Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Darkhorse 40 Race Report

I've been asked by a few for a blow by blow of the race so they can sucker punch me next year. So without further adieu:

The temperatures anticipated for the DH40 were to start hot and get hotter with a peak of around 95F. There was no wind to speak of, humidity was high as was the sun in the clear sky, and the bugs, lurking amongst the shadows, were in paradise. In the sun, shortly before the 9am start time, it was already uncomfortable. Sweat beads started pouring while standing still. The start line was very crowded and unorganized with 389 racers piling in to a grassy area. I was among the first group to start, and since I have zero experience with these short races I was unsure how to start although I was guessing we would hammer it out to the single track. Obvious, I suppose, but ya never know. I was ready to gun it, and my 36-18 gearing on the 29er was more than capable of hanging with all but the fastest geared riders. At 9am, we dropped the hammer. The start was on a gravel road and the dust was flying. These are the days that help remind me I need to pony up the $'s for some lasik. Fortunately, I just had a few run-in's with some dust, but nothing debilitating. The start was an all out sprint. I began in the middle of the pack, and near the end of the gravel road portion where it all turned to single track, I had managed to move up to near the front, but not as close as I had wanted. I was stuck behind some slower geared riders, but I was the first single speeder although I didn't know this at the time. We held a very high pace for the first 4 or so miles and that's when people started dropping like flies. After the high paced weeding, I was in the clear and settled down in to my comfortable pace. Since I was pushing a pretty tall gear, and I was, after all, riding with only one gear on nearly all single track, this comfortable pace basically meant going as hard as I can for the remainder of the race. And that I did. I was confident I could red-line, or time trial as some people like to say, for the entire 40 miles, since I've been doing just that and more 6 days a week for most this year. The temperature made things a bit tricky, and the tight single track confounded it even more making it incredibly difficult to get the proper hydration. Add to that the abuse suffered on a 2.25" tire with a rigid fork over nearly constant rough terrain, and you have some major issues to deal with to simply finish the race!

I was riding with only one bottle filled with two scoops of Heed. I had decided to forgo the electrolyte pills since I figured I'd only be out for a little over three hours. I had no issues throughout the race, and can't say if the pills would've helped or hurt me. I definitely would've been able to pop a few during the gravel road section at the end of each lap. To supplement the heed I was chomping on Clif blocks when I had the chance. I managed to down a little less than one pack a lap. On each lap my wonderful mother stood alongside the gravel road and handed me a fresh bottle after I tossed the used bottle down near her. Thanks! She did an amazing job and even tolerated me grabbing it at a pretty high speed without dropping the bottle!!!!

On each gravel section I hammered as fast as I could trying to catch that mysterious SS'er I thought was in front of me. In retrospect, I suppose it's good to think you are never in first place and push harder and harder trying to make up time!

After the gravel section, it was a hard left in to a double track dirt path that had some mud scattered about for good measure, and shortly after the double track it was mostly single track for the remainder of the loop. By the 2nd lap I was starting to catch the slower sport riders and 'rider back' became my mantra. Passing them was tricky since the trail was so narrow and generally bordered by trees. I hit a few passing people, got some scrapes from some nasty bushes, and generally had a blast getting bounced all over, screaming out to pass, crashing through shrubs, and then hammering it back on to the trails. By the fourth lap, I started to feel the pain in the upper body from the constant jack hammer abuse my arms and hands were suffering. It felt as if my gloves were welded to my palms. It wasn't so bad as to be distracting. It was just noted. It's weird how that works. My legs kept saying what's wrong with you wimps, keep it up!!! It's very obvious road cycling does not transition smoothly in to rigid single speeding on rough trails. This is something I must address!

