Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ski to Sea

The Bellingham Olympics a.k.a Ski to Sea was last weekend and wow, what a fun weekend that was! The seven leg relay race from Baker to Fairhaven was bigger than it has ever been and the weather was also better than it has ever been(at least of my four ski to sea years). This year I raced for the same team as in past years, but with a new name, "Klicks Running and Walking". We were formerly the RunningShoes.com team, but the store's name was recently updated to Klicks.

This year marked the 100 year anniversary since the historic Mt Baker Marathon Race. A record number of 500 teams (8 people per team) and more elite level athletes than ever made for an unforgettable race. The number of people in town was shocking. The nice weather brought thousands of people out to watch and enjoy the festivities at the finish line in Fairhaven. There was a solid line of cars backed up two miles long on State Street waiting to park near the finish! Good thing we were on bikes, of course.

Steve George and Jim Clevenger (owner of Klicks) started us out strong with the XC and Downhill ski portions of the race. My roommate, Sam Alexander, moved us ahead of our Whatcom County rivals, Beavers Tree Service, with a super fast time in the brutal downhill running leg. Phil Elsasser, our road biker, rode smart and waited for a couple other riders to work with. They pace-lined to the finish at very high speed, passing or picking up several riders along the way and moving us further ahead of Beavers. Our canoers, Eric Gerstl and Alan Lipp, then powered down the Nooksack River from Everson to Ferndale with a top-10 split.

Nervous and excited to do my part, I waited on the beach until Eric and Alan came charging up in 8th place overall. After carrying the canoe together off the beach, I jumped on my bike that Whitney was holding for me and sped away into the grass fields of Hovander Park.

The mountain bike leg of Ski to Sea is not known for being very "mountain bikey." After racing it last year, I knew what to expect this year and just thought of the course as being its own unique beast, more similar to a cyclocross race. Primarily pavement and dirt roads, aerobars and semi-slick tires (like my Schwalbe Furious Freds) are common. 29ers also seem to be favorable, but my Noble 26er full suspension definitely did not slow me down. The few sections of "singletrack" are freshly cut paths through tall grass fields. This year the course was lengthened by a few miles to a full 20 miles.

The team aspect of Ski to Sea has a big motivational effect while racing. I felt very focused and was able to really turn myself inside out. By the end of the leg, I had passed 3 riders, moved the team into 5th overall, and extended our lead in the Whatcom County category. Our kayaker, Peter Marcus, paddled like crazy and led the team in for the Whatcom win and 5th overall! To make the day even sweeter, it turned out that I was the Top Gun in the mountain bike leg for the second year in a row!

Team Klicks Running and Walking.

Photo credit: Randall Wick

These results called for some serious celebrating. The annual team party at the Klicks store downtown didn't disappoint. Lots of food, beer, and celebrating. Oh and of course we each enjoyed our turn at drinking beer out of the Galbraith Cup! It was another exciting and fun-filled Ski to Sea weekend. Maybe the best ever?


Indie Series Opener

The weekend before last was the first Indie Series mountain bike race of the season. The race took place outside of Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula. Indie Series coordinator, Mark Peterson, had the help of Olympic Dirt Society, organizers of many awesome downhill races. They put together a great XC course for the event. Admittedly, the long climb was a drag at times, but the long BC-style downhill more than compensated. Bermed corners, steep chutes, roots, rocks, jumps, ladder bridges, you name it. Refreshingly fun for a cross country race! I am kicking myself that I didn't get some helmet cam action. Oh well, there is always next year.

Also rode some of the Olympic Discovery Trail "Adventure Route." So fast and flowy! No braking and no pedaling for very long periods of time! I'll have to go check that one out again in the future.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Stottlemeyer 60

A new mountain bike race series in Washington featuring longer marathon-style courses? Sign me up! The NW Epic Series is an exciting new addition to Washington mountain bike racing. The first race of the 3 race series, the Stottlemeyer 30/60 miler, was yesterday and the conditions could not have been much better. The Port Gamble trail network featured a great mix of trail styles.

The 60 mile race started out a little more leisurely than the usual 25 mile olympic-format races, but the pace was still high enough to stretch the field out up the initial fire road climb to the start of our 4 laps. I was the first to enter the singletrack, with road racer Chris Wingfield on my wheel, followed by Toby Swanson, Eric Atwood, Jason Jablonski, and others.

The next 4 miles were slow-going on fun technical singletrack. I think this was probably the most challenging part of the course for a lot of people. The riding was very dynamic, with constant ups, downs, twists and turns through the thick, wet, dark forest. Similar to Lost Giants on Galbraith and some of the trails I grew up riding out at Black Diamond, bike handling skills could definitely make or break someone's race here.

Finally popping out onto a fire road, the front of the race started to come back together and a large peloton of maybe 20 riders formed before we entered the next singletrack. This trail felt like the polar opposite of the previous singletrack, featuring ripping fast flowy dry track through new growth forest. I looked down at my gps a couple times and saw speeds of around 25 mph. Not bad for twisty singletrack!

Passing the second feed zone, we were about halfway done with our first lap. The second half of the course was more physically challenging, with some longer steep climbs, but it still featured a lot of killer singletrack. One trail in particular was especially fun. It was mostly downhill with soft root-strewn dirt in a dark, damp forest. The sort of stuff that I consider iconic Pacific NW trail.

After completing the first lap, I decided to up the pace the second time through the initial 4 miles of techie trail. Soon it was just Toby and I rallying through the woods, just like old times. After establishing our lead, we were occasionally caught by Jason Jablonski, but would usually pull away again in the technical stuff. By the third lap, Toby was starting to cramp and eased his pace a bit.

