Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ruminations as the earth passes by the same arbitrary point when we started counting for the 2012th time ...

2011 ... a year on two wheels

So 2011 is in the books. Well, I suppose it still has a few hours left, but I'm thinking more about the year in riding. That ended this afternoon for me with a group ride in Middle Run/White Clay with a bunch of the Jersey folks. Another really fun ride with those folks, but it started out with a bit of drama for me -- as I was getting ready to ride, I noticed yet another tear in the sidewall of my front tire. This is the third time I've found a torn sidewall with these tires (Maxxis Ikon EXC's) out of four I purchased a little more than a month ago. That's not good. I love the tread pattern on these and they feel like they fly along, but riding in SE PA, I need something with a sidewall that's a bit more robust. I've heard that they make an EXO version that is beefier in the sidewalls. Maybe I'll give those a try. Anyway, I did a little bit of trail-side triage before the ride. All I had on hand was some duct tape, so I folded a long piece over six times and then taped it inside the sidewall with another long piece of duct tape to give me a rigged tire boot. Then I ran about 30 psi in the tire and rolled out. And it worked -- my tire held together just fine all day and 20 miles later, it was still rolling!

So my year ended with a good ride - pretty much the same way it began. Back on January 2nd, after a snowy New Year's, I got out in the mud and slush at Salisbury Trails in Bethlehem. Today, 364 days later, I rode in the mud and unseasonably warm temps in Middle Run, DE. In between, there were thousands of miles in about 200 days of riding. I managed to get just over 3500 miles on the SS this season and about 5000 total between races, road rides and off-road training and fun rides. Not a bad year. And despite all the stuff that went wrong - bad weather, broken bikes, and an occasionally broken down body -- it's the fact that I got to ride so much that makes me think "success" when I think of 2011.

In the interest of keeping this brief, I won't go month by month through the year. I'll just focus on the main highlights of the whole year.

In January, this blog was born out of an older blog I had that was itself created to chronicle training for my first 24 hour event a few years back. This time, I wanted to focus on more than just the nuts and bolts of training. I hope I was able to accomplish that and maybe in a few instances I managed to convey something of the way it feels to ride. That was my goal and it will continue to be my goal as we move into 2012 and, hopefully, beyond.

The year began with a muddy ride on the Salisbury Trails

Throughout winter and into early spring, it was all about training and training goals for me -- becoming lighter, riding as much as I could, weather permitting, and basically preparing for a longer race season than I've had in recent years.

I started actually racing in the middle of April. It was an inauspicious start to the season at Fair Hill in Maryland. My right knee popped on a climb during the Cat-2 SS race and I fell from a podium position and out of the top ten in less than 10 miles. Not good. Especially considering I was a week out from Singlespeed-a-palooza, my first all SS race. That week was rough. I didn't know if I'd make it to the race and I wasn't even sure if I wanted to try. But situations have a weird way of taking care of themselves sometimes -- it turns out the biggest factor at SSAP wasn't my fitness or any injury. It was the weather. There was rain that I can only describe as "biblical" all week, and by the time Sunday, April 17th rolled around, my biggest real concern wasn't how I felt -- it was how I'd handle riding through two foot puddles and mud that went on for miles. And the answer was "just fine" -- I finished 6th of 60 and 10th of 130 or so riders in the Cat-2 class.  And I had a ball doing it. And so suddenly, I was out of my funk and dying to line up on a starting line again.

More mud but a happy 1Speed after my first SSAP!

Through the early and middle summer, I had some good races (Iron Hill, French Creek) and a few where things didn't work out as planned (Stewart Six Pack, Lewis Morris Challenge) but I continued to have a lot of fun. The Six Pack was especially fun. It was at the same venue as SSAP (Stewart State Forest in NY) and it was just as wet and muddy as that race. Even though I flatted and took forever to get my bike going again, I had a ball racing there. By the time I was done, I didn't care where I finished. I just enjoyed my ride.

More mud, more fun at the Stewart Super Six Pack in May ...

I was really enjoying my season, and by late summer I was completely focused on preparing for the Shenandoah Mountain 100. I was optimistic and hoping for a 10 hour day. Last year, I didn't quite make it but I was confident I could do it this year. But again, things had a way of working out differently than expected.

In late August, I went to a doctor to get checked out for cramping issues I had been having all season. It seemed like every race I did inevitably left my legs completely locked up by the end. I'm really careful about nutrition and I've been racing for years without this much of an issue, so I was concerned that something might be wrong. So I went to a specialist and found out that I actually do have a metabolic issue -- apparently my muscles recruit too many fibers for a regular contraction. This leads to fatigue because I can't keep up with the rate of burn, and if I try, my stomach goes bad because it would take more calories than my stomach can process. The issue is likely genetic (I would need follow-up tests and a muscle biopsy to confirm that) and, as far as I can tell, the reason I haven't had an issue with it before as regularly as I did this year was simply because I was racing more often and doing it all on one gear now -- so I had no reserves to work with by mid-summer. When I told her about it, my younger sister reminded me that even when  I was young I used to get bad leg cramps after I'd play outside all day. This seems similar, only now it's brought on by six hours of racing instead of a few hours of basketball. It's nice to k ow that it wasn't just all in my head, but now I have to figure out how to balance my body's inability to keep up with the demands of racing with the fact that I have no desire to stop racing. I think ultimately, I may just have to accept my own mediocrity and realize that sometimes I'll have to take it easier just to keep moving. I figured I can do that. Maybe I don't win, but at least I'm still there!

