Sunday, June 24, 2012

40 miles, the hardest way

I had plans to pre-ride some of the Capitol Forest 50 course this weekend.  I was going to be in the area anyway, at least sort of, so I thought it would be a good opportunity.  Then I found out there was going to be a race going on on those trails, the 6 Hours of Capitol Punishment.  I figured, "what the hell," and signed up for it.  A few days earlier, I'd swapped the chain on my mountain bike, and hadn't ridden since then.  So I rode up and down my street and made sure the shifting was working fine, rode up the steeper street near my house to make sure the granny wasn't skipping, and figured I was okay.

During the drive down on Friday, it was raining heavily.  I actually decided to skip pre-ride because I thought the course would be destroyed and muddy and awful.  By Saturday morning, the morning of the race, it certainly was.  It was still drizzling when I parked.

I noticed a little slipping in my drivetrain riding into the start/finish area.  When I started doing the big climb up Mima Porter #8, I noticed even more.  I just shifted again in whichever direction if I found myself in a cog that was doing poorly.  Usually one shift was enough to get me onto a good one.  Still, not an auspicious beginning.

The course is laid out with a big climb, a rolling singletrack connecting two of the larger trails, and then a long descent.  The singletrack connector was nasty, gritty, pine needle-containing, soul-destroying mud.  At least the two main trails were steep enough to drain better, and trafficked enough not to have a lot of organic material on them.  I think wet pine needles are my Kryptonite.  Except, I know they're everyone else's kryptonite.  Anyway, I was riding along and talking to another racer who also was soloing and didn't want to kill himself yet when my pedaling resistance suddenly became much higher and I stopped.  He actually buzzed my tire, but I think that happened after.  My rear derailleur was all sorts of twisted and mangled.

I tried to make the bike a singlespeed, but the closest to a workable gear combination I found in terms of chain links matching up was 22/11.  I didn't have to ride for very long before that autoshifted to 22/13 and started binding like crazy.  Since I was at the top of the course, I rode the rest of the way to the start/finish line, including a little pushing, and went to the mechanic.  The best gear ratio he could find was also 22/11, so it's not just me not understanding chainline.  :D  I realized I'd forgotten to put up my parking pass, so I rode to my car to take care of that and the bike autoshifted to 22/13 again.  So I hadn't put it there in the first place, and it was clearly not going to work for riding another lap.

At this point, I was ready to give up.  At least, on getting my bike working.  So I went to find the organizer and let him know I was pulling out - good to let them know I'm not lying unconscious in the woods somewhere or something.  He asked if I'd keep going if I could, and I said, "I came here to race!"  Someone else who was there to cheer and drink beer had a singlespeed with a chain tensioner, so that was the next plan.  The mechanic started to install it and my derailleur hanger broke.  Darn!

SRAM had a van there with suspension forks to demo.  They also had some demo bikes.  So they lent me a Stumpjumper 29er Hardtail.  While it was a nice bike, it really made me miss mine!  Mine has fenders, a front tire I like better, a granny gear, a little bell, a suspension fork that's old but that I've got set up to the best compromise I can find, which is a bit plusher than the Reba on the SJ was, and, last but certainly not least, I have a lower, longer cockpit.  I felt like I was driving a truck on the SJ.  Wide bars, short stems, and sitting bolt upright aren't my thing, apparently.  I think if this was my only 29er hardtail demo, I might be in the chorus of people saying they suck.  But actually I think it was a stubby stem and me having the wrong riding position.  Still, SRAM saved my race, and I realize they're carrying bikes that they're supposed to be able to use to send people on short demos, not four and a half hours and a few thousand feet of climbing and mud.  I rode three laps on it.

All in all, this feels like the hardest I've ever worked to ride my bike 40 miles.  People took really good care of me, though, which was great - I was able to get myself safely off the mountain, but I wouldn't have been able to continue to race without everybody's help and SRAM's demo bike.  And there were definitely some moments when I wasn't slogging uphill through the mud and I could get in my (sort of, 'cuz of the high bars) attack position and carve through the linked turns and flowy bits.  Results aren't up yet, but while I think the fastest people may have managed seven laps, I think my four put me at least mid-pack.  Not bad for over an hour left on course and a borrowed bike!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Oh, just a Century

About two weeks ago, I decided to do a Century.  I hadn't really been planning to do it, but it came up in conversation on the 5th, and then some friends and teammates were talking about it, and I figured, "What the hell."

