Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Swank

This past Sunday was the 10th running of the Swank 65 in Pisgah National Forest. I had heard about this race over the years as being one of the toughest, given the technical terrain and potentially wicked weather. I was so glad that I was able to finally put this one on my calender.

Thankfully the weather was not wicked. Yes, it was cold ... but dry. Temps started out in the 20's, but with sunny skies, it topped out in the low 50's. Even though I was pretty much through with my season, the butterflies were still flying about in my stomach. After a poor showing at Black Bear, I needed redemption and some positive feedback from my new training schedule and nutrition overhaul.
It was a Lemans start. The run, about 1/4 mile in length, was mostly on singletrack. I started conservatively, as I did not need a twisted ankle or knee to end my day. After retrieving my gel flask which flew out of my jersey, I hopped on the bike and immediately began a 2 mile climb up Cove Creek Trail.

I caught the leading ladies as we all popped out onto a forest service road. I passed immediately and made a little surge to see what they would do. Not much, so after a bit I settled in. The next bit of singletrack was a descent, which I hit hard and fast. At an intersection I went right. Within a couple minutes, I had an "uh-oh" feeling as I was not seeing orange tape. My "uh-oh" turned into an "Oh, sh!t!" when I came upon some racers coming in the opposite direction. So now I had to climb the technical trail I just descended.

Just when I noticed where I made the wrong turn, the 1st and 2nd place women blazed on by. Well, I had to play catch up. Thankfully, I was faster on the descent and caught up to them and passed them just before the superfast and technical Daniel Ridge descent. The leaf cover made it a little sketchy as I could not see the baby-head boulders. Luckily, I managed to stay rubber side up. One racer passed me and managed to kick up a large stick that broke two of his spokes. He was very apologetic to me, fearing that he had thrown part of that stick into my bike.

I blew by the first aid station and began the forest service road climb up to Gloucester Gap. I was feeling good on this 8-10% grade. I looked back a couple times to see if my competition was in view, but never saw them. The gravel road turned into doubletrack, then into a smooth singletrack climb. Just before descending down Butter Gap, I saw Kim and she informed me that I was in first. Always good to know, because with mass starts I am never too sure where I stand.

Butter Gap was fun! A swooping descent with some creek crossings. Unfortunately, I did not get to the part where you could catch some air as I had to make a hard left onto LongBranch. This was a wicked steep singletrack climb back up to Gloucester Gap.

At aid station 2, I swapped Camelbaks. From here, I began the TransRockies style forest service road to doubletrack climb up to Farlow Gap. I made sure to eat and drink while climbing the 15-18% grade in misery. At times, it felt like I was going backwards. This was a 3 mile grunt!

After what seemed like an eternity, I made it to Farlow Gap. Just when I thought the hard part was over, I see all these guys on 8-inch travel bikes with full-face helmets and pads. And they say to me and several other racers, "You guys are crazy!" (Hmmm, what's wrong with this picture.)

What was super-tricky last month when I pre-rode Farlow with no leaf cover, was now "the insane downhill of doom" with several inches of leaves on the trail. I managed to ride more than I thought I could (but still less than I had last month). I am no dummy. I know my limits ... I also know I like all my bones and organs intact. I did not feel so bad when I saw other racers hike-a-biking.

I have mad hike-a-bike skills now and I put them to good use. I was able to pass several guys on foot, both descending and climbing. (Thank you, Lisa and TransRockies)

There was one short but scary section on Farlow where part of the trail had given in a recent landslide. All that was left were a few roots and about 3 inches of width. If you made a mistake or if the remainder of the trail gave way, you would be falling for 50 feet. Man, did it look unstable ... about as scary as the La Ruta trestles. I carried my bike and took short, deliberate steps. Whew!

I had to ride the log again. I was not planning on it, but a racer was fixing a flat right on the trail where I could have bypassed the log. I hit it a little faster than I planned, but made it with no slippage.

After Farlow, there was the other section of Daniel Ridge that I got to descend. I rolled on past aid station 3 and began the last forest service road (#475B) climb. Knowing there was only 8 miles left, I pushed it a bit harder. I was so looking forward to the Cove Creek descent! A couple times I was having difficulty seeing the orange tape due to the sun's glare and began wondering if I made a wrong turn again. Ughh! I hate that sinking feeling.

I rolled across the finish line in first place with a time of 4:32. I was spent but not exhausted. I was happy with my result, but already thinking about next year and knocking some time off!

I rode Stumpy and she performed well. With her 5 inches of travel and light weight, I felt one with the trail ... well, all but some of Farlow! What amazes me is that there are guys and gals out there on hardtails, nailing those technical sections. Kudos to them! I wonder if some downhill instruction would help me out. Or is it that thinking about having to work and take care of my family wisely slows me down?

The main thing is that I had fun ... a blast, as a matter of fact. Zeke had a good race, too. I think it pretty cool that Todd recognized him as the oldest racer out there.
This was a good ending to a wonderful season. I am eager to continue my training for '09.


Anonymous said...

A big thank you to Sam and Trish for allowing us to stay in their swank new house . Good food and good friends . Zeke

Emily said...

Congrats on the win.
I agree that it was a good day for racing, I was waaay in the back of the pack though. By the time I got to that landslided part of Farlow it was totally sketchy-- from the looks of it at least one person and/or bike had slid down the cliff!
And thanks for mentioning all the trail names, it had been my first time to Pisgah and except for the fabled Farlow I didnt know the names of any of the trails. I gotta go ride those again on a normal day!

Chris, Brigette and Norah Dusack said...

Carey, that was a fabulous race report. Oh how I miss riding Butter Gap in the fall. I have not made it to Farlow Gap, never had the nerve to try it. Congratulations on your first place finish, YAHOO!