Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cowbell Challenge 2008 - Full Circle

The 2008 Cowbell Challenge in addition to being a fun race, was also the one year date for me riding 29er's. Last year's Cowbell was the first time I ever rode a 29er and I haven't looked back.

This year's event was somewhat cooler than last year and at a new venue. Fisher Farms is a beautiful place with a nice 4 or so miles of singletrack that is tight and flowy fast with a few technical challenges along the way and very little climbing to speak of. The balance of the course included some wide open field sections and three short climbs that made up for the lack of climbing elsewhere.

It began like all races should, with a mass start. I understand the methodology behind the LeMans start, prologue laps and other things that promoters try to spread out the riders before entering the singletrack but none of them work really. The first lap of any of these races always ends up being a KLSTRPHK. I went first and had heavy traffic to deal with despite having a decent position going into the singletrack about 30 back from the front. I was in some company that I am not used to being in; Ernesto Marenchin and Nat Ross were not far ahead of me, I could see Dicky (no pun intended), Dave Holmes, Josh Tostado, and alot of really fast guys. Things were going good until we came to some rocks and a tree root and I got hung up with the dude in front of me. Imagine a five car chain reaction on the Interstate, same kind of thing. I don't know how many people got by me but I was in a whole new group of people and they were riding slower than I wanted and I began picking them off until it happened again. A guy blew one of the skinnies and jammed us all up. It smoothed out after that and I just rode as fast as I could and tried to get a good look at the course. I came in in 35:something and Chris went out.

We had some stiff competition with the team of Andy Applegate and Daniel Corum putting 4 or 5 minutes per lap on us, it looked like we were going to be racing for whatever was left and after 4 laps, we were in a fairly close race for 2nd - 4th. We were in 4th and about 8 minutes out of 2nd and doing all that we could to make the time up. The teams that were going to see to it that we didn't do that were no slouches. At this level, everyone is fast and one mistake can cost you dearly. Like clockwork, Chris and I not only were turning consistently fast laps, we were within 30-40 seconds of each other's lap times all day. We made very few mistakes except we both were trying really hard to catch the guys ahead of us and that combined with the heat took it's toll. We slowed down a little by lap 10 and then maintained that pace for the rest of the race. By then, we were about 22 minutes from 2nd and anything could happen. It could rain (that would have been evil) there could be a mechanical or the other guys could slow with the dark coming. We kept as much pressure on them as we could.

Transitions: Easy as One...................



I mentioned the lack of climbing earlier. Don't get the wrong idea, there was climbing there and what little bit there was really hurt later on in the race. My 32X17 gearing was a great choice though and I am happy I used it instead of something lighter. A lighter gear would have made the singletrack and freeway sections really suck. As Chris and I toured the 7 mile course, the laps kept ticking up. We, well everyone was turning laps really fast. By dark, we had 16 laps and that is something you don't see at a 12 hour race very much, hell I have been to 24 hour races that were won with less laps than that. The course was that fast.

I went out for my 9th (our 17th) lap at about 8:05. The cutoff was 9:00 so I had time to get back and get Chris out for one more giving us 18. It was fully dark now and I rode my ass off. I wanted to turn another 35 minute lap but the traffic wouldn't let me. I passed 12 people on my last lap and at the top of the steepest climb on the course, a girl tells me the race has been called due to a storm that was in the area. Shit! I thought. I eased up a little in the last 3/4 of a mile of the course and still made it back in time for Chris to go out but it didn't matter. We were done and we ended up 4th, roughly a half lap down from 2nd.

Ah it is what it is. Me and Chris had never teamed up before and we rode together like we had been teamates for years. It was a blast to do a race and ride each lap as fast as I could and actually pass people for a change (I only got passed once, by Nat Ross). The upsides of team racing. Some of the downsides are the nervousness of waiting and the constantly calculating time. What time did Chris go out? What time do I need to go again? If I make a mistake how much harder do we have to ride to make the time up? It is all about time. Each of us had on average about 25 minutes to rest between laps before we had to get ready to go again. Hardly enough time to really rest but it wasn't so much that you got cold and stiff. I don't think we could have rode any faster or done anything much different.

It was a blast.

Thanks to Chris, Nancy for the food and cold towels and the driving and the pics and the everything else, Nathan (he was so cute grabbing my bottle from my bike and refilling it between laps), and all my sponsors: Vassago, WTB, White Bros, Ergon, Crank Bros, Carbo Rocket, and Under Armour for the help. Y'all rock.

Also to Taylor and all the volunteers for putting on a great race and to whoever maintains the trails at Fisher Farms, It's a really nice place.

