Monday, July 30, 2012

"Dude, You're Killing It! Keep it Up": Wausau 12 Hour Solo, Race Report

The Wausau 24 is kind of a big deal in the Midwest. Let's just put it this way, there were nearly 500 people participating in this event in one racing category or another. I would be racing the 12 Hour Solo category, while fellow DBD member Jason "Big Buff" Buffington would pound through 24 hours on a single speed. I would live in his shadow through this event. I've raced a bike for 30 hours before, but it wasn't a mountain bike and I wasn't on trails. I gave up trying to figure out how he or anyone else could do it. I'd stick to worrying about my 12 hours on the bike, it was all I needed to worry about.

I brought two bikes to the event. One being the El M. Ti and the other, the super sweet Spearfish 1. I would ride the Spearfish as I knew from past experience (2007) that the course was rough, but did not contain a ton of climbing. The El Mariachi would serve as my "back up" bike. It's hard to consider either of these rigs as  "back up", but I can't ride two bikes at the same time.

Immediately, I knew the full suspension 29'er was the right bike for the course as it soaked up the roots and rocks with a buttery smoothness. "Stay consistent on your lap times and stay smart", was what I thought as I moved through the first lap. I knew if I executed the plan I would have a good day. However, the field was full of talent, so a top 5 was the goal I had tucked away in the recesses of my mind.

LeMans start

As I approached the gnarliest climb on the course for the 2nd lap I saw fellow DBD member and training partner Jason Buffington powering up the hill as if it were a speed bump. I was happy, because this meant Big Buff and I might be able to ride together for a while, which always makes the miles a little easier. I know he's strong, but hey, he only has one gear. I was sure I'd be able to keep up. The top of the climb known as Ho Chi Min Trail is strewn with soccer sized boulders. These wheel benders are everywhere, but a rider with an eye for the "good line" can make it through unscathed. I entered the field out of the saddle and with a good head of speed. Half way through, riding on top of the rocks I felt the rear wheel slip in between two boulders as if pulled by an unseen force. I heard the all too familiar scrape of rubber on rock and quickly made a mental note to "watch out for side wall scrapes". Not 30 seconds past before I noticed the bouncy feeling of a rear tire losing precious air. "NO, NOT AGAIN, NOT NOW!!". It was true, a flat tire. And, not just a flat tire, but a cut in the side wall, the tire was toasted! I could see the Stan's solution doing it's best to solve the problem, but rarely have I seen the stuff actually work in the field. The tire was flat! I hit it with a CO2 and proceeded to ride another mile while the rim made it's inevitable trip to the ground. Soon I was riding with my weight over the handle bar, hoping against hope that I could make it to my pit area which loomed ahead on the trail some 4 miles away. I could no longer risk damaging the rim so I stopped and whipped out my small emergency pump. Ferociously I blasted air into the tire making progress, only to lose it in the next few minutes. Ultimately, I had a choice to make, run for the pits or auger in on the side of the trail and do a FULL ON repair job to the tire, then tube it. I chose to run for it. I rode the smooth sections on the flat tire and ran the rough stuff pushing the bike, but it was taking a long time to make it "home". Finally, I saw my Salsa canopy through the trees. Once in the pit I slowed my heart rate and methodically went to work on solving the problem. I would do a complete tire swap rather than grabbing the El Mariachi and taking off, the full suspension was just too good on this trail. I figured the time delay would be worth it in the long run if I stuck with the smooth tracking Spearfish. Approximately 5-10 minutes later I was out of my pit and making forward progress once again. I needed some "hot" laps and I needed them now. Although I was careful not to ride over my head while playing the "catch up" game I still rode with intensity. It wasn't until about the 6th lap that I started recognizing riders I had been with before the "incident". I was back in the game!

Big Buff and Eki ready to get started.

As the laps wore on I wondered how my friend Buff was doing. Amy, my wife and pit crew for the day let me know that he was doing fine about 15 minutes ahead of me. Knowing Buff like I do told me that I wouldn't be seeing him until I came to check on him in the morning, he's just too strong to be caught. I sent him some positive thoughts and went back to my own private battle. I told myself that my season this year has been about playing catch up. I'd caught up before, I'd do it again. I knew I was back in the game, but I wanted to back into the RACE! A pause at my pit for a new camel back and a quick update from Amy reminded me that if I stayed focused I just might come out of this thing with a good day. I began to turn consistent laps and ride with purpose, I was chasing hard.

