An ode to failing at not failing

You can also read my pre-DK200 post.

I’m forcing myself to write about this year’s DK200. It may not be interesting to most, I mean, there are dozens of places to read about people successfully finishing the race. Heck, flip back in time and you can read about me finishing the race. The fact that I’ve finished before and didn’t this time … there must be something of interest there, right?

After DK 2012, the thoughts in my mind when a few weeks had passed was “I can do it again, I could do it faster. I won’t say that I would never take on this race again, but it’s still not solidly in my mind to do it again.” And indeed, I opted to take off a year at least. This race doesn’t really demand too much attention on the day of the race, but it’s five-to-six months of work. Bike tweaks, long rides, riding when you’re tired, mental training, core strength, leg strength, food, weight management, packing lists, finding a crew, and more riding. When you’re on the line, it’s all done (hopefully). There’s nothing else now but to pedal and fight your demons.

For this year’s edition, I left Denver and drove to Salina, Kansas on Thursday of race week. After getting to my hotel, I quickly loaded up for a bit of riding around Salina. Since my hotel was on the southwest edge of town, I simple pointed my bike away from town and hoped I could get some gravel and I found a mecca of nice gravel roads, a few gravel pockets to test the skills and plenty of bugs. The area I was riding in here was much flatter than those on the DK course, but it felt good to cruise along at good speed without working too hard. It was very humid and hot. The sun was going down, but it was still in the 80s. Wait… I used to live and train in this weather all the time. It can’t be that bad, right? And … do I feel an allergy attack coming on from the pollen? I’ve only lived in Denver for 2 years … it can’t be that foreign to me now, right?

The next day, I made a couple stops at Walmart, registered for the race, killed some time, hung out with friends as they got into town. My support crew got into town and we went for a bit of food and went over the game plan and relaxed. Before I knew it, the months of training and thinking about the race were over and I was on the line outside of the Emporia Theater.

It was already pretty warm, in the mid 60s before 6 am, so at least I didn’t feel the need to have arm warmers or any extra layers. Remembering that the race is a bit hectic at first, I opted to pull off my gloves so I could grab food as needed. The race started and we streamed through Emporia and out onto the gravel. The beginning of the race is a bit hectic as there are two to three lines of people, riders already on the side of the road with flats or mechanicals, bottles in the track (already), and my favorite: the disappearing tire tread. I was on the left side of the road, following a line of several riders through one of the tire tracks on the road when it suddenly dumped us into a gravel well. Which is interesting when you’re riding 20 mph in a line of riders and suddenly are going 5 miles an hour.

After about 20 miles, the groups had split apart as we got into the first rollers. I was feeling pretty good, pushing down pain in back and the start of some pain in my right knee. If these were starting in segment 1, it either meant trouble or just a constant companion for the day. Part way through this segment I realized I had left the map for this section in the hotel. But this is also a busy section where I put in more than 30 miles before even moving my cue sheet to the correct page. At CP1, things went really smooth. I got some food and water, lubed my chain, since there was plenty of dust and a few splashes of water and a hike across the river. My buddy told me there was a big hill just around the corner, but I couldn’t really see it, so I thought he must be crazy. Then I saw the big cobblestone slab and just drug myself over it.

Segment 2, I remember feeling pretty good. My back was hurting, I was more alone, but there were riders around. I remember a sketchy gravel descent before hitting the open area before Texaco Hill. Texaco Hill was a bit different than I remembered because the hard punch was at the beginning and the rest of the hill was pretty good. And then we hit my favorite road cruising into Cassoday, one that seemingly always has a tailwind and is just smooth little riser. I felt good. That first hundred went by in a little over seven hours.

Feeling good, ate some food, rested, our bike mechanic support neighbor adjusted my wheel a bit but everything was running pretty smooth. I knew that was going to change a bit, but I wasn’t really prepared.

The whole day I had been using ice socks to keep cool and they were working great. They would last for about an hour or so, but that helped. Leaving Cassoday the course went due east and straight into a headwind for about 13 miles. It wasn’t the worst headwind in the world, but it started to put a kink in my armor. It’s ok, we just gotta get to mile 113, then we’ll turn north and get out of this wind. And it did. We turned north on this rough bit of track, mostly hidden from the wind, and extremely hot. Completely exposed to the sun this section just snaked through very rock-heavy area of Kansas. The rocks seemed to be cooking me. I reached a hill and just couldn’t pedal, my stomach was locking up, I was burning alive. I was downing some water, trying to get a bit cooler and to unlock my stomach. Push the bike up the hill. Stand in the shade. Feeling slightly better. Pedal the bike.

