Monday, July 24, 2006

Off Road Assault on Mount Mitchell

Raced Off Road Assault on Mount Mitchell(ORAMM) Sunday. ORAMM is a 64 mile bicycle race with 11,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. The race takes places on mostly a combination of forest roads and singletrack with some paved sections thrown in to connect the dots.

After watching Landis ride his way into the yellow jersey Saturday, my girlfriend and I packed up the car and headed up to Marion, NC. We booked a room at the lovely Super 8 motel overlooking the Sagehouse Steakhouse and Saloon.

My instincts were to walk over to the Sagehouse for dinner, but we were swayed by the recommendation of the hotel clerk to try this cool cafe in downtown Marion. Turns out the cafe was just an Applebee's-esque chain restaurant. The food was pretty bland and uninspired but maybe that was best kind of meal considering my pre-race bathroom rituals.

I don't want to get into too many details here since it is pretty gross but let's just say I usually have to make frequents trips to bathroom before any race or other similarly stressful event like public speaking or a job interview. To be clear it is not the quick kind of bathroom trip where I can remain standing. Usually though these trips only start the day before the race. However this race must have really scared me, because my trips started on Friday night.

Any ways enough dirty talk. We woke up at 5:30 am on Sunday, made several bathroom trips (actually this part I did alone), put on my BCVelo kit, packed up my crap, grabbed some continental breakfast, and headed to Old Fort. The race starts at Gateway Museum in downtown Old Fort. We grabbed a nice parking spot and headed to the registration line. The line moved quick and I got my number plate and a cool t-shirt that I am currently wearing as I type this report. The back of the t-shirt has the elevation profile for the race. This makes it really easy to explain to my coworkers what I did this weekend. My girlfriend packed up my drop bags(thank you!) and I got busy prepping my bike.

All 360 racers lined up at the start

and after a short speech from the organizer we were off. It felt really cool to be riding with so many riders. The hum of the tires sounded like a million bees swarming out of the city into the mountains. I looked around a lot and noticed all the smiles on people's faces.

As soon as the road turned up the crowds started to thin out. I slowly moved from the front of the pack to close to the back. I kept a close eye on my heart rate monitor. I knew if I went too fast now I would pay for it later. The first climb turned out to be fairly long and all on a paved road that was now closed to traffic. The road was lined rhododendron and the pavement was starting to crack and disappear in places. It looked like the forest was trying to reclaim something it lost.

We topped out of the first climb swung a hard left, blew through a parking lot, and onto our first patch of dirt. When we got to the start of the Kitsuma climb, everyone jumped off their bikes and started hiking. I saw a line of bikers pushing their bikes as far as the eye could see. It reminded of the stories I have read about climbing Everest and the crowds they get there on the days where there is good weather.

The trail was slick as snot, steep, and the switchbacks were tight and rutted. They switchback were also filled with big ole rocks and roots thrown in to keep things interesting. There were so many people hiking and moving so slow that it was impossible to ride your bike even if you were a good enough rider to clean those switchbacks. Many riders were complaining about the crowds that forced them to walk. Secretly I was happy I had to walk, because I knew I couldn't have made those switchbacks even if I had wanted to.

After more hike a biking up, some hiking a biking down, and more hike a biking up the crowds finally thinned out enough that you could actually ride your bike. Well at least some people could ride their bike. I was having major difficulties. The trail was so rooty, slippery, and steep that I was all over the place. I am positive I wrecked more than times than I pedaled on the descent down Kitsuma (I thought of that line while I was in the race, it sounded bad ass at the time). None of the training I had done previously prepared me for this trail. I kept thinking about the speech that the organizer gave and how he said the next section was the really hard one. I was thinking to myself how much harder can this get. I saw all kinds of people fly off the side of the trail. People were as far as 20 feet over the side hiking their bikes back up to the trail. You could hear the thuds and screams in front and behind you. I must admit though some people had no troubles and rode this descent like it was nothing. Hats off to those people is all I can say.

