Monday, January 5, 2009

2009 Excruciation Exam: Out for Revenge

After the hurt that Excruciation Exam put on me last year, I was intent on extracting my revenge this year.

Maybe next year.

This year was a lot like last year, except:
  1. I had no mechanical issues
  2. I made use of a lesson I learned last year.
I guess that spending two weeks on the couch in my sister's basement, getting caught up on Burn Notice reruns, is not a good training program prior to a race such as this.

I returned home the evening before the race, and when I went upstairs, my right knee started making noises. I've had knee problems before, but not like this, this was odd. Just a popping at the top of the kneecap. I then got on my mountain bike to ride down the street to the mailbox, and the knee was fine. The bike, however, developed its own issue; there was a hitch in the crank with every rotation. I thought that the cranks had come loose, as they had before, but that was not the case this time. When I put the bike up on the work stand to lube the chain, I found that the bottom pivot bold was sticking out about a quarter inch on each side. At least that problem was easily fixed.

The knee issue persisted through the next morning.

I woke up at 4am for the race, and got to the race site at Warda by 6:30am, in plenty of time for the 7:20am start. As I limped up to registration to get my number plate, Susan saw me and said, "You're back this year!" She was probably thinking, "Oh, man, it's going to be another long day for us!"

I then found John and Maureen, and handed my cooler of food and drink to Maureen to take to Rocky Hill Ranch for me (Thanks, Maureen!). We caught up with Richie at the riders' meeting.

No Lemans start this year, as we started on the bikes, and rode a bit through an empty field to thin the herd. As we got to the front pond, two guys were already off of their bikes. I later learned that one of them had broken his shoulder, and he hadn't even gotten into the woods, yet! Better right after the start than right before the end, though, I guess.

As we entered the woods, John was right in front of me, and Richie was right behind me. We were the Three Velociteers!

Let me take a few moments to talk about Richie. Richie is one of my heroes. He's the nicest, most unassuming guy you'd ever want to meet (anyone nicer and more unassuming would just be annoying), but he's an animal on the bike. This race was his 5th time on a mountain bike, the third time on a trail (excluding the Dirt Derby), the second time on a rideable trail (excluding City Park, which was his first ride on the bike), and his first time on the Warda trails. Richie and I rode at Rocky Hill Ranch the weekend before Christmas, and he was amazing. I missed the turn to Kara's Way, and we ended up on Black Trac, a black diamond trail. When we got to the Grind, I realized that this trail was taking us to the beginning (i.e. the wrong way), so I stopped. All Richie said was, "That was kinda scary." He didn't hesitate to double back on Black Trac, though. I was leading most of the way since I "knew" the trails, and I was going at an easy pace, keeping Richie in sight behind me (and I like going at an easy pace). When I would falter, and Richie would get in front, the pace would go up. I was doing all I could do just to keep Richie in sight ahead of me. At one point, I came around a corner, and Richie was getting up off the ground; evidently, he was so far ahead, he had time to take a nap!

Ok, back to the Exam...

The first 4 mile loop at Bluff Creek Ranch are pretty straight forward, lots of twists and turns with rooty creek crossings. There were a few short straights, and I tried to take a quick drink out of the Camelbak when we hit those. I was concentrating on my drinking and eating during this race, since improper hydration did me in during the Tour das Hugel (1 bottle in the first 38-mile loop).

The three of us were still together as we hit the field and headed to the more technical sections of the trail system. First up was Gas Pass, which is a steep downhill concrete path with speed bumps and low branches overhead. It's a bit daunting, especially the first time down, and this was Richie's first time down. Here's a video that I found on youtube, showing what Gas Pass looks like:

As we approached, I told Richie to give me some room ahead of him, to keep his weight back, and to go easy on the front brake. The concrete had been covered with dirt, so it wasn't as slick, nor as scary, as it usually is, but it was still steep. We all made it down safely.

After Gas Pass was another straight stretch, and another drinking opportunity, then a short climb, and on to Mule Trace, which is another descent, but not as straight as Gas Pass. This section had recently been redone, with bermed hairpin turns to give it a bit of a bobsled run feel. On the first turn, John got off his bike, telling us that he had a mechanical (his tire had lost air) and for us to go on, so we did. We made it through the rest of the course without incident, and waited for John at the exit of Bluff Creek Ranch, the beginning of the road portion of the race to go to Rocky Hill Ranch.

