about the photo

Downtown Temple,NH

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hampshire 100 (Shorty Race)

I headed back to Greenfield NH this past weekend for my 2nd attempt at the Hampshire 100, a challenging 100k single loop mountain bike race. This was my first ever mountain bike race last year, and surprisingly, I managed a 3rd place finish in the Novice VET II class.  My goal this year was to break 8hrs (last year's time was 8:26). Training doesn't creep into my mountain biking routine so the only thing that would make me faster would be riding harder, longer. Simple enough.

This year they also included a 100 mile option (no thanks!), which included a lot of pro's from all over the country. I stuck with the 64 mile option (and they call it the short race?) This race probably doubled in size (entries) from last year, and had over 400 riders on the line for the 6:45am start. They started us in waves (fastest to slowest basically), with the Novice class starting last. The waves were only 1 min apart so it was enough to spread things out but short enough so you could actually catch the tail end of the previous wave if you pedaled real hard!
Waiting for our wave to start
We had absolutely PERFECT weather (near 50 at the start, warming to mid 70's near the end) but there had been some serious rain in the days leading up so there was mud and water out there. I love how this race starts, mostly on dirt roads (downhill) for the first 5 miles, then a mix of trails with minimal climbing for the next 10 before reaching the first real aid station. It gives you plenty of time to warm up and get all that adrenaline out (fast riding). Some new (freshly cut) single track was added around Crotched Mt Ski area which was pretty sweet! I reached aid station #2 in 1hr 24min (16.25m).

My least favorite section was the 5 miles of perfectly flat rail trail between miles 16 and 21. Awful. To add to the misery was a section called the 'beach', a 1-2 mile section of loose sand that drained the energy out of your legs. To add to the joy, some clown drafted me the entire length of trail, staying right on my wheel all 5 miles. I switched sides, slowed, sped up, did everything but stop. Not once did he offer to pull. Whatever. Drafted the novice, must be proud.
The course
Around mile 21 we hit the first significant climb, a ridiculously steep climb up Hedgehog Mt Rd. As with most climbs, they were not only steep but a lot of times fairly technical (loose, rocky, etc..). I tried to ride this climb, and might have cleaned it but there were too many riders (aka walkers) on the trail, and too dug up with cleat marks and loose rocks. I ended up walking the middle section before jumping back on and riding to the top. For whatever reason, my climbing was 10x better than last year. I'm not really any faster, but definitely much stronger.
Somewhere between Hedgehog and the Powerlines
The next major climb would be in just a few miles, a section called the powerlines (mostly because the trail goes up the powerlines, duh). A few short, steep punchy climbs, a few real muddy sections and a steep section near the top that I have never seen anyone ride. I rode what I could, but walked a good deal on this part. I wasn't alone (see pic).
Near the top of the Powerline Climb
A steep technical downhill followed the powerline climb, with more freshly cut single track added just prior to aid station #3 (25.86m, 2hr 30min). At most of the aid stations, I usually just topped off my 40oz Camelback, took 2 Endurolyte pills, had some Coke and was off (1-2 minutes).

The next 25+ miles were definitely the hardest, most challenging part of the course. This section was a grind with lots of climbs, lots of technical stuff, and generally fairly slow riding. It's hard on the bike and harder on the body. Aid station #4 was a long 15.46 mile ride from the previous aid station, and took nearly 2hrs to reach (41.32m 4hr 27min).
2' deep puddle around mile 50
They made some changes over last year with the aid stations, adding a new one after #4. This section was the slowest part of the course all day so it was a welcomed change. Rolled in to aid station #5 (48.18m 5hr 34min), repeated my routine from previous stops and off I went. Ugh, getting tired but thankfully no cramping. My last stop would be aid station #6 (53.63m 6hr 26min) for about a minute. It was probably the first time I looked at my watch and started thinking about whether I could actually break 8hrs or not. I remembered from last year that part of the last 10 miles was pretty tough, with a long, rocky climb followed by a steep rocky descent. I roughly remembered the last 4-5 miles being mostly single track with a gradual downhill ride to the finish. They may have added a little more single track at the end but it generally seemed the same as last year.

