Monday, July 14, 2014

Stewart Super Six Pack 2014 ...

SS Podium at the Stewart Super Six Pack
This weekend, I headed up to NY for the 4th Annual MTBNJ Stewart Super Six Pack. Now, I've had a "rough" time at this race the last two years to say the least. In 2012, I had to sit down after four laps when the heat became too much for me. I was cramping pretty badly and didn't want to experience a full meltdown, so I sat down and played support crew for my friends Chris and Mitch. In 2013, I was determined to ride all the way to the end and suffered the consequences of less-than-ideal fitness and crippling heat. I cramped up on my third lap but kept it going for an extra two laps. At the end of my fifth lap, I suffered severe cramping that ultimately turned out to be a bit of rhabdo. I was forced to sit down int he woods not 300 yards from the finish line and wait until I could move again. It was a terrible way to end a long hard day and one of the toughest days I've ever had on a bike. But that experience wasn't entirely bad in that it served as kind of a wake-up call to me. It made me realize that I had to make a choice. For a while, I had sort of straddled the line between riding for the pure fun of it and racing for results. Either choice would be fine, but what I couldn't do was continue to expect myself to ride with the stronger guys in my class while not putting in the time and effort it takes to make that possible. Over the last few years, I've come to rely on riding for more of my overall fitness, so it seemed reasonable to at least try to make a go of being as fit as possible on the bike. Even though I'm sure I'll never again race as regularly as I did a few years ago, I would like to put my best foot forward when I do line up. Whatever that equates to in terms of results, at least I'll know that I gave it my best effort.

With that in mind, I set a goal this year to once again race the Shenandoah Mountain 100. It's been a few years since I've done that race and I really suffered the last time I did it. With the benefit of time to forget the pain, I decided it was time to give it another go. And I've been spending a lot of time on the bike this year, and doing mostly longer rides and races on the weekends in an effort to get as fit as I can for it. So with that in mind, I headed up to Stewart hoping for a better day than I had the past two years.

Racing along
photo credit: GT Luke

About 20 of us were registered in the SS class, and we went off at a few minutes after nine. I jumped early with a group of three other riders and we took off down the dirt road. The pace felt a little too hot for me considering we were going to be out there for six hours, though, and as we turned into the first section of single track, I had to back off a bit and let the others go. As I did, I looked behind me and there was no one there - we had already left the rest of the field behind. I really thought we had gone off too hard, though, so I just settled into my pace and kept rolling.  I rode alone for the first lap, but kept a pretty good pace all the way around the  nearly 11 mile loop (the course has been slightly lengthened each of the past two years), finishing in just about 50 minutes. I felt good and decided that as long as I didn't feel like I was about to blow up, I'd try to keep up the same pace. And I pretty much did - my second lap time was about the same as the first, and on my third lap I caught up with two of the guys from our original four. One of them, Matt, I rode with down the last dirt road section. Really nice guy -- it was nice to have someone to ride with and talk to for a while. But after we reached the pit area, he had to stop to refuel and I headed back out right away after a quick bottle switch.

Holding pace
photo credit: GT Luke

At this point, since no one had passed me, I was sitting alone in second place. I had no idea how far ahead the one other SSer was and I didn't even know what I was looking for. So I just decided to leave it to fate and continued to ride my pace. I was feeling good - really good - and wasn't feeling any of the leg twinges or cramps I'd dealt with the least two years. One fact or that contributed to that the sun really wasn't shining all day. It was pretty hot after the first couple of hours - probably mid-80's - but we didn't have to deal with that brutal July sun. My pace stayed right around 12 1/2 mph on each lap - my only hiccups happened on my fifth and sixth laps. On the fifth lap, I had to stop and beg some Ibuprofen in the pits because I was starting to get a pretty nasty headache. I'm not sure if it was due to the heat or allergies, but my head was pounding as I came through the finish line at the end of lap 5. Luckily, a really nice lady supporting the team that was set up next to my pit area had some and gave me a couple. I popped them down and took off and the headache went away after about 5 more minutes. Then, later on in lap 6, coming off one of several rock drops, I lost my water bottle. I knew it was too early in the lap to make it all the way back with no bottle, so I had to stop and look for it. As I was doing so, my friend Shoogs from Long Island, who was acting as the one man heckle pit on the course, offered me his only bottle as a replacement. I was all set to take it when I caught site of my own lying in the undergrowth. It sucks to have to stop on a course, but it's nice to get a chance now and then to see just how cool the folks involved in this sport are. Shoogs is a class act and one of the nicest folks you can meet in the eastern mountain bike scene.

