be able to catch Mumford at the switch back before he made it all the way around the loop. She was able to cut-across on foot and get ahead of the leaders, but no Mumford. She waited and waited but he did not come by.

“Oh no, I’ve killed Mumford!”

she thought to herself. Finally, after standing out in the sun getting overheated herself she returned to the tent where she found Mumford relaxing in the shade. When he looked down at his wheel and said “No” he actually said “Oh-no!” as in, “Oh-no my tires is losing air rapidly” he was not actually trying to wave off the hand-up. He was losing air, it did not seal, and he did not have a tube or anything to repair it, so he walked back to the tent. We returned to Chicago, unloaded the everything, and started to pack for my next adventure. We were getting up at 4AM so she could drop me off at the airport to fly to Philadelphia for work.