Now all alone, I concentrated on riding smooth and steady. Despite having already ridden 45 miles, I made a little goal to myself of riding my final lap just as quickly as my previous laps. I remember in high school my cross-country coach told us about "runner's groove," this blissful state you can occasionally find yourself in, where your body switches to autopilot and your movements feel effortless. It may sound strange, but I started to feel this amazing comfort, smoothness, and ease to my riding. It just felt easy. The peacefulness of the forest, and the joy of riding my bike took over as I cruised through my last lap and across the finish line. Jason Jablonski(Set Coaching) finished second, followed by Ian Tubbs(Audi) in third.

Since I had never raced such a long mtb race before, my plan had been to focus on quality nutrition and hydration, as well as even pacing. The wonderful feed zones twice per lap made my nutrition plan easy. I would stop about once every hour to fill my bottles with Clif Electrolyte mix and grab handfuls of Clif Blocks and M&M's, stuffing them into my mouth as I sped off into the woods. The feed zones totally kicked-butt! Tons of food and water, and very friendly volunteers.

I was concerned about going too hard too early in the race, so I made sure to focus on riding at an effort level that I thought I could maintain for 60 miles. After looking at my lap splits post-race, I couldn't be more happy with how I paced myself. All four of my laps were within 90 seconds of each other, with my last lap nearly my fastest. I was also really happy with my bike set-up. Since this has been such a wet spring and the forecast called for chance of rain, I chose the Rocket Rons, as they are more of an intermediate-conditions tire. The combination of those tires and my Noble F4 had me feeling smooth and comfortable all day.

The Stottlemeyer turned out to be such a killer race. Great course with an excellent level of support from the volunteer-staffed feedzones. To make the day all the more sweet, Whitney won the 30 miler! Yeah, that's right, my girlfriend was the fastest woman! Sounds like it was a close race too, with the top five all within 8 minutes of each other.

Check out complete results: here

Next race up is a new venue, the first Indie Series Race in Port Angeles.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

State Championship Weekends

My last two weekends of racing have been back-to-back WA state championship events. First was senior road race champs down in Elma, followed by this last weekend's mountain bike champs over in Wenatchee.

The state road race was held on the Vance Creek course, which I had never raced before. Admittedly, I wasn't expecting a very interesting route, but I was happy to realize the course was actually really fun. It started and finished at the old half-built nuclear power plant(cool to see up close) and featured some really fun narrow winding farm roads that made me feel like I was back in Europe. The race finished on a one-mile punchy climb. Not long enough for a pure climber to ride away on, but too long for a pure sprinter to win.

Lots of laps.

My Second Ascent teammates, Mike and Kevin, and I rode well, staying near the front and getting in a few moves. Second to last lap, friend/Bellinghamster Ian Crane and I were off the front up the climb, trying to bridge to a two-man break-away that included another friend/Bellinghamster Steve Fisher. Unfortunately the pack chased us down then proceeded to sit up and just put along, letting the break ride away with the win.

The last time up the climb and into the finish, the race for 3rd came down to an uphill finish. Logan Owen and Ian Crane finished just ahead of me as I rolled in for 3rd in the sprint and 5th in the race. A pretty decent road racing result for me. Mike and Kevin finished really strong as well, both in the top 20.

Last weekends mountain bike race was an event that was put on by Jake Maedke, the same promoter who runs the awesome Beezley Burn race weekend. If you have never met Jake, he is a super cool dude and his events are top notch. Check them out at his website.

The event, called the Chainsmoker, was held at Squilchuck State Park. Some of you may remember racing the old WIM Squilchucker race. I remembered, but it wasn't until I raced it again that I truly recalled how incredibly challenging the course was. My previous experience of Squilchuck was from age 16, when I battled(and came in second to) Tom Kutina in the junior sport category. I should also mention that it was nearly 100 degrees outside, if I remember correctly.

This time around, the weather was anything but 100 degrees. Alternating between rain, hail, and sunshine, the course had turned into a mud fest by about 30 minutes into our race. After a blazing fast start, I stayed on Spencer Paxson's(Kona) wheel for as long as I could until he got rid of me at the end of the first lap. Now in no-mans land, I stayed about 30 seconds behind Spencer and 30 seconds in front of Russell Stevenson(CyclingNorthwest) for the next hour. Starting the 4th lap, I felt my body starting to protest the hard effort and Russell caught me and quickly dropped me on the steep paved climb through the campground.

My 4th and 5th(final) laps had me remembering how hard the course was when I raced it as a junior. I really hit the wall and was nearly to the point of walking up some of the steep hills. I was relieved just to make it to the finish line. I was also happy that I held on for third place, finishing about 2.5 and 3 minutes behind Russ and Spencer, respectively.

Thank you for the photo Patrick!

Chainsmoker was a race that reminded me of some of my old mistakes: after a solid warm up, start a race hard to stay with the leaders, but not so hard that I blow up before the finish. Also, make sure I eat and drink enough. This was one of those races where I felt like I was turning myself inside out the entire time, without many chances to drink or recover.

All in all, it was an awesome weekend of racing and hanging out with good friends, which reminds me; Chris, Courtenay, Patrick, Whitney and I had a super fun time camping and barbecuing Friday night before the race. It was also great waking up only 100 feet from the race course!

Next race up is the Stottlemeyer 60 mile mountain bike race in Port Gamble. I'm really excited for this one, but not exactly sure how my body will handle such a long mountain bike race...