Monday, July 12, 2010

Pat's Peak.

It is often said that races are not won or lost on the actual race day, but in the months to weeks leading up to the race in the form of training and preparation. And while, training and preparation are, of course, important components to any racer's "plan," I have something else to add: fear and intimidation.

That's right, if you can strike fear into your competitors' hearts, strike it there on the shaft of a flaming crossbow bolt, then you've got an advantage before you even leave the start line.

Now, there's no doubt that we had the training. I could detail some of the work-outs we've done, that's all secret. And, we had the preparation. For example, my car was PACKED to the roof--we could have survived Armageddon.

But the intimidation wasn't something I was counting on. Clearly, when I signed our 5-person co-ed team up on, the competition knew. They knew, and they were scared. So scared in fact, that they just didn't show up. But we did.

That's right, sometimes you win, just for showing up.

And, as the only 5-person co-ed team, I can, with some conviction, say that we raced the 24hr race solo. I'll leave it at that.

And now on to the fun stuff.

Our 5-person team consisted of Jean, Jamie, Tom, Rick, and myself. Also, Rob and Renee were each racing 12hr solo, and Pete was racing 6hr solo. All in all, it was great to be up there with everyone.

Rob & Renee got there first and scored our camping and tech sites. Based on the layout of the property, the tech site was right along the course, and camping sites, were, well, also right along the course, but far, far away. Anyway, the tech site was our central command, that's where we made fun of each other and cheered on all of the other racers.

The course was about 5-miles long with a bit more than 800ft of climbing per lap. I pre-rode the course a couple of weeks ago and HATED it. I changed my mind at the race, but I'm getting ahead of myself. We drew numbers to figure out who went in which order.

Tom took first lap which also meant he had to do the Le Mans start. He burned the first lap in about an hour (I don't have lap splits, so forgive my inaccuracies) and came back with first blood--some abrasions on his chin and chest.

Seeing blood gave a huge boost of confidence to Jean who took off next. Incidentally, before Jean took off, she asked me if her back tire felt okay. It was bit low, but I told her that that would help give her better traction, after all, that's the purpose of tubeless tires, right? Sigh... About an hour and 15 minutes later, Jean came walking down the course with her bike and a totally flat back tire. D'oh! So much for my status as team mechanic...

Well, with one crash and one flat tire, I was looking forward to seeing what would befall Jamie on his lap...

For those of you who don't know about Jamie, he is a big-ring climbing machine, who runs about 70psi in his tires and rides with suspension locked up more often than not. He killed it on the climbs and took his time on the nasty technical sections. He survived his with no blood loss and no mechanical issues, so now it was my turn.

I typically ride a fully rigid singlespeed, but for this course, I converted one of my bikes into a 1x9 with front suspension. Not so much for the gears, but definitely for the front suspension. With virtually no flat sections, the only time you can catch your breath is on the downhills, and they're rough enough that with a rigid fork, you're getting a beating (mad props to Rob for riding that way for 12hrs).

The course wove back on itself several times as it climbed the mountain, with some sections out in the open and others winding through the trees. There were roots and rocks aplenty and the climbs kept you on your guard. After peaking at the "top" near the chair lifts, the course when down hill for a bit, across the mountain, then back up another significant climb toward a little water station. After the water station, there was more singletrack that was twisty, with constant ups and downs. There were a few more shorter climbs until you were ultimately pointing almost straight down the mountain. There were enough dips and twists to keep me on the brakes for a bit, but this was really fun. My first lap made me happy. Disaster was looming though...

Next up, Rick hit the course. Or, as Jamie would say "Rrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiick!" Rick pulled off a clean run and also came back with all of his blood in his body and his bike still working properly.

With noone forcing us to put the pedal to the metal, we were taking our time and enjoying both the course and the camaraderie.

Tom was up next. Then Jean. I could NOT fix Jean's back tire as I couldn't get the bead off the rim. She took her Scalpel and completed her lap without incident.

Jamie went out next after we got his lights set up correctly. He borrowed a light from Tom, and initially couldn't find the extension cord to go from the head lamp to the battery. First, he was going to strap the battery to his helmet, but his neck muscles protested. Next, we put the light on his handlebars, but inadvertantly mounted it so that the light was facing Jamie rather than the trail. Oy. Somehow we got things worked out and he was off.

I figured I'd do two laps to give some other people some rest. And, again, since we had already sewn up the 2010 Pat's Peak 24hr 5-Person Co-Ed Team Championship, we really could catch some shut eye at any time. I figured I'd get some night laps in, then Rick, then we'd see where we were time-wise.

I started up the trail and was having fun. My new light was VERY bright, and at times, too bright, as the reflection was sometimes disorienting, from the wet rocks and the fog. Anyway, I was having a good old time until I realized that my steering was way off. I looked down to see my handlebar cocked to the side--my stem was super loose. How did that happen? I figured that one of the other 5-person team members that didn't show up had hidden in the woods and sabotaged my bike. After what seemed like an eternity, I dug my multitool out of my pack and tightened the offending bolts. Steering was much more precise after that.

