Friday, October 5, 2007

Mountain Bike Training Camp

As some of you may know, I am competing in an endurance mountain bike race in South Africa next April, called the Cape Epic. There will be 500 teams of two. After the 1st day, which is a team time trial to determine the starting lineup, you race for 8 days straight. The race is over 500 miles long in total distance, and the shortest of the 8 race days is 46 miles, while the longest is 82 miles. The shortest amount of elevation gain in one day is over 4,200 feet, and the most elevation gain in a day can reach 9,000 feet! The rules are simple: You have 10 hours to complete each stage (day) of the race. You must stay within 2 minutes of your teammate at all times. If you don't complete any stage of the race, you are disqualified. If you miss the 10 hour cutoff limit once, you are deemed a "non-finisher" and are allowed to restart the next day. After a second missed cutoff time, you are disqualified and are not allowed to continue on. Needless to say, my teammate and I are hoping to just complete the race and be official finishers of one of the hardest mountain bike races on the planet.

You can imagine that this race will require quite a bit of preparation. My teammate for the race, Rou (who is from South Africa and owns a Safari Tour Company called Pioneer Africa) is now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico and has been riding and training in the unfair elevation of at least 7,500 feet. Being that we must ride together for the entire race, we decided that it was time to get together and do some training to see where we each stand. I've been training in a hot, humid, tropical climate on a tiny island with a maximum elevation of 1,500 feet. He's been training in the mountains of New Mexico in cool, dry air. Who has the advantage and who has to pick up his training regimen? Well, that's what these next two weeks are all about! I flew into New Mexico on October 1st, and will be flying out on the 17th, giving us over two weeks of quality training time. Our one goal that we discussed on the way to his house from the aiport was straightforward: Ride Every Day! Shouldn't be too hard for two guys who love mountain biking and have a very pressing need to ride. (The less preparation you go into the race with, the more it's going to hurt!)

I wanted to share a bit about some of the rides we've been going on so far, and also try to demonstrate for anyone out there willing to watch some videos, why mountain biking is one of my passions. Why would someone possibly want to pedal literally thousands of feet uphill on a dirt trail or road for thousands of feet? Well, the challenge of it is one aspect. There's nothing that feels as good as getting to the top of a really difficult climb ... except the great reward you've earned: The ride down! And going down isn't always as easy as it seems. On long downhills you often are dealing with fatigue (from the climb) and technical single-track descents with a lot of obstacles that you have to navigate, jump, and avoid. It requires great concentration and the ability to relax and trust your bike's suspension and wheels to do their job, which is very hard to do sometimes when you are going over 20mph and there are trees, rocks, drops, and streams to avoid on a trail that's only a few feet wide! But it's one of the greatest rushes in the world! Hopefully you'll be able to get a taste of that from some of the videos.

The rides in this post are right here just outside of Santa Fe. On Monday we are going to spend a week in the car and are heading up to a few of the great mountain bike Mecca's of the US, namely, Durango, Colorado (home to some of the mountain bike legends), Fruita/Grand Junction, Colorado, and Moab, Utah. Until then, it's all about the trails around Santa Fe, and I must say that they are some of the best I've ridden. For example, the trail we rode today, from the Santa Fe Ski resort to Santa Fe, is definitely what I would call and "epic" ride. A distinction not a lot of rides get!

So I arrived here on Monday, and on Tuesday we took both our bikes into Rou's LBS (Local Bike Shop, for those of you who don't speak mountain bike). The shop is called Mello Vello and is right in Downtown Santa Fe. The owner Dave is a really great guy: very professional and a fantastic mechanic. He gave our bikes (2007 Ibis Mojo's) a checkup and some TLC and we had them back that afternoon for our first ride. If you are ever in Santa Fe and looking for a bike to rent or advice on local trails, check this shop out. There's a group of guys who ride from the shop at 5pm every Tuesday evening for a weekly group ride.

So off we went on the Tuesday group ride, this one was right from the shop and up to a trail called the Dale Ball trail. Rou and I both have these handy gizmos we bought so we could track and compare our training, so if you click here you can see everything about the ride: time, distance, speed, elevation, my (fast) heart rate, even a map of the course we took. It was a short ride ... just over an hour, 12 miles. But we managed to get in over 1,600 feet of climbing on the undulating up and down course. It was a lot of fun riding with the group, and it felt like we were a bunch of kids riding dirt bikes as we practiced jumps (for a video camera of course!) and rode through the streets of the city going down back alley shortcuts with steep staircases. Nothing like a reminder of why you love to ride! I managed to get caught in my pedal going around a tight hairpin at one point in the ride and my bike and I both went tumbling down a short hill, causing a huge "log jam" behind me as I had somehow managed to get to the front of the pack of 11 guys that were riding! Here's a picture of me looking plum tuckered out after a climb at 8,000 feet elevation and only 18 hours after I arrived from my 27 hour journey.

