Sunday, March 17, 2019

True Grit Epic Race Report

45 miles, 5500 feet gain

Race morning was 38 degrees.  Forgetting that a Utah 38 is different than a Tennessee 38, I put on arm/leg warmers.  I was in the Open Women's field, set to go off first at 8:20.  I didn't even know until I checked in the day before that there was a 50+ Master Women's field.  I approached the start line and heard a Scottish accent call out my name.  Coach Lynda!  I hadn't seen her in years.  We talked a bit, helping me to forget about all the heavy hitters in the field and how I was about to be "schooled."  This wasn't an "A" race and with all the riding leading up to today, I knew I was carrying some fatigue into it.  But I also knew I didn't have to prove anything to anyone, other than me.  I had my own personal goals:  have FUN, don't CRASH, MOTIVATE others, and CLEAN the Waterfall.  I also gave myself a time goal: 4:15.

At the top of 3 Fingers, with Zen off to the left.

The race started out with a neutral 1 mile roll out through the town of Santa Clara.  Once we turned left and hit the double track, everyone dropped the hammer!  The first couple climbs were a punch to the gut for me and soon I was dangling off the back.  I was cool about it and waited for the legs to come to life.  I also realized that I was overdressed and soon stripped down my arm warmers to my wrists.

The first few miles were fast and a bit muddy through Cove Wash.  I was in the mix of a few ladies and seeing their jerseys, figured they knew the lines, and so was content to ride behind them.  The next section was Green Valley.  This was a serpentine 8 mile section in which I would ride up a rocky wash to the top of the hill and then rip it down double track to the valley floor and hit another climb through another wash.  This seemed to go on forever and you had to make sure you followed the orange tape and signage because it was easy to blow through a turn on the descents.

Climbing up to WaterFall, the gnarliest section of the course, I soon was being passed by the later waves, which included the age group Men categories.  Most played nicely, but some obviously had no clue about the "trail" of their rear wheel.  More than once I had to brake, which made me "Yosemite Sam" it under my breath.

As I approached the feature, there was a woman just ahead who was undecided about riding or walking.  I called out, "rider back," and she quickly got off her bike and moved off the trail. There is a "danger danger" sign warning you just before the approach. Once you pass the sign, you are committed to riding it. As Scott Harper would say, "The pucker factor so high, I almost bit a chunk out of my chamois!" I had studied Thom Parson's video the night before, playing it 7 or so times, trying to visualize the line.  Enter to the left, sweep to the right, over the boulder, roll the drop, back to the left, ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk, roll over the drop to the right, fight the urge to go back to the left, hit the last boulder drop, and shoot out the right.  Boom!  I did it!

Pumped about what I had accomplished, I felt re-energized and was rewarded with a flowy, chunky descent down to the Zen loop.  I wanted to just BRAAAAP it down to the aid station, but after seeing 5 riders off the trail with flats so early in the race, I chose to err on the side of caution.

At the aid station, I lost a minute or so fumbling with arm warmer and glove liner removal.  I decided to keep my leg warmers on as slight protection against a potential crash on the rocks of Zen. I didn't have a drop bag here, so I carefully tied everything in a knot and hoped I would see it at the end of the day.

Beginning the climb up Zen, I made mental notes of where I needed to try to conserve, where I needed to dig deep (which was most of it), and where I needed to just get off and run it up.  Zen is my absolute favorite.  Super techy, with punchy ledgey climbs, I was pretty much red-lining it the whole time.  One line I took during the race that I was afraid to during the pre-ride was a short but scary cliffside climb.  I think I kept my right eye closed as I rode this section.  Even the descents worked me over with lots of chunky drops.  But as the trail name states, I was in the moment of bliss.

I rode back through the aid station (you hit this aid going into/coming out of Zen), and began the climb up to Bear Claw Poppy.  This was one of the longer climbs and I tried to stay on top of my nutrition here.

Three Fingers descent

Bear Claw Poppy was a 4 mile descending pump track for XC bikes.  There were alternate lines where you could get some serious air or just stay on the ground and carve the ribbons of dirt.  I chose the latter, although a couple times I got crossed up and flew a little more than I cared to.  It helped that there were two guys ahead of me and my greyhound instincts kicked in.

And THEN the hard right turn onto Stucki Springs.  Although I had not pre ridden this trail, I knew from the profile (800 feet climb in 4 miles) that I was going into the hurt locker.  Fortunately, the typical headwind was not there today.  I also managed to latch onto another woman in my category, which motivated me to push through the pain.  This trail is straight and I could see it all the way to the horizon.  We talked a little: her name was Carri from Park City.  We managed to pass a few guys, but I didn't quite have the legs to pass her.  Somewhere in the last mile, the rubber band broke and she slowly pulled away, although I would continue to see her almost all the way to the finish.

