Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Berryman 36 Hour Adventure Race

This weekend was the 11th running of the Berryman Adventure Race. I entered the 36 hour co-ed "elite" division with teammates Luke Kuschmeader, Jesse Livingston and Sara Parrish as Kuat Unite.  Unite is a charity effort by Kuat Racks.  They were inspired to do something by the tragedy of the Joplin Tornado earlier this year.  The Unite mission is to help victims of catastrophes around the world.  

This was my 5th adventure race and first 36 hour.  I had gotten a lot of good advice from some exceptional and experienced people leading up to the race, but really didn't know what it was going to be like.   I've raced with Luke several times but it was the first with Sara and it was Jesse's first adventure race.

I could give a blow by blow account of the race but that would take a long time.  Instead I'll just highlight a few of the highs and lows from our 30 hour adventure.

Best Moment Mentally:  On the last trekking "O" section over 24 hours into the race, I was tired but was mentally in the game.  I was focused on getting checkpoints and even though we were climbing some insane hills I was having a great time. 

Best Moment Physically: Anytime on the bike.  It's my thing and I love riding.  Even though I lost my front brake due to worn pads in the pouring rain within the first 4 hours of the race, it didn't really effect my riding.  I felt strong on the bike and looked forward to each biking leg of he race.

Worst Moment Mentally:  The first trekking "O" course consisted of 16 checkpoints in the area around the Berryman Campground.  There was an 8 hour time limit and for every 5 minutes you went over the cutoff it would cost 1 checkpoint.  We started this section of the race in the dark at 3am and initially struggled to find many of the checkpoints.  We eventually got into a grove and as we neared the cutoff we decided to try to squeeze 1 more checkpoint in before heading back.  We were all running out of water and that last checkpoint took longer to find than we expected.  With about 20 minutes to go we took off on a run trying to get back in time.  During the run Jesse was cramping so Luke dropped back to give him a tow.  We ran as hard as we could but ended up getting back 3 minutes past the cutoff, costing us that last checkpoint we worked so hard to get.  As I sat at the transition area, getting ready for the next bike leg I was really down.  I was thirsty, tired and mentally exhausted.  I didn't know if I even wanted to continue.  I kept my mouth shut but if someone on the team had said they wanted to quit I probably would have gone along with them.  After about 3 miles of riding we came to a creek where we could restock on water.  At that point my outlook had changed and once again I was enjoying the experience and looking forward to continuing.  The lesson here is don't dwell on the bad feelings.  It will change.  Just keep moving and it will get better.

Worst Moment Physically:  Although I was tired many times during the race I can't really pin down anytime I felt bad physically.  No cramping, no chafing, no blisters.  Never got very cold and didn't bonk.  That was pretty cool.

Scariest Moment:  The 2am canoe leg was unreal.  The water was moving pretty quickly and there were lot of obstacles in the water.  Rootballs, downed trees, and other canoes.  To top it off there was a thick fog coming off the water that greatly limited visibility.  I was super nervous and Luke was nodding off in the back of the boat.  Eventually I calmed down when I realized we could paddle hard enough to avoid everything and actually enjoyed the float.

Biggest Surprise:  Jesse's and Luke's calmness under fire.  Navigating an adventure race that covers as much ground as the Berryman 36 hour is no easy task and it's easy to lose your bearing and get frustrated.  Each and every time there was any uncertainty about our location and where the next checkpoint was, they regrouped, determined the best course of action and got us where we needed to go.  I'd race with them anytime.  I also can't neglect to mention Sara's pure strength. She impressed me over and over with her prowess on the bike and positive attitude.  She's tough. 

Bottom Line:  Jason and Laura  are expert adventure race promoters.  They dot all their I's and cross all their T's.  My team had a great experience this weekend and we'll be back for another Bonk Hard race.  

Here's a link to the results

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2011 Syllamo's Revenge race recap

I do quite a bit of racing and I usually put everything I have into each race, but for me there are 3 big races a year.  Races that I really look forward to and want to do well at.  They are the Ouachita Challenge, Syllamo's Revenge and the BT Epic.  They are all 50+ mile endurance races on some very tricky and challenging trails.  Of these races I've had my best result at Syllamo and this year I feel like I'm doing my best riding, so I entered this weekend's race with high excitement and expectations.

This year the Syllamo's Revenge was held alongside a new NUE Series event the Syllamo 125k.  They would be starting an hour ahead of us and racing the same course, but repeating a couple sections at the end in order to get the longer distance.  I had considered signing up for the longer race, but honestly, the 50 miles of SR are enough, and last year I didn't want to go any further.  I was a little uneasy how the earlier race would effect the trails for us, but everyone would be racing in the same elements so it really didn't make any difference.

