Thursday, April 16, 2015

Skyway Epic 60

Well, I have not seen a Skyway write up this year so I'll get it started.

I feel like I don't see many actual stories of races anymore with the popularity Facebook/Insta/Tinder whatever...a quick plug to 30 sponsors, some hashbrowns, and all is forgotten a week later.

A race as cool as Skyway deserves a few words. Brent Marshall of Bamacross fame came up with the Skyway Epic race and although it has existed for a few years, 2015 was the first year I had a chance to do it. I pre rode some of it in 2012 and loved the remote and rugged terrain. Any race where you actively consider your chances of being hurt by a hunter or escaped convict has my attention. Don't let my hyperbole scare...just sign up next year.

Once at the race venue I talked to some folks, ate 3/4 of a Pop Tart and paced around. I don't really ride much before start time or have any real warm up plans so I didn't want to get fancy and mess up a known routine.

I met Jami from Sylacauga ( I think) who also had a Krampus. His was a good bit lighter and carbony than mine and this would not be the last I saw of him. Yes, I was one of the dummies that rode a singlespeed with 3 inch tires a bunch of miles at Skyway. It was fun.

Brent told us some really cool stories about mud holes and bikes and we rolled out. I started fast as I tend to do and was in the top third of the 60 mile folks into the singletrack (100 milers started 30 minutes prior to us). I had no idea I would be in the singletrack for 45 minutes to an hour and was not quite redlined but knew my body would pay for the effort later. I was riding clean and didn't want to give up my spot in line. I'd rather regret going out a bit hard than riding like a bitch and being last into the singletrack. My legs are gonna hurt either way, but this method makes it easier on the mind.

Mary Sickler passed me about 30 minutes in and was going fast enough I didn't realize she was on a singlespeed also. Props to her on clean riding and a kickass race in general. After the singletrack, I found myself on some sketchy doubletrack with fires burning in the nearby woods. I locked up the rear brake around a pine straw covered turn going down a short but 25% grade hill and my concern grew - was I in an endurance race or a Brent Marshall Bamacross Special?

I rode a good bit with some folks I feel I've known a really long time, Phillip Thompson and Joseph Greenway. We got to a steep section and saw Phillip hop off to walk. I thanked him for his wisdom and followed suit. I would walk a bunch during the day but was Enduro level stoked on my new Enduro approved Shimano shoes. I could shred downhills AND walk with no problem. Like I said. Stoked. I realized about halfway up the big Bulls Gap climb I was tired. I didn't get out of breath the whole race but my legs were sure enough crushed by the hills. I realized about 20 miles in my computer mileage was off. Not by a ton but enough to make me not look at it again til the finish, where I clocked in at 65 miles. I calibrated it really close pre race but who knows...

I rode most of the way to the halfway point with Joseph and briefly saw Gavin Lansden. He had been on the side of the trail sick 5 minutes into the race and I was a bit surprised he was still riding. The climbs were going well but I knew better than to push hard as the day was long and one of the first 80 degree days this year. Translation: I was kinda scared I would cramp and I doubt I was alone. I took some serious chances on the downhills and made up lots of time. If you're gonna run giant tires at 11 psi, make good use of them.The views from up top were incredible - much nicer than last time I rode Skyway in 40 degree rain with about 50 feet of visibility! About 2.5 hours in the leaders were coming back from the mid point and it was fun to see everyone, even Hardwick.

 I realized a couple things at the halfway check point.
1. I was dehydrated.
2. I was actually doing well in the SS race.

I ate a bunch and drank a Coke at the aid station. I probably stayed too long but I needed the mental rest from all the climbing and the sun. The climbs on the return to Lake Howard seemed even harder than going out due to the steepness. I rode a bunch with Paul from Bike Link Racing on the way back and enjoyed his smooth riding and enough conversation to distract me from my angry legs. I was surprised with myself. I was in fear of cramping on every climb but I got into a good pedal rhythm and felt better than earlier in the race. All I could think about was Big Nasty- the last big downhill on the course. After a bunch of steep, rutted uphills I was rewarded with a glorious 3 mile descent back to Aid Station 4 for us. Bo Nolen was lounging and I wasted enough time for Jami with the carbon wheeled Krampus to catch me. I knew this would happen and I also knew he would drop me on the way back to the finish.

I had a 32/21 vs his 32/20 and he pulled away on the fire road out of the aid station. I should also mention he was riding better than me, that always helps sort out podium places! I was in a bit of damage control and tired again at this point. I wanted badly to be back on the singletrack that had hurt me only a few hours earlier. I saw a rider laying beside the road up ahead and knew who it was before I saw him.

