Frustrations of a DNF...

DNF = Did Not Finish. I haven't had one of those since the bad karma start to the 2009 race season when I had a few, so perhaps I was due for the one I experienced yesterday at the Sugar Bottom Scramble. I was about 20-25 minutes into lap one when it happened.

Here's how...

I headed over to Sugar Bottom Recreation Area Sunday morning at 8:15 a.m. and arrived to register, warm-up and race in the event. This is where I did my very first mountain bike race, so I always look forward to riding or racing there on the network of trails. The weather was perfect, and a good turnout had confirmed that. The mood was good and we were ready to roll.

My wave started at around 11:20 and I started off in the 2nd row of riders of a pretty big group for the opening climb. After we got rolling, I didn't go - or couldn't go - quite as cross eyed as the previous week's atart, but I managed to make it into the singletrack in the top 15-20. There are a lot of roots at Sugar Bottom which keeps you on your toes for picking lines and using good cornering technique to avoid going down. It wasn't long before the rider directly in front of me went down on a sharp, descending corner and he and his bike were sprawled completely across the trail blocking the way. The only option for the rider behind the one who falls is to stop. You can't ride over somebody's bike and you just hope the guys behind you stop in time. So I stopped and 5 or 6 guys went around us before I could get around the fallen rider and his bike. He was okay and got back on his bike to pursue.

I caught back up with the group that had just gone around me and we worked our way back up to the line in front of us. I was able to start passing some riders and worked my way back to where I had been when another rider directly in front of me went down and his bike completely covered the trail. No way for me to get around him, so again I had to stop. And again a half-dozen riders or so went around us. Maybe my karma was off, I thought. No panic, the rider was okay and I got around him and pedaled hard to catch back up.

On one of the climbs, in a narrow section a rider buzzed around me on the right and sort of scared me as I wasn't expecting it. I certainly would have given him room had he asked. I casually suggested a shout out next time he passed to let a guy know. 100 yards later, the guy who had just passed me went down and was blocking the trail. I was able to ride to the right and get around him. He caught up to me again a couple of minutes later and again, went around me in a tight section without calling out. Oh well...

I was getting in my groove, but could tell the busy training week for the Dakota Five-O had zapped my legs a tiny bit, so I kept a high spin rate to aid in the climbs rather than mash my way to exhaustion on the first part of lap one. Exiting the singeltrack and riding down the fire road to the north side of the singletrack, I could see I was in a big long line of riders in front of me and behind me. We were stirring up a lot of dust. Once into the singletrack, there were a lot of us stacked up wheel to wheel. I heard another bike go down, but this time it was behind me and not in front of me. Imagine that?!! I finally caught a break.

We were really crowded and stacked up wheel to wheel. The guy behind me kept buzzing his tire on mine, but I had no where to go as there were at least 6 - 8 guys in front of me wheel to wheel as we snaked our way through the turns. The trail was pretty rough and bouncy this year - or so it seemed. It could be my Racing Ralphs were a tad over-inflated, but things felt rough to me and I was on the full suspension. I wonder what it felt like on a HT?

As we crossed the bridge at the bottom of the descent leading to the cyclocross hill, I got my bike in the gear I wanted to clean the hill and used my momentum to take me up the first half of the hill. There was a big crowd of spectators cheering everybody on and I got out of the saddle and had at it to clean the climb. Lots of cheers of encouragement from the crowd. About 2 bike lengths from the top of the hill, my rear hub slipped and my pedals did an entire revolution without any progress. Yikes! I had to dismount and push my bike the final 10 feet to the top of the hill. I got back on and got going. The drivetrain felt fine, but that was odd. As I was getting back up to speed, a guy came flying around me. So I gave pursuit to latch on to his wheel.

Here's the Snap, Crackle, and Pop sequence of my rear hub self-imploding on me at the top of the climb.

Nailing the climb is the Snap...


Something didn't feel right with just a few feet to go to clean the climb and the pedals spun all the way around for the Crackle...


And Pop, I had to dismount and push my noble steed the final few feet...


Photos courtesy of Tom Anderson who sent them to me on Facebook from Mike Shumway's Facebook photo album. Thanks Tom and Mike!