Night time began to fall and so did my energy. I was hitting that place of deep fatigue that is hard to explain. It's that place that can only be understood by someone else who's been there and then it's not really talked about, but shared through a knowing look into the eyes. I glanced at my dust blackened legs and wondered if there was any muscle left in those quads or if I was just riding on bones. My heart was in charge now, not my head. I promised myself I'd show character and fight the 'good fight'. I needed to keep the demons down and the only thing that seemed to work was this mantra over and over, "You're strong, You're strong..." I literally said those two words out loud at least 200 times while I tried to hold my pace.

Battered and broken I inched my way up a loose gravel climb on my 11th of 12 laps, determined not to get off and push my bike. A faster moving rider was approaching from behind, it was a familiar sound. Then, I heard the chipper voice of a female who had not yet experienced the kind of pain I was currently in. This voice, in a lifting tone, sang words of encouragement to me, "Dude! You're Killing It! Keep it up..." as she moved past. I glanced at my gps and noted that I was going 2 mph. I chuckled to myself as a young college age girl, appearing as if she was primped for a night out to dinner (she was very clean, I was not) moved through me like a pro cyclist moves through a club rider. I wanted to shout after her, "Do you know what I've been through?!" Instead, I wished her and her team well and put my chin back down on my handle bar, in search of the top of the climb.

Jason completed 22 laps!

The final lap. I knew I would only be able to complete 12 laps as I would finish shortly after 10:00 p.m.. Honestly, I wasn't too heart broken that I would miss out on lap 13. I was beat, my hands were devolved claws, the rock that was in my shoe from the first lap had carved various holes in my foot, my left knee cap was killing me, my right shoulder was also killing me from riding into a hole in Duluth, caused by the flood. I just wanted to be done! Almost there, I rode past my empty pit area which told me I had about 2 blocks to the finish. My clock on the gps said it was 10:02 p.m., but would that be the same as the timing clock? I arrived to the finishing chute to a lot of clapping and cheering. I appreciated the kindness, but I was leery of riding through the finishing chute. If it wasn't after 10:00 p.m. on the official clock I'd be obligated to do another lap, I didn't want that. I slammed on my breaks 10 yards from the finish, clipped out and turned to the spectators, "Is it past the time?", I yelled. Confused looks came back at me from all but one man who seemed to look right into me. I heard his voice stand out from the others, "Yes, it's past the time, you can go in there", my eyes met his and he smiled. Maybe he'd been where I was at that point, on a different day, at a different event ... I think he had.

Buff and Eki relax awaiting the awards ceremony.

I heard the comforting voice of Amy telling me "Good Job!" She snapped a picture and I asked her to hold what had become an extension of my body, a filthy Salsa Spearfish. We made are way to a lonely folding chair that sat in the back ground of the post 12 hour race party. That chair was the only place I wanted to be at that time.

Sitting in my own filth I stared into space, I could still feel myself move through the turns, rise over the bumps, shifting my weight all over the bike, causing it to move as fast as I could. I thought about the fight I'd been through, the fight my good friend was still waging. I thought about how I had given it my all. Just then Amy said that it would be really awesome if I made it onto the podium. I told her that it would be, but it didn't matter, because I had left it all out there, I couldn't have gone any faster. Whatever place I ended up in, I was happy. I had tried my hardest. I didn't need to see the results, not yet anyway. I just wanted to put my bike on the car, get cleaned up, and go out to eat with my wife. I needed a break from the roots and rocks.

The next morning I'd head back to the venue to take down the rest of my pit area and watch Big Buff finish the 24 hour event. He took it all like the champion he is as he cracked jokes with me. He shook off the fatigue and hardship like he was  shaking off the cold from a winter day after walking into a warm kitchen. I marveled at his toughness. Jason Buffington won the single speed 24 hour solo and took 3rd in the overall.

3rd Place is all right with me.

