Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chequamegon 100 Raises the Bar for 100 Milers

 Chequamegon 100

The Salsa boys know how to throw down!

The second running of the Cheq. 100 took place this past weekend. I threw my hat in the ring after missing the event last year and from what I hear what I missed was an experience of navigation that would have confused Shackleton. This year would prove much different - the course was MARKED and marked well!!

I came into the race with an attitude of adventure. I'd carry all of my gear, ignoring the "drop point" at half way. Riders were allowed to have a bag waiting for them with fresh supplies, but I read that this was a "no support" race, so I went in with every thing I needed on my back and in my cages. Hell, I even rode away from the chance to top off my fluids at the half way point, in my head I called it "cheating".

Torn between competition and adventure I found myself caught in the middle of racing and enjoying the scenery. Nevertheless, I ended up giving half hearted chase to the front runners early on. I was sketchy to say the least in the single track and inefficient. I immediately felt the past racing miles in my legs and was confused as to why I couldn't pick things up. Suffice it to say I had very little "pop". I watched good rider after good rider, like Ryan Horkey just pull away from me. I remember thinking, "Damn, they're good single track riders, you're NOT".

25 miles in I found myself pretty beat. "Holy crap! This thing isn't even under way yet and you're tired. This is going to be a long day." I decided to ignore the other riders and ride "my own" race, telling myself that experience would guide my way. I plodded along while rider after rider moved past me and out of my sight. I thought about my winter of training and asked myself what I did wrong.

"It's got to be this heavy camel back that's throwing me off. Oh well, it's only going to get lighter as the race wears on." I spent time alone and had brief conversations with guys I've raced against many times as they wished me good luck and moved on by. The half way point became my focus. Just get to the half way point, then you'll be heading home.

The half way/drop bag point proved to be an oasis of sorts. I pulled in after considering just moving past it without stopping, but seeing a few familiar faces might do me some good I thought. The place was literally buzzing with activity. I saw riders sprawled out all over the place with helmets off and gear strewn about. What were they doing? It seemed like many of them had thrown in the towel. Race director and buddy, Joe Meiser caught my eye so I pulled toward him for some company while I tended to the plan in my head. "Get these arm warmers off, put cycling hat and warmers in camel back, drink my secret potion, and eat some trail mix, then get the hell out of there!" I exchanged pleasantries while my head spun with fatigue and a mantra of what I needed to do. Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eye a peculiar sight unfolded. "Hmm, Joe's baby is standing on my front wheel." My El Mariachi Ti was laying on it's side taking a break and apparently Eli found the 29'er interesting. A few of us had a giggle as he manipulated the wheel like he was steering a ship. It was super cute. Then, he became enthralled with the wheel and began to climb up on it as if it were a merry go round. I'm not a parent so I dismissed the activity as, "that's what babies do". And, Joe's right there so he'll know if it's not cool. Soon, I thought, "I wonder how much Eli weighs??" Finally, in an awkward, shaky voice I said..."Hey there little buddy, easy on the wheel (a giggle followed)". He was soon scooped up by Dad at which time I took the opportunity to accuse Joe of coaching his young son into trying to knock me out of the race. Hey, the way I was feeling, not sure I would have been too upset.

Time to go! I pushed on after some brief directions on how to get out of there from Joe. He went on in his "Joe way" (cool and collected) about following this trail back to Mosquito trail head, then... He seemed so confident and sure that I just numbly agreed and took off without understanding any of it. Soon, I was a mile and a half down the trail when I realized I had no idea where I was or if I was on the right path. I did what any good adventure racer would do, I STOPPED! Out loud I stated, "I'm not sure if this is right". Doubt ran all over me. I spiraled down into "what if" scenarios. I decided to turn back to firm up the directions.

Almost back to the drop point I saw fellow Duluthian, Mike Haag climbing the hill toward me on his single speed. I know Mike has a cabin in the Cable area, therefore I know he knows the trails. I asked if I could hook on with him until we moved out of this confusing area. It turned out to be a perfect fit. We gelled and rode well together, although Mike pressed me a bit in the single track, as he is quite skilled, I was happy to be with him. We talked and a connection developed that sometimes happens when two riders are in the same struggle. In other words, we began to work as a team. I watched him power through the relentless rollers on his single speed as I called out "good job!" to him as he cleaned impossible climbs with one gear. Mike's strength was an inspiration to me and I was lucky to be riding with him.