The first climb after that, my chain - or so I thought - was skipping from gear to gear. At least that's what it felt like. Uh...oh. Something was wrong. Every little climb I hit, the drivetrain was failing. I got off, checked the derailleur, chain - all okay. Something was wrong. About 50 yards later - I was done. If I pedaled, the hub would not stay engaged. All those I had worked to pass went around me with each asking me if I was okay. Or asking what had happened. Equipment failure is no fun. I didn't really get mad, I just sucked it up (frustration that is) and knew I'd live to fight another day and started the long walk out of the woods back to the starting area.

I'll take my bike to Rassy's today to see if it is the rear hub and what can be done about it. The JET has been flawless all year. I've been on top of it, maintenance wise, and even on Saturday's training ride, saw no evidence there was any sort of a problem with the rear hub. But it's shot. Replacement parts will be needed.

Back to my walkout...

A few hundred yards later, I saw the guy who had passed me after the top of cyclocross hill. He was clutching his arm, bleeding and another racer was walking his bike out of the woods. I ran over and told the guy who was pushing the two bikes to get back in the race, I'd walk the injured rider and bike back in since my bike was shot. It looked to be a separated right shoulder as it was hanging much lower than his left. His arm, knee and leg were bleeding and he said his shoulder had hit a tree and he went down hard. The chain was off the bike, so I hung it over the cranks and pushed both of our bikes while he walked. He didn't seem nauseous, but he sort of had that vocal delivery and pale white look of a bit of shock. I tried to keep his mind diverted as we talked about whatever else I could think of walking along the gravel road. We finally made it back to where the paramedics were, but somebody had sent them out into the woods to look for the injured rider. We called the injured rider's son (the rider looked to be in his 50's), got him some ice, sat him down and the paramedics arrived back from their search to take over. He was going to be okay, but needed to go to the hospital.

Anyway, it got me to thinking. One of our code of racing "rules" or "ethics" says that if you come up on an injured rider who is in need, stop racing and take care of him. Luckily, one of the racers had done just that. I just happen to come along and relieved him. I was able to use my misfortune of a mechanical failure so that he could continue his race. I'm sure he lost a couple of minutes or more by stopping to help, but I wonder what goes through the mind of each and every racer that encounters a downed rider? He certainly did right by stopping to help and put the injured rider as his priority over just asking him if he was okay and riding right on by. Others may have stopped initially as well, I don't know because I came upon the scene a few minutes after it happened and a lot of riders passed me while I was walking along the trail and carrying my bike.

Had I been on the wheel of this guy - if my hub had not malfunctioned - would I have stopped and given up my race to take care of him? I've certainly stopped and asked fallen riders in a lot of races if they were okay or needed anything, but I've never come upon an injury that needed the kind of assistance that I saw yesterday. So my answer today is - yes - I would have stopped. He needed help. I would have seen that it was important to give up my race and take care of him. That's my answer today. I don't know what I would have done yesterday in the heat of the battle at full speed when those sorts of decisions are made in a few seconds. Lesson learned for me: the next time I encounter a similar situation is that the race outcome is not worth it for me, helping a fellow racer who is injured trumps everything else. I just hope - like the racer who did stop for this injured rider and help him out - that I, too, can make that kind of quick and wise decision.


Dakota Five-0 Final Training ride...

Going with the premise that any training stimulus done 10 days or less before an event really won't help, I headed out to Lake Ahquabi to do a endurance simulation yesterday to take advantage of the high heat and humidity. That put my final endurance test (I've been doing about one endurance ride per week to build up for it) around 11 days before the actual race. One Lake Ahquabi lap for the race course is about 7.5 miles, so I headed out in the morning and got underway at 9:40 a.m. while things were still moist from the evening fog and dew.

I had mixed a 4 hour bottle of Perpetuem in one Camelbak bottle and had a cooler in the car of 5 fresh water bottles, one bottle of pickle juice, 3 GU's and some maple walnut snack bites to see if and what I needed for nutrition.

