TVR 2015

Treasure Valley Rally - the T-shirt. Angry rodents rule!
Treasure Valley Rally – the T-shirt.
Angry rodents rule!

For some reason, my daughter loves the course at Treasure Valley Rally.  That’s surprising because it’s probably not the easiest course around. We’ve done this race for the last five years and will probably keep coming back for more.  Why?  I’m not sure.  Probably because it is actually fun to ride even though it is demanding terrain.  It’s good enough to get me to temporarily suspend my retired racing status once a year.

Last time around, we both rode our fat bikes at TVR.  This year, we both rode our Carvers.  Emma rode the frame she won here last year.   I wanted to give my 29+ tires a shot at dealing with the rock gardens and test out the new Magnum fork.

Conditions seemed to be much drier this year.  On the drive down, I noticed that most of the rivers and brooks in the area were quite low…at least we wouldn’t end up all muddy.  The day was turning out sunny and the forecast was for nice warm temperatures in the lower 80s.  Perfect racing weather in my book.

I joined the Expert Vet. 2 class on the line this year. There was some discussion about keeping the race to a “gentleman’s pace” but that pretty much went out the window as soon as we left the line.  I quickly drifted to the back of the pack – which was my expectation and plan.  I’ve been riding quite a bit this summer, but not training at all.  Based on my times from Strava over the past few months, I knew that I wasn’t anywhere near as strong as I’ve been in the past.  Given that, my plan was to hold my place toward the back and see who I could pick off later in the race.  It was a good plan, but things were not going to work out that way.

The first couple of miles of the course are generally up hill.  Not severe, but you’re definitely climbing.  I knew by the time we hit the singletrack section of the climb up toward Sampson’s Pebble that I was riding over my head.  I was going to need to back off the pace a bit or blow up well before the finish.  TVR has always been a race that plays to my strengths and having to resign myself to a slow pace is more than just a little difficult to accept.  Regardless, I decided that I could still enjoy the course and maybe gain some places later in the race.

Hopeless.
Hopeless.

Crossing over the top of the climb at The Pebble, I started the descent into the extra-credit, bonus, mega- technical loop.  I can ride the rock gardens pretty well and figured this would be an opportunity to gain some ground on the competition.  I wasn’t very far down the hill when my front wheel started to take on a mushy feel.  The mushy feel quickly became a floppy feel.  Flat tire.  I should have known.  I love my 29+ rig, but the typical 10-12psi I run in the tires was a really bad idea on this course.  I pulled the bike off the side of the trail and began the process of replacing the tube.  This is never an easy task when my manual dexterity is hampered by the adrenaline and time pressure I get early on in a race.  If that wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t get the tire off the rim.  Usually, I can break the bead and just roll one side of the tire off the rim with my bare hands, but not this time.  Frustration built as I tried to find my tire levers somewhere in my hydration pack.  My Osprey pack has many little pockets all over the outside as well as the interior where my tire levers might be, but weren’t.  Eventually, I did find them and was able to pry the bead off the rim.  All the while, everyone was passing me.  Everyone.  I had no idea that there were that many people on the course behind me.  It felt like more people than I had seen queued up at the start.  I managed to get the tubes swapped and put my bike back together and then  I cleaned up all the junk I’d dumped out of my bag hunting for tire levers. (More people passed by).  I finished off by pumping up the front tire with quite a bit more air this time.  I was determined not to get another pinch flat.  Twelve minutes wasted.

Now began the process of regaining my position at the end of the expert field, instead of the end of the entire field.  I picked off several riders over the remainder of the technical loop.  On the climb back up to The Pebble, I thought the front tire felt a bit softer than I’d like.  I stopped to put some more air in, just to be sure.

The course
The course from my Strava data.

From The Pebble, I started the long meandering descent.  I quickly became aware that I’d overdone it with the tire pressure.  With both tires overinflated, the bike was rattling and bouncing around like a basketball.  I thought that maybe I just needed to adjust to the difference in handling.  I was getting knocked around like a pinball on all the rocks.  Toward the end of the lap, I knew that this wasn’t working.  I was way more beat up that I ought to be at that point.  I decided that I’d drop a little air pressure out next time I got up to the Pebble.  I still wasn’t anywhere near the other riders from the expert field.

