6/28/13

2013 halfway point and hours on the bike report...

Since I will be attending a race somewhere this weekend (Omaha, Burnsville, or Eau Claire - who knows which one?), I thought I would take a middle of the year look at what has been and what is to come for me in terms of my annual training plan with June ending on Sunday.

I laid out my annual plan in this post back in January.  I was shooting for a 10% increase from my 2012 hours of 355.55 hours on the bike.  Target was for 392 hours rounded up to around 400 hours in an effort not to increase the number too much based on everything I had read.  Accounting for the 12 week base plan, followed by the 12 week build, peak, and race plan - I adjusted my annual hours to around 420 which is a bit more than suggested coming in at around 18% more if I complete all of them compared to 2012.  So be it.

In addition to the increase in hours, the physical toll of mowing the lawn twice a week and doing hours of trail mainteance are things that were not as required of me last year due to the drought.  So I will say phyiscally, this year is quite a bit more demanding when you add it all together.  And I am lifting weights this year which I had to skip last year after my endo in the Tranquility race.  Suffice it to say that getting out of bed on many days in the week, I feel my age along with the creaks, aches and pains of being active in your 50's.  Yet I have more energy and feel like I am in better overall shape this year than a year ago.  I have failed, thus far, to make it to my goal of being sub-180 pounds with my body seemingly settling in and hovering in the 182-184 range.  Waist is indeed thinner, but what I have lost there has been replaced with muscle weight in the upper body from the lifting.  I still feel that if I was a bit more diligent, I could hit that sub 180 goal during the 2nd half of the summer.  It remains a task I would like to accomplish.

Before riding my bike during the final 3 days of June (which will mark the halway point), I currently have 226 hours on the bike under my belt for 2013.  Looks like I will end around 230 for the first half of the year after this weekend is accounted for in the annual hours.

A lot of those hours included some long rides during the base period than the rest of the season calls for in my training plan.  I won't have quite as many hours during the 2nd half of 2013 - that's for sure.  RAGBRAI will be a big hour week and skew things a bit, but the amount of hours on the bike between XC races is not that much as I am sort of on a mid-season maintenance program as of this week.  I've done 7 races to date this year and this weekend will make it 8.  I have plans to do just about that many more between now and the end of the season which is pushing it as my goal was to cut back on the number of races this year by quite a bit.

That's more or less the halfway point report of my annual hours.  More or less a post for myself to be able to journal and refer to in the future.

The Tour de France 100th running begins Saturday.  Tune in if you enjoy watching the premiere cycling event.  It's a good way to see the French countryside, and listen to commentary on professional road racing. 

Have a great weekend! 




6/25/13

25 Days to RAGBRAI!!!!

25 days and counting until the big rolling bicycle party moves from the rear wheel being dipped in the Missouri River to the front wheel being dipped in the Mississippi River.  I'm spending a few days this week getting things organized for the trip now so I don't have to scramble the week before (during Orpheus Music Camp).  I ordered a new tent liner yesterday from Kelty that goes under the Hula House tent to keep things dry.

I tested the Cabela cot last night.  One word:  Heaven!!!

It's big, but so am I...

Cabela'sCot3

A twin sheet fits over the Cabela self-inflating mattress pad perfectly.  I used one of our summer weight down comforters (bought them in Vienna) with a duvet and slept like a baby until 8:15 this morning.  The comforter stuffs into a small stuff sack the size of a small sleeping bag - so that's a go.  I can do the same with a pillow or two.  In terms of the cot/pad combo - I could sleep on my side, back, belly - no problems.  My back felt great.  There's an optional side table that attaches to it that I could purchase that would be perfect to place a battery operated fan (a must have on RAGBRAI) to keep cooler at night.

Allow me to preach a bit here on behalf of the tall crowd.  Anyone under 6'4" need not reply as you don't know what you are talking about.  '-]  Bike size wise, tent size wise, camp cot size wise, sleeping pad size wise - it's different for us tall drinks of water.  I want to be able to stand up in my tent.  I want to be able to sleep without my feet hanging off the end of the cot/pad.  I want a bike that fits.  I've got it all and I'm going to use it this year!  Ask me about years of being cramped in an airline seat, car, theater, restaurant, furniture, etc... - all designed for the average height of the population.  Try sleeping in a sleeping bag that barely makes it past your nipples and doesn't make it all the way up to your chin.  How about a tent where your feet hang out the door!!!

None of that for me at this point in my life.

Some teams have a rule where you can bring 2 duffle bags and everything - tent, pads, folding furniture, clothes, etc... - must fit inside of those 2 duffles.  Pork Belly Ventures out of Omaha has a rule that you should be able to lift each duffle bag over your head and hold it for 3 seconds.  Not a problem for me if I put the cot in one and the tent in the other!  I'd be golden as long as the cot was in the REI XXXL Duffle.  Some teams don't have a luggage limit. 

Team Simpson doesn't have a weight limit, but did mention to me they prefer a bunch of small bags rather than one or two larger duffles so they can easily pack things between the bikes for the trip out and back in the truck.  Not a problem during the week when the bikes are not in the truck.

Outside of the tent, pad, and cot.....I'll be taking minimal stuff this year having learned from prior RAGBRAI's that I barely use what I bring.  I''ve got enough kits for a clean biking outfit every day, so that's a go.  Small toiletry bag with essentials for shaving and cleaning.  Something comfy to wear in the overnight town and my Keens for evening footwear, of course.  And the other essential: a battery operated fan

Below is a suggested packing list of items I may want to include (got this from Team Simpson and have indicated check for yes and don't need for items I will skip):

Highly Recommended
  • credit card (check)
  • identification (check)
  • medical insurance card (check)
  • money ($25-$40 per day) (check)
For Your Bike
  • 2 large water bottles (check)
  • bike lock and cable (don't need)
  • first-aid kit (don't need)
  • frame-mounted bicycle pump/air canister set (don't need)
  • handlebar or seat bag (check)
  • plastic bag or shower cap to cover your bike seat for overnights (don't need, bikes will be in vestibule of tent)
  • rear view mirror (don't need)
  • spare tubes, tire tools, patch kit (check)
  • toilet paper (check)
Cycling Clothing
  • bandannas/buff/ hat (don't need)
  • cycling gloves (don't need)
  • cycling shirts (check)
  • cycling shorts (check)
  • socks (check)
  • helmet (check)
  • rain gear / jacket ( don't need - going with a plastic garbage bag)
  • riding shoes (check)
  • sunglasses (check)
Evening Clothing
  • off-bike shirts (check)
  • off-bike shoes or sandals (check)
  • underwear (check)
  • walking shorts (check)
Other Gear
  • air mattress or sleeping pad (check)
  • camera and batteries (don't need)
  • clothespins (don't need)
  • collapsible camping chair (check)
  • duffel bag, distinctively labeled or painted (check)
  • flashlight with fresh batteries (don't need)
  • foam ear plugs for sleeping (check)
  • insect, gnat, and tick repellent (check)
  • Kleenex packs (don't need)
  • lightweight sleeping bag and sheet (check)
  • medication / Advil (check)
  • pillow (check)
  • sunscreen & lip balm (check)
  • swimwear (don't need)
  • tent and ground cloth (check)
  • toiletries/soap (check)
  • towels and wash cloth (check)
  • zip-lock bags to keep clothes dry (check)
There are a few things they don't have on their list that I will be bringing.  Chamois Butt'r, Gold Bond Baby Powder, my Heed Nutrition and GU packs, etc... .   I will pack it all up and then try to eliminate about 1/3 to 1/2 of it or more that I absolutely can do without.  The main thing is the tent, cot, pad, fan and my biking clothes.  The rest is expendable.

