Monday, June 2, 2014

Bear Creek Challenge Proves, Well, Challenging

Click for larger version.This weekend was easily my worst weekend of racing ever. And it has me questioning everything.

After going to bed on Friday evening at 10:37 pm , I woke up at 5:21 am on Saturday to drive the 344 miles from Cohasset, MA to Bear Creek in Macungie, PA. The Sleep Cycle app on my phone tells me I slept 6 hours and 44 minutes and that my sleep quality was 65%.

I arrived at Bear Creek at approximately 12:30 pm. After some phone calls, a failed attempt to get my number plate, getting changed, my Garmin claims I was pre-riding the course by 1:21 pm. During my second lap, on the main climb, I began to hear a noise that sounded like dry leaves being crushed or crinkled. In addition, and even prior to the noise emanating, my drivetrain was acting funny and would feel "stuck"  every once in a while. Looking down, I saw no leaves and stopped to have a closer look. And there it was, a crack had developed in my frame. Just above the bottom bracket shell. The "crinkling" noise was the carbon/resin flexing and deforming on every pedal stroke. The drivetrain issues were the bottom bracket flexing enough that the chain would be picked up by a tooth on the big ring even though the derailleur was not moving.

Having heard too many horror stories of carbon frames failing catastrophically once damaged and impaling their users, I deemed very quickly that I could not -- would not -- race this frame and especially not on this very technical, rocky course. Needless to say I was flustered and frustrated. Coming to this race was already a stretch. We just recently learned that we will be relocating back to the Philadelphia area for my wife's job. We have a home to pack up and get ready for sale. There are so many things to do that I almost didn't come to this race. But, it was being run on the same course as Nationals and I wanted another chance to familiarize myself with the course and to see where I stand relative to some of the other Nationals contenders. Though conflicted, and with my wife's support -- or should I say coaxing -- I decided to stick to the original plan of driving down to do the race. I'd come too far to not race.

Given this, I went into full crisis mode -- facebooking, texting, emailing Philly area friends to see if I couldn't find a bike to borrow. Within a few stressful hours I had several offers -- huge thanks to all who stepped up! -- and took up an old high school on his offer as he lived only 20 minutes from my parents house where I would be spending the night. Picking up his bike, it was not setup tubeless, but it was tubeless ready and he had everything to make the conversion and very generously gave me those items. Finally arriving at my parents' house at 6:33 pm, I unloaded several totes and boxes that I packed to help minimize the burden of our impending move. Exhausted, I decided to shower and eat, and made the choice that I would make the tubeless conversion in the morning.

Lying in bed around 10:00 pm, I remembered that I hadn't locked up my bike or my truck. When I went out to lock up the bike, I started thinking about how I'd do the tire swap. Would I mount my friend's S-Works Ground Control tires? Or would I transfer the brand new Maxxis Ikons with EXO sidewall protection which I'd specifically purchased for this race. The S-Works casing if FAR from ideal for the Bear Creek course. It's designed to be light and supple -- great for "gription", but not so great for durability. This course demands durability. So, while it would require more work, I decided I'd switch both tires from my broken bike onto my friend's bike and then switch them back when I was done. As I comtemplated this double switch and went to secure my front wheel, I realized I no longer had my front wheel. In my hectic, frantic, distracted quest to find a bike for the race, I had absent-mindedly left my front wheel in the parking lot. While it was a wheel that came stock on the bike, it would be fairly expensive to replace. My mind raced as I thought about where it could be, who might have found it, and whether I'd be able to get it back. I have no sleep data for this night of sleep -- I fell aspleep with my phone in my hand -- but I can assure you it was not a good night's sleep as I tossed and turned most of the night and was completely stressed. I estimate 5.5 hours of sleep at about 65%. I woke at 5:30 and began the tubeless conversion. Without my front wheel, I mounted my Maxxis Ikon on the rear and the S-Works Ground control on the front. Not ideal, but the best I could do under the circumstances.

Making the hour long drive from my parents' house to Bear Creek, I must've been more distraught/distracted than I even realized. I rear-ended a pick-up truck on the way. I thought the light changed, looked away quickly and accelerated from a stop. Looking back just before impact, I was able to get back on the brakes somewhat but not enough. There was no damage to her bumper, and only my license plate was damaged on my truck. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but this event didn't help me find my calm. Adding to my stress, I realized that while I'd remembered the bladder for my hydration pack, I'd forgotten the actual pack. I call my parents, who are planning to come to the race to ask them to bring the pack. Another stressor (not my parents, forgetting the pack).

