Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kids Just Want to Have Fun

I have been communicating with some area school MTB club coordinators that are eager to get more kids involved and also looking for outside assistance. The primary goal of these clubs is to introduce kids to the sport and promote a healthy lifestyle. Several of the coordinators have also expressed an interest in my goal of developing an inter-school competition.

I hadn’t gotten the chance to visit most of the clubs but today I managed to get over to the Oakview Middle School ride just in time to accompany them through the nearby state recreation trails. Nick Shaskos, the coordinator, has been working on the club for several years now and holds the rides twice a week. Participation has grown every year and several of his students have come out to the local races.

I got a bang out of riding with the kids and seeing their enthusiasm for just having fun on a bike, something we tend to forget as we go about our training and racing schedules. Along the ride we helped the kids with some of their technical skills. I plan to go back if possible to help again and work on bike fit and teach some basic maintenance skills. Besides, they made me an honorary member of the Oakview Mountain Bike Club and gave me one of their t-shirts.

Hopefully the success of this program can be used to stimulate other schools to start riding clubs as well.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

30 Miles of Pain Haven Lives Up To Its Name

Yesterday I raced in the 30 Miles of Pain Haven near Midland, MI and the course lived up to its name. I raced there last year and had fun plus it's a benefit race for the local Michigan Mountain Biking Association chapter. The course is a lot of singletrack interspersed with some fast two track sections. The singletrack has a lot of little bumps in it that wear you out after a while.

I planned on using the full suspension Scalpel but also took the other two bikes just in case. The geared 29'er in case when I got there that the 29'er seemed more appropriate, and the singlespeed in case the predicted rain came before the race and made the trails really muddy. Although I drove through rain in spots on the way up to the race, the course itself was dry and it was not raining. I decided to go with the Scalpel as planned. While preriding I discovered that the bike seemed to have some play in the rear linkage, something I had not really noticed before. Good thing I brought the other bikes as backups.

The race has a different twist in that starting waves are decided by a one mile time trial before the start of the XC race. The TT course is on the most technical part of the trail. I did not want to waste a lot of energy or push too hard on the TT to the point where I might crash. I guess I was just postponing the inevitable.

My time for the TT put me in the 4th wave with one guy in my class starting 20 seconds in front of me, the others behind. Over the period of 30 miles I thought I should be able to make up the 20 seconds. What I didn't know was that the guy in front was also one of the trail builders and rides the trail all the time. The value of local knowledge on twisty singletrack should never be underestimated.

As we started into the trail I was just feeling my way around the course, trying to get familiar with the trail. A lot of it looked alike and it was difficult to remember what was around the next corner. I would see the first place rider but with all the twists and turns it was hard to tell how far ahead he was. I noticed that at times I seemed to be gaining ground and other times losing it. I'm not the best singletrack rider and he was putting time on me in these areas where I was gaining on the flats and hills.

At the start of the second lap I was closing in but had my first miscue for the day, a small crash that allowed him to slip away. I managed to catch up to him a little over half way through the lap but didn't want to pass as I was able to use him to guide me around the course. At the start of the third lap he slowed to pick up a bottle and I went past. He eventually caught back up but I stalled on a tight corner when my foot accidentally unclipped. We both ran up the hill and I got back on but caught a pedal and crashed. Fortunately he was still behind me a ways. I started to pull away but ended up bobbling another section, allowing him to pass. I'm not sure why I was so out of synch in this section.

I slowly started to reel him back in as I could see him ahead of me. My plan was to either get in front of him before the last section of singletrack leading to the finishing straight away, or stay on his tail and try to out sprint him at the end. Everything unraveled in the blink of an eye.

I went over a large log pile that I had no trouble with the previous two laps, only to discover that some of the logs on the backside were gone, having been kicked aside by previous rider's wheels. The path I had chosen caused the front wheel to drop in a gap and stick, meaning the whole bike rotated around the front wheel, up and over with me attached. I slammed into the ground and felt instant pain as the wind was sort of knocked out of me.

