Training, racing, gear, facial hair styles and thoughts from my push to become an elite cyclist.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hampshire 100 Race Report

Last year, the Hampshire 100 was the focus of my season.  After successful campaigns in '09 and '10 I decided to make it my focus again this season, but you already knew that if you read The Moment post that I published last week.

Going into the event I established some goals for myself.  I wanted to improve on last year's time, but I know from other events that aiming to shave off too much just leads to disaster and disappointment.  With last year's finish time just under 7 hours I figured on a goal of 6:30, but that I'd be happy with 6:45.  Also I wanted to beat my H100 nemesis, the racer who'd won in 2009 and finished one ahead of me in 2010.  It wasn't anything personal, but I wanted to make up that 5 minute difference he had on me last year that kept me off the podium.  

This year is a little different because I've already done 2 decent endurance events, 6 Hours of Pat's Peak and the Dark Horse 40.  My preparation featured fewer long training rides and more racing action.  Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't.  

Friday and Saturday were pretty laid back but productive days.  I was able to get my bike dialed and round up most of my gear with little incident.  In some ways it's a shame to have a summer Saturday assigned to packing the car, driving and basic pre-race tasks, but it's a necessary evil.  

I arrived at the venue Saturday afternoon and after some deliberation spotted an appropriate spot to pitch my tent.  After a brief debate I elected not to setup next to shirtless guys and instead found a quieter corner away from the commotion of the start line.  I'm sure those guys were decent people, but the fact that one of them was going to ride 63 miles on a Klein Mantra was enough to make me suspicious.  

The tent went up without a hitch, and at 8:30 I had nothing better to do than go to bed.  After thumbing through the pages of Cyclocross Magazine for a few minutes I shut off my lantern, set my alarm for 5:15 AM and attempted to get some sleep.

I'm usually pretty restless the night before a race, especially when I have to get up early.  After lying restlessly and fumbling around for what felt like half the night I decided to get up for a bathroom break.  When I made my way back into my tent I was certain it was around 2:30 or 3:00 AM, but it was only 10:30 PM.  

When my alarm finally went off I slowly started to get ready.  I've done enough races that I have a pretty decent idea of what needs to happen in what order, so I was on semi-autopilot as I got dressed, had breakfast and pulled my bike out of the car.  

The dew was pretty heavy, and everything that had been left out was soaking wet.  I'd learned that from years past and had put the bike and my folding chair back in the car to stay dry.  
I was able to sneak in a quick warmup before the mandatory 6:15 AM racer meeting, though I could have ridden longer.  The expert lineup was pretty big and by virtue of lining up late I missed out on getting my preferred starting spot, but I made do.  When the gun went off we rolled away and quickly zipped through the short singletrack that connected the cinder track to the dirt roads outside the park.

This is the point in the race when the fast guys light it up, and everyone else turns themselves inside out to keep pace.  Some groups form, guys work together in pacelines, and many racers bury their chances of a solid finish by burning too many matches within the first 10 easy miles.  

It's tough for me to sit back when I know I can keep up with those guys, but I know what I can and can't sustain, and I have no business wheel sucking when it's just going to bury me later.  This year I kept up a little better than in years past, but my legs felt awful tight, and I was regretting wearing arm warmers after about 15 minutes.  

The miles click by pretty quickly in this section, and it's easy to entertain thoughts that you can finish in under 6 hours.  Really until the 3 mile sand section that's pretty much true, but then reality sets in.  

The race follows a pretty similar pattern every year- flat, fast first half, then two big, steep climbs and then the second half is on broken class IV roads, jeep roads, vague doubletrack and singletrack in that order.  The second half doesn't have many big climbs, but there are many steep power climbs, many of them on loose rocks and with a water crossing at the bottom.  Not surprisingly the second half is where the real race really starts.  

The break point between those two halves is the first big climb- a very steep, long and gravely ascent that takes probably about 15 minutes to climb.  This climb is immediately after the extended soft sand section, so although you haven't been going uphill you have been building fatigue.  Last year I made up some time as I was able to ride most of the climb; this year I rode all of it. 

Photo courtesy of extremilys

This shot was taken near the top where it flattens out a bit but is still pretty loose.  The camera angle makes it look less steep than it is, but more than half of the riders bailed on it because they lost traction.

At the top of the climb is a smooth, fast rolling section that sets you up for the next big climb- the Powerlines.  Steep, grassy and wet, the Powerline climb makes its way up a long hillside just a few short minutes after you've crested the boulder field.  It's steep, and with my 2 x 10 29er I have 3 less gears for tackling extreme uphill grades.  Still, I kept it rolling and went into the red to keep pedaling and reel in some riders where most were walking.

