This has been a great summer for putting in long rides on the Kenai weather wise, and I had the opportunity to do the RDJ (Link) in mid-June and the Hope 96 (LINK) in early July, along with the all my other favorite Kenai Classics. The two 90+ milers are great for mental conditioning and dialing in for the strain, but the 4-6 hour rides are probably more valuable fitness wise.
I didn’t ride with Adam or Chuck as much this year, less for lack of interest so much as scheduling. I did get a few rides in with Adam, and one thing I noticed he had started doing this season was feeding more frequently, around every 45 minutes, as opposed to every 60-90. I think this was new for him, but I noticed when I did the RDJ and Hope 96, I was persistently bumping against the wall after hour 6. I decided to move my first feed to 90 minutes in, as opposed to 120 minutes, and then do 45-minute ~100-150 cal feeds. I experimented with this on a few 4-6 hour rides prior to the SB100, and then locked it in on a Res over-and-back ride, and liked it. It was a little intense though, and I had trouble staying up with the feeds. I ended up setting my watch to go off every 45 minutes, as I otherwise risked missing feeds.
For someone who has long-prided himself on being able to run more like a diesel, with longer gaps between feeds, this was definitely a change, but I noticed the payout.
I did seriously consider switching from the SB100 to the PB84. It seemed more fun; I really didn’t have any particular designs on the full SB; and realistically, I could actually push myself a little harder instead of basically just riding. In talking with some trusted advisors, they advised to go for it.
I got cold feet about switching though, and when I asked Carlos, the event organizer, if I could switch, he gave me an incredulous look and asked: “Why?”
My reasoning seemed soft. As it is, it maybe didn’t matter, and it seems the PB option is going away anyhow.
Race Day:The best part about the race this year was hands down having my mom up here. Delta and Alaska Air’s price wars have led to really cheap flights between west coast cities, and having visited AK a few times already, this seemed like a good reason for a visit and more fun than doing touristy stuff.
My mom transported my feed bags to the check points, held my bike at the checkpoints, and of course, provided ample cheering.
For a long and often lonely race, there sure are some dedicated fans and supporters. Carly, Gus, and Carly’s parents were great at the check points, helping both my mom and I; and Braun, Ryan, and all the others up at Devils Pass taking pics and cheering really makes for a huge mental boost. Among racers, there's a lot of camaraderie too.
The trail was greasier than last year thanks to several summer deluges during the week prior (of course it rained the week before). I ran an Ardent Race EXO in the back and an Ardent non-EXO in the front and was very happy with that combo. The A.R. does pretty good in the mud, but it’d be really silly to hobble a 5-inch trail bike with a skimpier front tire knowing corners were going to be greasy.
While the Yeti SB-95c has been a way better rig for Kenai riding than the Santa Cruz 5010, it’s still a big bike that will perform better heading down than up, and I didn’t want to have any question about how hard I could push.
As for the up, ya, the Yeti has proven to be better at those from ride number one. Especially helpful for this race was a pair of brand new ENVE XC29 wheels I found on sale…after a season on the Mavic CrossRocs, the bike felt almost flighty on the climbs. More on those wheels some other time.
|A good steed. Photo: P.P.|
Then, as we headed into what I call the mile 2 heartbreak hill, Adam, Brian, Kevin, and Tim started to pull away. Minutes later we were all bunched back up and hiding in the veg together near the top of the climb along with Will. Will had taken off in the relay race and came upon an adolescent moose who made numerous false charges at us, even in a big group. Eventually we had a dozen riders piled up, and the moose took the cue and headed off.
I hung with the 4 SB leaders + Will a bit longer, but as we began the next canyon climb, they again pulled ahead.
I felt like I was laying down a good pace for myself and was OK with that.
Megan yo-yo’d with me a bit on the climbs until East Creek.
Cresting Res Pass it was gorgeous and cool. I did notice a looming cumulus cloud to the south. The forecast was calling for a 20% chance of showers. Anywhere else that might be pretty good news, but my suspicion was that 20% pretty much meant 100% for the higher elevation. I swore when I saw it…I knew what was coming.
|Tearing toward Cooper. Photo M.B.|
I did have a persistent problem with my saddle positioning from East Creek until most of the way through the second leg to Devils. Basically, I was motoring hard, and was drawn farther forward on my saddle then I usually ride. I could have fixed this by moving the seat up or down a bit, or just getting out of the saddle a bit more, but of course, I didn’t. Stupid move: It cost me a lot on the Coopers-Devils leg.
The leg from Cooper-Devils pretty much sucked for everyone this year I think.For whatever reason, the climb out of Coopers really hurts me. I’m not sure if it’s the jog through the parking lot that fires some muscles or what, but my legs felt terrible.
The ominous cloud I’d seen from the Pass materialized into a classic, Alaska, blue-sky shower that got the trail wet but not muddy as I crested the climb out of Coopers and entered the Juneau Creek Valley, but it ended soon enough.
Up the god-awful climb above Swan Lake, the temps were much cooler at least, but I could see rain showers guarding the entranceway to Devils Pass. I guess I was grateful I beat any showers through the rock gardens on Res, but as I neared the junction with Devils, I hit the cold rain.
The trail was lined with endless puddles, and the temps felt like they were in the low 50s. Like everyone else, I started to get cold.
The splash fest continued, and as I rode through a brush car wash in the soaking vegetation and slid through slimy rocks on upper Devils, I resolved: I was going to quit at the bottom of Devils.
This was stupid, something wasn’t right with my body, I was cold and wet, and this section would suck even more trying to climb.
