I can honestly say that this race was one of the hardest first place finishes for me ... ever. And it caused me to have another kind of "first," but I will get to that later. I really did not know who my competition would be; I looked at the participant list, but did not recognize anybody. I was sure there would be a "dark horse" or two, but just did not know who. So waiting at the start line, I was trying to size everyone up. And then I saw Patti. I rode with her on a couple stages at La Ruta and she was so strong. Uh oh!
And then we were off! Talk about a XC start! The pace truck was flying down the pavement. It pulled off as we hit the first section of fireroad and the leaders kept a furious pace. I was up with the top 20 until the first small, but steep fireroad climb, but then popped off. I saw Patti ahead and then I saw another woman with the same jersey. Uh oh! times 2! They were looking good and able to keep up with the leaders. I knew that if I kept up that kind of pace, I would blow up. So I backed it down a notch and rode my own race.
It was 7 miles to the first section of singletrack, The Womble. I caught up with Patty on a sketchy descent. I was able to beat her into the singletrack, but knew that her team mate was somewhere up ahead.
The Womble was fast and flowy. There was some climbing but gradual and smooth. I was feeling good, and rockin' and rollin' on the descents. I actually had several guys that I very politely passed. I was climbing well, too. But the descents were soooo fun; I actually caught myself giggling several times. And I must say the Captain's were hooking up well in the loose rock ... and mud. After the torrential downpours from the previous 3 days, there was a lot of mud on this course. But it was all good ... after La Ruta, I have reset my "mud" scale. Pre-La Ruta, this would have been a 7. Post La Ruta, it was now a 3.
The direction of the race was opposite of the last several years. Today, we started off with the Womble, which was the easy singletrack and then would finish up with the Ouachita, the technical rocky trail. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the #1 woman at some point on the Womble. I never saw her, but I knew that I needed to save some for the Ouachita Trail, so I tried not to push it too hard in the beginning.
I blew by the first Aid Station. There was a long road section ahead and I wanted to try to catch a wheel and try to conserve. Due to the heavy rains, they did reroute some of the course, which meant less forest road and more asphalt. At the first zip-tie check, I was told I was the second woman, but they did not know how far ahead #1 was.
Then came the Chalybeate Mountain, the first section of the Ouachita Trail. Ouch, I said as I began climbing and negotiating the rock fields and piles. This is going to be a grunt. I was a little more tired than I wanted to be at this point, but endured to the top. Then once again, it was all smiles and giggles to the bottom. (Maybe I need to change disciplines: is there such a thing as endurance downhilling?)
At the bottom was Aid Station 2, where I refilled my Camelbak. The volunteers were awesome, filling my Camelbak and putting zip-tie #2 on the handlebar. After a mile descending through rocks, my gloved hands were having difficulty grasping the zip-tie. The volunteers still did not know how far #1 was ahead of me. Oh, well, there was still 20 miles left and 20 very hard miles at that.
After a short fireroad section, I hit Blowout Mountain hard and fast. This was the second section of the Ouachita Trail. Hard and fast soon became hurtin' and slow. The trail quickly pitched to 12 to 15%. Needless to say, I grannied this 1 -2 mile climb. (The Womble climbs were on average 7 - 10%.) Not only was it steep, but you had to negotiate around and up over large rocks. This was my lowest point in the race and where 2nd place became very appealing. I just kept a consistent pace as I knew Patti was somewhere behind me and was an excellent climber.
I rode through a couple rockslide sections, but ran througt most of them. It was faster and wiser. I did not want a sidewall cut or a broken derailleur. The descent was just as bad ... because of the mud. It reminded me of Snowshoe ... 2 to 3 inches of mud over rocks. I slipped and slided my way to the bottom.
I rode by the last Aid Station and headed up Brushy Mountain, the last section of the Ouachita Trail. I was really beginning to hurt at this point. At this point there was 8 miles of singletrack, 7 miles of fireroad, and 2 miles of asphalt to the finish. As I was climbing Brushy, I was accepting a 2nd place finish. As I was climbing a switchback, I happened to look up ahead. Was it, could it be? That jersey looks like Patti's. Nah! So I gave it just a little more gas so I could try to get a better view. No way! That is her, first place!!! Oh, it is on now! So I mustered up every bit of muscle I had and made it up to her ... stealth mode. There was a guy in between me and her, so I settled in and sized her up. After a couple minutes behind her, I could tell she was hurting. Head down, slumped shoulders, slow cadence.
I was hurting bad as well ... but, when racing, it is better to look good than to feel good. So I surged forward, passing the guy and her, in the middle ring, and never looked back. Until 5 minutes later when I crested the climb. She was nowhere in sight! I do not know where I got the energy, but I hammered the last 5 miles of singletrack. I guess it was on adrenaline alone.
As I popped out onto the fireroad, a voluteer was there, handing out the last zip-tie. He was wanting to give me detailed directions of how to get to the finish. I almost yelled at him, "Give the freakin' zip-tie, I am in first, and I have got to go now!" But instead, I just grabbed it from him, attached it to the handle bar while he was chit-chatting, and raced away.
This last section of fireroad was very deceiving, I remembered it as being all downhill, but it wasn't. There were a lot of rollers and it was into a headwind. When I encountered the first roller, I stood to hammer, and this is where my "first" happened. I cramped! Holy cow, that hurts! I about fell off the bike as my quads seized! Oh, this is not good! I quickly sat back down on the saddle and geared down big time and spun my legs trying to work it out. After about 3 minutes, all was good. But I did not stand and hammer anymore. I had heard the horror stories of cramping and did not want to be sprawled out on the ground as 2nd passed me by.
The last 5 miles was brutal. I kept expecting #2 (Leslie) to pass me on her 29'er. I made it to the finish, without ever seeing her. Whew! The elation and exhilaration I felt as I rolled up to the line was amazing. I would have patted myself on the back, if I could have reached that part of me. I was utterly exhausted! I grabbed my first place goodies and then crashed in front of the school, laying on the grass for 10 minutes.
Running the race this way was much harder than the way I raced it in 2006. But perhaps this allowed me the win as I was able to save some for the end. Talking to Leslie at the end she said that the 29'er hardtail was the wrong choice for her; it beat her to death on the rocky stuff and her legs were cooked. Leslie was stronger, but I think I rode smarter.
Thanks to Ed and Todd and all the volunteers for putting on a great race. This course was close to 65% singletrack and I loved it! 5:15 and some change and a top 25 overall.
Zeke had a great race and time. He said his 29'er and the Crows he was running hooked up well. He came in within an hour of my time, a first for him, I think. So I lost the bet.
Congrats to Jason (5th) and Kim (3rd) in the 80 mile race. I guess that makes me a sandbagger. Next year the 80!