As planned, I took a little air out of the front tire once at the top of the climb.  Not a lot.  As I made my way down the rocky sections going down toward the lake, I felt the front end of the bike squirming a little.  This caused me to slip out on a corner and hit my head pretty hard on a tree.  That hurt.  I checked the helmet for damage before continuing.  It’s funny how bikers will check their equipment before worrying about damage to their own bodies.

It wasn’t long before I had to stop and add a lot more air.  I knew that I hadn’t drained that much out.  I continued my “race” which had become more of a survival trip now.  For the remainder of the course, I would have to stop every mile or two and repeat the process of pulling out the pump, overfilling the tire, and putting the pump away.  I would lose a couple of minutes each time.  The lead women from the Sport class would catch up with me each time I finished the process.  I’m sure they got tired of my efforts to pass them only to have me stop and fall behind again.

If the slow leak wasn’t bad enough, I started to develop cramps in my feet over the last couple of miles.  This also came with hints of cramps in my calves and quads, but never full-blown cramps.  I should have been drinking earlier and more frequently, but I hadn’t.  I’ve been racing for over twenty years and I am still prone to making that mistake.  You’d think I would learn.

My love/hate relationship with rocks got the better of me by this time. Note the squishy front tire.
My love/hate relationship with rocks got the better of me by this time. Note the squishy front tire.

I was so sick of stopping to add air that I decided to just ride it out for the last mile or two.  In the past I have always loved the part of the course that rolls along the edge of the lake.  Partially because the end is so close and partially because it is fun to rip along the undulating singletrack.  The soft tire kept my speeds down and took most of the fun out of that experience.  By the time I reached the finish area, the tire was pretty squat on the ground and I was just glad to be done.  I don’t know how I placed and I’m not sure I care just yet.

My daughter Emma, on the other hand, had a pretty good race.  She pulled a finish time that was much faster than any of her previous attempts at this race.  Her default “win” got her a gift certificate.  On top of that she won $100 cash in the post-race raffle.  No wonder she likes coming back here.

 

Emma on the podium.
Emma on the podium.

Once again, the Team Bums folks put on a great race.  The course is challenging, but not in a miserable way.  It really tests every aspect of your riding ability.  I don’t know if there were any competing events this weekend, but the turnout was surprisingly low for some reason.  That’s a shame because this is one of the best races in New England, in my opinion.

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The Stowe Derby

[Also on MTBVT.com with more photos]

This year, 2015, was the 70th run of the Stowe Derby, a nordic ski race from the top of Mount Mansfield to the village of Stowe.  It has the distinction of being the oldest cross country ski race in the country.  Thanks to the efforts of several people, this year was the first year that they invited fat bike riders to race the event.  Our course was the same as the skiers’, minus the cool descent from the top of Mansfield following the toll road.  It was a little bit of a disappointment when I learned that we wouldn’t be riding the entire toll road from the top, but I got over it.  It turned out that the lower portion of the course was more than challenging enough to make a great race.

Photo by Mike Hitelman
Photo by Mike Hitelman

Being a point to point race does brings some logistical challenges; namely, how do you get people, with their bikes, to the start?  Or, how do you get people back to their vehicles once the race is over?  The race organizers opted for the first challenge, rather than the latter.  I generally agree with this approach.  The down side was that we had to figure out how to get our bikes and ourselves to the start area without leaving a vehicle at the start.  I dropped my bike off shortly after picking up my bib in the morning and then returned to Stowe village to park.  This left me with the quandary of how I was going to get myself back up the mountain to my bike.  There were some suggested options given, but those turned out to be a little difficult in practice.  Originally, I was hoping to catch a ride back up with another racer, but that didn’t work out.  By chance, I met up with some friends from Ludlow who were going to catch the GMTA shuttle bus up, so I decided to tag along on their journey.  This would have been fine, but we somehow missed the first bus that went by.  We tried to flag the driver down but he didn’t cooperate.  Eventually, a bus did arrive at the stop, but that didn’t leave us any excess time to get things together.  It all worked out in the end, but the process was a little stressful.

Originally, the bike race was supposed to start at the bottom of the ski trails at the Toll House area.  This would have seriously made for a brutal hike-a-bike right off the bat.  Just before the start, we were told that the staging area would be moved up the hill to the intersection with the Toll Road trail.  The self-paced hiking up the soft ski trail on foot to the start was draining enough.  Having been in quite a few downhill mass starts, I was little concerned about what the first quarter mile of the course would be like with these conditions.  Fortunately, they were going to start us off in waves of five riders, thirty seconds apart.  Even with just five riders at a time, we got to see (and be part of) many outstanding crash scenes.  It was very entertaining.  I don’t know what determined the start order, but  I was glad to be in the third wave out on the trail.

