Tuesday, June 24, 2008

This Is F'ing Hard!

The post title was the quote of the day on Sunday at the Putney, VT race. It was uttered [gasped?] by my teammate Michele as she rode past the start/finish to go into her second lap in her first ever MTB race. As hard as Michele thought it was, she had an awesome result, finishing second in her field!

I first raced Putney as a beginner, something like a zillion years ago. I remembered some climbing, and no real technical sections on the course. Well, according to Colin, "some climbing" equated to 800 feet per lap! So yes, Michele, it WAS f'ing hard!

This was my first MTB race as an Expert, and all I can say is WOW! Those girls are FAST! I was pretty nervous going into the race, but had set my expectations accordingly (aka, I was going to be ok if I finished last ;-)). Friends and teammates alike all counseled that I would be fine, which I knew I would be - it wasn't going to be a matter of finishing, just how far back I was when I did!

It was nice to go out and pre-ride the course with Cris, and to line up with her on the start. That, however, was the last I saw of her until the race was finished. I did manage to keep the lead women in sight for about 3/4 of the first lap of the race, but once we hit the "big climb", I didn't see them again. Now, I was on my own, and knew going into my second lap, that they were 2.5 minutes ahead. Soon after, I started getting lapped by the semi-pro men, but kept plugging along, moving out of the way so as not to interfere with their race.

I have discovered that I need a lot of self-talk in these races. Things like, "You only have to ride up this hill 3 more times!" "Only one more time up, and you are done" "No one is watching - I could walk this section" (btw - I rode it) and "I know it hurts, but only for a minute - suck it up!". Somehow, this helps me get through a race - almost like I am negotiating with myself!

The third lap brought a few welcome raindrops (it was pretty dusty), and some pretty loud thunder claps. As I approached the feed zone, I asked Mike for a new bottle, and he told me I was done - they had cut our race short due to the weather. I was both happy (no more times up the hill!), and sad (I definitely had another lap in me) to be finished. And, I achieved both my starting and mid-race goals - I didn't finish last, and I didn't get lapped by my field, despite finishing 14 minutes behind Cris, who won our race ;-).

So, I'm embracing the move to Expert, but this is a WHOLE NOTHER level of effort...

Mike's race was a little more eventful than mine. He started out well, riding close again to Johnny B for the first lap and a half, with a gap on the rest of their field. Sadly, in attempting to pass another racer, he picked up a stick and his rear derailleur disintegrated. Now most people would have packed it in at that point. Mike, however, in a quest for the series lead (he is only a few points behind the leader of the Root 66 series), decided to RUN and COAST for the remaining lap and a half of his race, finishing! He didn't gain any points, sadly, but I am really amazed and proud of his grit and determination.

Thanks to Michele for the photos of myself and Cris on the line, and Mike (before he started running).

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Nutmeg Criterium

I was supposed to be resting this week, but wasn't doing a very good job of it ;). I figured that a 10 mile race couldn't possibly be that hard, right? Unfortunately, according to my stats, I spent 11 out of 26 minutes in my anaerobic zone, and the remainder at LT! Maybe if I hadn't been pulling so much???? ;-)

I want to start by giving kudos to the promoter of this race - he had FIVE SEPARATE women's fields! Hopefully, he looked at that as a good thing - I know we had 18 women in the Master's 40+ field, and our average speed was about 23 mph... I thought it was funny - we lined up and they let us know they would set off the 30+ field, and then set us off a minute later. One of the women in our field wanted to start both groups together, since it would be "more fun". I told her not to worry - we would have a lot of fun in our own race! Afterwards, she commented that she was glad we had been separated, and she had, indeed, had fun.

Before the race, I convinced myself that I could TT the whole course - it was only a mile long, and relatively flat (there was only one small rise). So, on the whistle, I attacked. Unfortunately, there were a lot of strong women in the field, none of whom were letting me away with that tactic. It's also not a technical enough course for that, I learned. So, for the first few laps, I did the standard pull everyone around...

About halfway through the race, the prime bell rang. Annette rode up next to me and told me to take her in for the money. I had to reply that she needed to get ON my wheel vs. beside it for that to work (in fact, I think I may have called her a ding-dong!). So, I put my head down and went, figuring I would go as far as I could and then she was on her own. Unfortunately, the one time I did manage to look over my shoulder, Annette wasn't on my wheel. We tried, though!

