The first 100 has come and gone. Of the four I plan on racing this year, the Cohutta was the one I was not looking forward too. For me, it is the toughest ... mentally. I know the course all too well and I am not the best at gravel grinders.
I did accomplish 3 of 4 goals for this one:
1. I made the podium.
2. I came within 60 minutes of Pua.
3. I came in ahead of Trish. She is my inspiration ... a super-chick!
The one goal I did not accomplish was beating last year's time. I was about 9 minutes off. But the course was definitely slower due to the rain and mud. I would like to think, had the conditions been the same, that I would have had a time around 8:19. I definitely felt stronger this year.
What was really neat and honoring was getting a call-up and being able to toe the line with Sawicki, Eatough, and Landis. It is not often in sports that your "average Joe " gets to compete alongside World and National Champions. And then get a backside view of the finest as they leave me in their wake! Man, the start was a XC sprint! I knew better than to try to keep up. Last year I did and paid the price from mile 25 - 50.
I settled into my own pace and hit the singletrack with the "second group." I felt good and got into a rhythm on Brush Creek. I did not have to do much passing nor did I get passed. I was running the Fast Track LK's and they were a little slippery in the mud, but I knew they would save me some time on the 65 miles of fireroads.
The Boyd Gap downhill was fun ... even in the mud. On Old Copper Road I passed Danielle and I could tell she was not feeling the "Cohutta Love." She seemed to be struggling a bit, but I said a few words of encouragement and passed her. I should have told her to be careful on the bridges!
Bear Paw and Riverview went by in a flash and then I was dumped out onto the "Death Loop." This was where last year I knew I was in trouble as I started to struggle up the first climb. But today, I flew up it in my middle ring. Still feeling good, I started to ramp it up a bit. Even the soft, squishy mud could not dampen my spirits. This was not as bad as I had been envisioning the past 10 days!
I rolled into Aid Station 2, all covered in mud. Sam Curlee did not even recognize me. I refilled my Camelbak with Dedicated Athlete's Glacier Mist, grabbed a gel flask, and motored on, thanking the volunteers for their assistance. Climbing up to Watson's Gap, I encountered some more rain, but no bother. (Thank you La Ruta. I finally feel confident in the mud!) The Potato Patch climb was my favorite part of the fireroad. It was here that I passed a lot of people. And I was able to do it all in the middle ring ... as compared to last year when I was dying in the granny.
I passed on by Aid Station 3 and as I was climbing the last section of Potato Patch, a spectator told me I was right behind the 3rd place woman. I always love to hear that. It is amazing what inner strength you can find when you know "she" is just around the corner. It took about 5 minutes, but I was able to reel in Trish. I was kind of surprised it was her; I was expecting to see Cheryl. I must vouch for Trish. She has been working alot and has gone back to college to get a degree in nursing. So she has not been able to put in the hours of training that she would like.
Descending down to fireroad 17, I saw quite a few tire tracks and "skid" marks in the turns. I always love this part and usually grab very little brake, but today I was a little more cautious. Later Jason told me about a crash he saw on this descent. The guy and his bike catapulted off the mountain. Jason said he had never seen both bike and rider doing somersaults through the air. He stopped and assisted the racer back onto the road; luckily he escaped with just cuts and bruises.
I stopped at Aid Station 4, refueled, had my squeaky chain lubed and then began the long flat section back to FS 221. Michelle told me that I was only 2-3 minutes behind Cheryl. I tried to pick it up a bit, but oh, how I hate this part. It is not exactly flat, probably a 2 to 3 % grade, and it wears on me quick. I am always glad to see the right hand turn onto the 12-15% 1 1/2 mile climb. I thought I might be able to reel Cheryl in on this last section of fireroad.
Gotta go get Carly off to bed. She is now reading bedtime stories to me ... so cool!