Let's not forget the sponsors.

The start was fast and dusty. Some dude ate it just after this pic was taken. It looked painful.

This little rock garden had the potential to hurt bikes and bodies.

Chris on the climb to the finish.

Got Cowbell?

Nathan yelling "Go Daddy"

Am I asleep? Stoned? Maybe just tired and faking it.

Photo credits: Nancy Archer and Chris Baker

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Need More Cowbell

The 2008 Cowbell Challenge is this weekend at Fisher Farms in Charlotte. Me and Chris Davis are going to be flying the Vassago flag in the Duo class where some of our competition includes Andy Applegate so it will be a stiff race for sure. I'm a never say never kind of guy and in the spirit of the underdog, nobody knows who will stand atop the podium come Saturday night. I do know endurance racing is a funny animal and anything can happen. Me and Chris are there to win regardless of who we have to I mean beat.
At any rate, it will be interesting.
Hopefully the forecast for clear and temps in the 80's holds. last year it was hot as hell and at 4:00 it was around 100. I and a lot of others died from the heat. It was horrible.
Although team events are not anything new for me or Chris, they are kinda new for the Vassago team as we all have been mostly solo rats. We are starting to get enough depth in our talent pool and numbers on the team to be able to do some stuff like this. I do like solo stuff but there are some undeniable aspects to team racing that are a blast like being able to ride laps as fast as you can without worrying about the consquences of going to hard. In solo racing, you always have to meter your effort to make sure you have enough juice at the end.
I am looking forward to it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rocky Raccoon and the Decathalon

Some people have an ant, roach or mice problem. Some even have a rat problem. Where I work, we are infested with Raccoons. There's at least six of them that I have seen and they live upstairs generally above my head and I hear them from time to time scampering across the ceiling (kinda sounds like a mouse on steroids). I'm not much for killing things so I got a trap and so far have relocated two of them.

Sure he looks cute but I am certain he would have ripped out my throat if he could have. There's nothing like a cute, furry, scared, caged animal to bring out the worst in a critter. He was a hell of a lot better off in my hands than if some of the others I work with would have got ahold of him.

Not much in the way of riding for me this past weekend. In getting our house ready to sell, I participated in the Home Improvement Decathalon. Events included:

  1. Mowing and Triming
  2. Painting
  3. Cleaning
  4. Packing up clutter and sorting through it
  5. House and deck washing
  6. Cutting and trimming shrubs
  7. Landscaping
  8. Cleaning
  9. Cleaning
  10. More cleaning

I got rained out of most of what I needed to accomplish on Saturday so we did the next best thing - went and saw Kung Fu Panda with Nathan and Nancy so it wasn't a total waste.

Sunday came and a lot of work got done along with Father's Day stuff and I finally got out for a couple of hours of pedaling in the afternoon. Nothing hard, just enough intensity to keep my legs fresh for the Cowbell coming up next weekend.

I have a fairly light riding schedule this week:

30 minutes today

1 hour Tuesday with 2-3 hill repeats >2 min each.

2 hours tempo on Wednesday.

Thursday will be for packing and Friday is a travel day.

Peace out.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Back to a routine

The last few nights, I have slowly returned to a somewhat regular training routine in the midst of the world around me going to hell in a handbag. Maybe it's not THAT bad. Maybe it's just my attitude. At any rate, I rode at Warriors last night with Bob and Wes and one of Wes' teammates from Indiana. We had a great ride. It was brisk but nobody was killing themselves and it really felt good to get back to some familiar trails and just ride.

Tonight I met a bunch of roadies at the TNR ride that meets on the campus of ETSU. I will admit my legs still feel a little dead and I don't know if that's from not being recovered (I feel fine and have a huge desire to ride - two indicators that I'm recovered). Plus my resting pulse rate is back to it's normal range - 48 so I think it's more of a fact that the races I do all tend to be ones where you put it on cruise control for a really long time and there really isn't a huge amount of high intensity in there anywhere. I think tonight my legs didn't have the snap that they should because of that. Otherwise I felt great. I never feel like I climb well but at the top of Buffalo there was a lot more people behind me than there was in front of me so I guess I did fine.
Keeping up with roadies on a singlespeed is tough. You gotta get real creative with bursts of 120+ rpm pedaling and coasting/drafting off of others. At 30mph and up, pedaling is pretty much useless. I have learned to tuck in real tight in the draft and on descents to hang on for the climbs and rollers where I can pretty much hold my own for the biggest part.

I could go bigger on the gear but that would suck on some of the climbs we have around here.

