Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kickapoo Bash

A variety of scheduling conflicts this season have led to me doing most of my racing out of state. So, when the Moonlight Ramble ran into my Cape Girardeau plans, I found a race outside Champaign, IL the following weekend to make it up to myself. On Sunday morning, Christopher, the Schweiking and myself loaded up the Subaru and drove north to Kickapoo state park in Oakwood Illinois, not really knowing what to expect out of a race and series I had never attended before.

A bit of preride showcased the trail's tightly knit network of singetrack the wove in and out of trees and doubled back on itself. A few short 25% pitches for some sting and some wide open field sections all added up to make for an exciting ride. I had no idea how much this place would take out of me a few hours later.

The race began and I actually had a good start for the first time this season. I lined up in front and settled into fifth when the race started. As the top three riders began to surge, I moved into fourth before we hit the woods. I was feeling fantastic and weaving in and out of the trees as professionally as possible and when I hit the first section of cornfield, I had a decent gap on fifth. I tried to put it down to make the gap stick and kept my head down until the first major climb. It was so steep that it was nearly unrideable and I had to unclip and run. It didn't do anything to my progress, because everyone else had to do the same thing, but it wasn't the best for my mental momentum. Another little bobble on a washed out creek bed climb a mile or so later had me redlining with anxiety. The gap was still in place at the top of this climb and I tried to stay steady for the rest of the lap. The nature of the trails at Kickapoo can be very confusing as to where you stand in relation to your competition. It twists so much that you can see people ten feet away who are actually two minutes behind you. I have never ridden somewhere where so much trail was milked out of so little land. The result of this design was a trail system that was certainly voluminous in mileage, but lacked a bit in flow. Many sections encouraged high speed and these were often followed almost immediately by a hairpin turn through some tight tress with an occasional log in the middle of the turn for no apparent reason. This constant interruption of flow had me on and off the gas constantly and with no extended descents, there was no place recovery for the entirety of the eleven mile lap.

Toward the end of lap one, I was passed into fifth by a rider on a singlespeed. I tried to hold the wheel, but I was more focused on staying steady for the rest of the race, which was going to be the longest XC race for me to date. The lap continued to twist on itself so I was never sure where the people I heard far off in the woods were in relation to me. The end of the lap featured a brutally steep dirt climb that had me hammering the granny for the first time this year (and actually needing it) and if there had been a bit a of rock or moisture on the climb, it too would have been unrideable. This climb led to the final secition of twists which paralleled the opening twists, adding a new layer of confusion

The lap concluded with a mile and a half gravel doubletrack run through a cornfield before reentering the maze of singletrack. I had a nice clear gap at this point in the race and I entered the second lap reasonably confident of holding fifth place to the line. As the second lap went on, I felt a bit of the power draining and I just tried to keep the 44 turning over as consistently as possible in and out of the turns. I was feeling good until another rider caught and passed me near the end of the lap. I let him go as I knew that going any deeper to hold on would have been an ill advised decision with another thirteen or so miles to ride. I completed the second lap a bit down on my first lap, but still relatively consistent and set about my third and final lap.

If only this race had been two laps. Not only would it have been consistent with all the other expert races I've done this year, but I would have been able to have finished strong and been pleased with how I raced and my result. Unfortunately, there was a third eleven mile lap to contend with and I began it hoping to hold my position and not succumb to the fatigue that was beginning to creep in. Toward the beginning of the lap, I heard someone coming and it took a couple miles for them to pass me. At this point, I was running on empty and hoping to finish what was turning out to be an epic race. As the lap went on, I felt worse and worse, culminating in a cramping right hamstring that made power output a bit of a challenge. I tried to shake it out, but it took about five minutes of soft pedaling before it simmered down. Now I was trying to hang on, finish and hold off any remaining challengers, but I was through. A line from a Ting Tings song that goes "ten minutes to go and I wanna go home" seemed appropriate and circled my brain for a while. I began to curse every twist and turn as unnecessary and wanted desperately to see the cornfield and the finish line. When it finally came, I had completed the third lap a full ten minutes down on my first two and finished the race in seventh place.