Recovery and Training

I have to say I was feeling pretty gassed on Monday from Sunday's hard effort in the mud.  The day went by in sort of a blurr and I don't really remember what I did outside of teach a lesson, lift some weights and make a nice dinner for Zack and I.

The routine going forward is that on weeks where I have a race, I am to repeat week 12 of the structured build, peak, and race training plan.  On weeks where I don't have a race, I am to repeat week 11 of the plan.  I have a race this weekend (choice of Psycowpath Tranquility on Saturday, Minnesota Buck Hill, or WORS Firecracker - both on Sunday).  Weather and travel time will end up being the determining factor of which one I do.  That is to be determined in the next couple of days.

I did my maintenance weights on Monday, and this afternoon was an interval session where I did much better out on the road bike than I anticipated since I feel like I am still recovering from Sunday.  I felt great after the workout with the exercise induced endorphins raging through my system.  I mowed the lawn this morning and felt pretty good doing that in spite of the heat and humidty (which was 90 when I finished).

Tonight is test #2 on the cot to see how little I can get away with for pillows, sheets, etc... .  I really should set up the tent in the backyard and try it all out (including the battery operated fan).  I also want to try a night on the sleeping pad only (what I used on the prior RAGBRAI trips) to see if at age 51 I could tolerate it.  I probably could, but getting up off the ground prevents night sweats and all of the dew and rain we will fact it is nice to not have to worry about sleeping on the ground.   Hard to imagine being spoiled by 2 years of camping with a cot in the spacious Hula House 6 Kelty tent...


6/24/13

Minnesota Mountain Bike Series #3 Race Report: Red Wing Classic...

I rounded out the end of week #12 of the build, peak, and race structured training with a race at Red Wing, Minnesota on the trails of Memorial Park.

If you read comments by Joe Friel, Dave Morris, Ned Overend, Lynda Wallenfels, etc....they are all careful to state that you should be careful not to set lofty expectations for a particular event because there are too many factors outside of your control.  Setting a lofty goal like "I'm going to win this race" should be avoided.  I'm much more realistic, so that's not a problem for me when I go up against guys who can trounce me by 5 or 10 minutes at any given race.  My goals are more to do my best and execute.  I'll take whatever place I finish in stride.  I have been fortunate to podium twice this year, but I am being careful never to expect that.

Why not set lofty goals?

Simple.  The things you cannot control trump.  Weather, who shows up at the starting line, last minute changes, and on and on all contribute to an outcome that may or may not align with one's expectations of a lofty goal.  Even though the calendar date choice for me when I started training for this season (December 31st) meant that the timing of my base period, followed by the build period meant that my first Priority "A" race was this weekend - I was careful not to have any lofty expecations.  The training more or less aligned when this peak hit, not the choice of race.

I was more interested in how my body performed and what it meant or could mean going forward in using structured training.  In others words, I was still going to race my race and analyze it post race to see what it all meant.  I had done my part sticking to the structured training leading up to this weekend, was feeling really good in the past couple of races leading up to yesterday, and was anticipating a nice challenge on the excellent singletrack at Memorial Park in Red Wing that features the famous "Stairway to Heaven" climb.

I drove up on Saturday afternoon and had decided I would not be camping because severe weather was expected.  I just don't want to be in a tent when a severe storm hits.  Period.  When they say severe weather and to expect large hail, high winds, possible tornado, lightening - I don't want to be in a tent or campground.

I exited off if I-35 to take the road through Northfield and enjoy the countryside drive over to Red Wing.  Clouds were building up at a very high rate of speed and the cloudbursts suddenly started to happen.  Heavy rain that even the windshield wipers at full speed couldn't remove.  This kept up most of the way over to Red Wing, but luckily - the storms remained just enough south of Red Wing that only a light sprinkle caught the race course as I pulled in around 6:20 or so to do a low key, Zone 1-2 pre-lap scout of the course.  The course was in perfect condition with hero dirt and tacky sections.  I was careful to only do a light spin with a couple of short hard efforts to wake up the legs.  Only a few sections where there was a mud spot or two which were well on their way to being dry.  I memorized where the climbs were and how to pace and hit the climbs as well as how long they were.  It was a really fun singletrack set up with log overs, a cool jump, tight and twisty, flowing trails, a couple of killer climbs and exactly what one wanted for a State Championship course.  It was one of the best set ups and in perfect condition I have seen in years.  Well done!!  

I finished the loop, headed back to the car, drank my recovery drink and packed the bike into the Element to go get a room.  Skies had cleared up and the prognosis was looking excellent for Sunday morning's race.  I felt confident that everything was unfolding according to plan.

PreRaceRedWingLap2

Let's run through the list of things out of my control to help set up the scenario. 

I had not factored into my equation that getting a motel room would be so difficult.  Everything in Red Wing was full.  What?  Okay.  So I headed up to the Twin Cities and stopped at the first group of motels.  All full?  What?  The gal at the desk tells me that Friday night's storm knocked out so many people's power in the Twin Cities, that they had all flocked to the motels for air conditioning.  Well - there's one out of my control!!!

I hit the Wi-Fi and started calling around.  Everything was full.  Finally, somebody I spoke with at the Embassy Suites on the phone told me she had heard of 2 rooms available over in Burnsville and gave me the numbers.  I quickly called and got one of the last 2 rooms available in the city!  By the time I got there, checked in, and had dinner - it was 10:30 and I fell fast asleep.  The whole ordeal was not that much of a biggie, but a bit of stress, worry and more driving than I wantd to do - at least in terms of things that I wasn't planning on for this trip.

I was awakened about 5:30 a.m. with huge claps of thunder.  Yes, a big morning storm was moving from the west to the east and the radar confirmed it was heading directly towards Red Wing.  Suffice it to say, the weather is an element that is totally out of my control - so nothing like 4 hours of rain before the race to alter the race course conditions.  By the time I got showered, had breakfast and packed up for the drive back to Red Wing - I read on the internet that the race was still on, but an alternate rain loop would be used instead.  I did not ride the alternate rain loop on Saturday night as it wasn't even in my thoughts. 

Luckily, I had brought along my Maxxis Beaver tires mounted up on a set of wheels.  When I arrived at the site to register, it was still raining.  Steve Stilwell stopped by my car to say hello and we talked about the mud.  He had his Maxxis Beaver on the rear of his new carbon XC Vassago bike.  We were in a similar scenario in Duluth a couple of years ago and both ran the Beavers there in a mud fest there.  I watched some of the racing as the Citizen Class was in the middle of their race.  They were covered head to toe in mud.  The ground was squishy and my thoughts of the perfect tire for the singletrack conditions from the night before quickly vanished.  I registered, did my prescribed warm-up, and then swapped wheels for the mudfest.  My Renegades floated well on the grass with excellent rolling resistance, but they don't have the digging power of the Beaver which I felt I was going to need to stay upright.  No way I was going to hike-a-bike this time.  I wanted to climb it all!!!  Maybe the Renegades would have worked, but I didn't want to chance it.

