Monday, November 5, 2012

Iceman 2012: Flat Tire Legs Edition

Thank you to Grand Traverse Mountain Biking Association for sponsoring my race season this year! Checkout Northern Motion Gear by GTMTBA and outfit yourself with some cool mountain biking shirts. 

This weekend we packed up the camper, loaded the bikes and headed North to Traverse City for the Iceman Cometh Challenge: the largest one-day mountain bike race in the U.S. This year was the largest with around 5,400 participants. Iceman is a 30 mile mountain bike race from Kalkaska, MI to Traverse City, MI.

Nothing gets my heart a pitter-pattering like seeing cars topped with mountain bikes arriving en masse to take over a city for a weekend of racing and communion in the woods.

Iceman has reached mythical status, partly because it is the last race of the season and, because, of the unpredictable weather. It can be 70 degrees and sunny or there could be 8 inches of fresh snow.

As per tradition, Chad and I checked the weather forecast a million times on the drive up. The little weather icon looked like this:

One would assume then the weather would be like this:

However, as veteran Icemaniacs, we were not surprised when we woke up to this:

Photo by James Plichta

. . . Big globs of snow falling from the sky, coating the ground, and blanketing our bikes. I was a little excited.

Iceman was a different experience for me this year compared to year's passed. It approached with little fanfare, minimal preparation, and no forethought. A recent job change and personal events had kept my mind preoccupied with non-bike issues.

I had not ridden my bike since Peak2Peak three weeks prior. It had all new parts recently installed and Friday afternoon, the eve of Iceman, it was re-cabled. I went for a quick ride Friday evening to check out the last few miles of the course before stopping at the Expo. By the time I arrived back at the campsite at 8 PM, Chad was passed out asleep. With no one to keep me company, I decided to hit the sack as well.

We woke up well-rested and ready to go. After a quick breakfast and sticking Grabber Toe Warmers every where applicable we departed to Kalkaska. I arrived just in time to coast into the start shoot in the back of my wave (13).

Last year I made the mistake of going out too hard which resulted in bonking hard 8 miles from the finish. This year I opted for a neutral roll-out but I still wanted to position myself near the front/middle section of the pack. I knew the single track sections would be a jammed up, slow-moving mess and I did not want to be at the back-end of the traffic jam.

The first 8-10 miles I felt strong. I hammered in the open sections, ticking off a rider here and there. I was patient and used the slow-moving single track sections to recover and I did not waste energy trying to pass in unpassable sections.

Somewhere in the middle of the race my legs started to feel like sandbags. A couple of years ago I did a group gravel road ride. My legs had the same sandbag sensation. I kept asking my friend Roxane if my rear tire was flat. "It's not flat," she'd reply. "Are you sure? I think its flat." "It's not flat. It's called 'flat-tire legs.'"

I had flat-tire legs and there was at least 15 miles if not more to go!  Keep pedaling! Drink Endura! Keep pedaling! Hammer! Hammer! I was hoping to ride myself out of the pain. Because the alternative—an actual flat tire—was unthinkable. I had not packed a spare, an air cartridge, a hand pump—I was completely without supplies. If I had a flat tire, I had screwed myself with my own stupidity.

Thwup. Thwup. Thwup. Thwup. I'd been hearing a steady thwup for about a mile and as much as I tried to avoid it (avoidance is my favorite coping mechanism) I eventually had to confront reality.

"I think my tire is flat," I said to no one in particular.

"Yeah, it's very flat." Replied someone from behind.

Pfffffhhhhhhhhhhht. That was the sound of my motivation deflating, my tire had already lost all of its air. My legs were sandbags because I had been working them harder to ride with an actual, really truly, unimagined flat tire.

I pulled off to the side of the trail and watched dozens and dozens of riders go past. No one seemed particularly interested in helping a lady out. I felt dumb standing there, flat tire and nothing to do about it.

Thankfully a friend of ours, Jeff, saw me and pulled over. As much as I had really wanted someone to bail me out, once someone did I felt really guilty! I didn't want to mess up his race! Jeff pulled out an air cartridge and we attempted to fill my tire (I run tubeless).

In all of my riding experience, I have never seen anyone successfully use an air cartridge. Ever. And this was not the exception. It was foaming and generally not being at all effective. I don't know if it froze up in the cold temperatures or what happened, but it was not the silver bullet I was hoping it would be.

I encouraged Jeff to leave me! Save himself! No reason to ruin his race even further. The only response from him was a string of cursing that I don't usually hear until well into a few beers and deep into a stack of logs around the campfire.

