Aug 29, 2009

Dominating the world from the back of the room...

Big race showdown. How to be serious and stay relaxed at the same time.

Arguably the Marathon World Championships should be considered the ultimate race of my racing career. Strangely enough, in the face of an impending ass kicking it's relatively easy to stay relaxed and enjoy one's self. It's got to be a much different burden to think you have a chance to win and to have to deal with the idea of loosing by one place. I, on the other hand, was able to lap up the atmosphere like a year old puppy licking face.

Really that's the way all high pressure moments should be. If you go in knowing you've done everything you can to prepare, you can't be unhappy with yourself. But you might be humbled.
Race headquarters for 2/3rds of team USA, Sweden, Norway and Croatia was the international student housing dorms for the local university. Since it was summer, there was plenty of free space. The flats were a great homebase with full kitchens, showers, male and female toilets and personal bedrooms. Plus we had TV and free Internet and a balcony, which made relaxing that much easier. It was a great place to be situated with the race start only 20min away on a designated bicycle route.

Graz has some pretty incredible architecture and our place was near everything, including a regular morning market, grocery stores, museums, coffee shops and a subtle red light district.
Heather Holmes and I explored the city a bit, found some strange pedal powered art, had cofffee and went to the castle at the top of the hill to do a bike photo shoot.
I love Karate too.

Heather and her ride.
Graz Graffiti.
I'm setting my bike up like this next time.
My friend Rick had to get away from his home in the Hamptons, so he arrived on Friday before the race to be friend and support. The last email I sent him had some really clever directions and pictures of where he should meet me and the times I'd be there. He apparently never saw those, but never the less fate stepped in and as I was sitting at the appointed cafe I see him and Heather across the square calling my name then giving up and they turned to walk back to the apartment. Apparently Heather saw a dude with a cast and having never met Rick, asked him if he spoke English. It's a good thing she made that cautious leap cause, we'd have been going in circles for a while. Yeah chance!
It was a good thing Rick was coming because on the first preride I did of the course, I busted a spoke due to over tightening a computer magnet on the ultra thin spokes on my rear wheel. Basically I created a stress point in an aluminum spoke and it couldn't flex like it was supposed to. That is why you try not to do anything new right before a big race. The biggest problem was I had left all my other spokes at home. Brandi at Industry Nine was a champ and he managed to next day spokes to Rick who was able to get them to me.
Race day was pretty exciting. I felt rested and ready to perform. Rick drove to the race while Heather and I rode there to get our legs warmed up. We got there before Rick because traffic was jammed packed on the entry road and we had to thread the needle a couple of times to make our way to the start finish area. The start line area is best described as a horde of people, beer, food and bikes. Still it was a bike race, so every where you look you see the familiar sights of last minute tuning up, racers spinning the legs, water bottles being filled and chamois cream being applied.
I was pretty excited to be involved in such a huge event. Seeing everyone wrapped in their countries colors, created the sense in me that we had shed some of our personal identity walls and were all a little more open to the moment and each other. There was a lot more smiling than nervous expectation grimaces. It probably was more relaxed down our way in the last rows, and I'm sure the row with numbers 1-30 were a hot bead of flared tempers and dirty scowls.
The two Hungary riders I battled all day, but eventually passed on the last climb. Me on Left.
The Race.
The opening mile of the course is a gentle 3-5% grade. Then the next mile is a senility inducing average of 15% with a max of 28% all on asphalt. This all leads into the opening single track climb on big wet roots. I started out with a plan of not destroying myself in the first half hour. Quickly I found that if that plan wasn't abandoned I'd be at the literal back of the pack. So instead I spent the first 20min of the race with a HR in the 180-185 range. That was not in the play book. Fortunately the course quickly turned to some rather technical trail, and even though it was brief it gave me a chance to make up some time, cause it's true, just cause you race at the top end doesn't mean you know how to ride a bike. I'll give any of the elite riders on the East Coast better odds on the Technical trails than almost any of the Euro's I was racing near.
It took me three days to preride the course, but I'm glad I got it all in. The 20km section that was cut from the women's race, had the second biggest climb of the day and it started with a hike-a-bike. I had lost a few places just before aid station 1 and the start of that section, but I knew what was coming, so I stayed steady, grabbed a bottle from Rick and started hoofing it up that slick hike. It took almost an hour to get to the top, but along the way we had some great technical single-track climbing, which I prided myself on being the only one to clear it in my vicinity, go USA, and in the process I took back most of the spots I had lost earlier.
At this point I was pretty happy with my tire choice. I had on WTB's out of production really big cyclocross tires, the 700/44c Mutano Raptors. They were pretty light, and really knobby and set up tubeless on my Stan's rims so they hooked up on the loose loamy climbs. I also think I was the only 29er at the race!. Maybe I'm the first 29er ever at a Worlds Marathon Course.
In the 53 minutes it took me to do the climb between aid station 1 and 2 had I averaged 174 beats with a max of 185 and there were two 180ish five minute intervals. After that hour my HR never got into the 180's again. Still I would be no stranger to the 170's, but I was done with hitting my max. That climb was more suited for me due to the consistent grade of around 7-10% on gravel, with those steep sections of trail thrown in. Plus the downhill looping back to aid station 2 was had some great off camber single track and pea-gravel roads that I ate up as fast as I could. It required elbow checking one racer, who lost his line, but tried to jump back in at an awkward moment. I apologized, and he apologized and we were all good.
Hour three of the race saw me playing cat and mouse with a couple of people, specifically two Hungarian riders. It was mostly gently rolling hills between stations 2 and 4, but the sections that brought us through towns and the patio of a restaurant with patrons drinking beer kept it entertaining.
I managed to lose contact with my Hungarian nemesis during this section, but I had faith that I'd be able to catch some people on the final climb up to Shockle. The Shockle climb took me about an hour and a half. It started with some gravel road then quickly turned to washed out, unused and rocky dualtrack. Again, I had to thank my knobby skinny 29er wheels for getting me up that mountain. I felt pretty good almost all the way up, really started to fade on the last couple of nasty pitches. Fortunately I had already passed the Hungarians, and a couple others on the climb. Then on the first flirting with the descending I actually got off my bike to run some of the rocky downhill sections because they were so gnarly. My ego was a little hurt by getting off, but I doubt anyone was able to ride all those sections. After that initial bit of rockiness, it got steeper and faster, but not necessarily much easier to ride. The gravel jeep roads were full of rock slabs, big drops and sketchy lines. This was the only section of the course where I was a little bit at a disadvantage with the skinnier tires, but I believe it was worth it for all the other places where they excelled. By the bottom my arms were getting a little tired and my wrist was definitely starting to fatigue holding on so tight to keep the wrist stable.
You'd think that after that climb it would be mostly downhill and a race to the finish from there, but the size of the Shockle climb on the profile puts the next two climbs out of proportion by towering over them and leading one into a false sense of security. After the big descent there is still the biggest hike-a-bike standing in the way to the finish line. A solid 10 minute hike with bike over shoulder. Coming into I I thought I had pretty much sorted out my position in the race, but as I got about a minute into the climb I looked below to see a group of 10 or so guys hoofing it in my direction. Crap I thought. So I found a little extra energy to high step it to the top. I think that demoralized a few of them, because for the rest of the race there were only two or three people trying to creep.
After that hike-a-bike I had thought that was it for climbing, but out of no where, there came another climb that was so steep at one point I had to get off and walk the last ten feet. I was so blown at this point, but knew I couldn't slow down otherwise I'd be loosing some extra spots. So while trying to avoid vomiting in my own mouth I hustled it home. I did loose one spot, but there wasn't much I could do. I was toast.