At the bottom of the hill you pop out in a nice little campground and ride a short paved section to the first rest stop. I grabbed my drop bag and filled my bottles. My last race I had some nutrition problems. The energy drink I use really gives me a huge amount of energy and leaves me feeling mostly human even after riding all day long. The only problem is that it also sometimes makes me nauseous which makes it hard to keep riding. I tried everything I can think of in the last couple months to come up with a better system. Nothing really worked though. A couple days before the race, I got an idea though. I decided to bring two 30 oz bottles. One I would fill up with water and the other I would mix water with enough energy drink for two hours (two hours is the maximum time I thought it would take me between rest stops). My plan was drink the energy mix until I would just start to feel gross (burping with bloated feeling) then switch to my plain water bottle. When I felt better I would switch back to my energy drink. My way of looking at it was to eat till I was full then just switch over to water. Then eat again as soon as I felt like I could. This plan worked out really well and I had no problems with my fueling.

After the first rest stop, you go through another incredibly steep section (see star gap above) with even tighter switchbacks that almost everyone walked. We would ride for 30 feet get off our bikes, push our bike through a switchback, remount your bike on a steep hill, ride 30 feet, get off and so on and so on. On this section and the Kitsuma hiking section I noticed my heart rate was 15-20 BPM higher than I wanted it to be. After a while I was having a hard time remounting my bike because the fatigue was affecting my balance and coordination. I decided then to do whatever I could to force my heart rate back down. I walked slower. I breathed more and concentrated on not blowing up. It helped and finally I made it over that wall and started a really fun fast descent. This descent was much more like what I was used to. The trail was dry and I could actually feel myself starting to relax and recover. I may have even smiled once or twice.

After the fun singletrack descent we did a long rolling forest road, followed by an even longer doubletrack descent to the second rest stop. My girlfriend was there to greet me. She helped me with my bottles and I started up the famous Curtis Creek forest road climb.

This climb is 9 miles long and it looks like it gains somewhere around 2500 feet. Pretty much everywhere on the course I was getting passed like I was going backwards. At the bottom of the climb where the grade was still gentle, things were no different. Finally when the road got steep and the real climbing started, I got to see the benefits of my training (thanks coach). I was able to reel in most of the people that passed me and then some. As I climbed I imagined what it would be like if I had started this sport when I was young. I pictured myself leading out my team on one of those big climbs in the Tour de France knowing that I was hurting people as they dropped off the back.

At the top of the climb was the third rest stop. I was feeling a little dehydrated so I filled up a water bottle half way and chugged the whole thing (this seemed to help so I decided to do it at every rest stop from then on out). Then we started another long forest road descent. I read in Ashwinearl's blog about a trick for cornering while descending. Basically he said to keep your bike perpendicular to the road and lean your body. This felt awkward at first but it really made a huge difference in traction. I was reeling in people that were flying by me on previous descents. The descent was short lived, and we hit the second big forest road climb. This one was not as long as the previous one, but it was hard because we just did the previous climb.

At the top of the climb the fourth rest stop awaited. I refilled my bottles and watered the bushes (woohoo no longer dehydrated). The started on another climb up the Blue Ridge Parkway. As soon as I started climbing I noticed my tire going flat. So I stopped and added some air to the tire hoping the sealant inside would do it's job and keep me from having to change the tire. Luckily it worked. I got back on the bike and finished the climb up the road. After the road there was another short hike a bike and then we hit the single descent on Heartbreak Ridge. The descent was fast, fun, tight, and super long. My whole body hurt after a while and I was glad every time the trail went flat for minute so I could relax my muscles.

At the bottom of the hill was rest stop 5. My girlfriend was there to help me, and we refilled my bottles. I checked my rear tire and it still felt fully inflated. Foolishly I decided to borrow a floor pump just to check to make sure that the tire really was still fully inflated. I added maybe 2 pounds of air and took off. I looked down at the clock, and I was at about 7 hours. I got really excited thinking I could finish in under 9 hours. 15 minutes later my tire was flat.

