Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Winding Trails of Mud...

I know many Mtb riders/racers who complain about the Winding Trails (WT) race.  "Not techy enough", or "you can ride w/ a cross bike", and "it's a roadie course & all the roadies show up".  All of these are true, but despite that, I have always liked WT.  After most winters, my tech skills are barely out of hibernation and still need lots of stretching, so it's a nice way to start out the season as I can concentrate on just fitness (or lack thereof!).  And it is a fitness course! A fast course that you need to pedal all the way around w/ no recovery what so ever.  They have over the years worked hard to address some of the above complaints and have done as well as can be, given the terrain that is there.  This year was no different.  My biggest complaint of WT is that after racing it for ten years, it was getting too repetitive.  The race course had basically the same year in year out.  So I was glad this year they mixed it up a bit more w/ some 'still new' sections.

And the rain is coming down!
The real news this year for the Cat 1 race was of course the rain.  Hoped for by many, including me, as racing in a sandy dust bowl would just sucks ass! But there is a difference between a little rain and a lot.  It started right when we were getting close to the venue, and was drizzling steadily during warm up.  Before the race started I decided to take a peek at the weather radar on my phone and it did not look good.  So I decided to keep my long sleeve jersey on and my vest for the race since I thought it would be easier to remove it if I overheated, rather than having to put it back on once it started to really rain. Glad I did! I lined up next to racers in their summer bibs/jersey, and thought they were nuts.   First lap was indeed a little warmish, but once the rain started to come down in earnest, it became very cold out!  I have to give VERMAC some props here for making a great freaking vest that kept me toasty throughout the race!

Start of lap two...still clean
I tried to stay out of the rain as long as possible at the start but at some point you have to line up.  The worse two times for a race in the rain are: lining up and waiting for the race to start, and at the finish when you have to peal the layers of muddy wet clothes off when it's still pouring and cold out. A little bit more on that later...

Stacey showing the mud who's boss!
I lined up at the back cause I am a slow starter and also had not shown great form this year. The race started up a very sandy fire road and it was immediately a mess.  A guy almost went down in front of me which seemed like it slowed 1/2 field down but I went wide around them.  I did not dare turn around as I didn't want to go down, but again, could have sworn I was mid pack when I took the turn onto the off camber single track.  Tires were still rubbing so I could not confirm this. The course was very fast and I focused on trying to stay attached to the two guys in front of me. I got passed by two guys on the next long section of the fire road but positions seemed to settle down once we entered the longer section of single track w/ the stretched climb.

I had realized on Friday that my saddle had slid ALL the way back in the seatpost rails and that I had been riding it like that for a while.  A full 2 1/2 inches back, which also made it 1 inch too high from the BB. It certainly explains why I have been feeling so stretched out on this bike! I moved the seat back to it's original position but it was feeling way too low. To make up for it, I tried to climb by pushing a slow heavy gear while standing and found my legs were willing to give the power I was asking for (WT isn't that steep!), and motored right along holding pace.  A gap seemed to have formed w/ riders behind. The first lap was over very quickly, timed at under 26 min, as the course was nice and tacky.

On lap two, I was still with the same two guys but decided to pass, but could not find the effort to create a significant gap.  So I dangled out there as a carrot for the remainder of the lap.   Things were starting to get sloppy and I knew I was riding the slick stuff way to conservatively.

Stacey post race:  Freezing and tired !
On the thirds lap, Charlie came by and I grabbed his wheel as long as I could.  It certainly made me less cautious and helped me to finally brake the string to the guy who was chasing me.  I had created a big enough gap that I could no longer see him.   WT is one of those mtb courses where you can actually draft.  It's painful though to draft in the mud.  At one point it took me a couple of minutes before I could open my left eye again after a big clump went  flying in from the wheel I was chasing. I finished lap three riding by myself.  Conditions were as soupy as they get by then.  The newly cut and soft single track had turned into really slick mud.

At the beginning of lap 4 Pj caught up and I let him pass.  I stayed w/ him as long as I could, but he was too fast.  I did catch back up w/ him after he hit the deck pretty hard slipping out on a mud section on the fast fire road.  He got up and was fine, but it pointed out how slippery things had gotten.  As Pj got away, I did spot someone in distance ahead.  This gave me a little boost and finally caught him right 3/4 through the lap, after the paved section.  He was someone from my class!  I made sure I passed him "authority" to let him know I mean to keep him back. About 1/2 mile from the finish, I caught a wide grin growing on my face.  I was smiling ear to ear because I was coming to realization that I was almost done; that this mud fest was almost over, that this pain would soon stop, that I had not wrapped myself around a tree and still had all my teeth (well at least the same amount I started w/)!

I never really got a good reading on where I had been in the pack at the start but thought I should place towards the end of the middle of pack.   I thought I had defended my position well and had raced smartly by going hard on the fire roads, and riding the slick singletrack safely, and as recovery.  I also felt that the legs had been willing to give more than what they had during the previous races this year.  Perhaps even a top 10!  Sadly, I again sucked big monkey butt and finished beyond the mid pack...  Post race data analysis showed my hr pretty high for lap 1 but then dropping off for the rest of the laps.  Guess I played it too safe.  I need to somehow figure out where the sustainable maximum suffer point is.

After the race I realized how drenched I was and listening to how cold people had gotten, was glad I played it safe by keeping on my vest.  The pictures show how muddy we had all gotten.  Changing was going suck!

