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!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Continuum ...

I've been pretty bad about updating this blog so far this year, but as most of us (everywhere) know, it hasn't been exactly a ride-friendly winter. My training regimen has been basically just a lot of swimming, some yoga, and recently, some gym workouts at my new gym, Nex Level. All in all, it's been a lemonade-from-lemons kind of winter. Since this is more or less a cycling blog, there really hasn't been all that much to report this winter. I've kind of stayed away for this space for a while now but I came back to it the other night for the first time in a while and noticed something I'd missed before. Late least year, I did a post about crossing the 3000 mile mark on the SS for 2013. On Friday, I noticed a comment that had been left on that post for the first time. It read:

saw you out in the wiss satuday ruining the trails @sshat...

if you have a blog don't act like a fuckin idiot. people will recognize you and call you on your dumb@ss behavior.

The comment was made several months ago, and I'd even made a final post for 2013 a day or so after it was left, but I hadn't noticed it until just this week. My first thought when I read this was something about opinions and assholes. And part of me realizes that's really the true extent of it. I mean, insulting comments are sort of the bread and butter of the internet, right? And yet, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little pissed off being accused of something I don't believe I've ever done.

My mind went to two basic questions when I read this. On the one hand, I wondered what ride he was referring to. I ride at Wiss all the time, usually three or more times a week, so it can be a little tough to recall a specific ride this far down the line. But the post refers to a Saturday, which leads me to believe he meant December 28th. So I was able to go to myGarmin and pull my ride histories. Sure enough, there is a ride from 12/28/13. And if I assume that is the ride, there is a possibility that I can assess whether or not he was justified in calling me out here.

When I look at the ride itself, I don't really see anything that strongly supports his claim. In fact, there are two things in the report that support the opposite point of view.

First, there is a discussion in the comments between myself and my friend Josh referencing how cold the ride down from home was. Considering that, I think it's fair to say that -- at least from the start -- I had every reason to expect the trails would be solid and frozen. Of course, that doesn't imply that, as temperatures rose, the trails wouldn't soften up. (Indeed, a common practice among riders in the region -- and a typical planning element between my own riding buddies this time of year -- is to get out early so as to be done with our rides before the trails soften up.) But I think it does at least exonerate me from the intent to ride in trails conditions that were less than ideal.

But the second thing I notice suggests that conditions weren't what I would describe as "unrideable". On the ride map, notice the small out-and-back section just below the word "Glenside". That tells me that I took a trip out the Cresheim Loop on the 28th. That's a fairly new section of trail in the valley, and requires a bit of techy effort along the creek to reach it. In even slightly soft conditions, it's not a fun section to ride, and whether one cares about maintaining the trails or not, I don't really know of anyone who would choose to ride out there if there was the possibility of soft trails. It's just not worth slipping and sliding along the ridge above the creek to get there. The fact that I chose to go there suggest to me that trail conditions were solid enough to allow the trip. That leads me to conclude that, for at least the first half of my ride, I wasn't actually riding in poor conditions.

To be fair, I know that conditions at Wiss can change over from frozen to soft in sections that get enough sun when the temperatures start to climb and previous rains haven't had time to dry out. But another fact of riding Wissahickon is that there are dozens of bail-outs all over the main loop, and I always plan a contingency for a ride like the one I did on the 28th. As I've done many times before and since, had I encountered "poor conditions" as I define them at any point in my ride, I'd have simply bailed to Forbidden Drive and headed out the SRT to circle the Art Museum. That's been a standard plan of mine every winter for years. It still gives me a bunch of miles but doesn't put any trails at risk in the valley.

Ultimately, I think one phrase holds the key to all of this: as I define them. I don't believe we all agree on what constitutes "unsuitable" conditions for riding. Sure, there are almost certainly extreme instances we'd all agree on, but just as there are different conditions in different parks that define suitability (e.g., Wharton Forest is pristine at the moment while most of us have been avoiding Wissahickon for the last two months), when each of those parks are suitable to ride after poor weather is also open for debate.