Instead of the usual XC race course that I had pre-ridden, we would be doing an alternate 2.7 mile rain loop (5 laps) that involved a lot of wide open meadows, grass, doubletrack and slogging.  Again - the last minute changes are nothing that can be controlled by a racer, but I knew that this was a race, rain or shine event and I was prepared with the gear I had brought with me.  It finally stopped raining a few few minutes before we lined up for the 11 am start.  The sun started to poke out and everyone was smiling.  Steve had won the 1st Minnesota Series race of the season and I figured he would be the one to have a chance at this one.  I introduced myself to another racer in our group who I did not recognize.  It was Keith Peterson and he was from Red Wing.  These were his home trails, but he said he doesn't do many of the Minnesota Mountain Bike Races.  But he looked trim, fit and ready to roll.

At the start, I managed to take off and get up with the front group of 6 or so.  A racer new to our age class this year due to his birthday moving him to 50, was Ted Siefkes, who had placed 3rd in the first race this year behind Steve.   I remember him from the 45-59 age group when I raced in that.  He was always strong in that group.  He took off like a rocket at the start and we never saw him again.  I tucked in behind Steve on lap one, and Keith was tucked in behind me.  The worn path in the meadow that was supposed to be dirt was so muddy that it reminded me of peanut butter, Crisco, Grease, Vaseline all mixed together - we were all doing better riding in the wet, squishy grass alongside of the worn path.  With the Beavers digging in (as they are supposed to for traction) and the wet conditions - it was a real slog to ride in this stuff.  Felt like we all had flat tires.  Felt like we were all pushing much higher wattage to maintain any kind of speed than we would be in dry conditions.  I figured I could maintain this for a good 8 - 10 mintues start before settling into my pace.  No way I could hold this kind of power for the duration.

Well, the shortened lap featured a few singletrack sections that were scary with the grease/Vaseline/peanut butter/Criso conditions.  Treacherous in fact as many went down.  We were all being a bit careful in lap one on those sections as the pucker factor was very high.  I was still on Steve's tail near the the end of lap 1, but then he took off as we started lap 2.  I was gassed from keeping the start speed for the entire first lap that was about 12-15 minutes or so.  As soon as we passed the starting line, Keith went around me and told me I was looking good.  I tried to hang with him, but he dialed it up a notch and I just had to be content to try and settle into a pace I could maintain.  The course required you to be on the power the entire time except for two or three descents.  The rest of the time, the wattage was high to keep moving forward.  What a slog!!!  I kept working the gears to keep me from burning out, but also keeping me in the race zone.

Slog

I passsed a few we caught up with from the prior wave's start in lap 2.  At the end of lap 2 I had settled into my pace and felt I was back in control of what my training had prepared me to do.  I also felt that "gee, maybe 4 laps would have been plenty instead of having us do 5 in this stuff".  But it was the State Championship which should challenge everyone a bit more.  Well - we had that in spades trying to stay upright, fighting the mud, and scrambling to keep the bike moving!!!  I let the Beavers do their thing on the descents and muddy singletrack sections.  The bike would slide all over the place, but they would eventually dig in and give me traction.   So I didn't fight it and started to relax with what they can do.  This kept me upright for the entire race and I made every single climb.  The turf started to improve in lap 3 as the sun and the wind were working their magic to turn all the grease, Vaseline, Crisco, and peanut butter into a bit better condition than when we started.

I was cashed by the end of lap 5.  I didn't cramp, but I felt the early tingles of it building up due to having to push such a tall gear due to the mud sucking our speed and very little chance for recovery on the course.  On the last big climb that was the only climb where I dropped down to the smaller ring on every lap, as expected - the dreaded chain suck from the mud happened.  Somehow I managed to quickly back pedal and get the chain unstuck and kept going without having to dismount.  Whew!  Lucky break there as I would have had to hike-a-bike it up a really muddy mess had the chain stuck. 

Here's the start of the soft climb...

Slog2

I crossed the line in 1:22:11 - good enough for 4th place in my age class.  Ted, who jumped off the line at the start never to be seen again, used his big powerful legs to best the rest of us.  He was 6:38 ahead of Steve which was a huge performance because Steve is light, fast and has good handling skills!  I was 3 full minutes off of the podium, 3 1/2 minutes behind Steve and 10 minutes from the winner.  That's a reality check!!  Congrats to Ted, Steve, and Keith for pounding it out in those conditions.

Here are the top 5 results for our age class...

RedWingTop5

Tough competition this year everywhere I go in the 50+ crowd.  That's a good thing and keeps me from getting complacent.  It's only going to continue as birthdays cause more to move into our age class.  Was I happy with my performance and dealing with all of the things one cannot control?  YES!  The whole thing felt like I imagine what a road race crit would be like.  Only this was in the mud and wet sloggy grass.

If I look at it another way, my time was good enough for a podium spot in the following age groups...

14 and under - podium
17-18 - podium
19 - 24 - podium
25-29 - podium
35-39 - podium
(not to mention 60 and over; Clydesdale, Fat Bikes as well)

So - I can beat a lot of the younger riders, but the competition is tough in the Baby Boomers.  Again, no lofty expectations going into it.  I finished 4th three weeks ago at Mankato where I felt I had a really strong race, and I finished 4th yesterday where I left it all out on the course.  

I mashed my way around that course and only dropped into the smaller ring to use a spin cadence up one climb every lap (the steep muddy ascent that I had to stay seated in my smaller ring of the double up front).  I think all the mashing - seated or climbing - is what caused my legs to feel like they were getting closer to the edge of cramping by the end.  But there was no other way in the slop we were dealt with thanks to the weather.  Moving forward was indeed a challenge.  Kudos to the trail crew who were able to pull it all off in spite of Ma Nature's Sunday morning delivery.  The singletrack course I rode the night before was one of the better I have been on in years.  All that work by the trail crew, and nobody got to experience it.  Maybe next year.

The bike after the race is going to need some major cleaning...

PostRaceMud

I used a water bottle and my towel to clean up for the drive home.  The sun was shining, temperatures were in the 70's and I stopped at Cabela's in Owatonna to treat myself to a huge camping cot that was on sale and a self-inflating pad for our tent camping.  The cot was marked down to $99 and I got a membership discount which meant I paid $79 for it.  Sweet deal.  It's the Cabela's Outfitter XL Cot that measures 85" x 40".  Great for somebody that is my height and the width means I can roll over, sleep on my side, sleep on my belly - just about anything.  It's sturdy, heavy (23 pounds!!!) and will replace my old Ikea folding cot that actually weighs a bit more.  Whether or not this cot goes on RAGBRAI remains to be seen, but for camping - I am now a "happy camper" and looking forward to using it.  It folds up and will easily go up top in the Yakima box which opens up some space in the car for other gear.

This thing is huge (in the world of cots that is)!!!

Cabela'sCot2

Nice and long so my feet finally don't ever have to hang off the end of a cot or pad again!!!

Cabela'sCot








6/22/13

Minnesota bound again...

This time it is not to the airport, but for the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series.  It's a race weekend.  The one tomorrow is in Red Wing, Minnesota and promises to be muddy thanks to all of the thunderstorms the past 72 hours and those that are coming in the next 24 hours.

I dry brushed the dry mud off what had built up during the Ponca race from the JET 9 yesterday out in the sunshine.  That's always a good time to inspect the bike for any damage once you get all the mud off and can view things closely.  Low and behold, I saw a cracked upper pulley wheel on the rear derailleur!!!  So I am repairing that this morning from a pulley wheel off of an older bent derailleur that is compatible.