About half way around the course, there was a water station manned by a few of the MTBNJ volunteer folks. They do an awesome job all day, and my friend Chris was there for each of my last four laps. He was giving me updates on the guy ahead of me. He told me the guy was running about two minutes up, but was running a larger gear than I was so there was a chance he'd get tired out. After hearing this for three laps in a row, I was thinking this guy was really strong and I probably wouldn't catch him. And I had lapped a couple of SSers over the course of my last few laps, so since I didn't know what this guy looked like, I had no idea if I'd even know if I saw him that he was my rabbit.  As it turned out, I did catch him right at the very end of my sixth lap. I came around him in the very techy rock gardens and didn't know it was him I was passing. But I started to get an inkling that this was the guy I was chasing when he charged after me and half-wheeled me down the pit area. So I grabbed a quick bottle and took off for lap 7. And sure enough, he charged out of the pit area in pursuit.

He was still right behind me by about a hundred feet or so when we entered the first single track section, and I took quick stock of how I was feeling to get an idea of whether or to I even had the chance to survive a full lap of head to head. And to be honest, I was still feeling really good. So I came up with a quick plan: knowing that I had an easier gear, I decided to attack the hills. If he could outrun me on the climbs, I figured I didn't have any chance on the flats since I'd be spinning just to keep up. And so on the first climb, I jumped and took off. He has been sitting behind me by about the same 100 feet or so since the dirt road, but when I came through the climb and into the short, steeper techy climb that immediately followed it, I took a quick look back and couldn't see him. And at the point, I knew that the best thing to do was keep it that way. I figured that if he couldn't see me, he may lose the impetus of the chase. So I put my head down and took off. I was feeling good enough to charge every corner, and when I popped out at the rest stop, I think my friend Chris was even more excited than I was - he started yelling, "You're up! He hasn't come through yet! Go!" I thanked him and said I thought the guy was right on my tail. I hit the next climb and went as hard as I could to keep my distance.

The rest of the lap flew by and when I hit the long fire road section before ht final rock gardens, all I could think about was staying out of sight -- the last thing I wanted to do was have to fight it out in the rock garden. I just didn't trust my skill there to pull it out. I kept looking over my shoulder and no one was coming, so I kept the speed up and rolled into the final section optimistic that I'd pull it out. But I wouldn't let myself even smile until I had cleaned the rocks and was heading into the last turn before the drop to the finish line.

A very cool trophy homemade by the MTBNJ crew!

Ultimately, I crossed the line with 7 laps for about 76 miles in 6:07, and took the win by about four minutes. It was an awesome way to end an incredible day. Honestly, I think that was probably about the best I've ever been on a bike, not just for the way I rode but for the decisions I made along the way. I raced my own pace, but didn't let myself slow down when I was feeling a little tired. I trusted my training and stayed consistent in my nutrition and pace. If I can make the same kind of decisions and keep my fitness up for the SM100, I think I'll be happy no matter what he clock says!

Done and happy with the win!
photo credit: Jeff Martz
This race is just a crazy roller-coaster, super-fun event that's run really, really well by the folks from MTBNJ. Just a class crew putting on a killer event. Huge thanks to Norm and the rest of the crew for giving us all such a great time!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Stoopidity Part 2 ...

I was hoping to have a few photos from the race to go along with part 2, but so far I can't find any, so please enjoy this photo of BK hiding out in "1 Cool Place" …

Anyway, onto part 2 …

So I came out of Cooper's Gap feeling pretty good. I had lost about 25 minutes from going off-course, but the course itself was just too much fun to let that bother me. But a short time after Cooper's Gap, we hit the second rest stop, and right beyond that were the big climbs of the day.

I hit the rest stop and had a coke and a PB&J. I've had coke at rest stops before, and while I don't drink soda any other time, there is nothing as good as a cold coke int he middle of a long race. It just hits the spot. After that, I filled my bottles and hit the road.

