I have written about my experiences riding the Chain Drive year after year after year. After all, I’ve raced every edition since 2005. That means I’ve completed my 9th version this year. 160 miles of competition on the Maasto Hiihto and Churning Rapids trails. Most years I’ve tried to peak for this race. Last year I took a little more relaxed approach. This year, I really sat down and declared that my first race goal of the year was simple: top 10 in the 16-mile Chain Drive. Seemed reasonable enough.
In terms of preparation, I switched to the Experienced racer program of the Time-Crunched Cyclist. This only increases the training load by 15-30 minutes per workout, but that extra load makes a big difference. I got the Easton wheels on my Kona Big Kahuna set up tubeless and had a Continental X-King put on the front with a Conti Race King on the rear. My feeling was that would give me the best balance of “go fast” and “grip hard”.
Training hit a little bit of a bump due to our insanely late winter. By the end of April, I still wasn’t riding on the road. I had a weeklong escape from the U.P. that gave me a training block in warmer weather at the beginning of May, which was super helpful. I got a good endurance ride in during the 70-mile Fleche du Nord. Then, right in the middle of my 8-week training plan, I got a bad cold that kept me off the bike for a week. Strava and Training Peaks were both telling me I was getting fitter and that my training and rest were well-balanced. (My TSB on the day of the race was 1.8; the first time it had gone positive in months.)
After obsessively checking the forecast for the entire week leading up to the race, the day itself dawn cold and rainy. I’m not usually one to complain about 50 degree temperatures for a bike race — when it’s cyclocross season. When it’s the middle of June, I’m downright cranky. I had some Feed Zone oatmeal for breakfast, slammed down 16 ounces of Skratch Labs Everyday Hydration to get my hydration off on the right foot and got myself prepared to ride. This entailed a jacket and arm warmers to start with. I shivered my way down to the start line, intending to find a good place to leave my jacket. At 9:40, people had already started to line up. Since I wanted a good starting position, I put my bike in the start chute and tried to find someplace to put the jacket. Fortunately, one of my teammates wasn’t racing and volunteered to take it up to the finish line. Then, it was just time to wait.
Scoping out my competitors, I was feeling pretty good about my chances, though I was still concerned about being too far back in the lineup. I determined it wouldn’t matter as soon as we hit Cemetery Hill. Truly peaking for a race is a magical thing. There’s no feeling like it. Asking your body to climb that hill or accelerate on that flat or to recover on that downhill… and then to have it actually do that? Amazing. And that’s what happened. The I stormed up the slight hill past Hancock Beach. Cemetery Hill didn’t kill me in the least and onto the singletrack I went.
The dramatic changes to the route this year were great. Instead of being almost immediately greeted by several miles of hilly doubletrack, we hit the singletrack much sooner and stayed on flatter two-track sections. I spent almost all of the first 14 miles in the big chainring. People dropped off left and right, though I knew I had a few on my tail. At the first 16/32 mile split point, almost everybody in the group I was leading peeled off on the long course while I went left on the short course. I felt alone for a while, except for a squeaky noise behind me occasionally (which was another rider) and flashes of a jersey up ahead. That “carrot” drove me on and I picked him up just before Aunt Flo.
I spoke about Aunt Flo last year. It’s one of the new Flow Trails that are going in everywhere up here. It’s a lot easier to point you to the YouTube video than to try to explain it in words. I’ve recently been convinced that my technical skills on the mountain bike are suffering a lot from a season of triathlon and a move to a hardtail 29er. (That’s assuming I had very much in the way of technical handling skills to begin with.) However, when I hit Aunt Flo this year, I was stuck behind someone who was going even slower than me! This was the situation even as we dumped back onto normal singletrack and it wasn’t until the aid station that I could pass.
The rest of the race was pretty uneventful. Mr. Squeaky Bike passed me as I started to fade a little bit. I blasted past someone on the last climb up from Swedetown Creek and generally felt good all the way to the finish. In a neat trick, the organizers have a short video of my finish. When I checked the results, I was 11th overall (out of 177 starters) and 1st in the 30-39 age group (out of 24 riders). Part of me is disappointed I didn’t quite make my goal, but it was so close and taking home the ‘W’ in my age bracket is a nice consolation.
To what do I attribute my success? It’s a little bit of everything. I’m convinced that a hardtail 29er is the best bike for that course. The Conti tires were indeed a great balance of “go fast” and “grip”, especially set up tubeless. The training program was perfect, even with some hiccups. Being able to train with power (even the estimated power of the PowerTap PowerCal) was a significant help. Importantly, all my training and racing was done on real food. No gels or bars or other engineered food. My fuel that day was oatmeal and fruit. Hydration was handled capably by Skratch Labs Exercise mix. For the first time ever, I came across the finish line with an appetite. Absolutely no GI distress! For the 4th time, I used a Time-Crunched Athlete program from Carmichael Training Systems to peak for a race and completely nailed it. I’m a competitive age-group athlete in regional events on 6-8 hours of riding per week. That’s not trivial.
It’s important to note that I am a Grassroots Athlete for CycleOps and a Skratch Labs Ambassador, which means I’m supposed to rave about their products — but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t believe in them.
While I didn’t technically meet my goal for the Chain Drive, it’s time to start thinking about new goals for that race. My 8-year old son has expressed interest in riding the course, but I’m not sure he’s got the legs for it yet. We’ll have to see how he’s doing next year. Otherwise, I guess winning your age group in the 16-mile race means you have to graduate to the big leagues and ride the 32-mile race. That’s a big bite to take!
I don’t have any more big races planned until August. July will be family time and an opportunity to build back up for some late-season races and cyclocross. I also have chores at home that need taking care of. You will definitely find me on my bike; just not with a number pinned on for a while.