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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Weekend Double: 2x4th

Making the turn to the finish of
the "No Brakes" Mtb race
at Stratham Hill (NH).
"Missed it by that much."  -Maxwell Smart

Stratham, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Last weekend was a rare opportunity (lately) for me to squeeze in two races.  They would both be my first experience and I can easily say they won't be my last.  My teammate, Amanda House, alerted me to the weekend's festivities when I saw her earlier this month at the Pinnacle Challenge VII.  At the time she informed me of the No Brakes mountain bike race on some of the newest singletrack in Stratham (NH).  It was only later that I found out that the same morning they held a 5k trail race at the same park.  The RDs spaced the two events so that it was possible to do both...although I would learn that very few would attempt.  A little back and forth on Facebook and I had a handful of teammates doing the trail race and still a few others doing the mountain bike race.  This time of year for me, is a transition from the longer and harder training and racing I do from January through September.  If I'm racing it's generally shorter stuff that's closer to home and the two events at Stratham Hill (5k trail & 9 mile mtb) only 30 minutes from home fit the bill perfectly.

Prior to the race I gathered a little intel from teammate Jeremiah Fitzgibbon who had pre-run the course.  A mix of carriage roads and single/double track with one climb to the fire tower (hence the name).  He told me to expect it would be fast.  He, I, and new teammate Tom Cross lined up with 170 trail runners in the soccer field next to the 4H building on the Stratham Fairgrounds.  Looking around it was obviously a family environment as the starting line was dominated by pre-teens.  Not wanted to risk getting tripped and trampled I decided to get off fast when the gun fired (by Miss Stratham Fair I might add).  Within the first few hundred meters I was in the Top 5 running stride for stride with a young guy who seemed pretty determined to keep me behind him.  The top 2 guys were putting a gap on us by the 6-7 minute mark but I was securely in 5th, directly behind 4th, and could see 3rd place.  Just before the 2 mile mark the young guy in 4th fell back to me and I moved around encouraging him to stay with me.  Approaching the firetower climb I could feel myself closing the gap on 3rd place.  About 1/2 way up the 300+ meter climb I caught and passed the guy for 3rd place to the top of the hill.  But as we began to descend the doubletrack trail he quickly regained the spot and accelerated away.  I obviously still have a lot of work to do on my downhill racing.  Back in 4th place I caught a glimpse of Keith Schmitt closing on me.  Knowing he's a far more talented runner than myself but recognizing the finish was only a few hundred meters away I leaned forward and if he was going to pass me he would have to earn it.  Luckily the finish line came when it did as he was only 2 seconds behind.  I was able to hold him off for a 4th overall finish in 18:50 (6:04's).  I'm incredibly pleased with the result.  I felt strong but not quite red lined.  A really, really great late season effort.

The Firetower 5k finished around 9:30ish.  My SPORT class one lap 9 miler would most likely go off around 11:45ish (or when the last of the ADVANCED/EXPERT riders completed their first of two laps).  I changed into my aR cycling gear, drank some HEED, and chatted with teammate Geoff Cunningham who was making his mountain bike racing debut on his new Specialized 29er.  My love/hate relationship with mountain bike racing is pretty well documented.  It can be incredibly exhilarating and challenging but it can also be so humbling that it hardly seems worth the effort.  And the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that it's how the races are organized, not necessarily the sport itself.  And the folks that put the No Brakes race on know exactly what they're doing.  By sending the ADVANCED/EXPERT riders out first and waiting to start the SPORT race until those riders had finished their first lap assured that we (or I) wouldn't be traffic for the faster more skilled riders.  In fact, we would never see each other on the course.  Lining up for my race there appeared to be a small crowd of maybe 20 riders with all ability levels represented.  I actually began to think that it was probably me that looked hardcore in my aR cycling kit.  Little did they know.  I lined up in the 3rd or 4th row and decided I would get a feel for the crowd in the first few minutes of the race and then try to forget everyone else and ride as hard as I could.  As the race started I immediately felt a sense of urgency and pushed toward the front standing on the pedals in the big ring.  Moments later I was again in the Top 5 (like the trail race).  The course consisted of two primary "climbs" connected by some smooth, fresh, twisting singletrack.  I'm a fairly strong climber so I was able to catch a couple of guys on the first climb to the same fire tower I had raced to earlier that morning.  As we hit the singletrack however I started picking my way through and obviously slowing them down.  When I found a spot I told them to go ahead and try to catch the guys on the podium.  For the next 7 miles I essentially rode alone.  I dabbed a few times on the tight switchback climbs...not for fitness, but for lack of bike handling skills.  The singletrack sections were sensational and as I was racing I was already making plans to return and ride these tracks again.  I missed a turn toward the end but quickly figured out my error and probably only lost 10-15 seconds.  Pushing hard on the last 2 miles of flat carriage roads and fields I felt very, very strong as an entire spring, summer, and fall of riding had paid off.  I crossed the finish line in 51:07 and in 4th place overall.  My second race and second 4th place finish of the day.  The race was a blast!  That type of mountain bike racing I love.  Racing against fairly evenly matched athletes without holding up 20-30 elite riders. 

