Friday, August 27, 2010

...what happens in west virginia...

...doesn't happen many other places.

The long promised second post from the Big Bear Ultra race weekend.  Three highlights from a cultural environment that just can't be replicated east of West Virginia. 

1) Shots at registration
On-site reg. was cheaper than on-line reg.  So we showed up with a check in hand.  Pulled through the guard gate and up to about two cars with mountain bikes on 'em.  A family picnic was happening - is there really a race here tomorrow?  A tent was up - oh, look, some waivers to sign.  We get to chatting with the promoter/registration volunteer/course marking guy/aid station master (yes, one guy, all those things).  Seems it's his birthday.  We're signing our lives away.  His family is bringing him the first of several rounds of shots in plastic cups.  They offered us some - we declined.  His birthday cake had boobs on it - big enough that they couldn't just be made from icing - there were real cake mounds in there.  A two year old may have been pumping the keg.  Welcome to West Virginia.

2) Golf carts with fat tires
Next to registration, is a golf cart.  Or four.  The shifter knob on one is a Miller Lite tap.  No, it doesn't actually dispense beer anymore.  We're chatting with the birthday-promoter about the golf carts - he says there are like 1200 of them in the campgrounds on site.  I find this remarkable.  He goes on to tell me that many of them are worth more than my two best bikes combined.  Who knew.

Someone's grandma toddles by.  She overhears our conversation about off-road golf carts"See that blue one over there?  It's mine.  It only has a little lift kit - just enough to get me in trouble."  She keeps walking past our rather incredulous looks.

3) Fireworks and telephone poles
I knew from some blogs online that there was a fairly good party scene to be had post-race.  We hung with some other guys from PA who race the MASS circuit before venturing over to the big campfire.   Well into the second keg of the night, the group is just getting going.  The drunkest guy remarks that he's probably not driving home.  Several others agree. 

Drunkest guy gets another beer and a stick.  Shea remarks It's always the drunkest guys who want to play with the fire.  We look over 20 minutes later.  Something is emitting greenish sparks.  Hmm.... there's a ceramic insulator.  And that's an old telephone pole it's attached to.  Not your ordinary firewood - those guys come prepared.  Sparks fly near their tents and sleeping pads.  They must have good karma - nothing went up in flames while we watched.

The fireworks had started at 11pm and randomly a few went off around 6am that morning.  Somehow, I thought this vagabond group of mountain bikers might be out of fireworks.  But no, they had a whole 30 gallon Rubbermaid container full.  The MO - pick one out, light it right there (over the bin) and aim it in some random direction.  Toward the port-a-potties.  Toward their cars, tents, each other, the field.  Oh, wait, there's a hollow log in the fire.  A big one - it's making a semi-TeePee with the short telephone pole.  Drunkest guy has an idea.... drop a bottle rocket into the hollow log.  Not trusting my own karma, we wandered back to our own campsite.  Fireworks continued for most of the night.

No doubt, I felt like yuppy cityfolk for part of the weekend.  Until I was telling someone about candle bombs - a campfire trick I know thanks to some Utah friends from Pennsylvania.  Maybe next year I'll see if my Pennsyltucky side comes prepared... probably not with telephone poles, though.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

and that's a wrap

Sunday was my last mountain bike race of the season - Cranky Monkey at Fountainhead.  I've raced there before.  I've won there before.  The course was a given. The weather was not - after late night and early morning deliberating, they ran the race.  No significant rain, even with the 70% chance of morning thunderstorms.  Awesome.

Last year, I raced the same course with about the same lap traffic on the same bike with the same wheels in similar weather with a similarly dry and sandy course.  So the goal was simple.  Beat last year's time.  Hopefully by a lot. 

Off the gun with the clydesdales, we rolled along about a mile of road before dropping into singletrack.  5 of them were off the front, I was in no man's land, and some other guys and the rest of the gals were somewhere behind me.  I tried to hit my pushing-it-but-not-blowing up pace.  I've raced a bunch of the long races, which is great - gave me the confidence to know that even if I blew up completely, I'd have legs to finish the race. 
Photo thanks to Andrew Burnette
Fountainhead has sandy corners and loads of roots, some a bit washed out.  What I'd forgotten, though, was how many little climbs are thrown in there.  The first 2 and last 2 miles of each lap are up-down-up-down-up-down.  I was riding well technically, but not fantastic, and felt like I was at my speed limit on some of the tighter downhills and turns.  After a summer of really hot long races, I have to say I barely have to think about the nutrition part anymore.  Drink heed.  Drink Perpetuem.  Eat something with salt and caffeine in it.  Take electrolytes. 

