Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ouachita Challenge Race Report

I never know what to expect from the competition any time I head west of the Mississippi.  I had looked at the start list and other than Andrea Wilson, everyone else was a mystery.  Well, Andrea was too!  I hadn't raced her since the 2010 OC and I knew that with her tackling the NUE, she was only getting stronger and stronger.

No sense in worrying about what I cannot control.  I knew I was dialed, my bike was dialed, the weather was looking super hot (which is good for me), and the course would be brutal for all!  I had pre-ridden Blowout Mountain and Gaston Mountain on Friday and Saturday.  Thank goodness I had remembered to pack my Pisgah legs.

This is what I see when I enter "the pain cave."

One too many trips to the bathroom on race morning put me in the middle of the pack at the start.  On top of that I could not get my heart rate monitor to pick up.  The guys around me probably got some enjoyment watching me fiddle with my bra/boobage trying to get my heart rate strap to work.  It is a pretty important tool for me on race day.  My heart rate keeps me from not blowing up as well as not getting to pacified.

Mid-pack was not a good place for me to be as I had wanted to get into the first or second groups for the 9 mile pavement/gravel section up to Brushy Mountain.  Instead I had to slowly pace myself back up to the front over the next 5 miles all the while keeping my "feelers" out for those who are not as experienced racing in tight packs on loose gravel.

With about a mile to go before I hit the first single track, I caught up to Andrea and another woman (I suppose Jessica Rawlins).  Jessica was in a train with her team mates.  Wow!  I need that kind of support.  Andrea was in the near vicinity.  As I passed her I said, "Keep the rubber side down!"  Ummm, I think I jinxed her as she had a bad crash on the Womble.  Sorry, Andrea.

I passed several guys on the last climb leading to Brushy.  Funny, several of them dug really deep to pass me back so they would not get "stuck" behind a girl on the single track.  Needless to say, I eventually passed most of them back.

My race was almost over before it had really begun.  Just as I entered the single track, my bike chain-sucked BIG TIME!  Luckily I did not try to pedal through it as that would probably have cost me a broken chain.  It took me several minutes to work it out from between the big ring and the chain stay.  I was sweating bullets!  I had never had this happen to me where I could not back pedal out of it. (This chain suck happened as I was shifting the rear derailleur to an easier gear, the shifting was a bit slow to respond, and my shock was compressing at the same time too.  If anyone out in cyberspace has any advice, I'll take it!)

After fixing my bike, I settled into a comfortable rhythm, passing many a poor racer, who was on the side of the trail fixing a flat ... 9 to be exact, and that was just on Brushy!  After seeing this I took it a bit easier on the descents.  I would rather be a couple minutes slower than on the side of the trail throwing a tube in.

Coming down into the Big Brushy aid station, I was greeted with what seemed like hundreds of screams and well wishes.  By far the largest crowd that has been there since I started doing the race in 2006 ... a real motivator!

Photo by Suzanne Henne

Blowout Mountain was its usual toughness with an added element of "slicker n snot" rocks because of the heavy dew the night before.  No cleaning this trail at race pace today!  All the guys that I was among were off their bikes too.  Faster and safer to run the rock slide sections, for sure.

Chalybeate (pronounced Cleebit) Mountain was by far the tamest.  The hardest part was the initial climb, steep enough that at times I was wishing for a 24 x 36 instead of my 26 x 36.  All the tourists the day before kind of "horsed it up" with their hike-a-biking.  This is where I started to see some racers blow up.  I passed about 5 guys on this section.

The 8 mile gravel road/pavement section that takes you from the Ouachita Trail to the Womble trail was no man's land for me today.  With no one in sight I was on my own.  In previous races, I was able to hook up with a group, take my share of pulls, and then tuck in behind and coast.  Today was just all about putting my head down, getting as aero as one can on a Niner Jet 9 RDO, and focusing on pedal stroke.

The 5 guys I had passed on Chalybeate eventually caught me with about 1 mile to go, so I got a brief respite.  I stopped at the Hwy 298 aid station, refilled my Camelbak and gel flask, and listened to the volunteer giving stats.  First woman, 25 minutes behind leaders, x miles to next aid station, x miles to first zip-tie check, and x miles to finish.  I told him he had obviously done his home work.  These volunteers were in their finest today!

I got my second wind on the Womble and slowly reeled in one racer after another.  Each was a grape and I, the hungry fox!  Thirsty, too, as the temps were now in the mid-80's!  I chain sucked bad one more time.  Same thing:  slow up-shift in the rear with shock compression.  Arghhh!  Another few minutes stuck on the side of the trail.  After the second time, I had to rethink my whole shifting thing and unfortunately that slowed me down a bit.  Although in hindsight that may have been a good thing as I never once had any inklings of cramping.

Todd Henne gave me a good ice cold water dousing at the intersection of the Womble and FS 922. Thank you!  The remainder of the Womble was Happy!Happy!Joy! Joy! as the flow was just phenomenal.

The last gravel road climb back up to the final aid station was a kick in the behind as the sun just baked my backside.  Talk about HOT!  Once I crested the hill, it was mostly down hill with a nice tail wind.  I settled into a time trial pace.

Smelling the barn! (Photo by Suzanne Henne)

Instead of finishing up the pavement to the school, they made you grind up a steep grassy climb.  I imagined myself cramping with only yards to the finish a midst a hundred + spectators.  But that was not meant to be.  I crossed the line with a time of 5:33:46.

First place netted me some cash and an Ellsworth wheelset.  No waiting on podiums at the OC.  As you cross the line, they hand you your winnings.  Sweet!

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Zeke thought that the OC was not challenge enough on gears, so this time (his 7th) he raced his single speed.  He finished 10th out of 26 in the SS category and 103rd overall (260 starters).  Not bad for an old dawg!

Zeke crushed it today!

Then he drove for 11 hours to get me home in time to pull a 10 hour work day.  Now I call that a Weekend Warrior Triathlon.

Kudos to the amazing managment of this race and all the wonderful volunteers.  You Arkansans rock!


Alan Canfield said...

Carey, just got turned on to your blog by Eddie Odea. Great writing and race reports! Very inspiring. I was wondering if you talked to your shop or Niner about the chain suck? It doesn't sound like a chain guard on the seat tube would help with this. It makes me wonder if your chain was too long?

Carey Lowery said...

Alan, my chain was actually too short. My mechanic changed out the chain, cables, and rear derailleur. I have ridden it hard once since then ... right now no issues. Let's hope that continues.