Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pickett's Charge

Last weekend was Pickett's Charge, a race on trails outside of Bend, and the last of the Oregon XC series of races.  Mary had a women's mountain bike clinic over the weekend, so Nana and Grandpa came down to hang with Simone.  Dad and I headed over to Bend Saturday night to avoid having to wake up at 4:30 to make it to the race on time.

Sunday morning we woke up and had a disappointing breakfast at Jackson's Corner (the potatoes were incredibly salty, and my scramble was pedestrian (how's that for a high brow description?)), and then drove out to the Wanoga Sno-Park.  The parking lot for the area is an oval, and in the middle there is a BMX course - lots of bumps and corners and way fun.  They didn't have a kids race, but the kids were very content riding that for 2 hours.  Heck, I would have been happy riding it for 2 hours.

As we drove out, the weather was gorgeous, if a bit chilly.  I picked up my registration and changed into my race clothes.  I rode around a little bit, hopping on the course for a couple miles and saying "hi" to various people.  As the race start approached, so did the clouds and the rain.  Quickly all discussion turned to how much to wear for the race.  I opted for an undershirt, a long sleeved shirt, and my jersey - I might invest in a "team dirt" jacket next year to make wearing warm stuff easier (since you're supposed to race with your logo visible).

During the TOE50 I discovered that while my homemade energy bars/balls are delicious, they are difficult to eat while riding, so I opted to carry Clif Bloks, Dots, gummy bears, and jelly beans.  Mary found some gummy bears and sour jelly beans that were made with real sugar, and I mixed that with the Bloks (real-ish sugar) and Dots (mmm.... corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors).  And then I put them in my new "Aero FuelBox", basically a little zippered pouch I attach on the toptube/stem of my bike.  That worked really well, I ended up keeping it open and just digging my hand in there for a few pieces at a time.  It was so much easier than digging around in the jersey pocket.  And the sugary snacks were small and easy to eat - I could either chew them or let them melt.  I really like the taste of the Clif Bloks, but compared to the other flavors, they were kind of flat - that said, they were the easiest to eat (softest).  The Dots are yummy, if a bit sticky on the teeth.  The standout of the bunch were the sour jelly beans which had a great burst of flavor (my mouth is watering just writing about it).  I'll definitely use this in all my future races, supplementing the longer races with the DIY energy balls at the rest stops.

The start was very nicely staged, with good-sized signs for each category.  This was a gripe I (and others) have had about other races, and these folks did a great job of making it very clear.  Plus, each wave started 2-3 minutes apart, ensuring lots of separation.  As a result, the 11 clydesdales had plenty of time to bond - which was kind of nice.  About the only downside was that we were the 2nd to last wave, with only the Cat 3 riders behind us - and they were doing just one lap, so the race was a bit lonely.

The official OBRA timer blew the whistle and we were off, climbing up hill for 1/2 mile, then down a dirt road for 1/2 a mile, and into the singletrack.  I took off like a shot and shouted, "I'm winning!" just to say I was in the lead at one point.  We all settled into the climb, jockeying around to find the pecking order.  Surprisingly, if you look at all of the folks who did the climb on Strava, I have the 7th fastest (of 40), including significantly faster than my buddy Scott - who finished the race way way way ahead of me.

My goal at the start was to try to be in the top 3 of the clydes when we switched to the singletrack, and I couldn't quite do that - I was fourth.  Unfortunately, I got stuck behind a slow Cat 2 woman right at the singletrack, and clyde #3 put some distance between us right away.

The trail has a number of places where the trail Y's into two trails and you get to choose which direction to go.  The first one was pretty early on the single track, and I chose poorly and followed the slow Cat 2 gal... which allowed Clyde #5 to jump past me into position #4.  That was the one mistake I feel I made during the race - he quickly put a gap between us, and got past a couple slower Cat 2 women, and within 5 minutes he was gone from view.  In the end, he finished at least 7 minutes ahead of me (dunno if he finished #3 or #4), so he was definitely faster than me for the day.  Still, had I chosen the left branch, I could have held him off a little longer.  I fretted about that mistake for a chunk of the ride, but kept telling myself I'd just have to catch him.

