Dare Mighty Things

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." -Teddy Roosevelt

Monday, August 22, 2011

Great Adventures Challenge

Finishing the bike leg.
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]
"Children, gather round! No retreat, no surrender; that is Spartan law. And by Spartan law we will stand and fight... and die. A new age has begun. An age of freedom, and all will know, that 300 Spartans gave their last breath to defend it!" -King Leonidas from the movie 300

Bridgton, MAINE -- No retreat, no surrender!  That is aR law.  Heading into the Great Adventures Challenge (Bridgton, ME) I had one single purpose...race as hard as I could and "blow up or show up".  My legs bounced back nicely from my little bicycle ride last weekend aided in part by the planned restoration week.  Doc Sprague had done this race the past few years and was the inspiration behind Timmy Lindsey and I (along with our team photographer Gianina) taking the 2 hour drive north to Shawnee Peak.  The paddle was a mass start of humanity with oars clashing in the craziest game of bumper boats you've ever played.  I was struck by how challenging it was to keep the boat straight with the water so churned up.  As quickly as I could I found some quiet water and spotted the first buoy.  I did my best to pick a straight line wasting as little time as possible with needless zig zagging.  But even by the time I reach the first buoy the leader was already nearly a 100 meters ahead of me and the rest of the field.  I stayed around the Top 10 for the entire paddle neither gaining nor losing any ground to those around me picking a "straight as an arrow" line.  Doc was about 10 meters ahead the entire way and transitioned to the bike almost a minute ahead.  He had paddled with his helmet, bike shoes, and gloves already on while I chose to make a quick "costume change" (thanks Timmy) at the paddle/bike TA.  Doc had a killer weekend at the 24HoGG finishing 4th overall in our King of the Glen competition last week, so I already had my work cut out for me if I had any hope of beating him.  As soon as I got on my bike I stood up on the pedals in the big ring and mashed as hard as I could trying to close the gap.  Immediately I picked up two places passing some faster kayakers but slower mountain bikers.  Within a mile I caught a glimpse of Doc and my energy levels soared.  Not long after seeing him I was on his back tire and made him an offer to work together.  He graciously accepted and I attached myself to his back wheel letting him do most of the work.  Shortly there after I felt him slow on a flat section of road that we should have been hammering.  I decided to jump in front and return the favor encouraging him as I got into position.  He said his legs were gassed from last weekend and for me to go ahead and race for a podium.  I insisted we would race together and help each other to a Top 10 finish.  For the next few miles of dirt road and snowmobile trail we stayed together with me pulling him along.  Just past the half way mark he had fallen back as a signal for me to go.  Standing up again on the pedals I cranked as hard as I could toward the rider a hundred meters ahead.  After a little work I finally caught him and worked my way past.  My legs felt strong and I rode most of the next 5 miles in the big ring with the lone exception of the last hike-a-bike steep ascent back up to the ski area.  I had come out of the water 11th overall (solo's & teams) and finished the bike in 6th.  I transitioned to my trail shoes, grabbed my bottle of HEED, and headed out for the final two miles of the race.  With full sun and temps in the 80's it was a challenge to remain hydrated although I had made it to this point in the race without even so much as a muscle quiver.  I ran the first 20 meters up Pleasant Mountain and then realized it was a futile exercise.  We would gain ~1300 feet in a mile to the summit house.  With 15.5 aggressive mountain bike miles on my legs and very, very little tri-specific training (ie. bricks) in the bag I immediately switched to survival mode.  The two guys ahead of me were walking and as I peeked back EVERYONE else behind me was walking as well.  The way I reasoned as long as I walked as fast as everyone else my place was secure.  Counting the top competitors ahead of me I estimated myself to be somewhere inside the Top 10.  Although I don't know if they were solo's or teams, I lost two places on the mountain.  The downhill sprint was punishing on the legs but it felt great to move so purposely toward the finish.  I crossed the finish line in 2:17:23 good enough for 5th/49 solo (8th/83 overall/).  Obviously I'm really, really pleased with the result.  Despite a couple of sections on the mountain that I wished I was anywhere else but there...I raced hard from cannon to finish and held up remarkably well.  For my first real triathlon in nearly 20 years I'd say it was a success. 

