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!


  1. Congrats on your podium finish!

  2. Most awesome my friend! I race against Bill a lot-great competitor.