I used lap one as a warm-up, but was up to an easier endurance race pace by the end of it. I stopped after every lap for a fresh water bottle and made sure every 15-20 minutes I was sipping on the Perpetuem bottle to stay nurished. Laps 2, 3 and 4 I put the gas on and saw just how far I could push myself pace wise to keep momentum going and hammer the climbs (within reason). Some of that was very close to XC race pace. I have memories of cramping pretty hard at mile 26 back in 2005 on my first attempt at the Dakota Five-0 when I went out way too hard from the get go. I had the flu at the time with a fever and cough which contributed to the cramping. I didn't really have a solid nutrition plan back then for the race. This year, I do and I wanted to try it out yesterday.

I shot a GU after laps 2 and lap 4. Lap 5 had me starting to fatigue with some twinges right above the knee cap which usually leads to cramping later on, but I pushed it hard and matched my time of previous laps. I hit the pickle juice after lap 5. Lap 6 was simply to "hit the distance" and see what my body did in the condition it was in. I ran out of Perpetuem, so utilized some of the maple walnut bites (ate 3) and a bottle of Heed and a bottle of water and a GU for the final lap. I throttled down on the climbs and took advantage of the granny 23T ring to simply turn the cranks over and make the climbs.

I was spent at the end of lap 6, but rolled in the 6 laps with an average time of 53 minutes per lap which - if it transfers at altitude and the Black Hills, should get me sub 6 hours depending on weather, traffic and how my body responds to the effort. Sub 6 hours is my goal since last time with the flu and severe cramping I rolled in at 6:44 which included tearing a tire and the repair time, hanging out at some of the aid stations for a relaxing rejuvination and riding the 2nd half of the race more as a ride rather than a race due to my cramped legs. I think with good nutrition and proper pacing this year, I should be able to hit the sub 6 hour target without any problems.

Nutrition felt fine for the endurance test of 45 miles off road, the bike felt fine, the stomach was fine and I had no trouble sleeping and recovering from the effort. I did take today off the bike outside of the dog walks, but I will do a recovery/easy effort on Friday afternoon to see how I feel.

I have an XC race at Sugar Bottom on Sunday, so I am hoping to bounce back from Wednesday's endurance test for the quicker XC effort needed on Sunday. I'm also mired in day long workshops and faculty meetings most of this week, so time is limited.


XC Racing and coming into form...

I haven't had time to post on the blog due to opera production meetings, getting ready for the fall semester, training, yard work, cooking, etc..., but I did race the past two weekends.


Two weeks ago was the Swanson MTB Mayhem event at Swanson Park for the combined Nebraska and Iowa Series. Originally scheduled for Lake Manawa, the event was moved to Swanson due to the Missouri River flooding having Manawa underwater. I decided to ride the RIP 9 to make sure it was race ready for the Dakota Five-0 and let the bike absorb the bumps at Swanson rather than my body.

After picking up my number plate, I got on my bike and as I was leaving the registration area, got my front wheel stuck between the sidewalk and grass and did a nice little, slow motion endo in front of the crowd. Nice. Nothing was hurt, but my pride. ;-] All went well in the race and I could tell that I was in very good form. In spite of being in excellent form, my results don't really show that for the past two weeks, but that's okay. I've been up against some good competition the past two races, so the placing in the results don't tell the entire story.

Going into the race, I had just finished a pretty good build period and had a 5 day rest/recovery period going into the race. I latched on behind Jason Dal from Des Moines Rassy team for lap one and lap two. For me, this was a different effort than earlier in the season when I raced at Swanson - my first race of the season. I was on the gas most of the time and not searching for much recovery. About 1/2 way through lap 3, Jason started to pull away and I couldn't quite match his pace. He finished a minute, thirty-five ahead of me for 3rd place in the Masters 35+ division and I finished 5th in the Masters 45+ division. Same exact place I got at Swanson earlier this season against the same guys, but I felt I had a much stronger and better race as I am in good form. I was only 20 seconds out of fourth place, so that's not so bad. Course was great and we rode it in the opposite direction than we did earlier in the season.


Yesterday was the Border Battle between the Wisconsin Series and the Minnesota Series - which are the two largest Midwest Mountain Biking race series in terms of number of participants. The race was at White Tail Ridge in River Falls, Wisconsin. I drove up on Friday afternoon with Zack and Alexa. We made a weekend out of it by staying at the Radisson with the water park and hitting the Mall of America for some last minute back to school shopping.

