Millstone Grind – the 2013 Edition

Yes, in spite of all appearances this summer, I still do bike races.  The last race I was in was the Vermont Summer Epic at Trapps all the way back in June.  Now that my knee is completely healed, I was ready to go back out for some more abuse at the Millstone Grind.  We had another dry, sunny day, just like we did for the race last summer.  I opted to enter the single-speed “marathon” class again this year.  I did this partially because I actually like the longer distance (30 miles), but also because USA Cycling won’t let me race in Cat. 1 without getting an annual license.  I’ll reserve that rant as an option for a future post.  Being part of the Root 66 series, the race pulls a decent size crowd; the single-speed marathon group was the biggest I’ve ever seen it, with over a dozen of us on the line.

Single-speed Marathon start
Single-speed Marathon start

I like riding at Millstone, and not just because it’s close to home.  The trails are technical enough that you really have to be a good bike handler to do well, not just have good aerobic capacity.  The course was largely the same as it has been in previous years.  They did break up one of the longer climbing sections with an extended set of switchbacks in the woods.  It was a nice change.  Overall, there aren’t really any big climbs on the course but the many short efforts will wear you down over time.  That, paired with the lack of any extended downhills, doesn’t allow enough time for recovery.  It’s pretty much 100% on the gas for the duration of the race.  It definitely makes for a more challenging race that way.

We got off to an early start at 10 am immediately following the geared marathon riders.  I decided that I was going to slow my pace down a little early in the race with the hopes of having more reserves to draw on toward the end.  Initially, I tried to shadow Marc Stannard riding his single-speed MukLuk, figuring he’d be a little slower on that fat tired machine.  When that proved not to be the case, I decided to let him go and stick to my own pace.

We're off!In the first couple of miles, I managed to bottom out my rear tire at least three times, so I stopped to add some air.  Considering how rocky Millstone is, I figured it would be better to take the time to pump it up than to be forced to take the time to repair a flat later on. I got to watch everyone ride by while fumbling with my pump .  It took me about half way through the first lap to start catching up with the back of my single-speed group.  My tire was now a little too hard but at least I could be confident that I wouldn’t flat, even if I would end up a little battered as a result.

Millstone

I rode mostly alone for the second lap but started picking off a few more single-speed riders in my third lap.  Unfortunately, toward the end of the third lap, I started feeling an occasional “twinge” in my quads.  That’s never a good sign.  As I got further into the 4th lap, this grew from twinges to outright leg cramps.  I started drinking lots of water (with electrolytes) to try to mitigate the impact, but I knew that would ultimately be a losing proposition.  I caught up with Marc several times over the final laps and he commented that he was having leg cramps as well.  I think he was managing it better than I was.  After the race, I heard quite a few other racers complaining about having problems with muscle cramps so at least I wasn’t alone in my misery.

The Pro/Cat. 1 riders started their race at noon.  About two thirds of the way through my final lap, a pair of them caught up with me.   They passed me on a particularly rocky climb like I was standing still.  It was utterly demoralizing, especially considering that I was struggling up that short slope on foot.  On the final steep switchback climb of the lap, I was barely able to walk at all thanks to the involuntary spasms in my legs.  I seriously contemplated crawling on all fours while dragging my bike.  Thankfully, I could still pedal, relying on my hamstrings for most of what little power I still had.  The final lap was nothing but pure suffering.  Still, I managed to not lose any ground and even picked up another rider or two from my category.  I’m often puzzled by the fact that I like bike racing.

Millstone 2I managed to come in a few minutes behind Marc who followed George Lapierre – exactly the same order we had last year.  That would have been great, but this time around there were two other riders ahead of us so there was no podium for me this year.  Once I recovered a little, it was time to eat.  They had some burgers, pasta and some decent beers available after the race which, thankfully, was included in the registration.  Good stuff.  Food always tastes much, much better after a race.  Race results are up on the Root66 web site.  My Strava data for the race can be found here.