I am also going to mount up the Maxxis Beaver tires on the Crest rim wheelset to bring along in case the mud is "that kind of mud" requiring tires that are diggers and shedders for traction.  The races in Minnesota and Wisconsin are always rain or shine events, so the race will happen.  So I want to have the right gear with me so I can make a choice.

I used them in Minnesota a couple of years ago when they had a rain filled summer.  Seems to be that way again this summer....

Great Hawk Power Grind Corner

I will also have an opportunity to stop back in at a couple of the camping supply stores to continue my research on the best RAGBRAI/Camping purchases.  Being practical, I want to make sure we purchase gear we can use outside of RAGBRAI.

I really enjoyed the opening night of Des Moines Metro Opera's 41st season last night.  You can't go wrong with Shakespeare's story of Romeo and Juliet.  I had a nice visit with Mark and Cathy Larsen over dinner at Napoli's before the opera.  I look forward to seeing it again in July along with Peter Grimes and Elektra.

6/21/13

RAGBRAI Gear...and breakfast in Helsinki!

I took Tara and Alexa to the Minneapolis airport yesterday as they had an 11:30 flight to Helsinki on their way to Vienna.  I took the opportunity to stop by REI and Cabella's to survey the camp gear that is available for our RAGBRAI needs.  We're not allowed to bring our folding cots on Team Simpson (no room in the truck), so a possible couple of solutions are on my radar.

The most expensive, is the LuxuryLite/UltraLite cot.  $229 for the light one, and $239 for the 2" wider mesh version.

Here's the set up of the lighter one...



REI had a demo of the lighter one set up and I tried it out in the store.  Both by itself, and with a pad on it (we already own the self inflating pads).  It was quite comfortable.  The smaller version is only 24" wide and is too narrow for me as my arms have no where to go.  So I would need the 26" wide version.  Tara would be fine on the smaller version.

I also checked out the duffle bags looking for ones that were waterproof as rain is a reality on RAGBRAI and keeping gear dry is key.  They have 2 or 3 solutions that will work ranging from about $54 a duffle to $170 a duffle.  The combination of a cot will get us off the ground, a good duffle that fights off water and our gear packed inside of it with Ziplock bags and water proof stuff sacks will keep things dry - in theory and experience.

The TriLite cot is also an excellent solution.  It is 5 inches longer than the LuxuryLite and has a width of 25" which puts it between the 2 LuxuryLite cots.



It looks to set up a little quicker and easier and is still small enough to be able to stuff into a large or XL size duffle bag.  It may be harder to find (website says out of stock), but looks to be had for less than 1/2 the price of the LuxuryLites.  I see it ranging from $54.99 - $102 (with or without shipping depending on who lists it as being in stock and available).  I think there is one available to demo at Cabela's and I will hit that up this weekend on my trip to Red Wing for the race.

Another solution that comes in a longer size option, is the Go-Kot (gets great reviews and comes in a variety of colors)...



And then there is the Davis Big Boy Cot (I'm a big boy at nearly 6'4") which is the heaviest option at a full 31 pounds - ugh!!!





Pictured below is a cot that is 10 pounds lighter than the Davis Big Boy.  I tried it out at Sports Authority and is actually very comfortable for me.  It's the Coleman Packaway Cot and measures out at 80" x 32".

2000007753_500
It's not that expensive ($59-69).  I could justify that price as I would use it for camping since it takes up less space when folded up than my current 15 year old Ikea cot that I bought in Vienna.  I could could stuff it in a super huge duffel bag (like the XXX Large REI duffle) for RAGBRAI and deal with the extra 21 pounds when carrying my bag to and from the truck every day.  I know it is comfortable cot since I tried it out.  This one is totally long enough and wide enough that I could easily turn over, sleep on my side and use the side table for a tent fan.

Hmmm....do we have a winner?

There are a couple of other models that fold up that we might be able to stuff in a huge duffle (something like the Big Bear cot; or the Go-Kot).  Too bad we can't take our regular large folding cots we use for camping.  Although my old Ikea is about shot and held together with a lot of zip ties, so replacing it is due.  Something like the Big Bear, Go-Kot, Davis Big Boy Cot, Colman or another model would require a XXL or XXXL REI duffle bag.  Luciily, we don't have the 50 pound weight restriction that RAGBRAI has for those who are using the main service for hauling their gear.  Team Simpson told me they prefer we use several smaller bags rather than onle large duffle because they are easier to pack.  But I think I could fit the cot in a duffle with the rest of our gear (one bag for me, one bag for Tara).

The other purchase to be made is to get a pair of tent fans to help fight the humidity and heat in the tent at night.  02 makes a good one and there would be room in our duffles for one each (maybe 2 for me since I could use it).

Our McKinley self-inflating pads are 22" x 74" and would add extra comfort and cushion to whatever cot choice we go with for RAGBRAI.  We also have a smaller pair which would be fine for Tara, but too small for me.  I might look for one that is 25" or 26" wide (or 30") to match the cot's width that I get for myself if the price entry point is not too bad.  Again, I can try them all out at REI before deciding if it is worth it or not.  I could get by with the McKinley that I already own, but if I get one of the bigger cots like the Coleman - I need a larger pad. 

I've got to make some decisions and get things ordered so I have them in time for trying them out before RAGBRAI. 

Europe

Tara and Alexa had a massive layover in Helsinki before flying to Vienna today.  So they took the shuttle in from the Helsinki airport for a breakfast/brunch at a fish market this morning...

Here's Alexa in her red tank top with her back to the camera...

HelsinkiBreakfast

And here's what the gals split...

FinlandFish

Yum!  I wish I was there with them.  They are going to a Heurige tonight in Vienna!!!!

I will be attending opening night of Romeo and Juliet tonight and having dinner with Sarah Larsen's parents, Mark and Cathy, before to catch up with them.


6/19/13

Loppity-Lop-Lop...

It seems like spooning water out of the ocean with a teaspoon at times, but a lot of my free time this summer is going towards snipping away at the growth out at Lake Ahquabi (and soon to be Banner Pits) with my Loppers.

My life looks like this for about 4 hours every day when I can get out there...

Lopping

I've been doing the lopping solo thus far, but hope to get some additional folks doing some work as well.  I am using non gas or electric powered tools due to the DNR rules.  You need a permit for powered tools as there is always a fire and safety issue.  At least that's what we found out after we did unauthorized chainsaw work without a permit.  Now, if I had a gas powered hedge trimmer or bush saw - I would get a permit from the ranger in a heartbeat to keep my hands from going numb.

Lop, lop, snip, snip...

LoppLopp

Growth at Lake Ahquabi in a normal year, is very abundant and requires about 2 full trims (one in spring and one later in the summer/fall) to keep it open.  This is a non-typical year in that we are about 10 inches of rain beyond "normal" at this point in the season.  That has ignited the forest into hyper-growth mode.  So much so, that this year may require 3 - 4 full trimmings to keep it at bay by the time we get to October.

Here's Tara going through a wide section that you can see the honeysuckle starting to grow in and cover the trail and the edges...

Keeping up with the wife

Here's Paul Varnum and one of the DNR workers as we were clearing trail for The Mullet a few years ago.  Typical spring/summer growth.