This is most certainly a double I will do again next fall.  And hopefully I'll have some aR teammates willing to try to capture my new King of the Hill crown.

NEXT UP:  Hallowiener Hustle

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grog & Dog Jog

The camera loves me as I'm groggin' & doggin' rockin'
the Mississippi mudflap mullet and Wal-Mart t-shirt
[Photo courtesy of Scott Mason Photography]
"There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous."  -Napoleon

Providence,  RHODE ISLAND -- They say a picture tells a thousand words.  But no amount of those words can describe the fun that was had at this weekend's Grog & Dog Jog at the Wild Colonial Tavern.  Our buddies from the south, the Tuesday Night Turtles, introduced us to this race last year and we were finally able to accept the invitation to join them this weekend.  In fact, we actually sent two teams of aR "athletes" to see what all the fuss was about.  As a jack of all trades master of none this type of thing fits exceptionally well into my fall transition period.  I'm neither 1.) motivated to train, nor 2.) currently training for anything important so the way I saw it, a 1.25 mile city loop followed by a hot dog and a beer would be the perfect "training" for my planned November shutdown.  Turns out, seven of my other aR teammates felt the same way.  I divided us up into two fairly evenly matched teams with (of course) my team constituting not only the lion share of the runners, but the hungriest doggers to ever order a round of grog.  This one, as they say, would be like taking candy from a baby.  My aR-GOLD included Jon "Where's your shirt?" Letendre, "Super" Sam Watts, Nick "Capt'n Feathersword" Lavoie and of course...me.  aR-BLACK was represented by Nick "Malibu" Langelotti,  "Downhome" Amanda House, Jeremiah "Gettin' Tail" Fitzgibbon, and Craig "What are you a pirate?" Poirier.  The two fastest dudes in the bunch, Jon and Langelotti, led off the race for their respective aR teams.  Jon entered the 'Eatatorium' with about a :30 lead on Nick.  However, not having eaten a hot dog in years cost him dearly as his lead was quickly erased by Nick's engulfing the dog with three swift bites and washing it down with nearly one swig of the warm Narragansett.  And from there it was all downhill for my aR-GOLD.  Jeremiah, always a poor front runner, took off like he was being chased by a pack of crazed dogs nearly :45 seconds ahead of me.  Knowing that he has a tendency to take it out hard and then fade back to me I set off with the plastic mug baton to run him down.  What I didn't account for however, was the jean cutoffs and the mullet.  Both binding and billowing I felt like I couldn't really pick up any momentum which was surely aided by my lack of warm-up and/or the energy drink induced slight state of dehydration.  Nevertheless I averaged 5:53's for the 1.25 mile loop.  Just sayin'.  Unfortunately while I made up a little of his gap it wouldn't be even remotely enough as his gullet-stuffing-mashed-dog-regurgitating-beer-swilling exhibition got a HUGE rise out of the crowd and put us even further behind.  It's funny, I never would have guessed how nauseating the smell of steamed tubular pork product would be immediately following a mile dash.  And I like hot dogs!  Okay, love hot dogs.  Fearing I'd take a large bit of wiener sideways down the esophagus and need to be Heimlich'd by a dude dressed like a nun I decided to play it "safe" and alternated chomping small bites with big gulps of 'Gansett.  How did you spend your Columbus Day weekend thank you?!  As soon as I finished the dog and the grog I handed the mug to "Super" Sam who did her best to catch "Downhome" House but alas it was not aR-GOLD's day.  Craig closed the deal for aR-BLACK as the corduroy clad Lavoie represented himself, his family, and the town of Scarborough, ME proudly with an impressive hot dog eating and beer drinking display.  Our guests from TNT won the event again (yawwwwn) but we were really there for the 'fun of it'.  Who takes these things seriously?  The event was hosted by a tavern so I doubt results will be up soon but it really doesn't matter.  I had a great time GROGGIN acidotic with my 'mates and by the smiles on their faces (and the beers in their hands) after the event I think they did as well.

