Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Springfield Dirt Crits

I am completely inspired by the Alpine Shop Short Track Dirt Crit series at Castlewood state park in St. Louis.  It is a series of Thursday night races during the month of July where everyone can come, race their bikes on a fast, fairly flat, wide, non-technical course and just have a great time.  It's as much of a social event as it is great competition.  Plus with the short laps and open field chicane it's a great spectator event as you watch the riders fly by while navigating the sharp turns though the ribbon maze.  It's become very popular and is getting people to ride more and to try racing when they otherwise wouldn't.

I want to do one of these in Springfield so bad.....

So, to get this started, I propose having an informal fun FREE series of races every Thursday in the month of August starting on the 5th.   I have no idea how many people would show up so initially there will be no classes, just one group.  I haven't decided on an exact course but it will be on the west side of Sac River park, on the older and wider trails and will have a chicane in the field north of the parking lot.  It will be a 30 minute race, plus 2 laps.  The laps will be fairly short so there will be lots of laps and hopefully lots of fun. 

Of course the park will still be open to everyone but most of our action will  be taking place in the field next to the parking lot so it shouldn't disrupt anyone.  Open to all skills and abilities.  No prizes, just bragging rights.  And a good anaerobic workout.  Let me know if you think it's a good/bad idea or want to help. 

markgullett (at) gmail (dot) com

Monday, June 28, 2010

Brommelsiek Challenge race recap

This weekend was the 5th event in the United Federation of Dirt eastern cross country series, the Brommelsiek Challenge.  It took place at Brommelsiek Park in St. Charles MO on an approximately 4.5 mile course.  The weather was hot and the turnout was a little thin compared to many races recently, but the folks that did show up are fast and I knew I had my work cut out for me.

On Saturday I met my Revolution Cycles teammate Jeff Yielding for a pre-ride since I'd never been to the course and was really taken back by how nice the place was.  It was a beautiful park.  Everything looked brand new and there were bathrooms and covered pavilions all over the place.  There was lots of parking and overall I think it was the nicest race venue I've ever seen.

As Jeff and I headed out to check out the park, we met up with Mitch Johnson and his Ghisallo crew as they were heading out to take care of the last few touches to get the course ready for the race.  He told us which way the race was going to run and we set out.  After an initial rocky climb the course turned into a mostly smooth, twisty and relatively flat course that was very fun to ride.  I don't like to call any trail "easy" because if you ride as hard as you can then nothing is easy, but I will call this trail fast.  The tight corners, steep dips and sometime loose trail made the speed a little hairy at times but the pre-ride was a blast and it made me really look forward to the race.  Mitch and everyone (including St. Charles County Parks and GORC) have done a great job building an excellent trail system.

I knew going in that with the heat, hydration was key so I drank plenty of water the day before and morning of the race.  I also packed more water than I thought I'd need, which turned out to be a really good thing.

When we lined up before the start of the race I had Dan Miller on his S-Works 29er single speed on my right and Tim Kakouris, Chris Ploch and Bob Arnold on some big wheeled Gary Fischers on my left.  In the second row were Jeff, Tom Albert, Drew Black and Matt James.  I think that rounded out the expert field for the day.  While we were standing there I found out it was going to be a 6 lap race.  I hadn't planned on 6 laps....

After the mass start I hit the singletrack in 4th behind Tim, Chris and Bob with Dan nipping at my heels.  After the first mile or so, Dan passed me, dropping me to 5th.  We were riding a very fast pace and I was having to really work to stay with the pack.  When I looked over my shoulder I could see that we gapped the rest of the field so I decided to just hang on as long as possible and hope that everyone would slow down.  Being at the back of a pack of 5 riders on a dry dusty trail isn't very fun.  I was breathing a ton of dust and they weren't slowing down, so before the end of the first lap I decided to back off a bit and ride at a pace I could maintain.  My time for the first lap was 20:23.  I wasn't very far off the lead pack and the chase group was only about 30 seconds back.

One of the great things about this course was the quarter mile or so of out and back off the main loop to the start/finish line.  At most races you have no idea where anyone else is.  You don't know how far ahead the next rider is, if he's struggling or how much of a lead you've got.  With the out and back you get to see the guys ahead and behind.  You can look in their faces and see if they are charging or are just trying to hold on.  It makes for much better racing.  When you know the leader is only a minute ahead you keep charging.  You can't hide just around the corner, out of sight.

