Monday, May 25, 2009

12 Hours of Tsali

This was my 5th trip to the 12 Hours Of Tsali at Tsali recreation area in Western NC. I like this race because it's put on by good people and usually has a fair amount of competition, plus it's just fun. After getting 3rd last year, I was looking to step up a couple of steps this year. This is my 9th year at the endurance game and although I have stood atop the podium before on teams, I have yet to win a solo race. I wanted this. I had a decent build up to Tsali although a main race that I planned to use for a tune up on my fitness was the DSG debacle two weeks ago where I ended up pushing my bike half as much as I rode it. I tried not to let that bother me and look at it objectively.

I arrived at Tsali Friday with my family in tow for this one. This is the first time this year I'd have family plus a lot of friends at a race. Doing these things self-supported isn't a huge deal but it sure helps to have some help and encouragement. After getting camp set up, we turned in for some rest.

Saturday morning brought near perfect weather (unusual but very nice) for the 11:00 start. After going over my plan with Nancy and instructing her on when I'd need what, I checked my bike over got my stuff together and took my bike to the start. This race always starts with a rather unpleasant 1/4 mile run up a hill - yay. I got a decent start ( I don't run. That's why I started riding bikes!) and I spent the first 30 minutes trying to keep myself reeled in and not fall into the trap of racing with people on the first lap of the race (something that's amazingly hard to not do). I felt great and despite my efforts to hold it down, I turned in a 54:00 and change first lap. Too fast for all day so I worked on slowing down. I set my computer to show avg speed and tried to keep it at 10-11 mph. Without any incidents (except for a black snake, more on him later), I rode right into my 2nd lap. I was now pretty much alone except for the occasional team guy passing me or me passing some slower riders (I didn't waste any effort to get around them but I didn't waste any time riding behind them either). I felt good still and was climbing well.

It was getting hotter by now and I am not used to heat yet (we haven't had any.. just cold and wet) so I was trying to be sure I got enough to drink and plenty of electrolytes. It's a tricky game, racing in the heat and getting enough nutrition and fluids in you but not too much. Deep into my third lap, I came around a corner was was greeted by a huge black snake (I assumed it was the same one I saw on lap one). He was fairly aggressive and struck at me (even though I am certain they are harmless, you have a 3' black snake strike at you unexpectedly and see how loud you scream) I figured he was probably pretty pissed by now having seen a hundred or so bikes come by his little spot in the sun. I had slowed enough that I still felt comfortable despite the heat but I started walking a couple of steep places to save my legs for later.

Lap 4 is when it all went to hell.

I started the lap like I did the 3rd, with a fresh bottle of water and pacing myself in the heat. I had went through my first 3 hour bottle of Perpetuem and had a fresh one for the next three hours. I was feeling fine for the effort I was putting out and really just trying to cruise for the rest of the race and let attrition do it's thing (on everyone else, I never considered it would be me tanking). In the middle of a crappy little climb in a ditch, I got hit with stomach cramps so bad and so quick, I thought I'd look down and see an alien popping out of my stomach. It hurt and I was about 5 miles from the finish line. Decisions had to be made and quick.
What happened next is...uh.......... better left out of the public domain. Let's just say I found myself on the course and cramp free a few moments later and I finished that lap feeling pretty bad. I stopped for the first time in the race and sat in my pits for about 20 minutes hoping I'd feel better.
I never did really and I went out on my 5th lap unable to eat anything without feeling sick. I knew that unless I got to the point where I could get some nourishment back into my body, I would be digging myself into a deep, dark hole and things would end badly for me. The first thing to go was my climbing. I started really suffering on even the easy climbs and found myself pushing way more than I did a couple of laps earlier. I tried in vain to eat something. I ditched my "plan" that had worked for me in all the other races I have done this year and started trying anything. I grabbed some Twizzlers before my 6th lap and that worked ok but it was too little, too late. I was deep into my pain cave and digging deeper.

Going into my 7th lap, my pre-race goal of 12 laps was gone, my mid-race revised goal of 10 laps was in the process of being bitch-slapped and now I was just looking at finishing that lap. Not even a third of the way in, I started to bonk and by the time I got to the mid-point of that lap, I was in a really bad place. My blood sugar was probably about 7, I dunno but I was shaky, disoriented and feeling like crap. At the end of the lap, I looked at the standings and saw that I was in 5th, 10 minutes behind 4th and almost a full lap behind 1st. There was no point in going on and doing more damage to myself (it was now getting dark and the potential for serious damage would go up exponentially).

I stopped after 7 laps, 8 hours and about 80 miles of racing. I would end up 7th in s/s and 14th OA for Solo 12 Hour. Not what I wanted going in but it is what it is.

Did I mention the snakes? I saw no less than 5 black snakes (or the same snake 5 times) during the race. I know that at lest three of them were different because one was really big and the other two were about 6 miles apart from each other. The most freaky sighting was the big boy (4 feet long) had climbed up a tree and his head was about handlebar high right along the trail.

As for what made me sick. I don't know. I had been using the same fueling plan all year and it's worked for me over and over. I didn't try anything new. I was hotter than what I am used to and maybe that had something to do with it but otherwise, I don't have a clue as to what happened.

Next time................

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dirt, Sweat and Gears 2009

I tried to think of a catchy title for this post that of caught the feeling about this year's DSG race in Fayetteville, TN. Some on the short list were: Armageddon's Death Race 2009, DSG 2009 presented by JIF, Somebody Shoot Me, Screw bikes, I'm making pottery! Yes it was a tough one, most if not all in attendance agreed that it was by far the worst conditions they have ever ridden, er, I mean dragged a mountain bike through the woods in, including solo Pro winner Jeremiah Bishop who managed to do 4 laps in the muck. In the end the 400+ racers shared a kind of kinship having survived the ordeal and I am sure stories will be told for years to come about Dirt, Sweat and Gears 2009.

