Lost Valley Luau

My Quantum Mesa cycling team put on the Lost Valley Luau mountain bike race this past weekend. I volunteered to help out with the race, but I kind of really wanted to participate in the race as well. The organizer was kind enough to put me on registration duty so after registration closed I’d be able to hop into the race.

I’ve never done a mountain bike race before. The closest I came was in the Tracks N Treads off road duathlon last spring, but in that race the run came first and I had a huge lead going into the bike leg. This was going to be a mass start mountain bike race with everyone making a mad dash down a gravel path in order to get to the single track trail first. I was quite curious how this would play out, yet utterly terrified at the same time. Complicating matters was the fact that I missed the beginner race earlier in the day due to my volunteer duties, so I was racing in the sport class (above beginner level, but below expert). Also, I’ve only ridden my mountain bike once in the past 14 months.

What’s the worst that could happen?

My expectations were low. I wanted to finish the race. I didn’t want to crash. I didn’t want to cause someone else to crash. I didn’t want to have a mechanical. I believed there was a realistic chance I could finish dead last, but that didn’t bother me. I was there to have fun and to learn.

The start of the race was much faster than I expected, and rather than go into oxygen debt at the start of a 2 hour race I just let the fast guys go. After the scariest steep gravel descent I’ve ever ridden (my arms were shaking violently from side to side, which is not what you want when you’re traveling 30+ mph) we made it to a long ascent–Rob’s time to shine. I passed a lot of people who had gone out faster than me and I got into a good position for the single track.

It was immediately obvious I was outclassed by the technical skills of the riders around me. I tried to stay in contact with them for as long as possible. A couple riders passed me in the early miles, then a couple more a bit later. We came out of the woods onto another gravel road and I cranked up the speed a bit and gained some ground back on my fellow riders. In the next two section of single track I did a bitter better, and my confidence grew a bit.

The whole time we were constantly passing people on the side of the trail who were stopped with mechanicals, or picking themselves back up after a crash. I expected to see a few mechanicals, but there were far more than I would have guessed–dozens, I’d say.

I passed another handful of riders on the gravel road leading to the finish line at the end of the first loop. I headed back out for my second 11 mile loop with nobody in sight ahead of me.

Photo courtesy of Karen Einig

Photo courtesy of Karen Einig

I was cooked at the bottom of the long gravel ascent, so I took it much slower than the first lap. Just before I reached the single track I felt raindrops. Then a few minutes later it began to pour. I was stuck behind a guy going a little slower than I would have liked and I thought about passing him. But the dark skies made it difficult for me to see (my transitions lenses got me again) and the muddy trail slowed me down even more. I eventually took off my glasses, but then I had to deal with mud in my eyes, which was almost as bad. I stuck with him for several miles until we reached the gravel road again, then I finally passed.

The last two sections of single track again went fairly well for me, though they were much slower on account of the mud. I passed 1-2 more riders in the final gravel road section before the finish line. It was still pouring down rain at the finish so I had to wait until later in the day to find the results online. I finished 13th of 43 in the sport race, and 4th of 12 in the 30-39 age group. So it went pretty well (even if it did end my streak of 11 consecutive top ten race finishes).


Another rider in the sport race captured his first 20 minutes on video, which was fun to watch. About 1 second into this video you can see my orange jersey on the far left side about two rows ahead of the camera. Enjoy.

You must do a lot of running

Saturday I participated in the USO Mud Run. It is a 5K cross country obstacle course race. I’ve never done an obstacle course race before, but I’ve run plenty of muddy trail races. I thought, I can run a good 5K, I love cross country, I love muddy races. The obstacles were the unknown here for me, but I figured I could probably do them as well as anybody else.

Making the event even more interesting was the heavy rainfall on Friday night, and continuing rainfall during the race. Without the rain the course probably would have been pretty dry except for the mud mountains. With the rain the entire course (except a gravel road section) was wet and muddy, and there were a few sections of deep water.

