Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Special Thanks: Family Cycling Center

I want to post a extra special thanks to my sponsor Family Cycling Center for their support of my recent 24-hour solo in Tucson, AZ.

Swing by the shop on 41st Ave. in Capitola. The staff and selection are the best in Santa Cruz!

Read an article published in the Adventure Sports Journal:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Le Petite Finale

Pulling into the parking lot of Pacific Union College on a warm August morning usually marks the end of my season. The Howell Mt. Challenge in Angwin, CA this past weekend is significant to me because it marks the final race in a steady stream of events that usually begins sometime around January. To me this race always marked the time when the bikes can be hung up for a while, the body rested, and for once rides can just be rides. More than that Howell Mt. serves as a synopsis of my entire season laid out ever so simply for me to see. How well did I ride this year? What kinds of finishes did I turn in, and what were my strengths and weaknesses? These all usually show up at Howell. This year was no different.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the first race of the season en route to 2nd place.

I knew I was tired that morning. I could feel it walking up the stairs to the registration booths. My legs ached even at that mild exertion. A little twinge of pain from a lingering back injury. And above all a resounding bad mood that seemed to follow me through the season, stemming from a mixture of poor performance and incomplete preparation. Begrudgingly, I put my riding gear on and prepared myself.

Off the starting line we climbed up the road toward that first singletrack. My slow start placed me back in the messy bottleneck, the dust sucking flurry of blurred riders. A mile into the race I finally could see the course in front of me, but I could also see where I was. Mid pack, stuck behind a group of slow riders, legs burning, lungs burning, my mind darting between aggravation to negative thoughts. This was how my whole season was, and Howell Mt. once again began it's summary. But I was riding fast. Or I should say, I was riding much faster than I thought I would considering I had not barely ridden since Downieville in July, and considering I had barely stretched or paid a moments attention to my diet. But amazingly I was pulling ahead and passing people.

The lesson begins with this starting line, "Jesse, are you paying attention? You have now seen how far you can get on luck and skill alone, but now I will show you where that ends." This was right at the point that I hit the first steep climb, stood out of the saddle and put all my strength into that one single gear I carried with me and found that the product of my effort was far less that I had hoped. I began to fade. Hitting the tops of climbs I realized just how relatively out of shape I was and I struggled to recover enough to keep my arms from being wobbly and my vision blurred and shaky. I could feel people approaching behind me, and paid little regard to those fading away ahead of me, which any racer knows is the WRONG perspective to have. Always focus on who is ahead of you. Instead, my ears became trained on the sound of breath or chain rattle behind me to determine if who was following me was a single speed rider or another class and thus how hard I would have to work to fight them off.

Soon a singlespeed rider did come up behind me to pass showing the black and green colors of the MR jersey. Zach was riding singlespeed that day too and was having a great season improving times and results in almost every event he entered. I hung with Zach for a while, negotiating the fast flowing section midway through the lap. I normal follow riders with a healthy bit of caution since I am always prepared for them to blow it. However, following Zach, which I have done for years, was easy because I know that Zach doesn't often crash so I put my wheel right on his and paced him. Where I lost Zach was at the start of the climb out to the airport. I had to stop because there was too much air in my rear tire and I wasn't getting any traction on the climb. Once I stopped, it was nearly impossible to start again. Though I did ride the last part of the lap, once I hit the airport I was done mentally and physically. I tried to talk myself into another lap, but at last the whole system said "no". I could hear the lesson again. "Are you paying attention?" This began my slow ride back; a DNF and the end of my day. The end of my season.

Suffering mid-pack, mid-season.

Zach went on to finish 2nd in the singlespeed category, and I realized that I had been running his pace and was in line to finish somewhere around there had I been ready. I was proud of him finishing as strong as he did. It made me smile. Dusty brought home a 2nd place as well and I would wager to say that that race acted as a synopsis of their own seasons as well.

At last, fighting off sickness and exhaustion...

Clearly the summary of the 2009 season is bleak at best, and I realize the shortcomings of my preparedness and the reasons for that. At Downieville and Howell Mt. I vowed to train hard enough to be in the top 5 at the start, or to not race at all. It's just too much suffering to be back there inhaling dust and getting cut off by passing riders when you know you aren't going to do well in the first place. I am proud of some races. My 3rd place finish at the Sea Otter after a hard fought battle on the Dual Slalom course was by far the highlight. My first XC race of the season in Ft. Ord was a 2nd place and that was a highlight as well. But for a whole season of hard work, sickness, poor finishes and no finishes at all I find 2 good results hardly comparable to the rest, which can only serve to spur me onward toward a different approach and a new season. I will always look forward to that!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Podium Sweep at Nationals!