Shortly after the climb is the first aid station, and I made quick work of filling my bottles, inhaling some salt tablets and getting back on my bike.  I don't do well with stopping, so I try to keep my breaks pretty short, but even still I felt like my legs were getting really bogged down as I made my way up first climb.

By this point, the race is fairly strung out and I've settled into a groove within a pretty small group of riders around me.  For me this is where the race really takes shape as I usually aim to have a fast second half.  I'd been feeling alright, but the technical sections weren't really smooth, and I felt like I was getting a little too tossed around on the trail.  After letting some air out of my tires at around mile 35 things started to change.  I felt good.  I was fast, smooth and able to ride both up and down.

At some point I started trading places with a particularly lanky fellow on a Pivot.  He was about my height, but his saddle was several inches higher than mine and his riding style was to pedal roadie style with a flat back and let his big wheeled suspension bike do all the work.  He was light on torque, but his wiry frame enabled him to keep pace on longer climbs.  From behind he looked like a praying mantis with his long legs and folded over posture.   

Last year I ended up racing a fair bit of the last few miles with a guy in a Racer X jersey.  This year I found myself trading places with him a little earlier, and he quickly became my rabbit.  X had rolled away from me a bit and was working with another rider.  I tried to make up some time in one of the steep rocky sections and went over the handlebars while over thinking a roll down.  As I picked myself up off of the dirt Mantis rolled by.  Mad at my momentary lapse of judgment I put in a concerted effort to catch up to X and his partner, and a few minutes later I did.  With some smart line choices I was able to save some matches and pick my way back up to him without burying myself.

For the next few wooded miles we traded places- sometime I'd lead, sometimes X would, and we'd intermittently catch and pass Mantis.  I was running low on water and stopped at the aid station before the second drop station to fill up.  Although it was only 9 miles to the next station I knew 1 bottle wasn't enough.  That gave X and Mantis a couple minute head start, so with full bottles I began to chase back on.

The next few miles after that section feature a fast descent, some climbing under the power lines and more wooded semi-smooth singletrack.  I got within a few bike lengths of Mantis, but X was much further ahead.  We worked our way past some low lying ponds that were right near the roadway, which meant that there were some enormous puddles.

In one spot I slowed down to pop a GU, and looked up to find Mantis riding out of the biggest puddle I've ever seen.  With a clean line in front of me, I rolled into it as the water parted around my front wheel.  At the deepest point my shoes, pedals and lower brake rotors were all submerged.  A few short seconds later I was out of the puddle and accelerating to catch back up to Mantis.  We rode together into the next aid station and readied ourselves for the push over the last 15 miles.

The distance after this last drop station is really where you can feel that it's a different race than the Vermont 50.  That extra 13 miles means you still have to race for at least another hour, and it's an hour at the end of the race when you are already pretty spent and really just want to get off your bike.  It's also where I usually pick off a few more riders who slipped by me earlier in the event.

Shortly after the aid station X stopped to walk up a hill and I never saw him again.  A few miles later Mantis did the same, and I found myself racing with some other riders who had started hard but were fading fast.  We rolled together for a few minutes before I let it all hang out on the fastest, roughest gravel descent I've even ridden. 

I'd promised myself I wouldn't check my watch to see my time until I'd finished, so I poured whatever energy I had left into riding as smooth and fast as I could.  Fortunately the last couple miles were on fairly smooth singletrack so I was able to conserve energy and let the bike do the work.  Without incident I rode most of the singletrack clean, although I walked over a couple of the bridges in the last section just to be on the safe side.

In the end I had good but not great race and finished in 6:44.  I did beat my rabbit, but because of a large number of sandbagging elite riders that was only good for 9th.  Still I'll take it, even though my finishes of 3rd, 4th and 9th seem to show backwards progress but in reality it's just the opposite.

What's probably the most interesting thing for me is that after I found the groove I not only rode better, but I could go faster than I though was possible.  As I packed up my tent I was amazed that although I was tired I wasn't nearly as beat up as I was after finishing last year.

So was it a victory of the body over the mind?  In some ways yes, I think so.  I also proved to myself that I'm stronger than I think I am, and that my training is paying off.  The effort put into big rides and doing other races has made me stronger and more resilient than years past.

There's one more race on my calendar, the 50 mile Landmine Marathon next month, but for now I'm going to be taking it easy for a few more days before I ramp it up again.


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