The rain stopped about 3 miles into the ride, and it slowly got a little nicer.  The sun was welcome, but it never got very warm.

After the initial climbs we got to descend on a trail called Tiddlywinks for nearly 4 miles, and man was that fun.  Lots of windy, banked turns, little whoops.  It'd rained (and snowed) the day before, so the trail conditions were great - no dust at all.  I had adjusted my seat about an inch lower than I normally have it, and the climbs seemed normal - but on the descent I really noticed a difference.  There was one spot where I chose to go over a large rock (2' high) as opposed to around, and the drop off was steeper than I expected - and I had absolutely no problem adjusting myself on the bike to cleanly ride it out - feeling very stable the entire time.  I think had the seat been at the regular height I might have gotten stuck and felt in danger of going over the handlebars.  So, key learning: ride more with the seat in the slightly lower position to see how that feels overall.

The riding in Bend is definitely different than in Corvallis.  The Bend trails are just so windy and banked, you really need to have good separation between you and the bike.  I felt a little more confident with that skill on this ride (versus Sister's).  In Corvallis, the rides are much straighter, and of course less rocky.

On the way down there was a corner which had 10-15 water bottles scattered around.  I asked the team if they had any clue as to why this was, but nobody had a definitive answer.  The best guess was that the turn was after a straight section and people were caught off guard while getting a drink.

A nice surprise was that I passed a couple people on the down - yay fun.

After the wonderful descent, the climb began.  At the end of the descent/beginning of the climb some folks passed me - they were some pretty fast Cat 3 guys.  One clydesdale passed me during that chunk, but we started climbing and I got past him quickly.

One really young Cat 3 kid passed me on the climb and I stuck with him through the end of the first lap.  I could have passed him but chose to just ride his wheel because I was near my limit.  He turned off at the finish, and I kept on going for lap # 2.

The second lap was like the first, only a little bit slower.  I tried to go faster, but the overall time was longer, so I'm sure it was slower.  The down was probably even more fun the second time, and the up was bearable - though my legs were pretty tired.

This was the first race my heart rate monitor worked, and it appears that my anerobic threshold is around 166bpm.  Whenever I was above this, I could feel my legs starting to fail, and when I was below I could feel that I had just a little more to give.  I checked the rate many times during the race and it was pretty accurate.

The second lap was also a bit lonelier.  I didn't see anyone for most of the lap, I think one person passed me, and near the end I caught up with a slower Cat 2 guy.  With one kilometer left (really, a 1km sign...) I decided to catch the Cat 2 guy, and luckily I caught him just a little before the last 'Y' in the trail - I took the other branch and passed him.  At the end of the race I finished alone, leaving him behind.

I finished 5th of 11 clydesdales, and you can check out my ride on Strava.  I was a bit disappointed to not have finished higher, but given the 7 minute gap between me and 4th place, there wasn't any one thing I could have done to fix that (as opposed to the TOE 50, or Sister's Stampede), and I really did push myself pretty hard for nearly the entire 2.5 hours.  So all in all, a great race.

Dad and I hung out for the awards, munching on the food they provided.  They had a few giveaways, but nothing like the bike/wheels/roof rack stuff that Mike gets.  People started drifting away as the awards went on, probably because it was difficult to hear and it was kind of cold.

I drove to Sisters where Dad and I got a milkshake - fresh banana for me, mmmm.... then Dad drove and I took a little nap.

I talked with Scott after the race, and we both agreed that a better warm-up was needed.  While I was significantly behind the other clydes in front of me, I still think that a stronger start would help.  I don't know if a stronger start itself is the cause of the final positions, or if it's just that the stronger riders have stronger starts - I imagine it is a bit of both.  Key learning: work on hill starts for next year.

