Monday, May 24, 2010

Bring your hard hat and your lunch pail, it's gonna be a long day!

The inside of our Prius has seemed like home lately. We've spent more time there than we have in our humble abode. As I pondered what it would take to hook up a small flat screen somewhere near the rear view mirror I shifted my thinking to what it was I wanted to achieve as I entered the first 12 hour solo effort of the Wisconsin Mountain Bike Series. I'd be flying solo on this one as Amy would head north of Green Bay for a huge family celebration while I went south to the coveted single track of the Northern Kettles race course. What did I want to achieve at this race? I immediately started thinking about positions, top 3 would be nice. No, I'd change focus this time. How about ride the whole 12 hours and complete at least 100 miles and whatever position that gets you is going to be good enough. This seemed realistic, but the 100 miles could come into question depending on what the "Kettles" had in store for me.
I arrived at the race venue in dense fog with a nervous energy in my belly. First order of business, set up my pit in a semi strategic place for quick bottle and food exchanges. Then, 'kit up' and start thinking about what lie ahead.
True to form in all 12 hour races we'd start in LeMans fashion. This one however involved a disturbingly long uphill run to our bikes. Oh well, I'd run hard, but not kill myself for it as this will never play a role in the outcome of a 12 hour event. How quickly that thinking changes when the director says "GO!" Five steps into the run the competitive nature in me demanded that I get to my bike first, thus into the single track first. "Why was I running so hard? Why was I so worried about the four guys in front of me?" Fifth to my bike and fifth to the single track left me frustrated. I cursed myself for getting there late and wished I was in front. I told myself that "if I were in front I'd probably be pushing too hard anyway, stay relaxed and slide up a position here and there if you can". Sure enough opportunities soon began to present themselves and I moved through the four riders in front of me. Twenty five minutes into the first lap I found myself away with one other rider who was riding the '12 hour duo'. I slight bobble put him on the ground, after a quick check on his well being I was in front of the field. I opened up the pace a bit as I started the second lap, but not fully. After about forty five minutes of riding I was alone and unsure of my decision to be in the lead so early. "Oh well, I was here now, I might as well go with it I thought."
The morning wore on and I continued to ride alone, but soon I began to enjoy the brief company of young, fast team riders. They looked clean, smooth and athletic as they moved past me. It was fine, I knew my role was to 'ogger in' and get comfortable, I had a long day ahead of me. I focused on turning consistent laps, but realized I'd slow as the day wore on. I wanted to manage my nutrition effectively, stay hydrated and most importantly keep me and the bike safe.

The doll drums hit, soon I felt like one of those ships from the 17th century that gets stuck in that 'no mans' land out in the ocean where there is absolutely no wind. I had nothing left to think about, I'd covered all areas of my life in my head, but one thought was dominant - I was getting tired!
My lap times were getting slower as approached the early afternoon. So slow in fact that I was sure I'd see solo riders approaching my wheel any minute. "Had I mismanaged my nutrition? What was with this deep ache I had going in my upper quads? Am I drinking enough? What's going on?" I repeated these questions over an over until finally the words of my training partner came to me and it was as if I was reading the email he sent to me all over again. He said, "Remember, the dark times will pass." I shifted to the positive.

I knew I'd be entering into what I refer to as my "lunch lap" soon and then I'd bury a bunch of calories and wait for them to take hold, when they did I'd lift the pace. Like a B12 shot the calories hit me and I began to accelerate. I was heading for home now as I'd passed the half way point. The winds were filling my sails, so to speak. I pinned two 'hot' laps and felt good about them. I began to sing the lyrics to Megadeth's 'CRUSH 'EM' over and over in my head searching for more inspiration. I hoped I was widening the gap, but it was the mileage I was looking for, I wanted 100 and at half way I had 51 completed.
Updates from Cale and Katy, acquaintances from before, now friends, were telling me that I was in 1st position with a respectable gap of around 20 minutes. I appreciated their support and kind words while I made quick bottle exchanges in the pits. I'd gathered that they were winning the duo and I was pumped for them. They are what people are talking about when they use the phrase "salt of the Earth". I had the opportunity to ride with both of them briefly throughout the day and they looked super smooth. Their updates informed me that Justin Lund (buddy and fellow competitor) was driving hard in 2nd position. I know Justin's motivation and he'd be gunning for me. "Just keep riding and stay safe, you'll be o.k.", was my mantra.
The six o'clock lap had me determining that I'd stay out front and I'd only have to
do one more lap in order to finish 1st. However, stopping at 7:05 p.m. would leave my two goals hanging in the breeze. My mileage indicated that if I stopped I'd come up short with about 96 miles complete and the time spent on the bike wouldn't be 12 hours. Although I was really hurting I made a deal with myself, I'd continue on for one final lap if I finished my "last" lap at 7:10 p.m. or better. You see, one has to be done riding by 8:00 p.m. sharp in order for that particular lap to count toward the race. So, in other words finish at 8:01 p.m. and that lap you just did doesn't count for squat. I vowed to stay true to my original goals, I'd give an honest effort at finishing before 7:10 p.m. in order to go for "one more". I hammered that lap hard, finishing at 7:07 p.m. I pulled through the timing area to some much appreciated acknowledgement from spectators and fellow racers, but I wasn't done. The directors congratulated me as I passed their table. They looked at me confused when I flatly stated, "one more time". "What!?", was the reply as I re-entered the single track for my truly solo last lap.