I didn't see another woman after the start.  And there were few rabbits in the woods.  I passed some guys from earlier waves but didn't ride with anyone for any length of time.  After the Big Bear race where I had a buddy for like 30 miles, it was a bit odd.  But nice to flow through the sections in my own head, choosing lines, changing gears, making my own mistakes.  I wound up 44th out of 77 starters for the 9:45 sport race.  Cool.  I'm getting faster than some of the guys...

Yes, I won.  It's funny how different race series have different speeds - the Cranky series is definitely slower, than, for instance, the Sport 35+ MASS women who fly by me at every race.  But it wasn't about who I was racing.  It was about the time.  Am I faster than last year's 1:56:59?  Yeah.  Finished in 1:49:43, more than 7 minutes faster.  That works out to 6.2% faster.  I probably have to improve that much again to be competitive in the expert fields, slow fields or not. 

Mmm... cold coke.  The best finish line drink, ever.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

end of an endurance season...

okay, that post title sounds a bit melancholy.  sad, perhaps.  The Big Bear Ultra was my last endurance race for the year - I'm skipping a few upcoming races to prep the legs and lungs for cross.  We went to this race simply for fun.  I was meant to be done after Fair Hill, but wanted one more and couldn't have chosen a better race.

I googled and googled before this race, looking for last year's race reports, Garmin files, anything to tell me about what the course was like, elevation profiles, really much of anything.  But it's West Virginia.  As you'll see in the next post, they do things differently there (yes, the weekend requires two posts - this race report and a summary of the local entertainment).  So I couldn't find much.  I could guess the elevation was less than the Stoopid 50 but who knows by how much.  And the trails in WV can be hard or easy.  So who knew.

Race day, the promoter Mark looked at me like I was crazy when I said I wanted to send out a drop bag.  Turns out, they had plenty of PB&J's, gels, etc at the aid stations and we didn't need anything I'd put in the drop.  But since they were pretty much out of food at the late aid stations by the time I got there, if I'd needed it...

After a mass start around the campground, the field worked into some tight singletrack with a few wet, mudholes and lovely rocks.  I dabbed a bit, got passed as usual by some guys that I would see again later, but was really just out to ride my own race and have fun doing it.  I settled into a pace a bit slower than I've been hitting it for these long races.

Next up was a crazy chimney rocks section.  I walked it - barely handlebar width with walls about 10 feet high of rock.  A sharp right hand turn and a few more feet to a 3 foot drop off.  Needless to say, glad I was already pushing the bike.

A couple of sketchy downhills and some lovely bermed turns through the trees later, I was back at the start for the mid-race pit stop at mile 23.  Some coke, a full camelback and a water bottle change later, I was back on the horse.

Now, I should say that for about 15 of the first 23 miles Farmer Steve was behind me.  Chatting and crashing.  Breaking his already not-in-great-shape drivetrain.  I didn't expect to see him again - he claimed a broken shifter cable had caught him in the big ring.  But a familiar Southern Ohio accent came up again, and there he was.  Turns out, he found a full suspension 29er to borrow and finish the race.  Sorta fun having someone to ride with.  I did almost all of the pulling and pace setting for 30+ miles, but I could tell by the little gaps and yo-yoing that Steve was doing on some of the climbs that I really wasn't holding him up.

We got through a creek bottom and headed up - I passed Matt who was in rough shape, cramping, and kept going. Up, up, bottom bracket creaking, up some more.  This was pretty much the biggest climb on the course.  Another rider was cramping too.  I felt bad - this climb had the potential to be demoralizing if you were already having a tough time.  But I kept going.  Pushing harder as the race went on.  Finding familiar territory in the other direction through the pine trees.  Riding technically better than I have in a race in a while.  Hopping logs, rolling through rock gardens, even surviving only about 5 minutes of I-don't-feel-like-racing-anymore bonk.  Down a long doubletrack with loose rocks and a few switchbacks.  Jarring, forearm-bashing downhill.  The only one on the course but almost everyone took note of it.

