Friday, January 20, 2012

Gearing up and looking back ...

I am singlespeedless for at least a week.

That sucks, but hopefully I'll be back up and running before February.

Here's the story ... a few rides ago, I noticed that I was getting some slip in my rear hub. It was like it wasn't catching for half the pedal stroke and then suddenly it would lock in and be fine. I had it rebuilt and cleaned at my LBS a while back, and figured maybe something hadn't been tightened properly or something like that. So I brought it back to the shop last week and had it worked on again, but when I rode it on Sunday, the same thing happened twice, only this time it actually made a ratcheting sound when it skipped. I called the shop and explained what was going on, and they suggested I give King a call because they couldn't find anything wrong with it and were thinking that it might be the internal splines, which would be a bigger deal. So I called King and they were great -- they gave me a Return Authorization over the phone and told me that it would be a five business day turnaround to get it fixed or replaced. So I packaged it up and sent it back, and hopefully it will all be fixed up and I'll be back on the trail in a week or so.

So, in the meantime ... I'm geared again. And just like every other time that I go back to gears anymore, I feel a little off. And, again, I'm not too sure if this is purely a gears thing or also a 26 vs. 29 inch wheel thing. I feel a little sketchy on my OCLV at first, and while I adapt again pretty quickly, there is definitely more to it than just feeling unbalanced. I actually feel like I can't ride the way I want to. The Misfit has created a definite style to my riding - everything from my cadence to how I dole out effort to how I navigate singletrack is now completely informed by the singlespeed. I'm a 29er singlespeeder by default now, and riding any other bike feels ... well, "inorganic" would be the word I suppose.

But that doesn't mean I won't try to keep on riding. The fact is that I don't have the option to go 29 and single right now, so it's either 26 and geared or it's nothing. And nothing is not an option.

I don't know ... maybe I should think about getting another singlespeed to back up the Misfit ... (See what I did there? I made it about "n+1" with almost no effort. Well done, me.)

As it turns out, I've been on the shelf for the last two days and not able to ride anyway. I went running on Wednesday night and managed to tweak my left calf, so I decided to stay off the bike the last two days just to be safe -- no sense in turning an acute issue into a chronic injury. So, since i have no good rides to post for this week, I thought maybe I'd look back at something really old for a "retro post".

With that in mind, here's the story of My Best Worst Race Ever ...

2009 Escape from Granogue

Back in 2009, I was getting ready for my first solo 24 Hour race all season. It was pretty much the sole focus of my riding and racing for the entire year. The race itself was the 24 Hours of 9 Mile in Wausau, WI in late July. Every other race I did that season was merely prep for that one day. Anyway, around May, I lined up for one of the MASS enduros to test my fitness. It was the Escape from Granogue Challenge on DuPont Mansion just over the PA border in Delaware. It was a terrible day -- rain coming down in buckets all morning, the course a soupy, muddy mess. But I figured I needed to be prepared for anything so I lined up with the rest of the idiots willing to suffer for four hours in a nightmare of peanut butter and grease.

We went off in a group and slipped and slid up the first grassy climb - it was one of those two-for-one deals where every two pedal strokes brought you roughly the same distance as one on a dry trail. The first wooded section was as slick as ice, with tires fishtailing and rooster tails of muddy water flying all over the place. I told myself to settle down and just ride slow - I was all about distance in my training then and didn't want to get caught up in trying to go fast when I had no aspirations of winning anyway. So I dropped back off the rider in front of me to avoid getting a face full of flying mud. I settled in for the ride somewhere in the top ten and headed out across the dirt road into the second wooded section.

And then my day got interesting.

As I came around a corner, there was a downed tree that everyone was dismounting to climb over. As I dismounted, I slipped in the mud and my foot somehow kicked the nozzle off my rear tube, instantly deflating the tire. Flats happen. Granted, they don't usually happen that way, but they do happen, so that wasn't something that really bothered me. No, what bothered me was trying to change it when the tire was so slick and packed with mud that I couldn't get the tire levers in or the tire off the rim. It took me forever to get the whole thing fixed and running again. And by the time I did, I was guessing that I'd lost at least a half hour on my class.

With that in mind, I figured my day was really over, so I decided to just ride out as long as I felt like going and really just use the day as a bad-weather training day. So I got moving again. And I even caught the back of my field before the end of the first lap. This had a lot to do with people having to walk large sections of the course -- it really was such a mess that if you were unlucky enough to slide off your line just once, you could be looking for an opportunity to remount for the next mile or so. Really.