The ~900 participants started in three different waves. I was in the first wave with all other individuals. The other categories of participants were female teams, male teams, and co-ed teams. Each team had five members and they had to finish together.

As was typical in a road race, a handful of slower runners sprinted off the starting line to get a big lead for about 200 meters before slowing drastically. After working my way through them I was alone at the front with a high school aged boy.

We stayed together for the first half mile through the wet and muddy grass until we reached the first series of obstacles, about six mud mountains in a row. Each one started with about 20 meters of thigh-deep water, followed by a steep pile of dirt/mud we had to climb over and down, followed by another 20 meters of thigh-deep water. It was impossible to run through the water, we just had to walk quickly and hope our shoes didn’t get sucked off our feet by the mud at the bottom.

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Photo from here

Next there was a runnable section of shin-deep water for about 100 meters. After that was the easy section of the course, which was a long straight gravel road. I had a small gap on the other guy after the obstacles and I tried to open it up on this fast part of the course.

At the end of the road we had to make a sharp left turn and go down into a big steep ditch filled with water and back up the other side. I had to laugh. I was the first person of the day to reach this part of the course and as I made the turn one of the volunteers said to me, “Be careful. We actually have no idea how deep the water is.” So I used a bit more caution. It up to my chest and wide enough that I could have swam across.

Once up the hill there was a mud crawl where (I think) we were supposed to go under the flags strung across the mud pit. I don’t know for sure because nobody explained it before or during the race and I didn’t have anyone in front of me to watch.

The final mile had some more muddy cross country, a few more ditch/water crossings, and one more mud mountain. The final obstacle was a huge plastic tarp slip-n-slide. Which was great.

I finished 1st. It was a super fun race. I was done before the 2nd and 3rd waves even started, so I was able to go back out to watch (and film) a lot of the team participants, which was just as fun as running the race myself. The vast majority of the people there weren’t really competing, they were just there to have fun. And I can see the appeal of that. This was not the typical crowd you see at a road race. There were a lot more smiles here.

I ran another 5-6 miles after my race. After the Nth time I passed one of the race volunteers (before, during, and after the race), he says to me:

You must do a lot of running.

He had me pegged.

Spectating at the USA Cross Country Championships

The 2012 & 2013 USA Cross Country Championships took place in Forest Park, about 2.5 miles from my home. I knew about the 2012 race months in advance before completely forgetting to go. For 2013 I briefly entertained the notion of running the community (i.e. non-elite) race, but given the extremely short distance (4K) and my recent training (for a 50K), it wasn’t a great fit. Instead I walked over there today to watch the elite races.


The elite women ran 8K (5 miles), and multiple olympians were in the field.

Elite women start
The women start

Elite women
The leaders pulled away quickly

Shalane Flanagan leads Kim Conley
Shalane Flanagan and Kim Conley lead for the entire race

Deena Kastor
Deena Kastor in 3rd

Chase group
The chase pack

Shalane wins
Shalane wins

The race results are here.


The elite men ran 12K (7.46 miles). The announcers made sure to mention repeatedly there were 10 guys who had run a sub-28:00 10,000 meter race. A huge lead pack of about 30-40 runners stayed together through the first 4 laps of 6.

Elite men start
The men start

Elite men large lead pack
Big lead pack

Dathan Ritzenhein, Chris Derrick, and Matt Tegenkamp pull away
Dathan Ritzenhein, Chris Derrick, and Matt Tegenkamp pull away with 4K to go

Chris Derrick, Matt Tegenkamp, Dathan Ritzenhein lead on the last lap
Chris Derrick, Matt Tegenkamp, Dathan Ritzenhein lead on the last lap

Second Wind runner Jeff Kelly
Second Wind runner Jeff Kelly running with the elites

Derrick won, Ritzenhein took second, Tegenkamp took third. The race results are here.

Farmdale Trail Run

Melissa and I ran the 30 mile Farmdale Trail Run on Saturday near East Peoria, IL. We heard about this race just a couple weeks ago from our friend Chris, and since Melissa’s parents live nearby they were able to watch Will while she and I spent hours in the woods.

