Tuesday, February 23, 2010

12 Hours of pain, 'er I mean Santos

Being that it has been rainy, snowy and just downright cold and mucky in Charleston, I had been quite sick of the cold and wet stuff, so when the calendar showed 12 Hours of Santos coming up, I was more than ready to take the trip down south for a day and bask in the predicted warmth of the sun....Talk about perfect weather! Rode down with Dave and Robert in the coolest road trip van on the planet ready for a great day of riding on Saturday. Uneventful smooth trip down south with the temperature climbing steadily as we drove. Arriving in great time, we setup camp, watched the freeriders blasting off the jumps and went for a few pre-race laps...My legs felt great! I felt great...I guess being on a road bike for the last 2 months with nonstop headwinds really makes you appreciate the vacuum-like quality of a tight, fast, twisty trail with little or no wind resistance. It was definitely worth the trip. I took a decent speed lap, then another at a lower speed, then played for a while on the rocky stuff looking for easy climb lines...Took time off the bike, waited for Mark, Mike and Nick to roll in and watched Niner & everyone else setup for awhile and hastily went for our annual Mexican food feast. I order 2 entrees with extra guacamole to make sure I had plenty in the tank for tomorrow's adventure and ate every bit of it. That night, the usual Santos campout revelry occurred at a much higher volume than last year possibly due in some part to an alleged conspiracy to keep everyone awake and miserable throughout the night. I heard Dave planning a revolt outside my tent and lots of mutual agreement, but I was so tired from the past week's lack of sleep due to work, that I greeted Morpheus with open arms...

Saturday came up nice and smooth until some of our guys started honking their car horns to annoy the other camps, oh well...The organizers of Santos(GoneRiding.com) had a great breakfast spread laid out for the riders complete with oatmeal, coffee, cheese danish and cereal! I ate happily and got suited up for a full day's worth of riding. Have you noticed yet, how I have not complained once about cold weather? It was THAT warm! It was a great day for a race. As always, from that moment on, everything went into fast forward and before I knew it I was running up a hill with a bunch of other nuts in search of our bikes to hastily make our way onto the singletrack express. I actually got into the woods pretty smoothly and proceeded to tag onto some steadily paced riders. The pain train rolled onwards without any major issues through lap#1. I skipped pitting since I did not need anything vital and went out for a full fresh lap. After opening up the legs a bit more throughout lap#2, I realized this was going to be an excellent day for me as I did not have any signs of hesitation when demanding more power. I eased back to make sure I would make it and settled into a very nice pace. I rode strong through lap#4 and then suffered a major setback which possibly cost me a chance at the podium...chain snap! Upon leaving the twisty singletrack, you enter back into a section of the "Vortex" before making your way back to the pit area. The Vortex is a mixture of tight turns and punchy uphill climbs. I went to redline the heartrate to get up the climb, fast and quickly, when my chain snapped without warning. I spun out but thanks to the steady platform of my new Time ATAC pedals, I was able to keep from smacking my knees and "tenders" on any section of my frame. I quickly unclipped pulled my bike over to the side and tried to assess what to do. I looked for the broken chain link, but could not find it. I was not sure what to do, as I could not fix it immediately and wasted a large amount of time making a decision. I finally stuck with just running the bike through the remainder of the lap and fixing it once in the pit area. I ran in, fixed the bike, got back on and took off again trying to makeup for lost time. I actually fell back into a rhythm and decided I would probably be dead last, but I was determined to finish my goal of at least 10 laps. Lap#10 came up quick and next thing I knew there was still plenty of time for more laps! I hooked up my Ayup lights(which worked perfectly) and took off for more pain. Santos was really starting to abuse me around this time as the lava rocks in the course are unforgiving and staggered to make it hard to float over them with precision so I slowed down. 2 singlespeeders caught and passed me in lap#11, and I worked hard to pass them back. We played like this for a while at the beginning of Lap#12 and then I finally noticed both guys suffering in different sections of the trail due to major cramps which allowed me to pass and drop them with ease. I was also feeling weak, but not that weak....I came in off Lap#12 at 9:23 and decided to not go back out for another lap since I thought both of the other guys were 1 lap up on me anyways. I later found out that only one of them was a lap up, so I could have clinched 4th place! If it were not for my chain breaking, I may have had a chance for 3rd place and that would have been fantastic, but nonetheless, this race was a major victory for me to actually tackle and finish a 12 hour endurance race which was truly an unknown to me.