Paul Varnum Watching the DNR saw

I have been trimming back as far as I can to account for the reality that the canopy will grow in rather quickly.  The DNR has a new hedge clipper coming in mid-July which will help in maintenance.  Using the loppers causes issues with my hands, wrists, arms, neck, and back, but it's got to be done.  Banner Pits is next and about 1/2 mile of trail has been trimmed there, but there are another 5 miles or so to go.  Ahquabi is a little more than 1/2 done now and I'm heading out today as well.  My hands will be numb as a result of doing 2 days in a row.


6/17/13

Podium!!! - Psycowpath Ponca's Revenge Race Report...

My previous post mentioned not being too thrilled about camping in severe weather.  I saw the weather report on Friday afternoon that listed all of the western counties of Iowa under a Tornado Watch and said "to heck with it".  No way I was going to drive up and camp in that.  So I slept at home Friday night, packed up the car for the race and planned a 7 am departure.

I hit the road Saturday morning right at 7 am and had read Facebook posts from the race site that things were nice and dry at Ponca State Park with hero dirt awaiting us.  I checked the radar before leaving, and it looked like a storm cell was headed for that area.  3 hours later as I hit Sloan, IA just south of Sioux City the skies were dark and a storm was underway.  However, by the time I arrived at Ponca State Park, the storm had blown through, the sun was out and I was sure racing would be as planned.  The same type of storm hit a year ago which made things a bit greasy, but we managed to race last year.

When I checked in I was told all classes would begin at 12 noon as the Marathon race had been delayed from the planned 10 am start due to the rain.  Not a problem.  A little greasy which would mean some hike a bikes on the steeper, slicker climbs.  This was the final day of Week #11 of my training plan and has me coming into a peak, so I felt pretty good physically and was ready to race.  I did a 30 minute warm-up, got my bottle all ready, took a GU shot and headed to the starting line.

All of the Category II racers started together en masse...

CAT2Ponca2013Start

And I was in the middle of the pack...

CAT2TOO2013PoncaStart

It was tire to tire once we got to the singletrack and I think everyone had the same thought on their mind:  "How will my tires do in this greasy mud?"  Mine were doing okay, but I felt some slipping of the rear wheel going through corners so remained cautious.  I think the conditions kept most of us "in check" during lap one, or that could be my imagination as we went as fast as we could without losing control in the slightly slippery corners.  A new section of trail had been built and opened that we were racing on and it was primo stuff!  Nice off camber with some good climbs and descents.  Really fun stuff.

After descending back by the campground and riding the connector section of pavement over to the next singletrack section, the first steep climb up a ravine had everyone in front of me dismounting from their bikes.  Traction was difficult and everyone was pushing their bikes and hiking up the hill.  I dismounted and followed suit, but about 10 - 15 yards later, I climbed back on and rode up the hill.  I was able to keep traction while seated and passed a few people who were pushing their bikes.

I hit another steep section later on that required a dismount and hike a bike up the hill.  I tried not to run up the hill and jack the heart rate too out of control.  I remained cautious on some of the slicker descents, but by the time I was entering the final section that led to the finish line, I had caught up with Kory Hill who is in the 40-49 year old group.  I settled in behind Kory for the start of lap 2 and he mentioned his tires were not doing so well and I said we were all having the same difficulty.  He kept dismounting on some of the short steep sections, but I remained on my bike grunting and spinning out the climbs.  After a couple of minutes, he said I could get by him whenever I wanted, so I took the opportunity and passed him.  The slick dirt started to feel better in lap 2 as enough bikes had been over it to mash in the wet stuff and I started being a bit less conservative and pouring on the power in the sections that I could.

I still had a concerned look on my face as I used facial English and body English to stay upright throughout the slippery course.

PoncaJune2013

Ponca is always a nice climbing course and I was looking foward to making all the climbs in the dry hero dirt, but the morning thunderstorm had rendered that impossible.  In lap 2, I also had to dismount and hike-a-bike a couple of the steep sections which were even slippery for our feet to get a good hold of going up the hill.  Mud would build up enough between the tire and arch in the frame or in the bottom bracket area to act like a brake requiring stopping to pick the mud out so the wheel could rotate freely without rubbing against built up mud in the frame.

Although lap 2 felt like it was much faster, I was really only 16 seconds faster in lap 2 than I was in lap 1.  At least the pucker factor was reduced thanks to the corners not being as slippery as the trail conditions improved.  I hit it hard during the last section as I saw a rider a couple of hundred yards ahead of me.  I took some chances, and really pounded out the climbs in the big ring to catch up and pass the rider about 20 seconds before crossing the finish line.

I rolled across the line in 1:18:56 which was good enough for 2nd Place and my 2nd Podium Finish of the year!!!

Podium spots for my group were...

Thomas Jeffreys - 1st (1:12:31)
Bruce Brown - 2nd (1:18:56)
Jerry Hoff - 3rd (1:24:27)

I had a nice visit with Jerry after the race while we waited around for the awards ceremony.  The weather was humid, but had stayed relatively cool (in the 70's) for the race which I found to be nice and pleasant.  Kudos to Brandon Mullins and his crew for having an excellent course and dealing with the rain situation.  The drive up and back were totally worth it as Ponca is always challenging - whether it is dry or wet.  It's a course with some good climbing and very wooded, scenic singletrack.

I made it home around 6 pm for dinner and recovery.

Training

This is week #12 of a training program that has led me to peak.  Rather than choose this particular time as a peak based on certain events, it was more based on the timing of doing the structured 12 weeks and when I started that led to it being now.  I've never done one of these structured plans, so it is very interesting to work through it all and experience what my body feels like at this point.  I can adjust the timing of it all for next year by choosing when to begin my training in the off season.

Last week and this week were tapering weeks.  Looks like there is plenty of climbing on tap for the course at Red Wing as well, so we shall see what happens.  I've raced there a couple of times, but was unable to make it last year.  So I am looking forward to having another shot at it. 

Today I mowed and trimmed the lawn this morning before it got too hot, and will hit the weights before dinner.  Tomorrow are more taper intervals.  The weather looks like a beautiful week in the 80's for the rest of the week, but it is 90 as I write this.  Looks like we actually have 3 days of no rain which is a first as we wrap up this spring and move into summer later this week.











6/16/13

Happy Father's Day!!!

2013 Father's Day has arrived (my kids are nowhere to be found this morning).

Happy Father's Day to my father, Preston Brown!

Gramps&Zack

Happy Father's Day to Tara's father, Joe Starr!

Joe&Alexa

Two great fathers that we all love!!!


6/14/13

Happy 18th was well celebrated!!!

Yesterday was my daughter's 18th birthday.  And what a fine young woman she has grown into during the process.  She is intelligent, opinionated, attractive, talented, and has really come into her own.  In fact, she has "felt" and "acted" 18 for quite some time.  Now it's official.  New driver's license.  A mission and goal for her college years (University of Iowa majoring in International Business and French).  She seems settled and grounded.

Of course, she had to wear a gag Princess crown as we had cake last night...

P1010002


We started the day with me taking her to breakfast at La Mie in Des Moines.   The weather was perfect, so we sat outside on the terrace and ate our goodies and visited.  We stopped by TrueValue so I could pick up a new grill cover for the Big Green Egg, and then headed home as I had an afternoon of voice lessons to teach, and a 1 hour training ride with my taper intervals to do before dinner.