The race is near Mountain View Arkansas and I planned on getting a cabin nearby but with 500+ people converging on the area the closest I could get (where dog's are allowed) was a room at a nice place in Calico Rock, the Cedar Rock Lodge.  It was about a 40 minute drive to the Blanchard Caverns Campground, the start/finish area of the race and very clean and affordable.

We made the drive to Calico Rock early Friday, and after checking in and unloading some stuff made the trip to Blanchard Springs Campground so I could pre-ride the first 5 miles of the course.  The ride was great, with mostly dry trails and I felt really good. 

Next we drove into Mountain View to pick up the race registration packet and then headed back to Calico Rock for some excellent pasta at Don Quixote's.  I had the seafood pasta and there was enough for two meals.

Saturday morning I was up at 4:30, ate a big bowl of oatmeal and drove to the race, getting there in time to watch the 125k race start at 7.  Then I rode up the long hill towards Blanchard Cavern to warm up my legs.  On the trip back down I noticed a strange wobble feeling in the lever for my rear brake.  It had a feeling like my rotor was bent and the lever was pulsating.  It had never done that before but I didn't think much of it.

I started the race on the front line and made it to the climb up blanchard road to the singletrack in pretty good shape.  I didn't go all out on the climb since my goal was just to enter the singletrack in the top 10.  In the following picture I'm the 3rd from the right:

A group of 5 broke away a little but were only 30 or so yards ahead.  Cale McAninch passed me and I reached the trail behind him around 6th place.  The pace on the trail was pretty good and on one of the rocky climbs that came after a sharp turn Cale, on a rigid singlespeed had to walk a bit so I passed and he got in behind me.  I got in a group behind 3 riders with Chris Renshaw and Noah Singer in the pack.  We got away from Cale for awhile as we cruised the fast flowing benchcut trail, but when we started some of the slick rocky descents Cale caught back up.  Overall I felt like we were riding faster than I had the previous year and I was definitely working but I was thinking I could maintain the pace for awhile.

About 10 miles into the race on a downhill I went to grab some brake and my rear brake lever went to the bar without slowing me down.  I tried pumping the lever but that didn't work, so I pulled over to see what was wrong.  Cale said that 90% of braking is the front wheel, which is true, but on slick muddy rocks, you need some rear brakes.  I fiddled with the various adjustments on my XX brakes but couldn't get them to work.  There simply wasn't any feeling at the lever, I could pull it to the bar without any resistance.

For the next 4 miles to the first checkpoint I did the best I could but had one crash were I went over the bars and hit my leg pretty hard on some rocks, and was passed by a couple people.  Here's a picture of me about a mile from the checkpoint:

When I got to the checkpoint I was really disappointed.  I'm not a great technical rider and I was really struggling on the downhills without a rear brake.  Plus the big downhills were still to come.  So I decided to call it a day and DNF the race.  I just didn't think I could do it without getting hurt.  Then, Jim Davis (the same Jim Davis that aired up my tire at Berryman a couple years ago) who was at the race supporting his wife Wendy (and everyone else), offered to let me (no told me to) ride his bike for the rest of the race.  I was hesitant but willing to give it a shot.  Then as he was setting the seat height for me he stripped the bolt on his seatpost collar.  I took it as a sign. 

I ended up hanging out at the aid station for awhile and it was pretty neat.  I've never been at one during a race for more than a few seconds.  The racers get a ton of support from friends, family, volunteers and total strangers.  You see a lot of emotion from total joy to fatigue induced suffering.  People battle mental and physical demons during these races, and they don't always win, but most of the time they do.

I ended up giving a ride back to Blanchard to RIM promoter Doug Long.  It was good getting to talk to him.  He has done all of the SR races and this was the first time he had to withdraw.  I could tell it wasn't an easy decision, but one he had to make.  He'll be back.

I'll be back as well.  I need to work on my downhill skills to have a chance to win these races, but I think I can get better.  Maybe riding the rough motorcycle trails at Chadwick would help.

The weekend wasn't a total loss, I got to eat some good food, see some great sights and talk to lots of great people.  The race didn't go as I'd hoped, but everything else did.

The pictures in this post were taken from THIS gallery.  There are hundreds of pictures from the race there.

Now I just need to get my bike fixed because I've got the Ozark Greenways Adventure race Saturday and 6 Hour Indian Camp Creek race Sunday.

