It was hot, hilly, hard, and humbling. I had a lot of reservations going into this one. It was my 5th attempt at this race and 2nd on the new style course. I was hoping to best my previous attempt since I had felt awful and had a flat but this one would prove to be even harder. The biggest issue seemed to be the fact that I was only 3 weeks after the 6 Hours of Warrior Creek Race and the week prior to this race I had trained and beat myself for 18 hours of fun. Not the best in planning for a big race but it was early so what the hell. To top it all off I hadn't put any serious regular miles in until March 1st when I actually had time to train.
So as the siren went off I headed up the road with the big mass of riders into the first 2 mile paved hill. This is usually a great indicator of how the day would go and true to form it was - and not in a good way. I turned the pedals hard but just couldn't get to the lead group. I was dangling off the back thinking that either the group was going really hard or I just wasn't all there. The latter seemed to be the answer in hindsight. I just held my positions staying calm and riding within my limits. I figured even if I was out of it now I could claw my way back in.
The first singletrack was amazing and within no time I was at the bottom of the paved descent and onto the river trail where I ran into the log jam of riders. This was actually good since I was back to the main field and taking advantage of the roots and rocks to shoot past a bunch of riders. We kept on it and up and over the first few climbs and I felt ok but not great. Then the gravel started.
Once the road section started I knew what would lie ahead and I dread that section every time I do this race. It seems like the same climb over and over. So I put down a good pace and caught a bunch of racers and was feeling ok. I knew that wouldn't last forever though. Once I got to aid 2 which is 2/3 of the way through the initial climbs I was starting to feel my efforts and the pace was slowing. I kept riding hard to crest the last climb before the descent into potato patch and that's where I knew my energy was going down big time. So I did what anyone would do. Instead of conserving energy I had as much fun as I could and shredded the singletrack at the end of the lollipop loop and had a blast. Those trails are so fun and flowy - it would just keep my mind at ease before the 2500 foot climb back out of potato patch which would be my undoing...
On that climb I just felt the power drop and I resorted to granny gear. It was too hot, I was behind on my nutrition and hydration and just felt naseaus. I felt like I was going to pass out a couple of times so I had to do all I could to keep going forward and not stop. I thought many times of selling all my bikes and taking up lawn darts but I just kept going. If nothing else this was a big training race. And that's exactly what I did. I just kept going. Not too fast. As steady as I could push but still moving forward. Fending off cramps and dehydration I put in whatever food and fluids I could and just wanted to get to the finish.
Into the last singletrack I was so excited yet hesitant because I know there is more climbing in there than you think. Of course, just as I entered the singletrack a guy comes up on me from behind and asks me if I'm in the 100 mile or 62 mile version. There was an awkward silence just before I answered with the 100 mile and it was on. The next climb I put down EVERYTHING I had to get away and it was working. I had nothing to give but something was letting me claw away. My goal of at least finishing sub 9 was gone so this was my last battle. I drilled it everywhere I could - for as much as I could and put over a minute on him to the finish. For whatever it's worth, that was the shining moment of this race.
Another good hard effort to land me in 23rd in the open in 9:10. That was a long hard race and one that I said I would never do again if the course doesn't change. It's just not interesting enough to invest 13 hours of driving and all the effort to ride relentless, mindless gravel for that long. If things change I may be back but if not consider myself retired from the Cohutta 100.