If we can agree that there is a continuum of conditions in a given park -- which seems a fairly simple concession to make -- it seems reasonable to also concede that different users of that park may assess rideability differently. In the example below, a given park may on average be assessed as rideable half the time and unrideable half the time, but individual users may reasonably disagree on their individual assessments.

There is certainly conditions both Observer 1 and Observer 2 would agree on, but there is also a range over which they would not agree. Is one of them always right? Do we favor Observer 2 for his highly conservative evaluation? Or perhaps do we assume that Observer 1 has better specific knowledge of this particular park? Or do we disagree with both of them? Most importantly, do we leave room for these disagreements without feeling a need to condemn views that differ from our own?

I realize that this can be a pretty sensitive issue with a lot of nuance - the behavior of trail users now can inform the experience of future users or even impact access decisions. But that doesn't mean we all have to agree on when a trail is or is not rideable. I've been riding Wissahickon for more than 15 years, averaging about 3 to 4 rides per week over most of that time. I've ridden in every possible set of conditions, and have pulled the plug on many rides based on my own assessment of trail conditions. I think my experience has made me capable of making that decision for myself. But I don't think that it gives me the right to dictate that decision for others. If I am asked, I will give an honest opinion, but I wouldn't have the right to trash those who choose not to take that advice. And I certainly wouldn't present myself in a confrontational way, especially with people I have never met.

I think that's a big part of what bugged me about the comment when I first read it. I have never met this individual (and I don't recall interacting with anyone on the trail that day.) And yet he makes a statement (that I am "ruining" the trails) without providing a single piece of evidence to support the claim, and then implies that, because I don't share his specific view on the matter, I am an "@sshat" or a "fuckin idiot". To argue that everyone should adhere to one's own specifically held belief on a matter that could reasonably support different opinions is a form of extremism that is close-minded at best and narcissistic at worst. I realize that this is a common reality in our world today, but that doesn't make it okay. It's pretty easy to get most of our "news"  nowadays from sites we choose, and many people will gravitate toward those sites that will share their current interpretations, whether they be liberal, conservative, or anything in between. So what many of us learn and read about comes to us with a built-in slant that won't challenge our existing point of view, and that creates a feedback loop of support for that point of view. And that, I believe, risks intellectual stagnation and fosters an "us vs. them" mentality when it comes to alternative points of view. I wonder in this case if this guy even considered the possibility that I went through the same evaluation of conditions that he did and simply (and validly) arrived at a different conclusion than he did. Because the tone of his comment would imply that he did not. We don't disagree that there are situations when a trail is unrideable, only where the line may exist between rideable and unrideable. And the failure to recognize that possibility seems like evidence of a closed mind. I'm sure there are many reasons one would have to consider me an "@sshat", but I think a simple difference of opinion on where the line falls in a continuum is hardly one I'd call reasonable. I don't know if he'll read this at all and frankly I don't care. I've probably put a lot more energy into thinking about this than he ever did. But I do care about this part of my life and the places where I practice it, and it is offensive that he would either assume I didn't go through the same evaluation process he did or that I could only have reasonably arrived at the same conclusion he did. Because that's simply not true.

And with that, I think I'm done with it. At any rate, here's hoping the Spring arrives soon to let us all get out and ride instead of debating whether or not it's safe to do so. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Back at 2013 … Looking Forward to 2014 ...

I have to admit: in putting together a summary of the past year, I had to look through my photos just to remember most of it. It's not that 2013 was an uneventful year -- to the contrary, it was probably one of the busiest years I've ever had on the bike. In fact, that's probably why I had trouble recalling specifics.

The short story of 2013 would go something like this: new experiences, a lot of time spent on the singlespeed, some really great race results, some really shitty race results, and a couple of great trips to ride/race in new places from Virginia to Minnesota.

The longer story?

Well, nobody likes a long story but everybody loves pictures, right? So let's tell the long story in pictures ...

January featured my first snow rides in over a year (recall the winter of 2012 was abnormally warm.)

Recovering at home after surgery to fix a deviated septum

N+1, the Niner SS version!