Millstone Hill Race Series #1

I learned about this race series last year, just in time for the last race.  This year I managed to get out for the first of the six races in this Thursday evening series.  Onion River Sports is organizing things and all of the proceeds go to support Millstone Trail Association’s campaign for Barre Town forest (where many of their trails are located).  I figured that this would be a good opportunity to get in a decent workout.

I rode on Tuesday this week and discovered that I hadn’t recovered from my race on Sunday.  I rode anyway.  The only other riding I had done was commuting to work.  I was still not recovered and I could feel it in my legs.  It made for an interesting race.

There was a smaller turnout for the race than I expected, but they expect attendance to increase as the series goes on like it did last year.  There were a surprising number of kids taking part, which is nice to see.  I was the only one who showed up on a single-speed, not that it mattered because there weren’t any such distinctions other than the number of laps.

The start.
The start.

The course was a little bit shorter than last year.  It included some of the same trails found in the early parts of the Millstone Grind and the 12 Hours of Millstone race courses.   I think it was close to three miles per lap.  According to my GPS, it was 2.5 miles but those are “GPS miles” so you have to add a little.  The plan is to keep the course the same throughout the series so you can keep track of your progress.  Not much to say about the course other than it being typical of Millstone’s terrain: good single-track, technical, short climbs, nowhere to rest/recover, and lots of fun.

We stared all together, taking off through the grassy field.  This has never been my favorite terrain but it is short lived.  Once we entered the woods, it was “lights out” dark.  The trails on the East side of the hill were shaded enough that it took me a couple of seconds for my eyes to adjust to the low light.  Our small group of 4-lap racers sorted itself out pretty quickly.  Arthur Foelsche was out front followed by Matt Moody and then myself.  On a moderate climb, the trail hooked steep to the left followed by a sudden and steeper right.  Matt lost traction on some roots here and I was able to ride past him. Matt dogged me for the remainder of the race.  I could see Arthur  ahead of me a various points on the course but didn’t have the “kick” necessary to work my way up to him.

me.
me.

We continued in this order for the remaining three laps.  I finished second overall for the 4 lap group at 1:01,  two minutes down from first.  Matt came in within a minute or two later.  My daughter, Emma, did two laps and came in  just before I finished my race.  Onion River already has the results up on their web site.  Amazingly, I remembered to start my Garmin so I have that data up on Strava too.

HRMWhen riding on my own, it seems to be impossible for me to get the kind of workout that a race will create.  Since that was my goal, I can mark this one down as mission accomplished.   I’m hoping to be able to get to the rest of the series but that will depend on other factors.  It’s a little out of the way but not difficult to get to after work.  Unlike some other weekly race series, this isn’t just a leg & lung workout; you need to bring your bike handling skills too.

Emma at the finish.
Emma at the finish.

Millstone Grind 2012

While it seems like many I know in the racing realm were out at the NH 100 this weekend, I was at the Millstone Grind getting my own dose of suffering in.  At half the distance of the NH 100 (62mi.), the “marathon” class at Millstone is surprisingly tough.  There are no big climbs since the elevation difference is only slightly over 200 feet between the highest and lowest points on the course, but it still manages to beat you up and leave you exhausted in the end.  I love the course; it’s rocky, twisty, technical single-track that would be as much fun to ride on a Saturday as it is to race.

We camped out just down the road at Lazy Lions campground in Graniteville.  This is only a couple of miles from the starting area at Millstone Trails.  The weekend weather was again great.  I can’t recall having a summer with so many nice weekends.  I hope this holds through next weekend for Treasure Valley Rally.

Morning fog
Nice cool morning.

Thankfully, they started the marathon race (4 laps, 32 miles) at 10 am before the Cat 2 and 3 racers.  Last year we started later, and the last of the marathon riders were finishing as the organizers were tearing everything down and nearly everyone had gone home.  It was a very anti-climatic end for their efforts.   That was not the case this year.  There were far more riders in the open marathon class than I expected – probably close to 30 altogether.  I suspect many of these were riders who would have raced cat. 1 if it weren’t for USA Cycling’s ridiculous rules on one day licenses.  Regardless, with nine riders on the line, our single-speed marathon group was a fair size,too.

