Sunday, 22 September 2019

Merida MTB Marathon - From Heaven to Hell in a minute

Merida MTB Marathon is a race that really suits me. It's 103km long and full of gravel roads and flowy single track. It's quick: 26-27km/h average speeds for the best.

I switched my rear tire from Racing Ralph 2.25" to Thunder Burt 2.1" the evening before the race to make the bike extra easy rolling. In front I kept the Racing Ralph 2.25" that was already mounted. I upped the air pressure about 0,1 bars over my usual to 1.6 up front and 1.7 in the rear.

I was really looking forward to the race. I rode it a few times when I first started racing mountain bikes and had some great results. The race is BIG in Denmark and all the best racers take part. I rode my last Merida in 2014 but then when the Swedish Marathon Cup got it's ninth race, Västgötaloppet, it always collided with Merida Marathon so from 2015 o 2018 I always rode the Swedish race instead. Now, in 2019, Västgötaloppet is no more so I got to ride Merida again.

Today's race was in brilliant sunshine, even though it was a bit chilly in the morning.

Things went great. We started with a group of about 30 riders up top. The bunch gradually got smaller until there were just eight of us left. I could see the winner from last year, Rene, in our group. Also Henrik Söeberg and Henrik Ahlbäck were with us. The pace was brutal (that's how the other 20+ riders were dropped) and the front guys just kicked ass all the time. I hung on to the tail and got a really good ride. I was thinking: "Wow! I'm in the top-10 of this huge race. This will be a great way to finish the 2019 season".

Then, at about halfway through the race Henrik Ahlbäck rolls up next to me and says that my rear tire is spraying pink Muc-Off tubeless fluids. He says that it stinks and that he's not going to be on my wheel anymore because he's getting it all over himself. I look down and notice that he's right. My spirits drop. I hang on to the group for a few more minutes but then the tire deflates completely.

I get off the bike, inflate it with CO2, and pray for the Muc-off tubeless fluid to seal the hole. It does briefly, I get on the bike. My group is long gone but I continue and go quite easily waiting for someone to catch up. A guy does catch up and we up the pace again... The tire holds air for about 2-3 km and then deflates again.

I start getting pissed off at this point but think: No, I won't let this get me down. This is an excellent time to practice using my puncture strips. I get the tool out, put a strip in, inflate with my second CO2 container (I always carry 3 CO2 containers with me). Again it holds for a while and then the tire deflates completely again.

At this point I decide that I'm going to abort the race. But I've gone almost 50km from the start and I need to somehow get back to my car. Okay, time to put in the spare tube. I get the rear wheel off and start to unscrew the tubeless valve... But it won't budge. I spend about 30-40 minutes trying to get it off and get the bolt about halfway off but then it won't go any further. I give up. I've completely shreddded botth my thumbs trying to unscrew the bolt. I'm bleeding from underneath both thumb nails. I also have pink tubeless fluid everywhere.

I hike to the nearest tech zone which luckily turns out to be just a kilometer away. I wish I had known this before I started with all the mechanics. I find a Swedish family who kindly give me a ride back to my car.

Imagine: I was int he lead group for half the race and manage to have the worst possible turn of events. Sometimes MTB just isn't all that much fun.

I've had problems with Muc-Off's tubeless fluid all year. This is the first year that I use it. I always used Stan's before. I think that this ends my experiment with Muc-Off: I'm going back to Stan's.

Also I'm very dubious whether I'm going to use Thunder Burt tires any more...

Thursday, 19 September 2019

One Weekend - Two Races

This weekend I had two races to chose from: Saturday was the last race in the Hotcup series (2 hours + lap) . Saturday my personal favorite: Snapphaneturen (60km).

Now typically as I love Snapphaneturen, and it's a long race, under normal circumstances I would prioritize that race and not do the Hotcup at all. A Hotcup weekend race is after all 2 hours+ long and it does affect the performance if racing the next day. This year however there had been a lot of rain all week and I knew that Snapphaneturen was going to be slippery and muddy and I don't perform well  under those circumstances. That made me decide to do both races as the Hotcup race would be in one of my favorite places: Tisvilde forest in Denmark. Also Saturday was looking sunny and the terrain in Denmark was dry.

