Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 Racing

Concise reports? Go read my other blog for those. I can't help but get long-winded on these, but these reports also help me remember lessons learned from season to season, and re-live the excitement years later. Enjoy.

This season started out on the slow side for me, or, at least it felt that way. A lot of that probably stemmed from a lack of motivation and a lack of snow in town over the winter for consistent mid-week activities. My fitness was heavily skewed toward big weekend days on split planks in the backcountry, and even still, a warm spring curtailed April missions, leaving me even more bitter and reticent to get on a bike. Suffice to say, I felt the weakest at the start of the riding season as I ever have. The fact than, that I finished as strong as I did, was pretty awesome.

I credit some of this to age and base mileage; but I also credit this to having some great friends and “frenemies” that lit the fire in me to get over it and get on with it.

One of the most remarkable things about the racing this season, aside from the great courses and weather we had (only one race where it actually rained), was how unbelievably competitive the Expert division has become. Within the main pack, there was consistently anywhere from 5-10 riders all finishing within 90 seconds of each other. In almost every race, one dab, or just the lightest ease of power, could cost a placement. It just felt like really raw racing where the results were totally up in the air every time, and it fired me up in a way I haven’t felt, probably since I got back into racing a couple years ago.
Arctic MTB 5 (Didn't race, only a day before the Soggy Bottom, but I did design the course!)
Photo R.G.

Trifecta Season Finale

Thursday Hill Climb

The course this year tossed in some of the rooty connector single track on Spencer to ensure the race wasn’t simply a pure test of legs and lungs. Rain the previous 36 hours that really didn’t end until about 3 hours prior to race time left sections of the course smeared in axel grease mud, and other sections slick as black ice. This would be a common theme in all three races.

I had been racing with a Maxxis Ikon 2.2 rear tire most the season, but the day before, tossed on an Ardent Race with EXO sidewalls (for Girdwood on Saturday). The former tire corners better at speed and have less rolling resistance on hard pack or soft/loose over hard, but the latter has slightly toothier knobs that hook up better when conditions are wet.

The race was pretty lightly attended. The experts, masters, and single speeders all went off in the first wave making for a slightly more confused start. I was really nervous about the slick double track on Double Bubble and hung back until we shot out the hairpin corner, then started to pick up the pace. By the time I was up the first pitch on Spencer, the race was basically settled. Andy sat about 10 seconds in front of me the whole climb, Clint rode my wheel for a bit in the lower half of the climb, but as we neared the upper section of Hive, he slowly slipped back. I felt like Andy was gauging my pace, if I had come after him I felt like he would have responded, and I was looking for about a 90% effort at max, so it didn’t make sense to explode myself chasing him down. Last year’s hillsclimb was far more riveting, with Nathan, Clint, and I battling the whole way up.

I didn’t want to go too hard, certainly not as hard as I’d pushed last year where we raced Thursday but had Friday off. The mud definitely helped to dampen the effort too.

I still tasted some blood in the parking lot at Prospect, so, that’s good, right?

Photo: G.S.


Friday Short Track

Short races are not my bag, but wow, this was embarrassing! My plan was to basically sit in and chill out, save the legs for the big day in Girdwood the next morning. Despite a forecast for clear skies, instead a saturating and misty fog clung to Anchorage until noon, and the clouds didn’t really part in earnest until mid-afternoon, leaving the course nice and slick. The expert race started late at 8:20 PM, along with the masters and single speeders. The start was chaotic, but after only 3 laps I was in the back. I really wasn’t comfortable with pushing it too hard for fear of wiping out, and people were fishtailing everywhere. Warming up I’d watched two sport riders eat it hard.

Anyway, around 20 minutes into the 30 minute+ race, Nick and Fred West, who had both been trailing me all race, finally passed.

As we came through the start finish, we were told we were heading into the bonus lap.

I thought this meant we had two laps to go, given the time. I stuck with Nick and Fred through another lap. Then in the following lap, I made an attack on a short climb to sneak into a section of rooty single track. I backed off a titch through the roots, and then as we entered the final stretch, I threw down what I’m quite sure was the best sprint of my life.

I came across the line, and despite seeing gray, noticed there was no one around…

Then Nick and Fred buzzed by and let me know we were still going.