The sun was getting low and the temps were just right as I moved through this final race against the clock. I had 53 minutes to get home and I knew that a lot could happen at this point and I didn't want this final push to be for nothing. "Be careful, ride hard and smooth" is what I told myself. I moved through the sections I hated as well as the ones I loved all by myself. I thought about how everyone was done, but I was still out there by myself finishing strong. I felt good! It's surprising how you get stronger as the end comes near. Running off of reserves I didn't know I had I was climbing well and railing corners. I'd finished this one with a respectably fast lap.
The only people there to greet me at the end were the two timing guys and 2nd place finisher Justin Lund. A couple hand shakes and "good jobs" and I was dismantling my pit area and trying to figure out what just went down.

I sat in my own filth throughout the small awards ceremony while others were clean and happy. I (still in my kit that probably should have been burned it was so toxic) could barely get out of my chair to leave due to seizing muscles after awards were passed out. Slowly I put away my gear and attempted to clean myself up for my two and a half hour drive to meet Amy and her family. Noticing I was the last one to leave the parking lot of Northern Kettles, I took a minute to think about everything that happened this day.
11 hours and 53 minutes and 102 miles later I was done. My aged sore body climbed into the driver's seat...

Thank you Salsa Cycles for creating the 'Big Mama'. What a great all day bike!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ever been so close you could touch it?

Two goals stood together in a status of utmost importance. The first sat firmly on the shoulders of my driven and determined wife, Amy. Approaching her 11th marathon she has managed to reel in a dream of qualifying for the big daddy of them all - The Boston Marathon. The Cellcom marathon in Green Bay, Wisconsin was where all her chips were placed, she was "all in" and I was day dreaming from time to time about seeing the Twins play the Redsocks in Boston. Oh, and day dreaming about Amy running the marathon, of course. The long and short of it was this, we were going to Boston next year and this was going to be a weekend of celebration with family in Title Town.

The second goal was not nearly as important, but nevertheless it was a goal. I would get my revenge on the Green Bay Stump Farm course that cancelled on me the previous weekend. My plan involved at least 5 hours of single track riding in order to really put 'Big Mama' through her paces before next weekend's 12 hours of Northern Kettles.

Moving through these goals backwards I'll start with what shaped up to be an excellent day of riding. Through some type of logistical dream come true I managed to coordinate a ride with a stand up individual and exceptional rider named Ben Welnak. Ben resides near Littleton, Co, but has inlaws in Green Bay. Initially, I shot out an email to fellow racer and buddy Justin Lund about a possible meet in Green Bay. He responded with a "no", but knew a guy (Jesse Shoemaker) who might meet me. A couple of email exchanges with Jesse left me looking for some guy named "Ben" in the Stump Farm course around 10:00 a.m. on May 15th. Obviously there was very little chance I'd meet Ben so I figured a solo ride would be fine. Well, while I was stopped snapping some photos for this very post I heard a voice simply state, "are you Tim?". My response was just as simple, "are you Ben?". One hand shake later and we were ripping! I started by leading through the lap and the stumps - thus the name. The smooth, super flowy single track allowed me to test the 'Big Mama' in all ways. Feeling hooked up and good about my relationship with her I began to open up the pace. Ben seemed glued to my wheel even when I pushed into the red zone. "Hmmm, this guy can ride", I thought as I began to clip trees with my shoulders as I pushed outside my envelop of control. Unable to shake him from my wheel I began to realize this could end up being a punishing ride. Once familar with the lap Ben took the lead and began to showcase his skills in the twisty single track. He handled his 69'er like a man with experience and the horse power to back it up. I was digging deep on occasion in order to pull gaps back together. This was what I needed, 3 hours of race pace big ring riding in single track. I was happy and the ringing in my ears was letting me know that I was visiting a place I've been before - the pain cave. 30 miles later

and several great stories being told we said "thanks" and rode off our seperate ways, Ben to his car, me back for more laps. I left satisfied after 51 miles of trail and 5 hours of riding. Time to pull the plug I headed for the parking lot.

The next morning came very early as Amy pulled together last minute preps for her day. I was in full on support crew mode as I was eager to repay the favor. My instructions were clear and I knew what lie ahead...Boston....Boston... I liked seeing Amy focused on her goal and content with her training. I knew how hard she'd worked. She had that look in her eye that said, "OUTA MY WAY, I'M DOIN' THIS!!" It was cool.