2011 Greensfelder Challenge race recap

Last weekend (5/7) was the DRJ/GORC Greensfelder Challenge at Greensfelder county park near Eureka Mo.  It's part of the UFD East series and the proceeds from the race benefit GORC, the St. Louis trail building organization.  I've done the race the last couple of years and it's always a great event that brings out a lot of the St. Louis mountain bike racing community.

I had Syllamo's Revenge the next weekend, which is one of my biggest races of the year, so I entered this race with a goal of putting out a nice solid effort without breaking anything or injuring myself in the process.  

I signed up for the endurance class which is a race where you do as many laps as you can with a 3 hour cutoff.  If you start your last lap before the 3 hours you can finish that lap.  With a lap distance of just over 7 miles I figured it would be a 4 or 5 lap race.

At the starting line I was surprised how many people had signed up.  There are usually 9 or 10 that do the endurance class at series races, but there were over 25.  That's either a lot of people preparing for Syllamo's Revenge, or endurance racing is getting more popular.

The race started with a pretty fast pace and when we hit the trail I was sitting in 4th with Aaron Fader, Dan Miller and Jeremy Bock in front of me.  When we got to the first long rocky downhill I nearly wrecked so I backed off to get my bike under control and I lost the leaders.  But on the subsequent climb I was able to catch back up to Jeremy.  That repeated many times.  

The trail on the first lap was pretty good.  A little muddy but not bad.  On the second lap it was pretty bad.  The rocks and some of the climbs were slick and where there were leaves mixed with the mud it would get packed between the tire and chainstays.  But the sun was out and on each subsequent lap the trail was getting drier and drier.  

Here's a picture of me coming through the start/finish area:
On the second lap I saw Dan Miller on the side of the trail fixing a flat.  He had cut the sidewall on his rear tire in the rocks.  That put me in third.

There was one section of the trail with an uphill rock garden that I couldn't ride, so I had to push the bike for 20 yards or so.  On the third lap I caught up with Jeremy right before this section.  We both walked up the hill and as I jumped on my bike at the top I noticed my front tire was flat.  The bead was still on the rim and I couldn't see any stans leaking out so I figured I'd just burped it.  So instead of putting in a tube I just filled it with air using the CO2 canister I was carrying.  That allowed Jeremy to get away once again.

Then about 15 minutes later as I was making a hard turn I realized that my front tire was going flat again.  Upon inspection I found a small hole in the sidewall of the tire about a half inch from the tread.  I didn't have enough CO2 to fill a tube so I just aired the tire back up hoping it would get me to the start/finish area where I had several CO2's and tubes.  The thing is, I had a plug kit in my pocket that I bought for just this situation and it would have fixed the sidewall hole, but I've never used it before and I forgot all about it.

I limped to the end of the lap and on the final climb the tire was pretty spongy, but ride-able.  When I got to my table I put a tube in my tire and was passed by Jason Zoll and Mitch Johnson.  Now I was in fifth.  

The wasted time of airing my tire twice and putting a tube in meant there wasn't enough time for a fifth lap, so I headed out on my fourth and final lap with the goal of riding hard and having fun.  It was the best lap of the day.  The trails were in great shape and I was feeling good.  About halfway through I caught up with Mitch, and he let me by on a climb.  I rolled through the finish in fourth pretty satisfied with the day.

After the race I ate some delicious BBQ provided by GORC and got to talk with several people I hadn't seen in awhile.  Good times.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Toasty Waffles Training Race #1 recap

Yesterday was the first of a series of 4 training road races put on by St. Johns Cycling Team.  I don't own a road bike, have never really ridden one and of course have never done a road race, but with the encouragement of friends (*cough* Jesse!) decided to try one.

I was hooked up with a really nice road bike by my friends at A&B Cycle. The bike was a new Specialized Tarmac SL3 Expert Double. Here's a pic:

The race course was an 11 mile loop around fellows lake north of Springfield. To get used to riding the bike I decided to ride to the race venue with Jesse and Jared. It was only about a 20 minute ride and would also serve as a good warmup. There were 2 classes at the race, A would do 3 laps and B would do 2.  I decided to do the A race.  I'm obviously not on the same level as everyone else in that class, but my fitness is pretty good and I like to race against the best so figured what the heck.  I knew most of the people there since many of them also mountain bike, and I wanted to see what the draw is for road racing.

There looked to be about 20 or 25 riders in the class.  The start of the race was pretty casual.  We headed out in a clock-wise direction on the loop and the first section of road was straight with some small rolling hills.  We were riding in a large pack about 3 wide.  I was somewhere in the middle. 