As for my finish, I found out that morning at that venue while waiting for the conclusion of the event. It turns out I had clawed my way not only back into the mix, but all the way onto the podium finishing 3rd place overall in the 12 hour solo division. I'm not sure I was ever "Killing It!", but it was a nice reward for not giving up.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Need a Break from Riding? Do This.

Sometimes "real life" stuff just has to be done. Houses need to be maintained, cars need attention, appointments need to be kept. It can't ALL be about riding the bike. And, I don't care how much you love biking, admit it, sometimes it just feels good to take a break from it. Too much of one thing can never be good...or so I'm told.

This past weekend only had one ride for me and it was at a leisurly pace with it's only purpose to hear the story of adventure that my training partner Farrow recently embarked on. We laughed, rode as slowly as possible, we laughed some more, and eventually parted ways with our usual good bye of "Never Change, You're Special". I thought to myself, "these are some of the best rides of the summer".

So, with riding taking a back seat, here's what my weekend consisted of.

  • A meet up with some friends from the Minneapolis area for some good brew and general good times. (Thanks R and E! Sorry about the Jerseylicious seen at Tycoons.)
  • A five hour battle with my deck, as I stained it in blazing heat. NOT FUN!!
  • A slow walk on the shore of Lake Superior with my wife Amy, who treated me to some ice cream...Mmmmm!
  • A Duluth Huskies game with my Dad in the very stadium I played my high school ball.

Sometimes it's o.k. to let the bikes "hang" in the garage, they'll be there waiting for you when you get back, I promise.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

36 Seconds

My minimalist pit.

Green Bay, Wisconsin hosts the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series' Stump Farm 100 each year. This is one of my favorite mountain bike courses of all the WEMS races. It's a fast, twisty, turn filled network of smooth single track. Lower the air pressure and let 'er rip, that's the motto at the S.F.


I never want to miss the Stump Farm race and this year was no different. In fact, on my list of races for the year that's pinned above my desk at work, there's an asterisk next to this race. That asterisk means I'll be there. I went minimalist this year as the weather looked favorable. I had no plans to stop in my pit area, so I took it back to basics, opting to set up my pit with one lawn chair, a cooler, and a Cub Foods bag with water bottles in it hanging out of a tree. I would fore go the elaborate set up that often comes with serious racing. I've used both methods and they both have their advantages. My thinking this year was that the minimalist set up is less enticing to stop at, therefore more riding takes place.


Standing at the start line I told a few of the boys that all I wanted was an uneventful race, no mishaps. A string of bad luck racing this year has left me feeling a bit, well...unlucky. So, if that meant ratcheting back the pace a bit in order to keep the bike and myself safe, that's what I was going to do. However, once the dust gets flyin' that's never the case and not long after they said "GO" I was going FULL GAS!! "Easy, be careful", I kept saying to myself as I gained more and more faith in my "hook up" through the turns. Soon, I trusted my Schwalbe Racing Ralphs completely and was really leaning through the turns, trying hard to stay off the brakes. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was riding with some pretty fast guys. I wanted to move up, but it wasn't that easy, everyone around me was going just as fast as I was.

I decided after an hour and a half of a frantic pace that I needed to settle down, but one Rich Lytle was riding with me and he didn't seem too interested in settling in or maybe that was his "settled in". All I know is that keeping up with Rich was taking a toll on me. Now, I've raced Rich in more races than I can remember, but I've never seen him ride like this. It looked like he was born to ride this course. "God he's smooth", "How is he cornering that fast?", "Is he even getting tired?", were all questions and thoughts that kept rolling around in my head. For some reason I thought he'd wear down so I stayed with him, thinking I'd pull away from him once the pace took it's toll. The pace didn't take it's toll, this was just the way Rich was going to ride the full 101 miles. I was in trouble.


My position in the race changed back and forth throughout the early afternoon as the laps and miles wore on. Our pace was dead even, but I must tell you that I felt I was riding harder than I normally would have, because of Rich. In a strange way it was inspiring to watch a guy ride that consistently for that long. I wanted to match that effort.