Stay with the pace group, that was the plan. She'd met these experienced individuals (the day before at the expo) who've committed to giving something back to their sport by running miles that were capable of landing on the exact second mile after mile in order to offer pace to those looking for their best times or in Amy's case, a qualifying time. My job was simple, be at mile 8 for a bottle exchange, be at 16 for the same thing, then finally 22 for a check in and possible 'do whatever Amy wants at that point'. Mile 8 was a success and Amy looked fine, it was only 8 miles, she does that sleep walking. Mile 16 put a smile on my face as she came by with a jump in her step and yelled, "We're goin' to Boston baby!!" (Marathon, Twins/Redsox?? I was pumped! She looked like she had just run around the block. I rode to mile 22 and waited. I whipped out my new high tech itouch and found that I was in the beloved WiFi area - I had updates from the course emailed to me. As of mile 20 Amy Fullerton was dialed to go to Boston is basically what it said. Still pumped I waited at the 22 mile marker. Soon enough I saw the pace setter coming with a cluster of runners around her. They past, Amy didn't. Whooooaaaa, wait a sec., what's going on here? Where is she, is she so far ahead of the pace group that I missed her? No, that couldn't be, something must have happened. I waited and the minutes seemed like hours as they ticked past. Then, out in the distance I saw her coming. She looked like something had been taken from her, she was hurting. I still held hope as the pace group was not that far ahead, it may be possible to close the gap. She passed and said "I'm going to P.R., but we're NOT going to Boston." In a pathetic futile attempt at support I yelled, "you can catch them, they're right around the corner." But, I knew that when the switch gets turned off, it's off. I've been there and I know that the mind wants to turn the light back on, but when it's been turned off, the sun really is down, it won't be coming back up for some time. My heart sank for her as I saw the disappointment on her face. There was nothing that could be done. I rode for the finish line and left her to her demons, she'd face them alone, the way it must be.

She turned the corner for the finishing chute and again I yelled some words of encouragment and snapped an ill timed picture resulting in Amy heading toward the Cellcom arch with no head. I was proud and disappointed like her and I knew she'd be taking it hard. Yes, there were tears and she was sad, but it wasn't 3 minutes before I heard her talking about the next marathon and how she'd play things differently, how she'd get it done next time. I was shocked as I really felt if there was a way she could have made it to the start line to do it all over right then and there she would have.

Remember, they're not goals if they're easy to get.

Good job Amy, we're all so proud of you!!
Also, congratulations to Gina Fullerton (Amy's sister) for kicking serious butt in the half!!

Sunday, May 9, 2010


The first of the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series was set to kick off this past Saturday. I was eager to get the Salsa out on course and turn laps for this 12 hour event. However, the weather had other thoughts.
As I commuted home on my road bike late Friday afternoon I battled full on BLIZZARD conditions, while questioning whether to make the trip to Green Bay. This year's race schedule has the spring, summer and fall packed tight with races taking almost every weekend. Knowing five WEMS races are required to be counted as a series participant and knowing that I can only attend five races made the decision to load up the car a little easier. We would go and hope for the best. Afterall, maybe we were just getting the good ole Gitchee Gummee effect. Not true!
As we approached Wausau, Wi Mothe Nature got pissed! Driving the car was extremely difficult as there was about four inches of slushy accumiliation on the roads that made you float if you moved out of the tire tracks. Semi trucks plastered our tiny Prius and threw blankets of wet snow on the windshield which blinded me causing me to have to use the "force" while driving.
A half hour outside of Green Bay a call was made to a good friend back home asking him to log onto the WEMS site which revealed, "yes" CANCELLED!
I guess it was for the best, because the way things were looking I would have needed a snow bike to get through this race. Who would have thought a full on blizzard on May 7th? So weird...
We had a good weekend anyway as Amy's family resides in Green Bay. Plus, to combat my depression over the race being called off I treated "Big Mama" to a brand new set of Hutchinson Pythons, Mmmm.
In two weeks I'll be towing the line at the 12 Hours of Northern Kettles where I hope to take my revenge on Mother Nature. Until then...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Big Mama and Eki get to know each other...

An unusually early spring to Duluth has trails in mid August like conditions and I've been dying to get on Big Mama's back. I built her up a few months back, but it seems like a couple of years ago as I've been keeping her on the back burner while gravel road racing has been at the forefront of my mind. Countless hours on the cross bike has made utilizing the hook in the garage a little easy. I'm hungry for something different.

Building the bike myself and knowing me like I know me had me wondering what would go wrong on the first ride in the woods. Amazingly, NOTHING apart from a cable loosening up, which was no biggie. Right out of the gate she felt good and nimble. Salsa must spread some magic potion over the bikes before they box 'em up that gets them wanting to go fast! I vowed I'd take it slow and easy at first just to make sure every thing was running good and I actually remembered how to ride trail. After about 5 minutes I found myself cutting loose and feeling hooked up.
Hell, I was cleaning sections I never have before and I don't think it really had much to do with me. Big Mama had me cheatin'! She climbed very well and after a few adjustments to the damping in the rear shock I forgot I had a rear shock, which is always an A+ for a shock. If you're not thinking about your suspension, it means it's working perfect.

I've never made it through this boulder field without at least one "dab". O.k., I didn't today either, but I was SUPER close!

Some times when you're on a ride and everything is so perfect, the only thing missing is that you don't have some one with you. It was one of those kind of days.