On the second lap I rode hard but not as fast as the first lap; I really used it to recover from the effort I put out trying to hang with the lead pack.  I just focused on riding as smoothly as possible and with such a twisty course I was having to constantly watch my line to keep from drifting off the hardpack trail into the soft stuff.  My time for the second lap was 21:03, about 30 seconds off the lead group, and about a minute ahead of the chasers.

At the top of the climb near the start of the third lap, I saw Bob Arnold had dropped of the back of the lead pack so I concentrated on reeling him in.  I caught him on one of the wooded uphill sections and he immediately offered to let me by.  That's something I always do in the middle of a race.  Once I'm in the flow I don't want to ride someone else's pace.  I figure if they felt good enough to catch me then I need to let them go and hope to see them again if they wear themselves out.  For that very reason unless I come up on someone very quickly I never ask to pass; I'd rather push them out of their comfort zone for a couple minutes so when I do pass they don't feel like hanging on and will sometimes go slower than they were originally.  After passing Bob about halfway through the lap I ride up on Chris Ploch standing on the side of the trail messing with his bike.  He jumped on right after I passed and said he had bent his front derailleur.  I didn't want to go any faster than I was so I asked him to pass.  As I watched him ride away I learned a little about how he races.  I noticed that he wasn't going any faster than I was on the straightaways or in the turns, but coming out of EVERY turn he would duck down into a power position and hammer to get back up to speed.  It was probably only a second or two  faster than I was coming out of the turns, but the time really added up and after a dozen or so turns he was out of sight.  I'd never really thought of that as a way to gain time and will have to try to work that into my riding.  My time for the third lap was 21:03, a minute off the lead and a minute in front of Bob.

My fourth lap was pretty uneventful, but I realized that I need to figure out a way to keep my bottles cool during the race.  There's just not much relief when you ride by, grab a full bottle of water and find it's near boiling.  Maybe if I drank coffee during races...  I wonder how that would taste with Heed?  My time for the 4th lap was 21:24.  Chris had caught back up to the leaders and I was about a minute and a half back but I had put almost 2 minutes on Bob who was sounding a little upset (jokingly) when I saw him ride by.

The fifth lap was interesting.  Dan had fallen off the lead pace and I started seeing him not too far ahead in the grassy field sections of the course.  Near the end of the lap I caught up to him and noticed he wasn't riding as well as I normally see him.  He was not taking good lines and was drifting off the trail in the corners and as a result was braking more than necessary.  When we got to a wider section of trail he offered to let me by.  Soon after I had to go off the trail to pass a marathon or sport rider and I got a stick between my chain and crank.  It didn't break anything but I had to stop and remove it.  While I was stopped they both rode by.  After I got going the other rider let me by and I rode behind Dan until the final field section where he pulled over to let me by.  I finished the fifth lap in 21:44 about 2 minutes off the lead and 3 seconds ahead of Dan.

Then at the top of the first climb on the sixth and final lap I saw Chris standing over his bike under a shade tree.  Just standing there.  Resting.  Baiting us, I thought.  As I rode by I offered him some of my warm water but he said he had plenty.  So I took off.  After a short distance in one of the fields I looked back and saw him and Dan not very far back.  It was time for a pep talk.  I told myself that I could keep the same pace and they both would pass me and I would end up fourth.  Or I could dig a little deeper, ride a little harder, put up with a little more pain and maybe hold them off for a second place finish.  I chose pain.  The rest of that lap I gave it everything I had, looking over my shoulder at every turn expecting to see them chase me down and feeling great relief when they weren't there.  About midway through the final field section I looked back and saw Chris coming out of the woods.  I knew he couldn't catch me at that point but I still rode as hard as I could to the finish.  My time for that lap was 21:21.  I ended up in second place about 2 minutes behind Tim and 30 seconds ahead of Chris.

Here's a link to the unofficial results.

I talked to Chris after the race and he had pretty bad leg cramps due to the heat and extra effort he put out to catch back up to the leaders after his mechanical.

All in all I'm pretty happy with my performance.  I rode within myself and it worked out for me.  Plus I learned a few things I can work on to become a better racer.  Good times.

Springfield was pretty well represented with Jesse Livingston taking 3rd in Cat 2 19-29 and Meg Comte winning Cat 2 Women Open.

My teammate Jeff ended up 7th overall.

I think Brommelsiek would be a PERFECT venue for a 6/12 hour race.  First class all the way.