As I started to change, I was trying to not drag all that mud into the van so decided to sit on the rear bumper w/ the back open to protect me from the rain. I had gotten almost everything off but was working on peeling off my bib leggings which had clogged zippers at my ankles.  I had put on a towel for privacy/modesty while I was fighting w/ the zippers.  Suddenly my calf completely cramped up.  I sat on the bumper for 5 seconds panicking on what to do but the muscle was tightening so much and the pain was getting intense enough that I knew I had to move to stretch out the calf.  Not an easy thing to do w/ your bibs tied around your ankles, mud all around, and a small towel between you and indecent exposure.  As I stood up, I, of course tripped on the bibs, making me drop the towel.  Also at that point the pain was so intense that the only thing I really cared about was to just stretch my calf muscle.  Yup, I was in that parking lot, butt naked, hopping around, screaming, with my bibs around the ankles!  Thankfully, a little voice told me to just jump into the van, which I did, and sitting my muddy naked ass on the seat, to stretch my leg.  Thankfully again, the heavy rains had kept people from being out in the lot!   But just in case: If you see pictures online or my mug shot on the six o clock news, you now know the "real story"!

Mike racing in dry weather!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Junky Legs

Plagued by a head/ chest cold, rivers of snot, and junky legs for the past two weeks, I have decided this on/ off riding/training is not working.  Well...I have not just decided that, since my riding and racing results have slapped me in the face with it!  Trying to ride hard the moment I felt better (about once a week) to then only feel like crap again the next day is just not sustainable.   The only "mature" thing (just typing that word hurts) to do, is to scratch everything and start fresh.  And the start of a start is of course with a full rest week to try to get better and give the legs a clean slate to start from (I guess there are many "starts" in a start!)  Though my training does not call for it, and therefor set me back a little bit in the here and now, it does seem like the logical/mature thing to do and what will benefit me in the long term.  So I am going to go home and drink a full bottle of Beaujolais Villages to celebrate yet another "rest week".   My Hopbrook race report should be posted soon!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

2012 Root 66 Race #1: Hopbrook Dam

There are a bunch of rules most good racers follow to prepare for a race.  Since I am such a "class act", the only two I can think of right now are: don't change components or mess w/ your bike the day before a race, and have an excuse ready to go if the race doesn't go well.  The excuse is not just to give to others, but to justify it to myself if I need to!  And I needed a good one after my less than stellar performance at King of Burlingame.

I did of course mess w/ the bike the night before the race, so really I ended up w/ the last rule, the excuse.  My sorry tale was that I had started to feel sick on Thursday and it had progressively gotten worse.  By Saturday night, I was feeling like shit!  Since it was the first race of the Root 66 series, and I had pre registered already, there was no way I was going to miss it.  And as my co-pilot to the race stated: the race should help sweat that right out.  But since I am writing about excuses, it's pretty clear where this is going!

I need to point out here that we got to the race on time.  This should be the only time this year I write that!

Race was really well attended and though the forecast had been less than stellar, it was dry and not too cold. We lined up at the start and it looked to be close to 30 deep in my age group.  Very well attended indeed.  I guess there were not a lot of road races, and since the NY series had not started yet, there were lots of NYC SIDs racers, including my brother!

Here is a good video of the course: click!

I do like the Hopbrook course.  It’s not too technical; which is always a good way to start the season when skills are still a little rusty; but challenging enough to keep you engaged and paying attention.  The main feature was a climb that was punchy at the start, went on for a little while, and concluded w/ a little kicker to really make you feel it.  By itself it was not that bad, but the course also has a couple of other little climbs that put together started to add up!  Do four laps, and it started to hurt!  There was also a fast and  furious 'don’t touch the brakes fly down the fire road' descend that had some loose rocks which would take your tire out you if you hit them. This year another descend had been covered w/ large loose gravel and required some careful navigation.

The start had always been a mess, since the single track arrives very quickly, and it was no different this year.   Since I was feeling slightly under the weather, and knew I was going to need a slower warm up, I did not try to fight for position.  I hit the single track pretty close to last place w/ my brother right behind me and since everyone in front tried to pile into a single file, we practically came to stand still waiting for the line to sort itself out.

I knew from the warm up that I was going to have a KOB repeat since my legs felt sore, and indeed the first little hills on the race course proved to be more painful than they should have been.   On the big climb, though it hurt, I did manage to pass a couple of guys, but knew my pace was pretty damn slow.

Towards the end of the first lap, Bo and Sean caught up on their single speed and I hung w/ them for a bit.  I tried to give them a lead out on the asphalt and through the start/finish area, but let them pass once we got back into the single track; then struggled to hang on.  W/ hindsight, I would have done better to just try to stick to their wheel as long as I could right from the moment they caught me.   The second and third lap went by in a blur and was spend mostly riding by myself.  A few single speeders caught and passed me but I did not see anyone from my class.  No push from the back or no carrot in front!  Not that that would have made a difference in my speed anyways.   By the time I hit the fourth lap, I had no idea how many laps I had completed and it took a while before another singlespeeder passed and confirmed this was indeed, and thankfully, the last lap.   I just rode the lap out since again there no push/pull for position.   

Throughout the race, I never felt great (as in being able to dig in deep) and my legs again felt weak on the climbs.   My legs were once again my limiting factor.  I never felt my flue symptoms throughout the race but knew they were there.  This was my second race (kob doesn't really count) on a HT and though it's not been an issue jra-ing, my aging back was screaming bloody murder by 3rd lap, and was missing that squish in the back.  Hopefully just growing pains though...

My placement was of course pretty terrible at 21 out of 30, w/ a time of 1 hour 59 mins. Soon after the race my cold came back on w/ a vengeance, and was fighting it for days to come.   Special "thanks" to Adam from Coppola photography for taking the posted pictures here and other fantastic pictures of all the racers!  You can see the rest of them here:  Also it was great to pick up Stacey and have a companion in the car.  Makes those 2 hrs up and back to the race so much more pleasant (hopefully the feeling was mutual!)

Onto Farmington...