|Clean up ... the only part of the race I did not like.|
Most racers were dreading today's run. I was embracing it. Six weeks off from racing combined with just an odd assortment of JRA rides left me feeling like a slug. Last week's power test confirmed it. I wanted to get out there and revive my legs and lungs. Today begged for one gear. Time to put my Cysco in action.
|Going BIG in the rear.|
The Dry Creek parking lot had standing water. Along with high winds, it was drizzling at the start. At least it was in the upper 40's/lower 50's. I managed to line up with only 20 or so in front of me. That would allow me to be in my own little bubble for most of the day.
The long flat stretch of fire road allowed me a controlled warm up as I spun a high cadence. Disaster almost struck as a gear head almost took me out trying to pass me on the first short steep narrow uphill section about a mile in.
The bridge across the first creek crossing was a blessing. Climbing up the double track to the first single track had me standing and grinding most of the way. I silently thanked Becky and her spin classes where we would stand and grind for minutes on end. That made it seem less tortuous.
Upon entering the single track, I managed to get myself behind a train. This allowed me to practice my low rpm/track standing skills, along with my cyclocross dismount/remounts. The trail was so muddy in sections that I had to pedal downhill.
Climbing up Pine Needle Hill had me rethinking my gear selection. Trying to keep the rear tire seated was a bear and it was costing me precious energy that I needed for the final ridgeline. The next few miles leading up to the hardest climb of the first half, I tried to conserve as much as I could and focused on my breathing. During these "rest" periods, I tend to error on the side of short, shallow breaths. It is hear that one can prepare their body for the next big push by slow, deep breathing to enable your muscles to absorb as much oxygen as possible.
I was off my bike quite a bit on the Horn Mountain climb. It is hard enough on a geared bike, let alone a single speed in wet and loose conditions. P36 practice, I told myself. And saving my pedaling muscles now might avoid future cramps. Finally cresting the top, I enjoyed the descent down to the Snake Creek Gap parking lot.
I had my Garmin on my bike, but I chose not to look at it. I knew my time was not going to be good and I did not need to be thinking about how slow I was. Fortunately, it was so covered in mud that I could not have seen the numbers had I wanted to. I made a pit stop, chugged some gel, swapped my bottle and started the hardest climb of the second half, Mill Creek Mountain.
|Photo credit: Charles Brogdon|
Grinding up this 1 1/2 mile climb had me convinced that either my (a) crank and/or hub was seizing up, (b) my tire was going flat, or (c) my brakes were dragging. I had to shake the mantra, "How slow can I go, How slow can I go" out of my head. Aside from the steep, tight left-hand switchback, I was able to clean the beast. I considered it a small victory and my grimace changed to a smile at the top. I slowed briefly as I came upon Jon Stang who was walking his bike in the opposite direction. I asked him what he needed (secretly hoping that is was nothing I could help him with). Busted crank, he replied. I truly felt bad for him, as I don't like to see any racer have their day ended by a mechanical.
The descent down to the multiple creek crossings was a welcome relief to my heavy legs. Unfortunately, the fatigue monster hopped on my back climbing the fire road up to the final stretch. That combined with the peanut butter mud had me questioning my ability to finish the run in less than 4 hours.
Upon entering the final 6 miles of gnarly single track, the fog in my head was equal to the fog on the trail. With mud spattered glasses, failing legs, and overall fatigue, I don't remember half of what I rode/walked. It was as if I was in a trance-like state; my brain shut down and I let my muscular memory guide me off the mountain. I was able to avoid several low speed crashes as I pinballed my way through rock garden after rock garden. I chastised myself as I had to walk a couple sections that the so-called "Queen of Pisgah" should be able to clean handidly.
The cell tower was a welcoming beacon of hope. After precariously speeding down the fog-enshrouded gravel road down to the road, I popped out onto the pavement and coasted to the finish. 3 hours and 53 minutes is one of my slowest times ever, but I'll gladly take it. Even though I was whooped, I was happy. I accomplished my goals of a sub-4 time, no mechanicals, and priming my body for another successful season.
I am happy to say that after the forest service "dumbing" down the trail 4 or 5 years ago, the Snake has returned to its former beastly self. Watch out for its bite!
|Let the clean up commence!|