The climb began almost immediately out of the rest stop, but it didn't start to get steep until it took a turn onto a grassy section. This started around 36 miles into the day and last a good five miles. I was expecting to struggle a little bit, but it never happened. In fact, I passed about a dozen other racers and felt great the whole way up. I think part of this was that my fitness right now is a little higher than it's been in a long time, but I think another big part is that I chose the right gear for the day. I was conflicted on Saturday over whether or not to stick with my usual 32:18 race gear or drop to a 32:20. I ultimately decided to go with the 20, which in hindsight was the right way to go.

Over the top of that hill, and I was on a screaming descent down another grassy section. It was awesome -- just point the bars downward and go. I think I was doing about 40 mph and just hanging on for the ride.

As soon as I hit the bottom, though, the next climb began. It was more of a gravel climb, and I spent the whole thing alternating in and out of the saddle. That's something I've only recently started to do. For a long time, I would be out of the saddle the whole way on long climbs, and I think that contributed to some of my cramping issues over the years. But in the last year or so, I've started alternating up and down. It's tough to do with a bigger gear, but on the gear I was running on Sunday, it was pretty easy, and it kept my body from locking up. It was during that climb that I caught up to my friend Scott form Long Island. He was doing the race on a rigid SS, which is pretty incredible given that course.

At the top of the climb, there was a short steep descent followed by another short steep climb. I checked my time and figured out that while 5 1/2 hours was no longer possible, I could still finish under 6 if I kept my pace up. and had I stayed on course all day, I'm sure that I would have hit the 5 1/2 - maybe even a little less. Something to go for next year, I guess!

So I ticked off the last climb, still feeling like I had some legs, and just as I got to the top, I came around another racer who offered me the chance to lead down the final descent. I knew all about that descent, having ridden it a year ago when I was in the area riding the Tussey Ridge Trail. To call it a "technical descent" doesn't come close to the reality of what it is. It's basically a downhill boulder field with lots of jagged rocks. And it's very narrow with a very steep drop off to the left. It's an insane section of trail. In fact, it's hardly what you'd call a "trail" at all. My arms were beat to hell by the time I reached the bottom.  And, yes, it was awesome. At the bottom, there were a few skinnies to cross over before the last section of trail dropped me back n the road to the finish line. I hit the road, and floored it, knowing I was close to 6 hours.

Ultimately, I crossed the line at 5:57, with about 4 extra miles on the day. I felt about as good as I could after a course like that. I'm pretty sure I could break the 5 1/2 hour mark next time - maybe even come close to 5 even. After the race, I hung around for a bit and ate a burger, some mac and cheese and downed a couple beers. There are some things you just have to do after a long race!

So that's the story of my Stoopid 50 this year! Huge thanks to Chris Scott and Shenandoah Mountain Touring for putting on events like these. It was an awesome experience, and I will certainly be back!

I don't have another race for a couple of weeks now, so I'll be mostly just training for a while, and maybe taking a trip to do some bigger mile rides in Rattling Creek or someplace like that to continue getting ready for the SM100. See you on the trail!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Stoopidity Part 1 ...

It's been a while since I updated this space and I've had a few things going on since my last post. So here's a quick update before I get to this past weekend …

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to race outside Baltimore at the inaugural Woodstock Wrecker, a four hour endurance race in the Patapsco Valley. I took the win in the SS open class, which was pretty cool. They have a really awesome series down there - definitely worth checking out if you want a fun and challenging ride.

Coming through the rocks along the river
Heading toward the finish at the Woodstock Wrecker
On a more continuous note, I've been training a lot this summer. I wanted to be fitter this year, especially for the SM100, so I've been pretty strict about what I'll eat and riding a bit more aggressively. So far it's working pretty well, but I still have a ways to go before the end of the summer.

So that brings me to this past weekend. I wanted to test my current fitness, so on the spur of the moment this past Friday I signed up for the Stoopid 50 out in State College. The Stoopid 50 is one of the more challenging races in the region, so I figured it was a perfect test to see if the work I've been doing was paying off, or if I would have to go back to the drawing board. It's got abut 7K feet of climbing and when you aren't climbing, you're riding some really technical single track. There are very few spots on the course where you can take it easy or even recover, so if there was an event that was going to give me an honest assessment of where I was at the moment, this was the one.

So Sunday morning, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. to drive three hours to State College for the race. I got there about an hour and a half before the race and got my gear all set up. I was a little concerned about a skip in my chain. Anticipating all the climbing we'd be doing, I had swapped to an easier gear Saturday afternoon and everything was good to go, but for some reason when I starting riding around the parking area, the chain started skipping. Of course, it was too late to do anything about it, so I just hoped it wouldn't cause me too many problems.

