Matt Donahue

Monday, September 26, 2005

Terror of Teaberry Michaux #3

I headed up to the southern boarder of PA on Sunday to race in the final Michaux race for 2005, The Terror of Teaberry. An overcast day, it seemed like it would rain at any time, which would have made things difficult on the rocks of Michaux. Driving through the town of Fairfield I witnessed the set up for their Annual Pippinfest, something to do with apple picking and fall. It was all very quaint and small-town, even somewhat inviting, but I had better things to do.

A turn to the left on the edge of town led up into the hills and through several orchards. It was like a scene from The Cider House Rules; old farmers and apple trucks, is this a race report of some goofy PA tourist story?

A quick preface to the race, I raced the first two Michaux series races and going into this race I had about a 7 minute lead on the next racer for the series championship. I wanted to win, and since this could be my last MTB race of the season it would be a nice way to go out, plus the shwag table at this race is sweet.

The Race: I lined up with the Sport Sr. I's and II's. maybe 20 or so. I'd discussed strategy with my coach JB. Since my SM100 training consisted of long endurance miles versus faster burst/sprint exercises, the decision was to go all out from the start and use my 'ability' to recover and 'endure' to keep me out front over the 20 mile course as I would inevitably slow down. I lined up as close to the front as possible on the narrow, rocky fire road 7 or 8 riders back. The count-down and off. I motored up the left side passing several riders in the first 300 yards. After that there were 3 riders in front of me, then two then one, and then at last none.

The course looped back through the camp/finish area into a downhill. The terrain was super dry peaty forest trail, which actually led to washing out in a few turns but I hung on and didn't bail in front of the multitudes spectating from the start area. Two guys were within sight behind me at this point. The first downhill emptied onto a short paved road section, I spun and realized my chain had come off. I hopped off the bike put the chain on and 5 guys passed! I didn't realize they were that close!

The paved section lasted maybe 20 yards and we were back on a fire road with lots of downed trees. It was a high speed section; everyone was stomping on the pedals. I passed two of the five riders back, hopping small downed trees every 100 yards or so- sketchy at that speed. The group started catching some of the experts who were on a longer course so possibly going slower or suffering from flats.

The first climb was a steep fire road; I ascended this one with the two sport riders who I would see for most of the race. The leader for the Sr. IIs Kemball? and Bender, a fellow Sr. I rider who was trying to make up those 7 minutes on me for the series win. We quickly realized who each other was, smiled competitively, and kept spinning.

Cresting the top, the trail started down some serious downhill off-camber sections, with numerous sharp, motion-opposed rocks. More experts with flats, a guy blew out right in front of me. I would like to think that my strong point in riding is on this terrain, maybe that's a crock and it's in my head, or maybe it's because I actually like riding on this stuff but this was some juicy terrain; hearty east coast single track, rocky, rooty, steep and gnarly. It was the kind of trail with so many rocks that you could them cracking and grinding against other big rocks as riders rode over. I was surprised I didn't bail in some of the dry loose sections, "stay off the brakes buddy, just stay off the brakes," I kept repeating.

It was in this section that I managed to get out ahead again in a foot race up what was, for the three of us in the lead for sport, an un-ridable section. Re-mounting at the top I thought for certain I would be pursued immediately, but no, not yet. The trail in this section got somewhat vague, lots of leaves covering the obvious path and only the occasional dirt bike peel-out to mark the trail. Suddenly I noticed, in a more obvious trail section, a narrow passage between two trees. I aimed for the middle and bang. Stopped dead. Both sides of my handlebars caught and I performed the old headset-in-the-jimmy move. Amazingly, I didn't bail, just sort of sat back down, then stood, dislodged the bars and snuck through, one side first, then the other, leaving big dings in the bark of each tree.

Out of the woods again, I opened up a solid gap on the other riders on a fast fire road section. This abruptly ended in a hike-a-bike that went up what seemed like a non-trail. As I crested this to the next fire road, I saw Kemball behind me about halfway up the hike. Having someone in pursuit always makes me go faster... but it was at this point that I realized I had no gel. Not the end of the world, but by not having it I craved it.

The details of the next section are a bit vague as I started to get tired, but it mostly consisted of a slight fire road climb which gave way to a slightly steeper climb, then a really steep climb, then brutal rocky single track which traced a ridgeline. Kemball passed me in a grassy section at some point here. We had a good chat and confirmed that he was a Sr. II and I was a Sr. I, so no competition between us, as if there would have been any as he steadily gapped me and disappeared.