I was completely gassed, and rode the final two laps basically in an extended warm-down, getting second to last place. I only earned 1 point in the race. From a strategy perspective, I shouldn’t have raced! Oh well, I’m sure there’s something to be said for doing types of racing you aren’t good at…or whatever.

Photo: O.L.


Saturday Alyeska XC

Last year’s Alyeska XC race was easily one of the most challenging and fun courses I’ve raced in AK. This year’s course, though shorter in distance (3 miles a lap), was much harder, and was comparable to some of the more challenging courses I’ve raced on the rocky and hilly east coast.

A clingy morning fog in the Girdwood valley ensured conditions remained slick.

The course started with a road climb up Chair 3, then descended the Blueberry Pancake trail, climbed some muddy switch backs, before hooking onto a road to the top of the halfpipe, did some off-camber stuff and wall rides down slick grass in the halfpipe, traversed the slick and rocky Winter Creek connector trail back to the chair three area, and climbed X-Mas in July trail, before descending Big Spruce back to the start.

I brought the Yeti with me and planned to pre-ride the course on the hard tail, and make a game-time decision on what to race. I did go down on Blueberry during my pre-ride on a wooden wall ride, but the section had a ride around. Conservative riding on the descents would be mandatory for anyone: Too much speed, and tires would instantly slip out on the slick ramps. Meanwhile, with three climbs per lap, I felt the hard tail would be the better steed. No one would really be able to make a lot of time on the descents, but there was plenty of climbing.

This year’s turnout was rather small for all the Trifecta events, and this included Girdwood. That’s really too bad, this race in particular was certainly hard, but as said, it also more closely resembled actual XC racing as one would find Outside of AK, rather than what is usually available here.

The experts went off, and it seemed like one of the most relaxed starts ever. Will, Jason, and Jamie went off ahead like the three amigos, and I sat a little behind them and a little in front of a second pack, no one was really pushing it too hard.

About halfway down Blueberry, Alex Wilson caught up to me. I offered to let him around, but he declined, and waited until we started up the Chair 7 climb. Alex stayed in front of me until we closed out the first lap, where I passed him headed back up Chair 3 road; Andy was 10-20 seconds back through the first lap.

On the next descent down Blueberry, I again heard someone catch me, but when I glanced back expecting to see Alex, it was Andy.
Photo: R.G.

Andy, Alex, and I rode together for the majority the laps 2 and 3. Occasionally one of us would ride a little stronger in one section or another, but we’d quickly group back up. Andy commented at one point that it was pretty nice to have a good group to ride with, and I agreed. As an example, on one lap, going up the Winter Creek trail, Alex had just caught back on, and Andy and I let him thru. He was riding the tech stuff much better, so it was perfect to have his wheel to follow. We were all pushing each other along.

On the third lap climbing X-Mas, Alex finally slid back far enough that he never caught back on.

As we entered the final lap, I expected Andy to push the climb. He had been jabbering on most the climbs to this point, where I had no such spare oxygen for that nonsense! As expected, he came around. I had no interest in chasing his wheel.

If Andy hadn’t been holding my wheel on Blueberry descent the previous two laps, I would have raced him to the top in hopes of putting some distance into him during the descent, but that clearly wasn’t happening. Even then, we had two more, much steeper climbs to follow before the lap closed out. Andy was riding really great, even in the techy stuff, and my only gun in this race was climbing. Trying to out climb Andy seemed like a sure bet I’d lose!

In the end, I think this is one of the very few instances where I will say, I should have raced the Yeti. The thought of racing that bike in 90-120 minute XC races crushes my junk. The hard tail is much lighter and in most cases plenty competent to hang on through descents and then take time on climbs.

I don’t know that I would have ridden the descents significantly faster on the Yeti, but they would have smoother and taken less out of me, no question. I actually rode Blueberry later that day on the Yeti and it was an entirely different experience.

The Yeti is obviously not as sprite a climber as the hard tail, but my hard tail is geared high, and that can work against me on longer steep climbs, such as at Alyeska. This course had 2 significant steep climbs, plus a section on Winter Creek with a steep, rocky and slick climb. A lower gear range, wider tires, and some squish would have actually made the steep climbing easier – I also verified this later in the day on the Yeti. So, while I would have been pedaling more weight with the Yeti, my legs wouldn’t have been straining as hard.