Alexa wanted to go to Miyabi 9 for her birthday dinner, so 4 of us enjoyed Sushi.  Tara had made a 4 layer red velvet cake from scratch for the evening's dessert.  So we headed home for the lighting of the official 18 candles, a full out singing of Happy Birthday and dove into the delicious cake with ice cream and a glass of Sekt each.

Tara and I noticed that she was the most poised and settled this year of all birthday celebrations.  She is comfortable just being herself and that is exciting to see (those of you who have raised children and remember the teenage years understand what I'm trying to say).


Stuck Bunny Rabbit

We discovered one of the baby (or middle sized now) bunny rabbits that live in our backyard had fallen into the basement window well.  So Alexa and I tried to get it out of there.  I climbed down to pick it up, but it had dug a hole that goes under the metal window well and I couldn't get it.  So I put a long board in there in hopes it could climb out.  But it was too steep and the bunny kept slipping.  Alexa fed it some apple which he/she chowed down.  It was trying to jump out and we were amazed it could jump nearly 4 feet.  So we put a box in the window well assuming that this creature would figure out to jump on the box, and then jump up and out to safety.  No such luck.  Bad assumption as these creatures are not quite at that level of thought.  I think I will try again today now that it is getting tired and exhausted.  Maybe it will let me pick it up.  Otherwise, we will open up the basement window, take the screen out and see if we can get it to hop in a box in the basement to take it back outside and release it.

The prognosis is not good as other rabbits have perished in our window wells.  Why and how they fall in there remains a question since the lip is tall enough they would have to actually hop up and over to get in the well.

Ponca State Park Racing

On tap for Saturday is the Psycowpath XC Race at Ponca State Park just west of Sioux City, Iowa.  The weather forecast looks like severe thunderstorms tonight and early tomorrow morning, but nice and sunny for the race itself.  I am debating driving up this afternoon and camping overnight.  I'm not too thrilled about being in a tent during a severe storm, so I might sleep in the back of my Element on the cot if do decide to head up this evening.  Or I can just drive up in the morning since it starts at noon and is what I have always done when doing this race.

Weekend - commence!!!




6/11/13

Tuesday's All Decked Out!!!!

After dense fog and morning mist thwarted Monday's deck staining effort, Tuesday gave way to better conditions for staining the deck.

DeckStaining

Some sanding, tarps and 2 coats of stain did the trick and we are good to go for another 2-3 years.

Stairs...

StairsStained

Full deck at sunset...

DeckIsDone

Alexa and Max grabbed some sun during the staining...

Alexa&MaxSunning

Summer is finally bursting forth as we almost hit 90 today...

FrontGreens

Training

Today was just an easy day with a 70 minute recovery ride to shake out the weight lifting and lawn mowing from yesterday.  After the staining was all done, Zack and I squeezed in 9 holes of golf before I grilled some salmon burgers for dinner.

NBA Finals Game #3 tonight as I type...


6/10/13

White Handlebar Monday!!!

The debate raged in my head all weekend what to do about my dirty white handlebars.  Dirty?  Clean?  Or dump the white tape?

Tara and I decided to tackle a good portion of the new Raccoon River Valley Trail on Sunday.  We couldn't have picked a more awful day weather wise.  Howling winds from the south, temperatures in the low 60's, cloudy, and for the most part - we were rained on or sprinkled on the entire journey.  My riding gloves got soaking wet and the coloring on the leather palms got all over the white handlebar tape making it a given something had to be done. 

Finally, after reading plenty of posts on the internet with suggestions from cleaning them, to throwing them in the garbage can and switching to black, this YouTube video put me at ease with a plan...



Lemon Pledge or blue Dawn dishwashing detergent.  That sounded easy enough.

A man with a plan...

I was waiting around all day for the deck to dry so it could be stained, but due to thick fog and mist all morning, it needs to dry out all afternoon in hopes that tomorrow is a better chance.

So the handlebar project took over.  I bought some blue Dawn this morning, went at it with a white wash cloth and the soapy water to get this result...

CleanBar2

I gave the entire bike a wash while I was at it to get nearly 3 months of road grime off.

CleanBar1

It turned out pretty well and if this means a good bar wash once a month, or once every two months - then so be it.  It's hard for me to imagine what other color to go with for this particular bike with the white saddle.  Lizard Skins has the dual color where I could go red or black on the top flats up to the hoods, then the drops would be white.  For now, the tape is still good and I will clean it every now and then to keep the grunge at bay.

Training

Today begins week #11 of my build, race, and peak.  Hovering at 183 and looking to dip a bit this week going into this weekend's race.  Maintenance weight lifting is all that is on the menu for today's workout.  I might mow the lawn or do some trimming later.


6/8/13

Had to drain the tank today....!

We enjoyed our first meal last night at the new restaurant where our daughter works, Napoli's.  I ate one of those meals I would classify as "all white".  White pasta.  White bread.  White wine.  White chicken.  And least there were sun dried tomatoes and a red sauce, but it was way too much white (processed carbs) to be considered a healthy meal that I need to be eating.  Next time we go there, I will be much more selective.  In spite of that, the restaurant is nice for Indianola.  It was full and hopping with the Friday night dinner crowd.  We met the owner and he is pleased with Alexa's hard work.  He's 1/2 Albanian and 1/2 Italian and has been in the states for 7 years working hard.  So he appreciates good hard work by his staff.  We had a nice visit with him.  Although Tara wanted me to stop for ice cream on the way home, I said we didn't need it. 

What to do about all those whites I ate? 

Burn 'em off ASAP, of course!!!

Today's scheduled ride of 60 minutes turned into a "let's drain the tank" ride of 2+ hours.  Breakfast and the French Open Women's Final in bed included a very small bowl of cereal, two cups of coffee, and a palm full of dried fruit and nuts.  After Serena won, I got suited up and took off with only a water bottle.  No Heed, no GU, no energy anything.  My goal was to drain the tank and empty those whites out of me.  The drain started to hit right at the 90 minute mark after pushing pretty high Zone 2 and  Zone 3 out in the wind.  Once the drain was underway at 90 minutes, I backed off ot a steady Zone 2 to bring it home feeling satisfied I had burned what I needed to burn for weight management.  Finished the ride and ate a healthy recovery lunch to restore the glycogen stores properly.

I had wanted to race at the Seven Oaks mountain bike race today (choice of 9 hours; 6 hours; or 3 hours), but I am being selective this year where and when I race as I learned last year that trying to do them all is not a wise strategy.  I've got a couple of key races coming up and could use the weekend off of racing.  The Zone 2 stuff today and tomorrow will give me plenty of TSS and still allow me to taper into what is coming up.  Rather than do the Seven Oaks race, we are headed over to a pool party and dinner at the Hades.  Weather doesn't look to good for the rest of the afternoon as a storm is approaching from the west and should hit (with lightening) about the time we were supposed to jump in the pool.  Looks to be headed towards Seven Oaks as well.

The deck was stripped yesterday and will be stained on Monday.  I meant to do this 2 years ago, but after the tornado hit - many other things took priority.

Here's how terrible it looked after being neglected for 2 years (actually this is the 3rd year of neglect)...

StepsBeforeWash

Pretty ugly and getting to the point where the wood needed some restoration with a good power wash and acid wash.

Stripped down and drying for the weekend (rain won't help that!!!)...