Near the end of the fourth lap, and the finish for me, there's a smooth and flat double track before hitting the final section of the gravel road to the finish. I saw a fellow NYC mtb'er I met at the Wilderness 101, we'll call him Seabass, ahead of me on a geared 29er, and I knew he was on the same lap as me so I thought I'd have a little fun. I was already going pretty fast, but now I had decided to max out my RPM's on my 36x18. To those that don't know, that means pretty damn fast on a 29er with 175mm cranks. So, I sprint. I blew past a few slower riders on lap 3, scaring the crap out of one of them I learned later, and then flew past Seabass like he wasn't moving. I heard him say something, and turned around and saw him try to catch up. He told me after we finished he thought we were competing for the fastest overall cat 1 and he had just lost $200. It turns out his fears were unfounded since we were in separate categories, and he still got his booty. Shortly after I passed him, I hit the gravel section and stood up and gave it 110% the last 500m's or so to the finish line. I was flying as I crossed the line, and Seabass rolled in about 10 seconds later looking rather spent. I had a wave of nausea pass through me from the very high effort I had just given, but it quickly dissipated and I was back to feeling like I could do a few more laps!

I rolled over to the finish line and that's when I learned I got first place. What a surprise!

So, what's to learn and what could be done differently? The gearing felt a little steep for the climbs, and I don't think I would've lost much, if any, time with 36x19 or even 36x20. I never felt like I couldn't handle the tall gear, but having to really grind it up the climbs probably slowed me down a bit. Nutrition was spot on. A suspension fork would probably be the best gain. I would've gone a heck of a lot faster on some sections with a squishy front! Fox, rock shox, dt swiss, ya hear me!??!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Darkhorse 40 & my Selma

Earlier today I raced the Darkhorse 40 near Stewart int'l airport in Newburgh, NY on my new Selma. I was one of 389 participants in various categories that was treated to the 98% singletrack course. The course was a blast to ride. It had a little bit of everything, and was mostly very tight and narrow so you had to stay focused 100% of the time. I managed to clip a few trees and have the marks to show it. Many racers DNF due to crashing in to trees and hurting themselves or their bike, breaking chains, slashing tires, you name it, it happened. I saw LOTS of bikes limping back to their cars.

I raced in Single Speed cat 1 which is the most competitive single speed category. The race director said the category was stacked with a few pros mixed in to make things interesting. To make things even more interesting, the fastest overall single speeder, including the lower category as well, won a Niner carbon fork along with their payout for taking first place in their respective category. Ok, I'll cut to the chase. I got first place in my category, and am a now proud owner of the ultimate weight weenie 29er carbon fork. I entered this race jokingly saying I was doing it to win the fork, and lookie now, I got myself a 500 gram carbon fork coming my way! I also finished 3rd place over all so would've placed in the Pro geared category as well. I got $200 cash and the $400 voucher for the Niner carbon fork. Yeah!

The Selma kicks butt. It is everything I hoped it would be. Fast, agile, lightweight, quick handling, and very stable on steep, sketchy descents. The ride quality is quite tolerable, perhaps not as smooth as the Inbred was, but I was riding so fast and getting the crap kicked out of me with my carbon rigid fork so I can't say today's race is the final judgement for the comfort rating.

So, I'm pretty beat so keeping this short. Until next time! O yeah, next up Shenandoah 100 over Labor Day weekend!

Friday, August 14, 2009

New mtb Race bike alert

I've kinda gotten hooked on this 100 mile mtb race thing. I've never really liked the horizontal dropouts on the On-One, and the cannondale was a brutally stiff ride over the long haul. So, what is that perfect long distance single speed 29er race bike? Well, hopefully this one is. It has an interesting rear with flat carbon seat stays and flat scandium chain stays which reviews say is very compliant yet stiff laterally. A few have mentioned it doesn't even feel like a hardtail. The front end is all scandium. The weight is over a pound lighter than my previous frame, has vertical dropouts with a bushnell eccentric bottom bracket for chain tension, and looks pretty nifty to boot!