Also, this late in the season, my legs are in good shape, and a couple extra pounds of squish on a techy course was not going to be a major impediment.

Would it have made a difference for the final result? I don’t think so. Andy was just putting in a solid race all around; but maybe I would have ridden my lines a little cleaner and more confidentlay, allowing me to hold better gaps in some places, making the race a little closer.

What ifs.
My training partner.

Arctic MTB Race 6

What made this race so cool was that Bernie was visiting, and took second in the sport mens race! Bernie hadn’t raced a mountain bike event since doing an Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference race in fall 2006 at Plattekill back when we were all racing for Skidmore. Bernie is often my confidant when it comes to racing, and a few weeks before his visit he asked whether there would be an XC race during his stay, and if so if we could do it, as he’d heard so much about racing up here from yours truly.

The answer was obviously yes. Bernie had some typical “roadie” issues early on in his race (dropped a bottle, came unclipped, etc) but got his act together and ended up passing nearly the entire sport field and taking a sprint for second.

Team photo

The race went well for me, but was pretty damn exciting thanks to some moose.

With Bernie in town, I rode a bit more in the days before the race than I probably would have otherwise, but was glad to see from a fitness perspective, that it didn’t appear to have much effect.

The course is one of my favorites, taking off from the stadium and going down Northwest Passage and an associated climb back out, with a very healthy dose of roots.

The race was pretty unsettled off the start as we shot into single track early on, but once we got down into the gravel pits and meadows, the second pack group started to form up. We had myself, Charlie Renfro, Clint, Owen Ala, Lee, Megan, and Andy.

I drilled the climb back up and took over the lead. I tried to call out the slick corners on the double track on the way back to Middle Earth, but Owen went down pretty hard at some point. I basically lead this group through the entirety of the first lap.

Through the stadium, Lee took off and disappeared, and Charlie came around and lead through back down NWP.

Photo: G.S.

I came around on the climb, and the group started to thin out some. I think we lost Charlie. Owen gave me a run on the climb, but was timid about the next section given his fall last time.

About mid-way to Middle Earth we encountered a cow and calf. The cow ran down a trail behind us and the calf ran out in front of us. I briefly hesitated but Clint commented we better go for it. I was really nervous the cow would turn and chase the group, now chasing her separated calf, but she didn’t seem to care at all and eventually the calf bolted off the trail.

About a minute later I saw a second lone cow, standing off the trail in the woods. I figured she was weary off all the bikers and was staying off the trail. “Good,” I thought.

I again lead through the second lap. My gaps would open on double track and sections of roots, fading on other sections of STA.

As we climbed up Bolling Alley back to Mighty, Clint, who was right on my tail, sucked up a pin flag into his rear derail with a loud thwack. He dropped off.

When we crested the climb I asked if anyone knew if he was chasing back on or if he was screwed. No one knew. If he was chasing, I wanted to slow down the pace for 30 seoncds give him a chance to catch back on. I know that’s a really roadie move, and maybe if it wasn’t the last race and he wasn’t right on my tail, I would have shrugged my shoulders, but if he wasn’t down and out, I felt like it would be better let him clip back on.

Turns out, we would get the opportunity anyway.

Through the stadium, Megan took off and attacked.

She dropped the group on the way to NWP, though I chased her down through the meadows and the group essentially reformed, with Megan leading off the front by about 5 seconds.

Back up the climb and on the way to Middle Earth, the lone cow moose came out from an intersection charging for Megan.

The chasing group let out a collective yell, and the moose changed and charged toward the group, letting Megan through.

What ensued was a 3-4 minute Mexican standoff between a bunch of lycra-clad bikers and one seriously ticked moose. This was the lone cow I’d seen the second lap, and I’m really sure this was the same moose that ran me over in May. What moose is willing to charge a group of this size? Any normal “wild” animal would have fled with so many amassed and yelling at it.

At first I was near the front of the melee, but already having earned my moose print badge for the year, and feeling my adrenaline surging, I stepped back and begin to look for a way through the woods.

While we were stopped, Charlie and Clint caught back on, and Lee, who I guess missed a turn and fell behind, caught up too. Charlie and Andy nearly missed getting kicked as they tried to go around the moose through some woods, but the moose was having none of it.

Eventually we were able to sneak by her, but it was an uneasy truce.