StepsPostWash

DeckPostWash

Monday and Tuesday both look fine for it to dry if it rains today/tomorrow and be able to take the stain.  It needs a little bit of sanding in spots as well and I am replacing some screws this afternoon before the storm hits so it is all snug and ship shape for the staining.  The good news is that we caught it in time before any rot set in and once stained and sealed, it should be in good shape for another few years before doing it all over again.

Ah, the pleasures of wooden deck maintenance.....




6/7/13

The Great White Bar Tape Debate...

Odd title for a blog post, I know.   When I bought the Specialized Roubaix bike with the white saddle and the white bar tape, the question was "how long would it take until the bar tape was no longer white?"

New & White

2013Roubaix64cm

I've read various suggestions on using 409, Simple Green, dish detergent, SoftScrub, white shoe polish, etc... to keep the bars nice and white.  Truth is, I sort of like the grunge look where my white bars have now turned brown, or whatever the color is.  It sort of makes a statement "yup, I ride this bike a lot".  On the other hand, it sort of looks like the front of a pair of men's white briefs that have been worn far too many days and are no longer a vivid white.  ;-)  Ooooooo....that's a nice image, huh?

Take a look...

Dirty&White

Still Sort of New & Yuck White Now

RoubaixToo

I got a chance to check out the Lizard Skin bar tape that comes in various colors and thicknesses the other day at Scheel's.  I liked the feel of the Lizard Skins bar tape and really liked the red tape which would probably look good on the bike.  But they had white as well.  Mine is far from being worn out and I should be able to get at least a full season out of it.  Heck, I just had Zack's tape changed on his Allez at Rassy's this week and it replaced the original tape that has been on there since 2006.  Of course, it was black and dirt was not the factor.  It had several rips and was starting to unravel on one of the drops so it was due for a change.  In addition, they replaced a broken spoke, and upgraded it to new tires as the original tires were starting to show enough wear to replace.  We went with 25mm tires to give a bit more comfort over the original 23mm tires.  His new black bar tape looks and feels great.

Upgraded Allez

AllezUpgrades

Which gets me thinking to my next move on my Roubaix....

I guess the debate narrows down to this:   "Do I leave it dirty, or do I try to clean it?"

Soiled & Used

BikeSetUP

Or should I spiff it up and clean it?

It's really the only question I had when I bought the bike.  The other color (black) was not in stock and wouldn't have been available - if even - until the end of May, so I went with the red with the white touch points.  My thought was always that I could just change the bar tape once it soils.

Well - I'm there now.  Soiled and debating on cleaning or changing.

Trail Work

I've been hitting up Lake Ahquabi and attacking the honeysuckle jungle this week.  I've got about 3 more days of trimming to go and I will have done the entire nearly 7 mile race loop we use for The Mullet Fall Classic mountain bike race.  I have also volunteered and the DNR is going to put me on tractor to do some mowing and trail work on other sections as well.  They have a new piece of equipment coming in mid-July that actually is like a long hedge clipper that attaches to the tractors mower and you can just "hedge clip" the growth along the trails.  They used to do it this way, but the trimmer broke and it has taken several years to fund the purchase of a new one.  So I have been lopping and trimming the trails for the last couple of years.  It's slow work as the growth is so thick.

Last year, I kept a lot of the canopy and let the trail grow in a bit which was great for mountain bikers, but not so for the general public.   The drought stunted most of the growth last year and it was very easy to maintain all year long.  This year things are more normal and it is growing fast and furious with all of the rain and the lack of extreme heat.  On some sections, I have done a major trim cutting it back far enough to last all season.  Other sections, I am still trying to maintain a bit of canopy and closed in feel.  That will all change in mid-July when the new equipement comes.  I would like to use their brush hog and tractor to get in and open up a lot of the hiking trails in the backwoods that have grown in over the past few years.

Regardless, my body is worked from trimming 3-4 hours a day.  I'm going back out today to take advantage of the cooler temperatures to trim a big section.  The ticks, flies, bees, mosquitoes are all attacking me in spite of wearing a can of Cutter's.  I pulled two ticks off last night, and several others were crawling on me.

I also trimmed and mowed the lawn last night after getting back from a morning and afternoon of work at Ahquabi.  By the time I went to bed, my body reminded me I am not 29, or 39, or 49 any more.   Nothing 10 hours of sleep couldn't fix, but I should figure out the TSS of doing trail work and yard work as I know it is taking a toll on my muscles and back for sure.

Training

This is week 10 of my Build, Peak, and Race 12 week program.  I call it "organized training", but Tom Anderson pointed out the correct term - it's "structured training".  This week was the introduction of a new interval workout session called "taper reps" on Tuesday.  I lifted weights on Monday, did the taper reps on Tuesday, lifted on Wednesday with a recovery spin, did an hour of XC tech with 20 minutes race pace yesterday (between trimming sessions at Ahquabi), and today is XC warm up practice with core work this evening.  If anything, all this training has improved my lawn mowing ability.  '-)  I didn't have to mow much last year due to the drought, but I've got to do it at least twice a week this year at a bare minimum it is growing so fast with the cool temperatures and rain.

Today is strip the stain off the deck day starting in 30 minutes.  Then I'm off to Ahquabi to trim and will do my bike training ride around 2.  We are going to Napoli's for dinner tonight.  It's the new Italian restaurant in Indianola and our daughter, Alexa is a server there.  It will be our first visit and of course, we are going to request Alexa as our server.


6/3/13

Minnesota Mountain Bike Series #2 Race Report: Bluff Riders Charge, Mt. Kato, MN

Weather dictated our camping plans would unfold as scheduled.  So we made the choice to head up to one of my favorite XC race courses via the Bluff Riders Charge at Mt. Kato ski area just outside of Mankato, Minnesota for the weekend.  We have gear for rain and cooler temperatures, so the thought of camping in overnight temperatures that could range from 39-49 degrees did not deter us.

Tara, Lisa, and I loaded up the Element and the Yakima ski rack box on top of the Element for our 1st weekend camping journey.  We were not planning on cooking dinner, but brought along the Coleman stove for morning oatmeal and coffee.  The 4 hour drive up was through light rain with showers here and there along the way.  We timed the drive to arrive just after a small front had moved through Mankato and although it was still misting when we arrived, the sun was starting to poke out at the same time.

We got the camp site set up at the Minneopa State Park Campground (had to pull out the Cutters as the Many Soda State Bird was attacking in full force), purchased two bundles of firewood and bundled up for the cool evening.

MinneopaCampSpot

The sun came out and I took the JET 9 around the campground and headed out on one of the trails for a little 20 minute recovery spin....

MinneopaMorning

I quickly noted that it was everyone's favorite dirt conditions known as hero dirt.  This meant that the race on Sunday along with the mild temperatures of 60-65 would make for a nice fast XC race compared to the previous year that was a bit wetter and warmer.  After a recovery spin, we all headed into Mankato for dinner at the same restaurant we hit up last year - Number 4 American Bar and Kitchen.  I had delicious Alaskan Halibut and fun was had by all as we visited and ate more than we should have.

After a cool evening, but warm in our beds thanks to the correct gear, the gals got up and set about making coffee and oatmeal...