When I hit the top of the mountain I was rewarded with an amazing sunset. I really, really wish I had brought my camera, but I was dumping water on my head every few minutes because of the heat, and water & electronics don't mix so well. Anyway, the sky was beautiful and the distant mountain ranges were shrouded in mist and fog--it was totally reminiscent of the Smoky Mountains. Absolutely stunning.

I was having a good time again until I decided to shift into an easier gear. Apparently, at some point I had hit my derailleur and bent the hanger, because when I shifted, the chain went right into that netherland between the rear cassette and the spokes. And it was IN there. I pulled and pulled and pulled and could not get it out. But the worst part was that the wheel had also seized up and would not roll. I'd have to carry the bike out. Hmmmmm, nothing like hiking for 2.5 miles, at night, with cycling shoes, while carrying an XL 29'er mountain bike. I tried carrying it 'cross style, but the water bottle cage made that difficult. I tried multiple positions and the one that worked best was carrying it across my back. The problem with that was my wheels were banging trees when I was walking by, just about knocking me down. At one point, as I was leaning around a tree, my seat caught one and pulled me down. The pedal was also getting caught in the webbing of my hydration pack, making positional changes difficult at best. Sigh. That was a long miserable walk, but I finally made it down. I put my race number, and light on my singlespeed and went out for my second lap. Now, I've been having trouble with the singlespeed and the chain tension, so I was very apprehensive, but the bike worked well, and aside from the aforementioned rigid fork issue, I was comfortable.

I finally rolled in and then Rick went out for his virgin night-ride.

While Rick was battling the rocks and the dark, I took my chain apart so I could get the wheel off, then removed the rear cassette so I could get the chain out, then took the derailleur off so I could bend the hanger back, then put it all back together. Oy!

And while our 5-person team was rotating through riders, Rob and Renee, and Pete were just banging out the laps. Pete did the 6hr race, rode consistently, and appeared to have a good time. Rob and Renee did the 12hr race, on singlespeeds, and rocked the house. It's unfortunate that Pat's Peak didn't have a separate class for singlespeeders. On some courses, the difference isn't that much of a big deal, but on a course with this much climbing, the difference was huge. Renee ended up winning her class--beating other women on geared bikes. Boo-ya!

It was midnight, Pete was already home with this family, Rob and Renee were done with their race and off to some well earned sleep. And we, well, decided to make strategic decision to suspend some laps until the morning.

Everyone rolled back to their tents, except for Rick who guarded our tech site (i.e., he slept in his truck).

The next thing I remember was Jamie taking the team baton from the entrance of my tent to head out for our first morning lap. Then, I distinctly remember thinking that I should get up so I can take the next lap. Apparently, that thought lasted almost an hour because I fell back asleep. Fortunately, Tom was on hand to take the next lap, then Jamie & Tom each did another lap after that.  Jean and Rick decided to chill, so I decided to do another double lap, bringing us to the end of the race. To add to the mix though, a regular cross country mountain bike race was going on on the same course on Sunday, so at times, the course could have some congestion.

I was having a great lap, and really worked the climbs. I was probably going to have a personal best lap time when I came across a rider down. He had apparently taken a header down one of the short steep downhill rocky sections. He was awake, alert, oriented, breathing, and he had his brother and a few other people already on hand. The summer version of the "Ski Patrol" had been mobilized and were on their way. Everything seemed okay, so after a few minutes, I decided to keep going.

I got caught behind some other racers on the downhill and couldn't get around. So much for my blazing lap.

For my next lap, I had about 1:45 minutes, because I didn't want to finish before 12:00noon--that would force another lap. I had time to stop for a cup of coffee (in retrospect, not the best idea), and then just totally took my time. I was chatting with some of the other cross country racers (not 24hr racers), and they just didn't seem to be having as much fun. Weird.

Still well ahead of schedule, I rolled past our campsite which was being expertly broken down. I hung out and chatted for a bit and then rolled back through to again wait just in front of the finish area.

There I had a chance to talk with some of the solo 24hr racers. Ed, had come up from Philly and was on track to getting 3rd. And John, from Easton, MA, was on track to get 2nd. John was amazing and an inspiration. He was riding a singlespeed 29'er with a 32x20 gearing. He was CRANKING up every hill we saw, and he was smiling the whole time. You my friend, ROCK. And I'm sure he was psyched to cross the finish line next to me looking like a retard with the team baton in my teeth.

So there it was. We were done. We "won." We had a great time, not only racing but also cheering the other racers on. It was time to pack up, clean up, refuel, get our hardware (i.e. medals) and head home.

All in all, I had a great time, and I totally attribute that to the people that I got to hang out with. It's too bad that Pete couldn't have stayed longer (but totally understandable that he wanted to get home to his wife and his little dude), and I wish some more X'ers could have been there. Oh well, maybe next time.

And now, I've got a mountain of laundry to wash, camping gear to air out and sore muscles to rest.

Hopefully, you'll soon hear some other perspectives from Rob, Renee, Jamie, Rick, Tom, Jean and Pete...

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