After a few minutes the pace picked up a bit but and we went 2 wide.  After the first turn it became more of a pace-line with people pulling for a few seconds then dropping back into the line.  There was a lot of conversation going on and I was getting a lot of good advice from several people.  I took a few turns at the front and it was amazing the difference in the effort between being behind someone and being on the front.  It seemed like the whole idea was to conserve as much energy as possible.  Nobody would pull long enough to wear themselves out.  On the first big climb Peter broke away from the group and for some reason I started chasing him.  I got about halfway between him and the pack and once we crested the hill I was soon caught by the pack and Peter also fell back in. It was just wasted effort.  

I spent the rest of the first lap with the pack cycling through the pace-line.  It was funny because when I peeled off the front I would have to float alongside the whole line and get on the back because there where no gaps to rejoin.  At one point as I was near the back trying to get back to speed to rejoin the group I got a little push from Ryan McCormick (Skip) which got me going again.  The second lap was more of the same.  I felt pretty good and couldn't help wondering when things were going to break apart.  We were 1 big group of riders and I knew there were several people there that could ride away from us and not look back.

About halfway through the second lap there was a crash at the front of the line.  I didn't see it happen but heard a couple guys bumped wheels and went down.  Nobody was hurt and we all slowed down to let them catch back up.  Not long after I was at the front of the group riding next to Brad Huff when I jokingly said I could have ridden my mountain bike.  Big mistake.  He pulled away and soon everyone was passing me.  I was working pretty hard to pick up the pace and when Bud Hogan rode by he told me to keep it smooth.  But keeping it smooth didn't help.  I drifted off the back and despite my effort couldn't rejoin the group so I could rest a little in the draft.  I struggled as everyone slowly pulled away. 

At the end of the first lap a few people dropped out, and I saw that Skip had dropped off the main pack as well.  I worked to catch up to him and when I did we started taking turns pulling and were able to speed up a bit.  Then I noticed that Ryan Meschke had also fallen off and we soon caught up with him.  The 3 of us worked together for awhile but on the next big climb with Ryan leading the way we noticed that Skip was drifting back.  We kept going, rotating every 10 or 20 seconds.  

As we neared the end of the lap Ryan asked how we were going to finish.  I said I didn't care and he suggested we ride up the last big hill together which ends within sight of the finish and then sprint it out.  That sounded good so I agreed.  The last climb was pretty slow and I just tried to save energy.  At the top I said "Let's Go!" and took off.  Ryan fell in behind me.  Then about 30 yards from the finish he swung around but I had used up my energy and couldn't hold him off.  He passed me before the finish.  Rookie mistake.

After the race my legs were cooked.  Mainly my abductors and upper hamstrings.  I must not use those as much mountain biking.  I decided to catch a ride back to town with Lori instead of ride back with Jesse and Jared.  I'm glad I did the race.  It was a pretty big eye opener and I had a good time.  If I can secure another bike I'll be back.  

Here's my garmin data from the race.

I'm not sure who won the A race but Jared won the B race and will be sporting the yellow jersey next week. 

On a side note, the Tarmac is an amazing bike.  I rode it into work today and I'm going for a ride at lunch.  It's so much more efficient on the road than my epic.  Makes road riding seem fun.....

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

2011 Ouachita Challenge recap

This weekend was the 10th annual Ouachita Challenge.  It was my second time doing the race and coming off a solid effort at the spa city 6 hour 3 weeks ago I hoped I'd do well.

The race was Sunday, so Saturday morning I got in a nice hour and a half ride on the womble trail.  I felt really good, like I was floating over the trail.  When I crossed one of the gravel roads I came upon a couple of women that gave me a confused look.  When I said I was pre-riding the trail they said the race wasn't using the trail I'd just left.  It was going to come from the road and enter the trail on the opposite side I was riding.  I was a bit confused since I'd ridden that trail the previous year, but I continued on, eventually turning around and heading back to the cabin.  For the afternoon I was planning on riding brushy mountain, which is used at the start of the race, but I decided against it so I'd be fresher on race day.  Instead I did some sight-seeing.  That is such a beautiful area.

Saturday evening I went to the pre-race dinner/raffle and looking at the race course I found out the reason the volunteers I'd talked to that morning said I wouldn't be riding the eastern part of the womble.  They changed the course and weren't doing the section from the previous year that went on the other side of Ouachia lake.  They were sending us through sims and doing more of western part of the womble.  Looking at the map it seemed significantly shorter than the previous years course, but you can never really tell since the scale of the maps have the trail looking like a straight line when they are never straight.