All the pieces had fallen into place for me. My training in the weeks leading up to the race was top notch. I had run personal best times on two of my favorite trails in the Saint Louis area without trying very hard. My heart rate was lower than ever for the pace I was running. I was running up hills with ease, thanks to the time spent on the Stairmaster. I was finally fully recovered from Howl at the Moon and I felt my fitness had even improved since then.

I had never run the trail before, so I didn’t know exactly how fast I would be able to go, but I made some educated guesses. As long as the trail wasn’t too hilly or technical I thought I had a realistic chance to average 8 minute miles to finish in 4 hours. And based on previous results, that should put me near the top of the field. It was a bit of an audacious goal for me, but, for the first time ever in a race of this distance on this sort of terrain, I felt I could back it up.


The rain began to fall lightly just minutes before the start of the race. The 30 mile race and the 10 mile race started together, while the 50 mile race had started 3 hours earlier. With the faster 10 mile runners and the slower 50 mile runners all on the trail together there was a bit of confusion as to what my place was at any given time. I started with a pack of 10 milers and by 4 miles in I had passed and left them all behind. The early miles were effortless. Despite the light rain the trail was in terrific condition. I finished the first 10 mile loop in 1:20, exactly on my desired 8 minute pace. Only 3 of the 113 10-mile runners were ahead of me. Old Rob (which was actually the young Rob) would have crashed and burned late in the race after pulling a stunt like this. But not today, I felt great.

I picked up some food and water and set back out. The rain was picking up and the trail was getting a bit muddy. Now that the 10 milers were off the course I asked a few 50 milers as I passed them if there were any 30 milers ahead of me. Most of them were just as confused as I was, but I had a strong suspicion there weren’t. I just hoped/assumed I was in the lead, but pretended I wasn’t.

Around 14 miles in I had to take off my (prescription) sunglasses because the sky was so dark. I simply wasn’t able to see the trail. And without my glasses everything was blurry, but this effect wore off a bit as I continued on. By this point it was absolutely pouring. I had to slow down around all the (numerous) turns to avoid sliding right off the trail. Then on the second half of the loop there were about 3 miles of trail that were covered in standing water, which slowed me down even more. I still felt great, but it was obvious I had no chance of making my time goal. With the trail in this condition I couldn’t have run a lap at that pace if it was the only lap I had to run all day.

I completed the second lap in 1:28, almost a full minute per mile slower than the first lap. And the trail kept getting worse from there. I picked up my headphones and listened to music for the third lap to try to keep me motivated. I started to get a little tired, but I still had plenty left in the tank. It was just all I could do to keep from falling over on the turns, or sliding on my ass down the frequent ravine traversals. I had slowed down a lot by now. With 2-3 miles left I picked up the pace and finished really strong.

I had been passing 50 milers the whole race and on my third lap I was passing 30 milers as well. I hadn’t seen Melissa yet, but I thought she probably wasn’t too far ahead. She’s not a highly experienced trail runner and she picked a hell of a day to gain experience. I exited the woods into the open field to head to the finish line and I saw her just ahead. I caught up and finished my third lap at the exact same moment she finished her second lap, 4 hours and 27 minutes after we began. She was in good spirits and was preparing to gut out one more lap on the trail in horrendous conditions (it just kept getting worse and worse all day).

A major award

As I was chatting with Melissa the race timer informed me I was the first 30 mile finisher. Huzzah. It was a long, hard, nasty (at times) race, but I felt really great and I ran well. Melissa went back out and did what needed to be done. It was not pleasant for her, but she showed some serious guts. In the meantime I changed into dry clothes and ate and drank everything in sight. I chatted for a while with a few old friends and made some new ones. Melissa finished a few hours later, happy the race was finally over.

Melissa finishes

She was worried that she would finish dead last, but she was right in the middle, 24th of 47 overall and 4th female. Pretty good for her first trail ultra.