Bakers Dozen on a rigid SS with a broken hand? Ouch.

Bakers Dozen was a real find for me -- I loved that race!

SSAP didn't go that well my first year in the open class -- under-geared, I spun like crazy just to get  a mid-pack finish.

My Rapha Gentlemen's Ride trophy -- my day ended with a 30+ mph crash that cracked my frame.

Midnight at Marsh Creek was my first outright win of the season

Flying in Chicago for the trip to SSUSA

Winona gave us an awesome party and an epic ride

Winona, MN as a ride destination? Who'd have thunk it?

Time off in the summer gave me  chance to ride some places I don't get to ride enough, like French Creek
Iron Cross … another awesome day. Instant classic and a new can't-miss on the calendar!

Cathedral Pines started off shaky on my pre-ride when I snapped my seatpost ...

… but by the next morning, i had a replacement post and was ready to roll ...

… and it paid off as I hit my long-held goal of eight laps, good enough for 2nd in SS and 13th overall.

It was a year with a lot of saddle time, including over 3K miles on the SS!

All in all, 2013 was one of my favorite years in recent memory - lots of fun on and off the bike

One final note on the year that was before moving on to 2014: this blog is generally about my riding and racing, but no mention of 2013 would be complete for me without a mention of Joanna's year. She had a few tough years due to some injuries and a difficult work schedule (to put it mildly.) But in 2013, she put aside the recent issues and re-focused on the things she's always loved doing. A huge factor in this was her decision to sign up for personal training again at a unique cross-fit-syle gym that opened in our area about a year ago. The real turning point was her trainer -- I really can't overstate the impact his training regimens has had on her. Since the start of the year, she's steadily progressed in her workouts and fitness, re-certified as a Spinning Instructor and started leading classes at the Y (she was always a fantastic instructor so I was really glad to see her go back to that) and even discovered a new interest in gravel riding, which we'll be exploring together in '14. I felt like I had a pretty good year, but her year was phenomenal! I couldn't be more proud of her or happy for her!

So … 2014. I have a few plans for this year that pretty much start right away. My big goal for the year comes before the half way point -- the 24 Hours of Round the Clock in Spokane, WA the weekend of May 25th. I'll be spending the first five months building to that goal, so there will be lots of training between now and May. It's going to be a pretty busy year overall with lots of travel -- in addition to the Spokane trip (which might turn out to be a logistical nightmare), I'll be in Baltimore for the 8 Hours of Patapsco and in Leesburg for the Bakers Dozen in April, Chicago for my brother's bachelor party in early May, Spokane in late May, NYC in July for my brother's wedding, Copper Harbor for SSUSA in August, back to Virginia for the SM100 in September, and finally out to Long Island for CP in November. In between, I've got a few long, local drives to deal with for other events as well.  Obviously, the wedding events are a definite go, and I'm already registered for SSUSA, so I'll definitely be there. But I'm not going to fully commit to everything else just yet because I have to recall that I do this for fun and it's part-time -- after these great weekends, I still have work to go to on Monday boring. So I know it could get crazy, and I may have to sacrifice any or a even a few of these for sanity sake. But as of right now, I'm planning on lining up for all of them. And I still plan to find more time for fun rides, and I'd like to put more road miles in (which gels nicely with the training thing anyway.) Can I top the year I had in '13? Who knows, but I'm sure as hell going to try!

Here's hoping your 2013 was everything you wanted it to be, and 2014 brings even better things. Happy New Year folks, and I'll see you on the trails!

Saturday, December 14, 2013


I've never been one to set specific goals at the beginning of the year. This is primarily because I haven't really ever planned a "season" out that far in advance. There are certainly a few events I plan early on every year, but as far as a full season goes, I don't really set a detailed plan at the start of the year. I kind of go by "feel" with that stuff, and always have. I've had seasons where I raced more than 30 races and season where I did less than 10, but I'm pretty liquid when it comes to planning how many or which ones I'll do in a given year. And one thing I've never done is set any kind of goal for non-race riding. I've never really even given that any thought. And that, it turns out, makes this year kind of unique.

