Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mike Simonson sits down with Simonster

Mike Simonson: State your age, height, and weight.
Simonster: 30, 6ft 2in, 185lbs

Mike Simonson: State your occupation.
Simonster: Mechanical Engineer for Dept of Defense, Professional MTB racer.

Mike Simonson: State your sponsors.
Simonster: Trek/Fisher collection, Notubes, SRAM, Ergon, Wingnut

Mike Simonson: It must be tough finding time to carry out two jobs. Elaborate on the details.
Simonster: Yes, very busy. I work 7 to 4:30, then the training starts after work. We run a super tight ship. All my training and meals are planned out in advance so I get the maximum use of the training time I have. Racing and traveling is on the weekends. If there’s no race, I’ll squeeze in more training and more rest. There’s not much time for much else. Sometimes I feel like such a shitty friend when I have to deny drinks after work on a Friday, or pass on a fun weekend with friends. That’s the price you pay for being determined to carry out a dream. Sometimes you miss out on a few of life’s special moments.

Mike Simonson: You are married correct? Tell us how that works with all the racing and training.
Simonster: Yes, married for 5 yrs to my wife Michelle. She goes by Mitch to most of our friends. Mountain bike racing is sort of a selfish sport. I’m the one racing, and I’m the one on the podium. But I couldn’t do it without the help from Mitch. She helps me out tremendously. She’s my number one fan. When I do well, it’s kind of like a small victory for both of us and she feels the same happiness and joy that I do. When I don’t do well, I’m not sure who’s more upset, me or her. Sometimes I have to calm her down after a race. She sees how much I put into it. I think it exhausts her enough just helping me carry out this three ring circus day after day.

Mike Simonson: What’s your schedule look like? Which races are you gunning for?
Simonster: I’m gunning for any of the NUE 100 milers and a solid placing in the points series. In the fall, my focus will switch to the triple crown races, Ore to Shore, Chequamegon, and Iceman. It’s a long tough season.

Mike Simonson: Who would you consider your toughest competitors?
Simonster: In the 100 milers, of course Christian Tanguy and Jeff Schalk. For the triple crown, it’s always been Brian Matter and Tristan Schouten with Mike Anderson being the up and comer. I have a ton of respect for those guys. We all have other jobs and responsibilities, but we love the sport so much we’re still able to drive ourselves to compete at a very high level with other pro’s. These guys are loaded with passion and determination. I have respect for anyone who competes at a high level while holding down significant responsibilities outside of racing. There's so many hard hittin mo fo's out there I'm sure I'm missing.

Mike Simonson: So the 100 milers must be pretty tough to recover from. How do you recover and keep ticking out the 100 milers one after another?
Simonster: I have to give some credit to my coach Art Fleming. He keeps a very close eye on me and has taught me how to pick up on the slightest irregularities. It’s key to be able to pick up on the early warning signs of improper recovery. It’s almost a full time job. I talk to him daily. He’s one of my best friends. We take the training plan day by day, but try to keep things as consistent as possible. The only way to communicate with your body is to do things over and over consistently until it finally gets it. It’s kind of like training a puppy. It took a long time to train my body how to race 100 miles with 12,000ft of climbing.

Mike Simonson: 12,000ft of climbing is a ton of climbing. How do you manage to compete against the flyweights when you’re checking in at 85 kilo’s?
Simonster: Hey A-hole, what’s that supposed to mean? I’m fat? Seriously though, I have to turn myself inside out to hang onto a guy like Tanguy or Schalk in the mountains. I go to the deepest place I can muster sometimes. Sometimes I have enough to stick it to the end, and sometimes I don’t. I’m still working on this whole 100 miler thing. Schalk is amazing. He doesn’t seem to slow down. I can do maybe 50 or 60 miles at his pace, then I run out of gas. I’ll figure it all out eventually. It’ll take the perfect race. All I can do is keep training and keep trying to work on my weaknesses, which Art is always on top of.

Mike Simonson: Have you ever thought about doing some road racing? I’ll bet you could smash it on the road.
Simonster: I get this question a lot. I’ve spent a lot of years honing the MTB craft. It would almost be like starting over switching to the road. Plus the added headache of another bike and another race schedule. It would be like another job, which I don’t have time for. I think you need to have total focus to do well. Pick the style of racing you love the most and go after it with everything you’ve got. You need a set schedule of a few select races, then plan and dedicate your season around those few events. I find it might even take a few years to get the result you want in a selected race. Too many races screw things up for me. I’m one of those guys that likes to show up at a race ready to give my best.

