Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Michaux Trail Cup ...


The Michaux Trail Cup was this past Sunday. And my string of bad luck and/or tactical errors continues unabated.

I'll get to that in a moment. First, I want to talk a little about Michaux as a place to ride mountainbikes. I've heard many people say this before, and in the one or two times I've raced here I've seen nothing to dissuade me from taking them at their word -- Michaux is as difficult a place to ride as exists in this part of the country.

I don't think it's the most consistently technical -- there's a lot of fire road in Michaux, so places like Allamuchy or Waywayanda probably have more rocks per mile. And it isn't the steepest -- some of the courses up in New York and even Bear Creek here in PA are much steeper. No - what Michaux is ... is, well, relentless. There is never a break at Michaux. If you are on a fire road where it isn't that technical, then you are going up. And if you are in the singletrack, you don't get more than a hundred feet before the whole trail looks like the picture above. And God help you if you happen to be going down. Because going down is where Michaux really shines in its difficulty. For example, the first descent we hit on Sunday was a power-line descent at -- no exaggeration -- 45 degrees through a loose rock field. And there were at least four or five of those types of super steep, loose descents on the course. All of these features are actually fun when you're prepared for them, which I felt I was -- I mean, my issues had nothing to do with Michaux's difficulty.  I had fun with the descents and didn't even mind the climbs. But make no mistake -- that difficulty is real.

So, the short of it is, Michaux is one hell of a place to race 50 miles. Which is good then, I guess, that we were only supposed to be racing 42 miles. And that's where my problems on Sunday come into focus.

I didn't have nearly the difficulties with the technical stuff or even the climbing as I thought I would. In fact, the course was actually a 2 lap course with one 20 mile loop and then a separate 22 mile loop, and I had a pretty good first lap -- finished in just under two hours by my Garmin (although I did start that a little late since I forgot to hit the button off the start line.)

Then came the second lap.

As Zach, the race promoter, told us before the start, the second lap was the tougher of the two. And I think that was true. The first three miles of it were brutally rocky and technical, and ended with a creek crossing a steep little pop up that came out right near the start area. And this is where I took my first wrong turn -- I went back toward the start line before Zach stopped me in his truck and told me I was right to go the other way (which I'd initially done but second guessed and turned around.) That wasn't a big deal -- I lost maybe about five minutes there.But once I was back on track, I started heading out the trail back into the woods where I spent a good hour bouncing around on some rocks before popping out on another fire road and starting a long climb that ended with another climb up through power lines. I got through that and then took my second wrong turn of the day -- I missed a sharp left hander into a steep descent and instead went a mile and a half down the fire road all the way back to the start of the power line climb. I didn't want to repeat that again so I turned around and headed back up the hill on the fire road.

So that was now an additional 3 miles or so already. And the worst was still ahead.

Somehow, I missed another turn after the rest stop seven miles from the finish. It was my third trip off course, and this one was by far the worst. This time I got pretty lost. I rode a few miles without seeing any arrows, which wasn't a big clue because there were plenty of sections on the course that weren't marked because they really didn't need to be. Once you started on a trail, there'd only be an arrow if you had to make a choice. The trail I started on was like a solo ribbon of dirt winding into the woods. So I stayed on it. I only realized I was pretty far gone when I hit 42 miles on my Garmin and was still deep in the heart of the woods with no exit to a fire road in site. And I was running out of water, which was becoming a big deal.

So, I started to turn around and realized I had no idea which way I needed to go or even where I'd turned off the course. And realizing that, I started to realize I was in a bit of trouble. I mean, I was lost in the middle of a huge forest without water, and my legs were beginning to twinge. I was in a bad way.

I decided to back-track to whatever fire road I could find and then try to use that to track back. And after a few false starts, I got lucky and found some arrows. Except they were pointing the wrong way. I decided to follow them backwards. At this point, I'd been lost and off-course for over an hour and half, and I'd slowly crawled along and was hitting 50 miles on the day already. And I still wasn't back.