Now, to be fair, I didn't plan anything at the beginning of the year. But I happened to notice something at the end of September this year that helped frame a vague goal in terms of total mileage. I broke my Garmin 500 back in August of 2012 and didn't replace it until late February of this year. But by the beginning of October, I noticed that I was right around 2000 miles on the single speed for the calendar year. I knew at the time I was already training decent mileage for the Something Wicked  6 Hours of Cathedral Pines and the autumn is always my favorite times to ride, so I decided that fitting in another 1000 miles was entirely doable for the year. And thus the last quarter of the year suddenly had a new goal - I wanted to hit 3000 miles on the single speed this year. I know for a fact that I've never done 3000 single speed miles in an individual year before, so this would be a new achievement if I could pull it off.

Friday, I crossed the 3K mark.

1Speed, happy to hit a goal half a month ahead of schedule
It wasn't easy. As anyone in the region is aware, we got hit with some snow last week. Normally, I love riding in snow, but this wasn't fresh snow -- by the time I got a chance to get to and ride in it this week, it had been three days since the storms, and the local trail were in one of two states -- packed down and frozen or soft and three inches deep. Neither is easy to ride in -- the frozen has hidden patches of ice that make you slide out of control, and the deeper snow is a slog (at least in my opinion -- I hate "loamy" trails, and deeper snow feels the same way -- it sucks your wheel in and makes you work for every pedal stroke. But last night, I got out for my regular Thursday night ride in Wissahickon, which left me 32 miles away from my goal. I'm currently burning vacation days by taking every Friday off, so I knew it would be another chance to get out on the trails. I also knew that I had two weeks to do 32 miles, which meant it was really just a matter of time before I'd get it anyway. Still, I decided Friday morning that I was going to try to knock out the remaining miles all in one ride.

Rolling full douchebag with yellow shoe covers  ...
After riding on Thursday night in Philly, I decided to head out to the Perkiomen Trail for Friday. I thought that it would be a good ride for a hard pace and anticipated that the snow would be well packed down. 

One out of two ain't bad.

The Perk Trail is pretty flat -- the only real climb is when you go up over Spring Mountain. So it's possible to keep a pretty good pace. The snow was - well - the snow was "inconsistent" to say the least. Some parts were well-matted down and easier to ride, but more often it was either icy and slick or frozen and bumpy. And most often it was the latter. After 20 miles, I felt Like I'd been operating a jack hammer all day. My hands were numb and my upper body was begging for me to just stop. It reminded me of riding a Michaux rock garden, but only if it was 30 miles long. In hindsight, choosing the rigid Misfit for the day was probably not the most inspired idea.

But I managed to stick it out and I rolled back into the lot with a little over the 32 miles I needed. Despite the fact that I hadn't really planned this as a goal, it felt pretty good to hit that number.

So there it is … kind of a nice way to close out the year. My focus is shifting to next year now, as I mentioned in my last post, but I may take a more complete look back at '13 before the end of the year. It's been a pretty fun year for riding and, even it's just for myself, it might be fun to look back at everything before completely switching gears to 2014.

In case I don't get a chance to post again before Xmas, hope you all have a great holiday season and I'll see you out on the trails. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Resurrection ...

Six Hours of Cathedral Pines SS Podium

Hello, folks … Been away from this a while. To be honest, after about month or so, I kind of made a conscious decision to let it go. It wasn't that I haven't had anything to write about -- to the contrary, I've had a pretty active fall season. I guess I just wanted to take a little time and figure out if I really wanted to keep doing this blog or just let it fade away. Obviously, the volume of content had fallen off this year even before the hiatus, so it was definitely worth considering. Part of that was the decision I made last year to race less. One thing that's true about racing is that it's content rich -- even a bad race usually gives you a good story. In fact, some of the best stories come from races where things go very badly. And unless you have the resources to regularly travel to new and exciting places for rides, it's not very interesting to write about the same places again and again, even if you do have some great local rides like we do here.