I headed out to the race course on Saturday for a pre-ride and to register. The weather was perfect and the trail opened up at 12 noon for pre-riding. I went out at 12:19 for a pair of loops. During lap one my goal was to just survey the trail, but I was feeling pretty good which led me to testing myself in a few sections. During lap two the traffic increased as there were others out there pre-riding. It was fun to chat with some riders about the differences in the course this year compared to prior years. I rode this course in 2009, so my memory wasn't that great, but I did note a new and fun jeep trail with a loose rocks climb.

I rolled back to the car at 1:31 p.m. after doing two laps and then did 20 minutes or so of cool down before loading up the bike. I grabbed some lunch in River Falls and then went back to register once the registration tent opened at 3 p.m. for business. The website and WORS book said Cat 2's would be doing 3 laps, but I was told at registration we would only be doing 2. Hmmmm...I thought. Just loafing on my pre-ride laps I had rolled 2 laps in about 1:12 which meant winning times would be sub 60 minutes. That seemed pretty short for a Cat 2 XC race, but oh well.

I got back to the motel, showered and hit the mall with the kids who had been at the water park all day. We got some dinner, did some shopping and then headed back to the motel. We all went down for the final hour of the water park hours and I hit the hot tub to let the jets massage my legs and back to recover for Sunday's race. Oooooooooooo....it felt good.

Sunday's weather was perfect. The trail was perfect. My legs felt great, and in spite of a head cold I have I felt ready to go. My strategy was to hang on the climb around the mid-pack in my wave and then attack in the flat open section at the top before entering the woods and singletrack. At least that was my plan at the gun. I jockeyed up and into pretty good position on the start in the open meadow. Once we made the sharp right hand turn a few hundred yards later and hit the opening climb - which is a doubletrack, gravel jeep trail - I found myself about 3 abreast with me on the right side next to an eroded drainage rut. I ran out of room and the guy next to me literally elbowed me over and into the ditch. WTF!!!? Thanks guy!

I used all the travel of the JET 9 and bounded through the erosion rut and was forced over on the right side of the rut which was grass and dirt where all the spectators were standing to view the opening climb and to cheer us on as we grunted up the hill. There was really no room for me to go back over the rut and on the gravel side of the climb due to the crowded traffic, so I decided to just climb on the right side of the rut which worked to my advantage. My strategy quickly changed to attack the climb and recover on the top flat area as opposed to the reverse I was planning on doing. I was in the top 10 out of a group of about 55 racers at the top of the climb which was perfect!!!

Alexa got a shot of me on her cellphone as I huffed and puffed my way up the right side as if I wasn't even part of the group on the other side of the rut...


What the heck? I didn't plan for that and I didn't panic. I just took what was given to me and climbing over on the right side off of the trail worked. I was cross eyed, coughing up a lung, and near maximum heart rate at the top - so I had to recover in the first 200-300 yards on the flat passing area. Luckily, only 2 or 3 passed me in that section. I went into the singletrack with the top group and because of that - there were no log jams and the flow was great.

I was riding the Racing Ralph tires which were super fast. Maybe not the best grip on the climbs if I got out of saddle, but fine for this course and the condition it was in - dry hardpack and fast. The pre-ride helped as I knew what to expect and pushed it on the climbs and descents. One rider in my age class passed me at the top of the opening climb at the start of lap 2, and I latched on to follow him. We got behind a group of 3 or 4 slower riders from age groups that had started before us and I recovered. I was itching for us to pass them and not lose sight of guys in our class in front of us. All told, I bet we lost a full minute before we were able to pass them. Lap 2 was fast and fun. This course was a big smile. Tires were perfect. Bike was working great. Legs felt good and I was having a blast.

I got behind a rider from an earlier class for the final singletrack section and wanted around him, but knew I could sprint to the line once we got out of the woods. We got out of the woods and I hit my usual finish line sprint and was surprised how well my legs responded. Flew by him and crossed the line feeling really good for such a short and fast race...