As we waited, we waved to the racers as they rode past us, and I drank and ate a Cliff Bar. After about 10 minutes, I looked at my clock and decided that it was going to be tight for us to make it to Rocky Hill and do the two ten-mile laps by the 1pm cut-off time, so we should head out. I knew that John would be faster than us on the trails, so wasn't too worried about him.

As we started out on our 28-mile trek to Rocky Hill Ranch, I had to ask Richie to slow down a bit, as my heart rate was quickly getting into the red, and I didn't want to burn myself out early. We finally settled to a good pace, and passed most of the people that we had waved to earlier. Some of those folks joined our pace line, so we had a bit of help. I made it a point to drink early and often here, and also drank out of my bottle of Accelerade (my Camelbak contained only water).

Ten miles into this portion of the race, I felt the twinges of a cramp in my left calf. Not already! This was a bit disheartening, but I continued on, trying to stretch when I could, and altering my pedal stroke a bit to relieve some of the cramping.

When we got to the checkpoint, I filled my Camelbak, ate another Clif Bar, and stretched some more, then we got back on the bikes to finish the last several miles to Rocky Hill.

Upon arriving at Rocky Hill, we checked in, then I went to find Maureen and my cooler. I changed out the bottle of Accelerade with a new one (I made a point to finish the first one on the road), and ate a half of a peanut butter and honey sandwich. Maureen said that John had called, and he was still a ways away. Richie and I headed into the trails.

It was about 10:15am, which gave us just under 3 hours to finish the two laps. It took us right at 3 hours to do the 20 miles the week before Christmas, when we pre-rode the course, so I was worried.

The tough part about the trails at Rocky Hill Ranch is that you do a lot of climbing at the beginning, then it's not too bad once you're on top. We were going ok, I was leading, and I missed a turn and crashed softly. I pointed out the turn to Richie and Corey, the guy behind him, then re-mounted and followed them. We eventually got to the big climb, and on our way up Richie, then Corey, dismounted. I was able to make it up just a little bit past Richie, then decided that it would be easier to walk the rest of the way, as well. We all got back on our bikes at the top, and headed on, with me in the rear.

The next trail was Kara's Way, a fun, twisty trail without much topography. On one turn, I dabbed with my left foot, and the calf immediately turned itself in one big knot. This was an actual cramp, not just a twinge like I had gotten on the road. It took me a while to just get my foot back onto the pedal so that I could work the cramp out.

The funny thing about cramps, at least for me, is that they usually don't hit me while I'm pedaling, but when I put a foot down, like I did when I dabbed. At the end of Kara's way was a jeep trail, and across the Jeep trail was the next bit of trail, called Off the Lip. There are a number of creek crossings on this trail, so I decided to stop and assess the situation, because I didn't want to continue on if I was going to be cramping the whole way. I did not want a repeat of what happened last year, especially since I didn't think I'd be able to make the cutoff, if I had to ride about 17 miles with cramps. I would've been very upset if I had suffered that much and not been allowed to finish the race.

My decision was made about 0.03 nanoseconds after I got off of my bike, as my left calf and both quads just seized right up on me. I leaned back against a tree while my muscles did their thing. When the party in my legs settled down, I got back on my bike and headed down the jeep road, for an early exit. I still had to ride through some of the trails, but I rode easily, and didn't have any more problems on my way back to where Maureen was waiting.

When I got there, Richie had not yet come out of the woods, which wasn't too much of a surprise, since I had cut off about 15 miles of trail (heh), but John had not yet made it to Rocky Hill. He showed up not too long after that, though, refueled, and headed off onto the trail.

Richie finished his first lap at 11:30am, which meant he did it in 1:15 and had an hour and a half to do his second lap, giving him some leeway. Much to my chagrin, he, too, had decided that he had had enough fun for the day. Of course, I completely understood.

I was hanging around, waiting to get a ride back to Warda in John and Maureen's van, but Richie decided to ride back. Since it was all road, and only 21 miles, I decided to join him. We just took it easy; I took most of the pulls this time, since Richie had pulled me just about the whole way on the first road leg, and I was quite a bit more rested. The Endurolytes that Maureen gave me seemed to be doing their job, as I was no longer having cramping issues.

We had half-jokingly discussed whether or not we were going to complete the final 4-mile loop at Bluff Creek Ranch, but when we finally got to the driveway, I asked Richie if he still wanted to do it. With no hesitation, he replied, "No." Heh.

Richie packed up and left, I had a burger, and John and Maureen showed up a bit later.

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