The fat bike start
The fat bike start

As I mentioned, the first thing we were faced with was a very fast downhill with some soft snow to make things “interesting.”  It was very tempting to let the bike take advantage of the free speed, but at the same time, it was was a little nerve racking because of the instability of the conditions.  At the end of the first slope, there was a nice 90 degree right hand turn.  What could go wrong?

The first few miles were predominantly down hill which really did test my bike handling skills.  Descending has never been my strength and several riders were able to put quite a bit of distance on me.  I decided to err on the side of caution and gamble that I would be faster if I didn’t crash any more than I could avoid.  The trick on the first half of the course was to use whatever ruts were available as banked corners.  This allowed me to rail around most of the turns with my inside foot hanging off, skimming the snow.  Somehow, I only had once incident where I actually fell off the bike.

I’m going to stop here and comment on the snow conditions which I’ve already alluded to.  Biking in the winter is a lot like skiing in that snow can change relatively quickly and dramatically alter the experience.  What was an awesome ride on one day can turn into a nightmare slog on the next.  Saturday night brought at least three inches of snow to the area.  This was probably great for the skiers, but not so much for the fat bikes.  We were able to ride but the soft snow made staying upright a task requiring significant effort and concentration.  I spent the entire race scanning for the most firm rut that I could put my wheels in.  Whenever I missed my target or my wheel was hooked by a ridge, the front wheel of my bike would get yanked around in all kinds of unpredictable directions.  Efforts to correct usually just plowed more snow without altering the direction of the bike.  I probably dabbed hundreds of times to keep my bike under me and moving forward.  The riders in the last waves must have had quite a challenge with the ruts.

Photo by Mike Hitelman
Photo by Mike Hitelman

Before the trail turned onto the Stowe village bike path, we had one final series of descents.  These were a blast.  The skiers had managed to snowplow the soft stuff off to the edges of the trail leaving a nice firm surface that was wonderful to ride on.  Of course, this was not consistent and a smooth fast section of trail would almost randomly dump into a hollow of soft snow.  I had more than one moment of high speed panic.

Once on the town bike path, the race was almost purely a matter of keeping the power on.  There was still the challenge of keeping the snow from yanking the bike around, but it could mostly be mitigated with some careful line selection.  It was here that we started having to contend with passing the last of the cross country skiers who were still out on the trail.  For the most part, there was plenty of room for passing without riders interfering with skiers, or the reverse.

I gave up a few places in the final few miles as I was beginning to feel the effects of fatigue on my speed.  I crossed the finish line just a few seconds over an hour.  Ultimately, this put me in 16th place overall and 5th in the 40-49 mid-life-crisis men’s field.  Not a bad showing considering how little I’ve been riding this winter.  Plus, I’m supposed to be retired, remember?

Brian Irwin, one of a few fat bike racers who also did the nordic race earlier in the day. Impressive. (Photo by Mike Hitelman)
Brian Irwin, one of a few fat bike racers who also did the nordic race earlier in the day. Impressive. (Photo by Mike Hitelman)

After the race, I hung around at the finish area for a while to see some of the other riders come in while I cooled down.  Cool down I did.  Riding in the winter is always a game of figuring out how to dress properly for the weather and the effort.  I had kept myself a little too warm and my layers were pretty much soaked from sweat and water vapor.  While the temperatures were warmer than the sub-zero to single-digit temps we’ve had over the past few weeks, it was still cold enough to get me chilled.

I biked rather slowly back to my Jeep following the sidewalks along Rt. 108 and changed into some dry clothes.  This felt several orders of magnitude more than wonderful.  Now almost warm, I went to get something to eat.  Sushi Yoshi was providing a nice post-race meal like they did for Uberwintern earlier this winter.  Later in the afternoon, the awards were given out for both skiers and bike riders.  Hopefully, the Stowe Derby will include us again next year.  Official results are on-line by category or overall time.

Odds and ends:

VSSM Epic Summer Event 2014

The Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum‘s Epic Summer Event was hosted at Craftsbury Outdoor Center this year instead of in Stowe as it was in previous years.  It was also the last event of the EFTA New England Championship Series for 2014.  Since Craftsbury is only about 45 minutes from my home, I really couldn’t come up with a good excuse not going.