The clock reading of 1:11 is from the first wave. My group started in the 4th wave and my finish time was 1:03:58 which was good enough for 8th place in the 50-54 group. Again, the placing may not show how good I am actually feeling and riding at the moment, but my condition feels at a different level right now compared to the rest of the season. It was pretty stiff competition at WORS with a larger field, so I can't complain. I was only 4:34 back from the winner in this race compared to 8 minutes+ just 2 weeks ago or even more earlier in the season. This, in spite of a head cold which had me coughing a lot.

All in all - I was really pleased. Great course, great volunteers and it was fun to do a WORS race again as I had not been to one this season. My only complaint would probably be that the race was a bit too short. I would have liked a 3rd lap so times were closer to other race finishing times this season. In fact, the winning times back in 2009 at this same course were closer to the 1:25-1:30 for my division which would have been similar this year had we done a 3rd lap. Oh well, it was still a really fun race and course.

We headed home and Zack drove from Owatonna as I napped.


New Training Stimulus..

Sometimes it comes in mysterious ways.

My new stimulus happens to be the insects. Bugs are everywhere at Banner Pits and at Lake Ahquabi. The heat and high humidity have made for a massive bumper crop of flying critters that move in packs and have social networks designed to attack on every hairpin turn, switchback or turnaround. They wait and strike. They track and pursue. They follow and nag. I'm not really talking about mosquitoes - not too worry, it's a bumper crop for them as well - but I am talking about odd sorts of flies and bugs that swarm you and bite.

I got frustrated to the point yesterday that I started swatting and when that didn't work, I started riding harder and faster. That still didn't work. So I upped the speed to full out XC race speed and even tossed in some wildly crazy and out of control speed. I was able to get the critters to stay away riding like that. Two downed trees at Banner and some branches (I guess there was a big storm on Saturday night while I was up in Duluth) just about did me in with the creatures. Stopping to hoist my bike over these, the critters swooped in fast and furious to attack me yet again. I got to practice hopping on the bike and powering up to full steam intervals to shake them.

Not bad for a stimulus, but I think it is time to dig out the bug spray in hopes of gaining a few seconds out in the jungle at Banner. Or, I'll just plan on every ride in the woods being a full out intensity ride this month...

Made the Podium...

After a heavy week of cycling (trying to build for the 50 mile endurance race in the Black Hills coming up), I drove up to Duluth on Saturday for Sunday's The Great Hawk Race which was to be race #8 in Minnesota's Mountain Bike Race Series. I had not been to Duluth since the summer of 1980 (when I had to wear a heavy flannel shirt it was so cold). The 6 hour drive was too long to do on the morning of the race, so I headed up thinking I could take a loop of the race course on Saturday and find a place to stay.

The drive was nice as temperatures got cooler as I kept heading north. About an hour south of Duluth, it began raining which I knew was going to spoil my chances of a pre-ride. By the time I pulled into Duluth, the rain had stopped and I drove to the Lester Park area on the North Shore to find the race course. There were a few in the parking lot that had just finished a lap or were heading out to do one. Since my legs were on a rest day from the week of training, I decided it was best to let them rest and I didn't want to hurt the trail after a fresh rain. So I walked a bit of it to get an idea of conditions. It was muddy. I determined I needed to swap out my Race King 2.2's for the Maxxis Beaver mud tires. I figured I could do that in my motel room. So I headed back into town to find a room.

Big problem. "No rooms for 30 miles" was the word I kept getting at every motel desk. Duluth is a happening summer vacation spot? WTF? I had no idea and figured the worst case scenario would be for me to drive 30 miles or so to find a room. I grabbed dinner at a wood burning oven restaurant which had rotisserie chicken going full force over the flames and looked tasty. So I ordered 1/2 a bird and a sweet potato. Then I headed back south in search of a room. Long story short, everyone in every town was full. Finally, at a town about 110 miles south I found the next to last room left in a seedy place. It was cheap, but the price of gas to drive there and back made it the same had I stayed at a nice place in Duluth. Tired from the extra miles of driving, I hit the sack and was out by midnight. I got up at 7 so I could grab some coffee and change my race tires to mud tires. It sounds like a rather odd thing to do, but there I was on the bathroom tile floor changing tubeless tires in a seedy motel room at 7:15 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I finished up, cleaned up the mess, showered, dressed and headed back up to Duluth with my breakfast in the car.