I did prepare for a weekend of two races by cutting down on my training during the week. I did a single session of 9x9min. The TSS (Training Stress Score) graph of my week ended up looking like this:

So how did it all turn out? The Hotcup race was great: Sunny meaning I could use short bibs and jersey. The trails were dry and quick. I was fighting for fourth place but had a crash on the second to last lap and finished sixth in the end.

In this race I had my usual Thunderburt 2.1" in the rear for easy rolling.


What about Snapphane the next day? I switched to Racing Ralph 2.25" in the rear. This turned out to be an excellent idea. I didn't feel too shabby or tired funnily enough.  However the terrain was slippery and difficult to ride. I didn't manage to hang with the really quick guys, Daniel Grass and Robert Eliasson, who finished second and third. But I managed to stick with the next group containing my old pals Stefan Larsson, Jerry Olsson and Martin Wenhov for most of the race, only letting them go towards the end. I ended up 15th overall in the race (no age categories).

Comparing heart rate graphs between the first and second race is interesting.



Rested I had a much higher heart rate at Hotcup compared to Snapphaneturen. Also the more flowy terrain and dry tracks of Hotcup meant I could push harder and more continuously and that also probably led to a higher heartrate.



Saturday, 14 September 2019

Bockstensturen - The longest race 100k

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 (2019) Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar / Thunder Burt 2.10 1.6 bar

Result: 7rd place in M40 (27th overall)

Bockstensturen, at 100km, is the longest race in the Swedish Marathon Cup ("Långloppscupen"). You'd think that it's also the quickest one so that the 100k would pass quickly, but it's not. It tends to take me around 4 hours to get around the course. This means an average speed of about 25km/h which is about in the middle for the races in this cup. It's a tough one. I've had some bad experiences here. Usually from going out too hard from the start.

Bockstensturen is also the first Marathon MTB race that I ever competed in. This was back in 2011.

Here are my results over the years:

Year   M40 plac.  Overall  Time
2012   30         ??       4h10m
2013   26         83       3h58m
2014   5          28       4h02m
2015   12         55       4h32m
2016   7          31       4h04m
2017   10         44       4h01m
2018   DNF
2019   7          27       4h06m

I think that objectively speaking I did my best ever Bockstensturen this year. I did place better in my cat in 2014 but my overall placing was better this year. Considering they had added a bunch of new singletrack to the track this year the time is probably my best ever as well.

How did it all go down then?

As always with Bockstensturen it's important to hang with the quick boys for the first easy part of the race. This is the 17km going out of Varberg and towards the forest. It's all asphalt and gravel roads / double track. We averaged 34km/h this year but then it was rather windy and blowing headwind / sidewind. I did manage to hang on to the tail of the lead group for this first part.

Going into the forest and the first few climbs I dialed back on my effort. I've had many bad races at Bockstensturen by going out hard and I had decided that I wasn't going to have another one. I could see Daniel Grass power ahead in front going away from me. On the second climb Robert Eliasson and Stefan Carlsson caught up and we formed a group.

Stefan Carlsson was going really quickly and Robert did his best to stay on his wheel. I thought that the pace was a bit too high at this early stage but I just couldn't let them get away. It would've felt like a failure. Stefan did get away from us anyway and left me and Robert with a group of perhaps 5-6 other cyclists.

After a while we had dropped the rest of the guys and it was just me and Robert. Then I had to let go off Robert's wheel on a tricky downhill. I saw him not too far ahead of me on the following gravel roads but I didn't want to push it to catch him. I was thinking that if he wanted me to join then he would slow down and allow me to catch up. When he didn't I slowed my pace to allow a couple of guys coming up from behind to catch up.

During today's race I would catch a number of cyclists who were not having a good day (and who are usually faster then me). During the first half of the race I caught, Henrik Öijer, Erik Mattelin and Viktor Ludvigsson, all elite guys, who were going much slower than usual. I also ended up catching Daniel Grass after a while. He wasn't looking fresh either.

During the second half of the race I had a three man group: An M30 guy and an elite guy. We helped eachother along nicely and had good cooperation. I did notice for the last 30k of the race that I was on the verge of cramping up but things went well anyway. I caught and passed an M40 guy in the last third of the race as well.

