Wow! What a difference 4 years, an awesome coach, and a dry course can make! It is wonderful to reap the rewards of hard work and perseverance.
Zeke and I were honored to spend the weekend at Walter's cabin, along with his wife, Susan, and the Cowbell Dynamic Duo of Taylor and Connie. Saturday, I pre-rode Kitsuma. It was a good thing, too, as I needed to get back into the East Coast frame of mind. No buff singletrack in the Pisgah!
On Sunday, the race began with a neutral roll-out led by the North Carolina National Guard Humvee. Not too neutral, though, as the Humvee set a high tempo right from the beginning. Once we turned onto Old Hwy 70 and began climbing, the pace became vicious. I managed to stay up with the front group, pacing myself behind several guys. I knew that I needed to hit Kitsuma with a clear trail ahead, and avoid the line of walkers. I did and it was oh, so smooth sailing up the climb. I cleaned all but two switchbacks and those I just did a couple quick CX moves and was quickly back on the bike.
The descent was fast! I was feeling great and nailed the two technical ledge/root drops. However, I forgot about that first tight switchback to the left, the one with the big drop. I came in way too hard! Applying too much brake, when I dropped my front tire off the ledge, I went flying through the air. I just knew I was going over the embankment when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small tree. I grabbed with my left hand in a Tarzan-like maneuver, managing to land on my feet, just off the trail. Indy, however, wasn't so fortunate. She catapulted off the trail and ended up down the mountain a few yards. I do believe I heard a few expletives from her.
Amazingly both I and my bike were o.k. I finished the descent off Kitsuma a bit more cautiously. It took a bit for me to find my rhythm again; I did not want another, more serious disaster to happen. A short, paved section took me to the first aid station. Not needing anything, I proceded into the next bit of singletrack.
Finding my rhythm again, I felt light on the climbs. My race was going very well; the bike and I were one. Have I mentioned just how good the Era climbs! I popped out onto some doubletrack which rolled along for quite some ways. It was very overgrown with tall weeds, which I kept wacking with my Ergon barends. I think by the time I had finished this section, I had cleared the trail for those behind me and had a rather nice looking boquet on each end of my handlebars.
Rolling into aid station 2, I grabbed a bottle from Connie. Now, she was expecting Taylor to arrive before me, so guess wh0se bottle I got? I did not realize this, as both our bottles looked the same, until I took a drink a hundred yards down the road. The ice cold water was a surprise, but very refreshing. I could only imaging what Taylor's reaction would be when he took a swig of the Glacier Mist Rapidade. (Later, Connie told me she had realized what she had done and fixed it)
Then began the 10 mile climb up Curtis Creek. Now, here is where I fell apart for a bit. Having gone out so hard in the beginning, my legs could just not find the right gear. For the first 7 miles, I kept changing gears. Back and forth, back and forth, nothing was comfortable. I would hop on someone's wheel to try to pace me. But then I could see he was hurting as well and would have to move along ... alone. Finally, with 3 miles to go, my legs came back, I clicked the gears down a few cogs and rolled along at a good pace.
At the third aid station, I grabbed another bottle and then enjoyed the 3 mile descent, even though it was a bit sketchy with all the loose gravel. The first two miles of the 4 mile climb back up to the parkway I was busy looking for that magical gear. Then the legs were back ... again. Upon reaching the bridge that was under construction, I was behind a guy whose legs seized up as he was making his way across the narrow ledge. (Now, looking back, it was quite funny.) He was unable to move and was moaning in pain. I thought he might just fall off into the creek below. But at the time, he was costing me precious seconds, about 60 of them. He finally was able to back track and let me procede. On the other side of the creek, I passed another racer who was writhing in pain, on the ground, with leg cramps.
The guys at aid station 4 were awesome. One grabbed my bike, the other helped me refill my Camelbak. They also let me know I was the lead woman. I thought I was, but it is always reassuring when someone else tells you. From there I climbed the mile on the Parkway; it seemed like 5.
The 1/4 mile hike-a-bike was good for me. It reinforced 3 things: my shoulder was 100%, Indy is so freakin' light, and I CAN hike-a-bike and like it! Once at the top, I began the never-ending singletrack descent on Heartbreak Ridge. What a blast! Well, at least for the first 3 miles. It was rocky, rooty, with lots of drops. It was beginning to wear on my upper body after 30 minutes. I even passed one guy who had cramped up! Never seen that before, on a descent.
After what seemed like an eternity I popped out onto the pavement. That was short-lived as I turned right onto another gravel road climb. Only 3 miles long, but it was a bitch. Ughh! Come on legs, work with me. The Heartbreak Ridge had taken its toll on my quads and it took them a while to come around.
Once I saw Kitsuma again, I could smell the barn! I think I flew up that climb just as well the second time. I did the CX maneuvers on the same two switchbacks and I remembered the haneous left-handed switchback ledge drop this time. I dismounted for that one and ran it down. I think that switchback claimed a lot of victims for I saw tons of skid marks that ran off the mountain.
I hammered it on the pavement back to Old Fort and crossed the finish line in 6:19:23; good enough for first, but just shy of the course record set by Trish. Doh! I guess that means I am going back next year!
After cooling off in the creek, I was heading back to the van to get changed when I saw Trish in riding clothes. I just assumed that she had ridden bits of the course watching Sam. But later I saw her name on the results. Holy sh!t! She place second, just 3 1/2 months after giving birth. She is insanely amazing!
Zeke had a long, but good race. His trail angel qualities led him to help an injured rider (Julia) off the course. What a man! What a man!