I passed another rider in the last mile or so (even though I was trying not too). I was riding the climbs and he was walking them so it was hard to avoid. However, I really didn't want to pass anyone in the last mile of a nearly 8hr day so I told him I'd wait for him and he could finish first. He seemed generally grateful and honestly, it didn't really change anything. He was in a different class (starting before me) so technically I was still in front of him even though I was behind him (make sense?). It was all good at the end, and I finished right behind him.
64.45 miles in 7hr 53min, good enough for 2nd in the Novice Vet  II class. It was a tough day of riding but I had such a great time. Love this race!

For the second weekend in a row, I had to strip my bike down to its bones to clean the mud and dirt out of every nook and cranny. My clean bike is now hanging out in my shed, taking a break while I do a little running over the next few weeks. Reach the Beach is up next (Sept 14-15).
Trek bones

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

24 Hours of Great Glen (Rain Edition)

This would be my 4th year doing 24HOGG, which is essentially the mountain bike version of Reach the Beach but logistically a bit more challenging. The work is harder but the down time is more enjoyable. In each of the previous three years, the weather over the 3-day weekend has been near perfect. The key being zero rain. The first year there was some serious mud in sections but trail improvements over the years had pretty much eliminated most of the junk stuff. Over the last 2 years I'd say the course has been nearly 100% ridable for a decent novice rider (aka me). The one thing I've said at the end of the race (every year) was if it ever rained this race would blow.
Oh did it blow.

Camp Wolfe

Of course just 'rain' would have been a blessing. What we got on Friday and Saturday was some of the hardest sustained rain I've ever seen. Flash flooding rain. I did manage to get my tent setup within seconds of the first downpour and surprisingly my stuff managed to stay dry all weekend (thanks to a water proof tent, screen room setup over my tent and two 10ft tarps over my screen room).
 A group of us headed out late Friday afternoon to pre-ride the approximately 9 mile course during a break in the rain. The course would be a mix of carriage roads (~60%) and single track trails (~30%) and grass fields (~10%). We were only a couple of miles in when the skies opened up again and it pretty much poured the rest of the ride. The trails went from bad to awful fairly quickly. Very muddy, lots of standing water and extremely slick (and these would be the best conditions all weekend).

My teammates this year would be Brayden Dunn, Kevin Tilton and Scott Mason. Kevin and Scott would be first time 24HOGGers (maybe last time after this weekend). I would lead off with the le mans start (approximately 1/2 run around the pond) before heading out on the bike. A few of us decided to start in the back, run easy and not get caught up in the bottleneck that happens on Blueberry Hill less than a 1/2 mile into the race. I should say we did not want to be the bottleneck. I guess we didn't think about all the other folks willing to step up and take this job from us. Sure enough, no sooner did we mount our bikes and we were all riding a conga line up Blueberry Hill (slowly). A little patience and eventually it opened up and crowded trails would become a non issue.
Heading up Blueberry Hill
Although the rain would hold off (mostly) for the next 24 hours, the presence of hundreds of mountain bikers riding lap after lap for 24 hours did unbelievable damage to the single track sections. By my second lap, most of the single track would be practically unridable. The course became 5 miles of speedy carriage roads mixed in with 3 miles of pushing a 26lb mountain bike through the mud. Serious mud. Fun was done.
Finishing Lap 1
Riding back to back laps at night (to give folks more time to rest) was a painfully long experience. Riding at night, with fog, light rain, slick trails and miles of mud really takes all the fun out things (really?). To top it off I flatted coming down a steep technical muddy section (at night of course) and had to fix a flat with my bike mostly submerged in mud. With all the mud that was inside my tire after I installed the tube, it's amazing I even made it back to the start/finish line. Joy. After a little midnight maintenance, I was off to bed for some much needed sleep.

I wouldn't ride again to nearly 7am, mostly due to my teammates having as much fun as me while riding at night (thanks guys, appreciated the sleep!). My 5th lap would be my last, and surprisingly would be one of my best. Some early morning trail work had removed several inches of mud from a few sections and actually made the course a bit more ridable. I probably rode 95% of the last lap and actually had some fun. Not enough fun to ride another lap but fun still the same.
Last Lap

24 hours of hike-a-bike wasn't really what I was hoping for but now I know what it's like when it rains. For the record, I was right.