Sunday morning I woke up at 4:45, unable to sleep due to the nervousness and excitement for what lay ahead.  The start time for the race was 8am so I spent my time eating a huge bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter, banana, raisins and maple syrup.  Then prepping my bike for the race.  

Eventually we drove to the elementary school that is the staging area and start/finish of the race.  I knew the race would have a several mile rollout before hitting any singletrack so I didn't worry about warming up.  I just rode around talking to people I've met a various races and then positioned myself on the front row for the start.  Actually I positioned myself where the start line would eventually be.  I was the first one there but once I planted myself next to the tree people starting riding over to claim their spot.  I ended up between 2 very good riders, one of which recognized me from spa city.  On my right was Aaron Elwell from KS and on my left was Chris Renshaw from OK.  Chris finished 3rd at spa city (I was 6th) and Aaron has beaten me several times, most recently at the KC Cup race at Swope Park last September.  Behind me was Chris Ellis from KC who beat me at the Tour de Tick last year.  Other notables I've raced against were Cornbread from NE, Noah Singer and Hap Seliga from AR to name a few.  I love racing against talented people and I was surrounded by talent.  It was going to be a good day.

The race started with a different route to Brushy than last year.  We still had to ride behind a gentleman on a recumbent bike for a half mile or so, but we weren't on HWY 88 which meant we could take up the entire width of the road.  When we were given the go ahead to race I was hugging the center line sitting about 3 rows back in a huge mass of riders, with 2 or 3 on either side.  It was like I was in a vacuum being pulled forward.  We were going about 20mph on asphalt and I was coasting as much as pedaling.  It was a pretty cool feeling.  

When we made the turn to gravel the pace didn't really pick up any and I was worried the crowd would be too big once we reached the trail, so I rode to the front of the pack and started to ride away.  Of course they weren't going to let that happen so everyone caught up to me and I jumped back in the draft.  We were now racing.

There were 2 lines of riders, one in each lane of the narrow gravel road.  There were a few short hills and people were jockeying for position on the rough gavel in the center of the road.  As the lead of each line changed you would see that side surge ahead but overall we were staying pretty equal.  I was feeling pretty good sitting about 10 spots back when we came to a pretty big hill and the paceline fell apart.  2 riders broke away charging up the hill.  The first one was Wiley Mosley from TX and Elwell was on his heels.  I made a small break with 3 or 4 other riders chasing them.   I figured the start of the singletrack must be near and didn't want to be behind too many riders when we got there.  After cresting the top of the hill Wiley continued to ride away and Elwell dropped back to join our small group.  On the next big climb you could see the volunteers at the top signaling the start of Big Brushy trail.  Elwell took off and when we got to the trail I was in 4th.  

Charging up that climb left me pretty winded, but Brushy didn't let me off the hook because it also starts with a climb.  To make it better there's a nice little rock garden at the top of the initial climb that you get to negotiate while drooling on your top tube.  Overall Brushy isn't that technical, but there is lots of climbing, some steep descents and lots of rocks lining the trail.  I was passed by a few riders and passed a couple others so when I rolled into the first aid station to swap bottles I was sitting in 5th.  Several people didn't stop and flew past me.  I would see them often on the next section of the course; blowout mountain.

Blowout mountain is what the Ouachita Challenge is all about.  Big climbs, screaming descents and crazy rock gardens.  My racing style is about 1 thing; consistency.  Don't go too fast at the start, don't go too fast on the descents, keep a steady tempo on the flats, try not to slow down as the race progresses and climb as fast as I can.  I felt like I was riding well on blowout mountain.  I'd pass a few people going up hill, get passed going downhill and ran across a lot of the rock gardens.  On one of the downhills I pass Elwell as he's fixing a flat on the side of the trail.  I knew I'd be seeing him again soon.  Then near the end of Blowout, as I was going down a hill my left pedal struck a rock and it threw me into a tree on the right side of the trail.  My shoulder slammed into a tree and it felt like I broke something.  But I didn't and the pain went away.  I refilled one of my bottles at the aid station between Blowout and Chalybeate Mountain then started on the longest sustained climb of the day.  

Since the race last year I switched my bike to 1x10 gearing with a 38t front chainring, so while the biggest gear in the back is a 36t, I don't have a true "granny" gear where I can slowly spin up a hill.  While I won't say I flew up Chalybeate I rode pretty well having to stand several times to keep my momentum up and relieve some of the burning in my legs.  After that big first climb Chalybeate is a pretty fun trail.  There are more hills but they aren't bad and the trail flows really well. 