Much of the middle two laps have blended into a fog of rain, mud, icy slick grass and, oh yeah, more mud. As I finished up my third lap, I hadn't passed anyone for a while but hadn't been passed either, so i guessed that I was sitting somewhere in the bottom half of the field. I debated whether to just stop at that point - my bike was already going to need some extensive clean-up and repair work, and my shoes and other gear were pretty much destroyed. But I figured I might as well go out for one last lap because at that point I couldn't get any more filthy or wet and another lap would give me a chance to ride while I was both really dirty and really tired, which would be another opportunity to prepare for possibly similar circumstances in Wisconsin should they arise.

So out I went.

Near the end of the lap was a long steady climb that was largely unrideable -- the mud was too slick in many sections to do anything more than hike-a-bike. As I reached the base of that climb, I saw another rider out ahead of me hiking the switchbacks. I decided to use him as a rabbit, more to just get me motivated to finish the race as quickly as possible than anything else. So I rode as far as I could and ran the sections where my feet weren't sliding out from under me, and ultimately I caught him and passed him before we were halfway up. The further I went, the more I gapped him and eventually, I couldn't even hear him behind me anymore. After I crested the top of the hill, I rode the rest of the singletrack section toward the last road climb happy that I had made one last pass and even more happy to be done.

Here's a look at what the day was like out on the course for all of us.

Watch more video of 2009 Escape From Granogue on

After I crossed the finish line, I was such a mess that all I wanted to do was get to my car and get cleaned up.

Endurance Racing: one way to give yourself a mud mask ...

... and your bike one too!
If the race took four hours, it probably took me half that time to scrape off all the mud. And once I was semi-clean, all I wanted to do was get out of there. I knew I had finished way back in the pack, but I was happy. I had stayed out on the course for the full day in awful conditions, and had completed a major psychological test I needed to have at least a little confidence as I approached my 24 hour challenge.

And that was really all the day was ever about anyway. I had spent all winter preparing to ride all day. At that point, I was less concerned with the physical ability to ride -- the physical component was more or less down to tinkering by May. The psychological component was a work in progress and, to be honest, I needed days like Granogue to put me in scenarios where mind and body were moving in different directions so I could figure out how to handle it.

So I headed home happy to have stuck it out on a day where things were pretty far from ideal. It took me three days of soaking to get my jersey and shorts clean enough just to put them in the washer without breaking it. I had to throw the shoes out altogether because the damage from the water and mud pretty much totaled them. My bike needed new brake pads, a new drivetrain, and I needed my rear shock rebuilt and the fork cleaned out. All in all, the day cost me way more than my entry fee. And I didn't even finish near the podium.

Or so I thought.

I didn't bother to check the results online until the following morning at work. And when I did ... wow.

I finished in 2nd place.

It was, to date, my best finish in an enduro ever.

Now, I had no illusions of having been genuinely faster than the other riders. It took me almost 5 hours to do just 4 nine mile laps. I wasn't exactly setting the world on fire. But what I did do was outlast them. It seems that almost every other rider -- both the ones I did pass and the ones I never caught on the course -- gave up long before I did. They let good sense take over and they stopped the madness of riding in circles in a swamp during a monsoon.

I never gave in to good sense. I kept going.

I considered stopping, but didn't. And because of that, I outlasted and finished on the podium. And, it turned out, that same kind of scenario would play out almost the same way in that race I was preparing for. Not the weather part -- that was pretty much perfect in Wisconsin -- but the outlast part, yeah, that went pretty much the same way.

But that's a story for another time.

It all seems so long ago now -- I am a completely different rider today. Now, those races are done on one gear, and my expectation is always the same - pain for position. I'm willing to hurt to do better, and sometimes that goes well and sometimes it blows up fantastically. But one thing I did learn from races like that rainy, muddy, awful day in Granogue that has shaped how I race every time -- no matter how bad it your day is going, you never know how it will turn out until it's all over, so just stay in it. Keep going. Finish. That's my philosophy with every race, now, whether it's on one gear or many -- no matter how long or how far away the finish line is, race smart and make it to the end first and foremost, and if you have the push in you, use it. But first, keep going.

And that's as good a place as any to finish ...

Keep going.

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