02 August 2015

And the long events continue

After completing my super randonneur award it was time for me to put some racing into my legs... I decided to race the Soggy Bottom - An Alaskan 100mile off road race.

From the Alaskan Endurance Association facebook page.  The Soggy Bottom 100 was created 12 or so years ago to challenge local mountain bike riders to a 100 miles of continuous riding in some awesome terrain. Sure the route was different, but core premise of the Soggy remained the same, challenge the local riders to achieve higher levels of mental and physical endurance while riding a bike through stunning scenic and challenging terrain.
The challenge remains as it should, despite several shorter race options that are now available.

I roped a couple of friends into riding with me so at least whilst I was suffering I wouldn't be alone.  Thank you to Oscar and Chuck for riding with me and a big thanks to Chuck's wife and kids for supporting the three of us whilst doing this event.

As with any longer distance event there should be a certain amount of endurance that goes into it.  I think that everyone attending this years event found this endurance whilst trying to get to the start, sadly a vehicle collision on the highway closed the road for almost 11hours.  We set off from Anchorage around 8pm only to discover the road to Hope was still closed with no word on opening.  Oscar and I made the decision to try again in the morning.
At 05:45 Oscar picked me up and we were off to Hope which is around 1.5hours drive away from Anchorage.  Oscar had negotiated a place to stay (Thanks Tony) so that when we finished we wouldn't have to drive home and could enjoy the atmosphere at the event.

The Soggy Bottom can be thought of as three distinct legs.
The petite bottom as two Hope, Cooper Landing, Hope - note this is still an 80+ mile event and not for inexperienced cyclists.

Leg one is Hope to Cooper Landing, this is approximately 43 miles.

Leg two goes from Cooper Landing to Devil Pass trail head and is approximately 26 miles

Leg three takes riders from Devils Pass Trail head back to Hope. Segment is approximately 35 miles

As we were preparing gear in the morning before the start a bear was spotted by the river, here is a really bad shot of it climbing a tree, although bears are common in the area it is pretty rare (afaik) to see one, hopefully this would mean we wouldn't see one for the rest of the day.
really crappy bear picture
At 9am the relay racers lined up at the start and headed off for the first leg over to Cooper Landing,
Getting ready to race

And they are off

The Soggy Bottom and Petite bottom (Hope to Cooper Landing to Hope) racers set off at 09:04, as I was riding I don't have any pictures of the start but I stole a few from friends on facebook
Start - Photo Credit Laura Fox
The race starts with around 4.5miles of road to the Resurrection Pass trail head then the climbing begins. 
Aero is everything! Is this Enduro?
 As we joined the trail Oscar, Chuck and I were at the front of the third group on the trail, we were a big group as can be seen in the picture below.
Starting the Res climb

Still going up!

Still climbing
 As the trail climbed up, 24 miles from the start to the summit the group split down into smaller and smaller number of people.
Climbing with smiles

Still climbing

Group had thinned by now 

One of the steep climbs out of the creeks
 The climb is rewarding though as you get to ride some fantastic single track, as can be seen the weather is also fantastic at this point.
single track sweetness
 After you exit the trees you get to the high alpine trail, this is where if the weather is bad it can be really miserable, fortunately today was not one of those days.
Awesome scenery 
Then we came across the Chewbacca bacon station, these fantastic people took a 12mile ride in to bring all racers the goodness of bacon...
WTF - photo credit Michael Braun

From looking at this blog you will start to think this ride is all climbing and nice weather.... well that is only half the story, we did get some rain which turned the trails pretty slick and then with the warm weather made it really muggy.  We also got to ride some fantastic downhills but alas my one handed camera skills are not up to photos of that, but trust me this ride has some of the best descents Alaska has to offer.
And then the rain started
 After a quick pit stop at Cooper Landing we headed back to the trails and more climbing, at least the rain was cooling us off at this point.
Climbing out of Cooper Landing in the rain


Lake singletrack
 I think all riders will agree the summer route by swan lake is a hike your bike section, I also think most would have a few choice words with the trail planner too.
Sometimes you have to walk
 After the hike your bike section the trail becomes a lot more rideable and soon you are up to the trail intersection (Resurrection, Coopers and Devils).  These wonderful people were out making sure everyone took the right trail, for the full soggy experience it can be summarised take the trail to the right at all times.
Support/timing crew
This is the top of the best descent of the whole race IMHO, descending Devils Pass. It is fun fast and great place to recover the legs as for around 5 of the 10 ish miles you don't have to pedal :D, well perhaps the really fast guys do but I took the opportunity to relax my legs, at least for some of the trail.  The one caveat with this descent is that it is narrow in places and the uphill rider has the right of way which means your flow can be interrupted.