I got out of that little valley, that I deemed the “hell hole”. I pedal on and rest as I can. This section featured an amazing ridge where you can see riders ahead of you, but not really where the road is. A reminder again of how special the riding really is out here in this part of the world. A while later I was suffering but trying to pedal. Eventually I hit another open range and had to battle cows along with feeling sick. A truck, the first vehicle I had seen out on the roads I think, came by and made a bit of a hole through the cattle for me to follow through. Then as I reached a small town, about 20 odd miles from the checkpoint, I spotted a buddy of mine who had dropped out and was waiting on his wife to come through. I grabbed some cold water from him and chatted for awhile. The cold cold water made my stomach feel worse, but I still tried to drink some.

Pedaled on a bit and found a guy standing in some shade and I joined him. Eventually he pushed on and a bit later I followed. Finally I got to the paved road to Cottonwood Falls, but it wasn’t the nice road I remember from 2012, but another rolling affair into the city. I found by support and sat in the shade. I tried eating and getting some more fluids. I wanted to go on, but it wasn’t happening. The first 100 happened in about 7 and change hours. The last 50 had taken me 4-5 hours.

With only 50 in the race to go, I worried that the next 50 would take another 4-5 hours. I worried that the heat exhaustion would bloom into full on illness and I’d be out in the countryside laying on the side of the road. The food and drink were helping, but I could feel it all sinking in and opted just to take the day out. A 150 mile day is good. It’s not what I wanted. Seeing people finish that I’d see earlier in the day was difficult. In the end, I believe I made the right choice, things would have good sideways out there on the final section. I could have finished, but it wasn’t worth the risks.

Onward and upward. I’m taking on a new challenge this year, the OT100 MTB race (my first try at 100 miles of trail, although I was close in the Burnin’ 12 hour years back) back in Missouri. It should be a blast.

The ubiquitous pre-Dirty Kanza post

Two years ago I finally took on the Dirty Kanza challenge. It had been something in my mind for a couple years and I had successfully finished a 12 hour mountain bike race the season before and felt like it was doable. Of course, I moved to Colorado a couple months before hand, making training a bit of a last minute scramble (February and March, I rode roughly 400 miles, then rode almost 550 in April after my move!). I knew after completing it, there were other things I wanted to do rather than spending the winter and spring getting in long road miles. So I put it off. I didn’t really push some of my goals last year and the short of it … I ended up signing up again this year.

Now, it’s 5 days out from the race, I have more miles ridden to date than 2012, but I kind of feel less prepared. My fitness is sometimes pretty random this year. Via the “magic” of Strava segments, I can see how 2014 hasn’t been as quick as 2012 in many ways, but I’ve been riding more. I would randomly PR on things that weren’t really specific to anything I was doing (like on climbing Lookout Mountain recently).

So I’m really unsure how things will proceed over the weekend. But after talking with some friends and family, I’m trying to keep the mental preparation simple: finish the race, make sure to drink water, eat, have some fun, and push through the tough bits. If I happen to be close to my two goals of beating my last time or (by some crazy happenstance) close to finishing before sunset … great. But days like DK are very difficult to predict and just difficult on their own, without imposing my ideas on it.

My setup is pretty much the same this year:

  • Kona Jake the Snake
  • Schwalbe’s now defunct Cyclocross Marathon tires (same ones as 2012). Backup wheels have Clement MSOs.
  • Two feedbags and a tangle bag from Relevate:
  • Osprey Raptor pack

The pack will again serve as my plain water source and hold my rain jacket and that’s about it. Everything else will be on the bike with food in feedbags and everything else in seat or tangle bags. This will also allow me to decide to ditch the pack if I feel like bottles are enough between checkpoints. I’ll change out hydration bladders at 100 miles and bottles at each checkpoint. This year the race is providing maps and cue sheets for the entire course ahead of time (normally they give you the first map the day before and the subsequent maps at each checkpoint), so I’m mounting the cue sheets in a homemade map holder. I’ll probably keep the maps separate and in the frame bag to grab when I want a little more context.

Looking forward to hitting the gravel again! Hopefully I feel the same after the pedals start turning :)

MTB racing in 2014?