Mike Simonson: Do you have the desire to race MTB’s full time?
Simonster: I wish I could, but I’m not sure there’s a contract out there that would enable me to continue to live the same lifestyle. I’d have to be one of the best. Endurance racing and festival grass roots events just don’t seem to draw the sponsorship dollars for the athletes. The good contracts come out when you’re a contender for an Olympic spot. I think that’s what most of the big sponsors are looking for. Although I have heard of a few decent contracts in the endurance realm. I’m happy with doing it the way I’m doing it. My sponsors help me out the best they can which I’m totally grateful for. I’m free to choose all the events I want to go to. Perhaps one day I could make a little money at it as a side job along with my engineering job. That would be a dream come true.

Mike Simonson: Have you ever thought about going after World Cup racing or maybe the National XC points series?
Simonster: I know that’s where the highest level is, but I don’t think there’s enough hrs in the day to compete there. Most of the XC races are out West too. It takes time to figure the courses out and to develop enough points to get a front row call up. It’s just not realistic for me. It turns into a lot of travel $$$ and too many days off work. The 100 miler series works out great! In a 3 day weekend, I can drive to 6 out of 8 in the series, and the races draw a good amount press and exposure to keep the sponsors interested. The level of competition is perfect for me too. All the 100 mile courses are worth the effort. They’re grueling, but worth the price of admission. I mean if I’m going to drive 8hrs to the mountains, I want to get a lot of riding in. The 100 milers let you do that and then some. Same with the Tripple Crown events. We always seem to get a few A-listers at Chequamegon and Iceman, so I get to see how I stack up against them. On a good day, you can collect a nice scalp if you play your cards right. It’s the perfect level of competition for me.

Mike Simonson: Name some scalps in your collection.
Simonster: I have a few I’m proud of. JHK’s for sure. Ned Overend, Tinker Jaurez, Chris Eatough, Josh Tostado and Travis Brown to name a few. I’ve looked up to these guys my entire career. It blows my mind I can even compete with these guys. Mucho respect.

Mike Simonson: Who do you train with? Whose your favorite person to train with?
Simonster: My most solid training partners have to be Robert Herriman and Greg Kuhn. When I need to get it done, these are the guys I call. Whether it’s an 8hr death march in 20 degrees or intervals up some crazy ski hill, no BS, these guys show up ready to train hard all day long and not complain once. I’m fortunate to have such great training partners… and friends. On fun days it’s always a treat when I get Jason Lummis out. That dude cracks me up all day, same with Scott Stewart too. All classy dudes.

Mike Simonson: Where do you train? Where are your favorite places to train?
Simonster: I have a ton of awesome options right from my door. The huge series of interconnected dirt roads is my favorite place. It’s actually quite impressive. I’ve been training on them for years, and I have a giant map in my head of 100’s of miles of them. I know where all the biggest hills are. Most people I train with out there have no idea where we’re going. It’s a very Zen place for me. I hope 30 years from now I can still ride them. They already feel like old friends. There are also about 6 different trail systems within riding distance too. I really don’t have a reason to train anywhere else.

Mike Simonson: What’s the craziest ride you’ve ever done?
Simonster: I do this little 7 mile dirt rd loop near my house. It has 700ft of climbing per lap. I remember we had a weekend over the winter where we had single digit temps. I did 15 laps out there for 105 miles and over 10,000ft of climbing. It took me over 9 hrs with all the snow. I was ready to die that day, but it turns out committing suicide by riding your bike is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking when I did it, but I do know that if you want to be good, you’ve gotta do some sick shit sometimes. You’ve got to do some things that no one in their right mind would think of doing to try and get to the next level. It’s a day I can look back on when I have a hard race and draw strength from it. Perhaps that’s what I was thinking.

Mike Simonson: Are there any words of wisdom you could give us?
Simonster: Some favorite words of mine… persistence, determination, passion and most of all patience. That’s the beauty of bike racing. There’s always plenty of opportunities to keep trying over and over. It’s a sport which has endless opportunity to grow. You can push yourself to your utmost limit as fast or as slow as you would like.

Mike Simonson: Keep the dream alive, and luck be on your side the rest of the 2010 season.
Simonster: Thanks! I can always use a bit of good luck.

Monday, June 21, 2010

NUE Stop #3 Lumberjack 100

Well... sort of OK. I'm still a little stiff and sore. 300 racers came out to Northern Michigan this past weekend to test themselves for round #3 of the NUE 100 miler series. The weather was great and the course was fast with the 3 lap format and some two track added in this year.

Once we hit the singletrack, things started to heat up as Christian took a pull up the gradual climb. Soon after, Jeff took over and continued to push the pace. Then I took a couple digs on the two track sections, followed by Derek Graham setting a blistering pace through Road Monkey. I was feeling pretty good, then that's where my luck ran out. I could feel my front tire going soft on me. For a brief moment I thought about just hitting it with the C02, but then memories from Cohutta crept in and I decided to put a tube in it. It was a pretty smooth fix, and I was off to regain as many positions as possible. Near the end of the 1st lap I rolled up on Derek Graham in which he had suffered the same fate I had. I tossed him the rest of my Big Air cannister and wished him luck.

