Saturday, July 4, 2015

Iron Mountain 100k Race Report

This was the 6th running of this backwoods old school trail race.  After having raced it, I could kick myself in the pants for not having done it sooner.  Jeff Bartlett could not have said it better, "... you take something you really enjoy, then you do it as hard and fast as you possibly can, to the possible detriment of enjoying it as much as you would on a casual ride, and eventually everything hurts and you can't wait for it to be over."

I pre-rode the course several weeks ago.  While it was enjoyable, and I got to stop and smell the roses and take lots of pictures, for me, it is just not as fun as racing it.  I am addicted to endorphins and I cannot seem to get my "fix" unless I am suffering.  I categorize suffering into two sub-types, suffery good and suffery bad.  Suffery good is when your system is firing on all cylinders.  Yes, there is pain, but it is welcomed and bearable.  Suffery bad is when you are struggling to get to that level you know you can achieve, but it is just not happening.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Never knowing how my legs are going to respond, until the race starts, I felt great during the neutral roll out of town to the Virginia Creeper Trail.  The pace on the Creeper was a casual 15-17mph.  And then we hit the 1+ mile technical climb up the Beech Grove Trail.  After a couple hundred yards of negotiating the slick rocks and roots, I entered my suffery bad zone ... where I would stay for the next 3 hours.  As Zoe so eloquently put it, my legs tried to "grow roots" on every climb.   Surprisingly, my HAB legs were happy.

The first 10 miles is 95% climbing.  After Beech Grove, the grunting continued on Iron Mountain Trail.  With flailing legs, I focused on my mental game.  My mind immediately went to Eleanor, who recently surpassed mile 2000 on the Tour Divide.  Zoe caught me as I was fumbling around on a loose cat head climb.  With her bubbly persona and a mini-Eleanor sitting on my shoulder, it was easy to stay positive.  My grimace turned to a smile.  Over the next 25 miles Zoe and I sorta rode together.  She would drop me on the climbs and I would reel her back in on the descents.

Beartree Gap descent.  Photobomber showing just how rad this descent was.  

The Beartree Gap descent was blistering fast.  The most technical part of this trail was getting across the 10 foot slicker 'n snot bridge at the bottom.  I was debating as to whether to ride or walk it.  The decision was made for me when the single speeder in front of me went down HARD on it.

Bypassing aid station 1, I began the 3 mile paved climb.  My bike decided to creak with each pedal stroke, so much so that when I caught a racer, he politely pointed it out to me.  What he was really wanting to say was, "Please pass me and end the torture!"  Once the pavement ended and the climb up the Lum Trail began, the creaking subsided.  Zoe caught me again and passed me, all while answering 100 questions from the racer behind her in a RPE voice of 4.

Picking up the Iron Mountain Trail again, I was glad for the descent, marbly as it was.  Crossing over a highway, I began the "arduous for me" climb up FS84.  Normally I am the passer on climbs, but today I was the passee.  I just focused on how fun Jerry's Creek was going to be.  As I descended Jerry's with its half-track, off-camber wet footprint littered with slick 45 degree angle roots, I had my left foot unclipped most of the way and praying to make it down in one piece.  Only mountain bikers would say that fun includes being scared sh!tless.

Catching back up to Zoe on the lower half of Jerry's, I enjoyed her sound effects as she got sideways in several slick corners.  We rolled into aid station 2 together.  As I was refilling my CamelBak and choking down a couple gels, she was having a picnic.  I hurried her up a bit as she was thoroughly enjoying the smorgasboard.

We rode together on the next fireroad climb up to Barton Gap.  I jokingly told her that I had put a spare set of legs at the next aid station.  I was now entering my third hour of suffery bad.  So I started asking Zoe questions that required more than one word answers.  She gladly answered in detail, but soon she was talking to herself as the rubber band broke and she pulled away as we entered the Barton Gap Trail.

Even given my grumpy legs this trail was a hoot!  The climb up included several section of soul sapping soft trail.  However, on the descent, recent trail work opened up the undergrowth allowing for stupid fast speeds.  I felt like a Jedi knight on a speeder bike!

Popping back out onto FS84 for the 4-5 mile climb back up to more trail, my legs finally began showing some signs of life.  Hallelujah!  I saw Zoe way up ahead and slowly began to reel her back in.  With about a mile left of climbing, I passed her at warp ... err, turtle speed.  As I passed her for the final time, she cheered me on!  This sign of sportmanship shows just how (insert desired adjective of awesomeness) she truly is.

Iron Mountain descent.  Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Heading down the Iron Mountain Trail towards Skulls Gap allowed my legs to fully re-energize.  By the time I passed by aid station 3, I was in my suffery good zone.  The remaining 20 miles flew by.  I HAB'd back up the marbly cat-head section of Iron Mountain twice as fast as I could have ridden it.  The ridge line section of Iron Mountain leading to the Chestnut Mountain Trail was similar to the Snake.  I was in my element, floating effortlessly over the rocks.  The Chestnut Mountain descent was like the Turkey Pen descent.  Towards the end I was two-fingering the brakes as my forearms burned with lactic acid.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

Rolling into aid station 4, I chased a gel with a Red Bull and began the 4 mile climb back up to Iron Mountain.  This climb was a mix of gravel, unmaintained fire road,  rocky double track, and super steep fall line trail.  During my pre ride of this section, I remembered it being painful.  Today, it was as if I had wings.  Before I knew it, I was on the FeatherCamp Ridge Trail.  I passed one poor racer whose legs were having a mutiny.  Back on the Iron Mountain Trail, it was a 6 mile descent to the finish, save for a few short climbs.  I was able to hammer these last few climbs without so much of a whimper from my legs.  Passing several racers gave me renewed energy and focus for the final 2 mile descent that littered with baby heads.  My forearms were like Popeye's by the time I sailed through the finish line.

This was a super hard day on the bike.  But also a very rewarding one.  Endeavor to pesevere is one of my mantras and today it was ever so true.  There is not a greater feeling on the bike than to conquer the suffery bad.  And that endorphin rush when you have left everything out on the trail is why I prefer racing to riding.

Might I mention just one more time how awesome of a competitor Zoe is.  To having not raced any longer than 2 1/2 hours and having no real structured training leading up to this race shows how strong this lady is.  Not to mention her class on the trail.  Her bright and bubbly character led me through the darkest of pain caves.

Photo Credit:  Icon Media Asheville

This race will test you more than any 6 hour lap race can.  So if you like old school single track, fire road climbs of death followed by single track descents of death, all sprinkled with some sh!ts and giggles flowy trail, you must put this on your calender.

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