Seventh place is a respectable result, but considering how I started and how I lost substantial speed in the last lap, it was difficult to be satisfied. It was the longest XC race I've done and reexamining my nutrition show that a lack of Perpetuem may have contributed to the hunger and fatigue that overtook me on the final lap. In retrospect, it was a decent race and I have been able to identify a few areas to work on for 2009, which can never be a bad thing. Ultimately, I have to be satisfied with pushing myself to the limit and keeping my resolve and still managing a top ten. Hopefully, if the noted weaknesses are addressed, '09 might see more consistency and less power outages. Perhaps with a renewed focus, I will be able to assess my collection of strengths at the end of the next race...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Waverly Hump

This thing was right at the start of the race in Louisville, sweet...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Waverly Park, KY

On Saturday night, Dave and I drove down to Louisville, KY to contest the Wild on Waverly cross country race that forms part of the new Kentucky Points Series. After a delicious meal at the Terre Haute Denny's Diner, we arrived at our host's house for some sleep before race day. We were greeted by some quality hospitality and some hyperactive golden retrievers. Following a restless night on a halfway inflated air mattress, these same golden retrievers served as our wake up call and one nearly consumed my ipod in its excitement.

We got to the race a little later than anticipated and I thought my chance at a pre ride was gone. Luckily, the start got pushed back twenty minutes so I set out to see what I was in store for. What I found was screaming fast hard pack dirt singletrack with excellent flow and enough climbing to put some sting in the legs. Whatever the race outcome, it was going to be a good ride...

The start went a bit better for me than usual. It was set up weaving back and forth on itself and I was able to cut corners to get a good position, rather than rely on my non-existent drag race style start. Once into the woods, there was instant separation between the five or six fastest guys and my group. I sat in the middle of the chase for the first section and moved to the front of the group on the long steep climb after the road crossing. The Kentucky superfan was poised at the top of the climb blaring death metal and screaming at all the competitors. He was hilarious on the first lap and highly motivational on subsequent laps.

I kept at the front for the remainder of the lap until we came through the finish line and I was passed while grabbing a fresh bottle. As the second lap went on, the elastic between myself and my group of five stretched and stretched until I thought I was dropped. I spent a while wondering why I race at all and had all but decided to quit the race and racing period. I kept telling myself that I get better as the race goes on, but the roctane was making me sick and I was in no man's land. Not long after this, I caught a KHS rider and attacked him on a doubletrack grinder, successfully restoring some level of confidence.After the next series of climbs, I began to reel in the chase group and found some fresh motivation. I kept them in sight at about thirty seconds for the rest of the second lap and finally made contact on the big long climb on the third lap. Superfan's metallic encouragement helped me get back on the wheel and I sat at the back recovering for a bit.

Toward the end if the third lap, another rider on an Epic attacked the group and I went with him, immediately distancing the other riders in our group. He was clearly stronger than me and I declined his invitation to come around and hoped I could hold his wheel. I couldn't. I tried to keep the gap in check for the rest of the lap, hoping he would fade on lap four, but he didn't and the elastic finally broke. Thankfully, I was able to hold off the remnants of the chase and a very strong woman from SOBE who was creeping up the whole race. On the last lap, the sounds of "Metal Health" rang through the forest and I dug deep to hold my position until the line. I ended up third in th 19-29 field and seventh overall. I have to say that I'm extremely happy with the result and with the race in general. It isn't often that I can ride such pristine singletrack in such phenomenal weather and race against friendly, quality competition. It's worth remembering the next time I start stressing out about the commitment of a weekend away from home to race.

After the race, we were treated to free barbecue which thankfully included Boca burgers for us veggies and more Red Bull than I knew what to do with. Mountain bike races always have such a superior attitude and camaraderie that I wonder why they aren't more popular. Good time. I have to thank Rusty for putting on the race and setting Dave and I up with some beds, as well as his influence in the hardcore scene of the nineties. Well rounded individual to be sure.

In the end, St. Louis did itself proud with Dave winning the expert race, Christopher topping the sport 19-29 and Schweiker coming second in the same class. I'm always proud when we go to races and come back with the results. Hopefully, there's more of this to come.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008