Here's mine.

I had never done this race (now in its 3rd year) although it's not far from where I live. It just never worked out for me. I made it a point this year and headed out early Friday towards Fayetteville to get a pit spot and to ride the course. The weather had been horrible for about all of Tennessee for the last month with rain and lots of it. I had already heard the stories from the last DSG race and about how bad the mud was but hey, this was a new year and the forecast was decent. Still I couldn't help but notice as I drove up the cumberland plateau that water was shooting out of rocks in ways that just didn't seem natural, plus there was water standing all over in fields. They had a lot of rain recently. I got to the venue, set up my stuff and grabbed my Jabberwocky for a ride. The first portion of the course was in a field and it was wet in places but not bad. On to the singletrack and there was more wet, actually it was quite slick in spots especially on some of the numerous techy climbs that made getting up them difficult. I got a hint of the sticky side of the mud and had to stop once to clean out my chainstays.

The course was really rocky. It's been a while since a race course has really challenged my skills like this one did. They all challenge my fitness but let's face it, most of the races I have done recently have just not been that technical. This one was different and reminded me a bit of the 2000-2004 Snowshoe West Virginia course which stands in my mind as the most evil course ever. It had a lot of rocks and the mud covering them that demanded your attention.

After my lap, I went back to my pits and had dinner and just chilled out for the evening. I formulated a plan of action for the race and called it a day. There was a lot of technical climbing and the only thing that bothered me about that was my gearing choice of 32x19 might be a little stiff. Talking to Dicky, I learned that he, DJ and Fuzzy all were using 20's or 21's confirmed that I was gonna suffer on Saturday. Little did I know then, by race time my gearing wouldn't mean anything. One thing I did decide was to keep my WTB Weirwolf/Nanoraptor combo instead of changing to meatier Prowler/Exiwolfs. My rationale was that the smaller knobs may not pack up as bad with mud.

Saturday morning, I was up early and trying to get a weather forecast on my Blackberry but the stupid thing wouldn't connect so I started listening to people around me talking about a big storm coming through at about 9:00. After the usual pre-race prep, we lined up for the start and sure enough, 8:55 am local time, the storm hit and it rained for the next hour. We started the race with a LeMans start (I am actually getting better at those, although the run at DSG was a short one) and I worked my way into a decent position before the singletrack. There was water everywhere and people sliding all over. About a mile into the woods I went down hard on a small but steep descent. I jumped back up and got going having lost a dozen or so places. Virtually all the climbs were unrideable because of traction issues so I was just trying to finish the first lap and not stress too bad about who was riding what. The rain was coming down good and the mud, although slick, wasn't too sticky at that point. Near the end of our first lap something happened that sealed our fate. The rain stopped and the sun came out.

That was probably the worst thing possible.

I rode through my pits and changed one bottle for a fresh one ( I had another that was untouched) and went straight out for lap 2. My first lap was about 1:40 and I figured the second would be about the same so I should be fine with the two bottles I had. Boy was I wrong. Going through the field I already could tell something wasn't right. My tires were loading up bad with mud and I had no traction at all. I was having trouble riding a straight line (I had already dropped the pressure in both tires to about 20lbs each). Into the singletrack, I had major problems. I couldn't ride a lot of the stuff I had ridden just a couple of hours before. No traction and my tires were packing up badly. I wasn't long before the mud started packing up on my bike causing major handling problems and eventually getting so thick that the wheels stopped rolling.

I had ridden peanut butter mud before but this stuff was incredible. On another steep descent, I crashed hard again. This time I saw stars and impaled myself on a small stick. It hurt! I got up and assessed the damage and walked the rest of the hill. Unable to start back up because of the mud, I continued to walk...................For the next three hours! By now the mud was unbelievably thick and collecting on bikes and bodies at an amazing pace. Pushing my bike, it gained roughly one pound every 5 to 10 feet. I'd push until the wheels stopped rolling, clean off the mud with a stick, carry the bike on my back until I couldn't anymore, set it down and push again. I'd repeat this over and over. At one point, my bike easily weighed 80 lbs and I was scooping off mud in 5lb handfuls at a time. I came across a number of riders calling it a day and quitting. I determined to finish the lap and then decide. The further I went, the more clear the decision was, I was done. I kept telling myself to keep going, not to quit. At one point, the course comes right into the start/finish area and it would be easy to stop. There was food and relief at hand but I forced myself to go back into the woods. The odd thing was that even though my last lap took nearly 4 hours, I only got passed by a couple of people. It was the most impossible and surreal situation I had ever been in on my bike.

In the last mile of the lap, I was finally able to get back on my bike and ride something. It felt good to pedal again after walking so long. Bonked and sore, I rode through the finish and called it a day.

After sorta cleaning up and getting some food, I checked the results just for fun and was surprised to see that most of the field had only one lap, there was quite a few two's and very few three's and four's. Jeremiah Bishop won the Pro Solo with four laps. My two laps placed me in 6th place in my class and in the top 25% overall. It didn't matter much at point, I was just happy it was over.

I felt bad for the promoter because the venue was great and the course was good. It would have been a good race if it was dry. Most of the feedback I heard from others was positive though. I'll be back next year. The weather is what it is and as they say, that's racin'

I snapped this as soon as I got off my bike. I guess the look on my face says it all......

My Optimus went from about 20lbs at the start of the race to 80lbs at the end (and that's afer being cleaned off I don't know how many times). Through it all, I had no mechanical failures whatsoever. Completely encased in mud, my drivetrain still worked. God I love singlespeeds!