Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rediscovering the Hard-tail

I’ve been a big fan of full suspension mountain bikes since I started riding. I’ve always thought they offered me the most control and a very efficient ride. On my trail bikes, full squish allows me an amazing amount of capability on all types of terrain.

So, as I got ready for this season I figured I should finally suck it up and try getting used to a hard-tail 29er for gravel grinders and mostly smooth rides like the Cohutta 100
I built up a used carbon Giant XTC 29er frame I purchased from a friend. Then for the inaugural ride/race, I rode it in the 2013 Monster Cross and Mountain Bike race. Things felt good right from the start, but then a deer hit me. That’s another story. So I got back on the bike and finished my 1st race on a hard-tail. I really enjoyed the efficiency during the gravel race.

Next up, I decided to do a trail ride on the relatively smooth trails of Pocahontas State Park. I found the ride to be a rude surprise. I was not used to so much punishment coming up through the seat. Additionally, having a super stiff rear, I felt like every root and rock was overdriving the fork and translating all the work the rear suspension used to the front. I was pretty disappointed. The bike sat for a while as I rode my full squishy bikes. I have a lot of those.

So fast forward a few months and I decided to give the hard-tail another whirl in the GW forest mountains on the new lookout mountain trail and sections of the SM 100 including the long descent down Dowels Draft. I was surprised at just how well it climbed on the ascent up Hankey mountain. Soon, I was riding the new trail on Lookout mountain. I rode it all OK, but was quickly adjusting to the riding style of “negotiating” rather than “shredding”. I got down the hill just fine, but my hands were killing me. Maybe too much air in the fork? For long gravel roads and such the hard-tail was great, but not so much for trails that are less than smooth.

The next weekend, I would be racing the Mohican 100.

Now I had a tough choice. I’ve got an awesome Giant Anthem X 29er Advanced and this is my primary race bike and it’s pretty light at 25lbs with pedals. Or I could try riding my hard-tail which I had just measured at 23.5lbs with pedals. I figured the weight difference was not that big of a deal. I’ve probably got an extra 3-5 pound on my body. The main focus would be on efficiency.
So, I got the stiffy ready. Softened the front fork up a bit, and ran a little less air in my tires. A quick test ride at Powhite Park here on Richmond confirmed my suspicions that  my  rough mountain ride was partly due to the fork and tire settings.

Now, which one to bring to the race…? I’ll bring them both!

Once at the Mohican Wilderness I made my decision to pre-ride on the hard-tail. I noticed how well the bike flowed on the mostly smooth single track, and I noticed that I could not hang it out and ride as aggressive as I usually do. Compromise.

So long story short on my 1st 100 mile race on a hard-tail… It went very well. Mohican is a fairly smooth race, but there are a lot of roots and a few techy bits. On the road sections the Mr. Stiffy kills it. Also, I noticed on rolling/flowing single track how pumping anything gave me immediate acceleration. I felt like the bike was picking up speed better on rolling transitions better than my full squishy bike. However I did loose time and momentum on the rougher sections. But, when you think about it, hundred miler’s are mostly smooth-ish trail and a lot of gravel/road. Hmm, a new weapon in my quiver.

On the way back to Richmond, my teammate and I stopped at Douthat State Park for a “recovery” ride. Once again I was surprised. Now that I was focused on shredding for fun, I realized how easily bunny hopping was. Subconscious. So trails I had ridden many times before became a different version of the same puzzle to solve. Short rough rock section…shit, just jump it. That corners a bit slow…just jump off that rock at the entrance and bypass the turn. Here comes that rock garden I always blast through…slow down a bit and survive it. And so it went, the stiffy gives and the stiffy takes away.

I love my full squish and definitely have more control on full suspension, but the hard-tail rocks for gravel and smoother trails. Either way, I’ve discovered another tool and another way to keep my riding skills evolving.

Some people are looking for a “Quiver Killer” but I’d rather have a Killer Quiver.