The race went off at exactly 9 a.m. I was sitting pretty far back in the pack at the start, so I jus settled in and rode my pace. One of my main goals for the day was to ride at a pace that was hard but not so hard that I'd blow up before the end. That's kind of like a puzzle in an event like this -- you have to solve it as you go. If you start to feel too hot early, you have to back it off, but hopefully, you don't spend the whole day yo-yoing back and forth in your effort (because that is always a recipe for disaster at the end of the day.) What you want to do is find your fastest steady state as quickly as possible and then hang on to it all day. I found that pace pretty early on Sunday.

As soon as we hit the Tussey Ridge climb, I discovered that I was in a rare state for me: I had climbing legs! I felt great going up the climb and I was handling the tech without any issues at all. After the ridge, we hit the long descent down to the fire road, and I was able to stretch a little bit and jut let loose going down the twisty, swithcback singletrack descent. More importantly, I was feeling really relaxed. I lost a water bottle on the rocky Tussey Ridge, but even that didn't bother me. I figured I'd deal with it at the first rest stop. And they did give me a new bottle when I got there, so that was never an issue. In fact, I was having a pretty great day -- rolling along at abut a 10 mph clip and feeling really good.

But no day is ever perfect, and my day took a nasty turn at about 20 miles in. I missed a (very obvious) turn and ultimately went about 4 miles off course. Honestly, I don't know how I missed it -- there was a big sign directing us to turn right. I do recall that I was descending at about 25 mph along the fire road when a car heading up the road toward me moved to the side to let me pass. Maybe they blocked the sign? I don't know. It's the only explanation I can come up with that doesn't confirm that I'm a complete moron.

Anyway, after realizing I was off-course, I turned around to climb back up the road and was feeling pretty pissed off. I had been doing so well, but that suddenly all went out the door in one moment of stupidity. I was feeling pretty lousy as I joined a group of riders back on the course. I passed the group on the climb and took off, thinking I now had to ride hard all day to make up for my mistake. But at the top of the next short climb, I popped out across a pipeline cut-out and happened to look to my left. It was amazing -- there was a huge slope in the far distance that just made the whole region feel so remote. I just had to smile -- it was incredible and it snapped me back to reality: I was racing my bike in a really awesome place, so even if my day had taken a change for the worse, I was still way ahead of the game, net of net. And after that section, it was time to ride the Cooper's Gap trail. Cooper's Gap is just simply amazing -- super tight and twisty and, as another rider I was following said, it rewards you for picking good lines. He was doing great, so I just sat on his wheel and followed him all the way through. It was one of the true highlights of the day and by the time we finished, I'd all but forgotten about my screw up.

But next up, after the rest stop, the real climbs of the day were waiting, so the real tests were about to begin.

And that's where we'll pick up next time!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Just Riding Along ...

So right now, I am kinda injured. Last Monday morning, I got out for a ride in Wissahickon. It was a typical morning ride, except with all the rain the area had last weekend, there had been some flooding in the park. The park was dried out more or less, but some of the residual effects of flooding remained - and one of those impacted the log-over near the rock garden off the Bells Mill Road parking lot. A while ago, a large tree had fallen across the trail heading toward Chestnut Hill College, and some resourceful riders or trail builders had taken some of the surrounding debris and built up an approach side and exit side to get over the tree. The the storms had washed away the exit side, so there's about a 2 1/2 foot drop there now. The only problem was the the approach side was still there and you can't see the other side. So I was just riding along, popped up on the log and wasn't expecting to drop off the other side. And over the bars I went. That alone no big deal - I've gone over the bars a bunch of times. But this time was different -- I landed chest first on a four inch wide tree stump just off the trail. It knocked the wind out of me pretty bad, and it really hasn't felt right since. I was worried that maybe I broke some ribs or something like that, but now I think I just tore up a lot of soft tissue. I guess I'll just have to wait it out. Hurts like hell though all the way through to my back. I tried to ride off-road a few times later in the week, but they were pretty much a bust -- I just can't pull up on the bars right now when I climb.

But with a weekend as beautiful as this one, I was really hoping I could still find a way to ride. I figured maybe I could get out on the road, since I wouldn't need the same effort to climb that I do on the single speed. It was worth a shot, and I knew just what ride I wanted to do.