Anyway, I found all of this out before the SM100. Then I almost missed out on the race itself when registration filed up before I signed up. Luckily, I made the reserve list and was on in the first 15 additional spots. But there was about a week or so of "will-I-won't-I" coupled with my newly diagnosed condition (?) and I ultimately decided to use gears for the race. Oh - and during my last training ride before the race, I managed to get a cellulitis infection in my arm when I rubbed against poison ivy with a cut on my elbow. So I went down to Virginia with a bike I'd barely ridden all year, an antibiotic Rx, and a potential for a long day if my cramping issues decided to rear their ugly head. But I was still hopeful for a 10 hour day even as I lined up for the race on Sunday morning.

Still optimistic before it all went south at the SM100

Turns out my optimism was mis-placed. I managed to stay on my pace up through the first 60 miles, despite never feeling quite right on an unseasonably hot day while riding a carbon hardtail bike that was not exactly ideal for the back-country descents of the George Washington Forest. But as I came off the super-fun Braley's Pond descent, I realized I'd dropped my endurolytes. That was a disaster because I was about to start a 25 mile climb, the sun was blazing hot, and I didn't have a rest stop until mile 75, 18 miles up the hill. All I could do was settle in and see how far I could get before things went south. And they did go south. In a big way. By the time I limped into the rest stop at about 3 mph, I was badly sunburned because of the antibiotic, my legs were cramping badly, and, for reasons I'm still not sure of, my throat was swollen to the point where I was gagging any time I tried to swallow anything. I was in bad shape. I reached the rest stop and sat down for over half an hour. I just couldn't move. I was ready to quit, and when one of the helpers asked me if I wanted to DNF, I very nearly said yes. But I didn't.

And then one guy gave me an apple, and it was like a shot of adrenaline. I was able to get it down because of the juice, and the sugar went right to my system and perked me up almost instantly. It was fantastic, and with help from my apple, I was able to walk out of the rest stop with my bike just ahead of the mandatory cut-off time. I eventually was able to start riding again, and finished the climb and the race. My final time was awful -- almost two hours slower than the year before -- but the further I get from that day (easily the hardest day I've ever had on a bike) the happier I get about the fact that I hung in and finished. I was pretty cynical afterward and was unhappy and thought I should have just quit. But now, in hindsight, I realize that on a day when I had no business riding beyond that 75 mile mark, I managed to pull another 25 miles out of body, and that really is something. I don't consider it a "victory of sorts" or anything like that, but it was a day when I stared down some pretty nasty demons and discovered that I can actually endure the pain even when things go way south. And that's a good thing to know.

After SM100, I took a good while away from racing. I needed it. I sat out a few of the later MASS races because I decided my head and heart just weren't in it after that experience. In fact, I didn't return to racing until November, when I toed the line for the Something Wicked Six Hours of Cathedral Pines on Long Island.

But before I get to that race, about a month before I had my annual October vacation, and I spent a week riding in Delaware, New Jersey and New York for what I called the Tour de Easy. It was a set of rides in places where the trails wouldn't be considered "challenging" by local standards, but they were super fun venues with lots of flowy, fast trails. And having done the rides on 3 consecutive days, traveling from one to the next to the next, it became its own "tour". I had a ball, and once again was reacquainted with why I love riding bikes so much. After that, I was ready to line up and race again.

A typical section of the TdE -- super fast and super flowy!

Cathedral Pines was a race I discovered last year by accident and it was such a revelation -- just a ridiculously fun place to ride a bike made up of super-fast, twisty singletrack. I went back this year hoping for an aggressive eight laps. Ultimately, that didn't work out, but I did shave more than 10 minutes off my time for seven laps from the previous year and finished well within the top 10. And that was a great way to finish the race season.

The starting line at SWE's Six Hours of Cathedral Pines

Moving into December, we were lucky to have a pretty steady run of unseasonably warm weather all month. I've ridden probably more days in December this year than I have in any previous December I can recall. And I've also enjoyed several larger group rides in the last month than I probably have ever done.  In fact, two of my favorites rides of the year were group rides from the last month or so. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I rode with a bunch of the MTBNJ crew in the "Misfit Recall Ride" and was treated to some sweet singletrack and flow in Allaire State Park on the northern edge of the NJ Pine Barrens. And then two weeks ago, I met up with a bunch of the folks from NJ again for a ride in my home trail at Wissahickon. It was really cool to share my local trails with some folks who love to ride as much as I do!

A bunch of Misfits at Allaire

And so the year ended on a consistent run of great rides over the last few weeks. Looking forward, I think all I can really hope for in 2012 is more of the same. A few things will change -- for one, I'm actually doing something I've never done before this year -- I'll be writing a team name down on my entries this year for the first time ever because I just joined up with the Metal Crew of Team Twin Six! Not a full sponsorship, obviously, but it's the first time I've ever been anything other than an independent. So that's new. I've also got a few new races I'll be riding in this year in the Darkhorse 40 and the SSUSA race, which is up in Vermont for '12. I'm taking the year off from SM100, although I may fit in another 100 miler somewhere else if I'm up to it, and the one new thing about that is that I will without question be doing it on the SS this year if I do it at all.  There are a few more things I'm kicking around, which may or may not happen so I won't get into specifics here, but I'm really excited for all the possibilities on the horizon.

But mostly, I'm looking forward to the rides themselves -- whether it's for fun, for training, or for an actual race, I'm just really looking forward to being out there on the trail. And anyone who wants to join me is always welcome, so please don't hesitate to give me a shout if you are ever in the mood to visit any of the region's many options for great mountainbiking!

Rides with friends and great trails to ride - if I can repeat this combination in '12 ...

... I'll be one 1Happy 1Speed!

Cheers! Happy New Year!

And keep on keepin' on!!!!

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