I finished the race in seventh place and I was very happy with that result. In a hypothetical M50 race I would've finished in third place.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Outdoor Sydfyn - The Perfect Race

Bike: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 (2019) Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar / Thunder Burt 2.10 1.6 bar

Result: 3rd place in M40

Outdoor Sydfyn MTB is one of my favorite races. The reason is that the track is bloody fantastic. For a marathon it's a technical track with almost all singletrack, except for the transport section to and from Faaborg (the city where the race starts). You can clearly see its technical nature by observing the low average speed: well below 20km/h. If this was a typical Swedish marathon the average speed would be somewhere around 25km/h or higher due to tons of gravel road sections.

The race is a bit of a drive away in Denmark, and not on the closest island from us Swedes either but another island further away. Luckily I had my young pal Emanuel with me to keep me company. He's really quick and has a great future ahead of him as a cyclist but he hasn't done a lot of marathons yet so I'm trying to coach him a bit.

I had participated in this race on two prior occasions: in 2016 when I came fifth, and then last year when I was in a good position with just a few kilometers to go but managed to take a wrong turn at a crossroads and didn't notice before crossing the finish line.

The layout of the race is pretty simple:
There's a bit of asphalt and gravel roads leaving Faaborg. Then three laps of a track which can be divided into two sections:

  1. Up and down grassy hills
  2. Tight singletrack on built trails with trees and stubs swishing by your handlebars.

We did the long version of the race, "Den Grusomme", so we had three laps to do of this track.
Then back to Faaborg on some gravel roads mixed with singletrack.

It was a warm day and I was expecting about 3 hours of race time. I had set out an extra bottle on the track. The funny thing is I ended up drinking just the bottle I had on the bike (900ml) and that worked out great. I always do finish 500ml of sports drink in the hour leading up to race start so I'm properly hydrated and energized.

I lined up on the front row of the grid and as the race started we all went out in joint formation. After a few kilometers we can to the first climb and here the pace got frantic. I managed to stay with the lead group of perhaps 10 riders as we got to the first lap of the track.

Going up and down on the grassy hills we got a bit split up but then as we entered the tight singletrack section I could hear riders starting to bunch up behind me. Yeah, these tight twisty trails are not my strong suit. Trees and branches are mere centimeters away from the handlebars and there are hidden roots and tree stubs which are just waiting to get stuck on your pedals.

As we got back out on the open grassy hills with the steep climbs I managed to leave the other riders that had caught me behind again and there was just one guy still holding my wheel. We stuck together for the second lap of the track actually talking quite a lot. I knew him from Beskidy Trophy this year so it was quite a social thing to ride and race at the same time.

Just at the start of the second lap I had a first-ever: I bee stung me on my ankle. I actually felt the sting, looked down, and saw that it had stung me through my sock. I brushed it aside. It did ache quite a lot for about 15 minutes and I did worry a bit about it swelling up. But nothing happened and the pain passed. (The ankle was still swollen 48 hours later)

At the start of the third lap I upped the pace just a little bit and he dropped back. I ended up riding the third and last lap alone. The funny thing with these kinds of tracks is that I get quicker and quicker for each lap as I get used to the terrain and relax more and more.

After the end of the last lap there was just the transport section of about 10km going back into Faaborg. My legs felt really fresh and the body was in on it so I pushed hard even though I could see no one coming up from behind. What did happen is that I started to catch some riders. I caught up with and passed two riders and sped by them quickly in order not to give them a wheel. Nearing the finish I could see that I had almost caught another rider and I started sprinting to catch him. At this exact time however he looked behind, saw me, and sped up. I almost caught him but finished 9 seconds behind putting him in second place and me in third.

I waited for Emanuel a long time after crossing the finish line and when he didn't turn up I started to worry a bit. Then, one hour after I had finished, I saw him in the starting area. He was very wobbly on his legs and I got him a chair so he could sit down. It took a few minutes and then he puked his entire stomach contents out. Emanuel had not had a good day. He did recover quickly however and before leaving we got to enjoy some home made ice cream together.