A check of the time, 1:45, indicated that there was probably about a half hour to go. I started cramping a little on a few climbs. The sport course intersected with the beginner's and suddenly the trail was full of people, but still wide enough to make easy passes.

I looked back on slightly rocky climb and there was Bender! Sweet, no hiding now, no more big lead for me, just an open battle. He gradually passed me after picking a better line. The trail smoothed out and turned into an overgrown but smooth forest road downhill. I kept him in sight thinking I would try a sprint at the end. Suddenly I saw cars and realized we were there! I launched a lame attack, but he was at least 20 or 30 seconds ahead of me, easily taking first for the race, but nowhere near the 6 or 7 minutes needed to win the series.

Kemball, Bender and I congratulated each other at the finish tent. It was really cool to have such a tight race; Bender had flatted in the second Michaux race, which accounted for his large deficit to me. It turned out that we had parked next to each other and he offered me a pint of Troegs Wheat Beer. Now that's sportsmanship!

I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging with folks from Harrisonburg, and the Pedalshop team who kindly shared some Old Dominion beer with me. I should note that the Michaux organizers bring in a local company that sells hot roast beef, turkey or ham sandwiches, and provide free Coors beer... It was a great afternoon.

The prize table didn't disappoint, for the series win I got a new XT derailleur, and for placing second in the day's race a new saddle bag.

I'm thinking maybe trying the Monster XC series for Michaux next year. It's a long race, but probably a lot of fun.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


My friend and coach, JB, suggested this new summer classic. Ride from Boston to Montreal in 4 days on the road bikes then drive back. It appears that our spouses are both attending the very same conference in July in Montreal. It would be a heck of a stage race. We agreed we would stay at B&Bs and do it "right" for speed- i.e. at least 100 miles a day.

And my SM 100 report is still coming... it's way too long. Gotta wrap it up tonight.

Monday, September 19, 2005

SM100 Report

I’m not sure if it was a good idea to wait a so long to write this report. I’m certainly rested and recovered. After reading the other race reports from the team I felt I needed to get on the ball and put this together, but I just kept putting it off. So here it is finally.

As the previous posts in my blog indicate, the Shenandoah Mountain 100 is something that I, like many others who ride it, prepare for for months. My friend Marshall aptly suggested, "This year, Matt has an Agenda." His words were carried a slight air of "are you sure you want to do that?" tone, but it was a good thing he share this, as these words helped me in the race. My agenda was to finish in 10 hours 30 minutes or under, shaving at least 1 hour and 15 minutes off of last year’s time of 11 hours, 45 minutes. I’ll admit that, for a short time during the race, this agenda threatened to derail the good time that I was having.

Saturday morning, the day before the race, Katie and I packed up the camping gear and made our way over to Joe’s place to pick him up. Joe has driven me to so many events over the season enabling my wife to have the car on the weekends, it was the least we could offer. He loaded up and we headed south.

I made the cardinal mistake of making changes to my bike on Friday night, while not too soon to correct if difficulties arose, switching shifter cables probably wasn’t the brightest idea. We arrived at Stokesville, set up camp, got registered and Chris and I headed out for a half hour spin. Climbing out the back of the campground, my gears were popping and skipping like water tossed into hot oil. Chris looked back and correctly noted, “that noise does not sound so good.” After about a half hour (the whole ride) of tweaking the barrel adjusters I had the gears dialed in, sort of.

The pasta party that night offered everyone the opportunity to catch up, meet other team members’ significant others and fuel up. I prepped my camelback and drop bags, still stashing a light at aid station 5 in case things got bad and I needed to finish in the dark. Off to bed and a night of tossing and turning, maybe I should have had one more beer to calm the nerves? Why did I have nerves anyway? It’s just a race, I’ve done it twice already, it’s going to be fun I just want to finish under 10hrs 30.

I set my clock for 5:15 AM and woke up before that. The beeping and gong sounding started up at the main camping field. A bungled attempt at a team photo- and then we lined up. I lined up with Joe, we wished each other a good race Chris Scott offered some words of advice and the 350 rider field eased forward filing out of the camping field into the cool new morning.