Ridgeline Rampage FinishI’ve been rather on the fence about racing mountain bikes this year. Last year I did most of the RME series, but with DK200 training and getting throttled year after year, my desire for a full series was pretty low. I had earmarked a few of the RME races (Ridgeline, Battle of the Bear) as they are fun races and are far enough out from DK so I didn’t need to worry about that, while a few others were too close to really take on.

Last week, with Ridgeline approaching, it was time to make a decision. While I feel pretty good with riding endurance right now, I knew this race starts fast and doesn’t really relent over the course of three hours. I’d had a couple good mountain bike rides, but not much in the way of hard efforts. The Friday before I decided to go pre-ride with some friends and see what the reverse direction of the course felt like on my singlespeed (SS). That wasn’t so bad, so why not race? And race SS for the first time?

I warmed up a bit and already I could feel my legs were a bit sluggish. I guess riding the day before wasn’t the smartest opener idea. The race started this year in front of the school and then up the bike path for almost a mile. The SS category is an open category, so I knew that there was going to be some guys dropping me right away (which happened) but I was probably in the final 3-4 onto the singletrack which wasn’t too surprising. One rider came by early, but I could kind of keep an eye on him. For a bit I thought I’d catch back up to a couple others. My heart rate was going crazy, but things were good going into the first big hill.

In the bottom third of the hill, things went wrong. My legs wanted to go faster (to get the hill out of the way) but my cardio wanted nothing to do with that effort. I couldn’t breath. There was no way I was making it up at speed and there was no way I was going to be able to grind out a slow cadence right then. I pulled off. Riders piled by. I couldn’t breath and it was only 2-3 miles into a 30 mile race!

I pushed on, thinking of excuses to quit. I can’t breath, that’s a good reason. I can’t keep going like this for a full race, that means I should quit. I passed through the lap halfway point and kept going. There wasn’t even any recognition in my mind beyond, “This is horrible – I should quit…”. The second half of the lap has only one long climb which I managed, barely. On a blind left hand turn, I grabbed my front brake and slide across the dirt, luckily the racer behind was aware enough to call it out so I didn’t have four people pile up on me. Crashing, that’s a good reason to quit. When I was finishing that first lap after what seemed like 10 hellish miles, a rider finishing their lap just in front of me first asked a junior (who was finishing his race) if they had to do another lap, then asked me how many I had to do and I think I just said “Three”, mad that someone didn’t know what was going on and that they would bother my sufferfest.

I kept going. I was probably 24 miles into the almost-30 miles before I realized I had maybe a dozen sips of water, finished one bottle of electrolytes and had no food during the entire race. It was an endless cyclocross race. When I approached the steep switchbacks on the back side of the course, I found two geared riders walking it and a few other geared riders riding around them (in some not so fun loose gravel). There was no way for me to pedal at a very slow cadence, over the “bad” line, behind the two riders. So I hopped off and walked the steep parts of the hill before hopping back on. Shortly after this is a fun downhill section followed by an uphill. I was pacing behind a rider when he sat up suddenly just as a rider behind both of us started to pass. My choice was to slam into this rider or just to the left, passing him without calling it out, and then letting the other rider by (who had followed my line). Slowly I was becoming that singlespeed rider who hates on all the geared riders.

With one final bit of walking on the last steep switchback, I realized that it was finally done. It was all downhill to the finish, a few geared riders hopped by with their final burst of energy (and gears since the downhill was just at the sweetspot where you can’t really pedal it with one gear). Around the final couple corners and across the line. A race I wanted to quit in the first 30 minutes was over, after almost 3 hours of pedaling. I hadn’t had a race like this. The first hour was such a searing experience, while the rest of the race was managed almost on autopilot.

Mountain bike races are still fun, but I think I need to reacquaint myself with the idea of challenging myself rather than focusing on my placing among other riders and finding the balance of fun and training. Riding bikes is fun and I don’t mind doing some work to make goals happen (e.g., training is fun) but I think I just need to find what’s right, which is probably always a moving target.

Indian Creek

In a typical race report, I’d start with an some explanation or another about the start of the race day. But this race which was new to me, but also to the Rocky Mountain Endurance series, started with a little misadventure a few days prior.

I had ridden near this trail on the Colorado Trail, but not there before. The trails at Indian Creek lay just to the south of the Colorado Trail’s segment 1/Waterton Canyon. From the riding (and hike-a-bike) near the race course there I knew this could be steep and rocky. This was confirmed in an off hand way when the race distances were shortened by adding a “short lap”. While this could mean that the main lap was a bit long for two laps, I figured it meant my nemesis: climbing.

