Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lumberjack 100

Ok, I'm not going to dwell on the fact that I haven't posted since March, but that's pretty much the state of affairs of mountain biking in Chicago in the spring. It ain't happnin.

First race (Sylvan Island, IL) DNF in the mud, second race (6 hours of John Muir) horrible bonk, and not a lot of trail miles in between. Some road miles, but the majority of my training has been on foot. Ironically, this may have been the best thing for my Lumberjack training! (I'll get to that later)

For the uninitiated, the Lumberjack 100 is a 100 mile mountain bike race held in the Manistee Nat'l forest near Wellston, MI, and is part of the National Ultra Endurance series. Lumberjack has the distinction of being almost completely singletrack, no fire roads or dirt roads.

I've been wanting to attempt this race for the past couple of years, but my training was never up to the task, so I passed. This year I planned to do several endurance races leading up to LJ, and got my registration in early, sealing the deal. I hung up the road bike and vowed to only ride trail this spring! Then running came along, and so did the rain that has kept Palos Hills forever underwater.

Long story short (too late) I've managed only just over 700 miles in the saddle year to date, and only 150 of that has been on the dirt!! Needless to say hopes were not high going into this weekend. Add to that that I bonked out of a 6 hour race the week before, managing only 3.5 hours and 30 miles and my goals went from "just finish" to "make the 10 hour cutoff!"

Thunderstorms Friday night set up a VERY fast Big M course. I have ridden the 8 mile "inner" loop on previous occasions, but the 17 mile "outer" loop was all going to be new to me. We arrived at the course at about 6am, setup our coolers, and soon were peddling down the road to the start point, two miles from the trail head, affording a long leadout to thin the herd before the trails begin. Due to my lack of any real miles on the legs, and the cardio training I've been getting from running, I decided to pick the lowest gear I thought I needed to finish, and then go with one gear lower. This resulted in a 34x18 ratio, or approx. 50 gear inches. A VERY low gear for me, but I figured my legs would go much sooner than my lungs, so best to spin my heart out!

We hit the trail and almost immediately the first climb which forced the mortals (myself included) off their bikes for a short hike. This is a rideable climb, but between the sand and the traffic, you really have to ask how many matches you want to burn this early in the race. This would be the rule of the day for me. Survive! I latched on with a former teammate who followed a similar rigorous training regimen, so I figured we might keep each other company for a good part of the day. However, after spending a few miles yo-yo'ing off the back of a group of about 15 geared riders, I decided to make a few moves on the climbs to get some clear trail in front of me, allowing me to keep my spin up, saving the legs for the real climbs to come. About half way through lap one I started to feel a level of fatigue and foggyness that I'd hoped wouldn't start until after the 50 mile point. Thoughts of the previous weeks bonk started creeping in. I did my best to collect myself and ride smart. I noticed my shoulders were hunched and tight, head was down, and I was basically riding like crap. So I corrected my posture, relaxed my shoulders, took deep breaths, and I was back! I've never experienced such a dramatic turn around!

When I came through the pits after lap one it was bitter sweet. I felt great, but I also still had 75 miles to go. I wasted no time in the pits swapping bottles and downing half a bottle of 5 hour energy. That stuff really works! Back on the course I was feeling great! Not much to report in the second lap. I felt like I was pushing the same pace on the flats, an was able to climb just about everything with only 2 or 3 exceptions. I was really stunned at how good I felt. I'm sure that had everything to do with the low gear selection and my running this spring. It quickly became apparent that the 10 hour cut off time was not going to be an issue as I had come through lap 1 in 2hr 16min and knew I'd be close to that on lap 2. The race now was to just get through lap 3, and lap 4 would be all about taking it easy to the end!

I had been subsisting on Hammer Perpetuem mixed at a ratio of about three heaping scoops to roughly a table spoon of water and dispensed from a plastic flask. The resulting batter like substance actually doesn't taste too bad, and seems to be easier to get down than the full water bottle mix I used to do. So on the bike I was able to carry a pure water bottle and a 1/2 water 1/2 Gatorade bottle. Roughly every 5-10 minutes I was either squeezing "Perpetu-gu", drinking water, or drinking Gatorade. My stomach was tolerating it well, and I seemed to be getting the fuel I needed. However, by mile 40 I was looking for a little insurance so I stopped at the aid station, downed some Endurolytes, a 1/4 PB & J, and refilled the water and was off. This gave me a huge lift through the end of lap 2, crossing the line at 4hrs 34min, almost an even split with lap 1!