For a long while, I've wanted to link a few separate rides I've done into one big loop. I've ridden the Perkiomen Trail from Green Lane to it's terminus near Valley Forge, and I've ridden the Schuylkill Trail from Philly to Phoenixville. I've also ridden from my home in Lansdale to Valley Green to ride. Today, I linked all three with one ride. It was awesome -- about 90 miles in all, with most (practically all) of the climbing in the first 20 miles. I took the Hakk because my road bike has been having wheel issues again. I wasn't concerned with pace and took it really easy in the first few hours to protect my chest. But it was such a fun ride. My exact route was Lansdale to Green Lane through Souderton, including the climb up to Ridge Road and going over the Dietz Mill KOM on the old Univest Grand Prix course. From there, I rode along the Perkiomen Creek to Green Lane and took the Perk Trail to it's intersection with the SRT. Then I took the SRT through Valley Forge, Norristown, and Conshohocken into Manayunk. I then cross Fells Bridge and headed into Center City along West River Drive, since it's closed to traffic on Sunday. After reaching Center City, it was time to head back, so I took Kelly Drive back to Manayunk, where I picked up the Lincoln Drive trail to Forbidden Drive Wissahickon. From there, I took my usual route back to Lansdale through Blue Bell and West Point.

I highly recommend a ride like this to anyone who lives in the region. It can be tricky to put together some of the road sections with all the construction going on in the region, but it's worth the effort. If you do, don't forget to plan your route with a few stores along the way to refresh your bottles!

I won't try to describe it more … I'll just let  a few photos tell the story of a great day of just riding along.

Early in the day, heading toward the first big climb
A farm near Allentown Road

At the base of the Dietz Mill climb

The Perk Creek near Green Lane

Before heading over Spring Mountain on the Perk Trail
(They paved the damn climb - boo!)

A bridge on the Perk Trail

Tiny, broken basketball anyone?

Near the intersection of the SRT

SRT at the Norristown Train Station

SRT near Manayunk

Entering Manayunk

West River Drive on a spring Sunday - a cyclist's dream! 

Center City on the approach

Swann Fountain

Turning around on the boulevard

The Art Museum

Forbidden Drive

A horse farm off Stenton Ave

The private airport near Blue Bell

Almost home!

One last obstacle on Church Road in Lansdale

Finally home … tired, hungry and happy!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Leesburg Bakers Dozen 2014

Photo Credit: Gary Ryan
The last two weekends, I finally had the opportunity to get out and race. Given the winter we had this year, it was starting to feel like the season would never arrive.  As it is, I'm only going to be doing a few select races this year because I've got a bunch of other commitments this summer. And that means that when I have an opportunity like the I did the last two weekends, I need to jump on it.

On April 5th, I headed out to Oesterling Farm in Marysville for the International Intergalactic Global Open MTB Team Relay of the Multiverse. It's a short-course relay for four hours that you can do solo if you choose. I had done the eight hour endurance race that Mike Kuhn used to hold on the farm a few years ago, so I knew the venue pretty well, and I knew that Mike puts on a great event, so signing up was a no-brainer. It was also a great way to test my legs before the Leesburg Bakers Dozen the following Saturday. My plan was to just go out and ride a pace that would fit the longer LBD race and maybe occasionally kick it up just to stretch myself out a bit.

Coming down the chute on Oesterling Farm …
Photo Credit: Brandywine Digital

For the most part, it went according to plan -- all except for the conditions, that is. The region got quite  bait of rain in the days leading up to the 5th, so the course was pretty muddy. And it turns out that the mud on Oesterling Farm is peanut butter thick everywhere. Honestly, I don't think I've ever done a ride where I had to pedal so hard just to keep moving! It was definitely not an ideal day for the single speed. But ultimately, none of that mattered -- I was finally racing this year and it was all good. The way they score the race uses handicaps and everyone -- teams and solo -- are scored together, so it's kind of tricky to work out the details. I do know that I finished eleven laps and that was among the top ten for all solo riders, but this wasn't a race I was shooting for a result in, so it really didn't matter. What mattered was that it was lot of fun to be back on a bike with a number on my bars!