Thanks to Gianna Lindsey for most of the pics.
Next up: Hampshire 100 this Sunday (100k mountain bike race).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Carrabassett Backcountry Challenge

I decided to do the Carrabassett Backcountry Cycle Challenge pretty much at the last minute. I figured a 50-60 mile endurance mountain bike race would be a good practice race to get the kinks out so I'd be ready for 24hrs of Great Glen and the Hampshire 100, both coming up in August. The only real negative was the 4+hr drive to  nowhere Maine (Sugarloaf Mountain, in the Carrabassett Valley).

Not a lot of intel on the course other than it would be between 50-60 miles with 6,000ft of climbing. Challenging they say! I drove up Saturday afternoon, checked in and setup a tent within sight of the start line. I chatted with a couple of NH folks at the pasta dinner and met up with aR teammate Geoff shortly after. He really wanted to go for a course preview ride, I did not. I should mention before driving nearly 4 1/2hrs to Sugarloaf I had to drive 3hrs to pick up my kids from camp. Needless to say I was tired and in no mood to ride. I opted for a quick mechanical check and setup of my bike and hoped to get to bed early.

Oh sure, I got to bed early. I was exhausted. It was quiet, dark, not hot, pretty much perfect sleeping conditions. The only problem was I wasn't sleeping. Not a wink. I just laid there looking at the inside of my tent. I wasn't stressed or nervous, I wasn't anything, especially not sleeping. This happens from time to time for me, almost always after I stay up past the point of when I should have gone to bed. So I just laid there, waiting for the sun to come up, wondering how the heck I was going to ride 7+hrs (and then drive home). It was a long, boring night.

I finally ended my misery at 5am and got up, got ready and had some breakfast (and coffee) at the Outdoor Center. Although tired, I actually felt ok and was looking forward to a good day of riding (not necessarily racing). I had a 100oz Camelback but would only fill it 1/2 full (with Nuun/water) at the start. I had various snacks in the Camelback and a couple of packages of Shot Bloks in my shorts.

I wisely opted for the Novice class (which started last at 7:15am) and headed off with about a dozen other Novice riders. I rode easy and relaxed and still lead the group right from the start. It was fairly easy riding and social for the first hour before I had dropped all other Novice riders. So, for the next 5+hrs I would ride alone. Occasionally I'd catch a Sport rider (the next class up which started 5 minutes before us). I was expecting more of a mix of trails though. Sometimes you need a break from the technical to semi-technical single track to give your body a break. Double track and dirt roads usually do the trick. They said it was about 30% single track but a lot of the trails (which I'm sure they called double track) were basically single track rails cut through cross country ski trails, or old logging roads or just wider openings in the forest. Single track means there's only one trail. Double track means there's more than one line to take. I'd say at least 60% was single track. Although I LOVE single track, it's not something you want to do for 4 or 5 or even 6hrs of riding. It can be exhausting, and it was.

Overall it was a good course. About 54 miles in the end. Yes, I'd call it challenging but I was able to ride nearly all of it (including some fairly significant climbs up the side of Sugarloaf Mountain). Probably only a handful of hike-a-bike sections, including a few stream crossings. Surprisingly there was a fair amount of mud out there. Kind of shocking actually since it's been so dry everywhere. I still have a hard time calling what I do racing. I probably don't ride much harder than an average daily ride, I just do it longer. I clearly don't take this sport seriously. I love mountain biking and I'd like to keep it that way. I don't want to worry about training or racing. I always ride to have fun. Every ride. Period.

For what it's worth, my 6hr 52min effort was good enough for the top spot in the Novice class. I can only race against the folks who show up so I'm happy with my time and effort. This race was nearly twice as long (time wise or mileage wise) as any ride I've done all year (all of which has been on a mountain bike),so no complaints.  Heck, considering I had zero sleep, it's a miracle I even finished!