Sunday, November 2, 2014

October Racing, Part II

Is this a heart attack or a course profile?

So after Cyclemania at Blue Marsh, I had a weekend off before starting a vacation week. My birthday is in October and I've been taking that off every year for as long as I can remember. It's not even to celebrate my birthday - I've just always loved the fall and by coincidence, my birthday falls in the third week of October, which is usually perfect fall weather. This year, it was actually a pretty awesome birthday, though.

My wife gave me a pretty awesome birthday present this year -- my very own personalized beer crawl. It was actually a Brew Pub tour. Everywhere we went is a brewery. Some of them only brew for serving in-house, and some were larger brewers. But all were friggin' awesome. I can't do it justice, so I'll just let the photos tell the story.

We started the day at Yards near Delaware Ave in Philly ...
… where we were joined by nuns for the Nun Crawl ...

… and got a quick glimpse of heaven.

From there, it was on to Nodding Head a few blocks away. We had lunch there - great food, and their brews (all for in-house service) were awesome. 
Next it was on to Coshohocken, right off the SRT. They have a  tasting room that was really cool. And a fantastic selection (including one of the best IPAs I've had in a long time. Big props to the server for suggesting it!) I will be returning there soon!
Number 4 was another spot that brewed exclusively for in-house service. I had an awesome Dubbel ale here. 
Our final stop was at Ambler's Forest and Main, which looks like a residence, but has a really cool, funky bar area. I loved this place, and their nitrogen pours … very cool!
So, yeah … pretty awesome birthday. I'm a little biased, but I still think it's fair to say Joanna is the best.

During my week off, I had to do a little work to find some rides -- it rained from Tuesday through Thursday here. But on Tuesday, I headed south below the storm to ride the Patapsco 100 course near Baltimore. It's a 33 mile loop that they do three times during the race. (I now understand why there is such a high DNF rate in that race -- that's a brutal course!) And on Thursday, I headed due west to one of my favorite spots - Rattling Creek at Weiser Forest. It was pouring at my house, but it hadn't rained all day out there. I love riding there, so that was a blast.

The hang-glider launch … always a necessary photo op

It was cloudy, but never rained at all

Autumn in Weiser … doesn't get much better ...
All in all, I managed to fit in six rides in seven days. Not bad, especially considering that I was signed up for the Six Hour Relay at Susquehannah on Saturday morning.

Saturday, I drove down to Havre de Grace, MD to the Susquehannah State Park for the race. The promoter, Zach Adams, has put on some pretty cool races in the past, so I was psyched for this one. Like the Blue Marsh race, I'd be racing SS in an open class, which I expected to be the same kind of challenge. But I liked the venue -- it had been years since I raced at Susquehannah. I think the last time was around 2004 or so when they used to have the AMBC Susquehannah Scorcher in the summer. So I probably should have known better when I took Zach's pre-race email at its word when it described the course as having only "... a few punchy climbs …" But I didn't listen to that voice in my head and left my usual 32:18 on the Niner.

It turns out that the course had a shit ton of climbing -- like the first 2/3 of the 6 mile lap was all uphill. And not just uphill -- uphill with tons of water bars. So it was basically like riding up steps for 4 miles. And that can get pretty old after a few hours.

The pre-race meeting was pretty informal, as was the start. Zach finished up his comments on the course and then said, "Okay … GO!" When none of us responded, he said, "I'm serious … GO!" He was serious, too. So I just happened to be standing close to the course entrance, so I jumped on my bike and took off, leading the entire field -- solo and teams -- into the single track.

We hit the first climb and I tried to manage my pace as I popped over the first set of water bars. I was still at the front at the top of the second water bar climb and took a quick glance behind me to see who else was with me. And there was no one there. I mean, no one. I was all alone. I briefly panicked, thinking I must have turned off course. But then I saw another rider far back and figured someone must have held up the group on the water bars. And since I had a lead, I didn't want to waste it, so I started to push a little harder. I kept the effort up, even beating Zach to the first road crossing. I was out front an call alone until I hit the first real descent. At that point another rider finally bridged. He was a much stronger descender, riding a FS bike, and at the bottom of the descent, he was right on my wheel. But I lost him on the last climb, a very loose rock hill with three hop-over water bars near the top, and he wasn't able to catch up on the long descent to the Start/Finish. I crossed the line and headed out on my next lap all alone.