Single-speed Marathon Start
Single-speed Marathon Start
Monster Wasp
This was about how big that wasp on my elbow was – at least it seemed that way.

We started at a relatively mellow pace.  Being first off the line doesn’t really help much when you’ve got about 3 hours of racing ahead of you.  I entered the woods in fourth place.  For the first few miles, I followed Emile Smith; although it took me a little while to realize who he was.  On one of the first little climbs, we must have stirred up a nest of wasps on the ground.  I had one wasp land on the inside of my elbow.  He latched on to me and started to jab his evil venom into my arm.  Somehow, while navigating the rocky single-track with one hand, I managed to beat the monster off my arm with the other.  He did not want to let go.  I think he liked inflicting pain.  That thing really hurt.  A lot!  In fact, it still hurts as I type this.  It’s a good thing I’m not allergic to bees and wasps.  After that, I would periodically check to make sure I wasn’t swelling up as I continued the race.

Eventually I passed Emile.  A few miles later I would pass another single-speed rider to move into second place.  By the end of the first lap I had worked my way up behind George Lapierre.   We rode the next lap together at a pretty good pace with hardly anyone else around.  We traded places for the lead spot several times depending on the terrain.   This continued through the third lap.

2nd lap
Emma, myself and George passing by the aid station on my second lap.

On the third lap, George started creeping away from me a little bit at a time.  I wasn’t too concerned about it at the time because I still felt good and knew that I had some reserves for the final lap.  I figured I’d keep him in sight and then kick up the pace on the fourth lap.

Unfortunately, this was not to be.  Early in the fourth lap George put some more distance on me and I lost sight of him entirely.  I also was starting to get hints of cramping in my legs.  I knew I was in trouble.  I tried to drink more and spin out on the flat sections as much as possible.  I stopped at the aid station to drink and take in some calories.  With that, I headed out hoping to hold on to my second place position.  I knew that Marc Stannard couldn’t be too far behind me based on previous races, and I didn’t want him to catch me before the end.  After a few more climbs, I was fully in damage control mode.

Going around again
Grassy climbs. One of the very few non-fun part of this course.

Near the back side of the course there was one climb that I had to run up because of the rocks.  As I hiked up it, I was fighting off some serious cramps in my quads.  At this point, Marc shows up and runs by me.  Great timing!  I couldn’t do anything.  Really, I was just hoping not to fall over on the side of the trail clutching my thighs.  Not a good feeling.  I did get back on the bike but I wasn’t able to reel him in.  I started to feel better for the last few miles of the race, but it was not enough to increase my pace sufficiently to make a difference.

Finishing!
Slogging up the grassy slope to end my pain. Where’s the food?

Dave Tremblay surprised me by showing up.  He somehow managed to circumvent the bureaucracy USA Cycling and register for the cat. 1 race with a one day license.  I think I’d rather have done 3 laps, too.   Dave took 2nd in the cat. 1 single speed race.

My daughter Emma also got second place in the junior cat. 3 class.  There were only two girls but there were over 20 junior cat. 3 boys.  On my second lap, it seemed like every other rider I had to pass was a kid.  It’s good to see another generation taking interest in racing.

Results board
It was hard to read in person, too.

My only complaint about the day was that registration for this race ends up being $38 with the one day license fee included (add $10 more if you didn’t pre-register).  I’m glad this goes to support the Millstone Trails Association but it’s still a lot of cash for a cross country race.  My daughter has really gotten into racing this year but also does some work to earn part of her registration fees.  That’s a lot of money for a kid to come up with.  Maybe there should be some lower fee for junior novice riders or novice riders in general.  I think that might help encourage people new to the sport to participate more.

Still, it was a good race and an enjoyable day.   All those who placed received some prizes, we all got a nice Millstone glass, there was a lunch after the race and we enjoyed racing on some really great trails.  This is my second time racing the Grind and I’ll probably be back next year too.