By the end of the 1st lap, I was back into the top 5 and feeling strong riding with Bells superstar Steve "McDreamy" Dempsey. I continued to push the pace and worked my way all the way back up to 2nd place! I heard Scott Chambers yell out "Jeff's 8 minutes up, Christian's right there!" I worked my way around Christian, but there was no shaking him completely. He rose from the dead and came flying around me.

At this point I tried to ralley and make a charge, but the hard chase after the flat left me a little gassed. The heat of the mid day sun began to take its tole and I was feeling uncomfortable. I kept pushing as hard as I could just trying not to redline. Then sure enough, Derek Graham came flying by me like a torpedo on the two track near the end of the 3rd lap. I latched on for a moment, then my body decided it didn't want any part of that.

I went into total survival mode on the last few climbs. A quick glance down the trail on the last climb and I saw the Aussie bridging. I threw everything I had left into the final 2 miles and crossed the line in 4th. Not quite the place I was looking for, but it was my best effort and I'm happy. So that's a 3rd, a 2nd, and a 4th. Not looking too bad so far in the series.

A big thanks goes out to my in-laws Dan and Sandy for the awesome hospitality and volunteer work. Well done! As always, thanks to the sponsors as well. The full suspension SF100 was a real treat on the lumpy course. Next up is a couple marathon races right here in Michigan, to prepare the mid season surge for Wilderness and Fool's Gold. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

NUE Stop #2 Mohican 100

It was another one of those experiences where only a mountain bike race would take you. We rolled into Loudonville Ohio on Friday afternoon to our luxurious cabin at Mohican Adventures. Well actually... maybe more like a luxurious tree fort. Me, Robert Herriman, and my wife Michelle bunked with Greg Kuhn, Chris Goddard, and Greg's girlfriend Nicole. Upon arrival we were greeted by an angry wasps nest on the 2nd floor where our bunks were located. It was "epic" conditions already. The absence of screens on the windows of the 2nd floor had Robert and I hosing down the curtains with Deep Woods Off. It actually worked quite well.

The rain came and went, then came and went again overnight. I just wanted to scream at it to stop, but by morning, it wasn't going to matter how much more rain we got, the trails were going to be trashed. But it didn't matter to me. This race was on my calender since December and it was one I was looking forward to.

After the typical 4am bagels and Nutella breakfast, we prepped our things and headed for the start. The $200 prime definately made the start very fast. We hit the "wall" on our way out of town and my lungs were instantly on fire. Way way faster than I wanted to go. None the less I rolled with it and before we hit the singletrack, I was 2nd wheel. The trails were pretty slick, and the locals were ripping them. Again... way way faster than I wanted to go but I gritted my teeth and did my best to hang on.

After 10 miles or so, it came down to just me and Jeff Schalk. Jeff was moving pretty fast. I could tell his form had improved since Cohutta. The trails were sloppy and slick, but I was keeping the rubber side down. Last year I led a furocious attack up the trail run up utilizing my stair running skills I aquirred in the off season. This year however, I didn't posses those skills and Jeff was sure to eploit that. I hung tough but the run up really sapped my legs. We ripped down the super muddy water bar decent, crossed the road, then immediately hit the next hike-a-bike. I think Jeff rode most of it, which left me redlined and gasping for air. I gritted my teeth and dug as deep as I could, but that was the last time I would see him.

From here on out, I would ride by myself. I was feeling pretty cooked after redlining and I did my best to recover on the roads. By the time I got to the Mohican Wilderness, I was feeling better. I ripped through the aid station and pressed up the steep powerline climb, then back out onto the roads. Temps were starting to rise a bit as I rolled onto the buggy trail. The soggy false flat had me cursing. It was the low point of the race for me and probably the point where I gave up on any sort of chase. I knew 3rd wasn't too far behind so I just tried to move along as quickly and efficiently as possible to save 2nd place.

More roads interspersed with uphill trails and dirt rds. The true suffering really began as each steep climb was digging into me. Finally the last aid station. 6 miles to go! Grabbed a bottle just as the sky started to get really dark. I said to myself... "here we go again." The rain actually felt good and sort of revitalized me to the finish. The trails were beyond a complete mess. I hung tough for 2nd place!

Overall I'm very pleased with my performance. I could've had a total melt down, but this time I held it together. I'm starting to get the hang of how to suffer efficiently. Dare I say I actually had a little fun out there in the muck. It really is a great course and a well put together event. I'd do it all over again, no questions asked. Next up is Lumberjack. The course is actually better in the rain, so bring on the precip mother nature! She'll have to dig deep to make a mess of that course. Of course now that I said that, it'll probably be 90 and pure sun.