Here's my Garmin data from the race:

Next up is OMBA Caramba on July 11th at Sac River Trails in Springfield.  The trails are better than they've ever been and I'm hoping for a great turnout.  We need the STL, KC and BOCOMO guys to come tear it up.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lost Valley Luau recap

This weekend was the rescheduled Lost Valley Luau near St. Charles, MO, that's part of the United in Dirt racing series.  The race was originally scheduled on the same weekend as the Ouachita Challenge, but was postponed because of muddy conditions.

Last weekend, after the Mo State Champ race I headed out to Weldon Springs to check out the course since the only other time I'd ridden there was at the 2009 CXmas, where I didn't remember much trail.  I found a nice mixture of gravel double-track and sweet flowy singletrack that would make for a unique race.  On Saturday, the day before the race I headed back to Weldon Springs with my St. Louis neighbor Dave to get one more lap under my belt before Sunday.  The trail was in good shape with some standing water in places but it was just enough to make a mess, not slow me down.

Since I had pretty severe dehydration issues at the race the week before, I was determined to drink lots of water leading up to and during this race.  While sitting in the parking lot at the mound I downed 3 bottles of water and I took 6 bottles of water to a spot near the finish line where I could get them during the race.

The race started with all expert classes together on a wide gravel path  for about half a mile, then down a steep hill where we joined the loop course near the finish line.  Each lap started with a big gravel hill climb followed by a mile or so of gravel double-track before turning onto fairly new singletrack.  That lasted a couple miles, then a good downhill, a couple more miles of doubletrack, a mile or so of fairly technical singletrack and another mile of nice flat trail to the finish line.  Basically a very fast course. 

On the first hill climb a lead pack broke away and at the top of the first hill climb I found myself in a small group behind them with Drew Black and Tom Albert.  We rode pretty fast, pace-line style with Drew doing much of the initial pulling.  We reeled in Dan Miller who was riding a single-speed and he hung on until we reached the first section of single track.  At that point we caught up to another rider that had fallen off the lead pack and he rode with us for a while.  He went down in a turn but jumped up and only lost a few positions.  At that point it was Drew, Tom, Dan, unknown guy and me.  On a climb leading to the pine trees the dude who is currently nameless let me by and fell back off the pace.  We then had a really fast downhill and started the second section of doubletrack.  I was behind Dan and he was letting a gap develop between us and Drew/Tom so I passed him expecting him to hang with me but I think the spinning on the singlespeed was getting to him and he fell back.   That left me, Dew and Tom to take turns pulling for a couple miles.  I find it truly amazing how much of a difference there is between riding in the lead (or alone) vs. riding in someones draft.  It literally felt like I was coasting when tucked in behind the other riders, and when I went to the front I was working my ass off.  It was a blast.  On the last section of singletrack Drew got a flat so that left just Tom and I.  When we got to the flat trail that finishes the lap I let Tom pull a little longer than I should have but when we got to the end of the lap I felt totally refreshed and ready to hammer up the hill.

I grabbed my 2nd bottle and rode as hard as I could up the hill, expecting to work with Tom on the gravel section ahead but when I looked back he wasn't there so I rode on by myself.  I went as fast as I could and felt pretty strong on both the flats and singletrack.  The only issue on that lap was encountering an angry hissing snake in the middle of the trail after rounding a turn.  It scared the crap out of me; it was rared back and jumped at me as I rode by.  I unclipped and raised my feet in the air, but it took several minutes before I calmed down.

After grabbing my 3rd bottle and chugging up the hill on the final lap I just focused on maintaining a good pace and picking good lines in the single-track.  I passed a few lapped riders but I didn't catch anyone from that lead pack that got away on the first lap.

I finished in 2:07:22 in 7th place overall and 4th in my age group.  Here's a link to the results (not fully updated as of press time);

Here's my garmin data from the day:

Next up is the Brommelsiek Challenge this Sunday in St. Charles.  Supposed to be a flat "dirt-crit" style course that will reward the bike handlers.  That's not my strength, but we'll see how I do.  If it's like last year's Cape Race I might be in trouble.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Missouri State Championship race recap

Saturday was the Missouri State Championship mountain bike race.  It was held at Castlewood state park and was part of the United Federation of Dirt series.  I love riding at Castlewood and was really looking forward to this race; especially after my DNF at Warsaw the week before.  I needed redemption.

I made the trip to St. Louis on Thursday and was able to pre-ride the course Friday morning.  I knew it was going to be a challenge but I did a couple laps and felt pretty good.  It sprinkled a bit during my ride but it didn't effect the trail and everything was mostly dry and tacky which is perfect for racing.