Blowing It

A little over a week ago I raced the Veldrijden Columbia cyclocross race. My friend and teammate, Mark, did an excellent job organizing the event. I was in the Cat 4 (newb) race. Warming up before the start I got a pretty good idea what was in store for me… I was out of breath and I had to get off my bike to walk up a hill that was so muddy my tires just spun and I started to slide backwards when I tried to ride up it.

A last minute bathroom trip left me at the back of the pack of 30 or so riders for the start. Which is exactly where I didn’t want to be. The start of a cyclocross race is so important to one’s chances of success. I took off like crazy, passing several people, to get up into 12th or so place by the first turn. Then there was a fast section where I moved up a few more places before we hit the challenging parts of the course.

I handled my bike well and I remained patient. I would seize any opening I could find to pass somebody and move up a bit. There was one guy way off the front and nobody had a chance of catching up to him. By about halfway through the race, though, I had caught up with the chase group. My teammate Mike was in 2nd, some other guy was in 3rd, and I had moved up into 4th. It took a while, but I eventually passed the guy to move into 3rd. Then Mike and I opened up a bit of a gap. I passed Mike, he passed me back, then I passed him back. The longer the race went on the stronger I felt and the more I could see the other riders fading.

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With one lap to go in the 35 minute race I was in 2nd place and I started to pull away from Mike a bit. I took a few unnecessary risks and got away with them. Then I blew it. On a fast, muddy downhill section I lost control of my front wheel and went down hard, smacking my (helmet-protected) head on the ground. I slid to a stop and quickly moved my bike out of the way so Mike didn’t go over top of me. My first reaction (as is the case any time I’ve crashed on a bike) was that I was seriously injured. My head was killing me. My next reaction was damn, I just crashed out of the race with half a lap to go when I was in 2nd place. After wallowing in self pity for a few moments it occurred to me that nobody besides Mike had passed me yet–I was still in 3rd place. I was still in podium position. Was I really injured? Could I actually get back on my bike and ride half a lap?

I decided to try, just as I saw two more guys coming down the hill. I jumped on my bike to get out in front of them only to discover my chain had fallen off. Crap. I pulled over to the side to let them pass as I put the chain back on, then I took off behind them, but I was unable to catch back up. I held on to finish 5th place. My head hurt, but I wasn’t injured. My body was fine. My bike was fine.

Looking on the bright side, I had a really good race. I moved up from a long way back up into 2nd place. I stayed strong throughout the whole race while other riders were slowing down. I have the fitness. I just need to learn to ride my bike.

Gateway Cross Cup


Gateway Cross Cup snuck up on me this year. I was out of town at a conference in Chicago the weekend before the race. The Cat 4 race was 40 minutes. I hadn’t ridden a bike for 40 minutes in several weeks, let alone raced. But, whatever.


I took the afternoon off work and went over to Heman Park. It had rained heavily the entire day before the race and the course was ridiculously muddy. I was the last person to register for the race and was unfortunately placed at the very back of the pack for the start (last year I was in the front row). This made things difficult. I spent the entire race going slower than I needed to and trying to find the right place to pass people. I steadily moved up the whole time. I caught up with my teammate Mike with about a lap to go and passed him with half a lap to go. We finished 14th and 15th. I moved up through more than half the field, but I just started too far back to have a chance at a good result.

Cross Country

A couple hours after the bike race was the “5K” cross country run. This year it was only a half mile longer than advertised (last year it was a full mile longer). The turnout was even smaller than last year with just 9 starters. From the gun one guy took off and would never be seen again. I hung back in a small pack but broke free about a mile into the run. I ran the last 2.5 miles alone and finished in 2nd place. Just like last year. There was a payout for finishing 2nd that exactly covered my entry fees for both races, so I broke even on the day. Just like last year. I also received a bottle of Michelob Ultra, which I gave to Melissa.

More Cyclocross

I stuck around for the Men’s Open race, the Women’s Pro race, and the Men’s Pro race. It was a lot of fun to watch really good riders on the extremely sloppy course. Here’s a bunch of photos.