I had no real strategy for this race, I’ve heard go out hard and settle in, go out moderate and hold a steady pace, go out slow, warm up and go faster. I just went, probably something closer to the first option. I caught up with Pooch on the first rolling fire road section, then Chris and as the first climb set in I saw Mark G about 150 yards ahead. I thought he was Scardaville. I felt good at the top of the climb, and after a few last minute adjustments due to some gear skips, headed into the first downhill. I caught Mark at the bottom and we bombed the slightly downhill fire road together for a while. Mark pulled away with another group as the road turned up a little.

Approaching the next climb, the dreaded Lynn Trail, I recalled my historically bad performance here, essentially getting off of the bike at the first right-hand switchback. Amazingly I stayed on, passing a few folks who couldn’t quite manage it. I caught up with Kent at the top of the first set of switchbacks, I knew then that I was probably going too fast too early in the race. Kent praised me for going so fast with some amount of surprise to even see me near him; I was also surprised. The ride morphed into a foot parade as the trail turned rocky and steeper. Kent pulled away by riding a section I thought better of even attempting. A final left turn pointed down the first serious downhill in the race. An arm and hand burner for sure, the descent emptied onto a paved section to CP#2 my first stop. I ditched my knee warmers and requested that Tris look after them, which she kindly agreed to do. I departed advising her not to touch the warmers as they were pretty nasty! What a great volunteer! I probably spent under 5 minutes at this stop, wanting to keep the momentum, and headed off to Hankey Mountain, the next big climb of the day.

I started up Hankey alone. But as the climb wore on, a few people started catching up, toward the top I felt as if I was fighting something- tires too low? Looking down at the rear wheel, something was amiss. I didn’t want to deal with it. Damn. I hopped off and did a quick inspection. No obvious thorns… a slow leak? I pumped it up-Chris rode by.

I jumped back on, hoping that the air I just put in would carry me to CP3. Not 10 minutes later the sagging bulge in the tire was even worse. Changing tubeless tires is a bitch. The tight bead, removing the valve stem and re-seating the tire with a tube inserted. During this repair, several folks passed including most of the team: Evan, Eric, Pooch, Joel and some dude with speakers blaring out of his back-pack?! OK. I hopped back on, somewhat disappointed at having lost so much time but at least I was going again. My agenda was starting to weigh on me.

I started the Dowell’s Draft descent, from the top of the ridgeline that followed the Hankey Mountain ascent. I was making good time, I could see another CB jersey up ahead. Boom. Rear blew again. Irrationally upset I jogged down the trail to find a break in the steep benchcut so I could actually get off the trail to work on this one. More people passed, Joe and Mike included. Fixed and back on the descent.

I'd probably lost 20 minutes fixing flats at this point. But it's mountain biking, a 100 mile ride, what did I expect? However, I was still bent on making up the time, the agenda was crushing me. I tried to do make up the time far too quickly. I roared into CP3. Joel, Joe, and Mike were there feeding and fueling. The amazing volunteer crew had me ready to go in minutes, but I was filling my face with fig newtons and pretzels. Pedaling out onto the paved road section leading to Mountain House by Ramsey's Draft, I looked for my teammates- they were way up ahead. I pushed to make some time on the false flat, and joined nearest pace line that had formed. I felt ok and thought I could bridge the gap to the next pace-line. Not a chance. About half way to the next group I blew up. Feeling deflated, the agenda had taken its toll and as I turned onto the single track the group I had broken away from caught me. I was not riding smart, a lot of wasted energy there.

The climb that followed was probably my lowest point of the race. It wasn't terrible but I simply wasn't recovering from the road section where I blew up. No drama, just labored climbing and slight cramping, keep turning the screws I told myself. I decided to drop the agenda on this climb, who cares about what time I come in?! this is fun! but it hurts. Over the top and down the sweet downhill, across the rooty line that Marshall taught me two weeks before and on to Braley's Pond and CP4. I started recovering and feeling better. Joel was at the CP, we both bailed rather quickly, he before I.

The next grinding stage was mentally a tough one, a long rolling dirt road with a steep several-mile climb at the end, something like 22 miles or more all together? I spent the vast majority of this section riding with Cass (short for Cassandra), an incredible climber. We paced together for around 15 miles or so. We urged each other on trading places up front, making a solid pace and some small talk to pass the time. At the turn to the steep climb she suddenly got a bloody nose, I offered to wait but she laughed and wouldn't have it. She wound up coming in 5th for the women. I road with Camps for some of this steep climb, he on his 29er SS motoring up that hill. Nearly to the top, CP5 emerged. Again, I met some teammates, Pooch and Joel. The pacing with Cass had helped me recover and get my pace back, I felt strong and decided to push on from CP5 after a fairly short brake.