The turnout for this race was great with some of the best riders from all over the state.  There was Ploch, , Breslin, Kakouris, Elwell, Rines, ect.  You get the picture.  Lots of fast people I've never beaten.  I started sweating as soon as I stepped out of the car.  It was going to be a tough day.

I caught a ride to the park with Rock Wamsley which caused me to pack much lighter than I normally do.  I tried to bring only what I'd need which I figured was 4 16oz bottles of water with 2 scoops of Heed in each.  It was a 4 lap, approximately 2 hour race, so 1 bottle every half hour should be plenty.  Or so I thought.

Walking around and warming up pre-race was causing me to sweat quite a bit so I started "stealing" from my race bottles by sipping out of them to try to keep from starting the race dehydrated.  I did go over to the water fountain and drink quite a bit there, but I don't think I was getting enough.

This race was using the same chip timing system that was used at last year's Burning at the Bluff race.  It is a pretty cool system and I wish more races would take advantage of it.  Now if they could set up a large screen LCD at the start/finish with realtime results and splits that would be even better.

The start of the race was a mass start for all experts (and one sport rider) which I really prefer.  They sent us up the double track hill on Lone Wolf which is a fairly short but very steep climb.  It's so steep that they won't let anyone ride their bike down it.  I wanted to go hard up the hill but I didn't want to go too hard and blow up.  It was going to be a two hour effort and as long as I didn't get behind too many people I would be fine.  I was pretty shocked when I looked over on the climb and saw Chris Ploch;  I guess we had the same idea.

I made it to the top of the hill in about 15th place and here's a video of the sketchy descent after you crest the hill.  I come through at :43 (there's a couple wrecks and near misses of you watch the whole thing).

Right after that climb/descent we came through the start/finish area and soon started up the Grotpeter trail which isn't nearly as steep as the starting hill but much longer.  I went pretty hard up this hill and passed several people.  All of them dropped back except one; Travis Donn.  He hung on and each time I looked back he was keeping me in sight.

Grotpeter lead to the roller coaster which is one of the funnest trails I've ever ridden.  It's only shortfall is that it isn't longer.  I love that trail.  After that we took the Mountain Ridge connector back towards the main park road, followed by a CCW loop around Lone Wolf and back to the start/finish.  All told the laps were a little over 5 miles. 

My problems started pretty early.  Before the race I set up a table near the start/finish line to hold the bottles and planned to pick up one each lap.  When I finished the Roller Coaster trail on the first lap I ran out of water in the bottle I was carrying.  That was less than halfway through the lap.    I had Travis dogging me the entire lap and I was riding really hard but I really needed some water.  When I finished the first lap and grabbed my second bottle I immediately downed over half of it which didn't leave me much for the rest of the lap.   I finished the first lap in about 28 minutes.

Going up Grotpeter Travis passed me and I tried to hang with him but I couldn't.  I just felt weak.  I soon ran out of water (again) and was just hanging on, trying to go as fast as possible.  Then I was caught by Dan Miller racing in Sport Single Speed (who started at least a minute after we did).  He was riding really well and again I tried to hang on but couldn't.  The Lone Wolf climb was very difficult and when I finished the second lap (around 30 minutes) I stopped at the scorers table and asked if anyone had any water or anything to drink.  The event promoter, Ralph Pfremmer tossed me a water bottle and I downed it on the spot.   Man that was a lifesaver!

When I picked up my own bottle I didn't need to slam it and it actually lasted me until the Lone Wolf climb.  But I still felt like crap and just wanted to finish the race.  Again, Lone Wolf was hell.  My lap time was over 31 minutes.

The forth lap wasn't so bad because I knew I was almost done and that is a huge mental boost.  The lap wasn't any faster (31 min) but it wasn't as painful as the 2nd and 3rd lap.  I didn't have anyone chasing me down so I just took my time and rode it out.

I finished the race in 9th overall and 7th in the Cat 1 30-39 class.  I'm pretty happy with that result.  I think I could have done better but everyone that beat me and several that didn't are all very good riders so I feel good being amongst them.  There were lots of racers that weren't able to finish the race due to the heat and demands of the course.

I found lots of pictures of from the race.  Here are the galleries and below are the ones of me.

This creek was the most refreshing part of the lap.  I wanted to lay down in it.
Smiling because it's almost over!

Here's a link to my garmin data for the day.    You can find most of the chip timings here.

Thanks to the promoter (especially for that bottle of water) and volunteers for putting on a great and challenging race.  The post-race food was excellent!

