After 5 months of training under Coach's guidance this would be my first real test. And with Willow Koerber coming, the stakes were even higher. I wanted to come within a respectable time of hers.
Although I was nervous, I managed to get a good night's rest. I also managed to get on the second row at the start. This time I was NOT going to have to pass 25 racers. I held back on the start, allowing time for my legs to "wake up." Still, it was hard not to go all out.
When I passed Zeke on the first doubletrack climb, he was motoring along very well, too. I told him to watch his back as Stanly was behind me. Well ... that may have been a tad bit of a lie (actually Stanly had started many waves back), but I wanted to push Zeke a bit as he was racing for first.
I entered the first section of singletrack with just one racer behind me and was able to go at my own speed and feel the flow of the trail. I popped out onto the gravel road and by this time had settled in to a good pace.
Soon after the first road crossing (around mile 13) as I thought I was moving quickly and smoothly up a gradual climb, I heard Willow behind me, asking to pass. Crap! I did not expect her to catch me this quick! Oh, well ... I gladly let her on by. Then I picked it up a bit and stayed with her. Amazing, she was so smooth and steady ... on a hardtail. She was really cool to watch. I managed to stay with her for a mile or so, until the trail pitched up even steeper. Knowing that I would explode trying to stay close, I settled back into my own rhythm and watched her grow smaller and smaller. (Are there any other sports where you can compete against one of the world's best?)
During the last climb before the sickenly sweet descent into the aid station which marked the halfway point, I began to hurt a bit. I began questioning my fitness, but after glancing at my watch, I realized that I was close to 10 minutes faster than January's effort. No wonder! Now, could I just hold this over the last 17 miles and perhaps gain even more?
As I rolled in to swap Camelbaks, Bruce told me that I was just 3 minutes behind Willow. That was encouraging. The next few miles rolled by uneventfully. I followed Garth's line down the Middle Mountain descent. Once I began going through the multiple creek crossings, I slowed a bit. All the rocks here seemed to be very sharp and "angry looking." Stumpy was handling well and I did not want any mechanicals now.
When I began the final doubletrack climb, I felt a painful twinge in my hamstring. What the heck am I doing having a cramp? I don't cramp, darn it! (The last and only time I have ever cramped during a race was Ouachita '08) I immediately dropped into granny and soft-pedaled. Thankfully, the painful tightening relented. I took it easy up this climb.
Once I entered the 6 mile rock garden, I slowly picked it up a bit, testing my hamstring. All seemed o.k. and this being my funnest section, I carved through the singletrack as smoothly as possible. Today I was able to clean sections I usually am too tired to on race day. And other sections I was smart enough to dismount and run through, knowing I would be quicker and less likely to cause another cramp.
Just before the gunsight pass, I saw a figure I did not expect too. At first I thought I was hallucinating. Loretta?!! What is she doing there? And then, a full-on cramp! Ouch, ouch, ouch! I yelled at Loretta, "You gave me your cramps!" (Later on, I found out that she had snapped her seat post around mile 12.) I had to run up through the rocky pass. Fortunately, I was able to remount and pedal the last 100 meters of singletrack.
Once I hit the final pavement descent, I tucked in to as aero a position I could get ... on a 5 inch travel bike. The final 50 meters I was able to stand and sprint and avoiding another cramp.
Final time: 3:26. I came in second! I was stoked ... I had improved my time by 20 minutes. And I came in within a respectable time of Willow's 3:13. Goals accomplished!
- Zeke came in second. My TR partner is shaping up quite nicely. His class received the loudest applause.
- Kim came in second in her class. Congrats! And she does not even consider herself a racer.
- Kylie finished a sub 4 hour ... on a singlespeed! If that had been me, they would have been carting off my lifeless body at the halfway point.
- Stumpy was an amazing steed for this one. Like a hardtail on the climbs and tamed the infamous Rock Garden.
- EQUAL PAYOUTS!
- Karen is still frickin' fast, even without training!
If Coach dials me in to my other races like she has for the Snake, it is going to be a fantastic year!