Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Berryman Epic: Even If You Don't Have The Legs, There Are Still Worse Places To Be

Over the weekend I traveled to Steelville, "the floating capital of Missouri" (although I'd say it's more of the four-wheeler capital of Missouri from my experience) for the third iteration of the Berryman Trail Epic. It was my first time at the race, since it always conflicts with the Louisville USGP, but this year I decided it was worth missing the USGP to see what the Berryman was all about.

Unfortunately, my stomach had been out of whack for the week prior to the race, and the lack of good digestion was throwing the rest of my body out of whack. During my mid-week sprints, I knew I was feeling awfully weak, but all I could really do was eat lots of protein and sweet potatoes and hope that my muscles would get what they needed by Saturday morning. Unfortunately, whatever it was that my muscles needed, they apparently did not get it, because when I got on my bike Saturday morning it felt like 100 pound foreign object beneath my labored pedal stroke. I realize that my bike is, in fact, actually a foreign object, but on a good day it doesn't feel that way.

So when the race organizer set off his "big fire cracker" that was used as the starting gun and sounded like a cannon, I set off into the unknown. I just pedaled as best I could, but I was quickly in nearly-last place. It was three miles of relatively tame dirt road to the singletrack, and I was surprised to find the opening stretch of singletrack easier than I had expected. While it wasn't screaming fast, it was gently winding and mostly flat, if a bit rough.

I still had to work to keep my ragdoll legs turning my middle chainring at any sort of decent clip, and the occasional short, rooty climb was a struggle even in the granny gear. It didn't take long for me to doubt my ability to keep going at that rate all day, and started calculating whether I could be back home in Indiana by dark if I dropped out at the first aid station (and maybe stopped for a piece of foot-high pie in Illinois). Then I saw Zeke Lilly on the side of the trail with a flat. His tire was cut so badly that the tube kept popping out of the hole, so he couldn't fix the flat. I tried to convince him to take my tire so that he could finish the race, and I would have an excuse for quitting. He wouldn't take my tire, and in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't have to do the 2-3 hour hike-a-bike it would have taken to get to the aid station.

After that, I started feeling better, and while I wasn't fast, I felt like I could make it through the day. I kept going past the first aid station, but my spirits started to sink again as I dragged along to the second stop. I had myself about 80% convinced that I should quit at the next stop, but while I was discussing my options with the volunteers at the checkpoint I heard someone yelling my name. Sarah Miller was at the aid station, and after stopping for a quick chat with her, I was compelled to go on.

Sarah had told me the next loop was 15 miles and had some road in it, so it shouldn't be too bad. However, an hour later I caught up to a guy who was walking up a hill and I asked if he was okay. He said he was just tired and was debating about whether he would go on after the next aid station. I said that I was going through the same thing, but if we'd come this far we might as well finish. Then he said that we had ten miles until the next stop, which would mean that I had only covered five miles in the previous hour. I decided that the guy's computer was wrong since that would be the only way I could console myself.

Not long after, I was teased by an intersection of the trail and a dirt road where I saw a rider about to cross my path. I then suspected that I needed to get to the end of the trail and a reasonably easy dirt road ride back to the aid station would await. Unfortunately, I crossed, or at least saw, the road three or four more times before I was able to collect my zip tie and head on down the road. Unfortunately, that section concluded with a mile-long paved climb to the aid station that felt like the longest paved mile I've ever ridden.

I made the final cutoff by about 15 minutes or so, and after eating, refilling my hydration pack, and washing some of the sticky grime from my face, I committed to what I expected to be 2-2.5 more hours on the bike. The last section of singletrack was probably the most technical, but I liked it. There were several fairly big drop-offs where the trail had eroded beneath a root, and I enjoyed riding off of those and pretending I was some sort of freeride badass or something. Nevertheless, I spent most of the section looking at my watch and bargaining with myself about how far I'd probably gone and how much I probably had left to go.