More sweet single track - Devils Pass
A shot of Oscar and I coming into the Devils Point checkpoint.
Tongue out to cool off 

The flipside to a sweet descent on an out and back course is the climb that inevitably follows.
Climbing again
 There is another version of this photo floating around that shows our thoughts on the last climb.
Top of the last big climb

More sweet single track

Spot the riders

We crested Resurrection pass at 2600ft and started our descent back down to Hope 20ft and 24 miles away.  At the top of the descent after a very fast section we caught back up with Tony, helping out another person on the trail.  This one had a huge split in her tyre sidewall and the Park Tyre Boots were not adhering to the sidewall (we think Stans is the problem).  Luckily Chuck had some Alaskan fix it favourite Duct Tape and we left Tony pumping things back up.
Stans doesn't work when you tear a sidewall
The descent continued for the three of us until after a stream crossing Chuck and I came across Oscar stopped.  He had nearly run into a bear (brown) and two cubs.  They had gone off into the woods but Oscar insisted he needed to pee whilst Chuck and I urged him it would be wise to back the hell away from the situation as the bear was barking at her cubs/us.  We hung around for about 5 min deciding what to do.  It was decided that Oscar would ride through first (as a decoy) and I would follow with Chuck since we both had bear spray.  Following close encounters of the bear kind we continued along the trail at a good clip with lots of  "Hey Bear" calls.

SOB hill
There are 7 large bridges across creeks and after number 6 we end up getting to a wall of torture, I am reliably informed its called son of a bitch hill and at mile 99 of the race I am inclined to agree with that.
At mile 99.1
At mile 101 we rejoin the road network and its pretty much downhill and easy pedalling to the finish.
Finally the road

Finish line in sight - Photo Credit Vastyl Mangold

At least we are smiling - Photo Credit Vastyl Mangold

So what did I think of my first Soggy Bottom.  It was hard (we finished in 13hrs 15min, most importantly before closing) and I once again couldn't have done so well without some great friends to ride with.  I see areas where I could improve if I were to complete the full version again. We were lucky with the weather, it could have been much worse like it has been in the past where the race really became a ride for survival not a joy ride that the above pictures seem to indicate.  All in all I had a blast.

A huge thankyou must go out to Carlos and his support crew without whom this event would not be the success it is. 
Until next time, ride safe all!

30 July 2015

Xterra Hammerman 2015

The Xterra Hammerman is an offroad triathlon or duathlon which takes place at Kincaid park.  2015 was the 15th anniversary of the event and my first attempt at the event. I competed in the Duathlon where we complete a short run, then bike then run again.

Although I used to run a lot when I was younger (17+ years ago) I have not really run for a number of years consistently aside from a short stretch whilst I was living in Bogota.

I went into the event with an all out approach and what I would describe as very little training, not just the running side but the biking too.  Although I have been on my bike a lot this year, I have not been mountain biking or racing and my performance at this event highlighted that.

Training plan.... errrmmmm I decided to do the event on the 20th June and the event was on the 18th July.
I managed to get in 7 runs before the event which took my pace on the local flat course from 8:50min/mile to 7:50min/mile
I also managed to get out mountain biking a few times to remind myself how my bike felt.

How did it go???
The course is pretty hilly and for the first run I managed a 7:57min/mile pace. which I was happy with. The run is clearly faster than the swim as most people were still in the water when I started out on the bike. My transition time was a little slow but for a first event I was happy with my speed.
The bike went surprisingly well, I didn't really see that many people on the bike course, I was passed by 5 or 6 people and passed 3 or 4 people but mostly I rode on my own.  I did look into some splits later on that someone had posted to Strava and I was definitely stronger than some of the people I was racing against (who posted to Strava) towards the end of my ride but not enough to catch them.  I am currently lacking in speed which I knew was going to be the case coming into the event.
The second run was a tough one, I have not biked then gone straight into running ever before and my legs didn't really want to work for the first mile of the course, not helped by the fact that it is uphill at this point too. I ran the second run with a pace of 8:52min/mile, not actually that far off what I was expecting.

Full results can be found here

I finished in 4th place in the Duathlon a whopping 6min 26seconds down on the guy ahead of me.
Am I happy with that?  Absolutely, with some training I really see I could make some improvements.
Win outright?  I don't think so, but a top 20 in the Triathlon I sure hope so, now to try some swimming as well.

Thanks to all the crew for putting on such a fun event, see you all in 2016.

Not sure who took the photo but thankyou

22 June 2015

I am a Super Randonneur

Super Randonneur   (rahn doe ner) - A special medal awarded to those randonneurs who successfully complete a challenging series of brevets (200, 300, 400, and 600-kilometers) in a year. A hard-earned honor unto itself and worthy of being any randonneur's goal for the cycling season, the Super Randonneur series of brevets is usually needed to enter a 1200-kilometer event.

To be perfectly honest this was never in my plans for 2015, I had planned to ride a 300km event and possibly even the 400km but never the full series.
Note this is a long post by my standards.... short version I did it with a great group of friends and lots of sunshine. 