Normally when you crash you let out one good "oof" or an expletive and then hop back on. This time I had a few more grunts while still on the ground for what seemed like forever but was probably only 10 seconds or so. Getting up I my left ribs were hurting and it was painful to take deep breaths. Great, still a few miles to go.

I got back on the bike and pedaled gingerly for a couple of minutes while assessing the situation. It didn't seem to be getting worse but it was a little difficult to really muscle the bike around. I didn't think I would have much luck catching first but now was worried about those behind me. I hadn't seen anyone close but wasn't sure how fast I would be going for the remainder of the lap. I just wanted to finish.

I managed to make it through, still in second place. After the race we sat around waiting for the awards, food, and door prizes to be given away. I wasn't feeling too bad as I loaded up the van but by the time I was getting close to home, after driving for over an hour and a half, the adrenaline from the race had worn off and the ribs were starting to ache.

At home Sandy and Greg unloaded the van while I showered. Sandy had convinced me to go to the Med center to get x-rays taken. But she also was making me laugh which made it hurt even more. While the doctor was examining me he was kind enough to remind me that I'm not 20 anymore. Gee, thanks Doc. It was when he pressed on my side and I winced that he decided to have the x-ray taken. Fortunately it turned out to be negative and the ribs were only? bruised. He prescribed some pain killers and muscle relaxants.

I took a couple pills last night and felt better but seemed to get a little nauseous after one of the pills, even though I had taken them with food. But they did seem to help. I woke up in the middle of the night and took a few more and again this morning.

Overall the pain has subsided to where I can do a few things including mowing the front yard and joining Sandy on a bike ride to the cider mill. The taste of fresh cider and warm cinnamon doughnuts more than made up for any pain. Actually, pedaling didn't hurt, maneuvering the bike around was the only thing that bothered my ribs.

Yesterday was also a day for x-rays for our black lab, Angus. He had been limping off and on for the last week or so and it didn't seem to be getting any better. Sandy took him to the vet where they checked him out. It turns out he has stretched out a ligament that may or may not heal on its own. But the biggest surprise is when the vet informed Sandy that Angus had had a broken leg at one time. The x-ray showed a big pin in his leg from a prior operation. That would explain why that leg looked a little awkward. Since we got Angus from the pound no one knew about his prior condition. Hopefully the pain meds we have for him will help him feel better. But with his laid back disposition it would be hard to tell the difference.

This week's training/workouts are up in the are along with my plans for the night cyclocross race this Saturday. Hopefully I can still make it as it looks like it should be exciting.

The cider mill we prefer, up the road from the one on the trail that is more crowded but less personable.

The mill sells a lot of homemade products including breads and jams.

Cider is made on site, unpasteurized. Delicious hot or cold.

Live entertainment was a perfect compliment to the simple pleasure of doughnuts and cider.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Highest HR This Year

Ow! Today I raced my first cyclocross race of the year, doing it in the singlespeed class. No matter how much you train it's still a shock to the system when the gun goes off and you try to maintain a maximum effort for 45 minutes.

There were only three of us in the SS class and I was surprised when they had us go off with the 35+ Master's class. It was kind of intimidating sitting there on the line with all the fast younger guys and lined up right behind us were the 45+ Master's and then the Woman's Elite class. That meant a lot of people would be breathing down my neck. Also daunting was the fact that I was wearing number 666, I sure hoped it wasn't a bad sign.

I started in the back of the group when the whistle sounded for the start but still had to hit the brakes many times in the first few corners as riders were not able to negotiate them as easily as I could on my converted MTB. Where I could out maneuver many of them, as soon as we hit the straight sections they were gone. I did all right on the barriers, beating some riders over them and getting on the bike quicker. Check out the video from a practice session of the runup they built for this race. The steps were very tall and you sort of had to step sideways to get your feet on each step. There also wasn't much room at the top to get your feet back on the pedals before coming down the ramp.

