Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cranky Monkey MTB Series Race#1 - Wakefield

I wrote this the day after the race but forgot to post it.

The Cranky Monkey is a three race series of MTB in the Washington, DC area (USA Cycling D20) promoted by EX2 Adventures. The first race of the series was this past Sunday, July 26, 2009, at Wakefield Park in No. Va. Wakefield Park has some very non-technical single-track trails including some paved road sections as well as some gravel road. There is very little climbing to speak of so I would say it is somewhat rolling with no major climbs. I am signed up for the Sport 45+ series so my race started at ~9:49 a.m.

Given that it is 2009, it wouldn’t be a MTB race if there wasn’t rain the day/night before the race or during the race. This race was no exception. There was even an e-mail by the promoter advising racers to check the race website in the morning to see if the race was cancelled. In the morning the race website said that the trails were a little wet but that the race was on. Cool!!! The race start is on a gravel road that climbs up a short steep hill to the paved park road which takes you to the “bowl.” The bowl is a 2-2.5 mile single track section of the park with quite a few log obstacles but nothing too difficult. However, it was still rather wet with a slick .25” layer of mud on top in some places. Of course about a quarter-mile into this section I leaned into a turn and my front wheel slipped out and down I went. It seemed like 10 – 12 guys went by me while I picked myself up and got back onto the trail. I decided right then I would take it easy in this section. The “power-line” area and “berms” area of the trail seem to have more sandy soil and were hard and fast so you were able to ride normal there. Anyway, the rest of the race was fun. I looked forward to the climbs especially the powerline climb and the switchback climb up the berms. I ended up 18 out of 24 in the Sport 45+ group. On to Fountainhead!

Cranky Monkey MTB Series Race#3 - Quantico

Race #3 of the three race Cranky Monkey MTB series was held on the trails at Quantico Marine Corps Base on August 23, 2009 in the Washington, DC area (USA Cycling D20) promoted by EX2 Adventures. Given my first top-ten performance as a sport class rider at Fountainhead, I was hoping to achieve another in this last race of the series. The Quantico trails offer a lot of steep, punchy climbs which I like.

Unfortunately, the Mother Nature decided to dump over 2” of rain in the area the day before the race so I was expecting the race to be postponed. I woke up early to find that the promoter said the trails were good and the race was on. The temperature was forecast to be mid-eighties and not too humid which is all you can hope for in the middle of August in No. VA. This year the race start was at the bottom of a fire road that we bombed down on last year’s course. This suited me fine because it was a white-knuckle descent last year and it seemed in worse shape this year. The trails were actually in perfect shape for the race. Unbelievably, there were no puddles or mud anywhere on the course so my concern about trail conditions was misdirected. Last year I seemed to be having a good race until I broke my rear derailleur cable and ended up DNF. The race started very well for me. I was not really concerned with where I was at the start so I cannot say what place I entered the trails after the fire road start. Right away I noticed that I was engaged in a battle with three other guys that I would pass on the climbs and they would return the favor on the descents. There were quite a few climbs so I think I had the advantage and was able to pull away by the end of the first lap. I had no crashes to speak of except for one close call. There was a descent down a creek bed that was muddy in the middle but dry on the sides. The notable feature was a big tree trunk laying in the middle of the creek bed the entire length (~80’). I was going pretty fast down this area when I recognized the danger. Gravity was pulling you toward the middle of the creek bed and the sides were steep enough to make it difficult to stay there, but you didn’t want to get near the tree trunk because of the negative ramifications of crashing on it. I was fighting this situation the whole way down when I realized I was going to not be able to miss the tree trunk. I ended up clenching my teeth and closing my eyes as the crash loomed. A quarter-second later I realized that I was still upright and not going to crash. I had somehow skipped over the tree trunk to the other side of the creek bed. I felt very fortunate and made a note to avoid this mistake on the second lap. The second lap was good except that I started cramping towards the end of the raced. I backed off a bit to recover and ended up getting passed by one of the guys I had been swapping places with on the first lap. I kept him in sight knowing that we had one last climb before the final descent to the finish. I caught him and passed him on the climb, he was very gracious about giving me space to get by, and gassed it down the hill and over the line. I ended up finishing eighth out of nineteen for the race and ninth in the series for Sport Men 45+.

I want to give a couple of shout outs here. First to all, to those who have given me encouragement during the races I thank you very much. It always provides a mental boost to hear someone call out your name and it is most appreciated. To Greg Massey and all the other Sport class racers who shared the trails so sportsmanlike, it was a pleasure to race with you this year. And finally, Mark Thompson, thank you for sharing your experience from the beginner race earlier in the morning. Your information was pertinent and really helpful. Good luck to all. See you next year!