More info:

Single-speed Marathon Podium
The podium.
Emma on the Podium
Emma on the Podium
Dave on the podium
Dave!!
The NEMBA Tent
The NEMBA tent with nobody from NEMBA around. I don’t know who brought it or set it up.

Millstone Hill Race Series GRAND FINALE!

Millstone PosterThis race was billed as “Vermont’s International Mountain Bike Championship Race Of the Universe!!!!” (yes, with four exclamation marks) on Onion River’s web site.  I’m not sure if it was quite that extreme, but it was definitely a nice race.  Apparently, they’ve been having a weekly race series at Millstone for the past several weeks this summer; but I only found out about it on Wednesday, thanks to Dave Tremblay.  I’m hoping they hold the series again next year so I can do more of the races.  There’s nothing quite like a race to get a good workout.

In typical fashion for me, I was late.  A late afternoon meeting ran long.  On the drive over, my daughter felt car sick.  Not only did this make us even later, it also took her out of the race that she wanted to do that evening.  After that, I was followed for several miles by a county sheriff car through many 25mph roads in Barre.  It’s not that I would push my speed too much, but it added to my slow pace.  Once we were at Millstone and unpacking, I discovered that I had forgotten my gloves.  Joy.  We managed to arrive with about 8 minutes to sign up and get ready.  It worked out.

The course?  It was Millstone.  Plenty of single-track: nearly all of it was rocky, twisty, and technical.  The climbs were short, but so were the descents which didn’t leave much room to rest anywhere.  Much of the short, 3+ mile loop was part of last year’s Millstone Grind race.  Very nice terrain.  My Strava data for the race is here.

I’m horrible off the start; I always have been.  The fact that I haven’t slept well over the past few nights didn’t help things any;  no kick.   Three riders took off and put some distance on me on the first lap.  I was never able to reel them in but held my place throughout the rest of the race.  On the third lap, I took a pretty good digger on one of the tight corners in the woods.  I think it was because my grips were nicely lubricated with sweat.  I haven’t gone down that quickly in quite a while.  On my final lap, I started to get a second wind.  I heard another single-speed rider behind me, briefly, while in the woods; but I was able to keep him from gaining on me before the finish.

I came in the middle of the 4 lap overall but was the first single-speed rider.  For that I won a really, really nice Patagonia backpack.  Well worth the drive over.  Thanks Onion River!  I’ll be back next year.   Official results are on Onion River’s website.

Millstone Trails

Dave at MillstoneThis past weekend was the opening for Millstone Trails.  The weather has been so nice with this unusually early spring, that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get in some single-track riding.  The weather was perfect and the woods were very dry.  Since I was already in the area earlier in the day, it just made sense to drive a little out of my way to get in some riding.

Dave Tremblay and I had a few email exchanges and managed to work things out so we could ride together.  I considered changing the title of this post to “David Tremblay Rides Millstone” or something similar since he requested to be “featured prominently” on my blog.  Is this enough Dave?  David and I have both ridden Millstone before, but only as part of the Millstone Grind race in previous years so this would be a bit different.  There is a kind of tunnel vision that you get in a race that keeps you from noticing things around you other than the course.  It doesn’t seem to exist when riding just for fun.

We both arrived at the small parking area in Websterville, VT.  This was a gravel lot that could hold maybe a dozen or so cars.  Very different from the mass of overflow parking that you end up dealing with on a Saturday at Kingdom Trails.  We then went up to Lawson’s store to get our day passes. This is an small, old general store that looks like it might not have changed in several decades.  I thought it was pretty cool overall, but I can’t really comment much more on the store as I was only interested in getting out on my bike at the time.  The woman who was working there was very helpful in going over what the area has to offer and making some suggestions.  One thing: bring cash because they don’t take plastic in any form at the store.  Thankfully, I was accidentally semi-prepared for this.

Dave!