As this was last race of the XC series, the winners of the series were announced (not official until Thursday, but good enough for me).  I ended up in 6th out of 21 clydes.  Next year I'll try for top 3, but the way the scoring works, a big part of placing is racing in 6 of the races (only your top 6 finishes count), and then placing high.  The top two guys from this year look pretty tough - both of them placing either 1st or 3rd in all 5 of the races they each raced - so unseating them will be some work.  The rest of the racers either didn't race enough to get a good idea of how good/bad they are, or seem to be in my ballpark already.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Test Of Endurance 50

Two week ago I rode in the Test Of Endurance 50, a race in the same forest as the Mudslinger, and it shares a couple of the trails.  It was essentially two 25 mile loops, with 4500' of climbing on each loop.

My goal in the race was to finish in one piece and have fun.  Mission accomplished.

I finished after 6 hours 41 minutes and 32 seconds, a mere 36 seconds behind 3rd place.  Crazy.

The day looked to be pretty warm, so I just wore my jersey and bib and a bit of sunscreen.  I was talking with Jason Stowers before the race and he pointed out the jersey unzipped all the way - so I sported my chest hair for most of the race to keep cool.

What do I remember from the race?  Well, it was a rolling start and the Cat1/Pro folks took off pretty fast.  I settled into a relatively comfortable pace as we began to climb.  Jason Stowers and I kept passing each other, mostly me passing him as he putzed with his water bottle cages, then him passing me.

The first two trails were named "first" and "second" respectively - not very original, but entertaining on the climb up.  Then we popped over to my new favorite in that forest named "Side Hill" or something like that.  The trail cuts right across the side of a really steep hillside, jogging up and down.  Then we rode "Dinner" and "Movie" (get it? - not everyone riding caught it), which were pretty fun downhill singletracks, with one fairly exposed/steep section which I panicked on the first time around (damn signs).  It was very ride-able if you don't psych yourself out.  I felt pretty embarrassed as people flew past me.  Then more climbing up to the aide station. 

I'd been having issues with my chain not staying in 2nd & 3rd gears in the back, so the mechanic took a look at it, adjusted it some, and for the most part fixed the issue - which was nice because I really could use the low gears on this continual climb.

The aide station had plenty of food - the chips were my favorite, mmmm... salty.

Then up briefly to a descent whose name I forget - probably the most difficult in some ways because it ducked in and out of small stands of trees, and the transition from sun to shade made visibility really poor.  Then we were on the Mudslinger course, up the singletrack... and then down Panama to the second aide station.

I felt pretty good at the first aide station (12 miles in), but kinda weary at the second.  I hung out for a few minutes.  I saw Maggie Rising there, but she took off pretty quickly whereas I hung out taking in a bunch of liquid.  I refilled my 60oz bladder at this point, plus my water bottle.  This was the aide station where you could "ship" yourself a bag/box/cooler - two guys sent themselves pizzas!

Then it was time for lap number 2, more or less a repeat of the first.  I rode the first half of this leapfrogging some nice young lady (gah, I'm old), but she eventually put the distance between us at Dinner/Movie down.  I saw her briefly at the 3rd aide station, but I decided to rest there.

Just before the 3rd aide station I biked past a guy who was cramping up real bad - he walked his bike up to the station just before I left, and it was a good reminder to keep taking in fluids/food.  I took my time at the 3rd aide station, sitting in one of the chairs there, sipping a cold can of Coke - it tasted awesome!  I also created my first ever nutella/bagel sandwich with potato chips (the bagel was whole wheat - making the whole thing healthy).

The ride down was good - I joined up with a gal from Bend for the last 10 miles or so, and we chatted on the road back to the school/finish.  At one point she picked up the pace, and I asked if we were going to pass the guy we saw a ways ahead of us.  She said "yes" and off we went - catching him.

At this point I really thought about my learnings from the Sister's race, and I made sure nobody caught me on the last mile.  I left the gal from Bend in my wake as I powered/puttered up the hill to the school.  I was pretty tired, but it felt good.

I hung out with a number of folks from Team Dirt and ate the big burrito (delicious), then hosed myself off before going to change.