I did rotate through the pack a few times to catch some rest, but found myself back on the front with just 1.5 laps left to go. As we went into the uphill (where I was planning on an attack), a group led by Carole from BRC sped by on my right. I jumped on that attack, and passed some of the riders (very excited to see teammate Kathy M in there!). Going into the last corner, I was in fourth position, and started the sprint just a little too early, getting passed on the line by two racers, including my teammate Katherine (way to go!). I definitely had fun, and definitely got a workout. But there was no resting ;).

Mike did two races - Masters 35+ and the Cat 3 race. I was nervous watching these fields - they were huge! There were over 100 riders in the Masters race. Add five $100 primes in there, and the speed was high throughout, and the field stayed together right down to the field sprint. The Cat 3 race had a few less riders (somewhere closer to about 70), but again, the pace was high and the field stayed together, despite some attacks from NEBC. Afterwards, Mike confessed that these races were the scariest he has ever done!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bedford Farmer's Market

New this year, Bedford is holding a weekly Farmer's Market - hooray! This week was the first, and I had to go over and do some shopping. There were plenty of vendors with baked goods, locally grown veggies and fruit, jams and jellies, salsa and even a fish vendor. My favorite though was the Swiss Bakers - mmm - pretzel rolls. Next week I have to go earlier, before things are sold out!

411: Every Monday at Depot Park (end of the bike path) from 2:30 - 6:30.

And what better way to travel to/from said shopping trip???? One of the volunteers even thanked me for not bringing my car ;-).

Monday, June 16, 2008

True Love

You know he loves you when your husband builds you a single speed road bike (39x16) from spare parts in the basement because it's raining outside. Thanks, honey!

Attack on the Notches

With many of our friends participating in the B2B ride on Saturday, and not a lot going on with the racing calendar, Mike and I headed up to the house in Maine on Friday to do an epic mountain ride on Saturday.

We started what I refer to as the "around the block" ride in Gorham, NH just after 9:00 am. Our route took us up over Pinkham Notch to start out, and then down into Bartlett, NH, past an already packed Storyland. In Bartlett, we turned onto Rte 302 for a ways, before diverting onto West Side Rd, and riding past Diana's Baths and the beautiful Cathedral Ledges.

Soon, we were on the very scenic Passaconaway Rd, paralleling the Kancamagus Highway. The nice thing about this route is the lack of traffic! And, there is a very cool covered bridge crossing once you approach the Kanc. From here, we rode up the Kanc for a few miles before turning to climb Bear Notch. Up and over we went. Coming down, I had a car that decided to stay far enough behind me the whole way so that I didn't have to worry about them. Given that I was going between 32 and 35 mph the entire way, this was a really nice gesture by the driver, whom I thanked as they passed at the bottom of the descent. Not often we have courteous drivers like that ;-).

We stopped at the store in Bartlett to refuel before heading up to Crawford Notch. The last time I did this portion of the ride, it was into a decidedly nasty headwind. We lucked out, and managed a tail wind the whole way up. Mike stopped a few times to take some pictures, but given what was coming, I decided it was best to just keep moving, and suffering. As I was climbing the steepest pitch of Crawford Notch at about 5.6 mph, I was thinking about the dichotomy of climbing and descending that same pitch - 5.6 going up and close to 50 mph headed down (I think Mike has hit 53 mph descending). The good news though is that I felt better climbing the Notch on this trip than I had a few years ago - no pedaling squares this time ;-).

With 3 notches down, we still had one of the toughest to come, and it starts right on the heels of finishing Crawford. We turned off of 302, and started the ascent up Jefferson Notch. It is important to note that this climb is on an unmaintained DIRT road - gravel - soft shoulders - steep climbing... Get the picture?

In places, I would stand to try and relieve the stress on my back and knees, only to have the rear tire spin in the dirt. It was a slog going up this climb. What made it worse? The a$$hole in a Volvo coming DOWN the [narrow - close to one lane] road doing Mach 10. He didn't slow down when he passed Mike, and I started yelling. He came to a stop when he reached me (after I had already had to stop 'cause he put me in the soft shoulder) - since his window was wide open, I yelled at him to slow down. His response? "No". Then I decided to call him an a$$hole - made me feel better ;-). So much for the courteous drivers (of which we DID have a couple on Jefferson). We didn't linger at the top of the Notch (too much traffic driving way too fast for our liking).