Pumping more air in the tire must have dislodged whatever had sealed my tire. I tried to see if the same trick would work twice so I used my mini pump to reinflate my tire. After about 1000 strokes from my tiny pump, I was back on my way. 15 minutes later my tire was flat again. This time I bit the bullet and put a tube in my tubeless tires. The process took awhile from the combination of trying to clean the sealant out enough so that I could check for thorns and the 1000 strokes with my mini-pump. I watched as all those people that I worked so hard on the climbs to pass rode by me. I felt bad for a little while. Then one of the guys that I rode with earlier came by and said look what happened to me. He turned his head and showed me this scrape on his cheek that had swollen up to the size of grapefuit. Then I didn't feel so bad about my flat tire. I will take a couple flats any day over a grapefruit head.

I finally got back on my bike. I started up Kitsuma again. I cleaned a couple switchbacks. I still had to push some. The trail had dried by now and there was no traffic so it was a little easier. The descent was still hard but much much easier now that it was dry. I popped back onto the road and hammered all the way to finish. I think my time was like 9 hours and 15ish minutes. Not great but I was happy to be back and safe. I felt like I put in really good hard effort.

Afterwards I sat on the grass and ate some excellent spaghetti and meatballs and had some delicious Highland Ale. This was the best post-ride meal I have eaten. Thank you to the organizers. It was a great race. Everything ran smoothly. Course was well marked. Also thanks to the all the volunteers. It was so nice of you guys to help us out. Thanks to all the riders for being so cool and keeping it fun. Finally I want to thank my girlfriend for being there and supporting me (not just this weekend but also all during my training).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Feeling Tired

I think the training is starting to catch up with me. The last couple weeks I have been tired and flat. This week was a little bit better. Here are the comments I sent to my coach.


Better week than last week. Not great but better.

Yesterday's ride went okay. I started off probably 85%. Legs didn't
feel snappy but not dead either. The first couple hours I tried to go
harder than I needed to like the workout called for. It felt good to
work hard even though I didn't feel like I was going very fast.

The third hour started with an hour plus climb. This hurt. It felt
more like it was attacking me than I was attacking it. It was pretty
much all I could do to keep my legs spinning. It got better after
maybe 30 minutes. I noticed my heart rate monitor was displaying
average heart rate instead of current heart rate. Once I switched the
display I noticed I was doing 165 instead of 150 and that made me feel
better. Then at the top I was in the sun most of the time and that
made things harder. As soon as I saw the top though my energy came
back and I picked up the pace for the last part.

After the long descent it was hard to get revved back up. I felt like
I hit bottom a couple times over the next 30 minutes. I started
thinking about how long I had left (45 minutes) and imagined myself
slowing letting out all my energy so at the end I would be completely
drained. Kinda like slowly letting the air out of a balloon. It
still hurt but this imagery helped me keep going without feeling like
I was empty.

I got back to my car about 20 minutes early. I had parked in the
middle of a huge forest road climb. So I took off up the climb. I
tried to go as fast as I could. I kept hearing this voice in my head
about you are going to crack, this is crazy, you are too tired, etc...
I wanted to see what would give out first so I kept pushing with
everything I had. Everything did hurt legs, lungs, back, hands,
shoulders, etc ... But none of those things hurt so bad that it would
make me stop and none of those things were making me feel as bad as
that voice in my head. I finally decided to turn that voice off. For
the last 10 minutes I just climbed without the voice. Everything
still hurt but I wasn't scared of it. It just was it was.

I need to work on that voice. Instead of it being my biggest weakness
I need to make it my biggest strength.

You asked me earlier what my biggest pressures were. I think the
biggest pressure on me is feeling the need to always be getting
better. I felt so much better 4 weeks ago at the end of our last 3
week block. These last 4 weeks I have felt flat and weak. Not
knowing whether I am getting better or worse really stresses me out.
I wish we did some kind of regular test so I could see if I am getting
faster. Maybe something like a 30 minute time trial on the Silver
Comet or a timed climb on a forest service road every couple months.
I could then compare my times to see how I am doing and I would know
one way or other if I am getting stronger or weaker.