So of course I hadn't been training for it.  I've been trying to hit about three hours on my long ride, as a distance that's pretty manageable in terms of planning ahead and keeps me in striking distance for something bigger.  Like, you know, build weeks leading to a 50-mile MTB race.  But last time I did a Century, it took me eleven and a half hours end-to-end, with a ton of time left on course, and about seven and a half hours of riding time.  I figured I could do better with one hand tied behind my back.  Or something like that.

Anyway, this was my first supported Century, and only my second supported road ride.  Normally, I just get on my bike, or get on my bike and meet some friends.  This was Cascade Bike Club's Flying Wheels Summer Century.

So I drove (to ride my bike!) to the park where the start/finish was, picked up my number, and got started.  I could tell pretty quickly that this was a different kind of ride from what I'm used to.  Tons of cyclists on the road, and most of them taking it pretty easy.  Or at least, my "taking it easy."  People walking on climbs.  I passed a lot of people having mechanical problems, although they all either appeared to or said they had what they needed.  I took a descent slowly due to some flaggers keeping an accident scene clear.  Wow.

I was opportunistically getting in pace groups some, although a lot of the time, I was just sucking wind on my own.  At some point, I passed a good friend of mine.  He chased on and we rode together for a while, which was fun.  I bumped into a couple teammates at the first aid station.  My friend and I weren't super-compatible on climbs though, and he sent me ahead.  I soft-pedaled for a while to see if he'd chase back on, but I later found out that he encountered yet another accident and stuck around to help.  Definitely more important.  Once the hills started again, I started riding a little harder again and also finding better groups to sit in with.

Here's something I hadn't seen before.  Maybe because TT bikes are illegal in massed start racing...  One of the groups I was riding with had a guy on a TT bike at the head, while the rest were on drop bar bikes.  They caught up to me, so clearly they were maintaining a higher average, but they tanked on every climb.  I managed to be organized enough to make pace for them up one climb, but that was shortly before the 50-mile aid station, where I'd promised myself a break.  I was starting to feel pretty worn at that point, and I was wondering how the next 50 would feel.

Aid accomplished, I got rolling again.  I passed a lot of individual riders going quite slowly, and wondered when they must have started to be that far out on the course.  Maybe they went fast for 50 miles and blew up.

My next weird group were a bunch of guys wearing matching green outfits.  I thought maybe they were on a team, except that they were mostly wearing mountain bike shoes and a lot of them didn't have the matching shorts.  Weird, for a team.  Again, they had to be averaging better than me because they caught me.  And again, they fell apart on climbs, and their paceline was very ragged.  Finally I asked if they were a club or a team.  One said they were a clan.  Regardless, not registered with USAC.  I dropped off the back to meet a teammate we passed.  He was accidentally doing the full route - he'd planned to do 45 or 65 that day.

We separated and a little later, I managed to get in with a fast-moving group of guys who were doing the 65.  Although they'd ridden to the ride, so probably close to 90 for the day.  I had a little trouble hanging on.  While not quite a first for the day, they were very consistent too - easily my most competent pace group.  I couldn't maintain their pace when it was my turn to pull.  I blame increasing head wind!

That brought me to mile 80 and the bottom of the toughest climb on the ride.  The two of them took a little while, but dropped me.  I fought my way up the climb and didn't bonk, which was good.  This is what I was most worried about, since I haven't done long rides in training and I figured if I had a problem, it would be a weird pain thing or it would be bonking about an hour after my usual training distance.  I was pretty fried after that climb, although still doing pretty well relative to a lot of the people on the route.  The way the timing and the routes worked out, I was with people who'd started later and were doing the 65 or 45 at this point, so a lot of different fitness levels or what Cascade diplomatically calls "Pace conflicts."

I did try to hop on with one more group at the very end, but they were booking it and I couldn't.  Oh well.

Then I finished.  I got up to sprint the finish line, but it was on a sidewalk, behind some bollards.  While I know I can't "win" a Century, I do like to finish things like I mean it, I think it's good practice for races where I sprint every finish just in case someone's about to snag 17th place from me.

From start to finish, it was 96.1 miles, so not a "real" century and it took me about 5:50, including about a half hour left on course at the two rest stops.

I hadn't been seeing this as a part of my larger season, particularly.  Just something to try because I haven't really done it before.  But this Saturday I'm going to do a 6-hour MTB race, the 6 Hours of Capitol Punishment, so it's nice to have this behind me and know that if I can't scare up a friend or a teammate, I'm in shape to do it solo.