Monday, June 3, 2013

2013 Mohican 100 Race Experience

Facebook buzzed with a few comments about racing at Mohican in the rain and mud. At Cohutta, it rained on and off all day. It was a long drawn out fight with the weather and the awful trail conditions for me. In 2010 I raced Mohican and it was extraordinarily rainy and muddy. In 2012 Mohican was sunny and awesome.
Sometimes it's sunny and sometimes it's raining. Let's race.
For me the Mohican 100 race weekend always starts Thursday after work with a drive to Marietta, Ohio. Some how, just crossing the Ohio River makes me feel that much closer for the remaining morning drive to Loudonville on Friday.
My team mate Frank and I arrived about midday on Friday and headed out for a pre-ride of the Mohican State Park trails. This was a good introduction for Frank as he has never ridden in Ohio before. All the trails and markings were in excellent condition and the trails proved as fun as I always remember them to be. At the end of the ride we got thoroughly soaked by a pop-up rainstorm as we headed back to the car.
Shortly after a late lunch, we were driving out of town and up the road climb that would start the race on Saturday. We checked into our room at the Mohican Lodge and prepared all of the items for our drop bags.
Registration was a very smooth affair and soon our drop bags were placed and we settling in for a good night's rest with a uncertain forecast looming over head. There was a cold front moving in and I was alarmed by all the tornado coverage that weather reports were broadcasting from Oklahoma City. Yikes! We dosed off with hopes for dry race conditions.

For me, the night before the race, sleep would not come easy.
At about 10:30pm it became clear my sinus headache was going migraine. I hesitated on taking Excedrin because of the caffeine.
Hesitation was a critical mistake.
I wrestled with intense pain in my sinuses and crippling headache. Soon I began a repetitive cycle of unrelenting pressure and pain, punctuated by vomiting from the pain, followed by attempts to relieve sinus pressure using a washcloth soaked in hot water on my face. I could not get relief from Excedrin now. I knew I would just throw it up 20 minutes later.
After about 2 hours of this, I had evacuated all fluids from my digestive track and only dry heaves remained. I paused, took an Excedrin with a minimal amount of water... Then In another 15 minutes I had to fight back dry heaves with a renewed determination. Wow, if this does not stop, there is no way I'm racing, much less leaving the room.
Finally, at 2:30am the pain relented and some sleep occurred.
4:30am arrived and Frank and I both got up to prepare for the race.
I did not want to ride my bike. I really did not feel like riding 100 miles. A steady rain washed away hope outside.
Oatmeal, coffee, bathroom, gear up in my race kit.
Check the radar, load the bikes, and get ready for a long day.
The rain has stopped. My body is not fighting me anymore.
A beautiful sunrise smiles on the rolling hills as we drive into town.
I don't feel like racing. My body is tired and I'm working on about 3 hours of sleep. The weather looks iffy. Right now, so many things are less than ideal...It would be easy to...