NEXT UP: "No Brakes" Mountain Bike Race

L-R BACK ROW: Jeremiah,  Langelotti, me, Lavoie
FRONT: Letendre, House, Poirier, Watts

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pinnacle Challenge VII

Heading out to loop the Pinnacle for aR-WHITE
at the Pinnacle Challenge VII
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]
 "Teamwork is essential.  It allows you to blame someone else."  -Anonymous

Newport, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Growing up playing and loving team sports I find it incredibly special now as a adult to get the chance experience it from time to time.  For the most part endurance sports are individual pursuits but every once in a while I get the chance to contribute my effort to the collective success of a team.  This weekend was a fantastic example of that as I once again raced the Pinnacle Challenge VII in Newport, NH hosted by the folks at Team Pinnacle.  This incredibly unique double duathlon has quickly become a showcase for acidotic RACING as we now send as many as eight teams with a scattering of solos.  This year 32 aR athletes made the trip to RACE acidotic at the Pinnacle.  My team (aR-WHITE) figured to be competitive in the highly contested 4-person male category with our brothers from aR-BLACK being one of the favorites.  Arriving around 8:00 am for a 9:30 am start there were already a dozen or more aR athletes already on site.  It was awesome to see so many friends and all of them wearing the aR colors.  Dan Dion would lead us off on the 5 mile road run putting down an impressive 28:17 and sending me out in the top 5 overall.  As my trail runner Rich Lavers worked to remove the timing anklet from Dan's leg he, in haste, removed the timing chip mechanism and then became all thumbs as he tried to thread it back on the sweaty velcro strap.  With precious seconds ticking away we fumbled for nearly a minute in the TA before finally approximating it close enough to send me away.  Although they immediately began to worry about it staying on, I never thought about it again.  Having raced this course for the past five years I was pretty familiar with the layout...or so I thought.  When I did the Pinnacle mountain bike race earlier this year (and DNF'd) we actually rode to the high point of the trail network (or "Pinnacle") but in years past the double duathalon followed a slightly different course avoiding 100+ feet of climbing.  Because I never looked at the course map I didn't see that the Pinnacle Challenge mountain bike course would be the same as the 2nd lap on the Pinnacle mountain bike race.  By the time I realized we were racing to the top of the Pinnacle I was so focused on keeping the rubber down on the slippery, muddy course that I forgot about my pathetic DNF on Father's Day weekend.  I was passed by at least 7 stronger riders during my 5.4 mile loop but I stayed on the bike, dabbed a handful or times, and only ran-a-bike for 5-10 seconds when I yielded to a faster rider on some singeltrack and put my front wheel in a bad spot.  The new "playground" pumptrack was once again worth the 3+ miles of ascending as I whipped around the 6 foot high berms on the descent to the finish.  I entered the TA in 41:39 and handed off to our road cyclist Jay Myers.  I knew I had given up a number of spots but I was hopeful I hadn't given up the podium spot Dan had handed me.  By the time Rich tore out the TA for the last leg of the race we were in 4th place in the 4-person male category trailing the 3rd place team by less than a minute.  Running with his sights fixed on third place he caught and passed the guy with less than a mile to go and held him off for the podium finish.  As a team we finished in 2:21:14 just 6 seconds from a overall team podium finish.  I was clearly the weakest link for my group of four but me + mtbing = not always stellar.  I feel like I'm giving a solid effort but I'm a very weak downhiller and not much of a risk taker.  Perhaps I can't get the "survive to race another day" mantra out of my brain?  Nonetheless I have a tremendous amount of fun particularly when I'm racing for a team. 

3rd Place 4-person Male
R-L Me, Rich Lavers, Dan Dion, Jay Myers
[Photo courtesy of Gianina Lindsey]

NEXT UP: Grog & Dog Jog

Post-script:  A big "THANK YOU" goes out directly to RD PJ Lovely and his teammates and volunteers who put together a fabulous event.  It's by far the biggest aR team turnout of any event we race all year.  And what a turnout it was; 32 athletes and podium finishes for aR-BLACK (1st 4M), aR-PINK (1st 4F), aR-DUO (1st 2M), aR-CLASSIC (3rd 4CE), Jay Massa (2nd AG-solo), and Steve Wolfe (3rd AG-solo).