This past weekend, Sol Vista hosted the 2009 USA Cycling National Championships. Miracle racing created quite a presence there with 3 strong riders, Dusty Gillingham, Zach Smith and Stacy Schroeder, and a host of family and friends dawning apprently new MR shirts!

The process leading to this event was arduous, hard fought and much anticipated. For Dusty preparations began last season as gradually his time on the bike increased and his race times decreased. Despite an ever illusive podium, he continued to turn in strong finishes at local and major events. Worth mentioning in that is a top 10 finish in both Super-D and XC at this years Sea Otter, a top 5 finish at this years' Downieville Classic, and 4th place at Nationals!

For Zach, this process seemed to happen almost over night. All of a sudden Zach began showing up at races with an even more chiseled physique, new bikes and turning in strong fast race times. At the Sea Otter this year, Zach shed significant time off his time last year to finish 13th in a huge field of riders. Notable finishes include a Top 10 finish in the Dual Slalom category at this years' Sea Otter Classic, 2nd place in the Dual Slalom in Santa Ynez, CA, 11th place at this years' Downieville Classic, and 4th place and 6th place at Nationals!

Stacy came into Nationals after a fighting through an injury from May of this year. Rest and re-training propelled her into strong position to take 5th place in the Cat 2 Women's division at Nationals. Other finishes include two top 5 finishes in Duo and 5-man 24 hour races, and a 1st place finish in a CCCX XC race at Ft. Ord.

Congratulations to the three of you for capping of this season with outstanding finishes at one of the country's biggest events!

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Price to Play: A ride alone in Tahoe.

Finally my first epic in Tahoe. At long last the warm weather cleared the high country of most of the snow cover near my end of the lake. Leaving from my door, and I love to accentuate this point, FROM my door I'm immediately on the Tahoe Rim Trail heading straight up. My intentions at that point weren't far past a small saddle just a mile or so out. Waking in Vallejo this morning, enjoying a cup of coffee I hit the road to Tahoe. Knowing quite well that I was going from sea level to my house at 7500' and planning to ride only up from there, I planned to just ride a while up and get my legs moving. But as so often happens, when I get out into the pines and wind, the chipmunks and storm clouds...I don't want to leave.

Most of the trail up is fantastically sculpted. Intermittently you are forced to burst into action to heave your body and bike over granite steps. Some of them cleanable, some very much not. Before I knew it I was at my destined saddle and had no intention of stopping there. I knew Star Lake was about 8 miles out and up from there, and I contemplated heading out there despite not knowing the terrain, trail, or whether it was actually clear. This ride was not an epic in distance, but a trudge of a ride especially coming from the thick honey air in the valley.

Putting an eye on the sky, the clouds looked a few hours off from storming so I continued on. The storms lately have been particularly violent with lightning strikes, hail and torrents of rain. I intended not to be caught in one of those. Along the trail I went, noticing the animals, trees, rocks, the tiny snow bushes that were popping up. I saw Jefferey pine cones and remembered to a backpacking trip with my Dad years ago where he taught me to recognize the difference between Jefferey pine and Ponderosa pine. He told me that "gentle" Jefferies didn't poke your hands when you cradle them in your hand like "prickly" Ponderosa do.

A turn halfway up that is both as sharp and menacing as it looks. A missed turn here would be the end. Below is the stellar view of the Carson valley, NV.

In so many words, the trip up to Star Lake is 9 miles of climbing interspersed with moments of intensely steep climbing and hike-a-bike. Don't let it fool you, though. You can tell you are pre-paying for this fun because the trip down will be all downhill. (I won't lie, there's a bitch of a climb midway down...) The other delightful aspect of this trail is that there are a few serious do-or-die sections, where a bobble to one side would send you careening down some absurdly steep mountain-sides. I did crash one, in a nice gentle area but not for mistake, but because I was looking off at a view.

An area not to make a mistake

Tahoe is such an amazing riding destination. The mixture of granite sand, pine duff, summer rains and high mountain views is so alluring. Not to mention the quality of riding. I had been staring out windows for over a month waiting for signs that snow was clear enough to allow me on trails. The summer does, however, provide riders with an added challenge in recognizing weather. Back in Santa Cruz I would ride, no matter what. For years I went out on the soggiest days, and loved it basically because there's so little risk! Here if you get caught in a storm, you start wondering if you've seen all the things you wanted to in your life, for it's flashing before your eyes. If it isn't a warm summer start pounding lightning or hail, you get caught in one of those freak cold storms that happen to dump a foot of snow. Basically, mountain weather knowledge, survival skills and common sense are imperative here.

