Friday, October 28, 2011

Berryman Trail Epic

I had been eagerly awaiting the BT Epic this year, since I had a really good race here in 2010. The trail suits me well: not a lot of road, decent amount of climbing, lots of single-track, and some varied technical area keep the race ever-changing. Last year started off a little hot for my taste and I ended up paying the price for it near the end of the race. This year I was going to be smarter and try to stay out of the 180+ HR range. I am also a bit fitter/stronger than I was going into the race last year.

When the race kicked off, the pace was explosive. Its amazing how many people will throw away the possibility of doing well in the race just for a $75 prime (pronounced "preem" for those of you not in the know) for getting to the single-track first. But, it does make the start fun.

By the time we actually hit the single-track, the huge group of hammers had dropped down to about 15 people that managed to keep up for the roughly 4 miles of dirt road rollers. I was right in the middle, behind Garth Prosser who races for Cannondale, and whom I finished behind last year.

We cruised for about 10-15 minutes on single-track at a blazing pace and everybody behind me seemed to have disappeared. I was the trailing end of about 8 riders that were all pretty damn fast. This was exactly where I wanted to be. I could ride my own pace without getting pushed from behind, and I didn't have to worry too much about the riders in front of me bumbling any techy sections. This was going to be a good day.

Then, luck took over. The first technical decent had some pretty good sized, pretty loose rocks that covered the entire trail. So, at 26 minutes into the race, I was pulled over on the side of the road, booting my tire with duct-tape, removing a valve core, getting a tube to put in, and pumping the thing back up. I managed to do all of this in only 6 minutes. Unfortunately, 6 minutes this early into an endurance race is an eternity. I was passed by over 60 riders. Seems like this may be my curse....

At this moment, I knew that it was going to be a battle. What was going to be a fantastic, fun, competitive race was quickly turning into a frustratingly epic struggle and a it was going to be a true test of my endurance racing capabilities. I knew it was early on and I still had 4 hours of racing in front of me, so I needed to be careful about panicking, pushing too hard, and blowing myself up before the end of the race.

It turned out that I didn't have that much control over the situation. For the next 2 hours, I battled a traffic-jammed race course that was really difficult to pass on, and just technical enough that I had to dismount a lot of sections where less experienced riders were walking. It's really hard mentally to know that you are off the bike, walking, for no real reason, and the guys in the front are just hammering along at twice my speed. You really start thinking "Why the hell am I even still racing, they are 5-10 minutes ahead, and they are moving faster than I am. How am I possibly going to catch any of them?" Nothing to do except keep moving on, taking any pass that I could get, hammering the short road sections and crushing the climbs. I was grasping for any seconds I could possibly put on the leaders.

When I hit the first checkpoint, I had moved from roughly 65-70th place up to about 40th.

Keep pushing

I hit the second checkpoint in 17th place. Now we're talking. At this point I had decided that instead of a top 3 finish that I was shooting for going into the race, I was now aiming to stay on the t-shirt.

 - side story: The guys and gals that run the BTEpic have a great idea of putting the top 10 finishers on the race t-shirt for the next year. I had just picked up the 2010 t-shirt the night before with my name in 6th place. - end side story.

The trails had cleared a bit now, so I could move at a much faster pace, but it was also taking a lot more time to catch riders. I was in No-man's land now. Between checkpoint 2 and 3, I passed 4 more riders. This meant I had roughly 1 hour to catch 3 really fast guys that had been riding in their comfort zone all day. It was going to be tough.

The first 2 racers came surprisingly quick. I was cranking as fast as I could, and I was screaming through the single-track. I somehow managed to stay upright all day which is not always the case when I am chasing on single-track that I don't know very well. I pinned it for what seemed like an eternity before coming across the last racer I need to swallow up in order to make the t-shirt.

As I came whizzing by, I saw a rider sprawled out on the ground next to his bike. Not injured, just beat. I stopped, asked him if he was okay, and then granted his request for food. I took a spare Clif Shot out of my back pocket, tossed it at him, and said something snarky like "Thanks" under my breath.

At this point, I was content with finishing here. I didn't stop hammering, I would have liked to get a little more payout money for my effort, plus, I couldn't risk getting passed.

I rode with a pegged HR of about 170bpm for the entire race, but I upped that to 175bpm to finish out the day on double-track and the most daunting 4 mile stretch of fire road that exists in Missouri.

Cruising into the finish line in a top 10, having no body issues (no stomach issues on an endurance event = success this year), and knowing that I raced extremely well, despite the tire issues, felt really good. I used Infinit nutrition, and it worked really well for me. I will be using it from here on out. 

Thanks for turning me on to Infinit, and everything else you have done,  coach!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Springhill XC Race

Springhill is a great course that really caters to those that spend a lot of time of singletrack. If you can't carry your momentum through corners, and stay off your brakes, it can get a bit irritating and monotonous. However, if you can get in the rhythm of the course, it's a freakin' roller-coaster. A similar feeling to the Red trail at Syllamo, if you have ever been there. If you haven't.......go.

I managed to get in the rhythm pretty quickly. The start was a fast one, with one of the Bell & Co. riders going full-speed off the line and into the single-track. I stuck to his wheel until right before the single-track turned from easy passing to tight, windy, and loose in the corners. Then, I jumped him. I hit the woodsy single-track first, and immediately began pushing as hard as possible. I figured this race was going to come down to whomever could hold their speed best through the corners. The Orbea Alma has a lower bottom bracket than most other 29'r frames out there, and I was able to really rip through the loose, tight turns without feeling like the bike was going to run away from me. The more time I spend on this bike, the more I am loving it. Not to sound like I work for them or anything, but it is one hell of a ride; very possibly the best 29" hard-tail I have ridden.

I rode out front by myself the entire race, which is how I prefer it, so I'm not complaining. I kept pushing the pace, as it is hard for me to bonk on a sub 2 hour ride. I knew that someone would quickly be on my tail if I let up. A couple times throughout the race I would hear someone in the woods behind me, and I would look down to check my HR. It would be in the mid 150's.....oops. When I got my act together, and starting pushing again, the familiar sound of tires rolling and freehub whirring would fade back into the distance. With an average HR around 170bpm for the race duration and speeds up to 25mph, I know I was working. A lot of accelerating out of corners will really start to boost the HR and tax the legs, but sometimes it is unavoidable during races.
I was having a lot of fun through all the swoops and flowing single-track. It's a shame that Springhill Park is almost 3 hours away. It is a fantastic course, but I can get to the Womble or Syllamo in about the same amount of time. I don't think I need to explain that much further.

A big thanks to Mercy Cycling for putting on the event, I am already looking forward to next year's.