"You sick again?" I asked the prone Gavin.

"Nope, just cramping...go ahead."

I was curious how/when he would make it to the finish. The area of the race is pretty remote and it's not real convenient to bail out. I formulated a plan if Gavin got up and caught me. I would ride every uphill til one of us cramped again. This never happened and I didn't see him again til the finish. The multiple dam crossings on the way back in briefly made me wonder if I had somehow doubled back on the course but I kept pedaling and soon was back in the twisties around the lake. I had a blast with the last few miles of singletrack but was really ready to get off my bike! Skyway was my longest ride of the year so far by a bunch but I was still feeling much better than I expected. I popped out of the singletrack and was so exhausted I almost crashed in the wet grass near the finish line but managed to stay rubber side down.

Post race. Krampus meeting.

Oh, and the results. The race made me happy and tired, like all good races should. I somehow ended up 3rd Place (RESULTS) and got to stand up on the podium and get a paper bag of some Octane coffee and other goodies. Jimmy Smith beat me by a good bit and Jami Smith showed me who was the stronger Krampus rider. Stronger by 6 minutes to be exact.

Photo cred: Jacqueline Hodges Marshall (I think)

Thanks so much to Brent and everyone that helped put this race on. Really one of the coolest races I have done, ever...great course, lots of strong riders, and a cooler of beer waiting at the finish. Nothing fancy, just awesome grassroots racing as promised. I'm in for next year.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Friday, November 28, 2014

Oak Ass 50 2014

Last year was the first year for the Oak Ass 50 and 100 mile race and went really well. I didn't race so I could work the crazy split section between Jekyll and Hyde and the BUMP trail. Everything went fine but it was a tricky section to ride AND work with constant vigilance needed to keep track of who was coming from where and help resolve any issues that oxygen debt and fatigue tend to bring out from people racing bikes. That sentence was too long for any decent book but that was the deal...

This year I had accepted again I would not race and stand in the cold all day at the same spot. As a course designer people getting lost on your course is generally a bad thing which I did not want to happen. A week before the race Pete Foret offered to cut a quick connector trail from the Firepit trail to Blood Rock. This made my day. I was free to race! Kind of. Volunteers were still needed and I wanted Lee Neal to be able to race also so we set on doing the 100 mile Duo and switching off volunteer stations when we were not on course. This was all tentative and I still was ready to work all day if needed.

I put a lot of work into this race going well with the most time consuming part being the course marking. The loop is 25 miles and crosses over itself near Johnson's Mountain meaning course marking is a long process. I took the Krampus (the Krampus is Surly's 29Plus format bike. Mine is setup as a rigid singlespeed with 29x3.0 tires and all sorts of nice stuff...full post on it to come) out Friday for 5 hours to cover the whole loop again and tie up any loose ends. I am glad I did since I ran into the fella from Southeastern Trail Runs who was doing a 50K run race at OM the same day as Oak Ass. We had a nice chat and went on our ways. Oak Ass is a fun loop but the pack full of tools and marking supplies really zapped my energy stores. The climbs were an all out event and the descents were fun but a bit awkward.

I have lost hope of ever having a night before a bike race that is well suited to racing a bike well. Couple too many brews and up a couple hours too late but I felt fine race morning aside from general exhaustion from course marking Friday. I should mention here that Oak Ass is the only bike race I have done in 2014 and my longest trail ride this year was the 25 mile ride the day before the race! Not the best prep but I'm pretty stoked with how I rode given my ill prepared state. To anyone doubting their ability to do Oak Ass or the like without "enough miles" can do it, it just hurts!

"Well, that was a mistake," I mentioned to Chainbuster racing honch Kenny Griffin as I entered the 7 Bridges opening singletrack. I spent the first mile of the race lollygagging on a singlespeed and earned myself spot number 122 of 125 racers going into the singletrack. I was not set on any real competing as Lee and I were the only 100 mile Duo racers and I really just wanted to get an idea of my course from a racing perspective. Mistake made, I settled into the line and bided my time.

I was more careful than normal making passes. No need to be an ass during the race I help put on. Making passes was wearing me out but by the top of the climb I seemed to be settling into a good spot in race traffic. I found myself with Michael Long, who I rode with most of the race on and off. Michael was also on a SS and the guy behind the 5 Points 50 race in TN. I made up some lost time and made it through all of Jekyll and Hyde clipped in. I knew the climbs would hurt me so I just made a goal to ride all the tech stuff clean during the race, which I managed fine thanks to the 3.0 tires on the Krampus. Talk about increasing your margin of error.