So what brought me back? Well, I'll get to that in a bit. First, let's do a quick recap of the last few months.

Right after Joanna and I got home from Minnesota, I was off for a week, so I took a few trips to ride in places I don't typically get to. That was great because none of those rides were all that far from home, but they were all totally different from one another.

French Creek

Riding the SRT to its terminus at South Street in Philly after a rain storm kept me off the trails

Tight fit in Tamaqua

Along a ridge at the base of the quarry in Tamaqua
September was a really busy month. Early on, I got out for my first night ride of the fall season. It was an early morning ride before work. Since then, I've done probably a dozen or so, but it's always pretty cool to get back out at night after not doing ti for a while. It takes  familiar trail you may have ridden a thousand times and makes it feel totally new.

Up with the sun in Wissahickon
And then I got caught in a ridiculous downpour. I managed to find some cover under the horse stable at Valley Green, and I was lucky I did -- Forbidden Drive flooded and by the time I was able to leave the park, I had to drive through some flash floods in Chestnut Hill.

Waiting out the storm

Lake Forbidden Drive

Chestnut Hill under water
A week or so after that, I got out to ride one of my favorite places in the region - Rattling Creek. I missed out on the Rattling 50 this year, and so I tried to find a weekend int he fall to get out there and a do a long ride on my own. I guess I was feeling motivated that day, because I climbed the big climb to the overlook twice. I think that may have been one of my favorite rides of the year.

Chased down the turnpike by a lurking Niner


The hang glider launch

On the RC Trail

Happy 1Speed after riding one of my favorite places
After riding RC, the very next week I headed out for my first Iron Cross experience. I decided to race on the SS rather than my cross bike. As a result, i had zero expectations for how the day would go. I knew there were a lot of dirt roads, but having ridden in Michaux before and never having actually raced on a cross bike anywhere before, I thought it was a better idea for me to take the SS. And after all was said and done, I was really happy with my choice. I'll probably run a bigger gear next year because I got pretty spun out on the road sections, but I'm pretty sure I'll ride the single again. Either way, I had an absolute blast out there -- it was just an awesome day start to finish. I was not prepared for the "run up" section, but I just laughed it off. For those who don't know, the hike-a-bike section that you hit in the first 30 miles in is not so much a walk-up section as a cliff you have to scale. It's crazy steep -- I had to stop twice to keep form falling over backward! The whole day was just super fun, though. I finished the 68 mile course in just about 5:30 (good enough for mid-pack SS), and I definitely think I could have gone faster if I'd known more about what was ahead of me and ran a bigger gear. Next year I'll be shooting for something closer to five hours even.

I passed a lot of CX riders on the climbs and in the single track, but they'd all come flying by me again on the roads
After Iron Cross, I pretty much shifted my focus to getting ready for the Six Hours of Cathedral Pines in November. I put a 32:16 on the Niner and a slightly lower 32:17 on the Misfit to force myself to work a little harder on training rides. I've raced CP twice before, and came within about ten minutes or so of getting eight laps last time I did it. I really, really wanted to get eight laps. To be honest, it kind of became the primary goal of my season after my disaster of a ride at The Stewart Six Pack back in July. So throughout October and into November, most of my rides did involve that focus to some degree. I did a few long rides from home into Philly and back as distance training, as well as a few harder rides (usually courtesy of my friend Scott, who only seems to have one way of riding -- all out. I'd basically show up and ride with him as he would take off in his big ring and I'd hang on for dear life on the SS.) Two weeks before the CP race, I headed out to Blue Marsh for one last big ride on the 2:1 -- two laps for 60 miles. And then a week before, I met up with a bunch of fast guys (led by Scott) in Wharton Forest and went for a 38 mile hammer-fest on a cold, wet Saturday morning. Both of those rides hurt a bit, but ultimately made me feel like I was as prepared as I could be for CP.