I have canceled my plans for the xc race this Sunday at Haw Ridge. Our house goes on the market Jul 1 and we have a ton of stuff to do between now and then to get it ready. Since we are going to be gone next week to the Cowbell and then on to the beach for three days, this weekend is going to be a house work blitzkrieg. I'll get a couple of short rides in somewhere but for the biggest part, I'm going to be working my butt off.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Well Shit!

I have been absent from the Internet for the last few days. I got on this morning and checked emails and wiped out 400 spam messages beckoning me to enhance my maleness and various other sundry things that I could care less about. I have had a lot going on and most of it isn't very good.

My mom has been in the hospital since March 25 with some really strange things going on plus falling while she was there and getting a Subdural Hematoma that almost killed her and now after all this time and over $400,000 spent (thank God for insurance), the other shoe just fell.

Her liver is failing.

Nobody has said anything about what happens next but they did tell us she isn't a candidate for a transplant and that they can give her drugs to slow down the progression of the disease. I am pretty good at math and the math here sucks.
It's been really tough going to see her and knowing she doesn't know who I am and or when she is more lucid, not being able to understand what she's talking about. Even tougher is seeing the strain on my dad.

Looks like 2008 is going to be the year that was ****** up. I can be philosophical and say it happens and it does happen every day to everyone at one time or another. I am just not having a good time right now.

It will pass.

As a consequence of the thing with mom and some other developments that I don't want to talk about right now, Nancy and I have decided to sell our house and scale back a bit on our expenses. I am going to go back to school and finish my degree and then see what happens.

I expect the next few months to be a little bumpy but like anything that is bumpy, it gets smooth again at some point. You just gotta hang on and keep on pedaling.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Switch Hitting

I went to swing for the other team today - that is I traded my knobby tires and one speed in for slick tires and a full complement of gears at the Settler's Life Criterium in Bristol, Tn.
I love Crit racing, not enough that I'll go out of my way to enter one but enough to where I'll hit one in my back yard after three hard weeks of racing off-road.
I didn't have much of a warm-up and my legs still felt a little dead from the last three weeks and also endurance racing is a lot different than racing Crits. The rpm's and intensity are much higher.

One lap in, I found myself on the front and I played there for a bit. When nobody came to pull through, I had momentary delusions of sneaking away and winning the thing but after a few accelerations, I saw that that wasn't gonna happen. I sat up and eased back into the pack where things were a little bumpy. The course was L shaped and almost dead flat but one thing about it was the corners were really tight and bumpy which made the course really technical. There was some bouncing and sliding through a few turns and I got to use some MTB skills after all.

In the end, I was in a crappy position going into the last turn and I didn't have the legs to overcome it.

I ended up 12th. Maybe I would have done better if they made it 11 hours longer..................

Ah, I was happy with my result and I had a lot of fun as well.

Next week it's back to the dirt at the Knoxvelo XC race in Oak Ridge Tn. Normally I don't like NORBA style XC races, they are too short, too stuffy and just not my bag but I love riding at Haw Ridge Park and I figured I needed a little more speed in my legs for the Cowbell since I am going to be doing it on a team (and we're going to be out for blood), so I signed up for it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Three Weeks of De Paain - Post Mortem Retrospective

I have taken a week to digest all the experiences of the last three weeks of racing and condense them into a tidy what the heck did I learn package. I raced as hard as I could and I tried to be competitive in all three races. I learned a few things that will help me I think.

First, I need solid food for races that go over 5 or 6 hours. I had been experimenting with an all liquid race diet in training all winter and it seemed to work but when it came down to racing, it kinda left me hanging. I discount my experience at the Cohutta because I was sick and felt like hell anyway. At Tsali though, I started feeling bad and finally had some solid food and felt much better. It was a little late but better late than never. At the Burn and the Mohican I ate a combination of solid food and Heed/Perpetuem and also just plain water. For the last 15 miles of the Mohican, I just had water. I was craving it. Looking at the results for both the hundie and the hamster wheel races and the tale is the same. I was beaten by people younger(mostly), lighter and stronger than me. Age is what it is and I am not worried about that. I am getting better the older I get just like a fine Scotch whiskey.