After a quick pit to refresh water and Gatorade and grab a new flask, I was off. I was already beyond my longest trail ride of the year, and still feeling great! I remembered my buddy Mike's words though, that the last half of Lap 3 was the toughest. Lap 3 started much like the others, but I soon saw a change. Despite the low gear, the lack of miles on my legs started to show and even the easy climbs started to burn my legs. A few climbs saw me get off toward the end, and some of the harder ones I didn't even attempt. I never felt like I was in danger of not finishing, but I knew this was where I could start to really bleed time if I wasn't careful. Given what I know of friends' past performances and my lack of training I had pegged a finishing time of somewhere just under 11 hours, and my current feeling was why. In Lap 2 I looked forward to meeting up with other riders, usually who were overtaking me, to help keep me honest. With someone riding your tail, you tend to keep an honest pace rather than sinking back into your comfort zone. On Lap 3, however, I was glad to let people by, and dreaded passing slower riders, as it meant doing some work to put them behind me for good! There were two riders I especially had no problem pulling over for. Jeff Schalk and Christian Tanguy were mere blurs as that lapped me and another rider some where in the second half of Lap 3!! It's unreal the pace these guys can push for over 6 hours of racing! I kept listening for the chase group that never came. Third place, Chris Etough, may have slipped by while I was at the aid station, and 4th, Mike Simonson, finished just minutes after I completed my third lap. I eventually made it to the aid station, and refueled with another 1/4 of a PB&J, some more Endurolytes, and about a 1/4 can of Coke! While I didn't quite get the lift I did on Lap 2, it was something! It was at this time, too, that my watch quite keeping time. Rather, I turned off the GPS while the timer was auto paused. With nothing to tell it that it was moving again, there was no way to restart the timer. Unfortunately I didn't discover this until I was back on the trail, some unknown distance/time from the station or the end of the lap. This was not a major tragedy, but I began doing the math (which IS a tragedy!) If I was able to keep the damage within about 10-20 minutes, then I should finish Lap 3 close to 7 hours, which would give me just under 3 hours to finish SUB 10 MINUTES! Really, it was just then that it dawned on me. While there was still a lot of riding to do, I was looking at not only possibly finishing, but far exceeding my expectations for myself. While I hadn't set the bar particularly high, I was still excited at the prospect! Indeed I came across the line at 7:06:56!

One last quick pit stop and I was off. I cleared out my watch and started a new timer, the last lap timer. I wasn't sure how long I was in the pit, perhaps 4 minutes, and I had to take a nature break shortly after, so with a small margin of error, I figured I had 2:45:00 to break 10 hours! I haven't really discussed the course layout to this point, so here it is. There is an 8 mile inner loop which brings you back near the pit area where hand ups are allowed. As I had no support at the race this is irrelevant except that I had pre-rode this portion, and decided it was "short and easy" at roughly 45 minutes and a good first demarcation point. From here you begin the 17 mile outer loop which is conveniently bisected by the aid station, so the course is broken into roughly 3 equal sections. As I said, I was making the first 8 miles in around 45 minutes, and the aid station was supposed to be about 8 miles into the outer loops, so figure about 45 minutes (though there were some longer climbs) to there. Given that the last section was probably longer (and I hadn't really paid attention to time) I wasn't sure how long I'd been riding this section in, and what to project. Giving myself a little more padding of shooting for a 2:40:00 lap (where i figured I had 2:45:00 to give) I decided I needed 50/50/60. 50 minutes to the end of the inner loop, 50 minutes from there to the aid station, and that leaves an hour to get to the finish!

Now, just working out those calculations got me almost all the way through the inner loop :) I was looking at about 40 minutes and not only was I not seeing the markers I knew put me near the end, I also realized I had fallen WAY off my feeding schedule. I was getting so tired of the Perpetuem that I was forgetting to eat. While I knew I was probably close enough to make it through to the end on much less fuel, I also knew that a bonk could take me out in a heartbeat, reducing me to a snails pace. So I forced down another shot. I was just about to resign myself to a slow 50 minute inner loop when I saw and heard the spectators at the end of the inner loop! just over 46 minutes, I hadn't lost much time at all!

I decided to keep on my projected schedule as arriving sooner would only give me a lift, so I was aiming for hitting the aid station at about 1:40:00 into the lap. By about 1:20:00 I wasn't sure I was going to make it. I was craving another couple shots of coke and some other quick sugar as I was so close to the end. I knew I was somewhere near 90 miles in, more than twice my longest trail ride of the year, and my body was ready to give in. I knew that I was covering a fair amount of distance in 15 minutes or so, but the aid station felt a lot longer than 20 minutes away. However, just 10 minutes later the sign announcing the station came into view! I had made it in 1:31:00. I was almost home free. To be honest, I'm not sure what I ate this time. Much of the "real" food was gone, and there was a lot of candy to be had. Gummy bears, Twizzlers, cookies, pretzels, etc... all I really wanted though was fresh water and Coke! I tried to be very careful not to guzzle too much and finally push my stomach over the edge, I did still have up to an hour of very hilly and bumpy single track to go!