Rolling in the mud
Photo Credit: Brandywine Digital

Chasing a unicorn!
Photo Credit: AE Landes Photography
After the Relay, I was really starting to get excited for the next weekend and my longest race of the year, the Leesburg Bakers Dozen. I took Friday off from work and headed down to Virginia around noon or so to pre-ride the course and get settled in my hotel. My expectations for the race were kind of up in the air at that point. I really felt like I didn't have enough miles in on the year to be ready for 13 hours in the saddle, and I figured most of the guys coming from down south were going to be in a lot better shape. And aside from that, in the week prior to the race I had a big question mark around my right arm because of a recent bout of tendinitis. It turned out that wasn't an issue at all -- I knew from the pre-ride I wasn't going to have a lot of pain there. At worst, it might fatigue over time, but that was something I wasn't going to worry about. In fact, the pre-ride set aside a lot of concerns. It reminded me of how much I loved riding this course, and made me realize that no matter what happened the next day, I was going to have fun.

I arrived at the venue around 7:30 for the 9 am start. It turns out that was lucky -- I realized as i was filling my bottles that I was short on water -- I had three bottles that I still needed to fill after using all my current water. No problem -- I made the ten minute run to the convenience store up the road and was back with 45 minutes to spare before the start. I used that time to dial in my shoes -- I shifted the cleats back a little for what felt like a more centered foot position. I was ready to go!

On the course at Leesburg
Photo Credit: Wheelfast Photography
The race started a few minutes after 9 and I had a pretty good spot entering the woods. I remembered the big hangup at the first techy section the year before and set myself up to avoid that this year. We started across the meadow and entered the woods already a little spread out. I was probably about 30 people back, which was fine for me. I did make a mental note of a few SSers ahead of me, but for a 13 hour race, it was way to early to think about position. And besides, with all riders starting the first lap at the same time, there was going to be one very long train with almost no opportunity to pass for a long time. I just settled in and rode the first lap in the flow of the group I was in. The pace felt a little hot, but I was feeling pretty good and just went with it.

The first lap was pretty uneventful until the very end. As I came over the short rocky climb just before the end of the lap, I saw a rider down, and quickly pulled over to see if she was okay. It turns out I stopped to help a MTB icon, Sue Haywood. She had crashed and was sitting on the side of the trail. I asked if she was okay and she said she had the wind knocked to of her. I moved her bike for her, and gave her her water bottle, and she assured me she was fine. I told her I was going to let them know she'd crashed at the Start/Finish and I headed off. I told the race organizers about the crash as I crossed the line for lap 1. It turns out that Sue was fine or else she recovered well: she came flying by me a few laps later looking as strong as ever. That was cool to see -- watching great riders do what they do is a unique pleasure!

And speaking of great riders, if I had to pick a single goal I had going into this race, as of the week before it would probably have been "minimize the number of times I get lapped by Gerry Pflug". Gerry announced on FB that he was coming to Leesburg a few days before the race, and that pretty much meant that a win was going to be a very tall order for the rest of us. You never race for second place, but when the guy who pretty much owns the SS category in the NUE shows up for any endurance race, well … reality sets in.

The second lap introduced my theme for the day in the person of another SSer, a guy named Bill Wheeler. I caught up to Bill, another rider in my class, about halfway through the lap. That set a precedent for the rest of the day. It seemed from there on, almost every single lap, Bill and I were within a few hundred yards of one another. This went on all day! I should mention that I have a very specific strategy when it comes to these kind of races, and I guess you could call it "tunnel vision." I basically like to turn completely inward and forget about everyone else around me as much as I can. I mean, I'll chat with other riders, but I prefer that my effort is completely self-defined. I don't want anyone else to ever impact how I am riding in a race this long. So when you throw another rider in my class into the mix and then let that recur for an entire day, well, it's a but outside my comfort zone. The way it played out on Saturday was that I had to constantly remind myself to stay within myself -- not to chase Bill or try to run from him. On one lap, I found myself right behind him and we rode the entire lap together. (He's a really nice guy and a very flowy rider, by the way -- it was actually really nice to have his wheel that whole lap.)