I wasted a good bit of time stopping to chat with folks during the race and fiddling with the seatpost on my bike which I could NOT get to stay in place. Such is life racing a bike with only a handful of rides on it. My bread had been thoroughly buttered and I was now eating it. I was 17 miles into the race when I realized ,"Wow, my body is beat." The ride time Friday was rearing its ugly Fatigue Head and made me pretty cautious pacing myself up Peavine Falls Road. Riding a bike to work a few times a week and training to race are two different things and I had done not enough of the latter.

I had a good rip down Blood Rock and finished out the first lap in 2:25. Meh. Not great but not awful either. I had clear trail to ride the next lap and had a great time just riding the awesome trails at Oak Mountain. I am still getting used to the handling of a semi fat bike so more ride time was just what I needed. My legs and back were really starting to complain and I worried I was too tired to ride Jekyll and Hyde safely. As soon as I entered Hyde I passed another singlespeed fella and suddenly got back into my zone. I was wide awake again and felt great until it was time to head up Peavine Falls Road again. This was a real test for me to make it up without walking and I searched my brain for helpful sayings or mantras to easy my pain. I took in another Snickers bar and a view from the top of the mountain which lifted my spirits. I have done lots of racing and have nutritional stuff fairly dialed at this point, which kind of sucked since I had nothing to blame my dead legs on except lack of fitness and WAY too much riding the day before racing.... I had been in this place of unhappiness before and was happy looking forward to how good it would feel to be finished.

I realized during this lap how freaking hard the Oak Ass course is. This course is tough! You are either climbing or descending something technical. It is fun and challenging but it is for sure a tough 50 or 100 mile. I finished with a ride time of 4:50 and an actual race time of 5:06 that thoroughly reflected my time wasting out on the trail. I was honestly just happy to finish the 50 out as bad as I felt that last lap! Lee went out on his laps and not long after came walking up to Pete Foret and myself at mile 17 with a broken chain. He politely declined my offer to finish out the race on the Krampus and called in our DNF. We had a great time hanging out on the side of the trail and yelling at everyone that came through. This race really made me appreciate folks encouragement while I was hurting. Thanks everyone!

We ended up as a DNF but after some staring at the results sheet I would have landed on the podium in the 50 mile SS category. Not bad for a lazy commuter. I'm really happy with the Krampus so far and thing it has some solid potential for a race bike.

I can say with confidence what I heard from numerous others after the race - "Oak Ass kicked my ass!"

Thanks again to everyone that helped with the race and came out to test themselves on course. See ya next year.

Guest Post: Oak Ass 50 '14 by Evan Koch

Before we get into Evan's account of his race a little back story is in order. I gave away a fit during this years Bump 'N Grind XC race for one random volunteer. Evan won the fit which we ended up doing at his home while I was juggling shop options this summer (I am now happily back at the shop I spent many years wrenching in college - Cahaba Cycles in Homewood).

Part of my original intention in beginning Oak Ass as an official race was to push people out of their comfort zone and try something new. Evan stepped up big time and I really enjoyed reading his account of the race as well as watching his progress leading up to the race this year. Enjoy!


Oak Ass 50. Evan Koch

Just to set expectations, this won't read like most of the posts I've seen about peoples' Oak Ass experiences, this is more about how I prepared for the event. For some people, doing Oak Ass might not have been a big change, but it was definitely outside my comfort zone and I wanted to share what I did so that other people might be encouraged to give it try. Before I decided to do Oak Ass, the longest distance I had ridden on my mountain bike was 18 miles and the only event I had participated in was the Bump n Grind Cat 3 race. I had seen the name Oak Ass a few times, and when I found out that it was a 50 mile race, I pretty much dismissed the possibility of ever competing. Over the years I've done a bit of mountain biking, but only since March 2014 have I stuck to it with anything close to consistency. I jokingly mentioned Oak Ass to a friend in October who said we should give it a try, theorizing that even we could do 50 miles in 12 hours. Turns out he was right, but it wasn't without preparation.

