Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Getting revenge at Syllamo's Revenge

This season is not anything like last year.  The weather has been harsher, my training has not been as dedicated, but my overall fitness and times seem to have been feeling better than 2012.  Maybe I was more over trained last year, maybe I've carried more fitness into this year.  Whatever it is, I'm starting to believe that I'm in better shape than years past and that is good.

Regardless, I still went into May 18th's Syllamo's Revenge 50 mile MTB race with a lotta doubt.  Last year, this was a big goal race and I completely blew it.  This year, I wanted to improve, but really didn't think that I could meet last years goal of 5hrs 15min.  I went into this years race just wanting to do better, hoping for a 5:30 and wanting to have fun.

Jason Dal and I loaded up on Thursday afternoon and drove down to Mountain View, Arkansas.  Home to the race. I made a navigational decision error and it took longer to drive down than it should have.  We pulled into our cabin near 11pm and after unloading, decided to have a few beers to unwind.  It was a long and winding road to get into town and after all, I was trying to have more "fun" this year.

Just after lights out, the skies opened up and it down poured.  Really heavy rain for most of the night.  I wouldn't think much of it until later the following day.

Friday morning, we walked across the courthouse square to find some breakfast.  The small diner was full of locals and I'm sure we stuck out like sore thumbs.  No matter, the food was good and we ate enough to be able to skip lunch and pre-ride the course at mid-day.  This was when both Jason and I had our eyes opened to the slipperiness of the Ozarks stone.  We had ridden the opening climb to the singletrack and on the shorter, power climbs over rock, you could not keep the rear wheel from spinning.  There was even a short section of off camber rock that was hard to just walk across.  It wasn't looking good for race day if the course stayed this wet.  Jason was questioning if he should switch tires to a more aggressive knobby that he had brought along.  But, I was stuck with what I had - Specialized Renegades.  Semi-slick knobbies that were perfect for dry days, but seemed to be completely wrong for the slick rocks.

After the pre-ride at the start, we drove to the opposite side of the course to test the tires on more rocks.  We dropped the air pressure and that seemed to help.  This part of the course was also drier.  I had no choice, so I thought positive thoughts and told myself that the rocks would be slick for everyone and that I could out ride the others though this stuff (positive reaffirmations, by Tom Anderson).

We were able to meet up with Jim and Sally Logan for a pre-race dinner and good company.  I had another couple of beers that night, breaking my promise to abstain before the racing.  A semi-early bedtime and we were up on Saturday for the race.  Last year, we had stayed at a hotel and the poor breakfast choices where the beginning of my demise.  This year, the cabin allowed us to make our own breakfast and I think it really made the difference.  Eggo's are not likely the best choice, but it was easy carbs and calories for me to digest about 2hrs prior to the 7:30 start.  Jason and I arrived at the start early and I took my time suiting up. I didn't want to spend too much time aimlessly riding around.  I did get about 10min of warm-up in and figured that the approx 3/4 mile long opening climb would be my warm-up. It also fit into my plan of starting slow this year so I wouldn't blow up like last year.
On the initial fireroad climb, 8-12% grade

Last year, I got a terrible position on the starting line.  This year, I barged my way up to about the 3rd row on the outside. My goal was to go into the singletrack about 40 or 50th position out of the approximate 300 starters.  The problem with this course is that after the opening climb, the course turns right and into single file singletrack.  No real passing spots, unless someone makes a mistake.  Last year, I pushed into the top 20 and paid for my efforts.  This year, I was hoping to get some slower people in front of me so my efforts would be regulated by them.  The race director blew his whistle and off we went.  I went about 80% up the opening climb. Just at the top of zone 4, maybe zone 5. It was hard to let the front group go, but I was betting that half of them would blow up.  A second group formed behind them, and then the group that I was leading.  We were are the top in short order and we headed into the singletrack.  I'd guess that I was in 50th to 60th at this point and pretty happy that I hadn't burned any matches yet.

The first 15 miles to checkpoint #1 is very technical riding. The wet rocks made it even worse. I held back from those in front of me and let them make mistakes. This allowed me to see a potentially better line and to ride past them. I took my time and metered my efforts. I kept telling myself that it was a very long day and to relax. Some of the sections were too wet to ride and a short walk was in order, but I as able to ride the vast majority of this section (surprising, given my tire choice). Many times, others would gladly step out of the way just to see you attempt to ride a section. Congratulations were given when you made it, which gave me extra incentive to ride the sections clean. I pulled through the checkpoint in 1hr 43min, which was ahead of my goal time of 1:45.  I was feeling good and happy that I wasn't worn out.  I had the volunteers fill up a water bottle (I was using a camelback) and I was quickly off.  I had passed a good 20 or more people to this point and figured I was in about 30th.

