Friday, March 10, 2017

Southern Cross Race Report

Survival (and fun) were the goals.

I believe that we athletes are in tune with our bodies more so than the common folk.  I had been "off" for a couple weeks.  My initial plans for this weekend were to race P36, but as the days grew closer, the night time temperatures kept dropping, and I decided to pull the plug on that one once the temps dipped below 25 degrees.  I also just wasn't "feeling" it, as I had been for my 2014 attempt.  So I decided to race the Southern Cross instead, "race" being a loose term.  Even though I had rested leading up to this one, the legs just felt heavy all week.

Her name is Freedom!

With the name of the game being fun, I raced my Niner Air 9 RDO.  I put on the fastest rolling MTB tire I had, the Specialized Renegade 2.1's.  I was wishing for the 1.8's that they used to make.  Come 'on, Specialized, get with the program!

Sitting about 10-15 rows back, I was looking at the selection of gravel tires, as I was interested in what people were running.  But what caught my eye was this dude's saddle bag.  Not really a bag, nor a strap.  It looked like the tube and tools had been wrapped in Cling Wrap, not once or twice, but at least a dozen times.  How he could even access that was beyond me!

With a bunch of heavy hitters lining up at the start, I expected the neutral roll out to be not so much. Fortunately for me, it was slower than I expected, and allowed my legs some time to arise from the dead.  There was some chaos in the inital miles, especially when a couple leash less dogs decided to play Frogger with the peloton.  How a major pile up did not happen was quite miraculous!

Once we hit the gravel, the pack began to thin out.  I was not feeling fantastic, but better than expected.  Able to hit the stutter bumps with ease and speed, I made my way around quite a few cross bikes. These initial rolling miles weren't too bad. I yo yo'd with a few women. Once I turned onto the climb leading up to the Jones Creek Trail, I ramped it up a notch, wanting to clear myself from as many cross bikes as possible.  The legs barked, but did their duty.

I was in my element on the single track.  Just ... not ... long ... enough!  I was hoping I had put some distance between myself and the 3 ladies I had passed just before entering the trail.  But when I hit the Winding Stair climb, I thought I had entered quicksand.  I made judicious use of the big pie plate cog on my Eagle drive train.

I was thinking how I wish I had a pacer to help me on this climb.  Sho' nuff, I came upon Mr. Metronome.  The creak of his bottom brackett, with each pedal stroke, was mesmerizing.  Soon, I realized, my pedal strokes were matching his. But after about 10 minutes, if I continued at his pace, I would go mad!  I had to get away!  Forcing my legs to the breaking point, I was able to free myself from his grasp.

Halfway up, I got passed back by two women.  I had nothing ... nothing.  My heart rate was where it should be, but there was no power to go along with it.  I was only 1 hour 15 minutes into this (4 hour race for me) race ... let the suffering commence!

I bypassed the first aid station and once I was rolling along Springer Mountain ridge line, I felt a little better.  The descent was so much fun.  Using all the descending skills I could muster, I was able to catch up and pass the two women who ran off and left me on Winding Stair. Towards the bottom, I came upon Mary.  Together we made the right hander onto the pavement and continued descending. It was here I realized that tire selection does make a huge difference.  Wishing I had some skinnies, I tucked in behind Mary and rode her wheel for awhile before she pulled off and let me lead.

As the pavement flattened out, we were caught by the two women who were tucked in behind a couple guys.  They blew by so fast, I had no time to jump onto their wheel.  Nor would my legs have allowed it, as they began to wimper again ... on the flats!

The climb up Noontootla is a beautiful 7 mile gradual grade on pristine dirt.  But today, it was an all out effort just to make forward progress. My thoughts kept changing from how beautiful a day and how blessed I am to why the heck am I in this slump?  Then "The Legend," Big Dawg Mike Palmeri caught me. Together we pushed each other up the mountain.  I was happy to be in his company of positivity.  I was in awe of just how strong of a guy he is, as I had never had the opportunity to ride with him before.  Towards the top I slowly rode away from him.

I stopped the second time I hit the aid station and swapped a bottle and grabbed a gel, as my flask was empty.  This should be enough to see me to the finish, although I had the brief thought that I might have ridden better had my flask been full of Jack Daniel's as opposed to Hammer gel.

The rolling ridge line leading to Cooper Gap had me alternating between standing and sitting.  Funny, but I felt better when I was standing and pretending I was on my single speed.  I was in my own little bubble save for another who would catch me on the climbs, but then I would drop him on the descents.  He gave me just the spark I needed to go just a bit harder.  I finally dropped him on the long descent down to the 4-H camp.

And then, lo and behold, Big Dawg caught up to me.  He must have blistered that descent.  I was super happy to see him, as I needed a big strong man to carry me to the finish.  I lost what little remained of any power somewhere on the final descent.  Mike told me to hop and and enjoy the ride. Still then, I had to get after it a bit, just to hang on. Mr. Metronome latched on, too. Fortunately, the noise was at a minimum on this flatter section of the course.

I rode into the backside of the winery, crossed the creek, pedaled up the grassy hill, pitifully hopped a barrier, and flung myself across the finish line.  I can say that I did give it my all; it just wasn't that much. Still, good enough for 2nd in the 40+ women, and only 50 seconds back from first.

It has been said that you learn more from your losses than from your wins.  It is now a week later, and I am still scratching my head as to why the legs weren't there.  And then I think, perhaps they were, and that this is as good as it gets for being 48 years old.  If it ends up coming down to that, I can accept it.  But, if there is something else, something that can be fixed, I hope to find the answers soon.

Huge shout out to Jean, Angie, and Beth. Beastly, in a good way, women!