Sunday, March 20, 2016

March Madness

Back in January when I was planning out the races and events I'd do this year, I realized I had the opportunity to build on a personal goal from 2015. Last year, I did at least one off-road hundred miler every month between April and September. With my season starting early in Florida this year, I realized I could do that hundred mile ride per month from February through September (or even October or November this year if I wanted.) The biggest challenge would be March - it can be cold, and trails aren't always in good enough shape to accommodate a ride. Earlier this week, with Saturday looking like my best option for the rest of the month, I decided to take a shot and get my March off-road century with a multi-park ride that included French Creek, the SRT and Blue Marsh.

"The Black and Orange"

Earlier in the week, my new kit arrived from Death Row. It's pretty awesome. I think the wind jacket was instantly my favorite piece of cycling gear (and that feeling only increased after Saturday.) SO I was not only going for my first non-race off-road century of the year, but it would also be the new kit's christening.

I started at French Creek around 9 :15 on the Mill Creek Trail. Anyone who's ridden Mill Creek knows that means two things: rocky and steep. The climb up to Miller's Point and beyond is pretty brutal and technical. Not exactly ideal for the first five miles of a hundred mile ride, but I just went with it. Once I completed the first mini-loop, I took a quick stop at my car to shed my jacket even though temps were only in the low 30's yet (because one good thing about a climb like that is that it'll warm you up pretty quickly.) Then I headed back out to hit the Raccoon Trail, another rocky, tech section with its own nasty climb. By the time I was ready to head over to the main section of the park, I was about ten miles into the day and probably about 2000 feet of elevation already.

I kept on hitting the rocks, roots and climbs around French Creek for another ten miles, and then was ready to head out the SRT for the haul over to Blue Marsh.

And that's when I hit the one big problem of the day. I flew down Route 345 into Birdsboro at about 30 mph and felt really cold int he icy wind at that speed, but I figured I'd warm up once I hit the flatter sections along the SRT. But that wasn't the case. In fact, it got much colder along the trail, perhaps because it's so exposed. I went about three miles and realized that I had a big problem. I figured I could probably put up with the cold for the ride into Reading, but I knew that I'd deal with potentially colder temps on the ride back later in the day, and that could become a real problem. So I had to make a tough call - I turned around right where the gravel section begins at Gibraltar Road and Route 724.

I headed back to French Creek up the big climbs on 345 and knew that I'd have a problem finishing the full ride before dark given the delay. I sat at my car for a few minutes and worked to a solution. I knew that I couldn't leave my car where it was, but I also knew that I was too stubborn to give up on the full route. So I decided to drive over to where I'd turned around and re-start from there. I knew there was a parking area right next to the trailhead, so I decided to just split my ride into two and pick-up literally where I'd left off.

The ride along the SRT between Birdsboro and Reading is interesting. Last time I connected the two parks, the one response I was getting from folks was that they were surprised anyone would voluntarily ride the trail through Reading because it's supposed to be pretty sketchy. Aside from sections of actual trail that are pretty unkempt, I can't say I see any issue. I did see a few folks out on the trail, but to a person they were all really friendly and went out of their way to say hello. It was actually friendlier through Reading than on other sections of the SRT I've ridden! To be fair, I do know some folks who have had issues (including one flat out assault) on another section of the trail there, but I saw none of that personally. I did however see some really cool graffiti art:

Anyway, I reached the Union Canal Trail that connects the SRT to Blue Marsh without incident (and feeling warm in my new wind jacket!) It was slower going in French Creek with the climbing and rocks, and between that and the delay of going back, I was kind of racing the daylight to complete the last 60 miles. If I wanted to be finished by 7 pm, I knew I'd need to do the 60 miles in just over 5 hours, so I kept my pace at a pretty good clip as I started the loop in Blue Marsh itself.

That wasn't always easy - the weather seemed to be on the verge of turning bad all day, and it never really got warm at all. There was a constant cold wind blowing all day - not a heavy wind, more like a strong breeze, but it was that kind of raw, cold constant light wind that chills you to the bone. Between that and the short steep climbs all over the park, I was just hoping to hold on all the way to the end.

But I was feeling pretty good overall, so I kept my pace close to 12 mph and eventually hit the inbound turnaround well within my time limit. I even got a bit of a reprieve on the weather when the sun finally popped out around 4:15 or so, if only for 20 minutes or so.

Ultimately, I was able to finish the 30 miles at Blue Marsh in pretty good tie and then ripped along the SRT for the last 15 miles back to the car. I was aiming for a 7:00 finish and rolled up to my car at 6:59.

All told, I got about a 100 miles with around 8,000 feet of climbing in 9 hours and 25 minutes. Not too bad. More importantly, the March Off-Road Century was in the books. Knowing I'll need to get 100 in April at LBD, in May at the 24 Hour race I'm doing, and for other months at some other events the rest of the summer, I was pretty psyched to work out the one weak link. So one goal for the year now looks a little bit more reachable. That makes it a pretty good day!

Next up for events: LBD in three weeks! Really looking forward to it this year! IN between now and then, I've got more training and riding to do, so until next time, I'll see you on the trails!


  1. What gearing ratio do run on your single speed? Did you change that to go from PA to the Wilmington Whiteface 100 in the Adirondacks? I ride on Long Island, obviously very flat, and am headed up to Lake Placid at the end of April. What tires do you run?
    I have a Spot Rocker SS 29er with belt drive and run Schwalbe Racing Ralphs.
    Love your blog. Good luck with your season!

  2. Sorry - Just saw this comment!

    At WW I ran a 32:18, and that's pretty typical for me in most races. I actually have a 34t front ring now, so I'm running a 34:19, which is almost identical (the gain ratio is 3/100 of a unit higher for 34:19.) The only races I may run a lower gear ratio would be a few NUEs - at Shenandoah in particular I've run a 32:20 in the past, but I may go up a bit for 2016. My tires are always the same: I run Maxxis IKON EXOs (the ones with the sidewall protection.) IN my experience, they're the most versatile XC tire you can get. Kind of low profile, but enough to work in almost any scenario.

    Have a great time at WW - it's a fun race. Not much singletrack, and a few of the climbs are ball-busters, but the Lifetime folks are really awesome at putting on races.