I was feeling pretty drained from the moose encounter, and all her fake charges, and fell back a few placements to recover.

I got my strength back and passed Charlie and Clint, but never caught back on with Andy or Owen. I think they both had a lot more leg than I for the last lap, and despite the moose, I’m not sure I could have fended them off.

Who knows. I really hate that moose though, one way or the other!

Arctic MTB Race 4

Another race on Hillside, but a brand new course; the long hillside climb was broken in half by throwing in a flowy break mid-way, and used the Gorge Trail for the upper decent. This course was also super heavy on single track.

I felt good going in, a morning rain shower tamped down what had otherwise been very dry and loose conditions, and despite smoke drifting through town from the nearby McHugh fire, air quality was good.

After the DDXC disappointment, I was as angry as the residents of the dozen or so yellow jacket nests that lined this course.

The two ~5-minute climbs, and the short steep uphill punches found on the descent, suited my strength. In pre-riding, I felt like I could hit the two climbs at near-full strength, without worry of blowing up, and that I should hammer every little steep punch. Also, this time, I was going to stick with the sprint. Period.

We lined up, the lead group took off, and I tagged on and held their pace until we rounded the first switchback on Drone.

I’d built a small gap in front of the second pack, didn’t feel too bad, and was ready to detach, but not let up.

I kept the power on high through the first climb and at the least sustained or slightly built a gap. As I expected, the flowy break allowed the group to just about catch me before we began part two of the climb up Hornets Nest.

Again, I dug deep.

I didn’t feel like I had a big lead at the top, but I think I may have put some distance between myself and the rest of the group in the final part of the Hornets Nest climb. Despite my fears that I would get caught on the descent down the Gorge Trail, when I glanced back heading up the straightaway on Wall Street on Spencer to see if I was getting chased down, I didn’t see anyone.
Photo: J.E.

I think the group probably began to fracture on the climb and ensuing rooty descent, but a smaller group did make some progress on the rest of the descent, as coming through the start area, I looked back and saw a few people pursuing. I quickly ratcheted up the pace back to Drone.

I used a cheering spectator at the top of Drone to mark a 20-second gap for whoever was behind me, and realized, with plenty of climbing left in the lap and the race, I was going to really build a lead if I drilled the climbs again, which I definitely did.

Lap 2 was my strongest run. About halfway up Hornets Nest I caught sight of a rider ahead. I didn’t recognize him, but I knew he was not someone I usually saw in these races, and it lit the fire in me. I had to catch him.

Near the top I caught the rider and he promptly let me by.

The rider, Mark Iverson, would later tell me he’d gone out too hard and dropped from the lead pack. He latched onto my wheel as I passed and held on through the rest of the run.

I didn’t think much of it, it’s easy to hold someone on a descent, but having Mark behind me lead to my best descent for sure. I figured if he was hurting on the lap 2 climb, he would probably drop once we started climbing again.

Back through the start, I threw a few glances back, but this time, didn’t see anyone chasing.

Mark came around as we headed up Drone, which confused me a tad. Not knowing who he was, I wondered if he’d blow up in front of me or what. I never saw him again as he built an ~30-second lead by the finish.

Meanwhile, my pace was beginning to show for the effort. I wasn’t tanking by any stretch, but I definitely didn’t have the same kick I’d had in the previous 2 laps.

Headed up Hornets, I saw Megan briefly on the switch backs below. To my relief, she wasn’t towing any of the boys. As it turned out, Megan was basically going the same pace the whole race, but just couldn’t close the 10-20 second gap to my wheel.

The lap closed out without event, easily one of my best races, ever. 

This race came after a block of high-mileage riding, and I knew it would be my last race for a while. I’d felt good on the previous Hillside race, but was disappointed and confused that when I finished I still felt strong, indicating I didn’t really dig deep enough; I didn’t have that feeling this time, there was no question, I used a lot of matches the first two laps and was glad to have built a nice lead for the final lap.

After getting completely dropped in DDXC and never having a chance to chase back on, I went back to my old strategy sprinting off the start and chasing the lead group. I was glad to see my lungs were there for the effort, as much as it sucks. I spent a lot of the race by myself in no man’s land, well behind the lead group, and just a short ways in front of the second pack. Chasing Mark and then having him on my wheel through the second decent was a huge boost, but throughout the whole race, I was aggravated as hell, and might as well have had 5 people on my wheel along with a pack of wasps. Every time I heard a bell it lit me up, even though I think sometimes that damn bell was just my own!