Luckily I live and work close to Oak Mountain, so it was easy for me to keep trying the course. I hadn't been on the other side of Terrace Dr in years, so it took some time for me to get familiar with the course. I worked my way up to doing the full course - one weekend I did South Trailhead, Seven Bridges, red road, and J&H back to Peavine Rd and stopped. The next week I did that plus the rest of a loop - going up the road, coming down Blood Rock and then Johnson's Mountain. Each time I added more, I was getting a sense for how long the real event would take me. The weekend after that, I did one lap, and got through J&H on the second lap before throwing in the towel - I just didn't have the energy. Which leads me to the next topic…

Turns out I was a bit naïve in the ways of endurance events. I thought I could just throw a few power bars into my water pack and that'd be good enough, and that water was all I'd need to drink. When I spoke with my sister and brother-in-law and later John Karrasch, they said I'd need to take in a lot more calories than that for long rides and mentioned things like Gu, Nuun, and Skratch Labs. This lead me to the Feed Zone Portables cookbook, which does a good job educating the reader about how the body works during endurance events how to properly maintain your energy levels. So two nights before Oak Ass, I was in the kitchen with my wife making the blueberry and chocolate chip coconut rice cakes in preparation (I had planned to test out the rice cakes prior to that, but I had two sinus infections in October/November that limited my ability to do much training).

Most of my riding had been in summer, late spring, or early fall, so I never had to put much thought into what I wore, but Oak Ass was November 22 and we'd already had one period of extreme cold, so I figured shorts and a t-shirt wasn't going to cut it (for me, anyway - I saw people in their kits with arm sleeves on). I ended up with a base layer, softshell jacket, riding pants, and a thermal skull cap under my helmet. I tested this out a few weeks before when the temperature was 38 at the start of my ride and it worked very well, and the temperature at the start of Oak Ass was in the 40s, so I wore the same gear. The jacket would allow me to take off the sleeves if I got too warm and the forecast said it'd reach the mid 60's by mid-afternoon, so I expected to do that or leave the jacket in my car when I made a pit stop after the first lap.

Oak Ass
Other people's recollections talk of trying to keep up with people, who they passed, flat tires, etc. - my experience was a bit different. I intentionally started in the back because I knew I wasn't going for the gold; my plan was to stay at the back and not get in anyone's way. Based on my training, I expected the first lap would take me about 3:30 and the second lap would take me more (I didn’t know exactly how much since I had only gotten partway through my second lap before), but I was hoping to be done in 8 hours. I tried to eat a rice cake periodically, which turned out to be a little bit harder than I imagined - not because of the taste, but when I unwrapped the tin foil, it was still fairly mushy, so I ended up stopping each time I ate (every 45-60 minutes). First lap was fairly uneventful but I was tracking pretty well to my estimates - first lap took me 3:36. As I stopped by my car to restock and ditch the jacket, I heard the announcer over the PA say that he expected the race leaders to finish their second lap in the next three minutes if they kept up their pace from the first lap. Second lap went about like the first- I saw a friendly face from BUMP along the camp road, got passed by a few bikers, and then I ran into some girls on J&H who had lost the yellow trail. While I'm fairly familiar with the mountain bike trails, I've never been on the hiking trails, so I gave them my map of the park and cautioned them to watch out for other racers. More friendly faces (Corbin Camp at Blood Rock and John Karrasch at Peavine Rd/Johnson's intersection) helped keep me going and I finished the second lap with a total time of 8:22.

Next Year
I've proven that I can do it, so next year's about improving my time. I plan to actually read the
Feed Zone Portables book and not just skip to the recipes section, and also figure out what my caloric intake should be while doing endurance events. I also intend to get better at climbing so I don't have to walk up parts of Peavine Rd up to the fire pits trails, because I had plenty of people stop and ask me if I was okay. Knowing the course in advance and having an idea of how it'd take allowed me to be comfortable doing the event - I have no idea how those riders who had never been to Oak Mountain before did it.

I'd like to thank all of the people that put the race on - Kenny Griffin, John Karrasch, BUMP volunteers, and countless others, as well as the people who put up with my constant questions while I prepared (mainly John, my sister, and my brother-in-law), I couldn't have done it without you. I look forward to competing again next year.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 Oak Ass 100 Course Description and Strava GPS

Still getting lots of interest in the upcoming Chain Buster Racing Oak Ass 50 and 100. Course is almost identical to last year and will be marked Saturday Nov 22!