Next up is the Lost Valley Luau.  I plan to take much more water to this one.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Down and Dirty recap

This weekend was the Down and Dirty mountain bike race in Warsaw Mo, on the banks of Truman Lake. The event is part of the United In Dirt cross country series. I’ve been looking forward to it after several weeks without racing. The trails in Warsaw are not terribly hilly but there is a good variety of terrain and some long flat sections where you can open up and lots of tight twisty switchbacks.

I arrived at the park around 10:30 for the noon start time and there were quite a few cars in the field near the starting area and lots of people milling around. I was supprised when I registered that I was the first person signed up for the cat 1 30-39 class. I wasn’t seeing hardly anyone from St. Louis, most of the riders were from Kansas City. By start time only 3 other riders had signed up in my class; Rock Wamsley (STL), Travis Donn and Bryce Lawarence (KC). With Travis and Rock there it was going to be a tough day.  It was a sunny day with the temperature in the mid 80's so it was going to be warm but not horrible.

I was supprised to see 4 S-Works Epics at the race; that’s the most I’ve ever seen at one event. Travis was on one and Rock was riding a 22 lb Giant Anthem SL so I wasn’t going to have any advantage there.

Mac Vorce, the race promoter and organizer started all experts together which I perfer over the minute delay between classes. We took off down a long double track section for about a ½ mile before the trail narrowed into singletrack. I was sitting in about 6th just a few places behind Rock. As the trail narowed one of the riders in front hit a tree and went down pretty hard. I saw him after the race and he had a nasty mark on his leg.

Before long I was able to pass the people between Rock and I and I fell in on his wheel. Rock is usually a very strong starter that leaves me at the beginning of races whereas I am more of a 2nd half guy. My plan was to latch onto him for the first lap or so of the 3 lap race, hang on for dear life and see what happened. The only problem was that he was not riding like he usually does. When we would come up on another rider he seemed content to sit on their wheel and I was having to urge him to pass them. A couple times I found him taking it easy on a climb and when I asked him to pick it up he just offered to let me by. I didn’t want to pass, I wanted him to push me!

One of the neat features of this course was that it went out from the starting area for 5 miles or so, then crossed back past back next to the starting line, back into the woods for a couple miles of brand new trail then a powerline climb back to the start/finish. Rock and I passed the start/finish area together before hitting the new trail. The new trail was pretty tricky because it was loose, had several off camber turns and a few very tight switchbacks. On one section Rock lost sight of the trail and missed a turn so I went on around. At that point I put the pedal down and finished the first lap alone. I rolled through in 38 minutes with Travis about 1:20 ahead and Rock about 30 seconds back.

On the second lap things did not go so well. I’ve been having problems for the last week or so where I’ve been dropping my chain when I ride through rough stuff. I have an XX drivetrain where I’m in the front big ring 98% of the time so the chain drops to the outside. I’m always able to fix it without stopping by down shifting on the front and pedaling lightly and it brings the chain back. On the first lap this happened several times but I was able to bring it back without any problems. Near the beginning of the second lap I passed a female marathoner and asked her how far back I was from the leaders and she said I was in 3rd (overall) so I started going all out trying to catch up to Travis and whoever else was up there. Then on one of the many dips in the trail my chain dropped but I didn’t realize it so when I mashed on the crank to climb out of it my chain got bound up and I snapped it. The powerlink that was holding the chain together came apart and I wasn’t carrying a spare so my day was over. I stayed there to wait for Rock and let him know I was out. He came buy, I told him he was in 3rd overall and to go get them. Luckily I was near one of the powerline clearings so it was just a short walk through the weeds back to the start/finish area where I let them know I was DNF.

I decided to stick around and do something I wish someone would do at every race; call out your place and the split between you and the person in front of you. When you’re out there riding you pass lots of people that you aren’t racing against and it’s easy to lose where you’re at in the overall scheme of things. I guess it shouldn’t really matter but I tend to race other people, not the clock and if I’m in or near the lead I want to know about it. Somewhere along the way Travis flatted and Rock moved into the overall lead. When they came by the start finish area during the last lap Rock had a 50 second lead and ended up beating Travis by 20 seconds or so. That’s a good race and I think Rock's strategy for the day paid off. I just wish I could have been in the mix….

My teammate Jeff Yielding did well; he finished 4th in the 40-49 class and 6th overall only about 6 minutes off the lead.  It was a very closely contested race.

Next up is the Missouri State Championship race at Castlewood on June 12th.  I can't wait.