Quantum Mesa Cycles in the open race:





Pro race:








Forest Park Cross Country Festival

Back on September 8 I ran the Forest Park XC festival open race for the 3rd year in a row. This was the first race I ran after we moved to St. Louis. I improved a little bit over my first outing last year and I was hoping to improve a little bit more this year.

Forest Park XC Festival

The race is short and fast. It’s 4km in length (about 2.5 miles). This was the first race I ran after Howl at the Moon and it was quite a shock to the system to go from racing 8 hours to racing 14 minutes. I was totally unprepared. I took it easy for 3 weeks following Howl, then I did one moderately hard training run before this race. Somehow my Howl fitness carried me through. I finished in 6th place, but I ran the same course 17 seconds faster than last year (when I felt better prepared).

I’ll take it.

Digging Deep

Saturday was the big day. My “A” race for the summer, Howl at the Moon, an 8 Hour ultramarathon, took place just outside of my hometown of Danville, IL. Most races have a fixed distance and the fastest competitor wins. This is a timed race with a fixed duration and the competitor who covers the greatest distance wins. My wife Melissa and I registered for Howl immediately after the University City 10K and we’ve both been looking forward to it for months.

Bags packed

My training went well. I knew full well that temperatures regularly soared into the 90’s at Howl. So I trained for hours in the 100’s. I acclimated to the heat so much better than any previous summer it was almost a shame we had unseasonably cool weather on race day (60˚F at the start, low 80’s at the end). Almost a shame.

I didn’t sleep the night before the race. And by that I don’t mean “I didn’t sleep well,” I mean “I didn’t sleep at all.” The combination of a crying and kicking toddler, frequent trips to the bathroom, and good old fashioned nerves really did a number on me. My alarm went off before I had fallen asleep. Fuck it, let’s go run for 8 hours.

The course is a 3.29 mile loop with 3 aid stations. Each loop was about 40% grass trail, 40% gravel road, and 20% asphalt road. There was no rugged single-track trail. It was so cool and I was so fresh I opted to run the first lap without my water bottle… or food… or anything else. I wore shoes, socks, shorts, visor and carried nothing. After numerous long training runs carrying my phone, headphones, and all the food and water I could ingest, it was incredibly liberating to start the race with the bare essentials on a cool breezy morning.

I started very easy and just concentrated on relaxing into a comfortable pace. I’m going to be out here all day, I would think to myself. 8:30 for the first mile. Not absolutely fast, though perhaps a bit on the fast side for such a long run. Soon after the first mile I caught up with Don & Tim, two friends I used to run with in Champaign-Urbana. They’re both highly experienced, each a perennial top finisher in this race. I decided to stick with them for a while. Towards the end of the first lap we reached a short, somewhat steep hill (the only uphill section on the course). Many ultrarunners swear by walking up hills. I had been debating what to do about this, but since I was with two very experienced runners I decided to cue off them. They both walked, and therefore so did I.

At the end of the first lap I stopped at my tent to pick up my water bottle and take an electrolyte pill. I checked in at the scorer’s table and set off on lap number two. Don took a bit more time between laps than me and Tim took a bit less. I caught back up with Tim and ran the second lap with him before becoming separated again. Around this time I also met Travis Redden from the STL area. We recognized each other’s names from the SLUG email list, but we’d never met before. It was good to chat with him, but before long I was alone again, just enjoying the run.

5 laps in I saw Melissa for the first time. She was running with Eric, a friend we used to run with in Champaign-Urbana. They were just finishing their 4th lap.

I felt fantastic for the first 25 miles. Running was easy. I was probably still going a bit too fast, but the way I felt I’m not sure I would have saved any energy by slowing. I strolled past the marathon mark at 3h45m, the fastest marathon split I’ve ever had in an ultra, and this was to be my longest race yet. Just after the marathon point I caught up with two more friends from Champaign-Urbana. This was strange, I hadn’t seen them yet. And with good reason. They decided to sleep in and they were on their first lap. I was starting to labor a bit, but I kept the pace high for a little while longer while I chatted with them. I passed the 50K point around 4h25m. To put that in perspective, my last 50K race (on an admittedly much more difficult course) took 7h55m.