Mike and I moved through the gravel road sections alone for miles when out of no where two riders appeared, they were giving chase. It was Ryan Horkey and his riding partner. Mike and I had apparently left the half way point before them and they were now catching back up. We exchanged light hearted conversation as they moved through us. I watched them crest the rise in front of us when I thought, "you know they're not riding that much faster than we are, I could catch them and let Mike just sit in on my wheel". I chased and Mike spun his single gear in my draft. It wasn't long before we were with them and moving as four. We'd approach the final section of single track as four, with me allowing the three gifted trail riders to move into the woods ahead of me. I resolved to do my best to "hang on". It wasn't long before Ryan and his partner (I believe his name was Mike too) were dropping us. They looked smooth as they flowed through woods as if they were on a ribbon of concrete while I ricocheted to and fro off the rocks. A gap began to form between my partner and myself. I was being dropped at the 80 mile point.

It was then that I began to assess my riding style. I thought about how I'd been riding in the middle ring through all the single track while working the bottom half of the cassette. What if I changed things and went to the big ring and began to operate off the top half of the cassette with a focus on staying in the middle of it the best that I could? I changed the game and it brought me new life. I found myself out of the saddle and energized. The big ring brought me speed and controlled flow. Soon, I was back on Mike's wheel and not long after I decided to move around him on a piece of double track. He yelled to me, "Go get 'em Tim" and I was gone. I felt alive and my machine felt hooked up for the first time all day.

The rain started to fall when I wiped the screen of my gps to find I was at 82 miles in. I was chasing Ryan and his riding partner, Mike. I told myself over and over, "you can ride in the rain, you're a mudder, you can ride in the rain, stay on top of it, stay on it until 90 miles, then just 10 to go...". A flash of color in the distance, then another flash, it was them! I'd reeled them back and I was closing fast. Eventually I was able to sit in on Mike's wheel with the talented Horkey setting pace. I noted that Mike was bobbling from time to time, while Ryan seemed to be driving hard. However, I felt good. I wasn't laboring, I kept checking my situation and the answer was, "I feel fine". It was then that heard Ryan state that he was going to "sit up for bit, does that guy want to get by?" Mike replied, "It's Tim". I don't think they were expecting me. They allowed me to pass. I admired their skills, but I knew I had to stay on top of the pedals if I were to get away.

The rain was coming in a steady down pour and I could feel the spray hitting my back. The miles were ticking by more slowly now, but they were still clicking off and I was still in the big ring. I moved past a couple solos, telling them "good job" while I ran scared from the men chasing me.

Surprised I popped out onto a gravel road before I expected it. My mileage told me I still had about 5 miles to go, yet I remember Joe saying something about the finish being on the gravel road we started on. Could it be that I was almost done? I put my head down and went to gravel race mode. Around a corner and I picked my head up to see the Salsa tent with a small gathering. The finish! It was like coming home.

11th place overall against a talented group of riders left me satisfied ... almost as satisfied as the Old Milwaukee and the Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll they gave me at the finish line. What a great race and more importantly what a great crew of people putting on the race. Thank you Joe Meiser, Tim Krueger, and Ryan Horkey for all your hard work, as well as all the volunteers.

The Cheq. 100, now the standard by which others will be judged in my book.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chequamegon 100 - A 10 out of 10!

Chequamegon 100

The Cheq. 100 mt. bike race is in the books and I will say this is one top notch event. The course was marked perfectly and the organization was phenomenal. I had a blast! There were a ton of super good riders there and it was inspiring watching them absolutely rip up the single track - so impressive!

Thanks to Joe Meiser and Tim Krueger for such a great event.

Full race report coming soon, complete with how a BABY almost took me out of the race.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Miss the Misery

This is gonna be sick, so brace yourself. I've been thinking lately as something seems amiss. What is it? Finally, it dawned on me. I no longer get up in the middle of the night (o.k. super early in the morning) to start my "long" commute to work, with temps around zero or worse. I no longer get home after doing the same commute that got me to work to lift weights until 7:30 p.m. I no longer lay in bed and play out how the Trans Iowa will unfold for me. I no longer worry about whether my commuting bike will make it one more day before the drive train detonates. Life is different.

I'm now doing what I prepared for all those dark cold months. The T.I. is over and things went well. Mt. bike racing has begun and new bikes have been built. Things have all come together as planned. But, somehow the "lead up" or maybe it's the "journey" to the destination that is missed.

I don't know, I guess I just miss the misery.

Monday, May 16, 2011

We'll Take Two Orders of Suffering, With a Side of Wind and Rain...

My cozy little pit
This past weekend saw a double dose of pain. Amy and I hit the road to our neighboring state of Wisconsin. The mission was simple, I'd rip off a quick little 100 mile mountain bike race and the next day she'd qualify for the Boston Marathon. It all seemed so nice... Ahh, but Mother Nature can be a fickle bitch.

