Saturday, April 02, 2011

And the next day, it was summer

Bike shorts, short-sleeve shirt, sunglasses, 70 ounces of water, SPF 45 — all things I needed for my first "recovery" ride following the White Mountains 100. It was 86 degrees in Los Altos, California. Sweat beaded on my arms and streamed down my face as I pedaled up Steven's Creek Canyon. Even the thick green tree canopy seemed to provide only weak shade beneath a blazing sun. I squinted at the electric blue sky with the same kind of excitement and trepidation that many Alaskans feel during the first snows of October: "Six more months of this? Really?"

Yes, I already miss Alaska. Flying over Denali on Wednesday morning, I felt a tinge of homesickness when I realized that for the first time since I left, I have no solid plans to return to the state. Perhaps Juneau in June? For now, it's time to gear up for the long summer. There are places I want to mountain bike, local trips I want to plan, and of course I need start training for the Tahoe Rim 100. That's my next planned race, in mid-July, although I suspect there will be several 50K training races and possibly even a 24-hour-solo mountain bike race thrown in as well. I'm excited to start running again. I actually miss doing it on a regular basis, and I still have so much to learn now that snow-running is over and heat and hills are replacing it.

Recovery from the White Mountains 100 is going well. I struggled a bit on Thursday when it was 86 degrees and I had a few symptoms from a post-race cold, but today I went back out at 63 degrees and felt really strong for the duration of a 10-mile, 2,700-foot climb, and even better on the descent. I'm very pleased that I have no post-race knee pain, which I expected given my light bike training and the fact I had knee issues for nearly a month following last year's race. I think a lot of the credit for my lack of post-race soreness goes to the Fatback. Despite that fact it's Beat's bike (it still is), the Fatback fits me quite well. It rides more comfortable and feels more natural than my Pugsley. The Pugsley was a fantastically innovative bike when I purchased it in 2007, but the Fatback designers really improved on the fat bike geometry with a symmetrical design and sloping top tube. I'm also a big fan of the carbon fork. I compare the Pugsley to driving a diesel truck while the Fatback is more like a regular car — that is, more agile and maneuverable. This isn't to say I'm selling my Pugsley. As long as snow biking remains only a distant recreation possibility, I don't see any need to upgrade. (Plus, well, Pugsley and I have just been through so much together.) But as long as Beat stays interested in snow-running, I'll probably continue racing with his Fatback.

As I've said before about my gear, I carried too much. No need to dwell on it. As for what I used, I started the race with a massive foot system that included liner socks, vapor barrier socks, winter boots and overboots (in my opinion, feet can't be too warm.) I wore wind-tights and soft-shell pants (neither can legs), and vented through my upper body by wearing only a base layer and a Gortex shell that I unzipped in varying degrees to vent heat. I also had a balaclava/hat that I removed frequently. When it got colder at night, I added a fleece balaclava and gloves. That was the only extra clothing or gear I used. Yeah, I could have carried everything I actually needed in a Camelback. But, like I said, no need to dwell on it. There is of course good reason to be prepared, but I don't think being over-prepared is the smartest course of action. If I get into the White Mountains 100 next year, I hope to develop a "smart" kit based more on reality than the absolute worst-case-scenario.

People have asked me how riding a bike in the White Mountains 100 compared to running the Susitna 100. My reply has been that they really don't compare. They were night-and-day experiences — quite literally, since the Susitna 100 took an often-gruelling 41 hours and the White Mountains 100 was a fairly comfortable 18 (with the exception of the 2.5-hour grumpy bonk thrown in to keep me honest.) Cold weather was a big factor in the Susitna 100 and a non-issue in the White Mountains 100 (I had a thermometer on my bike that I occasionally checked, and would guess the temperatures ranged from 10 degrees to 34 degrees with light winds during the WM100.)

I feel satisfied with the effort I put into the White Mountains 100 — I gave it everything I had on those climbs and without serious intensity training wouldn't have the strength to go harder. With more snow biking practice I could improve my descents. But all in all I had a great race, and think it would have been perfect with a little tweaking in the nutrition department. I appreciate that my winter was capped with dynamic challenges. I think it's good to have a well-rounded mixture of goals — intense and soul-crushing like the Susitna 100, and fast and fun like the White Mountains 100. I suspect the Tahoe Rim Trail will be more like the former, so I hope to find a light-hearted mountain bike race to round it out (24 Hours of Light, anyone?)

For now, I have a long summer in front of me. It's going to be tough, but I plan to do what I can to enjoy it.