After 10 laps I knew something had to change. I wasn’t dead yet, but I was going downhill rapidly. My pace was just too fast and I still had too much time to go. I stopped at my tent for a full 5-6 minutes. I applied a fresh coat of sunscreen, I drank, I ate, I grabbed an ice-filled bandana to put around my neck to help me cool down. Finally, I grabbed my phone and headphones and started listening to music (for the first time ever in a race). I was in race mode up until that point, but if I was going to survive I needed to completely reset. The music (Jonathan Coulton) kept me relaxed and put a smile on my face. I slowed way down from 8:30 pace to 9:45 pace. I started over and pretended I was just stepping out the door to do a long training run.

Howl at the Moon

Coming into this race I had no idea how far I could go. I thought I would get 40 miles for sure and I would be quite happy to get 45 miles. My super secret goal was 50 miles. I knew that would be a tall order. 50 miles in 8 hours is one of those magic separating lines in running, like a 5 minute mile or a 3 hour marathon or a 24 hour 100 mile. Sure, elite runners will go much faster, but these lines separate great runners from good runners. I wasn’t cocky enough to count on accomplishing such an audacious goal on my first attempt, but I didn’t discount the possibility either.

The miles continued to pass. The running was no longer easy. I kept waiting to bonk or to cramp up, but those maladies never came. I was staying on top of my electrolyte pills to avoid the cramping and I was eating well at the aid stations to keep my energy up (surprisingly, grapes were my food of choice at the aid stations). Once I slowed down to my long training run pace I thought my chance to make it to 50 miles was gone. But I kept doing the math in my head and with each lap that passed it seemed more and more plausible. As long as I didn’t slow down. And that was the struggle. I was exhausted and the truly difficult part was was the mental aspect of forcing myself to keep running in that state. I could have stopped at any point. I could have walked. But the closer I got to my pie-in-the-sky goal of 50 miles, the more I wanted it… the more I could taste it… and the deeper I was able to dig to keep going.

After 12 laps I switched my playlist to something more uptempo (Less than Jake) and almost immediately I was back down to 8:30 miles. I didn’t want this to come down to the wire. Aside from the aid station breaks and walking up the hill, I was able to maintain that pace for three more laps. With one lap to go I didn’t even bother stopping at my tent to refuel. I was ready to get this over with. I finished 15 laps (49.35 miles) with 15 minutes to spare. Now it was time to run as many 0.5 mile out-and-backs as I could before the time ran out. I quickly added 0.75 miles, which put me over 50. After that I completely lost the will to keep going. And in the blink of an eye I was done. I walked the last 0.25 miles back to the finish line. I still had 5 minutes left, during which time I could have run another 0.5 miles, but I didn’t have it in me. It was over. 50.35 miles. Mission accomplished.

I sat on a park bench and guzzled water. Multiple people asked if I needed help, indicating to me I didn’t look so great. I walked back over to my tent and flopped onto the ground. Melissa (who finished with an amazing 40.48 miles in her first ultra) was there chatting with friends. Rather suddenly I started to get cold and shiver. Melissa said my face was pale and my lips were turning blue. Shit. They called the medics over to our tent and they started probing me while I laid down. I was actually feeling fine (well, aside from the shivering and being really damned tired). They covered me with some ice packs and strapped an oxygen mask onto my face for a few minutes. Meanwhile, people were started to gather around the tent to get a good look. They suggested IV fluids or maybe even a trip to the hospital. I really didn’t think that was necessary, I’ve been in much worse condition before. But I knew enough that if I was really as bad off as they seemed to think I was I probably didn’t have the best judgment. After a brief debate we decided against it and before long I was sitting up, shivers gone, crisis averted. I was back to normal within minutes.