Double Down XC

A new event this year, this race was held on a weekend and featured longer distances than week night races: 3 laps to complete about 25 miles for the experts.

The course was pretty good, and dove deep into some of Kincaids rooty hell holes, including the Hammerman trails.

The biggest challenge for this course in my mind was the curt start that dove into single track pretty quick and didn’t break out for a while.

My plan was simple, use the same strategy I’d been using the previous two races, let the first lap go out hard, get dragged along, keep the legs spinning consistently, and go find people to chase down.

We did a quick lap around the stadium to spread out, but it didn’t matter much, just as the main group made it out onto the first short break of double track, it turned out that the lead group had made a wrong turn, and things balled back up as we re-entered the singletrack.

I’d lost sight of Nick and Clint, who I hoped to keep a visual on, but wasn’t too worried, we had a long way to go and I felt good.

The Hammerman rooty trails were awful, slow, tedious, but mostly uphill, meaning the hardtail wasn’t a disadvantage. The biggest struggle I was finding with trail conditions was the occasionally dry and loose conditions on otherwise fast and firm that made cornering inconsistent.

It wasn’t dry and loose that got me though. A lengthy section of course went over Jodphur Loop trails. Read: road biking in the woods.

Coming into a corner I had this brief thought that maybe you always have when you corner at 25MPH, “I hope I don’t go down.”

It obviously doesn’t happen 99% of the time, but this time I went down, hard. The trail was like black ice, my front tire went out and I was on the ground before I knew what happened. Jessie was on my tail, and as I rolled, I saw the profile of her front tire out of the corner of my eye, lined up for my head.

She had a split second to decide whether to ride over me or go down as well. Thankfully she chose the latter option, and thankfully, she wasn’t banged up.

The impact was a good one for me though, and I hit my knee hard enough it hurt to extend and retract.

I hobbled away from the corner to avoid causing a pile up. People were blowing by. I looked over the bike, tried to slow my mind and make sure I didn’t panic and jump back on only to crash again because my brakes or bars were askew. Everything was still good though, so it appeared.

I was raging pissed off at myself and freaked out. I got on the bike and started to soft pedal, my knee was killing me, my head still spinning.

I realized maybe a drink would help: BLEEP!

I was smart to check over the bike, but I failed to notice I’d lost my bottle in the crash. I was far enough from the crash site I didn’t want to turn back, but the laps were long and the day was hot. I was not thrilled about riding the next three miles back to the start without water and getting dehydrated in the process after my experience in the 6-hour race. I rode on in a small group that included Megan, who tried to instill some positive thoughts, even though I was pretty ticked with myself.

When we hit the start area I snagged my staged bottle and headed back into the woods.

The next thing I knew I was riding down Middle Earth…the wrong way.

Of course, even after I suspected I’d made a wrong turn, I wasn’t completely sure until I did the math in my head.


This race felt as good as over to me. My best bet would be to maybe chase my way back up to Jessie and the group I’d been with right when I crashed. I rode alone the entirety of the second lap, but I think after I rode through the crash site again, and saw my bottle off in the alders, my head leveled back off, and I stopped pouting and started riding. It didn’t take too long into the third lap before I passed Megan, and not long after caught up with Jessie and the rest of the group I’d been with.

Jessie was crushing it, and stuck my wheel through a 1/3 or more of the lap. When I came by the crash site, out of water, and not having seen anyone off in the distance to chase down, I figured I’d better make a quick grab of my lost bottle. The quick stop allowed Jessie to catch back on for a bit, but once we rolled into the final climb, all the adrenaline from the crash was bubbling over and I pedaled about as hard as I should have been the last two laps to the finish, disappointed with the way things turned out.

The takeaway here was a good one though, bitter as I may have been about it. I’d been enjoying the change in strategy this year from past years, chasing my cohort down as the race went on instead of fleeing them off the start. The chasing option is mentally easier, I paced a bit easier in the start, didn’t get stressed or gassed in the sprint, and used the distant figures of other racers as the fire for my legs as the race went on. The problem: it left no room for error. These races are too fast, and the guys I race against are only going to get caught with a lot of effort. Biffing a corner may mean never seeing them. In the sprint-and-flee situation, if you screw up, you may just end up with them, and can then try to get away, or at worst, get passed but not end up nearly as far back.