The frame is made by Salsa and is called "Selma." I built her up a few days ago and will be racing it this Sunday at the darkhorse 40. I'll be sure to report back on how she handles! I'm not anticipating any surprises since the frame is very nearly, we are talking a few mm's here, the same dimensions as the previous Inbred I rode very comfortably in PA a few weeks ago.

Total final weight is a hair under 19 pounds. Three pounds lighter than the On One! Most of the weight was cut from the wheels. I got new rims and spokes last week. Also a new crank is installed, shimano xt, which is probably about 200 grams lighter than the previous Truvativ Stylo.

I can't wait to rip it up on Sunday! I took it out today for a bit and the bike felt great. Fit is exactly like the On One - perfect!

Here are some pics:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Wilderness 101 Race Report 8/1/09

Yesterday I raced the Wilderness 101 in Coburn, PA. I did it on my trusty 29er single speed with a gearing of 33x18. The gear was perfect.

I finished 23rd out of maybe 50 or so single speeders. While I'm glad I finished I'm not so happy with the results. But, the good news is I felt very strong throughout the entirety of the race. I had some major malfunctions, or mechanical failures, that added roughly 1.5 to 2 hours to my finishing time. To be honest, I'm very surprised I even finished with all the problems I had. Were it not for the kindness and generosity from a few fellow racers I definitely would've not finished.

I had three, yes, three, flat tires, all on the front and my chain broke after about 52 miles. After the 2nd flat, I had no tubes. So, I started walking down the single track descent pausing every few seconds to let racers fly by me. After about 20 minutes of this one racer stopped and gave me his tube and pump and told me to give him the pump after the race or if I eventually caught up to him. The tube he gave me had a faulty valve stem so after wasting about 10 or so minutes trying to air up the tire I started walking again. Another 10 or so minutes rolled by and I hit the gravel fire road. I walked for a bit and decided I didn't really care if I trashed my rim and tire so I started riding. I rode for about 5 miles and then hit a climb. At this point I started passing the slower riders with a front flat tire! A few found this very amusing. After a bit, I ran across two guys sitting on the side of the road so I stopped to beg another tube. Fortunately, one of the guys was on a 29er so I got a tube the proper size. I aired it up higher than I would prefer to avoid another flat and off I went. All was good for the next hour or so. At mile ~50 I made it to aid station three in high spirits and was told the hardest climb of the day was to come. I love climbing and this is where I was making up heaps of time so I was excited! They were not lying. It was difficult since it was muddy and slick and rocky and all on narrow single track. I made it to the top of the 2 mile climb and wham, my chain falls off. I'm wondering how the hell this could happen since I'm not shifting any and the chain is pretty snug. I stop, put it back on, tighten the chain tensioner a bit, and off I go. Or, off I almost go. Immediately the chain fell off again. I decide something is wrong so inspect the chain. Two links are totally mangled and the chain is ruined. So, without another chain or the means to fix it I decide to go down the hill and back to the aid station. At the bottom, a volunteer was there telling people where to turn and he saw me coming down and asked what in the world was I doing?? I told him I liked the climb so much I figured I'd do it all over again! He had a look of horror on his face so I told him I was kidding and my chain was broken. He told me a mechanic is in the aid station and to go talk to him. The mechanic told me no problem, and I figured he was just going to fix it. Out he pulls a brand new SRAM chain and hooked me up! Awesome! So I'm back in the race again!

Off I go up the brutal climb. For the rest of the race I hammered it out trying to make up time but I had lost so much I couldn't catch the front runners. I ended up finishing about 1 hour 20 minutes behind the first place finisher.

The course was extremely rocky on the single track. I got the crap kicked out of my upper body. A rigid fork was not such a great thing for this race. I may have to reconsider and go squishy up front for the next race.

Overall, I'm happy with the finish since I felt so strong up to the finish line. I can't wait for the next race in about a month. The course and race were very well organized and the post race dinner was perfect. And, free, good micro brews!