Google Earth map and elevation profile.  As you can
see, Pleasant Mountain isn't so much.
Post-script:  I must say "kudos" and "thank you" to race director Rob Knowles for putting on such a unique race.  Rob was very gracious and generous with all three aR athletes in attendance.  This really is a great event.  Super challenging and fun course and a killer free lunch with burgers, dogs, and ice cream.  Great volunteers and a heaping dose of Maine "charm" make this a race I'd definitely go back to do...I just hope he moves it back another week from the 24HoGG.  I'm going to "run" Pleasant Mountain next time!  [At least to the first aid station]

NEXT UP: Reach The Beach Relay (NH)

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Sunrise on Sunday morning starting
my second of two laps.
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]
"We do not remember days, we remember moments."     - Cesare Pavese
Gorham, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Like Reach The Beach and Pineland Farms 25k, the 24 Hours of Great Glen mountain bike race I've now done for the past five years.  It's an event that everything else gets scheduled around.  I even plan my work vacation in conjunction with the race.  And the funny thing is...I'm only a recreational mountain biker.  Yeah I've taken strides over the last 15+ years to improve my 'technical ability', but really I'm an average trail/mountain runner who happens to love this little 24 hour mountain bike race.  Those of you who follow this blog and these race reports know that there are times (very recent times) that mountain bike racing hasn't gone very well for me.  [Reference " The Pinnacle"]  My love-hate relationship with the sport is well documented.  But the 24HoGG is different for a few very important reasons and those start and end with my aR teammates.  I race the event as part of a 4-person team and have shared some pretty incredible experiences with some pretty incredible people over the years.  This year was no exception.  aR brought the most teams to the event in our history (3) and it would be the first time that all four winners of the King of the Glen award would race together including Steve McCusker ('07), Steve Sprague ('08), Ted Hall ('09), and Jay J. Dunn ('10) It's also a special weekend because I get to share it with my family.  My son Brayden and brother Jay have raced the past two years and my wife and daughters typically come up on Saturday and follow the action through the cannon on Sunday.  Last year I had a pretty miserable time and it was completely my own fault.  I got a little too caught up in the intra-aR competition and I lost touch of why I love the weekend so much.  This year I was determined to re-focus my attention, race as hard as I could, stay healthy, and enjoy what really is one of my favorite events of the year.  When I put the first two teams together back in the spring I attempted to make them as even as possible.  aR-BLACK was led by Ted Hall and included Austin Stonebraker, Ri Fahnestock, and myself.  aR-GOLD was captained by my brother Jay and included Steve Wolfe, Steve Sprague, and Brayden.  Shortly after these two teams were finalized there was enough interest to form a third team, aR-GREY and it included Timmy Lindsey, Jay Curry, Steve McCusker, and invited guest David Cretsinger.  With Timmy and Curry as first timers and David an unknown it was really unclear as to how this third team would fare in the competition between aR teams.  The week leading up to the race was anything but typical for me.  Fortunately I had taken the week off from work because I spent most of it nursing a strained muscle in my back suffered at work the previous week.  I took 4 consecutive zeros and spent most of the time lying on the floor as it was the only position that provided any measure of relief from the crippling back spasms.  I had actually lined up my teammate Amanda House as a replacement if I couldn't ride.  Hell, I could barely walk less than 4 days prior to the race.  Needless to say it wasn't the ideal way to taper but by Thursday I was feeling better and felt confident that I would be able to ride (racing may be another story).  With three very strong and very experienced teammates to back me up I took the 4th place in our rotation.  My first lap was serviceable as a I rode a 51:04.  With the improvements to the course I was able to ride the entire 8.5 mile loop including the infamous "bone yard" plunge at mile 8.  Other than some expected stiffness my back held up and I rested up for more riding.  A little before 6:00 pm I went out for lap #2 and decided to tone things down.  Like so many of my longer events I have experienced some epic physical collapses at this race which significantly reduces the "fun factor".  I once again rode all 1100+ feet of climbing and logged a 56:28 for Lap #2.  At this point we were able to determine some predictions about subsequent laps based on lap times.  It looked like my next single lap would be under darkness with lights around 9:30ish pm.  Ri came storming into the transition area at 9:24 pm and I was off for my first night lap.  