Once I crested the top of Amen Hill, the course veered 90 degrees to the right, which gave me a clear view of the snow capped mountains in the distance.  Talk about a view ... stunning! I was out of water, and there was a trail angel at the top with a water jug.  I pondered for a few seconds about stopping, but didn't want the gap between Carri and I to grow any bigger.  Even though I was way out of a podium spot, I still had that competitive spirit.  I figured I was only about 15-20 minutes from the Barrel Roll aid station.

There were some whoop-de-doos on the initial descent, one of which I unintentionally did a tail-whip and landed (tire side down) into some bushes (fortunately not cacti). How I landed that one safely I do not know ... cat-like skills I suppose! From there I rode a little lollipop which consisted of Rim Rock and Rim Ramble.  My legs either began to recover a little or my focus was on the trail for the pain in my legs seemed to subside.  I still had Carri in my sights and sought to reel her back in.

I came into the Barrel Roll aid station (mile 35 and 30 minutes after running out of water), grabbed my drop bag, swapped bottles, and took a caffeinated Gu shot.  Barrel Roll was about the same mileage as Zen, but less technical and with half the amount of climbing.  Knowing that I only had about 6 miles of tough trail left (the last 3 miles of the race being mostly downhill and with 1 mile of pavement), I attempted to make one last hard push.

I took the wrong line into the entrance of the saddle section of Barrel.  I stopped, backed up, and then cruised through the steep descent.  I knew better than to try the knuckle breaker climb and ran up that short steep pitch before hopping back on.  The last 3 miles I began to feel real good as the caffeine kicked in and I started picking off racers one by one.  The final descent back to the double track was so much fun and I just let'r rip, knowing that if I did flat, I would just ride my Industry 9 carbon hoop into the finish.  At this point, finishing quickly was worth a potential rim sacrifice.  I was so ready to be done!

Unfortunately, even sharing pulls with a fellow racer, I was unable to reel Carri back in (she finished 1 minute ahead).  I crossed the finish line in 4:31:46. The website purports a time of 4:21:15 but there were some major issues with the timing across all categories, so I am pretty sure my Garmin was the correct time. I managed to eek out a top 10, pretty proud of that I must say, and I did finish ahead of the ladies in the Master's category.  Hmmm ... maybe I will make a go out of a NUE series championship in 2020.

I absolutely loved this course.  My meat and potatoes!  The slickrock is amazingly grippy.  To be able to climb super steep pitches without any rear wheel spin is so much fun.  I wish I had more time to spend and session some of the sections that I was just too gassed to attempt.

Spending a week with my teammates on this Rescue Racing Stokecation was a pure joy.  I LOVE you guys:  Twan, Smooshie, Durango Kid, DJ, and Scott "1000 TSS" Morman.  I finally got my RR name by way of  Smooshie:  3G! And seeing how Joe Urbanowicz was so "starstruck" with Utah and crushing the hundie at only 16 years of age ... well, made me feel good that I could play a small role in his happiness.

Linda Wallenfels finished 2nd in the Open category.  Hell yeah, that's my coach.  And then she played tour guide, showing us new trail in the following days.

UTAH ... I'll be back.  357'ish days and counting ...

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Snake Creek Gap TT -- February Edition

I do believe Thomas Turner and I are the only members of the "Raced the Snake Every Year" Club. It has evolved over the years, from the first edition (2005) that was raced "backwards" from Dug Gap to Dry Creek to the addition of a 50 miler in 2016.  I am quite partial to the 34 miler, which is where I first cut my teeth on rocky technical terrain.

The February edition would be remembered by a Top 10 List, not necessarily in any particular order.

1.  The Polar Vortex was taking refuge at the Dry Creek parking lot.  Damn that wind was brutal!

2.  Realizing I forgot my DynaPlug on the bus ride to the start.  Like forgetting your driver's license: chances are you will not need it, but it makes you more cautious than you would want to be.

3.  Sitting next to Josh on the shuttle and listening to his friendly banter of nervous energy. 

4. It was nice to see that ALL of the bridge was above water.

5.  Seeing Angie Childre's tiny little cog on her bike as we were climbing up to the first section of single track and thinking she was in for a rough day.  So happy to be spinning a 23!

6.  Honcho calling out my alter ego's name, Carol, who is my favorite character on The Walking Dead.  Definite bad ass!

7.  Dismounting and leaping over the 29'r wheel-swallowing clay crevice, passing two dudes in the process.

8.  Having a friendly and encouraging exchange with a fellow racer as he was fast on the descents and I was a wee bit stronger on the climbs.