Finally arriving at the venue, I drove to where I'd parked the day before and began to look for my front wheel. I talked to few guys and started handing out the fliers that I'd made with details about the lost wheel and my contact info. I made my way to the registration tables and simultaneously began to collect my number and convey my tale of woe. A guy registering right next to me hears the story about the lost wheel and chimes in that he's just seen the post on facebook that someone found it and was looking to get it back to it's owner. The individual who'd found the wheel wrote that he'd left it with the timing company crew. I got my number and RAN to the timing truck. There it was! My faith in humanity restored!

I get changed and get my borrowed bike ready. I can't find my Garmin. More stress. I try to figure out how to warm up as I wait for my parents to arrive with the pack. I'm worried that the timing will be too tight and I'll get a crappy start position again. They arrive and the exchange goes fine. Still more stress. All this cumulative stress.

I sharpen my assertiveness skills (and my elbows) and jockey for a front row position. The race begins. I'm third wheel going into the woods. I'm excited. Despite all the crap, all the stress, the lack of sleep, I'm doing OK. Until I'm not. And it happens sooner than I think. One guys passes me. And another. And another. And, soon, by my count, I'm in 8th and feeling beat. And this is only the first lap. After the double track climb we're back in the woods, I'm feeling some recovery, but trains are forming. Strings of guys riding wheel to wheel with no place to pass. It sucks. Guys crash in front of me or can't ride through a section; I get stopped and guys ride by. I lose more spots. Lose more time. The race is getting away from me. I work to stay optimistic. I remind myself that I've done the work. I have a ton of base miles this year, and it will pay off as the race progresses. Except that it doesn't. The losses continue. Guys continue to pass me. I still work to stay optimistic.

Click for larger version.
Near the end of the second lap, I'm stuck behind another rider from a younger group -- I take this as a good sign that I've actually caught someone who started ahead of me -- I ask for the pass. He gives it to me. I accelerate. Too much. Wrong spot. I slide out on the turn and burp my tire. I have to stop and add air with the CO2 inflator. After the start/finish area and climb back into the woods for the start of lap 3, my tire washes out again. Apparently, when I thought I'd burped the tire, I actually punctured the sidewall. I pray that the sealant will fill the puncture and try to inflate the tire using my second and final CO2 cartridge. The sealant won't repair it. I finally concede that I've lost any chance at being at all competitive this day. I take my time installing a tube and inflating the tire with a hand pump. Halfway through the final lap, the tube suffers a pinch flat. Determined to not DNF, I run the remaining half lap.


For my category, race winner Mike Yozell had lap times of 34:34, 35:04, and 34:05. My first lap was 40:09, second was 43:57. This is not where I want to be. My goal this year has been to go to Nationals and to be competitive. Not to be pack-fodder. But these times put me squarely in the pack-fodder category.

Now, it's been documented that stress and lack of sleep have a negative impact on athletic performance, and yes, I lost a ton of sleep and faced significant stress leading up to this race, but can that account for five minutes per lap over 35 minute laps? That's almost a 20% degradation in performance. Is it possible that those factors alone were responsible for my less than stellar lap times on the first two laps? Interestingly, the quote below was from an article was in my facebook feed this morning:

COUNTING SHEEP: “There’s nothing—no supplement you can take, nothing you can eat or do—better than getting enough sleep. Eight to nine hours each night, and I take an afternoon nap when I can.”
 I'm also reading The New Toughness Training for Sports, in which the author discusses how the body goes as the mind goes. Stress definitely degrades performance, but nowhere do they quantify it for endurance sport.

So, this race which I was hoping would provide some answers only raised more questions:

  • Is my fitness not where it needs to be?
  • Are my skills not where they need to be?
  • Am I getting the proper guidance?
  • Am I getting enough guidance?
  • Should I be more closely evaluating:
    • what I eat
    • the quantity and quality of my sleep
    • the specificity of my workouts
    • the volume and intensity of my workouts
I'd welcome thoughts, advice, suggestions.

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