This is where not knowing the true distance or time from the aid station to the finish started playing with me. I was back on the trail at about 1:35:00, leaving me 70 minutes to break 10 hours. Nothing was guaranteed, so I had to keep pressing. There were also at least 2 killer hills that I'd been walking since Lap 2, another that I'd ridden each lap, but was trickier each time, and several smaller climbs that had gotten me off the bike in Lap 3. Lap 3 had grown by 15 minutes from Lap 2. Another 15 minutes and I'd be right in the 10 hour zone :( So there was no letting up!

Somehow I was finding the strength to ride many of the climbs that I had walked in Lap 3. Basically everything except the two big walkers that lap! Even the somewhat tricky switchback came easily, and I knew that I was nearing the final decent of the day!! And that's when I flatted......

No. Not really. But I figured if you're still reading and didn't already know the outcome, I owed you a little drama! ;)

I still wasn't sure of the distance from the last screaming downhill to the finish, but I knew it was all but over from there and I was at about 2:40:00.. I was going to make it! When I rounded the corner and saw tent city, an enormous grin came across my face, and I knew I had done it. The 9:42:16 on the clock was just icing on the cake. The real prize was that I had finally tried and finished my first off road 100 miler! As I collapsed on the ground and crawled my way over to the Simonster's tent, he offered me cool $100 bucks to go out for another lap.. :D I laughed and he (hypothetically) upped it to $1000. At that moment I realized there was almost nothing that could get me to get back on my bike for another 2 1/2 hours... But rest assured, nothing will keep me from racing the Lumberjack again next year! Rick Plite and all his volunteers put on one of the best races in the Mid West!! Thanks, Rick!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Georgia 2009

A year ago this same time I was fortunate enough to be invited down to Georgia by my good buddy, Scott. He had acquired a free cabin for a week in Helen, Georgia, very near some of the stages of the Tour of Georgia, so great for riding!

This year my new team Half Acre Cycling chose Blairsville, GA as the destination for our inaugural spring training camp, just minutes away from Helen. I was psyched. I signed up right away. I couldn't wait to return to the mountains and those screamin' fast descents. Oh, and those climbs too.. :(

The only real similarity between the two trips was the view from my window as we pulled out of town. In fact, this was the view from my window for almost the ENTIRE ride down to GA. The only thing that changed was the amount of daylight.

Our three cars met up at Montrose beach, distributed bikes, people, and gear, and headed out of town at 8pm for the 11+ hour drive. We planned to take our time driving through the night and arrive in time to eat breakfast at the Waffle House, get a quick ride in, and then get settled.

Our first gas stop in Indiana..

5 bikes on a little Focus!

Despite mother nature's best efforts, we arrived safely in Blairsville the next morning around 8am and made a beeline for the Waffle House! There we replenished our food stores and excitedly chattered about the rides to come! It was becoming clear that there was no plan for where to ride, so if I wanted to get back into the mountains I was going to have to find a map and make some suggestions. Just then a lovely young woman sitting at the bar asks it we're cyclists. Turns out she and her friends are also down in the area for spring training.. for 6 WEEKS! They had been down for a week already and had some good routes mapped out in the area, and had maps that I could use to get back to the major Gaps in the area. We made plans to meet up later.

The HAC gang departed, and after getting a little lost, found the realty office, checked in, got into the cabin and suited up for our leg stretching ride.

Afterword we got settled into the cabin...

The view from our back deck!

To be continued...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I'll post again...

I swear.. really I will.. just havent' felt much like writing the last several weeks. Stuff's going on, but it's taking all my powers of concentration to handle life, so... I'll be back.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Goin' back to Cali, Cali.....

Ok, not really.. But it does look like I'm headed back to Georgia for some spring training with some of the other Half Acre crew! It should be awesome!

Unfortunately I have to pay for that trip, as well as both NUE race registrations this month.. on top of being way over budget from Christmas, I think I see lots of Ramen in my future.. :(

Monday, December 29, 2008


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas Internet

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Today marked the end of racing and riding for me for 2009 in the form of the Illinois State Cyclocross Championships at Montrose Harbor. This would be my second go-round at Montrose, and the conditions were lining up to be almost as epic as last year.

I rolled out to Montrose from my apartment, a 3 mile ride. Great way to warm up. However, it meant packing creatively to have enough dry clothing to keep warm apre race. Temps at race time were 21 degrees, with a "real feel" of about 15. Snow over the past couple days deposited about 3 or so inches on the already wet, slick ground. I'm pretty sure this is exactly the kind of thing that would make your mom say "You're Crazy!!"