The Expert start.
The Expert start.

The last time I did a full mountain bike race at Craftsbury was sometime around 1991.  That was back in the days when NORBA ran the world of mountain bike racing and USA Cycling was just for the leg shaving, pavement-pounder crowd.  I don’t really remember much of that race other than it being really cold (it snowed) and pedaling through very soggy, grass covered nordic ski trails.  My experience this year was much better than the one I had 20+ years ago.

Racer's meeting
Brian running the racer’s meeting

The course was a combination of traditional, technical single-track, grassy X-C ski trails and some newly cut machine made trails.   The technical single-track made up the majority of the five mile loop  that we rode with some bermed corners on the descents thrown in for extra fun.  The climbing was definitely noticeable, but never steep enough that my 1×10 setup couldn’t handle it with ease.  Normally, I hate grassy trails, but the grassy sections were fairly firm and generally made for some fast riding.  The very few places where things were a little softer, my 3″ tires made the riding pretty easy.  The thing that did stand out was the rooty sections.  Since I was riding a fully rigid bike, this took its toll on me.

First climb from the start
First climb from the start

We started the race in the lower fields at the nordic center.  This led to an immediate climb up a short grade covered with chipped wood – slow going.  From there, we crossed another field before entering the woods and funneling into the first section of single-track.  The first lap was pretty congested with the racers from the large expert field trying to establish position.  By the end of the first lap, we seemed to have settled down into a more reasonably spaced out field.

For me, the race itself was relatively uneventful.  I was really getting into the single-track sections by the second lap and was able to spin up the climbs without burning myself out – gears are great for that.  I spent much of the second and third laps riding solo with only the occasional need to pass.  I was really enjoying the twisty stuff in the woods.  By the time the fourth lap rolled around, the technical terrain had really beaten up my arms and I was more than ready to be done.  Usually my legs are the first to complain but that wasn’t the case with this race.  Between my arm muscles and having to pass riders from the tail of the Sport field, I was drained.  Thankfully, the final mile of the lap is a smooth downhill and an open climb.  I kept my pace through to the end and was glad to get off the bike and rest.

Me!
Me!

While I didn’t manage to get a podium spot, I stuck around to watch the awards.  My nephew did his first mountain bike race and managed to pull off a win in the junior novice category – and he did it wearing jeans.  I did manage to come home with some loot by winning a t-shirt in the raffle.  Overall, it was a great race and I had a good time.  Brian and the folks at Craftsbury did an outstanding job organizing things for an excellent event.  Hopefully, VSSM will return to Craftsbury for their Epic Event next year.

 

My nephew finishing up.
My nephew finishing up.

Random:

Sometimes you have to race with a rubber chicken on your back.
Sometimes you have to race with a rubber chicken on your back.

TVR Fatbike Fun

Quite possibly the coolest race T-shirt graphic yet.
Quite possibly the coolest race T-shirt graphic yet.

I learned this weekend that I really have no self control when it comes to racing.  My daughter really wanted to race Treasure Valley Rally this weekend so I agreed to pull myself temporarily out of retirement and join her.  This year they added a separate fat bike category to the race which added to the appeal for me.  I decided that I would bring the fat bikes down along with the rubber chicken with the idea that they both would keep me from taking the idea of racing too seriously.  I mentioned this to Kevin while hanging around before the start and he said something to the effect that we’d have to see how that works out once I’m on the course.  I laughed, but I should have listened to him.  Once we were out of the start area and well on course, my brain totally gave in to my instincts as I started trying to reel in whoever happened to be in front of me.  There was no decision, it just happened.  I’m a victim here.

The "official" TVR course map.
The “official” TVR course map.

Thankfully, the course itself was pretty much the same as last year – a nearly endless rock garden dishing out relentless abuse as it winds its way around the Treasure Valley Scout Reservation.  I’ve done this race a few times and always think of it as a real test of a mountain biker’s ability.  You can’t get away with just being strong, or aerobic – you need to add in good handling skills, serious stamina and a mindset bent ever so slightly towards self abuse.  It’s demanding but very fun!  The fat bike race followed the same course as the sport riders: one full lap including the even more demanding loop beyond Sampson’s Pebble (a massive boulder located at the high point of the course) followed by a shortened loop bypassing that technical section.   This all was further complicated by the fact that the earlier rain had made plenty of mud that would grease up all the roots and rocks for us.   In general, lap times seemed a little slower as a result.