Arctic MTB Race 3

The first of three races held at Hillside this season. Despite an overhyped weather forecast for heavy downpours and flood watches from the incredibly-off weather guessers, at most, the bone dry and dusty trails saw a quick shower mid-race, and otherwise cloudy and cool temps: perfect.

I felt really good going into the race, and was jittering with energy all day. As expected, the race jumped out hard.

In keeping with my strategy this year, I just rode the first lap at pace, knowing that I would get pulled along by the collective momentum of the group a little faster than normal.

I was feeling really good about the course, and had a new strategy for the descent: don’t brake!

The standard Hillside course is one of the few I know of that you can lose on the downhill: and I have, several times. The descent beats up riders, particularly those on hard tails, leaving them strained to attack on the rather direct main climb. I think between doing the 6-hour race helped me a lot, but even more was spending an afternoon doing consecutive laps (4) on this course.

Photo G.S.

I noticed when I was riding the course consecutively, that toward the end of my ride, while my times on the climb were gently slowing down as my legs fatigued, my overall lap times were actually decreasing, as I got faster on the downhill each lap. It wasn;t because I was developing some inside edge on the downhill though, I was actually getting tired, and was thus relaxing. Basically, I’ve always tried to ride strong and decisively on this descent, but it turns out, it’s better just to let go, not just because it’s faster, but because it’s easier. I was working less, meaning I had more energy for the climb.

On race day, I finished off lap one and caught a glimpse of both Nick and Andy D down the straight away of the gasline. That was a good sign in my mind, though I specifically avoided reacting.

Part two of my plan was that, as in the past, I expected to mostly be alone in this race. I would be hard pressed to use other riders as motivation to chase riders, instead, I would use the course and the clock to launch attacks.

The main climb, though fairly direct, isn’t all that steep. The steepest pitch actually is right at the base going up Drone Lane, and then one or two short pitches along the way. It’s still a climb though, and can lull you into a steady pace if you let it.

Photo G.S.

I marked two sections along the way up where I planned to launch 30-second all-out sprints, regardless of who else was around.

I flirted with this strategy a little bit last year, and found it to be fairly effective when I’m alone in no-mans land.

I was able to pick off another rider using one of these attacks as I headed up the second lap, though Nick and Andy had disappeared, as expected.

Sure enough though, back at the base of the second lap, there they were again. I was gaining on them on the descent, they were gaining on me on the climb, but the delta was in my favor with this course.

I employed the ghost attack method again going up lap three, and as I topped out, closed the gap first on Chris Jung, who I think Nick had just come by. I followed Chris a short ways but slipped around him, and within 10 seconds of dropping into Lama, had caught Nick.

This is where I made one major mistake: Nick asked if I wanted to come around, and I declined. I was thinking about what a good race we’d had at Race 2, and I figured I’d let him pull me through a little more of the descent and then come around. I should have just come around right then when he offered though, as a short ways after we came up on another rider, and we couldn’t really pass on the narrow trail. Truthfully, he wasn’t slow either, but in this case, I could definitely descend faster than both Nick and the other rider and was losing valuable seconds for chasing down Andy D.

Eventually both Nick and I passed when the trail opened, and we finished the descent.

Unfortunately, at the base of this lap, Andy wasn’t off in the distance down the straight away providing a target, though Nick was just seconds behind me.

I had one more part to my plan for the day: go deep on the final 1/2 mile on Double Bubble’s steep climb on the final lap. Nick gave me a good chase to the base of the hill, but I was able to open up the gap going up the steep pitch.

Though this wasn’t as close and confined as the last race, that was to be expected, and I was super pleased with how this race went, for one main reason: after years of getting walloped on the descent, I was able to take three positions on the final descent instead of getting passed.

Last year, I decided I would try to use my climbing legs and punish some of my cohorts by digging relentlessly deep on the climb, challenging them to hold on. The simple problem with this strategy is one of basic math. The climb takes me anywhere from 11-13 minutes, the lap takes 27-29 minutes. That means one spends the greater portion of this course going down or traversing. I was getting caught on the second part every time, leaving me to instead hang on to riders who were going faster than I wanted to, while I worked too hard on the downhill, diminishing my abilities to return the favor on the comparatively shorter climb.