The start of the 6th lap marked the half way point. I made a decision to end this dual once and for all. I would ATTACK. I crested a small climb while moving next to my physical clone (Rich) and went over the top with an acceleration. I stayed on the gas for about 10 straight minutes until I was certain he was gone for good. Once alone, I began to settle into a more manageable, yet hard pace for the remainder of the 6th lap. "Out of sight, out of mind", I told myself as I contemplated how he would be giving up on chasing me now that I was long gone. This 6th lap effort took a large chunk out of me and as I began the 7th lap and 70th mile of the race I realized that this "attack" I had done may not have been the smartest racing move of my life. I was riding SLOW now and I was tired! In fact, I was so tired that I began to seriously consider stopping at my pit upon the completion of this lap for a "break".

Those legs looked even dirtier in real life.


I struggled through the remainder of the 7th and 8th laps and experienced some seriously dark times. I was very negative. "You're sooooooo FAT" was one of my prevailing thoughts. You get the idea. It wasn't pretty. Then, he showed up again, #6 (Rich's series plate number). "Are you kidding me? Who is this guy? Game over, I can't keep up to him any more, he deserves it, he can have it.", were the new thoughts in my head. I watched him float past me, make a light hearted comment, and pedal out of my life. I tried to yell some encouraging words to him, but I doubt he even heard them.

I had fallen off the pace and was back in the pack now (at least that's what I figured). Now, I would try to minimize the damage, hold my position, and get through the race unscathed. But, a strange thing began to happen, things started to feel better. My body began to change, I had a jump in my pedal stroke, I had a better attitude, the end was near, I was riding harder, I was riding smoother, I was RACING again!


2 laps to go! I was at the one mile marker of the 9th lap when I saw Rich flash past a different portion of the course than I was at. I quickly looked at the time on my gps, telling myself to get a time estimate of how far ahead of me he was. I'd check the time again when I crossed the point where I had seen him, then gauge how far ahead he really was. Could I catch him? I lifted my pace through a long piece of single track before I hit the double track I had seen him on. Almost 6 minutes ahead of me. Could I close down 6 minutes in a 50 minute lap? I decided I would give it everything I had to find out. A gel pack and a large pull off my water bottle and I got down to business. It felt good to be back in the fight.

Little by little I inched my way back into the race, taking huge risks on big sweeping downhill double track turns. "Wait, there's Randy Wegener, the series leader up ahead. He must have blown while riding off the front of the race.", I told myself. Then, it wasn't long before I saw Ron Knutowski, who I tried to move past with some speed just to make sure he wouldn't try to come with me - he didn't, which was nice. I was alone again, but keeping the pressure on. I continued to pass team riders and what I figured were 60 mile racers, none of them were as dirty as I was, so I assumed they were in different race categories.

A black kit was riding ahead of me in one of the most difficult sections of the race around the 8 mile marker of the lap. I knew Rich had a black kit or at least a dark colored one, I needed to see the bike to be sure. Then, I got a glimpse of his super sweet Specialized S-Works, IT WAS HIM!  Now, I needed to be smart. I didn't want to announce my presence as I knew he'd come with me if I tried to pass. I also knew he'd have the strength left to do it. Rich is a competitor and he wasn't going to give me his position for free. We popped out of the single track with me quietly on his rear wheel. "He doesn't know you're here", I thought as I watched him grab a long pull from his water bottle while we rolled down the 1/4 mile gravel road stretch, I did the same. "I need to hit him hard so he feels there's nothing he can do about the move" was the only strategy I could think of. I didn't want to race him through the single track as I felt he looked better than me throughout the day while we road trail. My plan was set. I tucked my bottle away, took a deep breath, shifted up a gear, and stood up while swinging out to the right. Five hard pedal strokes, then into the hardest rhythm I could manage for 1 full minute or at least to the single track. I stole a glance over my shoulder before I entered the final mile of trail and I saw my fiercest competitor out of the saddle and digging for me. I needed to PIN the single track in order to stay clear. "No mistakes, no mistakes", was my mantra as I railed the corners while begging for the finish line. One more glance back after leaving the trail confirmed that I had formed a big enough gap that I would come in ahead of him and into 3rd place. I had started the 90th mile and tenth lap in 6th place and finished it in 3rd place. What a race! Rich and I shook hands as soon as he crossed the finish line and I thought "Rich is definitely One of the Good Guys".



A lot can happen in 36 seconds.

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Rich got my best on this day. 3rd place Overall. I was tired!