The next section is always a funny one, consisting of several similar false summits: woodsy climb opening onto a meadow, woodsy climb opening onto a meadow, woodsy climb and oop! Another meadow! At last no more meadow- the top known as Bals Knob and the 7 mile Chestnut Ridge downhill!! YES! A check of the time put me back in range of that agenda I had abandoned. It seems that you can make up time over 100 miles after all. Breaking out at the bottom of the downhill, it wasn’t far to CP6. Time became a factor again and I could feel the end getting dangerously close, just one more climb up part of Hankey Mountain.

I caught back up with Camps on this one. There were a jolly few of us, happily jawing away while we wrapped up the climb. The jubilant feeling of relief that comes with finishing Hankey infected the group and a few folks let loose some whoops on the downhill. Cranking the chain up into the big ring on the final wrapping fire-road trail to the campsite, I knew I was going to beat 10 30. A welcome development, but not as important as it was 4 hours before. I was smiling. Beer, friends, food were on my mind.

Another SM100. Another season. 10 hours 22 minutes this year, will I go for something sub-10 hours next year?

The lively feeling of a grassroots community atmosphere is very much present at the SM100. Teams, riders, old friends, volunteers mixing and mingling outdoors on a hillside with tunes, food and beer. While the race represents 10 to 12 or more hours of the weekend, the before and after meals, really make the experience. Not to mention all of the prep that goes into putting on the event, thanks to Chris Scott and his team, and to all of the volunteers. Huge congrats to Joe for shaving an astounding 4 hours off of his time from last year, and to Scud for finishing for the first time, nice work! Thanks to my wife Katie for being supportive for the whole season! and for volunteering at the race. It's great to be on the City Bikes team and have such a cool group to hang with at these races, congrats to all!

Weekend in NH

We drove up to Lake Sunapee New Hampshire. It's a long drive from DC, even longer when you leave around 4:30 AM and hit rain in Vermont that slows the drive down to a crawl. We got in around 2:00 PM.

The bikes got drenched on the roof, but there wasn't much to do about it but keep going.

Katie and I spent the first day and a half with my grandfather. It was great to see him, and spend some time just sharing our collective presence. With the death of my grandmother this past May it's difficult to know how he's doing. He says he's trying to get over it but isn't quite there yet. I explained that no one is surprised that he is still in mourning, and furthermore that it would be strange if he had gotten over her passing. If he never gets over it that would also not be a surprise if he never got over it, we certainly don't expect him to!

He headed back home on Thursday, and we headed out for a day of New Hampshire wandering. We hit a few Antique Salvage stores and a few quilt shops for Katie. It was a rainy gray day, but when we got back I headed out for a ride anyway. It wasn't a downpour but constant mist (the downpour came that night). I rode around the lake, which is a hilly 30 mile? Ride. It took about an hour and 20 mins. I was pushing pretty hard. It felt good. I found it strange to ride through an area that I've known all of my life, but have never ridden. I recall riding home from church in my grandparent's van, and watching triathletes riding "10 speeds" up insurmountable New Hampshire hills. Hearing my grandmother explain that they were riding around the WHOLE lake stuck in my mind as something extreme. Having now done it, it's not extreme. It's a moderate ride, fun in fact. I suppose if I had run and gone swimming prior to the ride I might feel different, but that's why I'm not doing triathlons.

My little sister, her boy friend and our friends Sam and JB (formerly of DC) came up to meet us on Friday night. Their arrival kicked off some fun. We basically enjoyed good food, family and friends. Highlights included another ride around the lake, a short but fun hike, and a dinner of steamers, beer-can chicken and Pie. It was also Katie and JB's birthday so the six of us celebrated those occasions in style with several varieties of locally brewed beer, from the Flying Goose Brewery.

I skipped the local mountain bike race on Sunday, in favor of a visit to my parent's house in Massachusetts. I'm definitely feeling the season coming to a close- one more big race, the last Michaux series race this weekend. I'll not be skipping that one.

Monday, September 05, 2005

100 Update

My legs and ass are sore but I'm happy. Another incredible Shenandoah Mountain 100 in the books. I met my goal of finishing in 10 hours and 30 minutes or better, it was close, I managed a 10:22. Big day, spectacular weather, great people, it's the mountain biking the event of the year.

I'll add more after a nice recovery night.