The first entree came in the form of a 100 mile mountain bike race in Green Bay, Wisconsin's sweet Stump Farm single track. This is the first of the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series races or WEMS. It has consistently been known to boast some quality riders so I figured a good standing in this race wouldn't come for free.

Still in a mental whirlwind of sorts from my Trans Iowa experience I resolved to ride this race hard, but was reluctant to shake hands with the devil AGAIN. However, the spirit of competition tends to raise it's ugly head once the mud gets flyin'.

I'd attend this race solo as Amy had other things on her plate (so to speak), mainly resting up for marathon day coming on Sunday. My morning was calm and I had plenty of time to set up my pit, register, and grab a little nap in the car before a pleasant conversation with a fellow Salsa owner, Andy. Andy would be racing the single speed category on an ole school El Mariachi. He had the Gran Daddy of my El M. Ti set up pretty sweet I must admit. Andy would go on to a second place finish in his category. I silently rooted for him while I kept my own demons down throughout the day.

Drizzle and at times a steady rain fell as the hours wore on. I was in the woods though, so I was happy. My 4th ride on my El M. Ti was going swimmingly and the 'Racing Ralph's' had me hooked up as if the Scwalbe guys called the Stump Farm's trail designers before they started production on the tires. It was really that good.

My plan was to ride my "own race" and try to avoid getting caught up in one on one battles. However, a wrong turn on the second lap had me frustrated as I lost contact with the leaders for what would end up being forever, as well as adding about 15 extra minutes to my lap. This error found me riding steady and often trading positions with a young Tyler Welnak. This boy could ride and ride he did. It soon became clear that we were meant to be together throughout this slop fest. After four hours of hugging each other's wheels small attacks began to emerge. I would watch Tyler surge through sections of single track, gapping me significantly, while I went deep to gain his wheel. Finally, on lap 7 of this 10 lap race I thought I had caught Tyler napping on a climb. I came into the bottom with a ton of momentum so I jumped on the pedals and swung off to his right. I'd attack here on lap 7 even if it was early. I poured what little energy I had into my Mariachi gaining considerable space on him. I wept inside when I felt him back on my wheel a few minutes later. "What is this kid's deal?", I asked myself. Later, he'd call me the "Boogey Man that just kept showing up". This thing was going to go off on the final lap and there wasn't a damn thing we could do about it.

Thinking through my strategy as lap 8 was coming to a close I decided I absolutely had to pit as my drive train was groaning and I needed to grab another bottle. We moved through the pits together, I stopped, he didn't. A 30 second stop left me with a lubed chain and two fresh bottles. Tyler had nothing and I knew he'd be going into lap 10 dry as a bone. This would be my chance. I left the pit with him out of my sight, but I had every thing banked on him cracking. I was scraping the bottom of the barrel myself as the last lap seemed to go on and on. Then, without warning a 30 mile distance racer went down hard in front of me and slammed into a tree. This was a nasty looking crash. I needed to stop to see if he was o.k., so I did. Seeing this rider "eat it" like he did put the racing second as I thought for sure this guy was heading to the hospital. Surprisingly, he was o.k. I pushed on hoping against hope that I'd see the familiar jersey I'd been looking at for the second half of the day. Alas, it was not to be. The next time I'd see that jersey would be when the owner of it was unclipping his helmet and shaking my hand. I came in two minutes behind Tyler for 5th overall. It felt good to hear him say, "I was so scared you were going to catch me". So cool... 

I never have a problem losing a battle to a classy competitor. This would be the case at this year's Stump Farm.

My El Mariachi Ti performed flawlessly

On Sunday morning the second entree was served. This one came with a side of wind. Amy has trained for a year with this qualifying race on her mind. She has done it all, long distance runs, intervals, cold weather, and even 19 mile treadmill runs. We'd be heading to Boston next year for sure - I had no doubt.

Battered, but not beaten
 It's tough when you put all your eggs in one basket, but that's why they call 'em goals. They ain't easy, so you gotta dream. And, dream she did. You see when Amy goes for something she goes big and she doesn't quit until she gets it. This is why the girl has never gotten a "B" in her life, has a masters degree in counseling, and basically turns every thing she touches into perfection. Running is her passion. She'll be the first to tell you she isn't the best one out there, but she's damn sure going to be the best she can be.

So, all the aforementioned eggs were in the basket, but Mother Nature was wagging her finger and saying, "Hold on there girl, I'm not sure about this one". The wind just kept coming and coming. She (Mother damn Nature) had those things sustained at 31 mph with gusts going over 40 mph. It's an understatement to say that I was concerned. I reminded Amy that (much the way us cyclists look at hills with the old addage, "what comes up, must come down"), if the wind is in your face, it's bound to be at your back at some point, right?