I finally reached the dirt road to the finish and was accompanied by numerous locals on four-wheelers and other all terrain vehicles. Some were polite, some seemed to try to choke me with as much dust as possible, and some tried to joke around with me, although I couldn't hear much over their roaring engines. I have to say I saw way more four-wheelers than people floating down the river, thus my opinion on the appropriate namesake recreational activity for the area.

And then at the bottom of hill, I once again reached "river level" as evidenced by the super-soft gravel that was hard to ride through. The only upside of this was that things were starting to look familiar and I realized I was at the far end of the campground where the race started and finished. The last five or ten minutes of riding the soft surface seemed like forever, but I finally rode into sight of 200 or so clean people sitting around eating barbecue and relaxing after finishing quite some time before. Although it took me two hours longer than I'd expected it to, I was happy to be off my bike and that I would return to Indiana without another scarlet DNF on my record for the year.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Triple Race Report All the Way!!!

I was so tired after my Java Johnny's CX and Brown County Breakdown weekend that I put off blogging for a few days. Then I got really busy the last half of the week. Then it was time to race again at BloomingCross, so I figured I would just roll it up into one big TRIPLE RACE REPORT ALL THE WAY. (What does it mean???)

However, a week and a half later I don't remember a lot of what I was going to say about JJ's and the BCB. Basically, Java Johnny's had the big, intimidating 60ish person field that I mentioned in my last post. Unfortunately, I couldn't muster Adam's swagger, and I found myself REALLY intimidated on the starting line. I would say that my start was not great and not terrible, but with that many people, not great still puts you 20 places back at the first turn and near stopping through all the little chicanes leading to the first sandpit. I did pretty well at getting off, running the sandpit as fast I could, and taking off again, but I messed up going into the steep ridge that we had to ride over twice in succession early in the lap. I just couldn't power myself up, and had to run it. We hit the mid-lap twisty section and I was determined to use my cornering skills to make my way back to the upper mid-pack, but there were nuts all over the bases of the trees and I ended up crashing not once, but twice, before the middle section of the first lap was complete. By the time I got myself upright and going the second time, I well behind the group of racers I wanted to be with and had to motivate myself to pick through the back of the pack. I made up a few places, but I still ended up 22 out of 27 which was disappointing.

I seem to be doing pretty well here, but this was before I fell in the nuts. Twice.

Much further back post-nuts. I am ahead of everyone else in the picture, though.

In the background making my barrier face.

The next day I did the 60 mile route of the Brown County Breakdown. I'd never done this ride before, because it always conflicts with the Cincinnati UCI 3 weekend, but this year I gave up racing on my old favorite CX course at Harbin Park because I knew I needed to get in a long training ride before the Berryman Epic. It was hot and dusty to the point that the trails were kind of slick from dust instead of mud, but overall it was a pretty good day. I overcooked myself a bit early on trying not to slow down the long train of riders making their way through the North Tower Loop, Aynes Loop, and up to Hesitation Point. I have a fun moment going up Hesitation Point when I rode the S-shaped rock garden and most of the guys around me didn't.

After the first aid station at HP, the traffic got a lot more sparse and I settled in for a few hours of riding by myself at a comfortable but solid pace. My goal had been to go under 7 hours, mostly because I figure that going under 7 hours at the Brown County Breakdown is an important step to my long wished-for sub-7 hour finish at the Ouachita Challenge. I did okay through the ride, but I did struggle some during the last two hours. I ended up going about 7:25, but I also spent more time at the rest stops than I would have in a race, so it wasn't too bad. It was at least enough to make me feel confident that my riding once or twice a week plus racing CX on Sundays training plan of the two months hasn't left me too under prepared for the Berryman Epic.

It really is looking like what I told Jason back in August: Even if I train really hard, I probably won't get on the podium at the BTE, and if I focus on 'cross and just do a couple of long rides I'll still probably do okay. That may seem like a little bit of a defeatist attitude, but I'm actually mostly happy with the way things are going now. I'm not highly motivated to train, but I'm enjoying racing. So if I can't just squeeze one more month of fun out of my residual fitness from earlier in the season I will be happy. Then I'll buckle down and start getting into serious preparation for the spring endurance races again.