I had to walk every hill at this point because my legs and lower back were really cramped. I was hurting a lot and had to sit down and recover a few times, and each time I'd stand up I'd get lightheaded. I knew I needed to get back soon, but still had no idea where I was.

And then I got really lucky -- I heard music playing in one direction and I decided to follow it and eventually popped onto a trail where I could look through the woods and see the Start/Finish area. I cut through the woods and walked across the middle of the road and into the finish area. It was the end of a terrible day, and I told Zach that I'd cut the course and DNF'ed. All I really cared about, though, was getting a drink in me. I drank a can of coke in about ten seconds and then asked for a second. Then I went to lay down in my truck before I passed out on my feet.  I still had a 3+ hour drive to get home, but that could wait. I was finally done with Michaux for the day, just 7 1/2 hours and actually about 55 miles after I started. I initially estimated I'd done 51 miles total, but my Garmin said it was closer to 55. That's a long way off the 42 mile course. Checking the results page yesterday, I saw that Zach didn't DNF me after all. I kind of wish he did -- it makes my stomach turn to see a 7 1/2 hour finish time next to my name. But whatever ...

The aftermath ...

The drive home was okay, but my body revolted when I tried to get out of the car at home. I left everything in the back of the car and went inside and stood ina shower for about 45 minutes, and then all I wanted was sleep.

So here I am two full days later and I still can't walk. In fact, my legs are so scorched that I don't think I'll be able to handle walking down stairs for another two days. I can't even think about riding again anytime soon. Nor do I really care to. I'm not going to race this weekend -- that would be pointless.

I'm left wondering about my resilience again. After my diagnosis last year, I knew that enduros might need to be put aside at some point soon. Not sure if I'm there yet or if I'm just frustrated to the point of not wanting to be out there right now. Either way, I'm taking the weekend off. I don't want to quit riding, but long distance racing may just not be an option for me for much longer. It just seems to me that whatever this metabolic issue is, it's getting worse.

In looking back, I can't find any mention of that in earlier posts, so I guess I never got into it here. Back in September or so, my cramping issues were getting so bad that I decided to get checked out. I had Lyme Disease back in 2009, and every time I get the slightest health issue now, it's in the back of my mind that the antibiotic I took didn't quite get rid of the whole infection. So when I started to have really bad cramping issues during races despite pouring liquid into myself and taking endurolyte capsules regularly during races, I wanted to find out if there was more to it than just poor planning. To be honest, I fully expected to hear that I just needed to get smarter about nutrition. But it turned out that after a few tests, a specialist told me that there definitely is something wrong metabolically. During a muscle stimulus test, it seems that I am recruiting more than twice as many muscle fibers per contraction than I should. That means that my body can't distinguish between movements that require a little effort and movements that require a lot. I am kind of full-on in every contraction. That doesn't bode well for endurance racing because I use energy at a rate that's too high for long events, especially when the temps climb. And keeping up with nutrition needs becomes really difficult because my stomach can't process what I need to refresh at the rate I'd need it to for a race without getting distressed. So my choices are to cramp up in my legs or cramp up in my stomach. Or, of course, not race. Treatment options were limited or non-existent according to the doctor, and the next step would have been a muscle biopsy, which I didn't get because, well, that felt like I was just going to put a name on something I couldn't do anything about anyway. And what's the point in that? It wasn't going to change the outcomes, at least not by what my doctor was telling me. So I had to figure out what I'd do. The obvious thing would be to stop racing, but the thing is, in certain conditions I don't have a problem -- cooler temps when my body burns less, rainy miserable days when I can't overheat, and, of course, night rides. My real issue is with resilience -- I have none, basically. One thing goes wrong or the scales tip in one direction just so far -- like an 80 degree day in April or doing 50+ miles on a 42 mile course -- and I'm done for. It sucks, but it seems to be the reality I have to live with.

So will I find a way to overcome it without making my stomach sick by consuming too much? Or will I give it up and go back to "regular" racing? Or will I walk away from racing altogether? Not sure, but this week sure isn't the time to make that decision. Right now, I just want to be able to walk without feeling like I'm going to pass out from the pain in my calves. That seems like a pretty good short term goal, don't you think?

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