Ice cream with Emanuel after the race

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Finnmarksturen aka Swedish XCM Champs - Run over, run down, and crashed

Trek Top Fuel 9.9 (2019) Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar / Thunder Burt 2.10 1.6 bar

Result: 11th place in M40

HOT, it's damned HOT!

Yeah, it was hot. Already arriving at the hotel on the evening the day before the race it was hot. And it got even hotter on race day. I don't really have a problem with hot races, just as long as I get enough to drink. I placed out two bottles halfway through the race. I thought I would probably need one extra bottle as I was expecting to race for about 3 hours.

The race, Finnmarksturen, is a regular  part of the Swedish Marathon Cup ("Långloppscupen"). This year they got the extra honors of also hosting the Swedish XCM Champs. The course had been extended from the regular 72 km to 80 km, mostly ny adding singletrack.

I was in good spirits: I knew my form was good. I had actually done my race-prep the day before by taking three Strava KOMs. Maybe a bit too hard though for the day before a race? I was about to find out...

Uphill start

I managed to find a good spot on the grid and as the race started I managed to stay with the leading group all the way up the starting climb and until we veered into the first singletrack segment. I remember from 2017, when I last did this race, that I had lost touch with the leaders before getting to the top of this first climb.

There was some gravel road after this where things settled down and I was able to look around: The usual suspects were there: Robert Eliasson and Stefan Carlsson. After a while we also caught up with Daniel Grass. This were looking a lot like a repeat of the previous weekend's race in other words.

Run off the track and crashed

At about 25 km into the race we were going downhill on narrow singletrack with a bunch of roots. I was in the middle of a group of perhaps 10 riders. I had let a small gap of perhaps 5 or 10 meters develop to the rider in front of me. All of a sudden a rider start trying to pass me from behind but there's not enough room for him to get by. His passing on the left but his handlebars get tangled up with mine and we both go down. I hit my left leg rather hard and I'm unable to get up or even push my back out of the way. He gets up and keeps going without even saying "sorry". I take a couple of minutes to let the pain pass. Then I start inspecting the bike. The front wheel has rotated 180 degrees and the brake levers are all twisted. I manage to get everything sorted and get back on the back. Two or three groups have passed. My mood is rotten, I'm pissed off, and my motivation to perform well has just disappeared. I think about aborting the race but decide to go on for a while and see what happens.


I find a new group to join and we go past the halfway point of the race into the second loop which consists of a number of climbs. I still feel unmotivated but at this point I decide that I'm going to finish the race. The problem here, when my mood turns bad, is that I get sloppy with taking my gels and picking up my spare bottle. I decide to get by on the bottle that I have and just pick up the extra drinks that we get at the feeding stations. This turns out not to be quite enough and towards the end I'm all out of water and REALLY thirsty in the blazing heat.

Overtaking on asphalt

Going up the lats climb (Leo's hill) I pass three M40 cyclists and feel good about that. However just after there's some rough terrain and they manage to catch up and pass. With 4 kilometers left we get out into a short asphalt section. I decide to go all-in here and blast past all three riders so quickly that they're note even able to take my wheel. I pass the finish line in 12th place in M40. I guess I've done what I could with a bad situation. Daniel Grass (who I was with when I crashed) places 5th in M40, Robert Eliassson comes in 10th place.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Engelbrektsturen - Good form!

Trek Top Fuel 9.9 (2019) Racing Ralph 2.25 1.5 bar / Thunder Burt 2.10 1.6 bar

Result: 8th place in M40

Quick decisions before the race started

I changed the rear tire at the beginning of the week and mounted a Schwalbe Thunder Burt 2.10" Snakeskin. This is the lightest and most easy-rolling tire that I have. It fits this race as it's mostly gravel road. I had done two training sessions with this setup and the tire held pressure well.

Arriving at the race in the morning with  my travelling companion Daniel Grass there was plenty of time to warm up and then put my bike in the box an hour before the start. I decided to ride the gravel road part of the start of the race that leads to the first climb. I had done about 4 kilometers of my warmup when I heard a hissing sound from my rear tire. I stopped and had a look. Air was leaking out of a hole in the center of the track and I saw pink tubeless fluid squirting out. However as soon as the pressure dropped a bit the leak sealed itself.