Racing on a fat bike did have some advantages on this course, but it wasn’t a complete plus.  The 4″ tires did help with traction, but it still required some vigilance to keep the bike upright.  With the muddy rocks, the large contact patch gave a solid grip on the trail.  Some rocky sections I was able to ride over and through because the tires wouldn’t get pulled around by the rocks.  The best part was being able to sit down and spin up every climb on the course.  The down side was that the bike was fully rigid.  You’ve probably heard it before, but big tires are no substitution for suspension.  They help smooth out the little stuff quite well.  On big hits, if the tire pressure is too low, you risk bottoming out on the rim.  If you have more pressure, then you run the risk of having the bike bounce around like a basketball rolling down a flight of stairs.  Either way, your arms get a serious workout.

Off the start, I was a briefly distracted so I was dead last going into the woods.  I soon caught up with the rest of the guys in my class on the first climb.  On the long climb up to the Pebble, I spun my way to the front.  I didn’t expect to last long in this position so I figured I’d just ride at my own pace and see what would happen.  In spite of my claims about not racing, “my own pace” turned out to be whatever I could manage to keep the guys I just passed from catching me.  On the technical “extra” loop I was gaining ground on other riders but even with the fat tires it was sometimes difficult to keep things rolling in the worst of the rock gardens.

Stream crossing (photo by Tamara Wong)
Stream crossing (photo by Tamara Wong)

The sun came out as I was starting the long climb up from the lake back up to the Pebble.  Instantly, I felt like I was roasting.  After a little while, I adapted to the heat but probably didn’t drink enough.  Somewhere out there I managed to snag my shorts (yes, I wear baggies) on the nose of my saddle.  I managed this trick several more times, repeatedly tearing open the back of the leg a little more each time.  I also cracked a large portion of the sole of my shoe apart on a sharp rock at some point.  I didn’t realize that either was a significant issue until after the race.  The remainder of the lap I was working hard to keep my momentum going.  I felt really strong going into my second, shorter lap.  By this time, I seemed to be riding alone – usually a that’s a good thing.

Soon into my final lap I realized that I was actually starting to fade a little.  By the time I finished the long climb to the Pebble, I was getting that feeling that I might be getting in over my head.  From there, I was starting to get fatigued and sloppy.  Really sloppy.  If I ran across a section of trail that had a rock on either side, I would somehow manage to hit them both and in completely the wrong way.  The rocks were like magnets drawing my tires to them.  I was all over the place and my progress was starting to suffer as a result.  I couldn’t have taken a clean line if there were a yellow stripe painted on the trail marking the correct path.  It was horrible.  I was expecting some of the guys in my group to show up and pass me well before the finish.  Somehow, this didn’t happen and I managed to pull in through the finish in first place.  This was especially surprising considering that this was my first ride on dirt of the year and I haven’t put on any real mileage other that commuting to work.  I guess biking through the winter must have given me a little bit of a base to draw on.  At 2:29, this was, without question, the longest and hardest ride I’ve done this year; I was pretty much spent.  So much for not racing.

Fat bike podium!
Fat bike podium!

My daughter made out like a bandit this weekend.  She won her category by default which included picking some bike goodies out of the prize box.  Later on, she won a gift certificate in the raffle.  As if that weren’t enough, she also won a new Carver 96 frame which happened to be in her size.  I sat there in disbelief.  I should have had her pick out a lottery number for me too.

Emma!
Emma!

TVR is one of my absolute favorite races of the EFTA series, and maybe in all of New England.  The combination of the challenging course and a well run event make it tough to beat.  The money they raise goes towards the Scouts and the local fire department.  I know that the forecast wasn’t looking so great for Saturday but was still disappointed by the low turnout compared with other years.  Regardless, it was a great time for those of us who did make the trip.

 

Pint glasses!
Pint glass prizes presented to podium placing people!