On the second lap, as I passed the road crossing where Zach was directing traffic, all I could manage was a quick, "Lotta climbing out here." He laughed and just said, "Yes there is."

I rode alone for the next three laps, only seeing a few other riders when I caught and lapped them. I was feeling pretty good, but I figured that wouldn't last the full six hours, not with that much climbing. So I wanted to keep the pace up as long as I could. It was either on my sixth or seventh lap when another rider finally ran me down. As he passed, he said, "You're killing it" and I said, "Thanks! Are you solo?" He laughed and said, "No way! I'm duo." At that point, I didn't have the legs to follow him, so I let him go. But I was happy to hear I was still leading the solo. I was a bit worried, though -- all of it was starting to hurt pretty bad, and i was starting to wonder how much longer I could keep it up.

My legs were actually fine. What was really hurting was my back. Or, more specifically, the sweep of my lats from where the tuck into my shoulders right down to the hips. I think this was because of all the  water bars. I was constantly popping the front up and over the berms. And eventually, it just wore my back out. On the seventh lap, every time I pulled up on the bars, my back started to go into a full cramp. And if I tried to relax it, the cramp transferred down into my forearms. It was bad. I was drinking plenty, and like I said, my legs were doing great. But that back pain was getting hard to deal with. I finally had to get off and run a bit rather than try to ride the last water bar climb. I decided this was how I'd have to finish, and also figured it would probably cost me the lead.

My seventh lap was particularly painful. I was cramping every few minutes and had to really focus to keep moving. But I got through it and was able to relax a bit on the long descent to the finish. I started the eighth lap feeling a little recovered, but I did have a few moments of cramping during that lap once again. I was still holding the lead, but I was really hoping I would be able to stop at the end of that lap.

But it wasn't to be. At the end of my eighth lap, I asked the scoring table how much time I had on the second place racer. He told me that at the end of my last lap, I was holding seven minutes. I crossed the line at about 5 hours and 35 minutes or so, so I knew I had to go back out. So off I went.

It's always funny to me how much of a mental game these endurance races can be. Knowing I was now definitely on my last lap, I felt a lot better, and it showed in my lap time. I shaved several minutes off my previous two laps, and never cramped during that last six miles. I was also never caught, so in the end, I crossed the line in 6 hours and 8 minutes with nine laps and the solo open win. I was also second overall out of all racers -- teams and solo combined. It also turned out that the guy chasing me was possibly suffering just as much -- he actually lost time on that eight lap and ultimately never went out for a ninth. I totally understand that -- I was decimated at the finish. I was really happy to have the win, though, and as tough as the course was I really had a blast all day.

Solo Open Podium at the Six Hour Relay @ Susquehannah

Not a bad way to close out a really fun month of racing. I have only one more race to do this year, one of my favorites: The sWe Six Hours of Cathedral Pines. After that, I'll start thinking about next year. I'm not going to plan it all out, but I am going to pick at least a few big events again because I don't want to lose that sense of urgency with respect to fitness. I've been pretty happy with how that worked out this year, so I would kind of like to keep it going (and maybe even raise the bar!) next year.

Until next time, see you on the trails!


  1. I'd say the profile looks like vfib, but it's irregularly regular, so it rules that out.

  2. I can't imagine going through all that suffering. Guess that's why I have no aspirations to race. :). Nice write up!

  3. I'm pleased to hear that you still went through the whole nine yards of that trip. Your readers are certainly blessed with all the insights and reflections you've drawn out of that. Anyway, your back ache is a worry. Maybe it is reflective of something chronic, yet had been too slight to pass your notice. Well, at least you have spotted it now, which is a good step. Have you consulted a specialist for that? I hope you had. Take care!

    Jacqueline Hodges @ Dr. Koziol