For those curious check out the strava link below and forward to any outta towners you know coming in to pre ride. Thanks!
Turn by turn here:Start at South Trailhead and turn L on Terrace Drive.
*Mile 1- R on 7 Bridges (Red Trail)
*Mile 2.5 - R on Group Camp Road
*Mile 3.5 - L on Garret's Gulch
*Cont. on Red Trail through Rock Garden, The Chimneys, and Cat Dog Snake
*Mile 7 - R at North Trailhead, go up Red Road Climb
*Mile 9.5 - Peak of climb, First Lap KOM!
*Mile 11.5 - R on Bump Connector
*Mile 12 - R on Jekyll and Hyde at intersection with BUMP trail
*Mile 16 - L on Peavine Falls Road and begin climb
*Mile 19 - Slight L on Firepit trail after passing lookout area with picnic tables. Do not go through gate onto fireroad. Do not continue on paved road.
*Mile 20 - L on BUMP trail.
*Mile 21 - Cross road and continue on Johnson's Mountain
*Mile 23 - Cross Road and continue on Foreplay and Mr Toads Wild Ride
*Mile 24 - L on Rattlesnake Ridge
*Mile 24.5 - L on Family Trail
*Mile 25 - Straight through 4 way to stay on Family Trail. L on Paved Road to return to South Trailhead.
This is one 25 mile lap with 2300 ft of climbing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Frame Stack and Reach - The Easy Way

In the coming months I will be doing more triathlon bike fitting and have been doing more studying on brand differences and sizing.

One item of interest to me has been the standardization of frame stack and reach to quantify frame size and future bike decisions.

I have used bar stack and reach to consistently set up my singlespeed mountain bikes for years and am going to start using frame stack and reach measures more often for my fit folks when it is time to ask the question, "Will my new bike fit?"

Firstly, what the hell is frame stack and reach?

The horizontal and vertical relationship between 2 points:
1. The center of the bottom bracket.
2. The center of the top of the head tube.

Take a look over this Velo News article for a primer -

X-Y (Stack & Reach) measurements of the center of the handlebar and the top of the head tube from the center of the bottom bracket. Mike Reisel illustration

The pic illustrates frame AND bar reach/stack but this post is concerned only with frame stack/reach.

The bigger question: How do I measure this at home?!

As you can see in the is doable but takes some special equipment (I use a self leveling laser at the shop because it is so easy) or fiddling to keep it against a wall. The purpose of this post is to show how I do this at home with only a level and a tape measure. You will also need to use a triangle calculator app to obtain the reach measurement from the hypotenuse (diagonal BB to top of HT measurement). I like this site for calculations but any will work:

Time to get to work. Side note...this stuff is easier with a soft tape measure. It makes it easy to tell the zero mark is right in the center of your starting point. Just make sure to hold it taut when measuring so the flex of the tape doesn't throw you off.

1. Set your bike DEAD level with a 3 foot level between axle centers. Don't guess. A trainer is helpful here. By helpful I mean critical so don't lean it on a wall.

2. Measure the distance from center of BB to floor in mm. This is "d".

3. Measure the distance from the top center of the headtube to the floor. This is "e".

4. "e" - "d" = Frame stack. Easy. This will be "a"

5. Measure directly from center of bb to top center of headtube. This is "c". This is a diagonal measurement.

6. Plug "c" into the triangle calc app as the hypotenuse (diagonal) and "a" in as the frame stack or vertical dimension. Hit calculate and voila...there is "b" the frame reach.

*In the instance of a popular bike, a Cervelo P2 size 54, the stack "a" would be 512 mm and the diagonal "c" measurement BB to HT would be 661 mm. Calculated reach is 418mm.

This is pretty useful for any type of bike although be careful with your MTB. Rigid bikes are easy but front and rear suspension complicate matters once sag is thrown in. The ideal situation would be to have the rider mount the bike to sag it out then have a friend/understanding significant other get your measurements. Often a rigid and suspended bike will feel the same when both are set up right but have differing measurements.

Also be careful in comparing bikes with integrated vs. external headsets.

There is a good chance someone has already written this same thing but better. If this is the case... oh well. This is simply my experience and what I find to work well. It is simple, consistent, and requires minimal tools. Hope it helps.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

How Do I Squat?

A great question.

This is not a post to provide benefits of squatting or to talk you into doing so.

Motivation comes from within and if you have arrived here you have likely already decided to squat so let's get on with it.

I have many fit clients and PT patients who have no idea how to squat and nobody has every showed them!

I had some trouble finding a comprehensive video on how to squat for those NOT able to do so already. A plethora of things can limit squatting and in this video I try to take a systematic and logical approach.

I will likely revise this a bit but it turned out well.

Please take a look and if you have feedback I welcome it

johnkarrasch at gmail dot com