My only question about this year: when I finished, I felt really good, like, I wanted to hammer another lap. On the third lap climb, I did think about throwing in an extra attack, but decided to stick with my plan. The fact that I had this thought though, on a climb, three laps in, was noteworthy, and told me I left too much in the tank.

While this course sometimes gets some grief for being rather hard, not to mention repetitive (it’s been raced every year since like 2009), I think it’s one of Anchorage’s best, both for its challenge, but also because you know you will see it again, so it serves as a good benchmark.

6 Hours of Kincaid

This really wasn’t much a race, so much as a training ride, for me. I had my head pretty well set on riding in circles in Kincaid for a day, and a 6-hour ride was just what I needed. The course was actually better than it looked on the map, not necessarily fun, per se, but hard. In 10 miles the course sported 1,000 feet of climbing, plenty of hell hole roots, and for what it was worth, felt like it was climbing the entire time (It was uphill both ways!)

Other than the first lap, where a group of various different race categories stuck together, I was pretty well alone. One other 6-hour rider hung onto my wheel through the first half of my second lap, but ultimately detached.

Photo L.F.

Other than that, the only other riders I saw were briefly upon being passed or passing, and Ryan Greef, who was racing the 12-hour solo. He and I started 5 laps together, but he would hammer impressively ahead, stop for a break at the start/finish, and then take back off. He was killing it, and put in a solid effort to win the 12-hour solo race. Very cool.

For me, the event was about time on the hard tail and time in the saddle, but it also became a strange lesson in hydration.

Obviously, in 2 decades of riding, I have run out of water just a couple times, and suffered from dehydration. As a dumb kid riding through sweltering summer heat, it was standard operating procedure to run out of water and go dizzy until I finally found a spring to scoop from. Drinking water from giardia-filled Vermont streams was a dumb idea.

While such mess-ups are rare now, I know for a fact I drink less on the trail than most my peers; I have no idea why, maybe all those dehydration rides as a dumb kid?

Photo: L.F.

In this case, being breezy and cool with a chance of showers, I figured I would ride 2 laps per bottle, with my bottles staged at the start/finish for easy snagging.

I had more water just a short ways off course at my car should I need it.

The plan worked the first two laps, as it was still cool and I started well hydrated, but entering lap 3 with a fresh bottle, I realized I was actually quite thirsty, and was halfway through the bottle before I was halfway around the lap, leaving only half a bottle for the next 1.5 laps?!

I eased my water intake but quickly became dehydrated.

Photo L.F.

What was different in this event, compared to say, some long ride, was that I was trying to maintain a set pace. My first two lap times were just shy of an hour (55 and 56 minutes), and that meant I could do 6 laps before the cutoff, IF I didn’t significantly change my pace.

As soon as I got dehydrated though, my body responded. My muscles got heavy and stiff and stuff started to hurt like it shouldn’t have.

My body rebelled like I’d never felt it. Everything started to hurt. The nasty root sections inspired dread. I was eating well, but now my food was tapping out my water.

With my pace dropping, going off course to re-fill the bottles meant I might not make the cutoff, and could miss a lap

Fortunately, Meredith came by to cheer for me during lap 4, and re-filled my bottles, allowing me to do one bottle per lap for laps 4, 5, and 6. As evidence for the effect of dehydration though, my lap time crashed from 55 and 56 minutes the first 2 laps, to 64 minutes the third! I recovered slowly, getting my lap times back down to 60 minutes,

By the time I closed out lap 5, I had 65 minutes left to the cut off and had some energy to spare for the final lap, allowing me to squeeze my lap time back to 59 minutes for the final lap, which I was really happy about.

Despite the idiot move on water, the event was exactly what I wanted and needed, and I think it set me up for future races.  

Arctic MTB Race 2

Feeling much better for this race, I expected the weak point to be strength, less so cardio. Compared to the previous course, which was a bit long, this one was only around 3.5 miles in length, so an extra lap was added, making it a 4 lap race for Expert. The course was a 5/10 on climbing; heavily front-loaded with double track in the first half, and heavily tail-loaded with roots and single track in the back half.