Spinning on some dirt road at the Brown County Breakdown.

Finally, Sunday was my first opportunity to race "above ground" cyclocross in my hometown at BloomingCross, since I missed the inaugural BloomingCross last year when I was at the Pisgah Stage Race. Besides being a home race, I was also excited because a lot people were taking the weekend off between the Cincinnati UCI 3 and the USGP Louisville. That would mean a smaller field and a shot at a top 5 or, on a really good day, podium for me. Regardless, I was looking forward to being able to tell what was going on in my race after the previous weekend's giant jumble. I pre-rode the course on Saturday and I determined that while all of the wide, flat straightaways weren't going to help my case, that if I could get a good start and make it the rideable sandpit about a minute into the course with good speed, that it could still be a good day for me.

Unfortunately, I must have spent too much time thinking about this plan, because standing in the staging area, I was ready to throw up. When the whistle blew, I stood to sprint to the front, but I seemed to be going in slow motion. I was just pedaling and watching racers come around me from the row behind, and thinking "Noooooo!" By the time, I hit the pavement downhill before the sandpit, I was in next-to-last out of the women and had several of the juniors that started behind us clogging the way. I still tried to get enough speed to ride the sandpit, but it's hard to do with that many people in front of you. I had to dismount and run the rest, at which time was I passed by the last place women putting me DFL with some juniors preventing my immediate catch-and-repass. In the end, I did get my top 5, but that was because there were only 7 starters in my class, one dropped out after I passed her, and I passed another for next-to-last. I was pretty bummed about my missed opportunity, but hopefully two weeks away from 'cross and a 55 mile trip through the Ozark mountains will bring me back to Storm the Greens in costume and with my head on straight.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tour de Louisville

The Tour de Louisville went a whole lot like Kings CX, with the exception of being a lot chillier. It was actually just overcast and in the 50's, but since it was the first even remotely chilly day of the year, it was still a shock to the system. A guy had a bad crash during the men's 4's race, and the rest of the schedule was delayed while they got the ambulance down the course to pick him up. That meant that our field spent a lot of extra time standing around the staging area getting cold. By the time the whistle FINALLY sounded, my legs were pretty blue.

The good news is that I was at least listening for the whistle this time and had shifted into my big ring for the start, but I was still a little slow to react and was already 10-15 places back by the first turn. I shoved my way back through the twisty section up to the barriers, but my first time over sucked pretty bad. I messed up my remount as my bike wobbled over into one of the stakes holding the course tape while I tried to clip back in. I lost back nearly as many places as I'd gained in the turns while I got off, backed out of the tape, and did remount number two.

Once I was on my way, I made up a couple of places again, but then I was back to trying to catch the only girl in sight through the next couple of laps. Once again, I was faster in the turns and she was faster in the straights. I got in front of her right before the second pass through the barriers, but she quickly repassed me and was never really in striking distance again after that. I ended up 9th out 15 AG and 13th out 23 overall, so it was a lot like last time place wise. Unfortunately, it seems that I keep burying myself with the 35+ field, so even though I'm close to the top half of my field place-wise, I think I have a pretty big time gap I need to overcome. Hopefully, this will get a little easier as the season progresses and I start to learn to who look for in the opening melee.

Speaking of melees, the Cat 3/4 women will get our own time slot for the Cincinnati UCI 3 races this weekend, and we will be the first race of the day. I'm only doing the Saturday race, but that's going to be the biggest field, since there are already 27 women pre-reg'ed in the 3/4 Open class and 29 in the 35+ for a total of 56. Add in a few day-of registrations, and there will likely be 60 women on the starting grid. I get a little nervous thinking about this, although I can't explain exactly why. I'm not really afraid of the bumping and jostling at the start, because I'm usually the bumper and jostler. I am a bit of afraid of having to work my way through a lot of traffic if I'm less than on point during the opening frenzy, as I have been the last two times out. Mostly, I think I'm just intimidated because 60 is so darn big (and sorta awesome). It's almost like being a dude for the day.

Guess I need to channel my dude's attitude: