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A Beautiful Disaster: Tahoe Trail 100 Race Report

(from L -R: Leadville founder Ken Chlouber, Bay Area phenom Meiling Yee with her Leadville entry, me, Leadville former race director Merrilee Mauquin)

I raced forty minutes SLOWER this year than last year. I was supposed to go an hour FASTER. Big disappointment. My weight is down 12 pounds and my aerobic fitness has improved. I’ve gone further and faster.I’ve thought about this race every day for the past year. I put the pressure on myself, and, I cracked. Complete gastro-intestinal meltdown. Dehydrated? I guess. Bonking? It appears so. How could this happen?

Well, the weather and scenery was gorgeous, another awesome Tahoe day. Seriously, as I finished, I couldn’t help but smile and feel good about myself, even though I had my worst race ever. How could this be? The disaster was only physical, and it was temporary. The beauty was mental, emotional, and spiritual. That lasts longer.

Well, not everything went wrong. The first lap went well. I passed some people, some people passed me. I felt reasonably strong and paced well. I found a group, and we rode together through the aid stations, leapfrogging our way around the course. It felt like I was going fast, though compared to last year, not as improved as I hoped. But I got into that zone where time sped up. I kept thinking, I’m already this far? Another aid station already? This climb is over? I get to descend so soon? Then halfway through the second lap, it crumbled beneath me.

So What Went Wrong

The Golden Rule of Racing:

Never change anything on race day! Make sure any equipment, nutrition, or hydration issues are thoroughly tested in training or low priority races. Never show up when it counts acting like it’s a lab experiment. I bent this rule (didn’t truly break it) without realizing it. I slightly changed my nutrition/hydration protocol, and it seems that is was just enough to cross a very fine, gray line into disaster. I used my usual blend of plain water, liquid Sustained Energy, and an occasional Hammer Gel.

But if I had my usual set-up of water and preferred fuels, and plenty of aid stations, how could I dehydrate and bonk? After reflecting, I figured it out. I didn’t use my Camelbak, which I use most of the time. I had forgotten how rough the course was, and was unable to get water consistently. When I did stop and try to catch up, I overdid the water and fluids.

About five hours in, I realized I was behind on fluids and calories. At the first aid station on the second lap, I tried to catch up. I was feeling tired, but I should have felt tired. Then, about 20 min. later, as the carbohydrate and caffeine hit me, I felt great! My energy was up and I passed people on a tough climb. I was even singing and rapping to myself! Then it all went sideways and the crash came. I started to feel worse and worse, and the nausea became so strong I could barely tolerate plain water in small sips. Trying to push hard on the pedals on climbs made it worse, so I was reduced to walking. I couldn’t eat. I could barely drink. I was pushing my bike and sweating in the hot sun all by myself. For about an hour I sank and wallowed in this until my gut finally started to settle down. By then I had lost enough time that I would not make the time cut-off for a Leadville spot.

Leadville Trail 100 founder Ken Chlouber always like to exhort people to dig deep. He told me that personally the day before after the racer’s meeting. I did. I felt so bad that I almost quit. Except that I was in the middle of nowhere. As I pushed my bike up climbs, coasted descents and soft pedaled the flats, I dug deep. I reminded myself that the climbs would end soon, replaced by a long, fast descent to the next aid station. I decided to see if I could bring my heart rate down and recover a bit. I told myself that I would decide at the aid station to continue or not. When I got into the aid station, I drank two big cups of Gatorade, which I usually detest, but it felt good. My stomach was better. I drank more water and waited. My stomach felt OK. I refilled bottles and decided I was going to finish. Either I finished or they scraped my carcass off the trail. I thought about the last demoralizing climb, and figured I could walk if I had to. I did. But by combining walking breaks with riding, I managed to keep my stomach from rebelling completely. And I kept moving forward. I vowed to keep moving forward until I couldn’t. I finished.

So while my physical performance was disappointing, I’m very proud of how I overcame that adversity. Although I think I could have gone a little faster at the end, I was worried about my stomach so I played it a little too conservatively. But I didn’t quit. I reminded myself that I only have three goals in a race: 1) Stay on course 2) No DNF 3) No DFL. I succeeded with all three, and it took a lot more than usual to get to the end, making my finish very satisfying indeed.

Why Race?
The usual answer is to get better, go faster, to see and mark some kind of improvement. But I didn’t improve in any measurable way this time, in fact did the opposite, yet I’m well satisfied. So I realized that maybe we race “to boldly go” some place uncharted. We hope that this will be a new level of performance, but it could just as easily be a new state of mind. The suffering I went through pushing my bike through sections I rode last year was new. But I realized that is just pain. Not all pain is significant. And it wasn’t really that bad. It wasn’t life threatening. Yeah, I was dehydrated, but a long way from true disaster. Ditto for calories. The brain protects itself in endurance events by gradually shutting things down. I still had a long way to go before complete physical failure. And it was a race, so somebody would help if I truly needed it. So I went to a place I’d never been before where everything went wrong. And not only did I survive, I finished with a smile.

My GI recovery continued after the race, and I ate, rehydrated as normal, enjoying the awards and cheering those people who got an entry into Leadville. That includes my friend Meiling Yee, who arm wrestled the women’s overall winner Rebecca Rusch for a win and an entry. My recovery continued over the following week, and now I’m back on the trail. All in all, my low point lasted about an hour before I started to climb back. Not too bad. It could have been a lot worse.
See? I finished with a smile!


Race Report: Squaw Valley Mountain Run 2011

Squaw Mtn Run

searching for the finish

This run is a beast. 2000 vertical feet of climbing in 3.6 miles. It is relentless. You start climbing immediately on the long ski run that links the base area and High Camp, and it never flattens. Even the finish is uphill. Even after the finish it still goes uphill while you are gasping and trying to get out of the way of the other racers. Last year I fink ally figured when this long running race is held, the first Saturday in August, and so now I know I can test myself on it every summer. Last year I managed a painful 54 min. that included a lot walking, numb legs, and being passed by dogs and small children. This year I passed all the dogs and children. I would a be damned if that Tibetan mastiff would pass me, and only the teenagers passed me. I’m OK with that.

So I really wanted to improve over my time from last year. Last year I really struggled, which surprised me since I usually climb well in trail races. But this course was ALL uphill, and while the gradient eased slightly a couple of times, it never really went flat. I feel fit this year, so I had that going for me. But I’ve done no anaerobic training and no specific climbing workouts. What would all this low intensity Maffetone training mean when I was going to redline my heart rate and not let up? And this was a short race, making it very intense and anaerobic, not like the longer efforts I’ve done this summer where the aerobic training would clearly pay off. To race for four or seven hours means almost all your energy is aerobic. But a super intense uphill effort for less than an hour will significantly challenge my anaerobic fitness as well. Since I do no anaerobic workouts and just use racing for my intensity, do I even have any such fitness? The only other short race I’ve done this summer was the Burton Creek 10K, and I definitely struggled there. I want to believe that was solely due to the previous day’s MTB race, but I still doubt myself. Also going against me, especially climbing uphill against gravity, is that I am far from my racing weight. This summer was supposed to get me close to racing weight for this race and especially XTERRA Incline. Too much livin’ large in the Tahoe summer. Rich food and drink make for a slow racer.

So the results were very favorable. And while I had to drag my heavy body uphill against gravity, I did so at a run for almost the whole race. For the first two miles I never walked except in the traffic jam at the start. While other racers kept alternating from a walk to a jog, I just kept chugging along like a diesel going up Donner Summit. I seriously thought that I might be able to run every step. But just before the single track section I walked a switchback which was really steep, thinking a recharge would help. It didn’t. The single track was steeper and narrower than I remembered, and very congested with people. I walked a lot of it to conserve energy. In retrospect this was the right thing to do, but it was demoralizing at the time. When the single track ended, there was only a half mile to go, and it eased a bit before the final finishing straight. This is where I really came unglued last year. I was hurting, got passed by a dog and then a young girl. This year, I felt much better and pressed on, even managing a finishing kick and lunge that put me past a guy that I had been sparring with. And I chopped minutes off of my time.

Even more good news about the low heart rate aerobic training. In a much shorter and more intense race, I could feel that more of my energy was aerobic, and I recovered from the race within a few minutes. Last year I sat on the lawn with a thousand yard stare and struggled to get my metabolism back to normal. In addition to the low heart rate training, I am experimenting with hydration. Since listening to this podcast interview with Dr. Timothy Noakes, author of the massive tome The Lore of Running, I have followed his advice to drink only water, and only to thirst. Apparently, electrolytes and dehydration are greatly exaggerated, possibly by the sports drink industry. More on this later as the experiment evolves. I felt no thirst during the race, but afterwards I drank a big glass of water out of habit from my commemorative pub glass, then a glass of the free beer. You can’t pass up free beer.

Nearly four minutes faster than last year

Quick recovery

No dehydration

Attached video is Tim Van Orden, another plant based athlete, describing how hard this race is.

Race Report: Lake Tahoe Trail 100K Leadville Qualifier

Well, I didn’t know if I was going to able to survive 100K at high altitude, but I did. And I wasn’t completely wrecked either. Almost, but not quite. Since I am a true novice at racing, my goals for any mountain bike race are modest:

1. Finish (no DNF, unless it’s a GREAT story)
2. Stay on course (this does not always happen)
3. No DFL (I don’t mind the back of the pack, just not last!)

In this race I added another goal:finish within the time cutoffs so that I could theoretically qualify for the Leadville Trail 100 if I won the lottery.

I succeeded on all four counts. I did not stay around to try to win the qualifying lottery, since Leadville is out of the question this year.

Pre-Race Nerves

The race had a 6:30AM start, and I was staying an hour and a half away, which meant getting up at 4AM, a truly ungodly hour. But I correctly reasoned that I wouldn’t sleep well anyway so it didn’t really matter. I was so nervous that when I did get up (before the alarm even)I think that my heart rate was already well into my aerobic training range. Since my heart rate monitor died on me, I never did know what my heart went through as I was reduced to RPE all day. Probably better that way. In any case, I made it to the venue with enough time to get ready, even though I had to stop for gas that I forgot the previous day. I saw lots of very fit, shaved legs at the start, and lots of $5000 bikes. I looked at my hairy legs and ancient bike still using V-brakes, and knew I was outgunned. Good thing I am only here for my own sense of accomplishment.

Lap 1

After a neutral roll out through the convoluted Northstar base area, the route hit gravel and dirt, and I dropped my chain. With my chain firmly wedged against my chainstay, I watched the field roll on by. Now I know I’m really slow, so I positioned myself in the back anyway, but I did not like the future that this omen indicated. I yanked the chain back into position and set off on the first of several climbs. I caught and passed a few people, especially during the Burton Creek section where I was already familiar with the trails, but mostly I rode on my own. Even the dust kicked up by the main field gradually faded away. I hit the first aid station at the halfway point feeling great and full of confidence. That was because I did not know what was coming next. All the hard stuff was in the second half of the lap. Lots of climbing, especially right at the end, some tricky sections, a fast downhill that had uphill car traffic, and lots of little leg sapping, chain throwing climbs. I finished the lap with a half hour to spare for the cutoff.

Lap 2

At this point I was pedaling into uncharted territory. I had never raced this long, nor had I ever ridden my mountain bike longer than what I did lap 1. I may have ridden my road bike a little longer, but very soon I was riding longer than I ever have. And it was a race! Lap 2 started out with a lot more climbing than I remembered from lap 1. Did they sneak in an extra climb? I’m sure they did. While I pushed the first lap hard because of the time cutoff, I eased up for the second lap. I knew what I was in for at the end, and I anxiously did not know if I had it in me. I felt pretty certain that I could do it if I just stayed hydrated and kept the calories coming in. The “easy” first half was not nearly as easy this time around. The friendly aid station volunteers cheerfully pointed that I had “only” 25K to go. Yeah, I replied, the HARDER 25K! I definitely slowed down the second lap. I never had to walk, like a few others I saw, but I did stop a few times to recharge. The last climb dragged on and on, while it sucked my soul right out of me. But when it finally went downhill to the finish and I heard the DJ spinning my favorite U2 song, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”, I knew that is was a good day. And I didn’t even have to use my AK.

What I Learned:

I can ride my bike for 7/12 hours, climb 7000 vertical feet, and live to tell about it. Ken Chlouber is right: You ARE tougher than you think you are, and you CAN do more than you think you can.

Things that worked well:

Build a big aerobic base, and these events are possible. I used the Maffetone Method.
That aerobic base means lots of energy comes from burned fat stores, so you can keep going longer.

Hammer fuels kept my carbohydrate stores high enough to keep burning fat. I never felt close to bonking, which I have always felt before in super long efforts. I used Hammer Gel, Perpetuem, and Sustained Energy. I carried single serving pouches in my pack and mixed new bottles at the aid stations.

Mental training pays off. Meditation and visualization kept me focused and positive even as I went much further than I ever have before.

Thanks Maffetone, Hammer, and meditation!

You don’t need a $5000 bike to do something truly amazing. You just need motivation and some base training. I still want one though. Hey Cannondale, want to sponsor me a new Scalpel as I quest for Leadville?

Race Report: Lake Tahoe Trail 100K

Race Report: Lake Tahoe Trail 100 Dave Wiens

Dave Wiens is the nicest pro mountain bike racer you are likely to come across anywhere. He came all the way out from Colorado to help direct the Tahoe qualifying race. He interrupted his own training to help us qualify for Leadville. And he lubed my chain for me. When is the last time a pro lubed your chain? That’s right, six time Leadville champion and Tour de France champion destroyer wrenched for me.

Actually, he was helping everyone out, and when you are as far at the back of the pack as I was, there was plenty of time to help slowpokes like me. But still, it was a nice gesture. Beyond his generous aid station help, Dave Wiens helped set the course, and he ran the pre-race meeting, giving us detailed knowledge of what to expect on the course. And everything he said was true and accurate. I was amazed at how as various sections of the course were revealed to me (I did not pre-ride the course) that it was exactly as he described. He even went on to say that were a lot of fun sections that made it even better than Leadville. What a guy.

Now, if only I could have borrowed his legs for that final climb. Or maybe borrowed some of his high altitude, high hematocrit blood. Hey Dave, what blood type are you?

Leadville Qualifier: Lake Tahoe Trail 100K

Lake Tahoe Trail 100K

I’ve raced for four hours on a couple of occasions, so in my oxygen deprived brain that means I am ready for an marathon distance mountain bike race. Right? After racing for four hours solo in Tahoe and surviving enough to race a trail 10K the following day to conclude with a long course XTERRA triathlon the following weekend. So… Countdown to the Lake Tahoe Trail 100K. I think that it is comparable to a road century of 100 miles, which of course I have not yet accomplished. I plan to do that in October at Levi’s Gran Fondo. So what am I in for over 100K on a mountain bike? All I really hope to accomplish is to finish, and finish within the cutoff times. The race start is 6:30 AM, and you must start the second lap before 10:30 AM. That four hour lap time represents an average speed on eight miles an hour. My usual average on the mountain bike? Eight miles an hour. So, if I have a good day, I should finish within the cutoff times. But if something goes wrong, physically, mentally, or mechanically, it might be all she wrote. What’s at stake? Entry into the famous Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike race. There are fifty spots available for top finishers in the various age groups, and another fifty spots available by lottery to those who finish before 3:30 PM. So far, there do not appear to be many racers registered, so there are good chances to qualify. That is probably because this is the first year there is a chance to qualify at all, rather than take your chances in the lottery. The catch? If you qualify, by either method, you must pony up your $275 Leadville entry fee on the spot, and race this year. You can’t put it off until next year. So what do I do if I qualify by accident?

Race Report: XTERRA Tahoe City 2011


That was my goal for this race. I knew I would be in the back of the pack, but I had a shot at beating the much more experienced Dave. I looked at race splits awhile back and realized that of my experienced XTERRA racing friends, Dave and I were fairly close on final times. When I looked closer, I realized that all four of us, Dave, Meiling, Ricardo and I would finish the swim close together. They all three destroy me on the bike like I’m riding a kid’s big wheel, but on the run I’m always faster than Dave. So, if I could limit my losses to him on the bike, there was a chance I could run him down. That’s exactly what happened. Unfortunately, he admitted to being swamped at work and unable to train appropriately, so it was kind of a hollow victory. I need to beat him again when he is in shape so that I can feel good about it.


This went way better than last year, when I had the worst swim of my life. What I did differently was to swim in the lake each day leading up to the race to get used to the feel of the cold water. I realized that by just standing in the water and splashing it all over for about five minutes made it palatable. An easy breast stroke to warm up and get my face used to it, and then I was off for an easy 30 min. swim. I even used my sleeveless wetsuit, since the afternoons were warm. At the race venue, I used the same strategy. Rather than huddle together on the beach and whine about the cold water, I got in and forced myself to go through the agony of adjusting to the cold. It worked. I lopped off about seven minutes from last year. And while it wasn’t particularly fast, and I was definitely at the back of the pack, I felt mush better going into T1.


The snow that closed down Antone Meadows for last week’s races was still there, and so the course was changed. Fortunately, what a difference a week of sunny weather makes. Most of the snow was gone, and all of the snow drifts that were so difficult to ride through last week were now just muddy sections with snow on the side of the trail. I felt faster, and my bike split was definitely faster that last year, but that may be because the course was shortened due to the snow. I couldn’t find if it was, so I’ll go with my very subjective sensation of greater speed. Dave agreed. I trust Dave. What I couldn’t figure out was how when I entered T1 there were a zillion bikes, and when I entered T2, there a zillion bikes again. I wasn’t passed by a zillion people, were those all short course riders?


I hate this run course. It is a relentless climb, then a flat top section and a relentlessly steep descent, partly on pavement that really thrashes your quads. But this year I liked the course because it allowed me to pass Dave. I kept wondering if he was close up the road, and my Spidey-sense told me that the guy in the blue jersey ahead of me was Dave. I did not know what his jersey looked like, but I was right. I exchanged small talk as I passed him and turned on what leg speed I had left to the finish. He was impressed. I was impressed. Did I mention that I beat Dave?


I am really beginning to think that there is sometyhing to this Maffetone low heart rate training. I felt really quite good at the finish, Last year I was totally trashed. While I kept racing last year, it turned out to be my last triathlon. I was wrecked. This year I felt great. Dave looked wrecked. After rehydrating and partaking of the post race food and cleaning up transition, I felt great on the drive home. They stayed behind so that Meiling could collect more of her usual awards. So, at XTERRA Incline, I’ve got Dave in my sights again. If I can just limit my losses on the bike, can I run him down again?

Race Report: Burton Creek Trail Run 10K

This was the second year for this race, and the turnout was really good. But just like the previous day’s mountain bike race, there was the snow issue. For the marathon and half marathon loop the same Antone Meadows section was eliminated. And while the 5K/10K loop didn’t go as far up into the woods as the MTB race, did, we still had some snow to wade through. Last year I had a great race, finishing in the top five, thanks to a strong finishing kick on a tricky finishing stretch. I knew not to expect such a performance this year. since my off season training was lackluster and my switch to Maffetone’s low heart rate training would keep my pace a little slower. But the real reason I knew this race would be slower and harder was that racing a mountain bike for longer than I ever have before the day before would leave me with a lot of fatigue. Plus, the altitude was still putting the zap on my brain.

So this race had a different goal than last year. The general goal of go as fast as possible and see how fast that actually is remains the same. But the circumstances force me to accept a slower result. Instead this race was more about piling on more fatigue, similar to a triathlon, but over two days. So I had a night to recover from the MTB race, but not enough to really recover. I had some soreness, but mostly the feeling of dead legs. So I would go into the run with significant fatigue, just like a triathlon, so it’s good experience to run on dead legs. And my legs were dead for sure. Each lap started with a gradual climb, which felt Himalayan. I couldn’t believe how high my heart rate was, yet my pace was so slow. Well, reality can bite, so I did all I could, practice finding the sweet spot of pacing. Well, the “sweetest” spot I could find anyway. I survived both laps, and while not fast, my purely aerobic training left me feeling like I still had some gas in the tank when it was all over. Even if I couldn’t have gone any faster. On a more amusing note, I always race in my Organic Athlete kit to promote the plant strong lifestyle, and sometimes draw a comment. Yesterday’s MTB race drew a cheer as I crossed the finish line, and today a couple asked as I they (unfortunately) passed me, “Are you really vegan?” Mostly, I replied. “Cool!” was the answer. That’s right kiddies, you too can eat only plants like me and struggle at the back of the pack!

16th place overall

Lake Tahoe 4hr Solo MTB Race

All right, this was a big one. A big, new challenge. I’ve done very little mountain bike racing, and never at this distance or length. But it will be a good challenge, and it is within reach. I have raced long course XTERRA to about the four hour mark, and I know and love these trails from a race last summer. It was a challenge, but I was confident That I could do it. I picked the race and was excited about it because most of the long marathon like races are 8, 12, or 24 hour races. This four hour length is a perfect stepping stone to those longer races. It would also be a great test of aerobic fitness and the Maffetone Method that I have been experimenting with this spring. And I want to use it check put the bike course in advance of next week’s XTERRA, which uses a lot of the same trails.

Well, the endless winter left endless snow, and part of the course had to be cut because it was truly buried. And there was still a lot of snow! There were many patches to either try to ride through, or hike a bike. And mud. Lots of mud. Mud and snow, but otherwise a perfect Tahoe summer day. The race website estimated fast lap times at forty minutes. Even with the shortened course, few people were able to bring in a lap time under an hour. I managed 1:15.

The real success is that I just kept pedaling. I never bonked, even though I got tired. I believe the Maffetone training protocol is paying off. It appears that my fat burning is more efficient than ever before, thereby increasing my endurance. I kept charging along at 165+ BPM without dropping in pace much, or getting hungry. All three laps were at a similar speed. I kept fueling with Hammer Sustained Energy and Hammer Gel in the range of 150-200 calories an hour like I do in training, and it worked great. When it was all over, I felt pretty good. Despite recently arriving at altitude and not getting quality sleep.

Since I survived four hours, is the next step an eight hour race? It is tempting, and I think with some more training, it is entirely possible. I’ve got my interested piqued by the Leadville Qualifier at Northstar at Tahoe later this summer. If I can find some course information, that might be a good next challenge.

Race Report: Squaw Mountain Run

        How many years have I been trying to do this run? For some reason I could never find it to get registered until this year. Either it never showed up on the calendars that I checked, or web sites, or I would just miss it by a day or a week. I suppose that it is fitting that this year when I have raced so consistently that I would finally get set up to do it. So I finally got myself up to the Squaw Valley parking lot on the first Saturday in August to race up the mountain.
        Great turnout! 540 runners! As a fund raiser for the Auburn ski club, they must be stoked to rake in that cash. I was reminded constantly by the reflection in Born to Run that running is a deep set human activity, almost primal, as evidenced by the huge numbers who will gather to run together. We start complete strangers, who no longer feel quite so strange after sweating and suffering together. Especially for a “race” where only a select few are truly racing. The rest of us just run. Why? Why don’t we stay at home and sleep in on a weekend morning? Do some sensible exercise, like walk the dog? Especially for a race like this one where we all knew that it would hurt. No one shows up for a mountain run expecting to escape the suffering. And yet, 540 souls lined up to test themselves.
        And what a test it was! I knew the course only as a winter ski run. It’s long for a ski run, over three miles, because it gradually winds and switchbacks its way down the mountain. It’s primary function is to be graded ascent for maintenance vehicles, both summer and winter. So while I knew it would be a relentless climb, I didn’t think that it would be that steep. Holy cow, was I wrong about that! As I joked with a couple on the tram ride down, I’ve never walked so much of a trail race. It took a while, but eventually I found something approaching a rhythm of walking and running that kept me moving forward. It wasn’t like a usual trail race where the terrain constantly changes, sometimes necessitating walking. Here, walking wasn’t faster, just unavoidable when my legs ran out of power. I had the most peculiar sensation when switching from a walk to a run, I couldn’t feel my legs! It was like they went numb! I would glance down to check that they were still there and still functioning!
        The other peculiar sensation reflects my fitness profile, and instructs me in how I need to modify my training. At the beginning, my heart rate was pinned, but I am used to that feeling, so I carefully gauge my effort to keep from blowing up. But as the race went on, I gradually lost power in my legs. I wasn’t breathing all that hard, but I couldn’t go any faster. I noticed this in the recent XTERRA races as well, but I figured that it was a result of deadening my legs with a 2 hour mountain bike ride first. In this case, I wasn’t out that long before my strength faded. So, I need to modify my training to include a lot more strength work. I have done a little of this, now I know that I need to be a lot more consistent. This result reflects my usual training routes, which are fairly flat, and the lack of gym workouts. I recall now that the last gym workouts I did that my legs were not nearly as strong as they used to be. SInce I have had this experience a couple times now, I need to change my training to focus on strength and muscular endurance until the end of the season. Hills! I must run them! And weights! I must lift them! And this off season? Time to become a gym rat!

TBF Friday Night MTB Racing Series

Will the Real Sandbagger Please Stand up?

I have read that there is a special place in hell for sandbaggers. Of course, I worry a little that in the novice category I might be considered a sandbagger! But I quickly assuage my guilt by reminding myself that outside of a couple of XTERRA triathlons, this series is only the second time I have ever raced a bike. That truly defines a novice, no? So why do I care about sandbagging? Because I won the first race for my novice category, and there was That Other Guy. You know Him. The Real sandbagger. The guy with shaved legs, full team kit from a local shop, and a carbon 29er hardtail. In the novice category? Seriously? Except for week one, he just rode away from the field. I rode away from most of the field as well, but I didn’t know what to expect. Next year I will go get my ass kicked in Sport Category where I belong.

Anyway, here is how the race series broke down.

Week 1: 7/16/2010

Filthy heat! Forecast 102 degrees!
I think I drank four liters of water that day trying to stay hydrated. While I love the course at Granite Beach, it’s funny that I have never yet just ridden the trails for fun, only under race conditions. There is just one problem. That Rock. It’s huge, it’s a boulder. It’s actually rideable, but it sure doesn’t look that way! The first time I raced the course, I didn’t know what to expect, so when I came around the bend and saw The Rock, I just powered over it with pure adrenalin. Then in XTERRA, I choked on it. Tonight I choked again. Total mental block, so I had to dismount. Otherwise I rode well, considering the heat. I placed fourth overall, but the three guys who passed me later on were actually in the 40-49 age group, so I won my category! BUT: I was passed by The Fat Guy. Since he was not actually in my category, but one that started a minute back, he was WAY faster. Not cool, I do not like being passed by The Fat Guy, who must have much better technical skills.

Week 2:

Much better weather for this one, only about 90 or so. Still hot, but I must have finally acclimated a little, since I wasn’t busy worrying about the heat, only the racing. Made the drive from the Bay Area to Folsom after summer school without difficulty, and lined up for the start after a brief warmup. I want that rock! I want to own it! I also want to beat That Fat Guy. This time that sandbagger pro-look guy rode away from me and I never caught him. Another guy rode away from me like I was on a trainer, but fortunately he was not in my category, but men 20-29. Damn youngun’s. My regrets were three: one, I didn’t push it hard enough on the paved road section, two, I got passed at the very end by a guy who couldn’t really drop me, and three That Rock owned me again! The paved section exists because of higher than normal water levels this year, and it was a lot longer than I remembered from week one. I wanted to use it for recovery, but I recovered too long, I could have made some time here and prevented that pass. I got a little complacent while riding out there on my own, and let off the gas which got me passed by a guy who wasn’t really, faster, but definitely hungrier. Next week, hammer the road. The route was slightly different as well, with a singletrack section not looking the same at all. The Fat Guy didn’t pass me, but he still rode the course 20 seconds or so faster than me. Damn.

Week 3:

Last one! After finishing fourth overall twice, but first one week and third the next week, I sit in second place for the series in my category. So this week I want to smash it! Unfortunately, it smashed me! This race was harder than the triple digit suffer fest. I arrived late because I drove from Tahoe, miscalculated the time, and encountered more traffic going down the hill than I had anticipated. I had plenty of time to get to the start, but not enough time for a warmup. The previous races I got maybe 10 minutes warmup, not a lot, but enough to get the blood flowing. For a short, intense race like this one, I think that’s crucial. So I lined up near the front and dropped the hammer, trying to keep up with Sandbagger Racer Boy, which I did for awhile. Good news, I cleaned The Rock! I own it now. But then, the lights went out. I hurt. I struggled. I was deep in the Pain Cave without a flashlight. I punched my ticket on the Pain Train and rode that sucker through the middle section. And lo and behold, they changed the course again, the paved section was dramatically shortened. Does this make the course shorter? Longer? Faster? Slower? How do I compare this week’s time to before? I was passed by a few riders including The Fat Guy, who owned me again. I passed a couple guys toward the finish, having no idea what category they were in, but by then I had recovered. Tough race, but a lot of fun all around.


Lessons learned:

  1. Arrive early. I had no problems with registration, but for short races, a warmup is critical. Now I know.
  2. Gauge effort carefully, I tend to fade in the middle of the race, after going out hard. But then I recover a bit before the finish.
  3. Let go of the brakes!
  4. Get new tires.
  5. Train hard, and smart.

Including the LT climbing intervals once a week definitely made a difference, as well as spending more time on the MTB in general. Now I face a problem, I am fast for a Novice, but really slow for Sport. I don’t want to be That Sandbagger, so, for next year I must train really hard so I can upgrade to sport and not be too far off the back. I need more strength, muscular endurance, and more practice on technical skills so I can find some “free” speed.

Onward and upward!