Somehow he managed to get some air pressure in my tire, enough to get back on the bike. Jeff took off. I fumbled around some more and shoved a spare air cartridge in my pocket that someone had passed on to us during the debacle. After at least a hundred racers had passed, if not more, I was back on the bike and pedaling up hill.

I didn't feel encouraged about my Iceman race at that moment. A big part of me wanted to spend the rest of the ride having a pity party for myself. But then I recalled one thing that spurred me on. Out of all the people that passed me, I did not see Randy go by yet.

Randy is a friend of ours who started in wave 14—just 3 minutes behind me. Once wave assignments were released, Randy took every opportunity to remind me of that fact. Here's proof:

Randy was using me as his carrot. There was a target on my back. I had found my motivation to put the hurt in my legs. The flat tire may have cost me a place in my age group but I still had a chance to beat Randy! Hahahahaha!

I got my motor running and managed to catch up to Jeff and ride on his wheel. Jeff was hammering in the open sections, catching one group after another—not enough to make up for the lost time but enough that it was fuel for the fire.

My climbing was nothing to be proud of in the last few miles but I held my own and recovered quickly, I was able to pass even more racers going into the next sections of trail.

Trail conditions throughout the course varied from hard packed, to unrideable soft sand and even slippery black mud. I took a turn too fast in muddy single-track, my bike slid out from under me and I landed hard on my side. I smiled--it had snowed, I had a mechanical followed by a crash that would leave an epic bruise. All that was left to complete the True Iceman Experience was to cross the finish line in Glory!

My spirits were soaring when I could hear the jangle of cow bells lining the finishing shoot at Timber Ridge Resort. I rolled under the banner with about 10 pounds of pressure in a very squishy rear tire. It would not be my best time, I would not finish well in my age group—but I finished with a smile and without needing a medic. My parents were at the finish line to meet me for the first time. It was a great moment and I'm thankful they made the trip to be a part of the experience!

And I beat Randy.

My clock time was 2:37 which was good enough for 7th place in my Age Group.

With a longer course and varying trail conditions, finish times were slower this year on average. Chad finished with a very respectable 2:11 (on a 26" bike with tubes in the tires and all). Our friend Jim was just behind with a 2:12.

A big thanks to Jeff for saving me out on the trail. Thanks to my parents for watching the kids and cheering us on this weekend! We appreciate your support!!!!!

I also want to send out a congratulations to my friend and training partner Michelle on her 7th place finish in the women's SS division!

And I can't forget the kids that raced the Sno-Cone:

Sage, Kerah, and Bear

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Shot of Encouragement

Pro Race, Iceman 2010

Now that we've gotten over the hurdle that is Halloween (school parties! costume parades! costume making!!! candy collecting! candy eating!) the focus has now shifted to the next circus (I say that with the sincerest endearment) that is Iceman.

There are a lot of first-time racers out there whose nerves are starting to get the best of them. And even though I am somewhat of a sophomore when it comes to racing, I still get racked with anxiety before every race.

Last night we had some friends in town for Trick-or-Treating from Traverse City. Iceman eventually came up in conversation and when she started talking about working the E.R. during the race one year . . . well, that didn't help my anxiety one bit.

One of the first-time Icemaniacs dealing with nerves is my very own Snoose. She is participating in the Meijer Sno-Cone event.

Last night she crawled up into my lap, her little body tense and stiffened with anxiety, and asked me if she had to do the race. She didn't want to do it anymore.

Parental side note: I always feel like I'm walking a fine line as a parent. At what point am I encouraging them to follow-through with what they started, to be strong, face challenges head-on to forcing them to do something they truly do not want to do. I don't want to be that parent . . .

Once again I asked Snoose about her race experience at Pando.

M—Remember how hard that was?
S—It was really hard.
M—Remember how you felt when you climbed the hill to the finish line and EVERYONE was cheering?
S—It felt really good.
M—Were you proud of yourself?
M—You should be proud. The more difficult the challenge, the harder something is for you—when you cross that finish line—whether its mountain bike racing or a project at school or anything else you might face—the greater the reward will be. I know you're nervous about this race. I know it's going to be difficult. But the reward at the end will be worth it. You can do it.
M—Do you have to do the race? No, you don't. But I would hate for you to miss out on experiencing something special if you didn't.

"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds."—Edward Abbey

"I have always struggled to achieve excellence. One thing that cycling has taught me is that if you can achieve something without a struggle it's not going to be satisfying."—Greg Lemond

“The real race is not on the hot, paved roads, the tortuous off-road course, or the smooth-surfaced velodrome. It is in the electrochemical pathways of your mind.” – Alexi Grewal

I hope everyone racing this weekend has a great experience! 
Stay safe, ride hard, and enjoy the moment.

—Heather Adventure