9.  Accomplishing my goal of a sub 4 hour finish and 1st SS overall.

10.  Spending the weekend with my stoke-tacular Rescue Racing team mates, Mark, Scott, and David.

Fifteen years of racing this tough as nails course.  If NWGA SORBA can continue this amazing event another 15 years, I will be there!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Cloudland Canyon Half Marathon Race Report

When I woke up at 6 am to the pitter patter of sleet on my skylights, I just wanted to crawl back under the covers.  I rolled out of bed, feeling the day before in my low back and legs, checked the weather app on my phone, and grimaced.  Damn you Paul Barys ... you said the ice cold rain wouldn't be happening until the late afternoon.

What I had laid out the night before to run in was out the window, and I had to rethink my attire.  I ended up just stuffing a crap ton of clothing in my bag, grabbed my Yeti mug of Christopher Bean Coffee, and headed out the door before any more negative thoughts could swirl around in my head.  I had paid good money for this ass whippin' and I would endure the suffering.  Like a crack addict, I needed that endorphin high.

8 years ago, I had developed a severe neuropathy in both feet, as a result of bilateral Morton's neuromas and loss of the fat pads in the bottoms of my feet.  I had surgery on my left foot, but it did not fully resolve the issue.  It wasn't until I was custom fitted for orthotic inserts that my feet slowly began to heal.  5 years ago, I thought I would never be able to run more than a mile.  And here I was with the opportunity to test myself with a 13.1 mile trail race.  Come hell, high water, or freezing rain, I was not going to pass this up!

As I drove down to Georgia, the temperature dropped and the rain picked up.  By the time I got to the venue, it was 35 degrees and raining.  I walked the 1/4 mile from where I parked, to the group lodge, grabbed my race bib, and walked back down to my vehicle.  During that 30 minutes, I must have went through 20 clothing combinations.  I finally settled on a "kit" that had me wearing more wool than a sheep.  I topped it off with my Vapor Trail 125 beanie, giving me the self confidence to see this race through with grit, gristle, and gumption (Scott Harper's version of triple G).

I lined up mid pack. While a lot of racers had packs on, I opted to run with just a 12 ounce hand held and 1 caffeinated gel. The rain was light but steady.  I watched as racers S-L-O-W-L-Y made their way out of the warm lodge.  With no telekinetic super powers, I was doomed to watch their sloth like gait, as I shivered uncontrollably. 

The race started out on a 3.5 mile section of park road that undulated.  I made myself take it easy as I had just raced the Snake Gap TT 34 mile on my single speed the day before and my longest training run was 10 miles.  At first I was worried that I was going too hard because within the first 1/2 mile I made my way up into the top 15 or 20.  But after the first mile when I saw my time and heart rate, I knew my pace was sustainable.  And my legs felt unbelievably great!

Heading out on the trail, I followed in the footsteps of Stephanie, who had done this race before.  She was very steady on her feet and consistent with her pace.  I opted to follow her and learn a thing or two. The West Rim Loop Trail was very technical with lots of rocks and roots, but not much elevation change.  Despite replaying in my head, "Pick your feet up," I managed to take a tumble, and lose about 1/2 of my fluid as it squirted out onto the trail when I put my hands out to break my fall.

Plenty of ankle breakers out here

Despite the rain, the trail was not slippery.  The wet rocks had plenty of traction and my Vibram soled Hoka's prevented any Bambi-like splits.  No views of the canyon today, what with the cloud cover and being too fixated on the trail immediately in front of me.  Stephanie and I had several guys pass us just before we began the out and back on Waterfalls and Sitton's Gulch Trail.  Everyone was very respectful when they made their pass. 

I was now beginning the run down the canyon, which included a 600+ step man made staircase.  I took it easy on those metal steps; I did not want to go head over heels.   This out and back was 6 miles total.  My quads were taking a pretty good beating on the descent.  I used my arms as much as possible to decrease the pounding my legs were taking.  I also had to be very watchful of the sections of cat-head rocks so that I would not roll an ankle.  During the last mile to the turnaround point and the aid station, I began to see runners on the return. 

I high fived, fist bumped, and shouted out words of encouragement.  Some had good poker faces while others were showing the effort of running back up out of the canyon.  One racer said that he thought we were the 4th and 5th woman.  I couldn't believe it; surely he had miscounted.  Stephanie replied, "4th, 5th, and 6th."  I was confused; what did she mean by that?