On Tuesday we rode the Rail Trail, which is a very cool 13 mile long trail that runs from Rou's house in El Dorado right into Santa Fe.
It follows an old rail line and has some beautiful desert scenery, some fun little jumps, and couple sections of really fast, tight, swoopy single track. It's not a bad way to get into town! So we dropped our bikes off at the shop for a few final things that we needed to have done and then caught a ride home with Rou's wife Mary.

By Wednesday Rou had decided that I was fully acclimatized to the altitude (it takes normal people more like a month... he must think I'm super-human...) so we drove up to 9,600 feet where my light head and I began our first big ride, 30 miles and over 2 hours, though much of it was downhill. The ride was the Winsor Trail from Big Tesuque to Little Tesuque. Here's a profile of the ride. As you can see, it was pretty much straight downhill for the first 9 miles! This is 9 miles of downhill singletrack, some of the best I've ever ridden. It was fast and smooth in parts, but very challenging and technical in others. We took a breather at the end of the first big descent and I just couldn't stop laughing and grinning it was such a blast to ride down. It's been a long time since I've ridden a trail like that. Here's what the HUGE grin on my face looked like (I took this picture to remind myself of what pure joy looks like!

And here's a short video clip of one of the 14 stream crossings at the lower portion of the trail:

On Thursday we did another big ride, this time with a bit more climbing. We went for nearly 3 hours, 25 miles, and climbed over 3,300 feet. To some of the crazy bikers out there, that might not sound like THAT much climbing... but we rode from the Aspen Vista Trailhead, at 9,700 feet, to the Radio Towers/Santa Fe Ski Resort the top of which is 12,050 feet above sea level!
When I reached to top of the mountain, up past the ski lifts and the radio towers, I checked my GPS and it registered 12,050 feet, higher than I've ever been on a bike. I jumped off my bike and let out a huge WOOOO HOOOOOOOO! Then I promptly had to put my hands on my knees because I felt like I was going to pass out from the thin air! I turned to Rou and said, "LET'S GO! NOW!" I didn't want to stay up there and experiment with how well I had acclimatized to the high elevation! It probably didn't help that my heartrate was up over 160bpm. It was interesting because Rou's heartrate was consistently lower than mine was at the higher elevations, but very similar at the lower elevations, indicating that all his training at high elevation has increased the hemoglobin in his blood to help transport more oxygen to his muscles, whereas my muscles were screaming for oxygen and my heart was pumping its darndest to get it there!

So after climbing over 2,000 feet in just 5.5 miles, we descended FOUR THOUSAND FEET in 8 miles!! The first four miles was a gravel access road, leaving four miles of single track downhill bliss! The night before we had discussed trying to film some video of the Winsor Trail, since it is such an amazing ride. So we managed to build a helmet mount for my Canon Powershot digital camera out of a tripod stand and a helmet mount for a bike light. This is the alien-looking configuration that we came up with:

Now that you've stopped laughing, I'll try to continue. By the way, the funny orange sunglasses increase the contrast to help you see the trail when you are riding in the shadows of the trees. I know the camera mount looks funny, but it WORKS! Here's a picture of Rou I took while riding uphill, without stopping. I just reached up, hit the power button and then snapped the photo:

So not only was this an epic ride in terms of the trail, but you can see that it was absolutely beautiful with a forest of Aspens all turning color now that Fall is upon us.

So here is one of the videos I made of the big descent. I'm learning right now how to splice the 7 separate videos we took during the descent together... and to convert them to a size that's under the 100MB upload limit! Look for it in my next post!


Bev said...

You can imagine the look on my face when you actually updated your blog. **applause** I couldn't stop laughing at your contraption sitting on top your helmet! How crazy and clever you are! Atleast I know what your mtn. bike rides are like. Happy that you are having a blast out there!

CNMI Blogger said...

What an adventure! Would you send this in to the local papers? I bet they would appreciate running a series on your adventure. They did that for my friend Pete Perez, who swam across the English Channel with his family last month or so. This is so interesting and exciting to read. I felt I was right there with you.

I think I watched this same race or something similar to it on one of those sports channels. Anyway, lotsa luck to you and Rou. We'll be rooting you guys on here in the CNMI.

With your training so intense, I'll know now not to bother you to comment on the bill we were working on before you left. LOL!


John Dax said...

You do need to bug him, Cinta. Gregorio needs to know that he is still needed here so maybe he'll stay a little longer.