Next was about an 8 mile road ride with a strong headwind that lead us through Sims and on to the womble (where I'd seen the 2 ladies the day before).  That road section was pretty tough.  It would have been nice to be in a group to have someone to draft off of, but there was no-one in sight so I tucked down to get as areo as I could and rode hard.  At Sims I swapped bottles and continued on.  

When I finally got to the womble I said hello to the volunteers, put the offered zip tie on my handlebars and took off.  Womble is a great trail.  It wasn't as effortless as it had felt the previous day, but it was still pretty fun.  Pretty soon I was caught and passed by Elwell, then not long after saw him on the side of the trail again fixing another flat.  He looked pretty frustrated.  As I rode on I was having fun, but I had this nagging feeling.  I was feeling good and I know I was riding faster than I had the previous year, but I was sitting in 9th place, the same as last year.  I felt like I should be in a better position.  Then while I was contemplating life, I was caught by Cornbread.  I didn't try to run from him.  

Endurance racing is weird.  Most of the time you aren't racing anyone but yourself.  You are alone in the woods and you just go as fast as your skill and fitness will allow.  All kinds of thoughts go through your head.  When you're feeling good it's all fun, when you're fatigued or injured it's all bad.  Climbing starts to suck and descents start to be blurry.  But on the rare occasion you see another rider, all that goes away; you're racing someone!

I hate running from someone during a race, I'd much rather chase.  When you're running you feel your own fatigue and in your mind the other person is feeling awesome.  When you're chasing you can see if they are struggling or not and you can attack appropriately.  Maybe you need to let them go and hope to see them again, maybe you need to hang onto them and push them out of their comfort zone until they tire enough to want you to pass them and go away.  Maybe you should try to blow by them and get out of their sight so they think you're feeling good.  That's what makes the racing fun.  I like to push myself and see what I'm capable of, but I like the competition just as much.

When cornbread passed me I hung on.  I rode behind him for awhile and at the top of the biggest climb on the womble he pulled to the side of the trail.  I'm not sure if he was cramping or having a mechanical issue, but I took the advantage and rode away as fast as I could.  

Pretty soon I started catching other riders who were all having cramping issues.  I was tired but physically fine so I was pretty happy to be moving up.  Then right before leaving the womble I caught up to Noah Singer.  As we popped out onto a gravel road I wasn't sure if there was more trail or if we would have road the rest of the way.  I told Noah that I'd just passed 3 people and he said "well lets put some distance on them".  So I jumped to the front and he drafted behind me.  Then after a couple minutes we traded places.  He was riding pretty hard so I told him to not dig too big of a hole and let me pull every couple of minutes.  Then before we could switch we rode up on another volunteer directing us to singletrack.  

I rode behind Noah for awhile and then he pulled over and told me to go on.  I think he was cramping.  It was a pretty hot day, over 80 degrees and lots of people were cramping.  When I passed him I rode hard to get out of his sight and soon popped out on a gravel road where the volunteer said it was 10 miles to the finish.  I didn't believe him since I was over 50 miles in at that point, but I was sitting in 5th and wanted to be done with the race.  So I rode on the last big climb of the race, a big switchback road, on one of the turns I saw someone behind me.  I attacked that hill, rode past the water station and soon couldn't see the rider behind me anymore.  

When I got to the pavement I knew there were only a few miles to go so I tucked down low and tried to ride fast.  I looked over my shoulder and someone was about a hundred yards behind me.  Crap, just like last year.  I  pushed harder, looked again and he was closer.  Pushed harder looked again and he was right behind me.  It was Elwell again.  As he passed me I told him I wasn't going to fight him for it (as if it would have made a difference).  I said he earned it.  So I cruised to the finish in 6th covering 60 miles in 4:57.  7 minutes behind the winner Wiley Mosley.  I'm happy with that.

After the race I ate some pizza, hung around, and had a good time.  Thanks to all the volunteers that support this race and the racers.  They are amazing.

Here's a link to the results, and here's a link to my garmin data from the day.  I saw several people taking photo's during the race so if I find any galleries I'll update this post with a link.

I had a great time and will hopefully be back next year.

Monday, March 28, 2011


I live only 2 miles from work and I've always driven to work.  I tried commuting by bike a couple years ago but it didn't seem worth the hassle for only 10 minutes on the bike.  Then, last week while running around the neighborhood I wondered why I don't just run to work.  It would be a good way to start the day and I'd be able to easily add 20 miles a week to my training load.  Plus it wouldn't add much time since there is a lot of stop and go when I drive.  I decided to give it a shot.  

