Well in the tradition of the east coast races so far this season, the entire day before the race it poured. I got into Coburn park Friday morning and parked by the biggest tree I could find to pitch my tent under some cover. The rivers that I passed getting there looked like class 5 rapids. Not a great sign - but I was optimistic. It was slick and greasy. I tried to downplay it for the mental advantage. As the course went on it was just grinding through semi sloppy trails that were just draining energy with every pedal stroke. After a while it started to add up. There was a lot of haze in the first 40 miles but then the sun came out and started to help dry the course. Also with all the rain and then the sun on race day it started to bake everything and REALLY kick up the humidity. So not only was it slick from the previous rain but then the rocks were sweating too. Great recipe for 101 miles.
Anyway I went out hot and held onto the lead group up most of the first climb and then just couldn't hold onto the pace. I started to slip back and myself and a bunch of others in the same predicament formed group #2. We were pace-lining and killing it for a while but somewhere around 18 miles in I got spit off the back and just paced myself on my own. I rolled through Aid #1 in great shape and passed it up and kept rolling up the fire road climb. Down the fast descent and back to the fast gravel roads I kept on the pace knowing there were short climbs but generally fast terrain into Aid #2. I grabbed water and kept on flying solo.
Since I was now alone and probably would be for the rest of the race it was just me and my memories of the previous years to do battle. The first big climb after aid 2 was my nemesis last year and this year I rode it solidly. I saved a little bit coming into it and just rode it consistently. I alternated sitting and standing to keep a decent pace and having the length of the climbs listed on my top tube was key. That climb was 4 miles and just as I got to where mile 4 should be on my GPS it was over. PERFECT!!! Down the backside the descent was rugged as usual but when I hit the gravel roads the battle turned to nutrition and hydration. Up the next 2.5 mile climb I had a lot of confidence but my GPS went on the fritz. I had the distance figured out on my GPS but then the mileage started counting down backwards?!?!?! WTF? So I had to keep on and use the previous knowlede to gauge where the top of the climb was. I misjudged it several times and got to the top steady but not as strong as I'd hoped. I didn't feel overly powerful.
I think the big block of riding I did last weekend or just the season in general was wearing on me. But I stayed consistent and had no bonking. All I used was my flasks of gel, bananas, and endurolytes and thats all that I needed. I did have my bouts of cramps which tried to knock me down but I pushed through them and kept on it. My timer on my GPS was set for every 50 minutes and shortly after it alarmed I ate, drank and took my endurolytes.
On to Aid #3 where the next battle took place. I topped my water off, grabbed two cups of cold coke and attacked the singletrack climb. Tipping steeply upwards at first and then slowly giving up the grade the climb wore on and on. Grimy and slippery I kept on it and got through the second big battle of the day. But then the fun came. After the Sassafras climb comes the fast twisty then off camber loose steep descent. This then leads to the shaley off camber descent. It was a little sketchy but fun as hell. Dropping to the bottom is where it hits a gravel road and you turn left to hit a short but fairly steep climb. On the top of the climb there's a right turn onto the singletrack where the rocky techy ridge is. Major fun here! Once it's done it gives up and rolls down to Aid #4.
Under the overpass and into Aid #4 I once again topped off just water and rolled out to hit the next two climbs. The first one is the pain where it's eroded fire road and then turns to the grassy but rocky climb. This is pretty relentless it seems with the fatigue factor but once the top is gained the work is really over. Down the backside on a couple of fast doubletracks and climbing the beatup fire road that gives way to the gravel climb is where the climbing almost ends. It's a relief just to get here. Once the last bigger climb was done the trail tilts downward as to tease you that Aid #5 is still a little too far away. A fast singletrack descent starts but then there are a couple steep bursts around a fenceline that pop up. I blieve 3 or 4 total. This then returns back to the gravel road but only to enter the last horrible, and painfully annoying section of slight downhill rugged madness. Here's where you fly around the mud holes and grind slowly down hill until the trail gets thinner and not well traveled. Banging downhill on lots of rocks and shaley sections just gets annoying. The only saving grace is knowing that Aid #5 is really close by. It finally gives up and you hit the gravel road with about 2 miles to ride before the aid.
Aid #5 was a quick one again as I hit the water and warm coke...blah. On to the rail bed. Here's where I tried to put down some power as I knew the 8 hour finish was getting late and I wanted to beat that 9 hour mark. Constantly standing to accelerate I pushed the pace alone. It turned to road and I kept the same pace. All the time knowing the last climb was coming. I made the hard left onto the last gravel climb and it was on. Being longer than I remembered I used the motivation of a fellow rider Bill Nagel to help me out. We had seen each other in a few spots and were just trying to finish the best I could. We finally made the top and descended side by side. We hit the fisherman's trail and both dismounted and hiked through only to mount up and hit the rail trail. We hit the rail and worked together. I didn't have much leg power left so Bill volunteered to pull and I gladly accepted. He did most of the work although I did a few pulls into the final stretch with the bridge and tunnel. We made it out the other side and killed the final road section pretty quickly. We rode in side by side and I bowed down at the line as he did most of the work getting to the finish line.
All the places I've fallen apart in the previous races I stayed strong and really had a solid race. I was hoping to break 9 hours and I got my goal. Race finish was 8:48 and I finished 45th overall of 300? and 32nd in the geared division. Last year's time was 9:51, 91st overall and 59th in geared division on a course in much better shape, so I'm very happy with the results given the conditions and with how I felt in general. With a dry course I bet that time would have been 15-20 minutes faster. Great day, great workout, and now time for some great recovery since I'm doing it all over again in Georgia in 2 weeks. It was great to see the familiar faces out there and meet some new ones that helped motivate me over the course. Great work to all!