Construction traffic delayed my arrival, so I only had about 10 minutes to warm up after I got registered, dressed and ready to go. That's not enough time for me (especially after the training week I went through) and I know it meant I would have to start the race slower than planned because of it to get the blood flowing. I was mentally prepared to turn myself inside out on this race to shoot for a good finish. However, without the proper warm up the danger was going out too hard on the start and not being able to recover at all for the rest of the race. So I went over to the starting line and saw that the usual crowd of 50+ age riders had not made the drive up to Duluth. A quick look around the riders in my wave (45-49, 50-59, and 60+) looked to be only about 15 of us compared to the usual 25+ riders. Steve Stilwell was there in the front row and is in 1st place in the standings as well as some wins under his belt this season. Another rider ahead of me in the standings was there lined up in the 2nd row...and the next thing I knew, we were off. I had to bring along and wear my old MOB Racing kit for this race since my son, Zack, managed to "borrow" both my BikeIowa.com kits for his exercise rides on the trainer in the basement and I found them wadded up and dirty on his bathroom floor as I was packing. Too late to wash them, so I grabbed my MOB kit.

The opening climb was on a cross country ski trail and it was uphill. Here's the start of my wave...

Great Hawk Race Start

I had to pace myself and hold back to use the opening as a warm up, so I was back in the pack huffing and puffing. The rain had made the trail spongy and muddy - enough so that it felt like my rear brake was rubbing (it wasn't, it just felt like it). There was going to be no coasting on this course with the soggy conditions, so Niner's top tube sticker on all of their bikes which reads "Pedal Damn It!" kept staring up at me and reminding me to keep grinding it out. I was hanging with a guy in front of me and a couple were hanging on my tail, but once we finished the ski trail climb and headed into the single track, I recovered and realized the guy in front of me was a bit timid in the singletrack. It was pretty greasy, but I got around him.

By now, the lead group was not only not in sight, they were long gone. That's the price I had to pay for no warm-up and the inability to go cross eyed on the start for fear of not recovering. But I forged ahead. It felt like a lot of climbing on this course, but some of that was due to the soggy conditions making it feel like even the flat spots were a climb. Short power climbs had my grinding it out...

Great Hawk Power Grind Corner

I passed a couple of guys from earlier classes walking a climb after one of the first road crossings and after I cleaned the climb and powered around a corner, got my wheels in a rut on a flat spot and went down as they slipped out in the mud. My handlebars were turned sideways, but I was able to hold the front wheel between my legs and get them straight again.

Back on the bike I was now warmed up and felt like racing, so I turned on the gas and powered through the best I could. Not having ridden here and stuck in no man's land with no rider visible in front of me to follow and learn the trail, I was being a bit cautious not knowing what was coming around the next bend. The final descent into the finish line area to start lap 2 was a long cross country ski trail where you could really let it all out and fly down the hill. I had walked most of this section on Saturday evening, so I knew what it looked like and I powered through the finish area to start my next lap.

Lap 2 was really soggy on the ski trail climb as all of the bikes had done their damage to cut through the top layers and turn things into a bog. I was searching for the least soggy line at all times, but it was work to keep turning the pedals over in the muddy, clay sections. And of course, bike and legs and face were covered in mud. Once in the singletrack, things were drying out and turning the course into perfect conditions. It wasn't as slippery on the 2nd lap and I found a bit of a groove which allowed me to up the pace and push on, but I still felt like I had a brake dragging. It didn't take much to put me in the heart rate area of no return, so I had to use my easy gear with a high spin when I could on the steeper power climbs. The leader of one of the waves that started behind us caught me and passed me in the singletrack.

Again, I found myself out there on my own with nobody to follow or track down. I find that a tough spot to be in on a tough course where you can find yourself backing off to just handle the technical nature of the course and you then find yourself riding at a pace that is not really racing, but seems like you are just out for a good ride. I found myself in that sort of pace when all of a sudden a rider appeared and passed me at the top of a climb. That woke me up and I gave pursuit only to watch him pull over 5 minutes later at the side of the trail with a mechanical. No matter, I was racing again and the end was in sight. Several bridges including a final series of bridges kept one on their toes with the soggy conditions...