Quick decisions were on order. As I saw it I had two options: Either throw in a tube or inflate and hope for the best. I decided to go back to the car, fill the tire with a bit more tubeless fluid and then inflate it back to 1.6 bars to see if it held. Good thing we got the the place early!

There was a bit of bubbling when I inflated the tire again but it held air. I put my bike in the box and checked it just before the start and still no leak. So... things were under control... or were they?

Getting splashed

The race started... we were on the gravel road... And after 3 kilometers I feel my calves getting splashed by something. For a brief moment I wondered if it had started raining. I looked down: Pink tubeless fluid all over my legs. I wondered how it must've looked to the cyclists behind me. I'm guessing they were getting splashed too. Still, as before, the leak sealed itself as soon as the air pressure in the tire had dropped just a little bit. I kept going and the tire felt normal... no strike through or weird behaviour in the corners.

Here I'm thinking: I'll ride until I start feeling the tire bottoming out over roots or rocks and then I'll stop and inflate it using CO2. This is a bit of a stressful way to do a race however as all the time you're thinking: Is my rear wheel behaving normal? Did I just have a strike through? Did it was out in that last corner? Everything seemed okay however.

First and second climb

Engelbrektsturen has two climbs following eachother 4 km into the race. I like climbs so here I go all in. As per usual the first bit of the uphill I'm pretty much going as fast as everyone else but about halfway up people around me get tired and I start advancing. I pass Robert Eliasson at some point (there's this great photo of both of us going up the climb)

I also pass the M50 dominant Stefan Carlsson who I will be racing against next year when I also join that age category. He tends to be a slow started but when he gets going he's unbeatable.

At the top of the second climb I've left a big group of riders behind me and I see two lone riders ahead of me. I quickly sprint up to them and we form a group of three. However there's no will to go hard here and soon we're joined by the group that's chasing us.

Fast Forward

Engelbrektsturen is an incredibly quick race. Mostly gravel roads. Sure, some singletrack, but even that's really quick and flowy. During the race I was thinking that it almost felt like watching a video in fast forward.

Our group catches up with Daniel Grass and three other riders quite quickly and so we grow a bit more. I think there were probably around 20 of us at this point. Daniel has been doing really good this year with several podium finishes in M40 so I'm thinking that the fact that we caught him (and have Eliasson and Carlsson with us) means that I'm probably in a good position.

In a messy section we catch Erik Mattelin, who races in the Elite category, and usually is much quicker, but seems to be having some problem with his bike. The problem is that Robert, Daniel and a few other riders manage to get around him while I and the rest of the group behind me, get stuck. After I manage to pass Mattelin I go all in in order to catch the runaways and manage to do so on the next climb. Legs feel great and I fly up the incline!

I'm still unsure about the status of my rear tire but I feel no strikethroughs. In a messy section with about 12 km to go I have to let Eliasson, Carlsson and a couple of riders go again because I'm unable to take the turns quickly (could be my rear tire was washing out a bit there). Daniel is stuck behind me and politely asks if I can let him pass. I tell him there's no way as it's just too narrow. He jokingly says that I'll have to walk back home after the race (we had taken his car north).

After this messy section, going back on the gravel road, I pull hard in order to catch up again and also because I have a slightly bad conscience for holding Daniel back (I try to pull him back up to the guys who've left us). After a while Daniel goes around me and covers the rest of the distance but I'm too tired to follow. I'm still left with the rest of the group on my wheel.

With about 10 km to go in one of the last climbs I feel a cramp developing in my right leg. The muscle spasmes but the cramp doesn't develop fully before we're back on the gravel road. I ride with the rest of the group to the finish but I'm unable to sprint strongly and finish last with two M40 riders ahead of me.

Final position: 8th in M40. 36th overall. This is the best overall position that I've had in Långloppscupen all year. I'm pleased.

I'm 30 seconds behind Daniel Grass in fourth place and two minutes down on second place in my cat.

Power and heart rate were good:

I check the air pressure of my rear tire after the race: It's 1.03 bar. I started off with 1.6! The rear of the frame is splashed with tubeless fluid. When I later try to clean the bike I notice that the tubeless fluid has fused with the dirt and I have to use alcohol to get it off the bike.