A giant Juniper alongside trail

The California/Nevada border.

My first view of Lake Tahoe high up near Freel Peak.

Star lake turned out to be far more beautiful and quiet than I expected! But I spent little time there knowing that before long lightning would be striking this high barren ridges. I must have been around 9000' or more. Lightning was not the only thing I would have to worry about because the elevation was starting to get to me. I mis-judged the exertion required on the initial trip back, and before long I was very tired and fearing the sections of cliff-lined trail that lie ahead as I was starting to wilt a little. Turns out I made it through okay with regard to the cliffs, but fared far worse once I finally made it home... I was still amazed that as soon as I dropped off the trail onto Quaking Aspen Ln. I had all of 30 to walk to my house. But the fun was yet to begin as I developed a nice sized headache and some persistant nausea. I laid down with needles in my arm and allowed the nausea to fade. Two needles shook off my nausea in about 30 seconds. After than I dropped an aspirin under my tongue to avoid needing to throw it up, and within minutes the headache faded. As I sit here now the skies have opened up into madness. Hail is berating my car and the world around as lightning is striking overhead sending large cracks through the house, powerful and near enough to jump the electricity in the house. To this day I cannot help flinching at the sound of intense thunder, reminding me how meagerly insignificant we humans actually are. The skies are dark and menacing. Dry and warm, no longer sick I enjoy the rest that comes from a good long ride.

PS: My previous opinion of SRAM components remains. My cassette came loose...again, the derailer rattled, the shifters felt loose and grinding. I'm scraping the whole lame system as soon as I can. Aluminum-spline freewheel hubs are garbage too.

Star Lake

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Top 5 Sweep!

There was something quite noticeable during the last XC race at Ft. Ord. If it wasn't the blur of green and white whipping past you, it was probably the bold letters "MR" perched proudly amongst the top 5 and atop the podium. After a beautiful day of racing amidst green grass and lots of friends, our team placed at the highest overall placing I can remember. The results are as follows. Way to go everyone:

Stacy Schroeder: 1st place, Sport Women's
Dusty Gillingham: 3rd place, Sport Men's
Jesse Smith: 2nd place, Sport Single Speed
Zach Smith: 5th place, Sport Single Speed
Covey Potter: 2nd place, Beginning MenPhotos credits and thanks to Rick Rasmussen!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Power of the Pelvis

I remember saying "oh shit!" in midair. I could see my front wheel heading straight for the opposing face of the jump landing as I threw my weight back to brace against the impact. The fork bottomed worse than I've ever felt. Being that, during 20 years of riding I've landed two wheels in this position far more times than I care to mention, I knew to throw my weight back hard, but the impact flung my pelvis forward into the seat. Painful as it sounds, it saved me an even more painful trip over the bars. For some perspective on the force it took to mangle this seat, two grown men were unable to bend this thing back... Remember, you can gobble up 6.5 inches of travel faster than you can say "bend resisitant cromoly rails"

(By the way, for all concerned parties, my pelvis fared far better than the seat. Hence the title)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

2008 Downieville Classic: Reflections on a Great Failure

Zach helping dial in my headset the morning of the downhill

Last year was not the finest showing a competitive cyclist could have. But of all the mishaps and poor performances of my last season, the one that stands out as the grand failure, where things didn't just not work, they failed horribly, was the Downieville Classic.

Brief overview: Someone in the world has a photo of me leading the field of Sport All Mountain riders up the initial road climb just after the start. I did so for about 400 yards feeling very strong! It was around mile 2 that all of this changed and all the little things that ever haunted my racing, be it stomach aches, exercises/dust induced wheezing, headaches, or garden variety leg bonk, began to take hold. But what made it all the more intolerable was that each of those ailments I just mentioned worsened as the miles ticked away. By the time I reached the summit of that initial climb, just 6 miles into a 30 mile race, I was wasted. I threw up shortly after having a pep talk with Joe Pessano (probably the best man I could imagine for the random pep talk). Mistake #2 (mistake #1 being the one where I thought it was appropriate to lead the field up the first 400 yards of a 30 mile race) was misinterpreting the joyous feeling you get shortly after vomiting as recovery. The effort I put forth in the minutes after first throwing up only solidified the state of dehydration and exhaustion I had already subjected my body to, and after that point there was no feeling of recovery after throwing up. It was only constant and persistent. This about caps off the race for me, which I consider to have ended at the end of the Sunrise Trail. After that, it was just a matter of how I was going to make it into town on my own two feet. I did, ever so slowly and by the help of my guardian-angel, Zach just ahead of the sweep crew some 2 hours after the last of my class had finished.