At the aid station, the volunteers were amazing.  One took my water bottle and refilled it, while I pulled out my gel and inhaled it.  Stephanie got a head start out of there, but I was able to catch back up to her.  After about 1/2 mile, she began to slow, and then mentioned that she was 10 weeks pregnant.  Ahhh!  Now I understood why she said what she said earlier.  I told her she was amazing and to finish strong.  I then slowly began to pull away from her once the trail pitched up.  The next 2 miles were painful, what with the 1000 feet of elevation gain.  I made a conscious effort to pump the arms and run or at least power hike.  "Walking is for the weak" was my mantra climbing out of the canyon.  I began picking off racers right and left; this fed my desire to go even harder.  My breathing was ragged, my glutes and quads were screaming, and at one point I experienced tunnel vision.  Whoa!  I backed off a wee bit.

Down and back up these on the Sitton's Gulch out and back.

Towards the top, there was a mandatory short out and back to a waterfall.  It only took about 3 minutes, but I ran it twice due to a combination of oxygen debt and thinking that perhaps I had missed someone at the falls who was writing bib numbers down to prove that we had indeed done that section.  I back tracked until I saw another racer and he confirmed that there was not anyone at the falls, that it was an honor system for this out and back.  So that cost me a minute or two. I could only laugh at myself; this wasn't the first time something like this had happened, and I am pretty sure it won't be the last!

The last mile I was running on fumes.  The short bit of paved walkway on the Overlook Trail was brutal on my feet.  I struggled the final 1/2 mile climb up to the finish.  I had indeed emptied the tank, crossing the finish line in 2:12:47. Sean Blanton, the race director, was there to greet each and every one of us as we crossed the line.

I was super stoked at my performance.  I felt like I had crushed that course, despite the weather and my previous day's effort.  It wasn't until I went inside the lodge and saw the finisher's board that I was 5th woman. 

Heck yeah!

I want to give a big shout out to Sean.  He assembled a great group of volunteers who braved horrid conditions to ensure we had the best race possible.  The course was well marked with plenty of confirmatory taping.  There was mounds of post race food.  I never would have thought I could have so much fun racing in precipitation that was just a degree or two from becoming snow. 

And thanks, Stephanie, for being an excellent pacer/teacher.

I am already perusing multiple trail running sites for my next one!

Friday, January 11, 2019

My Journey to the MG100 Buckle Attempt Begins NOW

This photo came across my FB feed on Crystal Kovac's timeline.  This lady inspires me on a daily basis and right now I am trying to bridge the gap and catch her wheel.

Today I did a 20 minute power test to establish my FTP (functional threshold power).  This number represents the mean maximal power I can sustain over an hour.  Using LWCoaching's power calculator, my FTP is 93% of my average power over that 20 minutes.

For my non cycling friends, think of this test as going ALL OUT HARD and feeling like you are either going to puke or die and then looking down at your time, realizing you still have 5 freakin' minutes left!

The temperature was not ideal (35 degrees) but at least the winds were calm.  After a 30 minute warm up, I pegged it for 20.  I knew that today's numbers were not going to be ideal, so I placed a piece of tape over the power number and then just paced it off perceived exertion. While I felt my performance was solid, as in I left it all out there, my watts were down, compared to my last test (May 2018).

Trying to find out a racer's FTP number is like asking a woman her weight.  I am going full disclosure because I am chronicling my journey in what is soon to be my 51st year of life.  By telling the world, err ... about 50 people, it will help me to stay accountable and focused on the task at hand. It is just a number, like my age and weight. 

One cannot simply judge a cyclist on their FTP.  Although the power to weight ratio (FTP/ weight in kg) is one of the best single predictors of performance, there are many more factors that determine an outcome of a race.  Health on race day, technical skills, and mental fortitude to name just a few.  FTP reflects your bike fitness and thus serves as a good marker of how your training is going.  With challenging and focused training, my aerobic fitness should measurably increase every few weeks.  Stacking LWCoaching 12 week training plans, I should hit my peak on September 21.

This chart uses 95% of the best 20 minute effort

Today my FTP was 176 watts.  With a weight of 112 pounds, my power to weight ratio is 3.46.  Now, while not as high as I have been in the recent past, it is still respectable.  And with 7 months to prepare for the Marji Gesick 100, my goal is to get as close to 4 watts/kg as possible.  Having that number will give me the confidence to see that sub-12 hours is possible.

So the way I see it is that the only direction is up.  I officially go on Lynda's plan on Monday.  Having used her as a coach for the past 9 years, I trust in her plans and know that she will get me physically ready for the MG100.  It will be up to me to

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Snake Creek Gap TT Race Report

This year I opted to go back to the original, the meat of it all, the 34 miler.  After 3 years of racing the 50 mile edition, I was good.  The 34 has always been my favorite distance, but I did the 50 because that is where the $$$ were.  I also opted to ride single speed because of the simplicity and brutality of 1 gear.  2019 is the year of #doinghardthings in preparation for the Marji Gesick.  I also wouldn't have to worry about being in the wrong gear ... because you pretty much always are!