Riding pace
Photo Credit: Gary Ryan

After the first few laps, I settled down into my own pace and tried to keep just the big things in mind (eating and drinking, not crashing, etc.) It worked out pretty well, with a few minor kinks. For one, it was bit warm at around 80 degrees. I hadn't been in that kind of heat all year, so it felt a lot warmer than 80. I developed a heat headache after maybe 6 laps or so. And it would come back periodically through the rest of the day. I fought it off with some "vitamin I", which thankfully worked pretty well. I also had numb hands (a typical issue in races of this length for me) and, much worse, aching feet. I mentioned that I was using my newer shoes earlier, and in hindsight that was a pretty dumb thing to do. At one point, my feet hurt so bad I had to stop and sit with my shoes off for a few minutes. That's never happened before, so I was just really hoping they'd feel better quickly. I ultimately swapped out my shoes for my older pair, and while the damage was already done, that did allow me to keep riding with only some residual aching.

Despite the few issues that popped up, I was able to stay pretty consistent throughout the day. In fact, my fastest lap was only about 10 minutes quicker than my slowest lap, and most of the difference was attributable to the time I sat down at my pit area. So as a racer, I suppose I'm pretty boring -- not much change over the course of a pretty long day. But to be honest, I'm fine with that: an endurance race without variation is a race without issues!

From light into dark …
Photo Credit: Gary Ryan
Once the evening hours hit, I was feeling pretty good. That's usually the case for me with night racing -- the cooler air and the fact that I spend so many hours riding in the dark make me feel like I can just go once the sun sets.

One thing I'd forgotten at the start of the day was to take my Garmin out of my bag at the hotel, so I never really had an idea all day as to where my mileage was, and I actually lost track of the laps sometime late in the afternoon. I was fine with that -- knowing the laps wasn't going to change how I was riding anyway. In fact, it wasn't until I was getting close to the end that I even asked the timer for my laps and position. When I asked, I had just finished my 16th lap, and it was 9:36. I asked where I was and was surprised to hear that I was holding on to third place. But the timer told me that 4th was about 12 minutes back. Now, you always have to remember in races like these that information like the is always a lap old for the rider being chased. That is, the 12 minutes was my 15th lap lead on 4th place. For all I know, the fourth place rider (Bill) could have been riding much faster than I was throughout the 16th lap and was now about to come across the line, which wold put us at the same time for the last lap. That would be a worst case scenario for me, so I took off as soon as I heard that. I didn't even stop at my pit area just beyond the line to grab a new bottle (I was out anyway, having only brought 16 with me!) So started my last lap of the day with half a bottle, a dying light, and I was pushing harder than I had in any of the earlier laps. Not ideal, but I was determined to do whatever i could to hold on to my podium spot. (I'd been told that second place was out of reach, although in hindsight that may not have been entirely the case.)

My last lap of the day, number 17, was a bit stressful. Every time I heard a bike or saw lights behind me, I took off like a scared rabbit. But it paid off -- I was never passed on that lap and came across the line at 13:23 minutes having locked up third place. Actually, that old information I'd been given worked out in my favor -- the fourth place rider actually never went out for a 16th lap, so my 17th was unnecessary, but since I couldn't know that, I was glad I'd gone back out. As tired as I was, it was nice to know I had pulled 140 miles in just over 13 hours.

The final results were Gerry in first with 18 laps (he only lapped me once, although he finished that last lap only minutes after I'd gone pout on my 17th, so there's a good chance he'd have gotten me again if he'd gone back out), and another racer I didn't know finished 17 about ten minutes faster than I did. That was interesting -- when I checked the time, his lead on me was only 8 minutes going into the last lap, which makes me wonder: why did the timer tell me he was out of reach, but the guy chasing me wasn't despite being four more minutes behind me? I'm pretty sure I couldn't have caught him (especially since he gained two minutes on me in the last lap), but I can't help wondering if I'd have tried to go on the offensive if I'd thought he was within reach on that last lap. It's all academic, I suppose, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't at least think about it.

In the end, I am totally happy with my day at the Bakers Dozen. Finishing on the podium in that group is a big result for me. And I'm pretty much convinced that I did about as well I could do -- the two guys who finished ahead of me are better than I am (and chances are, a few who finished behind me are as well.) I had a solid day and got a result, and I couldn't be happier. Huge congratulations to Gerry and Paul Tarter for their results -- it was an honor to share the podium with both of them!

So what's next?  I don't have any scheduled races any time soon, but I may try to fit in one or two between now and my next planned event in July (the Stewart Super Six Pack in NY.) Or maybe I'll just seek out a few really long rides. It doesn't matter -- I'm just so happy to have rideable trails now that I'll take whatever rides I can get.

See you on the trails!