My distance was good enough to tie for 9th place with… Tim. I hadn’t seen him since the first hour, but apparently he was clipping at my heals the entire race. And just as I was calling it quits I saw him go out for one more loop, which allowed him to match my distance. Ha!

Anyway, Melissa & I both had an incredible time at the race. I’m super glad we did it. This was my first timed race, and I have to say I liked the format. Knowing I was going to be out there running all day regardless of how fast I ran helped put me into the right frame of mind. I set a goal and pushed through previously-unimagined-to-me exhaustion to reach it (though, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I would have reached 50 miles in significantly hotter weather). The only downside is now that it’s over I have to decide where to go from here.

Gravois Kiwanis XC 5K

Last weekend I returned to the Gravois Kiwanis cross country 5K race at Jefferson Barracks County Park in south Saint Louis. You may recall I won this race last year. I won’t lie, I did have it in the back of my mind that I could win the race again. Despite my previous first place finish, I didn’t actually run that fast last year. And I think I’m in better shape now (even though I’m currently focusing on longer distances). So things looked good for me.

What worried me a bit last year was the large number of high school runners (which makes sense for a cross country race). The same was true this year. Though at the starting line I saw one runner who looked fast and overheard him say he was in college. Hmm.

I started a bit too slow and wound up at the back of a large pack of high schoolers (who typically start way too fast and slow down pretty quickly). I made my way around the pack only to find two runners off the front who were moving much faster. I settled into a swift pace and tried to work back up to them. Well, they continued to pull away. I had a reasonably good run and finished 3rd overall in 18:58, 40 seconds faster than last year. The college kid won and a high schooler finished 2nd. The two of them had a combined total age equal to mine.

And that was just the start. This race was two weeks out from Howl at the Moon and I needed to get one more long run in. So once I rehydrated after the race I continued running. I paused briefly for the awards ceremony, but I got going again after that. I finished the day with 20 miles. Now the taper can begin.

Race to your strengths

Or: The Great Egyptian Omnium

My cat 4 teammate Jason and I rode the Great Egyptian Omnium in southern Illinois last weekend. It was a good event that both of us enjoyed.

Road Race

We started the rolling 20 mile loop into a headwind, so it was pretty slow. Nobody wanted to be at the front. There were mostly teams of 1-3, except for one team with like 7-8. A few miles in the leaders finally started looking organized with a rolling pace line. I pulled when it was my turn and… nobody pulled through after me (I was at the end of the line). So much for organization.

When we turned back into the tailwind the pace picked up and the race split a few times, but nobody was willing to push the speed to take advantage of the splits. There were omnium points available at the end of the end of the first loop, but I didn’t go for it. I was hoping to save everything for the end of the race.

The second loop was much like the first, though the pack had thinned out a bit. There was a bit more cooperation and we were able to ride a bit harder into the wind. I was staying well hydrated. I had eaten reasonably well. I even took a few S!CAPS. I was feeling great when we turned to head back to the finish. A 40 mile road race with an uphill finish should suit me about as well as I could hope. Unfortunately reality hit me on the 3rd to last uphill section where I stood up to pedal and my quads cramped up really badly. Crap. I recovered over the next few miles. On the 2nd to last hill I stayed seated in the hope of avoiding cramping up, which worked. I lost my good positioning though. We quickly reached the final hill. I was able to stand and pedal. I passed a few people, but I started way to far back to have a good result. I finished 15th, with no omnium points.

Time Trial

We had a few hours to kill between the road race and the Time Trial. We ate some lunch, sat around in the shade (it was over 100˚F by this point), and prepared our bikes. When my start time approached I did a short warmup, which sucked. My quads were completely trashed from the road race. A semi-hilly time trial is normally my cup of tea, but I wasn’t looking forward to this.

