Thursday, November 17, 2011

2012- Be my Coach!

Although 2011 was a great year for me (at least in my opinion) in terms of results, I sometimes found myself blurring the line between my A,B, and C races, as well as my Tier 1, 2 and 3 social events. This was in part by design as I see no difference between training days, work days, big rides, big races and big nights, it's all just a part of life. I was also really never very fit in 2011 (also just my opinion), but started to learn to beat people with craftiness and wit instead of old fashioned shock and awe like the good old days of '06 or '09.

For example at Unravel the Scratchgravel this spring (probably about my 5th mountain bike ride), I knew it was podium or bust, but I was hurting like the dog trying to stay 3rd place R.A. Schoenfelder. I wore all of my pain on my sleeve (which was pretty easy on the last lap) until about 4 minutes out from the finish line. A slight rise on a dirt road was the spark I needed to come up with the Crocodile Roll theory of mountain biking. Think about it, the Crocodile is a fairly lethargic animal, except when he needs to throw down a wildebeest sinking death roll! So instead of limping in for 4th, I decided to do the Crocodile Roll for a bit, which was all I needed to cross the line in 3rd. I'm not saying that 3rd or 4th place at Unravel the Scratchgravel is very important, but it's nice to learn a some tricks along the way. It's almost a good thing to be out of shape sometimes, you can focus a bit on technique and strategery, rather than just outgunning folks. Plus you know at some point, you'll be up against someone way better than you, unless you're Jaroslav Kulhavy. So you might as well have a few tricks up your sleeve.

Anyway, I drift from the desired content of this post, just as I drift through the racing season like the Buffalo. I'm a firm believer that we all have the power to do pretty much whatever we please on a bicycle. The tricky part is the rock solid drive, determination and focus of a Corbin or a Schultz. I'm not really the type to key in on specific races-I like to race about 2-3 weekends a month from April thru November, and I want to win them all (ok, top 20 at a pro mtb race counts as #winning for this clydedale). I will however acknowledge that some starts are more important than others. After much deliberation with my coach regarding my A,B and C races next year, he said, I don't know, let the people decide (I think he said this cuz he's lazy).

As uninterested in my season as my coach appears to be, I must admit I think he's on to something. As a racer I've never felt so many positive vibes as I did at this summer's Missoula XC. It was almost as if someone was pushing myself and Dale's tank-ass mountain bike up Marshall Mountain. So much of a riders power can come from the fans. So as a thank you to anyone who was yelling and screaming at Missoula XC, Rolling Thunder, or scoping results on the internet, I would like to present you with the opportunity to dictate my 2012 racing program. I've created a handy poll with races I'd like to do, and even allowed any loyal (bored?) folk to add in their own feats of strength for me to pursue in 2012. I'll split the results into thirds (my A,B and C races), and boom, there's my racing program for next year! Tell me what to do, and I'll get nasty!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mt. Sentinel Hill Climb, the last laugh of a season.

For the true Montana endurance racer, the season starts on the farm roads of the Speedwagon Classic in Polson, and concludes atop a snowy Mt. Sentinel in November. There’s really very little to prove (except on the ski hill) outside of these stops on the calendar. This race, although fairly short and not the most challenging for those in any sort of condition, is held in high regard by many of Montana’s elite. Perhaps because many of us have fond memories of being a broke collegiate athlete with not a care in the world other than going racing, and enjoy donating to the U of M Triathlon Team. Or more likely, the prospect of being king or queen of the most walked hill in Montana awakens assorted groggy athletes on an otherwise gray and uneventful November morning. Whatever the draw, the Mt. Sentinel Hill Climb is definitely a favorite on the calendar for many.

My crowd, the Mangy Crew, has been suffering their way (you can likely guess the reason for our suffering), up this mountain for years. At this point in the season, there seems to be a dwindling few that are taking any events very seriously. In fact, a missed call on my phone at around 1AM on the morning of the race from this year’s winner is a good indicator of most of our preparation. Regardless, to paraphrase the great cannibal, talent has very little to do with how much blood your heart can pump, but more important is one’s propensity to suffer. At the start line, there seemed to be very few who had intentions of giving a very fit Brendan Halpin any challenge to the top. Even the “Terminator” Adam Jensen, beaten down from a marathon the week prior, seemed to have little hope. Old Man Seeley is always up for a challenge, as well as a few other from the Missoula running community. On the ladies side, the race was up for grabs. UM Tri had sent one of their finest, Katherine Kettering. Local fitness guru Emily Kipp was looking mean, and new girl Jess Culver could have made the cover of the Lululemon catalogue with her hot outfit. Also of note on the ladies side, pro tour princess Sam Schultz didn’t want to hurt his feet or something, so he rode up the hill instead. I myself was desperately trying to reach homeostasis before the start, wandering around the parking lot like a buffoon, and had to reboot the system twice before the gun went off.

Although the hole shot was a terrible weakness of mine this cross season, I had a good one on Saturday. While most racers reluctantly accepted the fact they had to run up a mountain, I blasted the uphill line, shooting into the top ten as my head felt like it was about to explode. After about 50 meters however, an energetic Tri-Jalapeno was setting a caliente pace that no one wanted a taste of. Fast starters Doug Shryock and Owen Gue were noticeably absent from the Sherpa line up front. Seeing as how I lost to both of these cats and Rolling Thunder, I sent word to the engine room that my brain would feel no pain today other than my screaming headache. So from about 3 minutes into the race, I gave the all clear for "past full throttle" I worked my way through some folk who looked increasingly fit with the passing of each runner. Soon we passed the “M”, and with the end of the nasty switchbacks comes an even nastier steady two mile grunt to the summit. A little ways after passing UM Tri’s Johnny Montana, a brief lapse of skill caused a small crash on my part. I was back up and going before losing any spots. I’ve always thought of myself as very skilled at crashing, rarely injuring myself and usually plotting my restart before I’ve even hit the deck. Closer to the top, I was just out of closing distance to Beef Cake Jensen and another runner (later discovered was Caleb Ambrose just in front of me) who I didn’t know but who was also moving along at a good clip. It was tough to keep the legs churning through this no man’s land, behind the top 5 and seemingly well in front of everyone else. However I soon realized due to one loud footstep that a resurgent Owen Gue was closing fast. Owen had a great cross season, beating me easily on three occasions. I had pretty much had enough of his charismatic smile waiting for me at the finish line, so as we approached the bend to the final push, I was pouring coals on the fire like fossil fuels were going out of style. Photographic evidence at the top clearly indicates that I was much more invested in this effort than OG, but sometimes you just gotta blow out the pipes!

Stumbling back down the hill gave a great perspective on some great battles still unfolding. A few of these I’ll never forget:

-Peter Lambros throwing down a leg breaking attack on Dale “The Whale” Shryock, reminiscent of the debate scene in Old School where James Carville finally replies “I have no response”.

-Katherine Kettering hacking up a lung on her way to a surprising but well deserved women’s victory (schooling an off the wagon Ben Horan in the process).

-Pops Radley powering his way to the top, his enthusiasm about this race is probably responsible for 20% of the field showing up.

-Youngest Seeley, on the trail of tears cuz her older sister dropped her.

All in all, this was my favorite Mt. Sentinel Hill Climb in memory, a great bookend to the best season yet for many Monatana athletes. Thanks to UM Triathlon for putting this on and best of luck to you next season. Huge congrats to Brendan Halpin and Katherine Kettering on their convincing wins, and good luck to Brendan at Ironman Cozumel as he goes beyond the traditional end of the calendar.