I definitely chose the right bike because The Snake lived up to its beastliness in that it was a mudfest!  Only 6 days into the new year and we are already an inch above average in precipitation!  The creeks and rivers were ragin'!  The starting temp hovered around 40 degrees.  My toes and fingers were toasty with the chemical warmers shoved in the gloves and shoes.  That didn't last long though as this was what the Armuchee Creek crossing looked like.

About 3 feet at its deepest where it is normally only about a foot.

At only a mile in, I hit this bridge and immediately everything below my knees were drenched.  Bye bye chemical heat!  Over the next 3 miles of climbing up to the first single track, my toes turned to frozen blocks of ice.

The first bit of single track is the closest I guess I'll be to experiencing a cross race.  Ribbons of thick mud made the climbs a lesson in body positioning and steady torque while the descents taught me to be light on the brakes and bars and steer with my hips.  The blinding ball of fire in the sky also made things interesting as well. I was grateful for the warmth it began to provide, but not too appreciative when I couldn't see the trail and just had to trust that my cat like reflexes would keep me upright.

Amazingly Pine Needle Hill and the descent and trail that followed all the way out to Pocket Road was in fairly decent shape.  I was able to recover a bit here and ready myself for the remaining single track to the Snake Creek Gap SAG.  Although it was only 5.5 miles to the SAG, I am sure I spun my wheels enough to get in at least another mile based upon wheel revolutions!  The mud was insane! And of course, all uphill!  I wisely chose to hop over the 29'r wheel deep creek ditch prior to the mud wall.  I probably was influenced by the racer up head that took a nice endo attempting to clear it.

As I began the first of several HAB (hike-a-bike) sections either through deep mud or the loose, steep pitches where I could not stay on top of my gear, I used this opportunity to drink and stay on top of my nutrition.  It is much easier to forget this valuable part of the plan when one is not all hot and sweaty.  Not only was I burning an insane amount of calories from the difficulty of the course, but I was having to keep the fire stoked to stay warm.  Remounting was a challenge as trying to clip back in to the pedals when you can't feel your feet is darn near impossible.  More than once a most sensitive part of my anatomy got sucker punched by the top tube.

I rolled into the Snake Creek Gap SAG at the 1:54 mark, quite a bit slower than years' past, but given the nature of the beast, I considered it a small victory.  Mike helped me get in and out in less than a minute.  While I swapped bottles and gel flasks, Mike cleaned the mud off my glasses.

Thank goodness the Mill Creek Mountain climb out of the parking lot was leaf and mud free.  This is hard enough in pristine conditions.  At 1.5 miles in length, I was gassed when I hit the top.  I managed to sit and pedal a wee bit as I waited for my heart to settle back down to a life-sustaining rate.  This ridge line was in great shape and my shot of Espresso gel finally kicked in.  As I began descending down to the multiple creek crossings, the trail became muddier and soon just turned into a small creek itself.  Not being able to see the bottom of these crossings, I was happy not to have "boofed" any.

The fire road climb up to the last single track section was an energy-sapping slog.  I still felt like I was making good time; I was thankful for the caffeine's ability to lower my perceived exertion.  I passed several guys who had just come completely apart.  At least I felt that I had a bit left to negotiate the rock gardens that lay ahead.

It was nice to finally have dry trail.  The traction was good and the first half seemed to pass by relatively quickly.  But after the wall, the death march began.  At least I had Single Speeder Sponge Bob to push me.  I call him this because he had a shoe that squeaked when he HAB'd.  We went back and forth over the remaining 4 miles.  He would get me on the descents and I would catch back up on the climbs. 

On the last pitchy climb, as I was walking my bike, a large stick somehow managed to wedge itself in my wheel, flip up, knock me in the right shin, and take me down.  Yep ... I crashed while walking.  That told me right there just how spent I was. 

Despite going down, I somehow managed to catch back up to Sponge Bob and make a slo-mo pass and slowly pull away from him.  I was hoping to ride his coat-tails down the pavement.  But alas, I was once again on my own, in a semi-Froome like tuck, trying to gain every bit of speed I could muster. 

Absolutely spent!

I came across the finish with a time of 4:16.  Quite a bit off my best time and 16 minutes slower than I anticipated, but still proud to have emptied the tank.  And having sunshine and 57 degrees of heat at the finish made all the suffering and discomfort worthwhile.  And seeing all my awesomely sweet team mates! Despite the rough conditions, Rescue Racing made a respectable representation with several that will be defending their podium spot come February.