I ended up last in my class but at least I did manage to hold off some of the geared riders. This was easily the hardest effort I have done all year and shortly into the race I recorded my highest heart rate so far. I am treating the races just as hard training rides and hopefully it will better prepare me for the Iceman race in November. I haven't done as many high intensity races as last year so I need the pain.

Yesterday while practicing I managed to bend my chainring. I would like to think it was because of my massive power but one of the chainring bolts had come out, causing the ring to become loose. When I stood to power up a hill the ring just folded over. When I got home I switched out the bottom bracket and crank to my old SS crank.

Next weekend is the 30 miles of Pain Haven, a benefit race near Midland that helps to maintain the trails in the mid-state region. I did the race last year and had fun. It's a low key event that is for a good cause.

Thanks to my team mate Shawn Schaffert for the race photos

Taking on the barriers, practicing the week before definitely helped

Up the steps of the the "Orange Crush"

And back down the ramp

What happens if you don't keep your chainring bolts tight

If you have never seen a cyclocross race here is some footage of the races today.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where did the daylight go?

It seems like the early darkness came out of nowhere. My ride tonight had me finishing close to 6:30 and I realized two things: I wouldn't be able to ride much later for very long and that I soon I will need to bring a jacket or something warmer to put on.

It's hard to believe that Fall starts next week and that the longest day of the year was three months ago. If not for daylight savings time then our daylight hours would be similar to the middle of March. Back then we were looking forward to the warmer weather and getting out to ride on dry trails and roads. Where did the time go?

I think we were lulled into the fall season by the glorious weather we have had the last few weeks. Plus with vacation time and races it was easy to get in a lot of riding without extending the ride time into early evening. Now, it feels like I need to rush to get in a ride at all before dark. At least the lights are charged; it won't be long before they will go on the bike just in case I am out longer than expected.

My hope is that when winter comes, it comes quickly. None of that rainy, 40 degree junk. Just open up the freezer doors and let it snow. We can still ride and my new XC skis are just waiting for some action.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

1st=Last=4th plus DNF

Another beautiful weekend weather wise. The number of races available to Michigan mountain bikers each weekend sometimes makes it difficult to decide which one(s) to do. And the fall weather almost demands long back road rides once the leaves start changing along with the prerequisite stops at the cider mills.

This weekend was a good example of race schedule conflicts; cyclocross races started on the west side of the state, there was a 12/24 hour race at Hanson Hills, a XC race at Chippewa Hills near Alpena on Saturday and the MMBA race at nearby Addison Oaks today. My original plan was to race the 24 hour race, then that got cut back to only doing the 12 hour and maybe trying Addison Oaks.

I left early Saturday morning with the three bikes and gear for the 12 hour race but when I got near the exit for the Alpena race I decided to head over to that instead. The race is pretty low key and a fun trail. Plus the money goes to a good cause to help maintain the ski trails there. The fact that it was cheaper than the 12 hour was a bonus. In fact, I could race Chippewa and Addison for less than my entry fee for the 12 hour. I may not get as many hours of riding in but I would also be home in my own bed on Saturday. And the Addison race also benefited the MMBA chapter.

Parking for the Chippewa race is literally in the organizers back yard, or field. The course heads out into the woods and ski trails that run near his property. I participated in this race a few times a couple of years ago but they had added some more singletrack since my last visit. Gone was a lot of the two track and replaced with singletrack that swooped up and down the valleys. The two track sections were similar to other courses up north, paths through the woods with ferns growing up all around. The trail is probably one of the best in the lower UP; it's too bad that it is so far from most people.

I had decided to race singlespeed and made a last minute gear change after preriding a section of the course. I thought there would be two of us but the other SS entry moved down a class before the start. So all I had to do was finish to get 1st, and last. This almost was easier said than done.

The start was a fast section of level two track and I tried to tuck in behind some of the geared riders to draft. Not too far after the start my chain popped off. I got off, removed the wheel and put the chain back on. This happened three more times in a short distance. The fourth time it came off I decided I had better do something more than just put the chain back on or I would never finish the first lap, let alone the race.