Random:

 

Retirement

This time of year, many of us who race start putting together a tentative schedule of races we anticipating participating in.  I sat down and put my list together this afternoon.  Here it is:

blank!That’s it.  It didn’t take long.  The reality is that I’m pretty much out of the racing business.  The main issue behind this is the condition of my knees.  Apparently, my genetics caught up with me before I was prepared and I have the beginnings of osteoarthritis.  At my last appointment trying to get the to bottom of why my left knee was feeling weird, I was told to “do what you enjoy, while you still can.”  While I still can??  Thanks.  At least I have the comfort of knowing that I’m not alone with these types of issues.  Apparently, the high load that I put my legs under when racing hasn’t exactly been great for my knee joints.  Who knew?  Thankfully, the damage was discovered before I really got into a situation where things are actually painful.

Through no conscious decision on my part, I’ve always favored low rpm mashing on the pedals rather than achieving the high cadence spinning efficiency of a roadie.  Sadly, there really isn’t any way to climb the hills around Vermont on a single-speed bike without putting a lot of torque on the knees.  I always enjoyed overcoming the steep grades by virtue of sheer force and suffering.  So in my efforts to extend the life of my knees, I need to change my focus to spinning and that means one thing: gears.

Even though I’m giving up competition, I can’t really complain too much.  Racing has taken up most of my summers since I started back in 1990.  I got started thanks to a guy who worked on base with me while stationed in Maryland.  From road racing, I went to mountain biking back when NORBA was the only game in town (and prior to USA Cycling attempts at ruining the sport in general).  I was hooked from that point on.  Over the years, I’ve had quite a few good race results as an expert and many podium finishes in more recent years since taking up the single-speed.

Anyone recognize Jack Rabbit Run?  Hillsboro Classic?  Lynn Woods? Kangamangus Classic?  Vernon Woods?
Anyone recognize Jack Rabbit Run? Hillsboro Classic? Lynn Woods? Kangamangus Classic? Vernon Woods?  Temple Mountain?  Galloping Gears?

I’m not giving up riding, not by a long shot.  If anything, I’ll likely be putting on more mileage since I don’t have to worry about being rested for races.  Last winter I started just exploring the woods on my fat bike and I discovered something: I still like riding just for the fun of it.  So, I’m going to focus on just riding and not worry about all the various training factors that I had to consider when racing.  My collection of Strava KOMs will likely dwindle as I let others steal them away one by one.  I’m not saying I’ll never do a race again, but it will be the exception and I’m not going to be taking it seriously.

In case anyone is wondering, this blog will go on, and I’m not going to bother changing the name.

VT50 MMXIII

[Originally posted at MTBVT.com]

The Vermont 50 is one of those races I look forward to each year, whenever I am able to enter it.  Actually registering can sometimes be as challenging as completing the race itself.  On-line registration opens on May 25 in the evening and the mountain bike field often fills up in a matter of minutes.  One year it was around 12 minutes, others it has been closer to an hour.  I’ve missed the registration a couple of times in the past but managed to get in by the skin of my teeth this time around.  It’s always a gamble, too, because you have no idea what race day will be like.  Some years it can be clear and frosty, others cold and raining.  This year, things worked out extremely well and the weather turned out to be as close to perfect as anyone could imagine.

2013 was the 20th running of the Vermont 50 and would be the 5th time I’ve raced it.  It is run as a fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports – a non-profit organization that provides equipment and support to help people with disabilities participate in many different sports.

Whether biking or running (yes there are people who run the 50 miles), the Vermont 50 becomes a weekend affair.  On Saturday, we needed to get our registration packs at the Ascutney base area.  I also left off a drop bag with some stuff I might need at mile 30 of the race.  This year, they had quite a few vendors set up with tents.  They even had free ice cream.  Those extra calories would get burned off the next morning anyway.

Vendor tents on Saturday.
Vendor tents on Saturday.

My alarm went off at 4:15am.  What was I thinking?  This was way too early.  I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed and tried to overcome the mental fog.  Everything in my being wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed and sleep for a few more hours.  I am not a morning person.  After eating a bowl of oatmeal, I finished getting my gear together and loaded up the car.  It was dark out.  There’s something amusing about witnessing 1300 cars converging on the same spot in the wee hours of the morning.  My wife dropped me off and I had just enough time to sign in, get my final details organized and line up for the start.

IMG_0393

The singlespeed riders went off with the experts at 6am sharp.  It was amazingly dark when we hit the road.  This was not your typical pre-dawn low-light conditions but “blanket over the head” dark.  Overnight, a thick layer of fog had settled in the valleys and was blocking what little ambient light might otherwise be available from penetrating down to ground level.  It actually made me a bit nervous on the start since the pack didn’t seem to be slowing down any.  We followed a gradual descent for less than half a mile before the climbing kicked in with gusto.  At least the race organizers had put some glow sticks out along the edge of the trail on some of the non-traveled road sections.  Since I was flying with limited visibility, I shadowed one of my fellow singlespeed riders who had a headlight.  This worked well for the first few miles.