There were a few things to consider.  First was my boat anchor of a laptop that I need to take home each day.  It's a 17 incher and is pretty heavy.  Luckily when I remove the water reservoir it fits perfectly in the CamelBak H.A.W.G NV that I bought last year for the Hut to Hut ride from Durango CO to Moab UT.  It's a good pack with a waist strap that I can tighten enough to keep it from bouncing around while I run.  The other thing to worry about was clothing.  The dress code at work is pretty casual, but I don't think I can get away with wearing running shorts and dri-fit tee's all day.  But I don't want to change clothes when I come and go.  The idea for the commute is to be hassle-free so I'll stick with it.  

This weekend I bought a few pairs of Kuhl pants that are light and comfy enough to run in and look good enough to work in.  I also got a Mountain Hardware jacket for rainy days.  I think I need to get a few lightweight shirts for this summer, but equipment wise I am good to go.

This morning was my first run to work day and it was really nice.  Took about 15 minutes and with the cool temperature it felt really good.  My only problem was that I ran to the door and as soon as I walked in I started sweating.  I think I'll have to walk in the last block or so to allow a proper cool-down to prevent that.  I'm pretty happy with the idea but we'll see how this works out.


Monday, February 14, 2011


It's that time of year where I try to build my fitness up for the demands of a full season of endurance racing.  On Saturday I did 12 laps on my mountain bike around the 5 mile loop at Wilsons Creek National Battlefield.   To me it's a great place to train when the trails aren't ride-able.  It's a one-way paved loop with minimal traffic and has a great elevation profile.  It starts with a mile or so that's mostly downhill, followed by about a half mile gradual climb, then a short steep climb followed by a couple miles of flat road.  Then another gradual climb, quick descent, followed by bloody hill which is a LONG hill that starts gradual, gets steep, levels for a short section then goes back up with a pretty tough climb at the top.  That's followed by a couple rollers before the end of the loop.  

I guess the point of this post is to offer a bit of advice to others that are thinking about getting into endurance riding/racing.  You will get to a point when you're riding hard where you're weaknesses will rear their ugly head.  It may be soreness in your lower back, it may be burning in your quads or hamstrings.  It may be all of the above.  The thing is when you get to that point, don't stop.  For me this weekend it was around 2 and a half hours.  Riding the bike got uncomfortable and I wanted to stop.  But I just backed off a little, and kept going.  Eventually the pain went away.  It always does.  Then I sped back up.

Riding through the discomfort will make you sore and you have to make sure you give yourself time to recover afterward, but each time you do this you'll be better.  

Don't think about how something is going to feel.  It will hold you back.  When you're on the bike focus on the moment, do the best you can right now and above all, don't quit.  You'll deal with the future when you get there.   

Monday, January 3, 2011

One year on the Epic

I've had my 2010 Specialized S-Works Epic for just over a year, and figured I'd do a fairly in-depth review.  I decided to buy the bike after a test ride at the 2009 Burnin' at the Bluff race.  It was a relay style race and I was able to take the demo bike out for a lap.  I fell in love.  After demoing a few other brands I decided to get the Epic because nothing else made me feel as good.

I did 27 races this year on the epic, from short track distances to 60+ mile marathons.  I've also put slicks on it and did a fair amount of training on the road.  So I've got a pretty good feel for this bike.

I made very few equipment changes to the bike right off the bat.  I put Crank Bros Eggbeater 4ti pedals on it and ESI "Racer's Edge" black grips.  After cutting the sidewall of the rear tire on my first ride, I switched the tires to Schwalbe.  I went with a a 2.4 Rocket Ron on the front and 2.25 Racing Ralph (with Snakeskin) on the back.  I set them up tubeless with Bontrager stems (for the removable core), the Specialized rim tape and Stans sealant, a very fast and reliable setup.  I also got a set of SRAM Matchmaker-X clamps for the shifters and brakes for the cleaner look and adjustability.  Even though they weigh a few grams more than separate clamps, I like it better.

Early in the year I would experience lower back pain and a burning sensationafter about 3 hours of racing.  It would hurt so bad that I'd have to either ride with one hand so I could sit up or if there was a gravel or paved section, ride without my hands on the bars.  After a few seconds of sitting up, the pain would go away for awhile.  I think it was a combination of the more extended riding position than I was used to and lack of core training on my part, so I spent some time doing exercises on a medicine ball and lots of riding.  The pain disappeared in mid-April and hasn't been an issue since.