I received her splits on the cell phone and things were running well. She was right on pace and definitely wearing her game face as I noted at the 10 mile mark while giving her a hand up. "Dang, she's focused", I thought. I loved it! Support crew is awesome!

Mile 20, my next hand up position told a different story. I was met with a determined girl who was simply hurting. The wind had been a gorrilla on her back for several miles, buffeting her 120 pound frame like a plastic bag in the wind. The tears on her cheeks told me she was losing this round.

I walked with her for a bit, telling her to keep fighting, that things could turn around. Her pace group was just a hundred meters ahead. I yelled to her that she'd have the wind working for her in the final couple miles. She started "picking 'em up and putting 'em down" and ran out of my view. I had a lump in my throat as I knew we wouldn't be heading to Boston on Green Bay's race result.

You know it just wasn't her fault. I've never seen better preparation. And, you know what else, the good girls, the ones who do every thing right, just don't deserve to lose these battles. I told her that Chicago is where it will happen, I'm certain of it. The irony of it all is that Amy will qualify for the 2012 Boston Marathon in the Windy City. Take that Mother Nature, you B....!

One sister helping another


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Race Day Tension

L-R:  2009-2nd Place, 2010-2nd Place, 2011-4th Place

Hey, it's not always about biking right? Race day tension comes no matter what kind of racing you're doing, even if it means you're going head to head against a bunch of 8 year olds. As some of you know I work with kids and spring time means Pine Wood Derby time. I always love this time of the year, because it breaks up the monotony and gives us all something to dive into.

O.k., so really I'm not all that interested in beating the kids, but I will admit that I really want to beat my coworkers and some of them take it pretty seriously. I went for a Hail Mary with a new design this year hoping that it would result in a fast car. However, taking that much wood off that thing resulted in a super light weight. And, if you've ever watched your chocolate cake eating friend kill you on the down hills, you know weight equals speed. In Pine Wood Derby a car cannot exceed 5 oz. so I'd need to find a way to fill this thing with lead. I managed to have it coming in at 5 oz. on the nose. I was pumped! The only thing left was to put the wheels on, the most important stage of the build. This is when it all started to go horribly wrong. A mishap with some ill advised Gorilla Glue had the 2011 model a complete mess. I was forced to pull a set of wheels off one day before the race and add another set. The removing and adding of wheels caused two cracks in the frame - not good. Needless to say the wheels were not running true. There was no more time, I had to run what I brung.

Race Day:  I put up a mediocre time in the time trials and was seeded 14th out of some 55 cars. Not bad, but not great. I wasn't worried, I've always been a strong finisher. However, there were two cars in the group, two cars that I helped a couple of youth build that were running extremely fast. In fact, one of these cars ended up getting the number one seed. They would prove tough to beat. I ended up going head to head with my coworker/friend and edged him out to move on to ultimately the quarter finals. Elated and confident I thought about how I'd manage the overall win. It wouldn't be right if I actually did win it all, sending a lot of little kids home to tell their parents about the jerk staff who put 12 hours into his car just to beat the children. No worries, it wasn't meant to be.

Soon, a match up to go to the finals formed between the two kids I helped with their cars. I call them J.M. and Airton. J.M. is a guy I work directly with and I'd been listening to him talk obsessively about his car (which he misplaced for two weeks) for about a month. Airton is a younger boy who I've taken under my wing so to speak. One of these two would move to the finals, meaning one of them would be crushed. Airton took the loss hard, fighting back tears, he sat on the side line staring straight ahead while J.M. accepted the cheers and screams from the other 50 plus faithful.

Then, the unthinkable, I would have to face off with Airton for a 3rd place race. But, there was a problem! Some staff removed Airton's weights from his car thinking he was done for the day. There was no time to attach his weights, he'd have to run without them meaning he'd surely lose. They lined our cars up in the starting gate and my white machine shot out front and destroyed Airton's car. As we lined up for the second run (best of three) I noticed a dejected Airton sobbing by the finish line, with huge crocodile tears running down his cheeks. I knew what I had to do. They released the gate for the second run and I held my finger on the back of my car while Airton's machine broke free and was heading down the track. I held it, and held it, then finally released when I knew there wasn't enough track to catch him. I fained complaints to the starter and had him check the track. Airton won the second heat and the roof came off the place as over 50 students began to chant "AIRTON, AIRTON, AIRTON". He'd forced a 3rd run for a chance at 3rd place. Again, I held my car back in the starter's gate, but made this run a bit closer. I was edged out at the line taking 4th, while my boy's tears dried and were replaced by an ear to ear grin for the rest of the day. I high fived him before he headed off to the winner's circle for awards and pictures.

One of my best race days.