Knowing that it was my last single before a solid five hour overnight break (while my teammates did their 'doubles") I continued my conservative approach trying to ride smooth and clean.  Riding all the ascents on the "Blueberry Hill" side of the operation I settled for walking the new Whiplash and Angel Station singletrack climb.  It was a little disappointing because in past years I've ridden the Angel Station singletrack on every lap.  With discretion being the better part of valor I walked but maintained a brisk up tempo 'hike-a-bike' cadence.  I finished Lap #3 in 1:03:28.  After a quick shower and a snack I set my alarm(s) for 2:30 am and laid down in Wolfe camper.  Steve has brought the camper for the past few years and has graciously offered a bed for me to sleep in during the overnight.  I rested as much as slept and awoke just before the alarm chimed.  My 'double' was next and thanks to my rider position and the timing, I would only have to do one of the laps with lights because in all likelihood my second lap would be started at dawn and finished around sunrise.  Overnight doubles have psyched me out in the past so knowing that I'd be riding in the daylight was a huge mental relief and it allowed me to relax and enjoy the 17 miles of riding.  I walked quite a bit of the first lap (Lap #4) and finished in 1:12:53.  I quickly ditched my lights and hydration pack, ate a quick snack, and then began my second lap.  Shortly after starting and right around the Honeymoon Cottage I was caught by my son.  He had done his overnight double hours earlier and was setting out on his 5th lap.  He offered to ride with me to pull me along and thanks to his company (and draft) I was able to negative split and ran a 1:12:36 for my Lap #5.  And by riding together we kept our two teams (BLACK & GOLD) in a virtual deadlock for the aR team title.  To this point in the event my conservative strategy had paid off.  I hadn't had any health issues and was having a great deal of fun hanging out with teammates between laps.  All that conservative fun and games changed less than three hours later and my son and I waited in the transition area for our riders (Ri & Doc) to arrive.  Since we had handed the batons to Ted & Jay hours earlier the two teams had battled neck and neck and were still less than a minute apart after having raced for 20+ hours.  Knowing I had raced a smart race to that point and knowing it was not only my last lap but it was also a chance to help keep aR-BLACK on top for our last two riders I was going to give it everything I had.  Ri came into the tent less than :10 seconds before Doc.  It was my 18 year old son and myself for bragging rights on the last, typically hardest, lap.  Right out of the transition area I stood up in the big ring and hammered with what little I had left.  As I made it to the Blueberry Hill switchbacks I could see him right behind me riding hard and closing fast.  He had crushed me at The Pinnacle in June so this was my chance at revenge.  Riding through the tunnel I felt as if I had kept the slim :10 margin I had started with but with 6 miles to go I knew anything could happen.  Brayden is particularly fearless on the descents and with his carbon fiber bike and 18 year old fearlessness I knew I had a race on my hands.  Giving it everything I had in as big of a gear as I could push I started to lose glimpses of him behind and I felt like I had gaped him.  I rode most everything I could and ran with my bike on everything else.  At one moment during the Angel Station singetrack climb as I pushed my bike hard I felt my quads begin to quiver.  I quickly pulled out the Endurolyte FIZZ I had put in my back pocket just in case.  Popping it in the water I had left in my bottle I drank a 1/4 of what was left and almost immediately felt better although this bobble allowed Brayden to close and although I couldn't see him I knew he was right behind.  When I made it back to the meadow I once again stood up on the big ring and peddled as hard as I could through the chicane finish, dismounted the bike, and handed the baton (and a :30 lead) to Ted.  Thanks to Brayden's 'push' I rode a solid 56:32.   After he finished, Brayden told me that he had to stop to fix a chain suck just before the last switch back climb.  He said he had started to see me again before the mechanical but the :30 he took to fix his bike was the difference in our lap times.  With very strong efforts from Ted and Austin were able to hold off the very tough aR-GOLD team by just a scant few minutes with each team completing 26 laps for the race.  As I reflect on the race, I had a much better time this year than last and it was probably due to 1.) my new Felt Q720 ran like a charm with zero mechanicals, 2.) my racing approach consisting of riding to my fitness level, and 3.) my general disregard for competing specifically against any other rider racing the course and myself instead.  If you're a mountain biker you must do the 24HoGG as a 4-person team.  It's an incredible experience and a fantastic weekend.


NEXT UP: Great Adventures Challenge (Bridgton, ME)