Scott, the SS Slayer, Harper

Scott and David came down from Ohio to ruin their drive trains ... err, have fun in the mud.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Georgia Gravel Grinduro 3G Race Report

This inaugural race was put on by Tim Molyneaux of TopView Sports, a predominantly road racing promotions company.  Tim's friends pushed him into getting a little dirty and creating this "groad" event.  The start/finish was in Helen and was one big ass clockwise loop in the mountains of Northeastern Georgia. There were 3 distances:  108, 64, and 30.  You already know which one I chose.  I was the only woman in a field of 14 bike-crack addicts.

The course consisted of predominantly gravel, but with enough pavement that I chose to ride my Niner RLT RDO with Maxxix Rambler 40mm up front and 38mm in the rear.  My gearing was a 34T ring with an 10-42 cassette.  I was never really spun out on the road as I used the fast sections to spin easy and recover.  But what that gear ratio afforded me was less time in the red zone on the super steep climbs, of which there was a cornucopia.

The start was a crisp 38 degrees.  Surprisingly I did not find myself shivering uncontrollably.  It was a controlled start through town.  At about the 3 mile mark, where the first gravel section began, we were unleashed.  My plan was to use the first climb up to Unicoi Gap as my warm up.  After a nice pedal along some smooth dirt that paralleled the Chattahoochee River, the 6 mile climb at 6-10% grade began.  I found a good steady pace that had me gradually reeling in a throng of racers over the next 45 minutes.  Towards the top I caught up to JOM of and we chatted a bit.  He even video'd me so maybe I will get my 15 seconds of fame.

At the top of Unicoi was the first aid station.  I felt so bad for the volunteers because it was brutally cold.  I passed by without stopping and began the 7 mile paved descent.  Despite a layer of duct tape on my shoes, 2 pairs of gloves, and Hot Hands in both shoes and gloves, they turned into blocks of ice!  My eyeballs were so cold, I was afraid to blink for fear of my lids freezing to them like a tongue to ice cold metal!  I had a couple more miles of pavement to try to thaw out before the first KOM/QOM segment.

Perfect day to view all the colors!

The Addis Gap segment was 13 miles long and included both the climb up to the gap as well as the descent down Wildcat Road. When I crossed the timing mat to begin the segment, I could at least blink my eyes, but I could not yet feel my extremities.  This gravel climb was super chunky, much more suited to a mountain bike.  It was slippery as well, what with the embedded mossy rocks and freshly fallen leaves.  With shadows cast by the rising sun, it was all I could do to make out "the line."

After beginning the descent off the gap, I quickly realized that the climb was the easy part.  I wanted to go fast, but also did not want to risk a flat or a crash.  I felt like I was descending blindly, using my front wheel as a blind man's stick.  It was crazy, what with all the leaves and shadows!  I barely had time to steer away from wheel-damaging holes and drops.  Once I popped out of the ORV-like trail to the gravel of Wildcat, it didn't get much easier.  Talk about rowdy!  I hung on for dear life and a few times felt the "pinging" of the spokes as I slammed the front wheel into some chunks of rock rearing their heads above the gravel surface.

Rolling into the second aid station after passing over the finishing timing mat, I stopped to check in (1st mandatory check point for the grinduro racers), shed some clothing, refill my bottles, and use the porta-potty.  There was a throng of racers ravenously pillaging the provided food.  I reached into my feed bag, pulled out a Honey Stinger GF waffle and enjoyed it while making the push to the next gravel section.

Unicoi Gap 📷: TopView Sports 

I was relieved to see that the owner of the pack of dogs at the top of Popcorn Road had kept them up.  I was ready with my trusty hickory stick I had procured in the drainage ditch.  During my pre ride I had to use one to fend off their shark frenzy behavior.

The next "fun" section was Rainbow Creek Road.  This gravel road morphed into single track that began just inside of private property that kinda looked like a fighting rooster farm/meth lab. I saw the orange ribbon that led the way to primitive single track along a creek.  It was about 1/2 mile long and included a creek crossing and a 30 yard hike a bike.  From there it was an old gnarly road bed with mud holes galore.  Slow going for me as several of those mud holes had me skirting around them, off the bike style.  I had no intentions of swimming today!

I rolled into the third aid station at mile 50 to sign in (2nd mandatory check point for the grinduro racers), wolf down a banana, and refill 1 bottle. From here it was 8 miles of pavement to the second KOM/QOM segment.  I used this time to refuel and perhaps recover a little as the upcoming section was 16 miles long.

This timed segment started with the dam climb, a one mile grade at 15-22% and then meandered around Lake Rabun and Lake Seed.  About 5 miles of pavement, the remainder was fairly smooth gravel, but the turns were tight.  Think of it as a gravel version of Tail of the Dragon.  After the damn dam climb, I enjoyed the ups and downs and turns of the segment.  The flow was mmm so good! Once it turned to gravel, I had to be more cautious as the road narrowed.  Along this road were high dollar homes and I encountered several cars (think BMW, Mercedes, Lexus) and several people out and about, usually with a dog or two.  Fortunately, everyone played nice ... even the unleashed dogs!