The awards were a little haphazard as the scoring was messed up, and I was accidentally called up to the podium to receive my 3rd place medal.  But here's the picture anyway:

I like this photo of me during the first lap, only I wish the camera had the horizon level to show how steep the trail was at that section.

And this photo, on the 2nd lap, makes me look good.  All the shadows are in the right spots, I look thin and fast.  Soon it'll be reality, not just a lucky picture.

If you look closely, you can see me in the mass start.

What did I learn from this race?  My conditioning was pretty good, my descending is still my weak point (that's where I was passed, almost never on the climb).  The energy balls and bars I make are very tasty, but not very practical to eat while riding (too hard to breathe while chewing actual food).  Oh, and don't sit at the last aide station for 5+ minutes only to lose out of the podium by 36 seconds.

All in all, I was happy to have done the race, it was very well organized, the trails were fun, the conditions were perfect, the support was great.

Next year I plan on trying to come in under 6 hours - that's a bit of a stretch, but I learned that Melissa Norland took nearly an hour off her time from last year to this (6 hours to 5 hours), and I've got more room to improve than she did.

Other than that, I think I'll take less food with me and rely more on the aide stations.

I drank at least 200 ounces of water during the race (2 bladders and 5 bottles) and another 100 after the race. Even with that, I didn't pee until after I got home.

I'll get to practice this in the 6 hours of Alsea - pretty much the same race for me since I was on my bike for 6 hours.

Oh, the bib worked pretty well, a little bit of chafing, but that's par for the course for me for rides over 3 hours...

Thanks to Mary and Simone for supporting me in going to this race, I'm glad they didn't come to "support" me because it would have been a long, boring day for them.

The next race is Pickett's Charge...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Family art night

We occasionally have family art night, where we all work on some bit of art. I drew with colored pencils, I forget what Mary did, but I do have an action shot of Simone painting. It was such a lovely evening that we did art outside.

You can also see Jupiter and the Jade-lookalike cat we're calling Chester. He has adopted us. He's very friendly, but belongs to a vet student we've never met (we took the cat to the vet and looked up his chip). Chester is over at our house nearly every day. He's very friendly.


Mary and Simone were knitting the other day. Simone can finger-knit with the best of them.

Who wrote the book of love?

I think this photo makes it pretty clear:

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Flowers on Simone's Birthday

I took some photos of flowers on Simone's birthday, and some turned out pretty well.  I could see that a real macro lens would help (slightly larger depth of field would be great).


Simone is six!!!!!

Holy moly, Simone turned six just two weeks ago.  Crazy.

The day before her birthday, they celebrated at school.  The kids all got to eat fruit and whipped cream, and then at the end of the day, there was a short ceremony with a story and some candle lighting.  Mary and I told Simone of memories we had of her from each of the 6 years of her life.  Here's a photo of Simone with her teacher, Ms. Anne Marie:

Later that day I got a good shot of Mary and Simone sitting in the chair together (not really birthday related).

On the morning of her birthday, she wore her birthday crown and opened presents throughout the day.  Presents were definitely on the top of her list of best things about the day.

Then we had apple puff pancake, with candles, and of course, the "You are special today" plate.

Grandpa made a doll house for Simone, and some of the family bought doll furniture/playset to help fill out the dollhouse.  It's been lots of fun.

We then took a family walk through campus.  Last summer an artist made willow structures on campus, and we had a good time walking through them.  (yay Google, I found him): Patrick Dougherty. Simone and Mary posed with Daisy for me.

Simone found one of the huge rhododendrons to climb under, it was at least 20' high.

We had a lovely lunch at Sam's Station, and after that went to look at the Little Free Library a friend of Mary's put up.

We got home just in time to head over to Memere and Pepere's house for dinner and cupcakes.  Simone got to decorate the cupcakes.

And, of course, she got to blow out the crazy candles:

After dinner she tried out the little two-wheeled scooter.  We went down the block and back, she had a great time and really started to get the hang of it by the end.

All in all, a successful birthday.  I can't believe there have been 6 of them so far.

