Thursday, July 28, 2011

6 Hours of Cramps!

Last weekend I headed up to Ellicottville, New York with a posse of cyclist friends from Pittsburgh. Why such a far drive for a bike race you ask? Well it was for a 6 hour mountain bike race and to make it even better they have had a Solo Clydesdale category. That is a big bucket of win if you ask me.

We headed up to camp the night before the race. The camping area held about 20 to 30 other campers/racers if I had to guess, the funny thing was I knew pretty much all of them. That made for a pretty fun evening with a nice group of folks including my wife. The night consisted of dinner in town and Spin Tap projected on a white sheet at the camp site. After that it was bed time and off to dream land.

The next morning it was hot out! The race didn’t start till 10 am so it was just going to get worse and heat is not my friend when I am racing. Drink, drink, drink was the order of the morning to try and be hydrated for the race. After tooling around all morning it was finally race time. It was a running start to our bikes and I found myself lining up at the front. I kinda laughed at myself in my head, “why am I up here”. Steevo was on one side and Tim Carson on the other. It wasn’t like I would be seriously competing with those two. I am more of a third or fourth row kinda guy. LOL.. However I just went with it. As soon as the race director blew his whistle we were off on the short run of around 1/8 mile, then it was onto our bikes.

The course was 8.5 miles long and the goal was to do as many laps as you could in six hours, sounds simple right? The route started climbing pretty much from the get go. Up the Holiday Valley Ski Resort Mountain we went. I found myself feeling not bad despite it being at least 88 degrees already. After a mile or so of climbing we hit the first section of single track and IT happen! I felt a small cramp in my right calf. “This cannot be happening we just started”, I thought to myself. I cramp a lot in endurance events but never 10 minutes into the race. I pedaled through till it passed however I knew once it started it was not going to stop.

Once you finish the climb up the mountain the rest course is 90% single track. It was fast, extremely dry and a boat load of fun. Luckily it was very shaded also because the heat was creeping higher. Again the trails were fun!

After lap one I found myself in second in the solo Clydesdale field and the cramps held off for the rest of the first lap. A fast pit for a new bottle and some food and I found myself headed up the mountain again for lap number two. At the top the cramps in my legs started again but this time they were not just in my calves but also in my hamstrings now. I must admit I started to worry a bit. I drove a long way for this race and I would hate to end my day early. I tried to slow down a bit and pressed on. On lap three I found myself in the lead but the cramps were really starting to set in and I was less than three hours into the race. To be frank, I wanted to call it a day but how the hell do you justify quitting when you’re in the lead? I don’t like DNFing when I am in last let alone first.

Lap four and five of the race hurt really bad. The time on the bike was not an issue but the cramps forced me to stop from time to time and stretch. I was so worried someone was going to bridge up to my while I was doing so. The heat was also really bad at this point and that didn’t help much. I suffered though lap five and when I came into the pit for more water and food Gina total me I was not only leading the Clydesdale class but was in 5th in the normal solo class. I was dumb founded by that. I knew I was riding ok but with all the stopping for the cramps I was amazed to be doing that well. Off I went for the last lap.

I had planned on getting a second wind to help me through the last lap. I kinda figured I would be able to dig deep for the last one to hold my lead. Well the second wind never came. I fell apart on the last lap. The cramps were crushing and the 95 degree heat made it even worse. I thought to myself you just got to keep going. It was only 8 miles to the finish but it was one of the hardest 8 miles ever for me. There was some pushing of the bike but I made it to the finish somehow. I was so happy to be done. I ended up with 53.32 miles with 8,132 feet of climbing. WOOF! GPS DATA.

I was able to hold on for the win in the solo Clydesdale class and would have finished 6th in the normal solo class. I guess the heat was an issue to everyone and I guess I was not the only on suffering out there.

The course and race were a lot of fun. I am sure going to try and make it back next year! Thanks again to all my friends and Gina who went up with me.. What a blast and ass kicker at the same time..

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Don’t call it a Comeback

My last post was sooo long ago. It was about Nicole Dorinzi and I winning the Big Bear 2x12. Things really went downhill after that!!! Robbie and I camped the night of the race and then headed down to Durham, NC the next day to find a place to live. Yes, Robbie and I are moving away from Morgantown! I am starting a new job at Duke next week in the Biology Department, but don’t worry…we won’t be cheering on their basketball team! Anyway, the entire trip down to NC I was having severe back pain. It was so bad that I couldn’t even get it together to drive the car. It was a strange kind of pain, not the usual strained or sore muscle. It was persistence and burning and I couldn’t touch it. Around the same time, my skin around my waist on the left side of my body became really sensitive. Even my shirt brushing against it made my shin itch. Late in the week a rash started to form in the same area and I immediately thought that the Big Bear race had not only given me massive back pain, but also poison ivy. Blisters eventually started and then the inflicted area kept getting bigger and bigger. I just ignored it and assumed it was something I was just going to have to do my best to ignore and just suffer through. Besides, the Hilly Billy Roubaix was my season goal and it was just around the corner. The next weekend Robbie and I pre-rode the first half of the Hilly Billy because I wanted to make sure I knew what I was in for and I wanted to test out my equipment. I decided to ride my Cannondale Caffeine 29er with Kenda Small Block 8 700x35C cyclocross tires. It was so much fun!!! The course was super wet from the recent rains. We had to call JR on the Little Indian Creek extension because we couldn’t even find the road! I got so excited about the race that I called my good friend Tricia Lewis to convince her to race it on her 29er and she agreed. This race was going to be the ultimate ending to my WV racing career.