The last 2 miles of this segment were brutal.  No less than 9 damn climbs, of about 30-45 seconds duration.  These would follow after a fast descent, but I could not carry my momentum at all. At the bottom of every descent would be a tight right-handed turn into stutter bumps. And then the road would shoot straight up at 10-12% ... on loose gravel.  Each one felt like I was in a boxing ring, getting pummeled.  I was never so happy to see the finishing timing mat.

Despite 30 miles to go, I was smelling the barn.  Looking at my Garmin and doing the math, I set a goal I thought was doable ... sub 9.  I had one more KOM/QOM segment, beginning at mile 85.  So I had about 5 miles to get my shit together.  I stopped at the 4th aid station, shoved a banana and waffle down the hatch while hitting the porta potty.  I am the queen of multitasking at aid stations. After the last segment, I could tell my legs were fried and my low back was tired of assisting.  Both body parts were close to calling a mutiny.  I was hoping that calories would bide me some time.

My GI had time to process the food on the paved section leading to Piedmont Mountain Road.  This final KOM/QOM segment was 8 miles of gravel.  Though nowhere near the climbing of the earlier segments, it was far enough into the race that it felt the hardest.  Starting off with a 2 mile 6-10% grade and then continuing on with a series of descending rollers, I buried myself in the pain cave for 35 minutes. 

The last 13 miles was a bit of a blur. The miles and minutes ticked on by.  Hitting the final gravel stretch, I knew it was just a bit of a climb, then onto Unicoi Hwy for a nice descent back into Helen.  But wait?  What?  At mile 98, Tim decided to throw in a little detour that ended up being a Brasstown Bald type of climb.  Good LORD!  In some sections the grade was 22%!  Finally, finally I reached the top and quickly descended the 1/2 mile back down to Bean Creek Road, a 1/4 mile further down from where I had turned off Bean Creek to do this "cruel and unusual" section.

Descending back down to Helen, I noted the time and was confident in making it under 9 hours.  As I approached the city limits and smells of funnel cakes and other fried foods, I hit traffic ... and lots of it.  Swarms of people lined the sidewalks, crosswalks, and idling vehicles on Main Street made for slow going.  I even had a horse and carriage pull out in front of me.  Nothing like the intermingling smells of desserts and manure. 

My sub-9 was thwarted by the human lemmings, but I still managed first in the women's race with a 9:03.  Yeah, I know.  I just had to finish to win.

Also got $150 for the QOM. Thanks #whereswhincup!

I want to thank Tim and Joey for an awesome course.  When I was initially getting the beta on the loop, I was a little bit disappointed in the amount of pavement.  But now knowing how it felt putting it all together on race day, I was delighted.  It was kind of a Jekyll and Hyde course, with the brunt of the climbing being up front.  The scenery was spectacular and the paved roads took me through beautiful countryside.  I was very thankful to hit each and every bit of pavement, as a bulk of the gravel was ROWDY!

Be warned:  although the course is marked, mostly, you still need to rely heavily on your GPS.  Which is perfectly fine with me, as I like this kind of self-supported racing.

I look forward to next year and perhaps doing the 200K version.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

5 Points 50 Race Report

Although a month late, the first true day of fall fell upon race day.  Waking up to a starting temperature of 50 degrees, I had the first goosebumps of the season waiting for the race to begin.  I had no expectations other than to have fun and perhaps capture that third step.  With Jen and Kaley in the Open class as well, I knew I would be chasing them all day.  I did have a slight hope that if they ended up in a heavy battle for first, I might be able to reel one or both if either of them imploded.

The first 2 1/2 miles I was able to stay with the front group, but when we hit the first pavement climb, the group splintered into several small ones, and I settled into the third group.  I never saw Jen from then on and was only able to keep in contact with Kayley until we entered the single track.

I was with a small group of guys and ended up having to burn a match or two on the climb up Windy Shot, passing a few that began to sputter on the steeper pitches.  Normally I have some reserves for these early moves, but today my legs felt heavy.  Meh.  Whatever.  It was still early on and perhaps the diesel was just not warmed up enough; shoulda turned the engine heater on this morning!

The trails were in tacky good shape.  It felt great to be able to rail and carve corners.  Hanging Wall, Foot Wall, and Kettle Bottom were fassst!  Mostly because they were downhill.  The next section of trails heading over to CapRock were a bit more climby and my quads once again felt heavy.  No worries, though, as I still felt I was making good time through this section. Even so,  I was passed a few times and at the appropriate time by respectful racers.  One fella did call to my attention that he wanted around.  However, it was in a pretty tight descent and I was not about to come to a complete stop to let him around.  So he decided to attempt the pass without proper warning and came close to ruining both our days.  Man o man, I was wanting to flog him like only a Banty rooster could.  Fifteen seconds later the trail opened up and I let him by.  Good riddance!