I flipped the bike over and pulled out my tools. By now the other wave of starters had passed which meant I was really in last place, out of everyone, and I didn't have a working bike. I manged to add more tension to the chain beyond where I normally have it and just had to hope it would hold up. I got going again and it seemed to be working.

My first thought was to just keep it together and finish the race, then I wondered if I could catch back up to anyone now that I had given them about an eight minute head start. I decided to put my head down and see what I could do. It took a while but I started to see riders in front of me, the beginners who also were able to bypass some of the section that the advanced riders used. So that meant that even though I was taking the longer route, I was making up time.

I passed most of the beginners before they finished their one lap and I caught sight of advanced riders in the distance. Slowly i was able to crawl my way toward them and on every uphill I seemed to get closer still, finally passing them a few at a time. As we got closer to the end of the race there were more and more of the riders that I would pass, usually on the hills.

I was glad to see the last section of singletrack appear but had to hold off a geared rider down a long gravel road before entering it. Once back in the trails I could distance myself and sprinted through the field to the finish. I had managed to work my way back to 4th overall and based on the times of the three in front of me, I may have been able to beat them as well. But it was still a good workout and a fun course.

Today I headed over to Addison Oaks for the MMBA chapter benefit race. I ride the trail all the time as it is only about a half hour away by bike. The popular trail and good weather mad e for a big turnout of racers. I had planned on racing the SS class again with a bunch of my riding buddies. But I wasn't sure how my legs would be from the previous day's race. Once at the park I rode over to the nearby Bald Mountain trails to test my legs.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that they felt pretty good but I decided to change to a slightly easier gearing once I got back to the Addison parking lot. I lined up with about 20 singlespeeders, probably one of the largest fields this year. I knew from the starting line chatter that I would be slightly under geared and it would be difficult to keep up on the flats. I just had to hope I could hang on in the singletrack and on the hills.

Once we started I found myself about midpack, maybe a little further back. I sat there for a while since no one was really breaking away. About half way through the first lap there was a small split of about five riders that seemed to open a gap but other riders in front of me were not responding. Once we got out onto some two track I expected the pace to pick up but if anything it seemed to slow. I jumped out of the saddle and hammered to get around and bridge up to the next group that was slightly behind the lead group.

Heading up a small hill I passed three more riders and began to catch the lead group. I had worked my way up to 5th or 6th, I wasn't really sure. On the last big hill I could sense that my back was beginning to tighten up but stayed on the pace. Coming through the first lap I could see that we had a pretty good lead on the next group of riders.

As we headed up the first hill my back began to spasm and tightened up and completely shut down so that pedaling was difficult. I pulled off the trail and reluctantly rode back to the finish to call it a day. I had the legs and my first lap time was pretty fast, in fact I think it was faster than my geared times last year.

I was disappointed to not finish, my back has been bothering me off and on for some time. Maybe it's time to get it checked or go back to riding motorcycles instead. I have to admit I was kind of envious of the motorcyclists I saw as I was coming home from up north. Sandy and I used to go for rides all the time 20 years ago. Maybe next year or the year after.

Up next is probably the first cyclocross race of the year on Sunday. I have practiced it some and made up a few portable barriers to put up at the school. Some of my team is starting to get together one night a week for practice as well.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Labor Day Weekend Goodness

The holiday weekend allowed me to take advantage of the nearly perfect weather we have had this past week. The temperatures in the mid to upper 70's and sunny skies were to much to take while sitting at my desk so I opted to use a vacation day on Thursday to stretch my four day holiday into five day. Thursday is also Sandy's day off so I could enjoy some time with her. I even managed to talk her into going for a bike ride around the lake at Addison Oaks.

Thursday evening I joined Greg and his friend Nate to play nine holes of golf. It was the first time I had even swung a club in over a year and it showed. I managed to shoot under 50 but the lack of touch on the short shots and putting really cost me. I was starting to hit some decent shots near the end of the round but I don't know if the clubs will come back out the rest of the year.