David and I were both riding fully rigid single-speed bikes. I decided to bring along my race bike, since this was my first chance to ride some real trails with it.  This was both a good thing and a huge mistake.  Since I just built up this bike over the winter, I haven’t been able to work out the kinks in it yet.  I had to adjust the saddle before heading out and then mess with my front brakes.  At first, I thought it would just need an adjustment of the pads to keep the rotor from rubbing.  Then I realized that I needed to do a bit more.  I think Dave was a bit surprised when I started messing with the mounting bolts.  I thought I had it  fixed, and we started riding.  After a few pedal strokes, it was clear that it was not fixed. The rotor wasn’t just rubbing a little, but it was making a racket every time I stood up and mashed down on my left pedal.  I have no doubt that other riders elsewhere on the trail system could hear this thing rubbing.  More tweaking.  This cycle of riding and adjustment went on throughout the rest of the ride.  Eventually, I got sick of it and tightened down the pads so that they provided a nice quiet, constant contact.  Yes, I’m sure it slowed me down but at least it wasn’t driving me completely insane.  I hate bike noises.

Me fixing my front brake for the 15th time.
I spent an inordinate amount of time doing this.

Dave and I rode about 300 feet into the woods before needing to consult the trail map. While not as expansive at Kingdom Trails, there really are a lot of trails there.  Lots of them, with intersections interspersed at seemingly random locations.  Think of it as a corn maze for bicycles.  The up-side of this is that even when you take a wrong turn, you’ll still be on some trail that is going to be fun to ride.  The trails were actually pretty well marked, and the map was clear; but you had to stay alert, or you would miss some critical junction.  I turned over navigation responsibilities to Dave and resigned myself to remain generally clueless about where we were for the rest of our ride.

Our first trail was “Screamin’ Demon,” which had quite a few wooden ramps, bridges, drop-offs and banked corners.  Neither Dave nor myself really got into this stuff.  Maybe it is because we were both on rigid single-speeds.  Maybe it’s an early sign of aging.  Maybe we’ve spent too much time racing.  I kept thinking to myself: “When I was a kid we didn’t have artificial terrain, we were just glad to have trails.  Up-hill in both directions… in the snow….”  Still, I can see where it would be fun if you were on a full suspension bike and into that kind of thing.

The JabberIf there’s one thing Millstone has, it’s good technical terrain.  Where Kingdom Trails is open and “flowy,” Millstone is rugged and twisty.  Rocks are everywhere.  I liked it.  In some ways, I hate to compare the two as they are so different.  I’ve been riding Kingdom Trails since well before there was a Kingdom Trails organization, and it is my biggest point of reference.  I often say:  if you don’t think KT is technical enough, you’re riding too slowly.  At Millstone, you don’t need to crank up the speed to get that effect.

Windmill
I can't seem to get away from these things.

The trails wind around numerous old quarries that are scattered all over the area.   It is a strange combination of  the natural with the industrial.  There are huge piles of excavated boulders that we rode around and many open quarries.  There were areas that had old quarry equipment or junk cars along the side of the trail.  Some areas had large steel cables or chains strewn across the trail.

Dave and I ended up riding quite a bit of the course from last year’s Millstone Grind race. We did divert from the race course to a trail that we were told people either “love it or hate it.”  I was prepared to be deeply ambivalent about it, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable.  It was one of the “extreme” trails, TNT.  There were sections that took some effort to clean; but, overall, it was one of the most fun trails we rode.

One of the stranger things about Millstone Trails is how relatively flat it is by Vermont standards.  The elevation only varies by a couple of hundred feet throughout the entire trail network.  There are quite a few short climbs that got me breathing hard, but there aren’t any long sustained efforts.  These short climbs, combined with the rocks and small ledge rises, required a bit of deep effort to muscle up.

In half a day, we rode only a small portion of the trails.  I’ll be looking for another opportunity to get over there to ride more of the trails that I missed this time.  There was a lot of terrain that we didn’t get a chance to explore.   It might even be worth it for me to invest in a season pass.  It was definitely worth the trip.

Quarry