Monday rolled around and it was 5 days until the Hilly Billy Roubaix. My poison ivy was still spreading and getting worse, so I decided it was time to do something I dreaded…seek medical attention. Robbie and I headed over to MedExpress to see if they could do something to halt my plant-based affliction. I was given a shot of steroids in the rump and a prescription for prednisone. They predicted I would start feeling better in two days and would definitely be ready to race. Later in the afternoon Robbie sent a picture of my nasty blisters to everyone’s favorite cycling physician, Scott Benson. He immediately wrote back and informed us that I had shingles, not poison ivy. I immediately started researching the signs and symptoms of shingles and soon realized Dr. Benson was spot on. Shingle is basically the chicken pox’s revenge. Most of us have had chicken pox as a child. The virus remains dormant in you nervous system. As adults, if we become immunocompromised due to extreme stress (selling a house + starting a new job + finding a place to live + endurance mountain bike racing) the virus can awaken, cause severe nerve pain, and travel along your nerves until it comes out the nerve endings on your skin in the form of super sensitive open sores that ruin your life for a couple of weeks. I was devastated and completely pathetic. I literally couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even wear a T-shirt because the pain was so bad. It took all my energy to make the jello shots I promised as race refreshments. The day of the Hilly Billy Roubaix, I sat in the house with Netflix waited for text messages about my teammates and friends who were racing. Life is so unfair! The first text I got was to tell me that Besty Shogren had come in as the first women in just over 5 hours. Next I found out that Nicole Dorinzi was the second women to cross the finish just 14 minutes later. Robbie, James Braswell and Christina Burkle road together and finished around 6 hrs. Robbie called me a little later and I talked to him and my friend Tricia. They both had a great time racing the hellish course. I decided then, that I would just have to come back next year!
This last week I finally started to feel good enough to get back on the bike. I did a few shorter rides to get my strength up and then I ask JR and a good friend of team Dynamic, Justine Pagenheart, to ride the second half of the Hilly Billy course with me. If I couldn’t race it because of a horrific disease, I could at least ride the entire thing, damn it. We had a blast!

JR was on his new Cannodale SuperX and definitely had a case of new bike legs. I tried my best to keep up with him by taking advantage of his hospitable draft and we finished the ride in just over 3 hours. It was 90 degrees out and I was really missing the aid stations. My CamelBak bottles were empty starting the long climb just past the coal mine on Fort Marin. Luckily aid station 3 was still in effect at the Petsko’s house and Gina had frozen towels, lemonade and popsicles for us!!! Now, I think every ride should include popsicles… or ice cream.

As cyclists we ask a lot of our bodies and, and very often, even more of ourselves. Testing one’s limits both mentally and physically can be extremely rewarding, but I urge everyone to remember to be kind to yourself and your bodies. If you don’t, nature has a really funny way of putting you in your place, and personally, I don’t really want to visit that place every again.
See you next year!

Post by Laura K.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Willmington/Whiteface 100K recap

