Sunday, August 10, 2014

Just the weekend I needed ...

The Half Marathon SS Podium at Rattling Creek

For most of the summer, I've had a singular focus of trying to get myself to the point where I think I can survive the SM100 on the SS. To that end, I've dropped my weight, I've been riding just about every day, and I've tried to schedule weekend  rides and races that require long, hard efforts. For the most part, I've been pretty lucky with the schedule. I've been able to keep a pretty reasonable work-life balance for months.

But all of that came to a crashing halt this past week.

About mid-week, I discovered an issue with a project I had been working on for weeks. Basically, I was forced to re-create something that had taken me about three weeks to put together, only instead of having three weeks to do it this time, I had to have it ready for a meeting first thing Monday morning. That meant that I spent pretty much every hour for the last half of the week re-generating a very, very large dataset that I then had to analyze to answer a few key business questions. And when I say "every hour", that's pretty much literal. I didn't sleep at all on Thursday, worked from home on Friday to have complete concentration away form my office, and didn't even have a file ready to work with until late Friday night. Then I had to do my analysis.

It was a really frustrating few days, mostly because I had scheduled my last big test of fitness prior to the SM100 for this weekend - The Rattlng Creek 50 in Weiser State Forest outside of Lykens. I was feeling pretty depressed (and to be honest, physically ill) by the end of Friday. I was really in no condition to race the next day. I was bleary-eyed and at the point where I was so tired I actually couldn't sleep. I made the call on Friday night that if I wasn't feeling it by the time I had to leave, I was just going to bail. Except I really didn't want to do that. Originally, I had signed up to do SSUSA this weekend way back in January. I had to bail on that when I realized that just to get there, I was looking at a $2K round trip and I'd still have to drive six hours. So when I bailed, I decided to sign up for the RC 50 as a consolation (and, admittedly, a better prep race for Shenandoah.) I just really hated the idea of bailing on two races the same weekend.

So Saturday morning, I decided to head out and do it anyway, but with one adjustment: I would do the half-marathon 30 mile race instead of the 50 miler. For the first time in about four months, I had spent two days completely off the bike. And I had been awake for that whole time! So I figured it was at least reasonable to go for the shorter distance. And besides, the interesting thing about the 30 miler is that you do all the same climbs that the 50 miler does -- you just don't repeat one of them.

I got to the start area about an hour before the race and adjusted my registration. I also realized just how tired I was at that point when I couldn't remember what month it was. But I was locked and loaded, and after chatting with a few friends in the parking lot, I suited up and got ready to go.

There's a mass start for all racers, regardless of the race they're doing. Right off the start, we headed up the steepest climb of the day. It was a grassy jeep road climb that went right up the highest ridge in that whole region of Weiser Forest. The climb itself ends on a fire road that leads to this awesome hang-glider launch with a thousand mile view.  But before we got to that, we actually took a detour through the most technical rocky single track trail in the entire park. That was where I had my first screw up of the day. I got too close to the rider right in front of me, and when he dabbed over a rock pile, I stopped short, lost my front wheel and went over the bars. It banged up my knee, but I was more or less okay. The bad part was that I lost about a dozen spots before I could re-enter the train of riders. I hopped back on and rode the rest of the rock garden cleanly (if a little extra cautiously!)

Once we reached the launch site, we were able to cruise a little faster and I started to pass a few folks. I was surprised that I was feeling pretty good. It seemed that as long as I didn't think about being tired, I was okay. I did make that mistake once, and suddenly felt like I just wanted to crawl off the side of the trail and take a nap. But once I put it out of my mind, I actually started having fun. About six miles into the race, I caught up to my friend Charlie, who was also riding the 30 miler. I'd ridden with Charlie a few times at Wissahickon, and I knew he was very strong. I kind of figured that he would ride away whenever he decided it was time to go, but I was happy just to have someone to ride with a for a bit. Unfortunately, he had some issues with his EBB during the race and was dropping his chain a lot, which meant he got stuck having to start and stop a bunch of times. In fact, a few of my friends had mechanical issues that screwed them up throughout the day. I even had a weird mechanical issue myself -- the cleat on my right shoe kept loosening up. I had to adjust it every five miles or so. Every now and then, I guess mechanical issues just rule the day for everyone!

