This year weather condtions started out being the best ever. After a brief and light rain shower I hopped out of the truck into 62 degree weather in just a short sleeve jersey and shorts. I did not mind the shivering as I knew after 5 minutes of racing I would be comfortable. It is the same feeling of turning on the shower knowing that the first 5 seconds of water is SO COLD.
I really did not know who I was up against, so I figured I would just race my race, with some helpful advice from Coach and see what happened. I went out with the front group not wanting to get stuck behind the slow train in the first bit of singletrack (last year that happened and it was frustrating). I pleasantly surprised myself as my legs felt good immediately and I did not have to push too hard to stay with the front leaders.
This year we jumped onto some double track after the first 5 mile section of asphalt/gravel road. This also helped to thin the crowd out as it was fairly steep in sections with lots of little angry baby-heads that took out about 20 racers due to flats. For a minute I was thinking that perhaps some "Bubba" had thrown out a box of roofing nails.
After a quick descent off this I dove into the first bit of singletrack on the Womble. This was a fun but technical descent. You had to stay focused the whole time. I was behind two guys going a bit slow for my liking, but I was patient. Sure enough one bobbled off the trail and the other did a spectacular endo; I gave him a 10 and finished the descent at my own speed. After popping out onto another short gravel section, I was lucky enough to find a strong fellow to draft behind.
After the short lake section I conserved my energy following a couple racers on the next short gravel section. It was here that Sonya jumped onto the train as well. She seemed to be having a good time as she was all grins and had several "Whoo hoos" for the volunteers.
Once I entered the 3rd section of the Womble, I finally had my own little bubble and could just cruise along at my own speed. Not seeing my competition, I then let up a bit and found a comfortable pace. Coach had told me earlier this week to conserve energy and not do anything stupid that might set me back for the Cohutta later this month. So I did.
After passing the first aid station, I entered a super fun section of the Womble. Fairly smooth and flat I was able to big ring it most of the way. I had one fellow in front of me which was good because he was keeping a good pace and it allowed me to judge the numerous creek crossings. On one particular one, there was a bridge ... in the middle only! I had to bunny hop on the bridge and then bunny hop off.
Slowly the trail began to climb and pretty soon the trail went from 24 inches wide to about 8 inches and it was slightly off camber. I had to turn the focus-meter up on this section as one wrong mis-step would send you tumbling down off the trail for a LOOONG way! Soon I was negotiating a spine with a 100 foot cliff on one side and a gentler grade on the other.
A short section of gravel and asphalt connected us to more Womble on the other side of Lake Ouachita. At this point you could slowly see the Womble turning from Dr. Jeckyll to Mr. Hide. The rocks started getting larger and becoming more abundant. I stayed conservative as I wasn't in the mood to change a flat or break my derailleur.
I stopped at the second aid station. What wonderful volunteers. One held my bike, one helped me stuff a banana into my mouth. The third volunteer attempted to refill my Camelbak. He was having some technical difficulty ... apparently the bladder had gotten twisted and while he was trying to fill it one handed from a 5 gallon container, I saw all my vital Rapidade powder spilling out. Nooooooo ..... I immediately jumped to help and get it straightened out. I probably lost about 1/3 of the powder, but those guys were being so helpful they probably saved me several minutes.
I completed the first 40 miles in just over 3 hours 30 minutes and had consumed 5 gels, 1 banana, and 50 ounces of Rapidade. I knew the most difficult was yet to come. The singletrack section leading up to the 0.4 mile hike-a-bike up Big Round Top Mtn was getting more technical. After the hike-a-bike which I rather liked, the trail levelled off and it became more of a series of rollers and dodging large, derailleur-eating rocks.
It was here that I began to feel a bit tired and my chain started talking to me. I slowed a bit and allowed my legs to recover on the descents. After about 30 minutes, I was feeling good so kicked it up a notch and enjoyed the whoop-de-do descent. That is, until I hit the mud bogs (at least 20 of them) at the bottom. No more squeaky chain!
After a short stretch of gravel road, it was up Chalybeate. This offered a bit of a reprieve for me and I eased up a bit knowing that the two most difficult mountains lie ahead. Chalybeate also offers one of the funnest downhills. I let it loose on the descent and had a great time. When I rolled into the third aid station (mile 60), I was once again greeted by awesome volunteers. I ate 1/2 banana and added about 20 ounces of water into my Camelbak, bringing it up to about 35 ounces.
Next up was Blowout. Having pre-ridden this on Friday, I at least knew there were 3 climbs to this beast and multiple rockslides to traverse. I rode some and walked many. At this point my technical prowess was diminishing quickly as the fatigue set in. It is here where you can get yourself into trouble by being stubborn and trying to make your body do things it is just too tired to. Besides, it is quicker for me to run this stuff anyway (thank you Lisa).
I did not stop at the final aid station. I knew Brushy was the last wall between me and the finish and I was ready to climb over it. I hooked up with a guy on a pink Fisher Hi-Fi 29'r. He was setting a good pace which helped me to maintain focus. Man o man, Brushy seemed to go on forever. I was wanting desperately to see that final 10 yard jumble of rocks that told you the big gravel descent lay just ahead. Well, after rolling along a side cut for what seemed like forever, there it was.
My last stop was for the final zip-tie. The volunteers there said only 8 miles to go. 8 MILES TO GO! No, it is only supposed to be 5. Or at least that was what my mind remembered. Needless to say that was the longest 8 miles, even with 4 of it being down hill and with a tailwind. At this point, my tank was empty. The only thing I could think was, "Just keep turning the pedals over." Mr. Pink Hi-Fi left me like fleas jumping off a dying dog. No way was I going to keep up with a big guy on wagon wheels, no matter how hard I pedaled.
It was here that I realized just how cold it had gotten. At the finish the temp was 47 degrees. There had been some strong gusts on Brushy that made me suddenly have to take a different line, but at least I was warm. The last few miles I could barely keep my heart rate up and my wet feet were very cold. It was so good to see the finish line! But then my friend Jason had to tell me they ran out of pizza. He should have said they had ran out of chicken soup or well-done burgers, but NOT PIZZA!
If I had not won, I may have broke down and cried for that was the one thing that was in my mind, towards the end ... some good hot food. Oh, well, a recovery bar and oatmeal had to suffice.
My ONE BIG MISTAKE that I did not realize until after I had unpacked my stuff at home was that I had been seriously calorie-deficient the last 40 miles. No wonder I had felt so crummy at times. I had only consumed 2 gu's, 1/2 banana and about 200 calories of Rapidade. Holy cow, what a rookie mistake! Somebody is going to be talking to me about this and you know who you are.
Zeke had a good strong day, too. In the results he will show up as a DNF. But that is because he signed up for the 80 and decided to sacrifice for me. So he did the 60 instead. You see, I had to be at work on Monday and he did not want me to be waiting around on him to finish up. What a team player!