At the finish line I was so happy to be done and not to excited to find out how I did. Fortunately like all good mountain bike races, there was free beer right after the line, and still inside of the finish area. It was a great way to finish off the race of my life! I stood there stunned for awhile and Rick eventually found me, as well as Heather who had a great race and came in 25th. Pua was there all clean and in civilian clothes. She managed a stellar 7th place.

All was good. Except for the smiling Irish girl who came in with a 6in gash in her arm looking for the medic but seemingly drawn to the beer first.

I send out a big hearty thanks to all those who donated to this happening. Overall the trip cost a lot more than I expected and every penny counted. I didn't have to hitch hike once! I haven't done the drawing for the Trainer yet, but I will as soon as I get organized and the names in a hat.

Of course Rick and I still had to get back to Venice and his rental car made life so much easier. We did an awesome drive to the Dolemites and spent the night, before going on a seriously incredible hike the next day around Cortina. These mountains are now on my top five list of places to go, or I've been. If you ever get a chance don't pass up the opportunity to visit. It's freaking magical!
Good Italian food in the Dolemites.
We asked the people how to rent this place for the next time we come back. It's not for rent, cause it's family owned. Amazing because it's in the middle of the national park and there ain't another house around for miles.
I bought some new shoes to go hiking in, since I didn't bring any and I don't have none back home.
The Dolemites are so incredible!

That's a dwelling from the past.
This is about 3,000 meters up.