The start was uphill. By the time I reached the top my quads were screaming. This is going to suck. Then the first downhill I hit 41 mph, which is a record on my TT bike. Suddenly everything was okay and I was flying. The rollers weren’t slowing me down. Before I knew it I turned into a cross-tailwind and I sped up even more. Finally, I turned onto the highway back into town and I was doing 37 mph on flat sections. I worked the uphills. It was so fast. I finished at the top of the hill in 18m55s for the 7.5 mile loop, which was good enough for 2nd place. I almost caught my 1-minute man, but I did catch the riders who started 2, 3, and 4 minutes ahead of me.

I misread the race information and I thought I would only get 2 omnium points for my 2nd place finish, so I thought I was completely out of contention for the overall win. Actually I received 12 points and I was in 4th place. I didn’t figure this out until after the crit the next day, at which point it no longer mattered.


The next morning I drove back to southern Illinois for the crit. I had to work on my bike before the race, after which I only had a few minutes to warmup. Oh well. The race was challenging, but not super-hard. I was able to move up and back through the field fairly easily. There were a couple of breakaways that never gained more than 5-10 seconds before the race would come back together. I was in pretty good position with half a lap to go, but I waited just a bit to long to sprint. I passed a bunch of people and finished 6th place, my highest placing yet in a cat 4 crit. I didn’t end up in the top 3 for the omnium.

A couple of my teammates who were racing later in the day came out early to watch me and we chatted a bit after the race. The race didn’t take that much out of me, and there were two more races I was eligible to ride, so (after some egging-on by my teammates) I registered for the Masters 30+ 4-5 race a couple hours later.

Crit #2

As soon as I came back to the team tent after registering for the second crit we began to talk strategy. It was a very interesting conversation that went something like this:

Me: I registered for the Masters/4/5 race.

BJ & Nick: So how are you going to win this race?

Me: Hmm, good question.

Them: But you are going to win, right?

At this point I’m thinking this is a bit absurd. I don’t win bike races. Running, sure. Triathlon, sure. Cycling, I’m just not as good. And a flat criterium is the type of race I am worst at.

Me: I suppose it depends who else is in the race.

Them: No, it doesn’t. Race to your strengths, not to your opponents weaknesses. What are your strengths? Can you sprint?

Me: Nope.

Them: But you can ride a good TT. You finished 2nd in the TT yesterday. There you go.

Me: Alright.

Them: Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to jump at two laps to go and you’re going to ride all out by yourself for the last two laps and you’re going to win. But you have to fully commit… so much so that if you get caught you can’t even finish with the group. Just leave it all out on the course.

I’ve never tried something like this before, so I was game to give it a go. I didn’t actually think it was going to work, but these guys know a lot more about bike racing than I do and, what the hell, what can it hurt to try. I already did the race I came here for, this is just a bonus.

The race was easy and I just sat safely in the pack the whole time. With 3 laps to go I started dropping back in the field. With two laps to go I jumped hard from the back of the field. By the time I passed the guys at the front I was going 10 mph faster than they were and they weren’t able to grab my wheel. I settled into TT mode and rode as hard as I could for 2.5 miles. I took all the corners so much faster by myself than I was able to in the big group. A few times I looked back. There were a couple half-hearted attempts to chase me down, but nobody wanted to ride at the front of the group. And by the time the realized they need to shut down my attack it was already too late.

As I rounded the final corner my teammates were going crazy. As soon as I heard one of them say “enjoy it” I knew I had won the race. I took a quick look behind and saw nobody. I sat up and pedaled across the finish line with my arms in the air. I never thought I’d win a bike race.

After my 2nd crit I stayed around to watch my teammates in the cat 3 race where my teammate Keith won from a long (8 laps) solo attack. Mike & Nick finished 3rd and 4th from the main field. Then was the 1/2/3 race where Mark finished 2nd in a field sprint. So we all had a good day.

Keith wins

Keith wins the cat 3 race

Photo finish

Mike & Nick finish 3rd & 4th in a photo finish

Mike and BJ leading the race

Mike & BJ lead the 1/2/3 race

Mark goes for the sprint

Mark narrowly finishes 2nd