Typically, we do this climb in the opposite direction. Going DOWN towards Rte 2 was almost WORSE than riding up. With the loose gravel, washboard texture and steep pitch, the speed had to be kept fairly low. We had to stop a couple of times on the way down to give our arms and hands a break, as well as to let the rims cool down some. I don't think we will do that Notch in this direction again, and I prefer Jefferson when the gates are still closed so there is no traffic...

Starting the ride up Pinkham; Ending the ride heading to Rte 2 - still smiling, sort of

From Jefferson, there was really only one more [short] 8% climb before getting back into Gorham. Unfortunately, we now had to ride into a headwind! At least the end of the ride was all downhill - we were pretty glad to finally get back to the car, and to some food!

Ride stats:

Ride Time: 5:57:27
Mileage: 95.5
Climbing: 7237
Avg Speed: 16 mph
Max Speed: 41.3 mph
Max Slope Up: 13%
Max Slope Down: 18.1%
Calories: 4371

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Channel 3 MTB Race

Given that I landed at Logan at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday (we took the red-eye home), headed home for a quick shower and change, and then down to CT to race after 4 days of big climbs in CA, I wasn't really expecting much of myself at this race ;-). Plus, the heat and humidity were a touch high, and a shock to my already out-of-balance system.

There were a good number of women lined up for the Sport race, which I snuck into under the wire (who needs a warm up in this weather anyway?). I quickly registered and got ready and then lined up next to Teri, and was eagerly listening to any advice on the condition of the course, and what to expect from it. Somehow, I had heard that it was relatively flat and non-technical - neither of which turned out to be true ;-).

I had to pick my way through a number of women after we started, knowing that I needed to be in a decent position once things got more technical (but not knowing WHERE those things were!). By the time we hit the single track, I was in 4th position, but 1st in my age group. We hit the first technical climb, and Alison S. of Landry's yard sailed in front of me - bike one way, and body another. I quickly asked if she was OK, and then was back on my way, chasing the two younguns up the trail.

Then it happened. I hit the famed "Twin Sisters" climbs. I thought I was going to throw up! These were steep, nose of the saddle in your butt climbs. On the second climb, I hit the flat piece in the middle, looked up, and swore. Off the bike, walking uphill, and the HR was at 181. Yikes! No WAY was I going to make three laps... But, in my too-stupid-to-stop fashion, I trudged forward, glad of my Camel Back full of ice.

In the second lap, I messed up a technical section and got passed by Stacey M. Stacey had a fancy new Look Carbon hard tail, and apparently, it served her well on this course. Then I got passed by another woman in my age category, and I gave up. It was hot, I was tired, I hadn't eaten enough - blah, blah, blah. Still too dumb to stop, I trudged on and a strange thing happened - I started to be able to see the woman who had passed me, and I was running scared of the woman who was sneaking up on me (turned out to be Alison). The second-placed woman was walking all of the technical sections, and now that I knew to expect them, I was doing well there. Managed to catch and pass her going into the final lap, and then never saw her again. I managed to stay away from Alison for most of the third lap, until I succumbed to how tired I really was, and fell over at the bottom of a technical uphill. I tried to stay in front, but she was riding the technical sections smoother than I at that point, and I let her pass going over a rock bridge. She ended up besting me by only 18 seconds, but was in a younger age category - whew!

So, I finished the race in second place (in my age category, 4th overall). Not bad considering everything ;).

I immediately headed for a nearby stream (after a cooling shower at the VW camper - thanks, Jean!) to cool down before Mike's race started. While I had raced with a Camel Back, both Mike and Keith were opting for water bottles, and were going to need new ones on pretty much each lap. Good thing the feed zone was in the shade!

Mike had an AWESOME race. He has been doing really well in the Root 66 series, winning 3 of his races so far. Today, a couple of Corner Cycles racers came out to play - Kevin H and Johnny B - both of whom are fit, fast and in some cases, unbeatable. Mike had his work cut out for him, and I was nervous since he normally doesn't do really well in the heat. In the end, he finished 3 - only 3 seconds behind Johnny, and about 35 seconds behind Kevin! A stellar effort he should definitely be proud of (I know I am!).