There were a great many mistakes that I have ruminated over for the past six months since that event took place. So many things I would have changed, done differently, or just been able to see in the moment. But, of all the things that could have been learned in a day like that one, one thing that stands out the most is that the effort you put forth toward a goal or an event can actually turn around and bite you. Effort generated is potential energy and will release in any direction. What separates amateurs like myself from seasoned professionals is the knowledge and skill to release that generated effort properly.

Lesson #1: Dehydration kills

I have traced everything that went wrong that day in no more than two degrees of separation to dehydration. Every symptom I felt that day is explained by dehydration. The history and order of occurrence of each of my activities lead to dehydration. So the most important lesson I learned on a first hand basis is that dehydration will ruin everything, and it is so very easy to slip into that zone while racing.

Lesson #2: You are as fast as you are, and no more.

Blasting off the gun and attempting to lead a pack of very strong riders up a very very demanding climb, in heat and smoky air and at eleveation was not something I was prepared to do. But I let excitement and nerves get the better of me and I lined up right at the very starting line in front of everyone. Not that this enthusiasm wasn't good, but what was wrong was I didn't know my pace, and when I didn't know that pace, I wasn't going to adhere to it. Like Yogi Berra said, "If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up someplace else." Know your pace, know your pace, know your pace! My goal for the next year in Downieville is to know that pace, and stick to it no matter what is going on, even if I'm last out of the gate. I knew my pace on the downhill 17 miles, and I had all eyes focused on that. I knew I could be fast in that section, and I still do, but I never even got there because i blew up well beforehand.

Lesson #3: Listen to the signs, and take time to fix them.

Your body has a graduated system for alerting you to something wrong. It's a lot like a kid trying to get his mother's attention. "mom, mom, Mom, Mooom, MOM!, MOM!!" If you don't listen to the first signs, eventually your body will scream at you, and it screams in the form of pain. Listen early, and fix it! If you are blown up, hosed, cooked, wasted, sore, achy, crampy, or just plain unhappy. Stop, breathe, fix it. Stretch, drink water, lie down. Seriously, who considers lying down in a race? But this is Downieville. It's not a race, it's a marathon. You need to survive as much as you need to win, and you need to survive to win! If I start to hear the early signs of anything this year, I am stopping and fixing it! I'll make up time on the downhill!

Lesson #4: Failure is good!

Downieville changed everything for me. It humbled me as a rider and a human. It made me not the guy lost in the pack, or the guy on the top of the podium, it made me the guy leaning against his bike throwing up on the side of the course (sorry I had to be wearing your logo on that one Stace...). I'm sure a lot of people actually still remember me for that! But, what I realized was that I had just hit bottom. There was no further down to go! In fact (and I hate to think of this) if I had DNFed do to injury, or had to been lifted out of there. In competition there's some degree of dignity to that, and in a way your saved face for it! But for me, truly, I hit bottom. What I realized after having been down there, is that ain't so bad! And once you realize that rock bottom ain't so bad (dignity/pride wise) you aren't afraid of it anymore. I never thought I was afraid of it before, but now I realize I was terrified of it! I was terrified of looking like "that guy", the racer who lost it all, or couldn't handle it. But the truth is, we're all going to blow our shit one of these days. I'm just happy I did it because i now don't have to worry about being there again! I can only work upward from that.

The race wasn't all failure. I managed to finish, which meant that I was able to compete in the downhill the following day. I managed a 6th overall fastest time in my class (which didn't do squat to my overall finish results due to the previous days results). In the end the ability to turn in a good run that second day boosted my moral significantly. I chose to race that race in the same sweaty, dirty, vomit covered jersey that I did the day before.

Unloading the bike for the weigh-in the morning after the Cross-Country.

This year should be different. I feel far more "mature" in my racing. I will train hard for that race, but I will train in a relaxed and disciplined manner, only pushing as hard as my body will allow for the time that I am in. I've said it before, but I can't say it enough. Zach saved my ass out there that day. I would have been in trouble if I didn't think he was there making sure I'd get out. I couldn't be thankful enough to him for it. Once I made it down, the whole team was there rallied up to meet me, and that made me feel amazing... The IV fluids did wonders for my mood too. =)

Number plate and IV bruise.