As for the lighter and stronger parts, well that's just something I will have to work on. I have always struggled with weight and beyond that, I am a fairly muscular guy. Underneath my fat I have a body more suited to track racing than endurance racing but that never stopped guys like Miguel Indurain, Oscar Camenzind, Phillip Meirhaeghe and others that have similar body types. Granted all those guys probably have better genetics than me and that's surely a factor, I still have loads of room to improve. Working full time and having a family is hard on people trying to be competitive in endurance sports. It's much harder to judge in the hundies but in the lap races, my lap times early were nearly as fast as the top gun. The main difference is I slowed down, they didn't.
I did notice that during the three weeks of racing that even though my enthusiasm decreased somewhat, my recovery time also decreased dramatically. After Tsali, I felt really tired for several days, after the Burn, only for a few days and after the Mohican, I was riding and feeling fairly good on the Tuesday following the race.
I think the take home lesson for me is that I am continually improving. Each race is a little better than the one before it. There are plateaus and peaks and I guess that's just the way it should be. My body responds well to a high stress load followed by short rest, more stress and a little longer rest. I need to learn more about eating and fueling for different efforts - especially long days in the heat. Lastly, I need to still lose some more weight to improve my power to weight ratio. That will probably help me more than anything else I can do.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Race, Rest, Ride and Repeat.

After the 12 Hours of Tsali, the Burn 24 and the Mohican 100, it is time for a little rest for me. Rest doesn't mean I'll stop riding though. I am back on my weekly after work schedule and this weekend, I'll be trading my knobby tires for slicks and doing a little Crit racing at the Bristol Crit being put on by the Tri-Cities Road Club.

I was a hardcore roadie long before I became what I am now and of all the road racing I have done, Crit racing is my favorite. It is short (less than 40 minutes) and very intense. You are WFO the whole time and the speeds are usually very fast.

I'll return to off-road stuff at the Cowbell Challenge on Jun 21 where me and my teammate Chris Davis are going to team up in the Duo class. Doing a team event will be a nice break from the solo stuff although doing a duo team is nearly as hard as doing it solo, you are still riding for about 6 hours and at a little faster pace than you normally would if you were doing the full 12 solo. Plus it is Charlotte in June and most likely it will be hot (Last year it was 99).

Monday, June 2, 2008

There must be goats in Ohio. (A Disaster in 4 Acts)

The Mohican 100 this past weekend was held on some of the most diverse terrain I have ever ridden in one ride. We rode on highways, city streets, gravel roads, dirt roads, un-rideable horse trails, rail trails, hiking trails, driveways (no kidding), through corn fields, wheat fields, back yards, and some of the sweetest singletrack I have ever seen. In the end, I was battered, tired but thoroughly stoked for having the experience.

Here's what happened:


I loaded up in the USS Lamberson on Friday with Bob and his dog Jamis (more on Jamis later) and we picked up Anet and Wes on the way to our first stop at the halfway point - Ghent WV.

You can always tell you are in West Virginia by all the Adult Showplaces all up and down the Interstate. The place was hopping for 7:00 am. We continued on towards Camp Nuhop in Perrysville OH (thank God for TomTom) and got there just as registration opened things were starting to happen. Northern Ohio is a really nice place with lots of big farms and one thing unusual to us since we don't encounter them very much - the Amish.

Land stretching out so far and wide.

Look ma, no mountains....

Wonder what kind of gas mileage they get?

This one was moving on pretty good.

We deluded ourselves with the visions of flatness we saw. How bad could it be? There's no 5,000 ft peaks, no 10 mile long climbs, this might be fun. Um......Yeah well sit tight buttercup, It's gonna get a little bumpy.

Act one.

We got ready and headed out for some riding and it just so happened thata our ride coincided with the Trek guys - Chris Eatough, Jeff Schalk and a couple of others I didn't know. We also rode past Floyd Landis. It was kind of weird.

Since the race started in nearby Loudenville, we rode the final few miles of the course backwards. The first (last) section of singletrack came to a road and we followed the Trek guys up the road and into some singletrack.

In just a few yards, they turn and Chris Eatough says to me "Uh, I'm sorry, we saw a red flag and um, this is the wrong way". I thought it was funny. We rode on and down a dam that would be a nasty hike-a-bike at mile 96.