Shit, I came here to race... And that's exactly what I'm going to do.
Frank and I set out from the car and rolled a nice easy warm up pace from Mohican Adventures to the start line in downtown Loudonville. After a last minute bathroom stop, we lined up just on the side of the already packed start under the Mohican 100 race banner spanning over Main Street. A strong, nervous energy, was present amongst the throngs of riders. Many of them seemed self seeded in the start order with no particular regard to race ability or experience. I warned Frank about the typical small wrecks that happen with a large nervous start group like this.
Soon, we were off! As the huge peloton accelerated I carefully picked up speed and scouted for problems. Then, all of a sudden, a big slow down and shouts of carnage. I flowed around a wreck and watched as another rider rode straight into a crash and started to endo. Crazy stuff. Lots of unnecessary risk and downright stupid riding for the start of a race day this long.
The paved climb is fairly long and steep, but it was dispatched without any further drama. Once into the single track I gradually worked my way past some riders. I was steadily gaining position here and then and was in a good overall spot on the 1st really steep pitch of muddy double track. I accidentally dropped the chain past my small ring up front and had to run up the hill with my bike. Then a bit later I had to fiddle with it some more and I lost most of the gains I had made. Oh, well...just have to try and regain them in the single track.
I rode the next 20 miles of single track in the Mohican State Park with subdued aggression, making passes when it made sense. I got held up a bit in the 1st 5 miles or so, but soon I was rolling a good pace with a few guys up ahead and some a little ways behind. Now that things were stretched out appropriately I could really focus on motoring through the remaining 10 miles of single track. My hard tail was riding well, though I noticed I could not hang it out as much as I do on my full squish.
By the time I got to the horse trail, I was glad there had not been any more rain since the early morning. Many sections were very muddy, but not nearly as bad as 2010.
I had told Frank that getting to the end of the initial single track was going to be nice. Mohican is like a 25mile XC race followed by 75 miles of country roads and private single track. It was very nice to get to the country roads and be able to focus on re-fueling and pedaling.
Aid 2 was a welcome sight and it was nice to spray a pound of mud off of my bike. I got a quick refill and grabbed some coke (cola) and then hopped back on the bike and focused on making good time to my next waypoint. The lady who helped me with refills joked that she was getting muddy just from handling stuff to and from the riders. We were all pretty dirty!
Near Aid 3, I heard hooping and hollering in the woods adjacent to the single track I was riding. I though it was other riders dropping into a descent, but I realized there was a zip line course overhead. Soon I popped out onto a gravel climb and thought the course was a bit different here. I remembered there used to be a wall of a climb right after a stream crossing. Today I was steadily grinding up a gravel road and realized I was heading to the relocated Aid 3. It was in the shade at the top of the single track section. Very nice, and a big improvement over having this aid station in the sun. Dropping back in to the trail, I took the split for the 100 mile course and was soon heading down. Then a longish grassy climb led up to a mostly climbing section of single track. Finally, back on the road motoring into some serious headwinds.
My next mental waypoint in this race was the single track section that is right after passing by a Frisbee golf course and some horse riding areas and stables. I looked forward to finishing the single track and popping out onto a nice moderate road... I was mistaken. I did pop out onto a road, but it was a gravel affair up a seemingly ridiculous pitch.
Finally I made it to the rails to trail section and set in to a good motoring pace. I usually suffer through this section, but today I found I was able to power through without the knee pain it usually brings. I caught a few riders in this section and said hello to a horse and buggy picnic group. I thought it odd that one of the women was burning trash right there in the open. Looked like a glossy cardboard box for Saltines or something. Weird.
Soon I was at aid 4 and made a quick pit stop. I've got to say that the volunteers at all the aid stations were really wonderful.
Only 25% of the race is in front of me now and that is a beautiful thing. I roll out of Aid 4 with a couple of other riders. One of them is trying to hold the gap he has on his rival from Michigan. I though his rival was cracking on the rails to trail, but was proven wrong when he caught the 3 of us. I just don't have quite enough steam to keep up. A little later on, Kevin Carter said hello to me as he rode by and I was like "Hey Kevin, what are you doing back here?". He mentioned he had a broke wheel and had to walk / hitch a way back to the campground to get his other wheel and then come back out on the course. What a trooper! I was in awe of how easily he passed by me.
I was very happy to finally make my way to the suspension bridge, and was reminded how it has a sketchy, clap trap, off camber decking. I grabbed some water right after the ramp and got back on task riding the road and gravel to the final 4 miles or so that remained in the Mohican State Park. I could almost taste the beer...
I blew by Aid 5 and started getting to work on the remaining trails. Last year I had enough energy to storm through this section. This year, I was pretty well spent and let go of one position when a slightly faster 100 miler caught me. Together we diced through the 65 mile riders that were still finishing and I rallied to try and catch him in the last mile or so. I just did not have enough juice to close the gap with authority. We finished less than a minute apart and I heard my finish time announced as 8:38 as I received my growler and found a nice shady place to take a seat and collect myself.
Frank rolled in a little bit later, but under 9 hours as well. An awesome finish.
I got cleaned up, fed, and filled up the growler. Then I proceeded to catch up with all my friends that had also finished the race and swap a few war stories.
What seemed like a terrible day for me to race turned into one of my best days on a bike. I finished with my personal best 100 mile MTB race time of 8:38 and in 21st place. I was very glad to be done with my 16th 100 miler in the books.

In 100 mile mountain bike races, the experience is more than just the event. It's the sum of the before, the during, and the after. You can't pick all the cards, but you always get to choose how you play your hand.