(One of) my favorite memories of Simone this last year was while riding with her on the trail-a-long bike, and she asked if we could go to Avery park and ride the dirt path.  She was very excited to do it, and asks to ride on the trail-a-long (well call it tag-a-long) pretty frequently.  Today we rode it to Bald Hill, did a little dirt loop out there twice, and came home - nearly 10 miles in all.  Check it out.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Sisters Stampede

A couple of weekends I go I had a race in Sisters OR - the Sisters Stampede.  I guess it's been happening for a few years now - obviously the first year for me.

As it was Simone's birthday the day before, and Memorial day tends to be chilly, we decided not to camp out, but instead to drive over on the day of the race.

The day was gorgeous, but not too hot, and it'd rained the day before, so the infamous eastern Oregon dust was kept to a minimum.

As it was only my second race, I didn't really know what to do - I certainly don't have a rhythm or ritual.  I registered, hit the portapotty, said "hi" to the few Team Dirt folks I saw, and casually dressed.  Simone and Mary said their goodbyes and wandered off as I hopped on my bike for a warm-up.

I rode about a mile and a half of the course, mostly just trailing groups of other people, getting used to the soft sandy dirt and the uneven terrain.  The race was supposed to be pretty flat (compared to Willamette valley riding) and fast - though I didn't get a chance to talk to anyone who'd ridden it the day before.

I finished my warm-up just as the Cat 3 folks were racing toward me (they started 30 minutes before the rest of the field) and headed over to the start area.

I saw Simone and Mary near the helicopter - which took off seconds later to go rescue one of the Cat3 people, told them I'd see them at the finish line, and I went to the start line.

As opposed to a very staged start (10 stages were mentioned on the web site), they lumped us into just 4 or 5. Pro & Cat1, Cat2 Men & Single Speed, Clydesdales, and Cat2 Women.  So the start was this huge sea of people, and just like the Mudslinger, the Clydesdales were all mixed in with the Cat2 Women and most of us didn't start on time.  Key learning: assert yourself to be in position for a good start, even if it's the 2nd to last wave.

So I was off, racing like mad because I wanted to get in a good position before the singletrack started.  The general layout of the course was mostly flat and up until it began the mostly down hill 2nd half, and the first 5 miles or so were doubletrack/road, and once you were in the singletrack - there was very little opportunity for passing.

I wasn't the first Clydesdale, but I was in the front pack - along with two tandems (still have no idea how they weave in and out of trees, pretty impressive), and after a couple of minutes we caught up to the end of the Cat2 Men.  I settled in to conserve a little energy and pass when an opening happened on the doubletrack.  There was a Clydesdale ahead of me that I tried to catch for a good 7 miles, and he was always one or two people ahead of me.  Every time I'd get on his wheel, he'd slip between a couple riders and the hole would close up.  Key learning: find someone to chase and pass - helps keep the focus early on.

After a while the crowd thinned out a bit and we headed into the singletrack.  Up to that point I was generally faster than the people I was riding with (passing many more than passed me), but in the windy singletrack I definitely slowed down just a little bit.  While we were continuing up I held my own pretty well, but during the descents I lost a little ground each time.  Luckily in the first half, most of the singletrack was climbing or flat.

We began encountering small rock gardens.  I haven't ridden around rocks like this since Moab - and my pedal placement was a little off.  As a result, I knocked my left foot off the pedal 4 times during the race, though luckily not at critical moments and not very jarringly.  At two spots I pansied out and put a foot down, loudly apologizing to the people behind me, but not really worrying about them b/c I was in front and they weren't.  There were a few places where people got really knocked around on the rocks and I got a couple of passes there (mostly by running my bike through the log jam of people).  Key learning: practice going through rock gardens, remember to maintain momentum.

It was about this time I lost sight of the Clydesdale I had been following.  I didn't get his number - though I like to imagine he placed first.

The rest of the climb was very pleasant, riding up roads (passing folks) and singletrack.  I'd chat with people on the road, and although they were friendly and talked back, nobody else initiated a conversation.