CookingOatmeal

The oatmeal was good, the coffee was strong and I felt refreshed from an 8 hour slumber.  I hopped on the bike to spin around the campground for a few minutes to get the blood flowing and dial in the tire pressure for the hero dirt.  Then we headed over to Mt. Kato ski area so I could get registered for the 11 a.m. race.  The sun was shining, the air was crisp, and it promised to be a good day of racing.  After I registered, I headed out for my warm-up and got the motor primed.  I climbed a good gravel road hill to remind my body and mind of the pain that I was about to endure on the opening climb up the ski hill at Mt. Kato.  I'm not sure my mind was as thrilled about it!!!

I got lined up in my wave which included 45-49, 50-59, 60+, and I think Fat Tire bikes as well, but I'm not sure who all was in it.  I was visiting with Jef Leif who was next to me in line about the race course, racing, and his handlebar mounted camera that he was going to film the race and post on YouTube.  Competition is stiff in the Minnesota Series and even more so this year as at least 6 or more guys had moved from the 45-49 age class into the 50-59 class by virtue of their birthday.  There were about 6 new guys (50 year olds) in our group lined up for the race.  Former Iowan Steve Stilwell was not in attendance, but last year's series winner Gary Santoorjian was.

StartLineMtKato2013

I felt good on the start as I managed to pedal my way up and into line in the top 10 going up the opening climb.  I settled in behind Jef and his camera as we climbed the hill.  I dropped it down from the big ring about 1/2 way up and spun it in a high cadence, high heart rate content with my position in the line as we crested the climb and jumped into the singletrack.  The dirt was in fantastic shape and as I thought - it was hero dirt.  That's the kind of dirt you don't really have to worry about traction on the way up or the way down.  The Renegade tires were perfect for the conditions and my psi was dialed in just fine.

Traffic backed up on the first series of technical descents and everyone keyed up for passing at the next opening sections.  We started catching up with slower riders from start waves that had gone off 2 and 4 minutes in front of us and the passing began.  It's a pretty good course for passing and everyone was being very courteous and actually moving over without even being asked as we worked out way through the crowd and things began to open up.  My legs felt fine and last week's breakthrough ride was confirmed as I was able to hold my power and push myself more than all previous races this year.

Goal was to best my times from 2012 (1:18:58) and 2011(1:18:58.02).  This had me keeping more pressure on the pedals and not settling into anything that felt like just riding along.  Lap one was error free and lap two I decided to push a little harder, but not blow up.  At this point I realized I maybe could have given a tad more on certain sections during lap one, but I wasn't phased.  I was happy with how I was doing.  I passed 2 very in shape Clydesdales (both were about 6'6" or more and Clydedales due to their height and muscles - not because of being overweight).  It reminded me, at 183 pounds, of how much easier it is for me to go up the hill compared to being over 200 pounds and the same was probably true for those that are 20-25 pounds less than me.  Oh well, just then, one skinny guy with a beard on a fat bike passed me near the top of the hill.  I gave hunt and followed him.  He and Jef Leif were dangling in front of me about 50 - 100 yards or so with me doing my best to try to close the gap.

I ran into guys dismounting on some of the steeper, technical climbs and vocally reminded them that I was still on the bike climbing and to please move to the side.  That's something you learn to do as a racer after a number of experiences, but it appeared these were newer racers and unaware of that.  Luckily, I made it through all of the sections still on my bike and didn't have to dismount due to riders in front of me struggling with the climbs.

Coming through the finish area and heading for the climb on lap 3,  I decided to not hold back and kept it in the big ring to mash up the big climb.  I made it 1/2 way up and got to the "false flat" area before the final portion and saw Jef and the fat bike pulling away at the top of the hill.  I had to shift to the small ring and spin for some recovery as maybe the big ring going up that hill wasn't my best choice.  Oh well....I got going again and finished the crest of the climb strong and took off in the singletrack.

Over my shoulder, I noticed a guy who had beaten me at a couple of races last year, Mike Franken, was catching up to me.  I didn't want to give up my position, so I pushed it when I could but took it easy in the downhill technical sections to make sure I stayed upright and didn't crash.  I closed a gap to a rider in front of me and on one of the steep technical climbs, he fell and his bike was blocking the trail so I had to dismount.  I asked him if he was okay and he was, so I ran around him and up the hill to mount my bike and take off.  Cresting the final climbing section from the backside of the ski area to the top of the ski area before descending into the famous section called "The Luge",  I saw that I had created a big enough of a gap to fend off my position and descended through The Luge in a more relaxed and controlled speed.  I hit the bottom of The Luge and sprinted from there to the finish line feeling really good about my race this year...

FlyingIntoFinsihMtKato2013

I rolled across in 1:11:58 which was a full 7 minutes faster than last year's 1:18:58...!!!!

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As I said, competition is tough this year (and Steve wasn't even there!!!).  Jef and his camera had pulled open that gap from lap 2 and smoked me by 1 minute and 18 seconds for the final podium spot.  I rolled in for 4th place, but was pleased with a much better time than the previous two years.   Looking at times from last year and this year for quite a few racers, it looks to me like the dirt and the temperatures probably were good for a 2-4 minute faster time for everyone this year compared to last.  It's hard to figure out exactly how much faster, but it was pretty consistent for everyone to pull a faster time this year.  Even factoring that into the equation, I'm very pleased with my time having improved over the past 2 years.  I'll take it and there is still plenty of room for improvement.  I learn a little more each race what I can and cannot do. 

BluffRidersCharge50-59

And my time in the overall CAT 2 standing improved 23 spots over last year.  That seems to confirm my improvement as well through what I call "organized training" this year.  Today begins week 10 of my 12 week build, peak, and race training block and time will tell how I end up in 3 more weeks.   Before I get too excited about it all, I have to remember that what I've really done is simply work myself back into a similar shape I was in for the 2009 race season.  My time at Mt. Kato back in 2009 when I was in the 45-49 age class was 1:11:40 (about the same as Sunday's showing).  However, this is good news to me because I haven't been racing as strong the past 2 seasons since joining the 50+ age class.  My times, overall, have been slower than back in 2009 and before.  So getting back to that kind of form is actually a very welcome relief for me.

Once I had cooled down from the race and results were posted, I loaded up the bike and we headed into Mankato for lunch at Tandem Bagle.  Then we went out to the campsite, packed up the tents and gear and headed over to the waterfalls in the Minneopa State Park.  Tara has a torn hamstring and Lisa is recovering from knee surgery, so we did not climb down the 150 stairs to the lower falls!!!  We took some pictures and really enjoyed the beauty of this state park.

Here are the upper falls...

MinneopaUpperFalls

Here's s shot on the footbridge looking down the lower falls...

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Here they are together from a distance...

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And of course, the obligatory "I'm in the shot" from Tara's cellphone (she claims her cellphone takes better pictures than my camera, but I disagree)...

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We hopped in the Element and drove down 169 to Blue Earth, headed over on I-90 to Albert Lea, and turned south on I-35 to make it home at 7:30 for dinner.  Fun was had by all on the trip and it was a good 1st camping excursion for the season.  I drove the speed limit for the entire trip and whodathunkit - my gas mileage even with the Yakima box on top, bike on the rear rack, and a loaded down Element is the best it has ever been!!!  Here's to slowing down (in the car that is).

Kudos to the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series and the race hosts of the Bluff Riders Charge.  It's a very well run and attended race in a beautiful setting that isn't too terribly far from the Des Moines area (about 3:40-3:50 drive).  It's always worth the trip and I look forward to the next time I can do it.