I was riding a Specialized Enduro Expert 27.5 with 165mm travel front and rear. I thought it might be overkill on this course, but I did not want to race my Niner Jet 9 as I am headed to North Dakota in little less than a week to race the Maah Daah Hey 100 and did not want to risk injuring her. I am glad I did race the Enduro as it felt so buttery smooth on the trail.
|The best Arrow in my quiver for this race!|
While waiting for the pre race meeting, I was already sweating: 78 degrees, 90% humidity, and climbing. I dumped ice into my Camelbak and sought some shade. After a moment of silence (for those fallen soldiers in Chattanooga) Brent gave told us the hows, whats, wheres, and whens, including letting us know that we would be shuttled back after the final stage.
And at 9:30 am, he let us go. Not the usual short track cross country start I was used to. As a matter of fact, all the racers just milled around, no one wanting to take the lead. Weird. Not wanting to get my face and arms covered in a gazillion spiderwebs, I let a few in front and then followed in behind. The transfer to the first stage, Live Wire 1, was fairly casual. After I let a few racers by, I kicked it up a notch. I wanted to be in my own little bubble during the stages and not have anyone "up my butt." 35 minutes later and I was ready to try this "enduro thing."
Pulling up my knee pads, tightening my helmet, setting my suspension to open mode, and putting it in the right gear, I scanned my RFID chip, and exploded down the trail. I dropped my seatpost immediately; there would be no sitting and pedaling on this stage! Elbows forward, I pedaled every chance I got, tried to go as easy on the brakes as possible, and kept my sights far ahead. Leaning the bike through the switchbacks, I would stomp the pedals so hard coming out of the turn that my front end got a little light at times. Nailing the two small rock jumps got me some air time: hot diggity dawg! Coming up on the finish line, I slammed on the brakes and skidded to the RFID scanning device mounted to the tree. Beep! I was done, 1.8 miles and 6:59 later. My average HR was 178 with a max of 183! That's crazy! I have not seen those numbers in a long time. I was pleased with having a good clean run.
I spent a few minutes talking to Shellie, Brent's right hand woman, allowing my heart rate to recover. After I could no longer feel it trying to rip through my chest like an alien, I slowly pedaled to the next stage, Live Wire 2, less than a mile away.
This stage would be a little tougher as it had more ups and a few flats, and less descending than the first stage. I thought that this might be to my advantage, coming from an XC/endurance background. It was also the most technical one, with alot of rock gardens and bridges to negotiate. Length of this second stage, was just a bit over 2 miles. I did not start out near as crazy fast, as I wanted to be fairly consistent, clean everything, and not blow up on the couple of short, techy climbs. As much as I tried to stay out of the saddle the whole time, I did not have the muscular endurance to do so. I chose the flatter sections to raise the saddle, and pedal like an XC racer. I had another clean run, and finished in 13:15. Once again, my HR was right up their with a Ruby throated hummingbird.
The transfer to Stage 3 was long and included the 4 mile climb up High Voltage. I took it as easy as I could, pedaling in granny, HAB'ing several sections to rest the legs, and drinking the remainder of my 50 ounces of fluid that I started with. It was very enjoyable, even despite the sweltering heat. I had a steady drip of sweat coming off my nose. I was glad that I had spent the last couple of weeks doing my workouts during the hottest part of the day, for now I was very comfortable.
Topping out on the climb, I stopped at the aid station to refill my CamelBak. A huge thanks goes out to Brent for keeping ICE COLD water in the coolers. That was some of the best tasting water ever! It was still a ways to Chunky, the start of Stage 3. I was feeling rather peppy and rode a happy L2 pace. It was during this transfer that I realized that I was the first one to hit Stage 3. I chuckled, as only a crack head endurance racer would want to lead the charge during a transfer.
Stage 3 was Chunky --> Switchyard --> a small portion of Small Intestine. There was little technicality to it, but it would be a busy 1.5 miles of pedaling. Once again, I charged hard. I was doing well until the last bit of Chunky where I overshot a turn and went through the tape. Costing me precious seconds, I had to detangle myself, and get back on course. From there, I maintained better control, but could feel the previous two stages in my legs. They were not as happy to be turning the pedals over and were wanting more coasting sections. I finished the stage in 7:50, legs burning with lactic acid.
As I pedaled the road back to the single track, I tried to maintain an easy spin. I knew I was getting tired and the final stage, Stage 4, would be long, and both technically and mentally demanding. Once I hit the single track back to the aid station, I began coming upon racers who were headed out to the third stage. Some of them already looked whipped, taking a beating by the extreme temps as well as the long transfers. When I approached the aid station, there were at least 12 racers hanging out and having a picnic. It was here that I realized that there were alot of racers still making that transfer up High Voltage, which was the trail that I would be racing down for the final stage.
Oops! Even though I had been riding the transfers at my casual pace, it was still way too "enduro fast" and would now have to wait 35 minutes before Stage 4 cleared. Awww ... now my legs were pretty pissed off. While most would have liked that time to recover, I do better by just keeping on keepin' on. My muscles begin to shut down after about 5 minutes of down time.
So, while waiting for the stage to clear, I rode back out to the pavement and did some laps around the finish area to keep the legs warm. Finally I thought that the coast was clear and started the stage. My legs barked for the first 1/2 mile, but then opened up. There were still a few racers coming up, but they heard me and gave me plenty of room. Those first few switchbacks were buggers! Tight and steep, I felt awkwardly slow through them, like a newborn giraffe. The trail finally opened up and I was able to get that speed up again. Seat post was slammed so I would have to pedal. I felt great until the middle section where it flattens out and then climbs. Ouch! That hurt! I had to pop the saddle up and grunt my way seated, in granny or close to it. Rookie error, no doubt, but the legs just could not sustain the higher end torque. After what seemed like an eternity, the trail steepened, and I was happy again, raging over the whoop de doos and switchbacks. 4 miles and 15:57 later, I had just finished my first Enduro. Put a fork in me, I was done.
While waiting on the shuttle, I sought a small piece of almost non existant shade, and layed down beside my bike. Having left it all out on that last stage, I got a little light-headed. It took almost 10 minutes for my heart rate and breathing to recover (normally it only takes about 2-3 minutes after an endurance event). SO GLAD I did not have to pedal back up that damn mountain in 90+ degree heat. The shuttle back to the start was a Godsend.
With a total time of 44:01, I won the Women's Open. And yes, I was the first to finish. Absolutely loved the way my Industry 9 Trail wheels got me through the rock gardens unscathed. And how my Xpedo Baldwin's kept me safely connected to my bike.
Total ride time was right at 4 hours and total distance was 30 miles. I definitely have a lot to learn about this style of racing. And a few skills I need to sharpen. But I am definitely hooked!
A big shout out to Brent and Shellie. They worked their a$$es off to make this happen. And thanks to the SORBA Chattanooga for getting out in the days leading up to this event and clearing the trail of multiple downed trees from some wicked storms.
Already thinking about Stanley Gap.