Shawn and Bernie, two of my Cannondale Midwest Racing team mates, joined me Friday morning for a scheduled 11 trail ride, similar to the one I had done a few weeks ago. Bernie rode over from Waterford so he already had over 20 miles before we started. The first trail section we hit had some grassy spots and the dew was pretty heavy. The wet tires caused the sand and dirt to kick up and stick to our bikes and bodies. By the time we got done with that section we looked like we had ridden through the mud even though the trails were bone dry.

We continued on to several more trails via connectors and back roads. Eventually Bernie had to back out and leave. Shawn and I continued the route and worked our way east and south. The cool morning had given way to sunny skies and warm temperatures and we were starting to get tired. We made a pit stop at the Paint Creek Cider Mill to get a doughnut after smelling them while riding past. The first cider mill doughnut of the year hit the spot. I'm sure it won't be the last. We rode back into the school after 5.5 hours of riding and almost 80 miles. And less than 25 miles were on roads. Even then we had a total of maybe 5 miles of pavement.

Sandy and I left Saturday morning to drive to Ohio for The Great Geauga County Fair, the fair we both used to go to every year while growing up east of Cleveland. The fair is out in the country and near Amish settlements so you had horses and buggies mixed with the autos and motorcycles. It had been many years since we had been back and we were both a little apprehensive about what time had done to the fair.

We were looking forward to seeing Franny, one of Sandy's best friends who still lives in the area. While they still talk on the phone they don't get to see each other very often. Fran was able to spend the day with us and it was great to catch up and laugh at the stories they both told.

The fair was much as we remembered, lots of rides, games, concessions and exhibits. While some of the agricultural and domestic arts entries seemed lower, other parts of the fair seemed to have expanded. Sandy and I were both in 4-H and the number of non-farming clubs left was very small but others, such as horses, seemed about the same. Sadly there did not seem to be as many sheep exhibited either. I had raised sheep for a few years back in the late 60's. What had grown in number were the alpaca and llama exhibits.

Of course while at the fair you have to sample the food, for us the one item that is a must is the fries. A big cup of greasy fries doused in malt vinegar and sprinkled with salt. Another regular item on our menus is a sausage, complete with peppers and onions. We complimented that later with fried mushrooms and then before we left a roasted pork loin sandwich and kabobs. Other than a lemonade the only other beverages we consumed were water and hot apple cider. Looking back we didn't eat too much in the way of sugary foods but a lot that had grease as a major factor in their preparation. I wonder how many gallons of grease are used at the fair each year?

Fran has to leave before Sandy and I were ready so sadly we said our goodbyes and made tentative plans to get together again. We stayed through my favorite time at the fair, the time when it starts to get dark and the lights some on. The place seemed to take on a magical quality as the moon rose and the sky turned dark. We ended up strolling around longer than we had thought, almost 7.5 hours. I guess we didn't want to leave the place that had been part of our childhoods and held so many happy memories. But it was getting late and we wanted to get over to my parents for the night.

We spent a little time visiting before going to bed. We had plans for the next morning of Sandy going to church in Akron and me riding out to some trails that i had not ridden before. I had brought a MTB along and was looking forward to riding somewhere new in Ohio for the second weekend in a row. Unfortunately things did not go as planned but instead we stayed at my parents and visited some more over breakfast before heading home. It is always good to see them, the next time may be on November for "the game". I still managed to ride for a few hours once we got home.

Today was more of a lazy day of finally sleeping in and then getting out to ride on a practice cyclocross course I had set up at the high school. I don't have any barriers yet but practiced getting on and off the bike where I imagined they would be. There are also a few steep sections that you have to run up while pushing or carrying your bike. It doesn't take much effort in this type of practice to get your heart rate up. Hopefully we will have some team practices at the school this fall.

Next up in the racing schedule? Not sure yet, maybe a 24 hour race or the Addison Oaks XC next weekend.

Some of the original building on the grounds

Harness racing was going on when we arrived

The sheep I raised looked a lot like this

This breed of sheep was one that I don't remember before, the markings looked like a cow

This is for Shari

Where's the beef? Fran and Sandy

Sandy and I

Night time at the fair is special