Alas, this was my last Sport-level MTB race. Now I will have to suffer through an extra lap, and return to the land of getting my butt kicked. My upgrade to Expert was approved...YIKES!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I'm Back!

Is it over already? Ah yes - re-entry from vacation is always tough, but after a terrific four days of riding, visiting, relaxing, eating and drinking, this re-entry seemed especially difficult. I know - cry me a river ;-).

At Alice's Restaurant - Saturday

Last Tuesday, Becky and I boarded a plane to head to sunny California. There, we connected with our friend Jennifer in Menlo Park to start a cycling vacation - 4 days of riding in and around the bay area. We ended our vacation on Saturday - 163.3 miles and 13,412 feet of climbing later.

Wednesday - Alexander Valley - 42.3 miles - 2397 feet

After assembling our bikes, and getting breakfast, we headed North from Menlo Park, through San Francisco, and on to Healdsburg, CA. Jennifer had booked us a cottage for the night, and this would be our base for today and Thursday. A quick change of clothes, and we were off for the first ride of our trip. Jennifer had sent a description in advance: moderate riding with one hill climb on Chalk Hill Rd that is 3 miles long. She neglected, however, to include ANY information about the headwind... Yikes!

We enjoyed a stunning ride through part of Sonoma, with vineyards everwhere. The scenery was spectacular, and I was amazed that there were very few cars on our route - hard to believe we were really in California!

Thursday - Coleman Valley - 36.6 miles - 4048 feet

Today's ride description (from Jennifer): very steep climbing. Let me add - cold and windy.

We started our ride in a town called Freestone, and climbed up into Occidental - the true start of the loop. Here, we turned onto Coleman Valley Rd, and began the real climbing:

All the climbing paid off when we got to the top of the ridge however - we were treated to stunning ocean views. The amazing thing to me was the invisible line we crossed somewhere on the top of the ridge - the one where the temperature seemed to plummet from the 80s to the 60s (it didn't really), and we again hit that dreaded headwind.

Coming down the steep descent to the ocean was cold, fast and frightening! The Tour of California climbs this road, and you could still see much of the road graffiti (although someone needed a few spelling lessons). The most terrifying aspect to me was having to descend over cattle gates - imagine going at speed and coming across a grate that looks like it is going to eat your wheels for lunch. Scary - at least for me (and yes, I do admit walking around one of them, and having to get up my nerve a second time for two others - I'm a wuss).

Once down on the coast, we decided to follow the designated loop out to Bodega Head. This was a beautiful road along Bodega Bay. Unfortunately, I knew we were in trouble - we were riding out at about 25 mph with little effort - coming back was going to hurt. We reached the point, but given the strong wind and cold temps didn't dawdle before turning back, and getting SLAMMED with a vicious headwind. At times, the headwind changed to a cross wind, and I literally had to lean my bike just to stay straight. Cold and tired, we actually stopped on the way back, and had a bowl of delicious clam chowder at the Crab Shack.

Warmer, and with fuel for the rest of the ride, we headed back into the wind and out to Bay Hill Rd for the climb back up the ridge, and into the valley. It was awesome to have a tailwind going up the hill ;-). We did see one snake in the road on our ride - decided not to stop and investigate though.

Friday - Half Moon Bay - 46.2 miles - 4882 feet

Wind, wind, wind. Oh, and some climbing. Two snake sightings and one rattled warning (didn't see that one, but didn't go back to look either). Do I really need to say any more? ;-)

Thank goodness we were rewarded with ocean vistas and redwood forests on the ride, and beers and tasty food at Half Moon Bay Brewery afterwards!

Saturday - Woodside - 38.25 miles - 2085 feet

Our last day of riding, we went from Jennifer and Mike's place to Woodside, and did an out-and-back ride along Canada (pronounced can-ya-da). The weather was stellar (and little to NO wind - yahoo!), and we must have seen about 300 other riders! I usually wave at all oncoming cyclists, but had to give up as there were so many!

After the efforts of the previous day, this was about spinning and enjoying the scenery. It was a great way to end our riding, and we followed up with delicious food and beers at Alice's Restaurant, made famous by Arlo Guthrie.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. I had a great time riding and hanging out with good friends while on vacation. Now, it's back to reality.