Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Michelle's Maah Daah Hey 100 Race Report

We rolled into Watford City just in time for the start of pre-race meeting, and walked into a crowd that was 95% young ultra-fit males. We sat down at a table and were soon joined by a couple who asked Artur if he was racing solo. They looked a little surprised when he informed him that he was not racing, I was. The surprised look on their face left me thinking that to them, I must look something like the Pilsbury Doughboy on the RRR jersey. The guy asked me what I'd been doing to train for the event and I said "running". The look of surprise changed to a blank stare. I tried to explain that we ran very long distances etc., but that didn't seem to give them much confidence that I wasn't going to be lizard fodder out on the trail. 

As we listened to the race director give us a run-down of the trail and the things to watch out for I actually started to feel scared and leaned over to Artur to announce that likely I was going to die and who did I think I was signing up for this thing? Artur did not seem too concerned about my imminent demise, likely because he would be the one holding on to the car keys and would be able to get home with or without me. After the terror session, we zipped over to the CCC Campground which was at the MDH trail head and was where the race was to start at 5am the next morning. Got my bits and pieces together and curled up for what was going to be about 3 hours of fitful sleep. 

The next morning was freezing and I was more than a little nervous as I stood at the start line feeling like an enormous nerd in my 'RUN' shirt and rain jacket, standing among all these super fast looking folk and in their awesome biking outfits. At 5 am exactly the race was on. The first 1.5 hours was in total blackness and I thanked Kevin and Ryan many times over (silently of course, out loud would have been weird) for lending me their lights with zero notice. The nervousness was gone, replaced by exhilaration. The night riding was very cool and although I missed out on some great scenery, the other 14.5 hours I was on the trail offered unending spectacular views. I can't begin to count the number of times I let out "Oh WOW". 

The first leg was just under 25 miles and I pedalled along fairly conservatively, quite sure that I was at the very back of the pack because I couldn't see or hear anyone behind me. I wasn't overly concerned about that, after all, I was just here to have fun (I had now decided that I likely wouldn't die after all). As I rolled into the first aid station the volunteers were very excited telling me I was the first female and 28th overall (which put me about 1/2 way in the pack). I was more than slightly surprised and right then the competitive juices started flowing. I wasted no time at the first aid station and blasted off into leg 2. 

Leg 2 was a pure delight, I was absolutely flying high, loving my bike, loving life, loving everything. I arrived at aid station 2 (approx 50 miles in) still feeling great and chomping at the bit to get leg 3 done. I'd heard it was the toughest leg but wasn't worried because I had made good time in the first 2 and had approx. 7 hours to complete leg 3 (the first 2 legs took me about 3.5 to 4 hours each). I spent more time at that aid station then I should have and then really lost time because about 1.5 miles into leg 3, the trail was completely washed out and there were no posts or flags to be seen. I was convinced I'd somehow taken the wrong route and rode all the way back to the aid station to inquire. It turned out I had been on the right path and should have simply crossed the ravine where I would have found the trail markers. All in all about an hour was lost at that transition area, but I still felt sure I would get to TA 3 before cut-off. 

Leg 3 was a slog. Constant climbs and descents, very rough trails, lots of hike-a-bike portions (given my skill level, I know a lot of people would have ridden all or most of it). For sure I was tired but the ultra-running experience paid off big time. At no time did I ever feel the same fatigue that I do during an ultra. Brad is right, running is immoderate, but boy does it make you tough! It also helped that for about 1/3 of the course I had the company of a guy on a CX bike—talk about hardcore! The 3rd leg was approximately 30 miles—I had miscalculated and thought it was less so for most of the leg I still thought I would make cut-off. Once I realized I would miss it, I felt some disappointment, but I had done more than I expected to and certainly enjoyed the experience more than I thought possible. 

As I was closing down that last couple of miles of the leg I spotted a person sitting on top of a butte and perhaps due to fatigue, insanity or poor eye-sight decided it was a blonde woman doing yoga. Then I noticed that this blonde woman was taking pics (I could see the flash). Then I realized that this blonde woman was actually Artur who looks nothing like a blonde woman. Ian Hall had ended his ride at TA 3 and had offered his bike up to Artur so that he could take a rip on the trails. Very cool, Ian. As CX guy and I rolled up to Artur, he informed us the remainder of the tail was smooth, flow-y, and mainly downhill. It was pure bliss for the last 1.5 miles and we came zipping into TA 3 to sound of the volunteers cheering. High 5s all around. 20 minutes past cut-off, but it was OK. I had had the time of my life, and it's just the beginning.