Cranky Monkey MTB Series Race#2 - Fountainhead

Race #2 of the three race Cranky Monkey MTB series was held at Fountainhead Park on August 9, 2009 in the Washington, DC area (USA Cycling D20) promoted by EX2 Adventures. Given my ho-hum performance at the first race of the series at Wakefield Park, I was hoping that the added technical features of Fountainhead along with the steep, punchy climbs may help to improve my performance as it relates to my finishing place amongst my worthy fellow competitors. Bottom line is that I was looking for a top ten finish.

The weather leading up to race day was relatively dry for 2009, and compared to last year the course was in pristine shape. The temperature was forecast to be hot and humid (mid-nineties) but what do you expect for the middle of August in No. VA? This race start is a one-mile loop around the park on the park road before diving into the rooty trails. The roots and undulations of the trails at Fountainhead always seem to surprise me. The trail seems more technical than those I usually ride (Rosaryville) so I always seem to take some time to adjust my riding style. Regardless, I felt good entering the trails after the road loop probably about mid-pack. One other thing I like about Fountainhead is that they name their climbs/descents, so you see signs with names like Holy Grail Hill, Lung Buster Hill and Shock-a-Billy Hill to name a few. Anyway, the first lap went really well for me with no crashes or falls and I had passed a number of folks in my race, so I had to make up for it on the second lap. I had my first crash of the day on a sweeping descent where I was paying more attention to the rider I felt behind me rather than the trail. My front wheel rolled over a branch or root mid-trail and slid out on me. I went down on my right side skidding into some leaves with some minor scrapes. My last crash of the day occurred just before the finish line. I had just descended Shock-a-Billy for the second time and had just a quarter mile to go. I knew from the previous year’s race that it was all uphill to the finish line. A guy had just passed me on the approach to Shock-a-Billy and I saw him not too far in front of me catching/passing another racer. The gap to these guys was shrinking fast and I was thinking that maybe I could catch one or both before the line. As I approached this little stream crossing (bridge), I was looking up the trail still gauging my chances when my front tire hit the bridge and slid out. I went down quickly and shot across the surface of the bridge on my back. I must have been spinning slowly because my left side left the bridge surface all at once and I dropped a foot or foot-and-a-half into the creek bed which was dry. Unfortunately, there was one big rock there in the creek bed that I took right in the small of my back. Ouch! I jumped up, thinking how that crash had cartoon implications, and remounted my bike only to discover my chain had dropped. Seeing that I had only about 50 yards to go I decided to run rather than futzing around with my chain. So I ran as fast as I could up the hill to the finish. I ended up ninth out of twenty-four Sport 45+ competitors. Needless to say, I was happy with my race and looking forward to race #3 at Quantico.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Barking Mad

I know it has been really hot and humid out there lately. But can all this heat and humidity cause craziness? You be the judge. I was out doing a lunch time ride yesterday. Just getting in about 45 minutes of moderate spinning. As I was riding along a route that I frequently ride I heard barking. I did not recall ever hearing a dog in that area so I took a glance over hoping that there was a fence. There was no fence but there was a lot of bushes and shrubs so I thought I was safe but I prepared myself mentally for a sprint just in case. Suddenly, it seemed the barking was getting louder and much closer. I thought, no way this must be one big, fast dog to be closing on me this quickly. I decided I'd better take a look back to better judge if I was going to need to sprint. So I look back and what do I see? A guy running after me barking like a dog. He was just giving up. I couldn't believe it. He had a great dog bark. It was very realistic. He fooled me. I just wish I had a photo I could show. Anyone else ever get chased by a human barking like a dog?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

GamJams Reviews: Socks - DeFeet, Smartwool, Starter

Socks, to me, are one of the least important items in my cycling clothing collection. I am not partial to any one brand in particular. As long as they are functional and low cost I will wear them. Since I mostly race MTB, I base my sock selection on weather more than brand. If it is wet or muddy I try to choose a dark colored sock. In dry conditions color is less important but dry trails still tend to provide a nice layer of dirt/dust to the lower leg area. So my stable of cycling socks consists of several (~4) pairs of dark gray Defeet socks with a Powerbar logo on one side of the ankle and the Tour de France logo on the other. These socks are highly functional and were provided to me gratis with some orders from Performance Bike (2004-ish) as I am a Team Performance member. I have one pair of light gray Smartwool socks that were provided gratis at 2004 Richmond Adventure Race in which I participated. These socks are thick, warm, and provide much cushioning. I usually wear them while running. I recently purchased a two pack of Starter compression socks (from Walmart). They are black ankle highs and I am liking how they feel. Since my other socks are older and wearing out I may have to purchase some more of these. Lastly, I have one pair of Team 53x11 socks which are also Defeet. They are 60% Nylon, 39% CoolMax + Fresh FX, 1% Lycra. They fit very closely (foot is held firmly in every direction), no extra cushion required, are super light weight with low bulk. They provide enhanced airflow, the most direct power transfer to shoe, are fast drying, and won't get weighed down with water during extremely wet events, river crossings, etc. The last thing about this pair of socks is that I hardly ever wear them because they are mostly white!