Looking out the hotel room the morning of the race I saw some puddles and it was raining a bit as I went to bed so I just hoped for the best. The forecast was not good as it was calling for some severe thunderstorms to hit during the day. The best I could do was go fast and finish before the t-storms hit. So I got my stuff together from the Little Brown Inn, which is the best spot to stay for race day, nice and close to the start and finish and perfect for every aspect of the race. I left the room, enjoyed the mild and humid weather, and rolled towards downtown to get my warmup in and head to the line.
Promptly at 7 we went off and I was at the head of the massive peleton and worked my way to the right side and tried to stick with the fast kids. I got blocked by a few that couldn't hang on the hill but I turned it up, got around them and got to the back of the lead group and into the singletrack. I just concentrated on being smooth and consistent and picked off riders here and there and enjoyed the opening miles on that amazing place. I got stuck behind a few riders that were less than thrilled at the slick conditions. Since I raced two weekends ago in the greasy goodness that is Jungle Habitat I was fully comfortable on my small block 8's and sliding through. Conditions weren't horrible but definitely unpredictable in spots.
I blew through aid 1 and the whole time I kept thinking that there was no way to for me to ride the course faster than I was. I was riding well and I also could recall being in much more pain at this point in the past. So either my fitness was doing really well or I was about to fall apart...lol. I popped out of the singletrack and hit the road sections and was trying to get back to a couple of riders who passed me in the singletrack and were flying. I had to monitor my efforts to not max out on every hill. It's tempting but not the best way to pace yourself for one of these races. Through the gravel roads I kept it consistent and a good solid pace. At one point I saw Jim Mayuric coming up from behind and we worked together for a bit to keep the pace high. Then Mike Tabasko came up from behind and joined us for a bit too and we pulled hard into the singletrack before aid 3. They were riding fast and at a higher pace than I wanted at that point so I let them go. I could see them ahead for a bit but just couldn't get back to them.
Legs were starting to show the wear of the first half of the course as I rolled into aid 3 at the new location and I wondered how the course would be changed. It definitely seemed to have a few more hills thrown in just to get to aid 3. I filled bottles again and took off descending some new trails that connected with the old aid 3 site the the powerline climb to follow. I did well on the climb but the dreaded cramp monster appeared. Wonderful - 3.5 hours in and I was dealing with cramping already. I wasn't thrilled but I pushed through and wouldn't give in. I got over that climb and just wanted desperately to get through that rail trail with some people to work with. At this point though I was in no mans land and it wasn't looking good.
Then my chain started to show some signs of distress. It was creaking and moaning louder than I've ever heard it. It was going to blow up - I was convinced. So from the back roads I hit one of the gravel climbs that gets steep and switchbacks to the impromptu aid station. I had to tone it back thinking it was going to explode with one hard stroke. I begged the people at the aid for lube but no luck. I had to be happy getting a bottle topped off and praying aid 4 would come soon. On the next section, a SS guy Trevor came up and I let him go. I wanted to play it safe and the legs were still giving me some issues. So I popped out to the roads again and was by myself with Trevor somewhere just ahead and now Nate was sneaking up from behind. His presence was all I needed to pick it up a notch. Especially knowing that the rail bed was coming up. So I pulled and all 3 of us grouped up for the rail bed.
With me being the only geared rider of the 3 of us I told the guys that I felt like the hot girl at the gym - all the eyes were on me to do some work. So I put my head down and pulled. My legs were feeling it so I couldn't go as hard as I'd liked but it was good as I would take a pull and hide and then go again. I know the other guys were appreciative as they benefited from my gears and I benefitted from hiding from the wind inbetween pulls. We worked it pretty well and then hit glorious aid 4. I got the lube and food I needed and we set out for the final portion of the course. We kept together for a bit but then on one of the steep gravel roads I popped off and said goodbye at about mile 80. I was content with soloing in as hard as I could at this point.
On the next climb, the right hander that goes up a valley, I saw Nate and Trevor ahead but couldn't close. Back to some more roads I knew that greasy grassy valley would be coming up. I just stayed steady and cleaned it knowing the suspension bridge and not much would be left. I crossed the bridge, got up the gravel steep sucker just off of Wally road and then knew I had one more gradual climb before the descent through the farmers field and the final paved section to aid 5 and the last piece of singletrack. Once I got to aid 5 I knew I'd be home free.
I got to aid 5 uneventfully and laid down all I had left to get over the final climb and to ride into the back of the campground. I was smoked but disappointed at how my legs felt. I was hoping they would be snappier but the greasy climbs took their toll. I was good with hydration and food and don't know what I could have done better. I turned my gps off knowing my goal of a 7:20 wouldn't be met and I didn't even think I'd be close to the 7's. I kept driving hard and flipped back to my clock approaching the finish and to my surprise I was still in the 7's. I crossed the line at 7:48 knowing I did all I could and hopefully I would place well. I was hoping for a top 10 but didn't really know where I was. Volunteers told me estimates but I never really like to trust them to get my hopes up. I see Jim at the line and he told me he was 7th and 10th overall and I was the next guy after him in the Open class. Really??? That means I was 8th in Open Men and 13th overall. Holy crap!!! TOP 10 at an NUE race!!! That is amazing. I know it's my favorite race but I'm still shock. What a great feeling. I'll be back for more at the Mohican and hopefully a few more top 10's at NUE events...