And the course promised nothing but FUN! The start lead to a nice set of switchback turns,and then to the first tunnel. A loose downhill to 90 degree left hander. On the other side was a rideable hill (though I was concerned about a bottle up on the fist lap, more on that later). Cricket Hill last year was a suffer fest. Two runups in 6 inches of snow. This year not only was the snow tamer, but there were NO BARRIERS on the hill! A quick up and down, excellent for passing. A long back stretch led to the first set of barriers. A nice zig zag set of doubles that alone weren't all that bad. But the ground on the other side was SLICK! I had to be very carefull on every lap as it felt like I was just an inch away from being on my ass! A sketchy, deep snow section lead to a short steep hill and the second barrier, sitting atop the hill. Pre-riding paid off here as I learned that the quickest strategy was to dismount at the bottom keeping stride, running up and remounting for the off camber downhill lefthand sweeper. A fast stretch out the the beach lead to my favorite feature of the course. Not only did we have to deal with snow, but they worked in the sand :D And they used a nice step-up that required some mt bike skill. Then along the shore, utilizing lots of fun, off camber, twisty turns. Finally my second favorite feature. A long pavement section leads into a hard right hander with about a 6 or 7 inch step up from the pavement back onto the dirt which immediately become a short, steep downhill to hard left. A couple more sharp turns leads back to the start/finish straight. Awesome!

Earlier I mentioned my concerns about the first short rideable hill. Typically in the Cat 4 fields I'm used to riding in the first lap is a series of severe bottle necks due mostly to the sheer number of riders, and in part to some lack of technical skill. But today I would be making my Cat 3 debut. I was excited to see what the smaller, more experienced field would be like.

During my pre-ride I noticed the right side of the start was very bumpy and kind of rutted out. But on the left was a man-hole cover, and the first turn was a left. Lining up I decided that since the first turn would be so slow anyway that starting left and going left of the manhole cover was the way to go. Man was that a good call. At the "GO" I took off down the left, trying to move up as much as possible before the turn. Suddenly I hear the unmistakable sound of bike carnage, and to my right I see bikes go flying! A rider had hit one of the deeper ruts and did a superman over the bars. His bike went flying, and I think the rider behind him was thrown as well. The crash did help to sort out the field a bit, and by the time we got to that first rideable climb it was a breeze.

At the start line Naz and Tim from Half Acre said they were marking me, and I know Naz wanted to finish the job he started at Carpentersville. I had my sights on Zach and Kevin also from Half Acre, and just hoped to be lucky enough to be able to see team mates Paulo, Luke, or Greg. Now on course I could see Paolo a bit up ahead of me, but I think I was clear of all of the Half Acre guys. Lap two or three confirmed this as Kevin went f l y i n g by me. He was on fire! a lap or two after that and Zach got around me on the pavement. Around a couple of the parts of the course where it switches back on itself I was marking Naz and Adrian behind me. They would gain a little on the flats, but the I would extend through the technical sections along the waterfront. But overall they were holding position which gave me concerns for the final laps. With them racing each other they could ride back into me, and having stated his goal at the start Naz would be highly motivated to get around me. Naz had a bobble on the first step up which gave me some breathing room, but soon was was back on Adrian's wheel. Coming into the last lap I was bracing for a shootout. Just through the start/finish with the "1" showing on the lap counter I heard someone bearing down on me FAST! To my surprise Nevada Dave goes around me at the first switch back. "Are you lapping me?" I asked (silly question becuase there's no way I stayed out in front of him for 6 seconds let alone 6 laps. He answered in the affirmative of course, so I said "you're done dude!". Spectators on the course confirmed it. What was important to me, though, was that this means I'm the last rider on the lead lap, and everyone else that was lapped should have been pulled. A couple quick looks over my shoulder confirmed that no one, especially my stalkers, was behind me. I passed a rider climbing Cricket Hill, but for the rest of the lap I was able to just pleasure ride. A great ending to a so so season.


Today not only marked the end of the season, but also my time with one of the most recognized, well run, and successful bike teams in Chicagoland. Next year I'll be hanging up my xXx Racing/AthletiCo. kit and don the colors of Half Acre. I've made some good friends on xXx, and I know those friendships will continue. There is a lot of support and comraderie among all the teams in Chicago. My discision basically came down to the convience of meeting site, shop support, and riding schedules. So I wish all of xXx the best in 2009, and I look forward to some great rides!

Ok, it's now way past my bed time. Hope everyone had a great weekend, racing or no. I'll be sure to share anything of interest over the next couple weeks, but I'm cleaning and hanging the bikes up until January.

Photo Credit:

Photo 1, Nikki Cyp
Photos 2 & 3, Ed White
Photos 4 & 5, Amy Dykema