Just as we were getting enough daylight to actually see with, the course turned to the first real trail section.  This always ends up being a long hike-a-bike section and my legs were screaming.  By the top of that climb, we were mostly above the valley fog and could get down to some real riding.  For some reason I was having trouble settling into a groove.

The early part of the race generally consists of gravel roads and a lot of Vermont class-4 roads.  These are technically demanding enough that it keeps things interesting while not creating the insane traffic jams that would be inevitable if single-track were introduced this early into the race course.

My plan was to get in a reasonable position early on and hold my own for the first third of the race, saving my energy to attack later in the race.  Somewhere around 12 to 15 miles in I realized that I was having difficulty maintaining my typical race pace.  I just had no energy or drive.  I actually stopped on one of the long gravel road climbs to take a break and mentally regroup.  I seemed to be losing ground in the field but I couldn’t figure out why.  I decided to press on and work out the remainder of the race as best as I could.  I would not let myself DNF without good reason.

As I mentioned before, the weather for the race this year was exceptional.  I normally don’t look around much while I’m racing but found myself taking in the scenery this year at several points.  Foliage was near peak and the sky was a perfect blue.  With the early morning sun lighting things up, it really was spectacular.  It was the kind of scenery you see printed on postcards.  If I weren’t racing, I would have stopped to get some photos.  I was tempted on numerous occasions even though I was racing.

For me, Garvin Hill is the turning point of the race.  It is the highest point on the course and it is after this point that the course turns more technical.  Every year they place an aid station right at the top of the long climb.  I stopped at the top of this big grassy climb for a few minutes to rest and refuel.  Again, the view was amazing.  Reluctantly, I returned to the race at hand.

See all the flat sections?  Me either.  The elevation profile looks like your typical Vermont skyline.
See all the flat sections? Me either. The elevation profile looks like your typical Vermont skyline.

The middle miles of the race are always a bit unclear to me.  More single-track is introduced and we spend less time on gravel.  I was now getting into things a bit more.  I found myself catching up to riders in the tighter terrain and passing a few here and there.  I took one more final rest and refuel at one of the aid stations somewhere after mile 30.  I was hungry and ate quite a bit here.  The specifics are all a bit of a blur now.

The final leg of the race was a blast.  Much of the remaining course was single-track and I was starting to feel good.  I caught and passed many riders in the final 10-12 miles.  I don’t know if it was the food or if riding single-track is just more motivating but I was having fun.  In previous races,  I’ve pretty much hated the final climb up the mountain, but I was almost into it this time around.  That’s not to say that I was wishing for more climbing by the time I was well up the mountain.

It felt glorious as I rolled out of the woods and began my descent of the final switchbacks toward the finish.  I was able to keep the power on to the end and finished just under 5 hours.  That put me in 9th place among the singlespeed riders and 84th in the overall field.  Not my best performance by a long shot but nothing to whine about either.

Finishing up!
Finishing up!

With the good weather and dry conditions, course records were set in pretty much every category.  The winning bike rider came in at 3:55.  Three hours and fifty-five minutes to cover 50 miles of mountain biking.  I’m still having trouble getting my head around that pace.  Equally mind-boggling was the winning run time of 6:09 – ON FOOT!

Once I had recovered a little, I changed into some dry clothes to enjoy the post-race meal in the sun.  Pretty much everyone  seemed to be in good spirits as they finished this year.  A little later, my wife, myself and our daughter helped out with the finish line work of recording racers as they came in.  It was actually quite fun to take part in this way.

The final descent to the finish.
The final descent to the finish.

As always, the Vermont 50 was a well run event.  There were many, many volunteers who worked all weekend and were up well before we had to get moving on Sunday morning.  Mike Silverman, the organizer, seemed to be everywhere all the time making sure things were running according to plan.  A huge thank you goes out to him, all the volunteers and to the numerous landowners who let us invade their property for one day a year for this lunacy.  Given the scale of the event this is no small feat.  I’m hoping to be back again next year.

Photos: http://www.skipix.com/skipixv2/viewsubcategory.php?lang=en&subcategoryid=548