|Photo Credit: Jeff Bartlett|
Trepidation. The word that I could not shake out of my mind in the last few days leading up to the race. I had been "off plan" for 8 weeks, my GI system decided to do a self cleanse without my permission, and I was dogged tired. Blah, blah, blah, wah, wah, wah! If it is one thing all of us mountain bikers is good at is creating excuses. Sometimes there are good reasons for a lackluster performance, but more often than not, they are spoken in the presence of our competitors in an attempt to justify why we did not CRUSH them.
With that in mind, I decided to keep the first 20 miles in HR zone 2, essentially a good deep warm up, hoping that I could endure the last 30 in the suffery zone. Laureen and I started out together. She is such a great steady state rider that it was enjoyable to follow her wheel. We watched and commented as a multitude of men passed us within the first 10 miles. I could tell which ones I would see later by their degree of "squirreliness" when they made the pass. Save for the first "wheel-eater" creek crossing on the Wheat Trail, the Dry Creek system was pretty tame.
By the time I popped out onto the energy-sucking deep gravel climb up John's Mountain, 1 hour and 50 minutes had passed. And no, the legs were not any happier. However, mentally I was good. I was taking the cards I was dealt with and making the most out of it. The gravel was definitely annoying, almost as annoying as the mud bogs of years past. Hitting the single track, the legs were feeling better. When I asked for more torque, they responded, which was a good thing, as this first bit of single track was a bit muddy and called for consistent power.
Laureen was right there with me the whole way. Knowing the course, I was able to make gaps on the descents, but she would always reel me back in on the next climb. By far, the trail was in near perfect condition and I thorougly enjoyed the descents. The take away message here is: no matter how advanced you think your riding level is, you can always benefit from a skills camp. All the techniques I had learned last year were now embedded solidly into my subconscious. No white knuckle moments today!
I rolled into the Snake Creek Gap parking lot, tossed my CamelBak, chased an Espresso gel with a Red Bull, grabbed a bottle, and began the climb up Mill Creek Mountain. This climb always seems to be the hardest one on the course for me. I knew I needed to save something for the last 8 miles so I just nursed my granny gear. Once on the ridge, Laureen and I started coming upon alot of 34 mile racers. Everyone was so pleasant, making more than enough room for us to get around. I graciously thanked each and everyone. Laureen was great at shouting out words of encouragement. Heck, at the rate I was spinning, it seemed she was able to give 5 minute pep talks.
After one more raging descent, I began the doubletrack/gravel slog up Middle Mountain Laureen passed me as we entered the final single track section. I just about decided to let her go. I really wasn't wanting to enter the pain cave, but more just wanting to have fun with this last bit of gnar. But then I realized that in order to have fun here, one must embrace the fatigue demon and fight through the heaviness. So I did. I caught back up to her and reconnected the invisible rubber band between us. I must give her a huge double fist pump for her mad skilz on these chunks of gnar. She rode through these rock gardens like this was her backyard trail.
|Photo credit: Randy Ware|
Laureen put a surge in at The Wall. At the top she was able to open up a slight gap. I refused to wave the white flag and so began the chase. With bulging eyeballs and burning glutes, I slowly rode back onto her wheel. By the time we hit the fire ring, I knew I had to counter. Now or never. So, when Laureen bobbled a section, I made the pass. I truly expected her to latch on, but fortunately the technicality of the trail did not let up and knowing the lines, I slowly stretched the elastic until it snapped.
Hitting the final climb up between the two slabs of rock, I lit my last match. My body responded, my heart rate soared, and I hammered it all the way down the gravel road. I came close to taking out a fella snapping pics who was right where I needed to go to "straighten" out the road. Just missing catching onto a racer's wheel rolling down the pavement, I had to pedal an rpm of 120+ to keep my speed up.
Seeing the finish line was exhilarating. Racing 50 miles in January on The Snake was tough. But having an awesome competitor to pace with made the day so much more enjoyable. Got to hand it to Laureen, but for my knowledge of the trail, I would be holding third instead of second.
Another great motivator today was all those out on the trail that gave me a shout out. Sorry if I did not recognize all of you, but you made my day as well.
I have raced The Snake every year since its inception in 2005. Every year I look forward to the challenge. And every year, NWGA SORBA does not disappoint. I like the new format and look forward to the balmy temperatures and dry conditions that February will bring.