Fall Rides - lots of leaves covering the trails

Blue Marsh colors

Coming through one of the meadows at Blue Marsh Lake

These guys were so fast they don't appear in focus!
I took the day off and headed out to Long Island early last Friday to avoid the (always horrible) city traffic. I got to the venue around 1:00 and decided to do a pre-ride on a light mist. Ultimately, that proved to be a blessing in disguise -- about two-thirds of the way through my pre-ride lap, this happened:

Umm … yeah, that's not good ...

Clean break at the seat collar
My seat post just snapped in half. Imagine if I hadn't pre-rode and that just happened during the actual race! It isn't exactly the kind of thing you want to have happen the day before a race, but better than than during. And I was really lucky -- when I got back to the main field, the Cadre crew of Jody, Shoogs and Jeff were setting up and they gave me the information on local shops where I could get a replacement post. I had one less than a half hour later, but when I got back to my hotel, I realized I had another problem -- I couldn't extract the broken piece from inside the seat tube. No use to having a new post if I couldn't put it in. I tried to get the broken piece out for about an hour with no luck, but then I decided to cut my losses and call the local shop near my hotel and see if they could help. Their mechanic saved my weekend with a slide hammer and bearing pull -- he used them to pop the broken piece of my carbon post out and I was able to insert the new post and set it up.

With that, I was ready to race. I was worried about whether eight laps would be feasible after Friday's pre-ride. The course was like an ice rink with its wet leaves in every corner. But I had a plan and decided to stick with it the next day and let things work out as they would. As it turned out, they did just that.

I had a great start, which is crucial at CP. The start is a mass start with about a mile long prologue before you hit the woods. The problem is, entering the woods forces everyone into a single line and that creates a huge backup if you aren't near the front. At the start, I lined up in a really good spot and then followed a very fast rider all the way to the woods. I ended up hitting the woods somewhere in the top twenty and because of that, I was in a pretty good spot before the race was even five minutes old.

Hitting the woods in a good position
From there, the first lap was a bit slick, but not nearly was bad as the day before, and I just kind of sat in with a pretty fast group all the way through. I hit the ground once when I mis-judged a angle through some trees and clipped my bars. but other than that it was smooth sailing. And my subsequent laps were all right around the 50 minute mark, which was ideal. In fact, my goal was to simply finish my 7th lap before the 6 hour mark, and as it turned out I did so with about ten minutes to spare. I was getting my eighth lap! And I didn't even try to hide my happiness about that fact. I was whooping and hollering and yelling to anyone I saw that I was getting "eight laps today!" To be clear, I really didn't care where I finished in terms of my placing -- my only goal was to get those eight laps. Well, as it turns out, getting that eight was also good enough for second place in SS men! That was way more than I ever expected or even aimed for. It was about as good an end to my season as I could have asked for.

On the gas through the twisty single track

It's pretty rare I'm smiling during a race -- I think this was during my eighth lap.

Heading for a better finish that I imagined

Done and happy

2nd - SS Men

So that brings me to today. It's officially the "off-season" now and this week I barely rode at all. I think I was out three times this week, but they were all really easy, cruiser-type rides. No "training" at all. But that's about to change, and that brings me to part of the reason I'm back at this.

Next season, I'm planning to do another 24 hour race. This time, I'm heading out to Spokane, WA to race the 24 Hours of Round the Clock. I'll be doing it SS and Joanna will be with me for support. So I'll be spending the winter getting ready for it, and I'd like to use this blog to keep a record of that training. As such, it's possible things may change a bit in this spot and I have no idea how often I'll be posting, but I'll let the whole thing develop organically since I don't really know what exactly I'll have to say or how it will fit in. I definitely have some ideas for how it may be, but I'll take a wait-and-see approach for now. Right now, I have the outline of a training plan and I'll be fleshing that out as I go forward. The last time I did a 24, it made for some interesting stories so I'm hoping this year will be the same. Either way, I've got a lot of work to do between now and Memorial Day. I'm looking forward to it. Of course, I may not feel the same way in mid-February, but that's the nature of training, right?

And so that's where I am now … glad to be back and ready to get moving! So thanks for reading, stay tuned and I'll see you on the trail!