This is gonna hurt.
Trail looks kinda peaceful and serene huh? It wasn't like this for long (Bob and Anet are wrestling Anets pump back on her bike after letting me borrow it for a low tire)
We didn't ride much and returned to camp for dinner and rest. The race starts at 7:00 in nearby Loudenville. Just before dark we learn that there is a tornado warning for the area beginning at 11:00 pm. Ohboy.
Act Two
You know how whenever there is a big tornado on tv and there's always the person they interview at the front of what is left of the trailer park and how they say all they remember was the sound of a freight train? Well I heard that sound twice during the night and it freaked me the hell out. Bob heard it to and we both lay awake in the RV waiting to run down to the lake in case things got bad (the lake was the lowest spot around us). I hovered between awake and unconsciousness and I looked out the window and could see how still the trees were which was odd since the wind had been blowing since we got there. Then I dreamed the trees exploded into a funnel cloud, sucking all that was around up and into a fury of hell...................
I woke up and we were still there. There wasn't a tornado but there was lots and lots of rain and that led us into Saturday morning and
Act Three - Showtime
The race proper started at 7:00 am in Loudenville. We soon found out where they hid all the hills in Ohio, the first one being straight outta town where we hit this really steep, 200 yd climb. I felt good and passed people by the dozens. Two or three miles later we hit singletrack and it turned into a donnybrook pretty quickly. The mud just sucked the life from you like a Vegas bride as you'd fight the bike for steering and for traction. I was at a real disadvantage as my tire choice was a WTB Weirwolf and Vulpine - both designed for anything except mud. It was all I had. Every pedal stroke meant 2 more just to keep moving. I used enormous amounts of energy in the first 20 miles just to keep moving. At the first Aid Station, I saw Bob and he told me his knee was feeling like it did after Tsali (he injured it there) . As I left him there, I was disappointed because I knew he probably wouldn't finish.
There was more singletrack and it was starting to dry out some in places. I had fun for a while. The trails are really nice and lots of fun to ride. There was some really technical rock gardens in places and I was a little concerned at first since it had been a while since I had ridden anything very technical - especially mud covered rocks with semi-slick tires. It all went well though.
There was some long and sloppy hike-a-bike that was unrideable and that led to a descent with 4X4's laid in it every few yards at odd angles. What dumbass ever thought that would be a good way to build trails should be beaten with one of them. I made it over about 6 or 7 of them then I didn't quite get my wheel over one and I crashed hard. To make it worse the trail was still thick with slimy, horse-shit laden mud. Well at least I didn't have to worry about mosquitoes. I was doing fine after that and in a group of about 7 and one of them wanted by me. We were on a fast descent lined with ferns and one of the ferns hid the stump that smashed the three smallest toes on my right foot. I cursed in five languages. The pain was really bad and I could feel blood leaving my body but I was afraid to look. I kept riding.
After 46 miles, the ones doing the 100K split from the 100 milers and I didn't see a soul for about 3 hours. There was some singletrack but mostly long roads with long climbs and long descents. There was one or two more steep hike-a-bikes. I know they have goats in Ohio because we were on plenty of goat paths. I eventually got bored and on one mind-numbingly boring section of rail trail, I got sleepy too. No kidding, I was falling asleep. I eventually stopped for a minute because my foot was killing me. I took off my sock and saw one of my toenails ripped almost off and it was causing all the pain so I took it the rest of the way off and washed my foot off in a creek. It felt a little better after that. I made it to Aid station 4 at about 4:30 and grabbed some fruit, a Pepsi and filled my bottles. So far living off the land was working well for me. I was grabbing something at each check and filling my bottles (and emptying them between checks). I did run out once but stopped at a well and filled them back up. I figured I had ingested enough crap in the mud that a little well water couldn't hurt me. The next 20 miles were a blur and I don't remember them.
Aid Station 5 and the final 7 miles made me happy. I had a choice between energy drinks, water and Natty lights so I quickly chose the water and got the heck out of there. I was no match for temptation and at that point even cheap beer sounded great to me. I slogged out the final 7 miles and finished in 12:fiftysomething and 25th in the singlespeed category. I later found out that the course tooks its toll on a lot of people including Floyd Landis. There was a large number of dnf's

I was just happy to have overcome some bad stuff and finish.

Act Four

After enjoying many post race beers, some food and a shower I felt better. Bob will live to race another day. Anet finished 8th in the 100K and had a great time doing it.

Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

Probably some of the most fun we had all weekend was on the way home watching Bob's dog Jamis chase road kill and big trucks from the front of the RV to the back. For nearly 8 hours this dog did not stop. Every time he would see roadkill he'd growl at it and chase it all over the RV as we passed it.
It was hilarious.




I have got to give a shout out to Vassago and WTB. The bike worked perfectly. During the three weeks, three races and over 300 miles of riding I didn't touch a thing except clean it and lube the chain.

The tires I used - WTB Vulpines and Weirwolfs worked great on the hardpack at Tsali and the Burn and even though they were never designed for what I put them through at the Mohican, they still did as good as a minimally treaded tire could.

Thanks guys. Good stuff!

Also thanks to Bob, Anet and Wes for letting me stowaway in the RV and for everything y'all did all weekend.