The best feature of the bike is the brain suspension setup.  It provides a stiff and stable pedal platform on smooth ground but goes fully active in the rough stuff.  I've been on road rides and had several people say they couldn't believe the bike doesn't bob when standing for a hill climb.  I keep the brain set to full firm on both the fork and shock and love it.  At high speeds I can feel a little vibration on the front when going over small rocks, but I've gotten used to it and don't notice it any more.  I've taken the bike to the shop for service of the suspension 3 times, according to its maintenance schedule.  I think it was $50 for the in-shop services, and I don't know what the third one is since I haven't gotten it back yet.  In my last ride before the Castlewood Adventure Race, I blew out the platform on the rear shock.  It still functioned fine, but was fully active like a normal shock.  I went ahead and rode it in the race on December 4th and took it to the shop on the 6th.  They sent the parts to Specialized and are supposed to get them back today.

The bike came with a SRAM XX 2x10 drivetrain which is really nice; great, crisp shifting, even under load.  But over time, I realized that I never used the small chain ring in front so decided to switch to a 1x10 setup.  Dropping the front shifter, cable, housing, derailleur and inner chain ring took over half a pound off the bike. 
But I couldn't find a chain-guide that would fit the bike.  The seat-post mounted type wouldn't work because it has a curved oval seat-tube and the bottom bracket mounted type wouldn't work because it has a press-in bottom bracket.  So I got creative and crafted several home-made chain guides out of steel, Plexiglas and aluminum but none of them worked very well.  I would drop my chain on the rough downhills.  I took the bike to the shop where I bought it to get some opinions on why the chain kept coming off and they noticed that my front chain ring was pretty worn, and that there was a bit of a grinding in the bottom bracket.  They replaced them both (under warranty) but I kept dropping the chain during races.  In August I was talking to Travis Donn from KC who rides the same bike and he said it was my rear derailleur.  He said he was dropping his chain (with the stock XX setup) and his shop replaced his rear derailleur with a new one and that fixed it.  He said it keeps more tension on the chain.  I ended up buying an XX mid-cage derailleur and an MRP 1.x chain guide that I built a DMD (the spot the front derailleur bolts to) mount for out of aluminum.  The combination of those have solved the problem and I haven't dropped the chain since.

At my last cross-country race of the year, the Slaughter Pen Jam in Bentonville Arkansas, about an hour and a half into the race, I broke one of the rails on my seat.  It was a Specialized Phenom SL with hollow titanium rails and the right side snapped behind the seatpost mount.  The trails there are really fun with lots of short climbs and dips and it broke at the bottom of one of the dips.  I usually try to come off of the seat and hover when riding through those, but there were so many of them I was just staying seated.  Even though I still had about forty minutes of riding left, I was winning the race so I just kept going.  It made my rear-end a little sore because I was riding on my left cheek, but it wasn't painful.  The next day (a Monday), I took the seat into the shop and I had a warranty replacement in my hands on Friday.

About a week after getting my new seat I was riding in St. Louis on the flood-plain section of the Chubb trail.  It's a twisty trail with banked turns and lots of dips through drainage ditches. On one of the banked turns I felt and heard a sound like I'd hit something, then felt my rear tire rubbing the frame.  When I looked down I saw that I'd snapped non-drive side chain stay.  It was a clean break right in the middle.  Luckily there were some hikers walking by that were parked less than a mile away and they offered to drive me to my car.  It saved me a several mile hike.  The next day (Monday) I took the bike to the shop and they had already heard about my problem and had contacted Specialized about it.  I picked up my bike up with the replacement chainstay on Friday, and the shop had also replaced the suspension pivot bushings because they noticed they had some stiction.

One place the bike really shines is on long gradual climbs.  With just a little extra effort you can fly up a hill without downshifting.  But something that still makes me nervous is the feeling of descending rough trails on such a light bike; it doesn't have that confidence inspiring solid feel of a heavier bike.

Over the course of the year I've tried several different tire combinations, and I think my three favorite are:
  • Race setup: Rocket Ron front and Racing Ralph rear
  • Dry hardpack: Specialized Renegade front and rear
  • Muddy: Continental Mountain King
 There's a lot more I could say about my year on the bike but figured I'd just break it down to strengths and weaknesses:
  • Strengths:  lightweight, climbing, comfort (after getting used to it), quick acceleration, awesome warranty
  • Weaknesses:  high price, minor rear flex on high-speed turns, stuff breaking after an admittedly hard year of use
Overall I'm really happy with the bike.  I'd like to test ride the new 2011 S-Works Epic 29er to see what the difference is, but I've ordered a Specialized Roval carbon wheelset that I'll hopefully get next month.  I also plan on switching to a singlespeed front chain ring, maybe a Rotor, so I plan on getting another year of racing out of it.