Somehow, thinking this made it better.
|My favorite pic from the race. Great shot by Braun, with Charger encouraging me to shut up and pedal harder. If it looks like I'm smiling, trust me, I'm not. I was so pissed. Photo M.B.|
Sure enough, maybe halfway down Devils, there was a noticeable thermal layer, and the temps suddenly felt almost muggy; the annoying sensation I’d been feeling since East Creek had gone away; and as I was about to duck into the woods at the base of Devils, I threw a glance back up the Pass, and saw blue skies and parting clouds.
As it turned out, the third leg felt like my best. The rain had brought the temps down, but all the evidence of the rain was gone, and even though the climb up Devils didn’t actually go by any faster than usual, it felt like a breeze.
My feed strategy had been working great all day. I never dipped, but the warning light came on near the top of Devils. By the time I hit Res Pass, it was all systems go, and I felt ready to open it up.
I ripped into the descent, and passed Jessie fixing a flat near East Creek. She yelled that she was good to go with a spare tube so I powered by knowing she’d catch up, and I might have a partner to the finish with!
I entered this perfect zone the whole way to Hope.
I’ve ridden the north side of Res a bit more than usual this year, and it felt like a sub-conscious part of my body was more in sync with the trail than I was.
It was sort of like, I’d wake up from an exhausting sleep, look down thinking I was going to find myself powering too hard in a soft suspension mode, only to find all was exactly as it should be, and then roll back over into sleep; I’d hit one of the creek climbs, and for whatever reason, could just remember if it was long enough that I’d have to down shift and sit-and-spin to get out, or could stay in a taller gear and power climb.
Bliss came to a swift, though momentary end, when I managed to do something I’ve done a few times this season: with a leg kicked down to stretch, I had a pedal strike at about 25MPH.
The result: the bike is rocketed into an endo, my offending foot blasted out of the pedal, and I end up crumpled on the bars, typically going down within a fraction of a second.
In this case though, I ended up crumpled on the bars and riding a front manual for an incredibly long time…like long enough to have some time to really think about what was going on. There wasn’t anything else to do besides wait for the inevitable.
Eventually I clipped a spruce branch, and that completed the endo, throwing me into some moss. I was pretty lucky.
The bike and I were both OK, so I started riding again, and quickly got back into the rhythm I’d been in.
Jessie caught up a few minutes later, but whenever we hit the next climb, she had the legs to overtake me, and I eventually lost sight.
Unfortunately for her, she blew another flat around mile 5, and I gave her my tube.
Compared to last year where I was starting to feel the burn in the third leg, this year, I had some juice, and I’d emphasize that it was just “some.” It may have been the feed strategy paying out, or just a slightly stronger year. Not sure.In the end, it wasn’t enough to make up for all the pit stops and discomfort in Legs 1 and 2, and I still finished a tad slower than 2014.
|Rehashing with Kevin. Photo P.P.|
Upshots this year:Better feed strategy:
Eating 100-150 cals every 45 minutes and using a timer on my watch to keep me on track since they come up fast. Common sense is key here too: having intimate knowledge of the trail helps. I typically waited, or pre-empted a feed to take advantage of short climbs where my pace would already be lowered, and I could gobble down a few shot blocks or a waffle without any penalty.
I stuck with Cliff Shot Bloks as my primary feed (half pack per feed=100 cals), along with basically one Honey Stinger waffle per leg (~150 cal). At the check points, while I refilled my camelback bladder, I gnawed down a Clif Mojo bar. I tried to eat the latter on the trail last year, and was annoyed by how much time, energy, and water they used. I still like them as a feed source, in part because I eat them regularly on rides; they have a satiating quality; and are neutralizing to all the sugar I’m dumping into my gut.
I’ve become leary of much else besides sugar, carbs, and electrolytes in these rides, but in 10 hours, at some point, my gut needs something a little bit more solid to work with too.
More water:I upped to 1.5L of water per leg this year. In general, it was cooler, so it wasn’t as big a factor as last year, but I’d rather come into a check point with a few extra sips then run up a deficit as was the case last year. I kept the check point water bottle: It was nice for washing down my check point snack, but I can’t kill that much water and it most often got dumped into the bladder too.
Bike rinse water:At each check point I had a jug of water to pour over the drive train. I was glad for it in Cooper Landing. The rain through the Devils Pass section meant the bike didn’t have any gunky mud in the gears there.
I hit the chain at both check points, copiously. Doing this ride without it is a dumb idea.
Ding-ding bell:I don’t know what to call it, an ice-cream bell, basically, a small, handle-bar mounted bell that delivers a piercing ring. Racers are required to use a bear bell, or jingle bell, but these don’t carry their sound more than a 20-30 feet down a vegetation-lined trail, and hardly make any noise when climbing. Last year I was really frustrated climbing out of Cooper Landing, as I felt that I couldn’t make enough noise (oxygen debt) to warn descending riders, and that the latter weren’t making enough noise on their own to give me time to react.
I think vocals are the best warning system, and that the noise-making onus should still be on the downhill rider. The handlebar bell was great though. It required no additional effort on my part, I just rang it regularly as I climbed, and hit it a few times in succession as I approached blind corners or if I heard oncoming riders. They're tiny too, probably weighing less than 20 grams, and cost $11. I gave mine to my neighbor’s kid after the race, but will surely use one next year.
The one thing I think I’ll do next year is use a different backpack for each leg (or at least swap one out. Filling the camelback isn’t that long, but it’s still time consuming. It’d be a lot nicer to roll in, empty my pockets of wrappers and reload them with the next leg’s food, swap packs, and go.