Huge thanks to Kevin and Ryan for their "more powerful than the sun" lamps and to Artur for driving all over the middle of nowhere with my crazy dog to cheer me on and whip up all those PB+J sandwiches!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fast enough to be last: Back 40 Recap

The rating on the package of my new 29er tires gave them a 0 for muddy conditions and a 5 for dry, smooth, packed trail. My thoughts... "Mud? When do I ever ride in mud? Achh, that's not important, what's important is that they knock over a pound of rolling weight off my bike. That's going to feel great on the climbs!" And so, the die had been cast...

I'm not sure how I can describe yesterdays race in terms that could allow you to fully grasp what it was like when the heavens opened up during lap 3 and half of 4. I felt great by the halfway point and had the energy to finish strong, but, alas, the final rain burst of the day threw a spanner into the works. It turned, what had been a slightly slick, but completely rideable, singletrack course, into a snotty, slippery trough of demoralization. Honestly. In dry conditions, my 5 year old son could ride most of the north lake shore trail. During lap 4, it was essentially impossible to ride even the most modest incline on this stretch, and getting off and pushing was equally bad. No joke. Even with four big, ol'lugs in the cleats, I was slipping out continuously as I walked up trail that is normally a roller coaster of good times. At one point I passed a rider completely splayed out on the slight, simple to ride descent to the boat ramp.(for those of you who know the trail) What was it like, you ask? You know those deep, ice ruts that sometimes develop on wintry Winnipeg roads? The trail was a bit like that, in the sense that it grabbed your wheel, spun you sideways, then dumped you to the ground. At other times I truly felt I was riding my bike on a slick, 10 inch wide, freshly iced bobsled run. The big, grassy descent towards the creek crossing, just before the 2nd stretch of roadway, was so treacherous I launched into the bush 3 times, and that was while walking! You may be thinking, "what a wuss. I've ridden trail in the rain plenty of times." In my defense, I count it a source of pride to have ridden, and finished the 2001(?-could have been 2002) cup race at Swan River in 11C temps and pouring rain. Somehow that course was still rideable, even in the rain. This trail is different. The mud on the lower sections, nearer the lake, is classic Manitoba gumbo, similar to what you'd find riding the monkey trails along the Red River.

The start of lap 4 was my lowpoint, and had me seriously considering packing it in and sheepishly accepting my non-mechanical induced DNF.  What kept me going...? Pride? Undoubtedly. But the very reason I made the last minute decision to race the 5 lap version was because RRR lacked a representative and, as a result would forfeit any chance of winning the 2012 version of the coveted Butter Belt. Sacrelige! I had to push on. I knew the Jonny G was a little behind, so in order to restore the belt to it's rightful home, I had to keep slipping and sliding my way towards the finish.  Well, the good news is that I was fast enough to make the last lap before the cutoff time, the bad news was that I was the last racer fast enough to make the cutoff time and as a result finished last place. It was a lonely last lap, and my crossing the finish with arms raised in victory was met by a chorus of soggy crickets, as by then the staging area resembled a ghost town. Ah well, at least Tim and Kevin were there to make the prize presentation that mattered most. The Butter Belt is back where it belongs. Rumours swirl that this could possibly be the final BB awarded, as the formation of Dark Red Racing makes the intersquad rivalry somewhat of a moot point. Or is it? Guess we'll have to wait until next year to find out. Now, how do I convince my wife that the belt is beautiful and should grace the display on our dining room buffet table?

As always, big thanks go out to the Tinker team that joined forces in making a the 2012 Back 40 another stellar event. Thanks guys/gals!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Can tires make you faster?

I had an interesting experience today. I went for my first ride on my new Michelin Pro3 Race Road tires. Right off the hop I felt like something was different. It was as though my bike was rolling more smoothly, and as the ride progressed, the feeling became more pronounced and I actually felt like I was going faster. Sure enough, at the end of my ride my avg. speed was about 1-1.5km/hr higher than what I was typically putting out on my old tires. Is that possible? How can swapping out one set of slick tires for another set make any difference? Weird. Anyway, I googled it and came across this chart.  Apparently there is a difference between tires. Here's the original site.