976804_10151629900008578_1383994231_oAfter work a few days prior, I took off a bit early and found the drive took longer than I expected. By the time I hit the trail, only half sure of where I was headed, it was 6 pm. Typically laps for this series end up around 10 miles and so I wasn’t too concerned since I knew sunset was after 8 pm now. Surely this won’t take two hours! I climbed up the road into the campground and found the trail and continued to climb up. This is fitting, I though pedaling up and up, another long climb to start a race. Sure, it’s standard cross country racing, especially here in Colorado to climb and climb at the start. But suddenly I was surprised. The trail pointed down through the cedars, skirting down a ridge of almost loomy soil. Roots and small rocks here or there, fun turns to lean your way through. Views opened up on both sides, exposing mountains to one side and a view of a distant Denver on the other. A ripping descent that just kept point itself downward. By the time I hit the third or fourth mile (yes really) of the descent the realization hit me that I was going to have to climb back up.

Between navigation and stopping to gape at the views and beautiful trail, time had started to slip away. I reached the bottom of the descent near Roxborough State Park and started the long fire road climb. The beginning of the climb is an arduous, steep, eroded bit of red dirt road. After that it becomes a bit more manageable becoming a long stretch of double track before reaching a powerline section of trail. The course was marked during my preride which was very helpful, especially as I neared some whoop-de’s that were pretty extreme. I nearly endo’d on one of these before realizing how steep these were. The trail undulates a bit after this, descending over steep roots and water bars. Then after a couple creek crossings you suddenly hit it: a steep hike-a-bike … and the first of a couple. The last few miles of the course prove to be the hardest. There are several sections where the ground points upwards at extreme angles often meaning a hike-a-bike for most.

At the top of one of these hike-a-bike sections I stopped to take a picture of the sun going down. I rode on for a while and the light kept fading. It had been a while since I had seen a race marker and the trail was getting dark enough I wasn’t riding a few things since it was getting hard to see. I passed some people hiking into the trail so that gave me some hope. But I still didn’t know how long this was going to last. Finally I was hiking most of the trail as I couldn’t see. In worst case I figured I had my phone to provide light, but luckily I didn’t need it. I finally reached the parking lot after an epic night adventure.

Race day went pretty much as I expected. The race started about a mile down the road and doing both laps was doable but difficult. In total there was over 6k feet of gain over the day. Beer and some pasta tasted mighty nice after this one…

Racing 2013 and CT exploration

This weekend finally brought out some of the Colorado springtime sunshine and warmth. Two days of riding in shorts and short sleeves and no baselayer!

First up was the Ridgeline Rampage race. Tight cornering, loose kitty litter surface, and relentless rolling course. Last year, it was the first mountain bike race I did here in Colorado and since it was pretty much the same course this year I was hoping to see a decent improvement. On the Friday before the race I went out for a group ride with some friends and found out quickly that my fitness was really lacking. Obviously I have a lot of work for my racing goals this year but I thought my base rides would already help more than they were.

In the foothills along the Colorado TrailSo the night before the race, I was a bit down about my fitness but by the time I got to toe the line I was feeling better. Let the leaders go, try to find a good place towards the back and ride your ride. That’s what I wanted to do and so I watched the first 20 or so riders disappear ahead of me. Going into the singletrack we actually cleaned the first bottle neck and continued up the ridge. I knew I was going too hard but I couldn’t find a good way to dial it back. Racers were coming around me, many from the other age groups. At the second hill I exploded and pulled over to catch my breath before finishing out the climb. The only thing I could think about as I watched my heart race towards cyclocross-levels was quitting. When those thoughts surfaced I kept trying to keep positive and just realize that finishing was more important than doing well. Don’t quit, I pleaded with myself.

All in all, the race was great fun. It hurt and I suffered, fighting leg pain, back pain, dehydration, and hunger. But I tested myself and in my own way I won out on that front. Hopefully next year I can really improve on my climbing and higher end capacity before this race.

And while my legs were tired … I was excited to spend another day out in the sun so I headed down south a bit to segment 1 of the Colorado Trail. The trail there was great and the Waterton Canyon Rd gave me a good warmup before heading into the singletrack climbs. There was some hike-a-bike for a bit in a particularly steep and rocky section. I rode until I was about 8 miles into the trail and headed back down. There was a bit of snowpack up at the top but it looked like it may be good slightly above that. The canyon was significantly more busy on the way out but all in all it was a good day. Any day with a bike ride tends to be a good day…