Still not wanting to fully commit my lungs, I avoided the opening sprint, with the plan to reel in my cohort and increase my pace as I chased them down, a reversal to my typical “strategy” in these races.

The first lap went out hard, per expectation, and though it was very fast, I spent much of the time chasing others, particularly Ethan Lynn and Nick Blades.
Photo: J.E.

I overtook Ethan early in the second lap, and shortly after caught Nick and Megan Chelf. The three of us formed a group through the remaining double track and charged through the back-half singletrack. As we entered lap three I cranked the power through the double track, and noticed a long way down the open trail, Clint Hodges.

The fire was lit, as we entered the rooty single track I could see the gap closing, and it only motivated me further to keep driving the pace.

About ¾ the way through the lap, going under the lower tunnel, I gave it one more boost and we overtook Clint, who I think happily latched on.

We now had a group of 4 charging hard through the course, and were rapidly lapping numerous other racers, possibly from our race but I think mostly from other divisions. I was super impressed with how awesome each and every one of them was; as a group of three, and then four, all the other racers happily pulled off and let all of us pass as a group (whoever was first always said “three through,” or “four through.”)

Of course, chatty Nick didn’t seem to appreciate my hard pace as he still had oxygen to say hello and wish them all luck!

Into lap 4, I had a problem. While I might have been wise to get off the front and let Team Revolution do some work, it seemed questionable to let one of them off the front, more to the point, why should they? They were 2 and I was one. I could let perhaps one of them around, but I didn’t want to let them both around. I decided to stay in front and charged hard into the double track where I seemed to have more power anyhow, as we went into lap 4.

We had a really cool moment as we approached the A-line B-Line option presented by the course (Middle Earth or Second Breakfast, respectively). Seeing another racer who wasn’t Expert just up ahead before we hit the split, I assumed she would veer down Middle Earth since it was shorter, and faster. I assumed the group would want to do that as well, but I didn’t want to risk entangling our group on a descent with a slower rider, and there was no reason we couldn’t do Second B-Fast if we all stayed together. Between gasps I pointed out the rider in the distance and said “lets go right” (Second B-Fast). Nick could see the situation and agreed. At the last second, the girl ahead went right, down Second Breakfast!

“”Left! Left! Left!” I gasped, scared we’d lose someone to the slower right hand option.

Everyone caught it though, and the group remained intact. I would have been annoyed at both myself, and the situation, had someone been messed up by that, despite the honest intentions of the whole group. Instead I was stoked.

We hammered on.

I knew Nick and Clint where scheming. Every time we hit double track I did what I could to keep them from slipping in front of me before we re-entered single track.

Finally, Clint stuck a quick inside move on a short section of double track. Nick joked he was a jerk for cutting me off, but to Clint’s credit, he made it count, and slowly built his lead, though the rest of us were just seconds behind. Climbing Bolling Alley, I hoped to claw him back and make it a sprint finish.

We ended up behind another racer on the climb though, and perhaps despite good intentions, when the rider pulled up to let us by, he only let Nick by, and without warning dropped back into the trail, causing me to nearly knock into him. Both Nick and I said something to him, and then I had a little more to say, which he really didn’t appreciate. The trail opened as the climb ended and I took off, fuming. With less than a half mile of gradual descent and then flat to the finish, all I could do was damage control.

Despite the late foul up (it does happen, and I didn’t feel like I made the situation any better by my own actions), this was an incredibly good race. I had an absolute blast hammering around with Megan, Nick, and Clint. After not feeling too great the previous weeks, it was nice to have a performance I was happy with. Looking at our times, we were only a handful of seconds away from reeling in two other Experts, and with such a powerful group pushing the pace, likely would have with just a bit more time. In all, five Expert men finished within only 50 seconds of each other: that’s why you pay money for these events, in my mind.

Arctic MTB Race 1

A non-event for me. I had a virus in the top of my lungs and couldn’t really breath. My legs seemed to work OK, but overall I felt more out of shape for this time of year than I have in many years (2011?) and the course was mild, so I signed up knowing I would never be able to open it up, but that the course would be a good one, at over 6 miles per lap. It was at the time, likely the hardest ride effort-wise I had yet done on my hard tail, and to an extent, all season.

Photo: G.S.