All of the sudden, we were in a grassy section near the end.  I got my head up at the right time and saw the arrows in the trees where a fair few riders missed the only marginally marked section of the course.  Steve's friend Joe saw me and followed me into the trees, having taken a detour to talk to a few of the locals.

I rode past the pit - Shea was in his shorts still and cheering me on - it was great to see that he'd finished his first endurance race - he's had more than his share of mechanicals this year.  I was a little sad to go through the finish.  I could've taken another 5 miles of that piney section in the woods.

Turns out that only 2 women came for the Ultra distance.  So I won.  In a time much slower than last year's winner, but it's a win nonetheless and who knows how fast or slow I would've ridden given a bigger field.  I scored an awesome beer/flower stein and some moola for the effort.

Oh yeah, we'll be back next year.  Don't let their course description (38 miles of singletrack, 10 miles roads) fool you - the way that other races in the Mid-Atlantic count singletrack, this course is 100% singletrack.  That's 48 miles.  The only vehicles making it down the "roads" - read as washed out fireroads from 25 years ago - have two wheels. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

epic adventures at the watershed

The problem with a great trail system on the east coast is that often it's a bit too easy to get lost.  In Utah, the theme is pretty simple, you go up along the side of a mountain, you go down the other side, rinse and repeat.  You get on the bike and GO somewhere.

Where our terrain is a bit more limited, we don't go anywhere.  Except in circles.  Little loops, connecting one trail to another, figure 8's, all within a handful of square miles.  It took me a while to get used to this and find my way around our local haunts.  But even my cat-like sense of direction (and sense of distance/altitude) still fails when we're somewhere less familiar.

Like Frederick.  Ah, Frederick.  The trails are fantastic. Rocky, steep, mostly rideable.  And completely unmapped.

I've been out there 3 times so far this year.  Not enough.

Trip 1:  Mazz, Shea and I.  We got ridiculously misguided, ran out of water with more than an hour left of riding, and I broke my Sidi's.  Yeah, really - I hit a rock with my crank (a common occurrence) and the sole separated from the upper.  Total ride time was at least 3 hours longer than we'd planned on.  The awesomeness of the riding might've been overshadowed by the complete and total bonk-tasticness of the afternoon.  38 miles in 7 1/2 hours.  In May.  Ouch.

Trip 2: Mazz, Marc and I.  We only got a bit lost, and made it back to the car (and Mexican food) about 1 1/2  hours later than anticipated.  But this relative success was partly because we stuck to some of the trails with blazes in Gambrill.  Mazz did a header over a log at least once, Marc cussed him out for riding his singlespeed up stuff that our geared 29ers thought should be walked.  Good times.  And margaritas and Mexican afterwards at Poblano Grill.  Perfect post-ride food.

Trip 3:  Shea and I.  We couldn't find our intended (new to us) parking spot, but found it by bikes after parking at a popular one.  Total ride time: 15 minutes longer than planned.  No kidding.  Of course, we stopped and some really nice guy named Dave made sure we went the right direction on one of those little gravel roads, but this must've been a record.  Oh, and that counts riding the steep ass hill my coach wanted me to start on and dropping through some phenomenal new singletrack.  I rode hard and started to flow, even through the rock gardens.  Shea even said he was almost at his race pace following me through a smooth spot.  Cool.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

putting on a clean jersey

I wash bike clothes more often than anything else.  Ok, except during ski season, then I wash ski socks more often than anything else.

This week we both ran out of clean socks.  But bike shorts and jerseys and gloves are ready to go.

When I hang dry it all, it's a virtual Kelly advertisement at my house.

But that's not what this post is about.  Last year, I wore a team T-shirt on the podiums I got on.  It was too big, not flattering, and not well-recognized.  I've always kept an extra kit in my race bag... just in case a husband or someone else forgets something truly essential - he's only had to wear girl shorts once... amazing what a girl-shaped chamois will do for your memory!

So now I'm doing the right thing and wearing my clean jersey when I make the podium.

Okay, so I've only managed this twice.  But I like the pattern.  At Michaux, it was, to say the least, pouring down rain when I missed my name being called at the awards ceremony.

Here's hoping I need that clean kit at a few cross races this year.  37 days. Not that I'm counting.