Overall, my hands were hamburger meat, my legs were cooked, and my rear end was chaffed beyond belief, but my passion for lap racing grew a little more. I learned more about what kind of strategy I should try next time as well as how to eat & drink a bit more efficiently. My goal was to complete a 12 hour race with at least 10 laps. I more than satisfied that goal and certainly look forward to next year! I could not have even come close to this goal if it wasn't for Dave Hall's coaching tips and his leading of the WBL this winter which was hosted by the Charleston Bicycle Shoppe. Thanks to Mike from Niner bikes to assist me in the pit area when in need of some quick thinking and reconfiguring of my lights for the night laps, he really helped me out when I just could not think straight anymore.

12 Hours of Santos is quickly becoming one of my favorite races of the year, not only because of the warmth of Florida, but also because of the great people who come down to race, assist, and just generally be a part of it all. Did I mention all the cool looking bikes rolling around out there? Awesome stuff!

Results here:http://www.goneriding.com/2010/12%20hours%20of%20Santos/results/12HOURSOLO.htm

No GPS stats available since it went berzerk at around lap#2.
I believe I may have killed it at the Snake Creek Gap in the nasty elements. :(

Up next, The Snake Creek Gap Time Trial#3!


Monday, February 8, 2010

Snake Creek Gap TT #2

I cannot believe how tough this first race of the season has been for me. After hearing the horror stories of just how extremely cold it was back at Snake Creek Gap TT #1, I was really worried about becoming a stranded frozen popsicle out in the Chattahoochee National Forest....I really thought I was prepared for what was to come, but I do not think I was even close...mentally nor physically.

Backpedaling in the story, you, the reader, must understand that I have been road training(basically being pummeled by macho roadies who love to drop neophytes such as myself in 15-20mph headwinds at paces above 23-25mph avg), working furiously on a new software feature, indoor spinning, and buying a new home all at the same time. Not to mention that Mother Nature and the unknown forces at work have been pummeling the Earth with massive amounts of rainfall, therefore rendering useless what minimal amounts of local trails we do have! It had not been an easy January...Then closing on our new house(yay!) and realizing we must evacuate our current house(doh!) made the start of race season that much more complicated. So, my "rest" week before the Snake was spent lifting lots and lots of heavy boxes, then working until 4 or 5 in the am, waking at 10am and then doing it again...and still doing it now. I do believe the best night's sleep I received was at the hotel before the race through the Pinhoti Trail System...

So, where was I? Oh yeah, Matt McMaster and myself headed up to Dalton Georgia late on Friday arriving just in time to get some late chow and meeting up with Mike Pierce and Mark Sackett to discuss Saturday's race strategies. Mark mentioned the rainfall would more than likely have a serious affect on the initial creek crossing which had been a frosty nuisance in January. I hoped he was wrong on that one. He also mentioned some serious rock gardens which were close to impossible to climb entirely while in the saddle. I shuddered to think about rock gardens along a ridegeline with temps forecast into the upper 30s...We did all agree that the overall temperature was better than January, but we knew of no other elements which were within our control...off to sleep I went with too many unknowns in my mind.

Saturday came fast and furious as expected...a minor setback, was the discovery that breakfast at the Courtyard Dalton was not complimentary and we had no time left to enjoy a waited breakfast. I simply gobbled up assorted cookies and breakfast bar items and we all set out hurriedly to meet the Snake Creek Gap challenge...41 degrees at the start...Arriving a bit late for initial registrants, we found ourselves rushed from one line to another to get our bib numbers and free tshirts (nice shirts Northwest Georgia SORBA!) and nice cloth maps of the Pinhoti Trail system, which will be mounted on a wall under glass in the future. We then found ourselves being shuttled up towards the start point in a super nice heated luxury RV which I was reluctant to get out of when approaching our destination. After waiting a few moments for our bikes to show up, it was time to say our good lucks and start on our solo adventures.

The Time Trial is setup to have 15 second gaps between riders in order to not have as many riders all scrambling for the same trail space at any given moment. It was an interesting and pleasant way to start the race. Mark took off first, then some other riders, then Matt, then more riders, then it was my turn and last, but not least, Mike. My thoughts kept going forward to the creek crossing: should I ride thru? or walk it barefoot? After some initial warm up climbing for the first mile or so, I arrived at the first creek crossing and my choice was made for me. The water was on the brink of unpassable. It was really coming through thick! My first thought was: there is no way I am gonna get across. Matt was already across. Then, I see some people strip off their shoes, hike on their bike and start sloshing across, getting pushed sideways by the heavy currents, then going deeper, deeper and then coming up and out of it. No WAY! Before my mind could convince me to turn around, I quickly took off my neoprene booties, shoes and socks, stuffed them in my jacket and started across. The creek pushed me sideways and I really had to push my way across...up came the water past my knees, up it came further...oh yeah, past my waist...still inching higher...oh there it goes...mid chest...COLD! I started to slosh faster and just as quickly as I dipped into it, I re-emerged soaking wet from lower mid chest down...so much for staying as dry as possible. My extra socks were soaked, but they were wool(Wigwams rock!), so I immediately wrung them out and slid them on. Mike comes across soaked through. The wind was quickly letting me know just how wet I was, so it was vital to cover up as quickly as possible. 2 pairs of semi-soggy socks, shoes and soggy neoprene booties back in place, I jumped on the bike and take off again to make up for lost time and build my body heat back up. Did I mention there were 2 more back and forths on that creek? I rode through one which went midway up my frame...soaked already, so it no longer mattered. I quickly forgot about the creek crossings as I then entered the no-man's land of mucky climbing, John's Mountain...