The next section heads to a rocky overlook.  Lots of slow, rock crawling type riding. The last half has several downhills and the rocks are not as bad. I had an aggressive time goal for this section, but last year I cooked myself trying to descend too quickly.  I also remembered that the few climbs on this section are tougher than they should be. I kept telling myself to "be smooth" and to save energy for the climbs. More people were passed and I was actually enjoying myself.  Last year, this was the section that I began to bonk.  This year, I came through slightly faster, but in better shape.  My goal was 1:15, I came through at 1:11.  I was 6min ahead of my overall goal pace and started to think that my 5:30 goal was easily obtainable.  I had the volunteers fill my camelback with water for me, while I gulped down 1/2 a bottle of Heed and filled it to the top for the rest of the trip.  It was getting hotter and I didn't need to cramp on the upcoming climb.

Jason working his way along a side hill ridge

The long slog up to check point #3 was mostly a walk for me last year.  This year, I couldn't believe how short the climb was. I think that I may have actually held back a little too much here.  Still, I was surprised to pull into the check point in 1hr.  A full 33min faster than last year!  Walking vs. riding was the obvious difference, but also knowing the overall course and what to expect really helped.  At this point, I was a good 15min ahead of my goal and excited to finish the race.  The last section is fast and flowy if you are reasonably fresh.  I still had no idea of where I was placed in the race, but was riding with some faster guys.

Sally through #1 of two creek crossings, they were refreshingly cold!

I grabbed some more water and took off fast for the last section. I was chasing a guy through here and every time I was getting closer, he would find another gear and pull away.  I was mostly just trying to maintain a smooth pace and it was getting harder.  I think that my efforts over the course of the day were about perfect. Near the end a guy came from behind and I was determined to not let him pass.  We were racing at short course speed and passed a few guys.  I kept thinking that the final climb and then downhill to the finish were near, but after a few sections, I let him pass.  Resolving to myself that I was mistaken and that the downhill was still a few miles away.  I settled back into my pace and 10min later the downhill arrived.  There was no way that I could have kept that pace with him, but we had fun encouraging each other on while it lasted.

I finished in 5:17 and got a cheer from Ryan Feagan (who had finished 5th overall in 4:53). I think he was as surprised as I was with my finishing time.  The funniest part was when he noticed my poor choice in tires and shouted out again that I was nuts for running them.  Funny, after the initial hour, I don't think they made a difference, good or bad.

I cooled down some, showered and changed and grabbed a beer and a chair, settling in to wait for Jason and other friends to finish.  It took longer for Jason and I ultimately found out that he had "burped" his tires 2x in the first 90min and finally had to put a tube in.  Then his cleat moved on him and he had to walk over a mile.  He was able to fix it and finished, but at least an hour past his goal (which was obtainable for him).

At this point, no results were posted yet. I wasn't worried, I had the race that I wanted and was happy.  I figured top 8 in age group and top 25-30 overall (based on previous years times).  It wasn't until Jason went to look for his result that he told me that I had finished 18th overall and 3rd in age group (40-49). Yahoo!!!!  I had no idea that I was that far forward.  Amazed and elated. 

Syllamos Revenge 2013

I picked up a cash payout and this fine looking trophy, then Jason and I went back into town to celebrate.  The celebration didn't last too long.  The day caught up to both of us and after some BBQ and a few beers, were were in bed early.  Waking up at 6am, we decided to get on the road ASAP and beat the impending thunderstorm home.

Thanks to my family who supports me in my racing and thanks to Jason for the road trip.  Also a big thanks to Greg, Sterling and the gang at Rasmussen's Bike Shop. Always there for me with support, parts and good natured ribbing. It was a blast and I'm already looking to next year to see if I can improve on this results.

Thanks to "CommieBiker" and Arkansas Outside for the photos. They are appreciated.

2013 stats:
to chk1 157avg heart rate  1:42.45
to chk2 150avg heart rate  1:11.33
to chk3 153avg heart rate  1:00.33
to finish 147avg heart rate  1:17.55
total moving time 5:09.29; total time of 5:16.49
total avg heart rate 152
max heart rate 176
z1 0:14.44
z2 0:54.14
z3 1:22.59
z4 2:03.50
5a 0:31.50
5b 0:07.59
5c 0:01.11