I started to feel really good after the first aid station, though. I love riding the Rattling Creek Trail -- it's one of my favorite sections of any park anywhere -- and I just let it rip through that part of the park. I knocked out the middle ten miles of the course in what felt like no time and then I was back on the long club that would bring me back to the aid station. It was a slog, but I rode most of it pretty clean. I passed through the aid station (and had to fix my cleat again!) and then headed back toward the trail we'd started out on for the last 8 miles. I was still feeling okay, and for the first time started to wonder if I might actually pull this off. I was assuming that I had to be near the front of my field, and just wanted a smooth finish to the day.

And then the only real issue of the day hit for me. At around the 25 mile mark was the split for the 30 vs. 50 mile courses. But it was really confusing. First, the 30 mile course had arrows pointing in both directions! I looked at it and said "What the fuck??" to no one in particular. And then at the actual split, the 50 mile signs said "50 Lap 1" and an arrow pointing left and a "50 Lap 2" and an arrow pointing right. I figured that this meant that if you were starting lap 2, you'd turn right. But it actually meant if you were finishing lap 2, you'd go right. So I guessed that the 30 miler must go left toward the finish. I was wrong. And so I led an open rider right down the descent that would have put us back on the 50 mile course. We went about a mile off course before we self-corrected. I was pissed. And not even at the signage (which I do think would have worked better with a dedicated volunteer there to direct traffic) -- what really pissed me off was that I had to re-climb the hill I'd just descended. And I was certain that if I had any chance of winning, it was now out the window. So I head back and cruised back through the techy singletrack before starting the insanely fast descent to the finish line. I crossed the line at 3 hours and 13 minutes, counting all cleat adjustments and the foray off-course. I was happy. I actually felt pretty good and I was able to complete a tough ride on a day when I started out exhausted.

I asked the timer how many other SSers had finished and he told me I was the first. I couldn't believe it. I had actually still managed to get the win even with that wrong turn! I was happy about that, and I was even happier to be done! In the end, I shared the podium with two really cool guys -- Charlie managed to overcome his mechanicals and finished second and the legend of SSCXWC in Philly from 2013, Dave Pryor, not only fin shied third himself, but also handled MC duties for the whole race. That's pretty awesome.

Even with the issue with the course signage, I have to give it to Mike Kuhn for another awesome race. Even if I have a terrible day personally at one of his races, they're always fun and challenging. I've done a bunch of his races over the years and I'd recommend every one of them to any of my friends who ride. He's just really good at the whole race promotion game. Some day, I'd love to take a shot at his greatest masterpiece, the Transylvania Epic. It'd destroy me, I'm sure, but his races are fun enough where I'd happily be destroyed for the chance to experience it!

So after the race, I had a great dinner date with Joanna and we just chilled at the house last night. Then this morning, I met up with the one and only Slimm and a few friends from the MTBNJ crew for a tour of Wissahickon. I always love riding with those guys -- just a nice bunch who love to ride bikes in the woods.

A great crew to ride with!
We knocked out the whole loop for more than 20 miles. And once again, I got to spend the afternoon with Joanna (we may have stopped into the Round Guys Brewery for a beverage or two to go with our pretzel dogs.)

So after a horrible week that left me physically and mentally wrecked, I had a pretty great weekend. I have to head back to the grind tomorrow, but I actually feel like I'm ready for it. And considering the week I had, that's pretty amazing. So here's a great big thanks to all the folks who made it possible -- Mike and the crew for giving us such great bike race, the MTBNJ boys for letting me join their ride train this morning, and (most of all) Joanna for keeping me sane enough to get throughpssibly the worst 72 hours I've ever had at work!


  1. congrats martin! you are having a wonderful season. I heard a number of guys got jammed up at that split. Knowing Kuhn, I'm sure he'll fix it for the future! Congrats again. Well deserved.

  2. Thanks, Marc! Yeah, while it was unfortunate that there was some confusion, it really came down to mis-interpretation. These things happen. I'd still sign up for just about any event Mike puts on. We're pretty lucky in this region to have a few world class promoters putting on great events, so if every now and then something goes wrong at one, that's fine. I can't begin to imagine the logistics they have to plan just to get tot eh start line, so I'm just going to smile and give him my money and enjoy a great day on a bike no matter what happens!

  3. Congrats my friend! Good things come to those who ride hard and stay single!