200k event

My randonneuring season started with the 200k Palmer spring classic.  I didn't have the greatest of starts to that event, I over heated and was cramping up by mile 30.  Luckily I was riding with a great group of people and thanks to Oscar, Chuck, Chris and Ryan letting me wheel suck/draft I managed to complete the event well within the time frame.
Photo Album 

These guys let me draft a long way :D

Riding gravel, the guy on a cross bike gets a flat.... go figure

Almost there

300k event

Following on from the Spring Classic we were back riding again four weeks later for the Anchorage Palmer Anchorage event.  Last year this was the first time I rode an event with the Alaska Randonneurs (see here for the blog post) This year I upped the distance I was going to ride.  This time I was going to attempt the 300km event.  We couldn't have asked for a better day out, sunshine, great temperatures and again another fantastic group of people to ride with.   Photo album

The 300k was a lot of fun and surprising I felt really good after the event, I seem to be improving every event that I take part in.  I am managing to improve my hydration and fuelling for the events.
Sunshine riding

Fantastic views

Homeward bound

All done Tom, Tim and Narciso

400k event

Just two weeks later I was out on another event, this time it was a 400km event. In 2014 I did this event as a one way, ride to Seward and take the train back, (see blog here).  This time I was going to attempt my first 400k event.  The weather was significantly better this year.
First control Portage - 2014
Cold and wet climbing to Summit Lake - 2014
2014 pictures

First control Portage - 2015

Warm and sunny climbing to Summit Lake - 2015

2015 pictures

The ride went great.

The engines for our ride down to Seward

Brant and Oscar were (only)riding the 200k event and very kindly spent most of the way down to Seward on the front of the group pulling us along at a good pace.  

Almost caught back onto the peloton 
We were a big group riding out of Anchorage and aside from stopping to take off clothing early on and playing catch up for around 12miles down the Arm I was able to draft a fair amount when I needed.

First bit of sunshine on the ride
We arrived in Seward early in the day and after refuelling headed back to Anchorage.  It was really warm on the way back up to Summit lake and we had a head wind.
Turnagain Pass summit 

Almost there

Chasing the sunset

Stunning views

All finished no lights required

600k event

After the effects of the 400k had worn off  and I found out the 24 Hours of Kincaid was not going to be happening for 2015.  I started to seriously consider riding the 600k event.  I talked with Amanda and after calling in a lot of kitchen passes :-) I booked the time off work and committed to the event. 

The original plan for this event was to ride up to Talkeetna and back which was a change from the normal event they have previously ridden (ride report) normal route page here.  All this changed last week due to some serious wild fires closing the road we needed to ride.  

The Alaska Randonneurs managed to put two approved permanent routes together for the 600k event, this is very important for anyone using this as a qualifier for Paris Breast Paris (PBP).  For us this meant that we would be riding the 400k event we rode the 3 weeks ago then completing a 200k event afterwards, this is normally how the event is split but for us this would mean a lot of time on the Seward highway which although has a reasonable shoulder by Alaskan standards also has a lot of traffic. 

The route started at 6am, this is 2 hours later than we normally start to ride down to Seward and the traffic was noticeably higher.  The weather was definitely not as warm and sunny as three weeks ago which was actually a relief, firstly we wouldn't be so inclined to stop and take pictures and two it was a great riding temperature for the majority of the ride.

Photo album

Down to Girdwood we let Oscar do some of the pulling until he rode off the front and we didn't chase him down but we did appreciate the tow whilst it it lasted.  We also saw the bore tide.
Bore tide

After a quick stop at Tesoro in Girdwood we were down to four people (Jan, Tom, Narciso and I), we rode as a group all the way down to Seward and back to Tesoro, mostly together, I didn't take many photos on the way down, the light wasn't that great and I mostly forgot :D

Stocking up on the way out of Seward

Tail winds galore

I forgot my towel

Getting ready to roll again, we had some horrible headwinds after this.

A quite moment along the arm, didn't get much darker than this. 

Jan was taking part in the 400k event, I think he finished at 02:00 I finished got back home around 00:30 and was asleep by 01:30 to get up at 05:15 to complete the 600k event. 

6am and off we go again

Tom pulling along the arm towards the climb

Bottom of the climb

Top of the climb with Bernie resupplying 

Bake shop in Girdwood for lunch

Thanks Julie for the photo
Almost done

Buzz finishing the climb

Narciso finishing the climb
Narciso, Buzz and I finished the route at around 17:15.  Tom finished a little later and I know Andy finished at some point too.  Buzz, Andy, Bernie and Tom  are off to complete PBP this year and I wish them all the best of luck.

What have I learnt on these long rides. 

  • It doesn't matter what you do, your arse will hurt.
  • Chamois butter is fantastic I couldn't ride these distances without it. 
  • Brooks saddles are comfortable but I still need cycling shorts and chamois cream.
  • I don't really have any specific ideas of what to eat but I do know I eat lots when doing the rides, pretty much always eating and hydrating after getting it so wrong on the Palmer Classic.
  • Am I mad? Possibly or maybe just crazy.
  • I am lucky and haven't had any punctures in all the distance I rode.
  • I am very thankful that Amanda is so supporting and looks after Fiona whilst I do these events.
  • I mostly rode the events in sunshine :D
  • I plan to do a 1200k event one day, not this year though.
  • I want a cross bike.
  • Yes my legs get tired though not as badly as you would think, I more feel like I have no power left in them.  Oh and going up stairs is hard work for a couple of days afterwards. 
Thanks for reading all