Great Hawk Bridge Crossing

I floored it the rest of the way and once I hit the ski trail descent, I put the chain on the big ring and sprinted with whatever I had left to the finish line. Actually, the legs turned over very well as I was now warmed up!! Oh well....

It wasn't my best race, but due to the lack of numbers showing up - I rolled across in 2nd place, 5 minutes and heavy change behind Steve Stilwell who got his third win of the season in the Minnesota series (congrats Steve!!!). I was 10 minutes in front of 3rd place (about the same amount of time I had over that same rider last week at the Single Track Attack in Elk River - where I got 4th and he got 6th). Lester Park was an absolutely beautiful course with the rivers, climbs, rocks, heavy forest, smell of fresh rain, temperature around 70 and usual Minnesota hospitality. Kudos to the entire crew for the excellent trails and race!!! It was well worth the drive and frustration of not booking a motel room (lesson learned). I cleaned up, had some Granola Bars, watermelon and a couple of bottles of water to recover. I hung around for the awards ceremony and then hopped in the car for the drive home.


17 seconds off of the podium....!!!

I headed up to Minnesota on Sunday morning for the 7th race in the Minnesota summer mountain biking series - the SingleTrackAttack at Hillside Park in Elk River, MN. Give or take a few minutes, it's a 4 1/2 hour jaunt from front door to the registration table. I was amazed at how foggy and muggy things were at 5:45 a.m. on Sunday. Saturday night had been a very pleasant evening as we were at a pool party and sat out on the deck socializing until 10. I guess the muggy humidity rolled in during the night and the prediction was for a very high heat index come race time. I've grown accustomed to the heat this summer on the bike, so I wasn't too worried.

In terms of the Minnesota series, this was to be my 3rd event in their series thus far this summer. I was looking forward to it since I have enjoyed the Hillside Park trails the past couple of seasons. According to the radar, they were hit with a nice overnight rain, but everyone claimed the sandy soil soaks up most rain - so no special mud tires were needed. I went with the Continental Race King 2.2's to give me a bit more BB height in hopes I could avoid any pedal strikes on the rocks and roots on this twisty course.

My only worry centered around my legs. Lifting weights on Wednesday for the first time since our basement flooded in June and riding full out on Thursday's RAGBRAI meant my legs needed a full two days of recovery. I failed to cool down after the RAGBRAI ride and failed to get some recovery fluid/food within the important window of opportunity. So, my legs were shot on Friday. I went out for a recovery ride on Saturday with Tara and was shocked how bad my legs felt at the start of the ride. I could barely get up the first hill in granny gear. I nearly turned around 3 blocks from the house. I knew better and thought the blood flow would help me recover and wake up my legs. So I kept on at a very easy pace to get the blood flowing while Tara kept looking back wondering what was wrong with me. About 30 minutes into the ride, my legs came back to life and I knew I would be okay on Sunday. Once I arrived at Hillside Park, got suited up and started warming up - it was confirmed that my legs were back.

We all got lined up in our respective age group starting waves. I was the next to last wave to start at the SingleTrackAttack as they started us in chronological age group order. So my wave group included the 45-49, 50-59 and 60+ racers. I managed to get in the 3rd row at the start line after all of the series leader call ups were finished. At the gun, we all jumped out and one guy shot off like a rocket. The rest of us were pretty content to stick in a clump down the gravel road to the singletrack. I was in a debate with my legs and mind as to whether I really wanted to turn myself inside out to get up to the singletrack with the first few racers or not. And the question loomed in my mind if I would actually be able to recover in the heat for the rest of the race if I did so. I probed the legs and started to move up in the pack only to be cut off and pushed to the left side of the road out into the grass by another rider - so that settled it for me. I hung where I was and went into the singletrack in the middle of the pack. It didn't take long for me to start passing a few that were dabbing at some of the turns, roots and trail conditions (muddy corners).