Thanks to the good folks over at Cannondale and, I was fortunate enough to head up to Lake Placid New York on June 19th to participate in the inaugural Wilmington/Whiteface 100K. The Whiteface 100 is a 100 kilometer race around the greater Lake Placid area that culminates at the massive, 3500’ Whiteface Mountain. Never having done any endurance mountain bike racing before, saying I was a little nervous is a bit of an understatement. My biggest fear was dehydrating or tanking because I didn’t eat or drink enough. The previous weekend at the WVMBA Big Bear 2x12 I had suffered from some serious dehydration that landed me in the hurt locker for a few hours and completely ruined my day. After a lengthy talk with Scott Benson though, I felt that I had things under control pending that I followed his eating and drinking guidelines.
JR Petsko, James Braswell, Ryan Post, and myself headed out of Morgantown on Friday evening and, after a quick night’s layover in Batavia, NY and a run in with the law (Nice cop, expensive ticket), we arrived in Lake Placid around 3 PM on Saturday. We hustled down to the mountain base, got registered, and then headed out for a ride to loosen our legs up. The hour long spin around the area was pretty cool and we even found a little single track, albeit muddy, along the way. After hitting the Chinese buffet, where I am proud to say I out ate everyone, for some prerace carbo loading we headed back to the hotel and to bed. With a 6:30 AM start ahead of us we needed all the rest, and Ambien, we could find.
The 4:15 AM alarm was not too welcoming but after a quick bowl of oatmeal and a banana, I felt coherent enough to head out to the race. After a 30 minute spin around the parking lot and a welcome/good luck speech by mountain bike super hero Dave Weins, I was more than ready for the gun to go off. As the shotgun, seriously a real shotgun, went off we surged off the line. Things went easy for the first hundred feet or so with people trying not to crash into one and other but after that it became a hammerfest out of the resort driveway. I quickly picked a line up the right side of the group and sprinted towards the front so I could avoid the inevitable back of the pack slinky effect. After sitting around the front quarter of the group for the first paved section, I began to move to the front because being even a fourth of the way back was causing me to get slinkied. As we hit the first gravel section things started to pick up and, after getting fed up with people slowing down for the short climbs, I hopped into the ditch where no one else wanted to go. After a short, match burning effort up a small dirt climb, I settled in around 8th wheel.
The front group of 10 riders I found myself in began to move away from the main peloton pretty quickly and by the top of the gravel climb the peloton was out of sight. After bombing down a fire road and hammering back down a paved road, we arrived at the next climb. Knowing Cannondale pro and super nice guy Jeremiah Bishop is much faster and wiser than myself, I decided to do the smart thing and just follow his wheel or at least stay close to it. The pace was pretty steady going up and gave me a chance to have a short conversation with Jeremiah who, sort of to my surprise, knew about the world famous Hilly Billy Roubaix taking place the next weekend!
As we headed back onto the sandy, gravel road our group of now 10 riders formed up into a paceline behind the 3 pros of the group. 4 or 5 of us traded pulls on the front until the next climb. This is where things began to get faster. About midway up the climb, the pace picked up pretty substantially. Knowing I still had about thirty miles to go, I decided to save my matches for later in the race instead of trying to stay with the lead group of 4. After coming across the top of the climb and getting passed by a few riders on the downhill side, I decided it was time to get back on top of the gear. I was probably sitting around 12th at this point but was hoping my “slow and steady then crush it” strategy would work out.
The course, being shaped like a lollipop at the far end, meant that the long gravel decent that several riders passed me on would be a massive gravel climb on the way back. I knew this climb, being long and steady but not steep, suited me well for trying to wheel riders back in. As I started up I settled into a comfortable gear and just spun my legs out. I had saved most of my matches and, with about 13 miles to go, I knew I had better start lighting them. It didn’t take long for me to reel in several riders. It was clear that too many people had gone too hard from the gun and were paying for it now. The looks on their faces was enough to let me know that they were not going to be following my wheel.
As I neared the final aid station before the Whiteface Mountain climb, I found myself in 9th. My legs were definitely feeling the miles but the thought of being top 10 in such a big race helped me block out the aches. After a quick run through some single track, we were back on the pavement heading for the base of Whiteface. As I turned off the pavement and onto the single track that was the start of the climb, I realized just how large this mountain was. It was nearly vertical and seemed to go up forever. Again, I just settled into a gear and spun my heart out. I had been riding with another pro from up around the New York area for the last 5 miles or so but after about the first few hundred feet of the climb he cramped up super bad and dropped off my wheel leaving me alone to tame the beast of a mountain.
I popped out of the woods after a few minutes thinking that now I would get to descend down the mountain, cross the line, and get some real food. So, when I saw a marshal pointing me up a huge, loose gravel climb that went to the top of the mountain I was less than amused. Thank god I had left something in the tank and my water bottles. After having my Flash 29er for about a month or so, I had yet to utilize the granny gear. At this point, I was really glad I had it. I spun up the first section of the climb pretty easily but it was not long until I was walking. Normally I would be ashamed to admit to pushing but, in this case, it was entirely necessary. I even “attacked” for 8th place while pushing! After finding a place to remount my bike I began to spin again. Earlier in the day, on the downhill, a guy on a cross bike blew past me and crushed it down the road out of sight. I now saw him up ahead and decided that I had enough in me to make a move on him. It was an awkward battle for 7th from there. When he was able to ride, he was able to move faster than me. However, when he had to dismount and push I was able to put some time on him. We battled it out up that climb for what seemed like an hour but in reality was only about 15 minutes. Finally, we were side-by-side and he dismounted. I knew if I could beat him to the top there was no way he could get back on my wheel on the downhill so I dug deep and went as hard as I could for about 30 seconds. At the end of the effort I looked back and realized he was done. I kept a steady pace the rest of the way to the top and then began the super fast descent to the finish. After twisting down through the last section of single track, I popped out onto the ski slope and was headed for the few hundred yards to the finish. With the crowd cheering, I crossed the line in 7th and claimed my medal and belt buckle. After a short spin to cool down, I got changed, grabbed some barbeque, and headed over to watch the rest of our team finish. Again, thanks to Cannondale for giving myself and the others the opportunity to go to such a big race. I think endurance racing may be my new found calling.

- Todd Latocha