Approaching the CapRock trail, despite wind proofing my shoes with duct tape, I began to lose feeling in my toes and forefoot as Raynaud's kicked in.  And if you don't know how much you need that tactile foot connection both to the bike and trail to ride through technical sections, believe me, you do.  I wasn't sure how I was going to manage the rocky climb, but alas, some poor fella just in front of me bit it hard on the steep descent into it.  He was ok, but it forced me to dismount and hike the bike ... which was probably just as fast.   But it still sucked, kinda, because I have cleaned this many times before.

I rolled on through the aid station and looked forward to Kindergarden, my favorite trail of all!  It was a bit congested here and with my frozen feet, I buggered it on the first section.  Then I had a heck of a time clipping back in because I could not feel my feet at all.  I finally got lucky and heard the audible click of reconnection.  From there on, I focused intensely on the trail and somehow managed to make it through unscathed.

Rolling back through the aid station and heading over to Hogsback, my legs finally decided to come out and play.  The heaviness had finally left and it felt great to power over the humpiness of this trail. The remainder of the 5 Points section left me all smiles as it flew by quickly and almost effortlessly.  The LongBranch connector section has 3 punchy loose cathead climbs that can beat you down both mentally and physically.  This is usually where I have my "low" of the race but today, I felt pretty good through this section.  Before I knew it I was at Aid 3, where I stopped, dropped my CamelBak, and grabbed a bottle for the final 15 miles.

Climbing up the freshly paved tarmac, it felt like the asphalt was grabbing my tires and slowing them down.  This reminded me of the 2007 LaRuta and climbed a 3 mile freshly asphalted road that was absolutely hellish!  Fortunately today's climb was short and soon I was descending the gravel into the Lula Lake Land Trust.  Quickly followed by the steep and punchy loose gravel climb, which, in year's past, was brutal.  Today, however, the legs were happy, the feet had finally thawed, and I powered the pedals over and over until the road planed out and soon I was rolling along the Bluff Trail.

The Bluff Trail was new for this year.  Due to some logging in this area, a portion of the course had to be re routed.  This happened to be a blessing, as the views along this trail were spectacular!  I managed to reel in one of my team mates, Michael, and got around him just as we were entering the Jedi Trail, which this year was raced in the opposite direction.  Still, so much fun.

The trails in the trust were in the best shape EVER!  Hero dirt galore!  Even the South Creek Trail which normally is slickety-slidy was perfect.  No dabs today!  Approaching the creek crossing, I smartly opted to walk it keeping my bikes bearings happy and me in one piece.  People do attempt to ride this crossing, but I just don't get it.  Risk to reward ration is much too high for me!

The other difference to this year's course is that instead of 2 miles of pavement followed by the infamous Powerline climb, the course directed us onto a short doubletrack climb up to the White Lightning Trail.  Mo' betta!  Even so, there was still a bit of climbing to get up to the connector trail.  I started feeling the heaviness settling back into the legs, but by this time I was also smelling the barn and able to fight through the pain.  Just get to the top, I told myself, and it would be all downhill from there.  I was able to catch my breath on the connector descent to FireWater.  Then it was a short climb to Bathtub Gin, my second favorite trail.  I passed a couple 25'rs here, encouraging a woman attempting one of the many technical rock features.  I can remember those days when I struggled like her and told her that she would conquer that rock face ... just keep trying!

As I was approaching the end of Bathtub Gin, I couldn't believe it but there was Mr. Smooshie P McDiggles, aka Scott Harper.  He was all bonkers.  I offered him a swig of my gel flask, but was pretty sure he wasn't wanting to swap spit.  He asked how much more of a beating he had to take and I told him, 4 miles.  I think I might have jinxed him when I made a DFL remark on a recent FB post.  Or was that a premonition? 

The final bit of connector trail had more ups than I remembered.  Soon, though, it was all downhill to the finish.  I rolled through in 4:30, good enough for third place.  Even though Jen finished 4 minutes ahead of Kayley, there wasn't any battle royale that might have enabled me to close the gap. These ladies are just too strong to leave any pieces for me to pick up!

Stoked to share the podium with such Powah!

Justin and Amy, of Roost Racing, put on another excellent edition.  I do miss the old school trails of the LongBranch area.  However, despite that, I feel that this course is the best of them all.  You really nailed it this year, Justin!  I hope that you will continue to use this one in the future.