I realized at this point that I had selected a gear which was too high
for the circumstances that followed. I kept getting really bogged down in the mud and muck from the water pouring down the mountains. It was the most frustrating climbing situation I believe I have ever encountered. I would jump off and walk, but slip and sink deeper into the mud. I finally found a balancing point which made me maintain a certain speed, either walking or pedaling whenever I could. This went on for the next 10-15 miles. Pedal, get some speed going, approach climb with intensity, bog down, standup pedal lightly, bog down further and spin out from my tall gear choice...walk. Lots of hike-a-biking...After some mindless muck madness, I finally catch up to Matt who seems to be having the same issues except he is geared...but I notice he is spending more time in the saddle than I am which is good for him. We ride together for a while and then I fade/walk, then I catch up again, then take off on some nice singletrack. It goes on like this for about 5 miles...I ride his wheel for a while, then notice we are on a super nice ridge and decide to stop and eat something at the view. The stop was nice, the mountains were beautiful, light snow was falling and the food was sweet and energy filled. I slog on. More creek crossings! I suppose this is why it's called Snake Creek as it winds along like a coiled up rattle snake in various corners of the trail and then it stings you when you are not expecting. Yes, at this point, I got "stung"...Upon nearing the final creek crossing in a series of switchbacks, there were several rocks jutting about in the water, which I did see and hit anyways. It was the "your body goes where you look" type scenario. I saw the rocks and headed right into them. I hit them, rolled over a few, lost momentum, stopped short and fell sideways clipped in into the shallow creek. Soaked and a little bruised, I quickly getup, check myself, and continue onwards. Yelling at myself for getting sloppy, I take off again finding some nice gravel road climbs to make up some lost time on. I catch up to Matt again at a last chance rest stop before the entry into the rock gardens...I skip the rest stop as I am fully fueled and starting to get a chill as the temps are falling. Mile 22, and I ride onwards through some really nice singletrack. It then starts to weave up and down, work, reward, repeat. I enter the rock gardens and entertain my mind manuevering through the jagged terrain. I descend through it all and clean so much of it, that I actually start to begin having some fun! Overconfident, I realize that was just a warmup. As I hit mile 26-27, I see more rocks, more jagged edges, rocks in the turns, both inside and outside...I start to make small mistakes. I fall again, but it is a simple clean tumble. I realize I was lucky. I stop to assess my situation. I am getting colder, my body is not responding nearly as well as I had hoped, and my gloves are soaked thru and starting to freeze. I am sleepy tired, and feel sick to my stomach(mild hypothermia?). My emergency Snickers bar is frozen solid, which I force eat anyways. Not good. I start walking through sections which seem dangerous and simply look for clean lines only, no more challenges. I then start to have a few mechanicals with my chain. I guess the extreme torqueing I was doing on earlier climbs made my EBB slip and my chain was loose. I stopped once to slip it back on and tried to fix it, but my fingers were so numb that I could not feel my tools or work my fingers for that matter. So I simply slip the chain on and ride with less side-to-side vigor. It works for about 3 more miles and then chain off again. As I was putting it back on again, Matt comes rolling up and agrees this rock garden is for superhuman MTBers only...I tell him to keep going and don't stop. He disappears onward...I keep a cautious pace to keep my chain on and finally reach the radio tower. Back to gravel, back to roads and onwards to the finish...half frozen, ridiculously tired, I roll in 5 hours and 11 minutes later...

Mark was there already changed and looking much warmer than I feel. I start to shake uncontrollably and rush straight to my car to change. It hurts more to strip down than it did to remain in my wet cold clothing, but it was necessary. After a bowl of free chili and some talk about the trail and conditions around the fire pit, I start to realize I am not feeling any better or warmer. We wait for Mike to roll in, I say my goodbyes and Matt and I jump in the truck, jam on the heat and roll out. The ride back was another adventure in staying awake, but Matt shared the workload and just like that, we were back home and off to our own worlds again....

Snake Creek Gap Time Trial was very well organized, good support and overall great attitudes for the weather being what it was...Thanks to all the volunteers and organizers who help keep the Snake alive!

Up next....Santos.....

Snake Creek Gap final round next month? Only if those temps inch upwards: playing in the cold is for penguins and polar bears...