It was very warm and humid. And I knew the duration of the race was going to be 90 minutes plus based on the mileage and type of course Hillside is. My legs were feeling good and I knew I had time to work my way through the crowd, so I pushed on trying to remain cautious on certain corners that were muddy enough that tires were slipping out on most of us. Everybody was pretty cool about passing in this race and the singletrack gave plenty of opportunities to pass with its design. In retrospect, I was getting too comfortable behind slower riders on lap one and not doing my part to work around them as best I could. Most likely that was due to the debate between my mind and body with regard to the RAGBRAI effort on Thursday and how to handle the heat/humidity. In spite of that, I was hanging with guys that usually place better than I do by a minute or two, so I was content to be in the hunt.

Was it the heat, or was there a sculpture of a lady of the woods out there...

Single Track Attack Sculpture in the Woods

I hit one rut in the middle of a turn that was still very wet from the fresh rain and down I went. Luckily, I fell in very soft and sandy soil so nothing was hurt. I just had sand all over my legs and hands, but I hopped right back on and buzzed on...

Single Track Attack Race Grind

Due to the 4 waves that started in front of us, we hit a lot of traffic and had to work our way around slower riders from the age groups in front of us. This made the 2nd half of lap 1 and all of lap 2 a bit more challenging. I got stuck behind one Clydesdale in one of the tighter, twistier sections who would not allow me to pass no matter how nicely I asked (I asked 3 times). He was not obligated to let me pass, but most racers realize when a faster rider is on their tail and will make room for a second or two for a rider to overtake them. I finally got around him on a climb where he was riding well, but his weight didn't allow him to climb as fast as I could so I just went around him and took off to make up some time. I venture to guess I lost 10 - 20 seconds right there, but who knows. It wasn't the only delay I put myself into and got lulled into a bit of recovery before pushing on and passing. It happened again in the same exact section on lap 2 when I got stuck behind a guy on a 29"er who had not learned the bike's attributes quite well enough to lean and carve the turns while laying off of the brakes. He was over-braking every corner, which caused us to slow and go around every corner, followed by acceleration to get back up to speed. I actually got into a conversation with him about the heat and humidity and instead of passing, I was socializing. WTF!! Then I heard a rider or two coming up behind us and I gunned it around him and gave it my all for the final section of the race.

It was so twisty and thick in the forest, you really couldn't tell who was ahead of you or behind you as you couldn't see very far. Lots of sharp, switchback uphill turns where you had to keep the power on the pedals to rotate around the turn...

Single Track Attack Race

Coming out of the thick forest and into the more open straight sections and final turns, I caught up to the wheel of the winner of the 60+ group (and he usually beats me by a minute or two) and another rider who was in the 30-34 age group. I had nothing to gain to pass these two guys on the final 200 yards to the line, so I just hung with them and we all crossed the line more or less as a clump. Bravo and kudos to the race crew who had a wide enough finish chute this year to avoid any crazy thing such as I experienced last year. Last year, during a final sprint to the line to beat another racer, I accidentally locked handlebars with him crossing the line because the finish line chute was only about 4 feet wide and I got stuck. This year, it was more like 10-12 feet wide and there was plenty of room for a safe finish.

I went for 20 minute cool down ride and noticed my legs, bike and clothes were covered in mud, sand and slop. So it was a get down and get dirty race, but a lot of fun. My legs were working well, my bike handling was spot on and the trails were a blast. Any sliding out with the tires was very predictable and easily managed. After loading up my bike and cleaning off, I went to get a turkey wrap and drink at the concession stand and then headed over to check the results. Wow! I came in 4th only 17 seconds behind 3rd place. Did I leave those 17 seconds on the trail? You bet. My bad, but the heat, the recovery from RAGBRAI, the socializing the night before, the lack of sleep, the 4 1/2 hour drive all probably contributed to my decision making. Still, that's a big improvement for me in this competitive field up in Minnesota. 7th place in my first race up there this season, 5th place last race and now 4th place. A podium spot was that close and I let it slip through my fingers. Not next time. I'm peaking for some upcoming events and hope to keep on the improvement path this month as each weekend race unfolds.

Kudos to Rich Omdahl and his excellent crew for once again hosting a favorite event of mine. I'll be back for sure...