About 45 minutes into the race, going uphill on a road, a skinny, uber-fit Cat2 Woman flew by me.  In the end, she didn't finish but a few minutes ahead of me, but at that moment it was like I was standing still.  The second Cat2 Woman followed less than a minute later.  I thought it would be the beginning of an onslaught, but I didn't see but two more women racers, and they didn't show up for another 30 minutes (and in the end, only one passed me).

As we reached the top and rode along the ridge, I had some beautiful views of the Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor (?), which would have been really nice to look at, if I took a pause.  This race was so different than the Mudslinger in that I was continually telling myself, "push it, push it" - there was very little coasting, and every time I caught myself coasting on anything but windy singletrack, I immediately began pedaling to try to pass someone.

The downhill was a little more challenging for me.  I've been trying to pick up tips on how to descend faster and more confidently - and the course was perfect for practicing this.  Lots and lots of windy turns at speed - but relatively flat, so you didn't immediately pick up speed if you let off the brakes.  I'm sure the Cat1 folks barely touched theirs and pedaled most of the time.

I let one guy pass me who asked, and I kept up with him for quite a while (we still had some rolling terrain), but eventually he put distance between us.  At that point, I was always one of the people who had a train of 2-4 people behind me.  I tried not to think about it much, but every time I made a mistake I'd verbally abuse myself - feeling guilty for slowing folks down.  That said, only one other person asked to pass, and I let her pass (ladies first, after all).  The couple of times we hit road on the way down, the people in line behind me wouldn't keep up with me on the road, so they remained stuck.  Key learning: people are behind you because they were too slow to get in front, it's their responsibility to pass - not yours to let them pass.

The rest of the downhill was just linking turn after turn after turn - I felt a little like I was skiing.

At one point I got some song stuck in my head that Simone had been singing for an HOUR on the way to the race... Oh right, it was a single line from the musical Annie, "Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow, you're always a day a-way." over and over.  I recognized the pattern and worked hard to break out of it by thinking of another song I could mindlessly repeat to myself.

As we neared the end (which I only found out by asking people I was passing for the mileage) I tried to think of my finishing strategy.  I didn't put a lot of thought into it, other than, "ride fast."  And I did, passing several people.  Nobody passed me in the last two miles - even the guy who had been asking to pass on the last section of singletrack.

Well, almost nobody.

Key learning: Look behind you near the finish to see what you're up against.

I got lazy and just began motoring, which felt pretty good, but I didn't know who was behind me.  It turns out, another Clydesdale had caught up to me and was on my tail.  I knew someone was back there but made the naive assumption it was just a Cat2 and I didn't care about that.  Murphy's Law - of course it was a Clydesdale, and he passed me with 100 feet to go.  At that point my legs were pretty spent and I didn't really have a surge left (classic rookie mistake I'm sure).  So I got 10th (instead of 9th) out of 22.

I talked with the guy who passed me.  First, he apologized for riding my wheel, which I said was no big deal - my fault for letting him past.  And I noticed that even 5 minutes after we were finished, he was still trying to recover - still breathing really hard.  So, at least compared to him, my aerobic conditioning was pretty good, I just needed to save a little in reserve.  Key learning: save a little for a kick at the end.

Also, I was only 1min45sec out of 4th place, which is pretty good for a 2 hour race, especially considering the rumor I heard that a number of the Clydesdales started with the Cat2 guys.  This actually seems consistent with what I remember from the start - but a handful of people in front of me, and only 1 or 2 Clydesdales passed me (and I passed a couple on the trail).  I certainly don't remember 10 people in front of me at the start.  Oh well.

I texted Mary and Simone to let them know I was done, ate a bunch of food for recovery, and chatted with people.

I realized that my food of choice: homemade energy balls, while tasty, were difficult to eat on the trail.  I might go back to Clif Shot Bloks - which I think are super tasty and would be easier to eat during the race.

Other than that, I was pretty pleased with the race.  It was way fun, it was way fast.  I'll definitely race there again next year.