Thursday, September 15, 2016

Black Bear Rampage Race Report

My heart was heavy going into this race.  Just the day before, fellow mountain biker whom I was blessed to know, lost his 11 year battle with cancer.  Kevin Scoggins lived each and every day of his 46 years of life with strength, humility, and his unwavering faithfulness to God. As I prepared that morning for my race, I thought of nothing but him and what his beloved wife Leisa must be going through.  Even though I wasn't feeling too great myself, for I had been "glutened" a week ago and was now carrying around a 3 pound "Buddha Belly,"  I was determined to race my legs off in his honor.

Relentless was how Kevin lived each day.

As the gun went off at 9am,  I charged up the 2.5 mile pavement climb.  It wasn't long before I knew I could not hang with the front pack, so I let my legs come around on there own terms.  Jen disappeared with the big boys, but I wasn't concerned about how I placed today among my fellow athletes.  I just wanted to have a good clean run.

After 10 minutes of hammering up the road, I hit Brush Creek.  I was glad for the rain that had settled the dust on the trail, but it had also made the bridges slick as snot.  I approached them with extreme caution; bike upright, hands off the brakes.  Halfway through Brush Creek, my legs woke up.  I was easily able to pick up the pace.  I was pleasantly surprised that my heart rate easily soared into the low 160's with a perceived effort of 6-7. I had been unable to attain that HR since getting sick.

Before I knew it, I was flying down Boyd Gap.  I had recently installed a dropper on my Niner RKT and was making the most of it.  The corners were a little slick, but without my seat getting all up in my butt, I was able to fishtail around them without getting squirrelly.  So worth the 0.7 pound weight penalty!

Loving my rocket ship

Old Copper Road was a highway as I flew down the trail.  I was beginning to feel a hint of sparkle in the legs.  I was fearful the feeling would be short-lived and that I would go back to my slump once I hit the climb up Bear Paw.  After the creek crossing, Zeke handed me a bottle and told me I was 30 seconds behind Jen.  What what?!?  Jen is so strong I was sure that she would have been farther up. Beginning the climb up Bear Paw, I ratcheted down a bit, worried that I would feel the dreaded cement legs.  But that never came to be.  My legs were alive and ready to hammer.  Locking out my rear suspension, I began to stand and throw my bike around on the climbs as if it was my single speed.

Feeling great, I gave Henry a fist pump as I rolled through his station. He yelled out that I was 20 seconds behind Jen. As I sailed down the descents and flew up the climbs of Lower Chestnut, I had a feeling that I was not alone.  Call me crazy, but Kevin's spirit was with me.  I had wings ... and this time not from drinking Red Bull.  Towards the end of this section, I began to see glimpses of Jen.  By the time I hit Thunder Rock, I was on her wheel.  I followed her in awe down this descent.  For not having ridden this trail, she was raging it.

On the climb up FS45, I popped off her wheel.  I needed to eat and drink and allow the legs to come back around again.  As I get older, it takes my body more time to shift from descending mode back to climbing mode.  Fenton was at the aid station at the top and cheering me on.  That gave me just what I needed to get back to task.  Looking at my time, I was en route to a PR.

Climbing up to Quartz, I wanted to reel Jen back in, because I knew that together we could push each other and go harder than if we were each alone.  Together we entered the Quartz Loop.  I could tell she was a bit unfamiliar with the terrain.  She also mentioned that she had been riding quite a bit in Pisgah on her big bike and that she felt a little discombobulated on her shorter travel Lust.  I know that sometimes it can be hard to transition from one bike to another; been there done that.

As we approached Bypass, I took the lead, hoping that this might help our little train get down the mountain quicker.  It seemed to work as I was feeling very comfortable pushing my bike to its limit on the descents.  Together we made short work of Riverview.  As we approached the last climb out of Riverview, I was passed by a racer. Feeling competitive, I hopped on his wheel and followed him down 1331 and BearPaw.  1331 was really washed out and I had to hop a couple of ditches that came up super fast; definitely a couple of "Oh Shit!" moments.  At one point, I looked behind me and realized that I had dropped Jen.  I could have swore she was right behind me.  You know, the sound of sticks breaking, rocks getting strewn about, brake squeals. No one ... but me.  That was eerie!

Coming back across the Olympic Bridge, I was cautioned by spectators to take it slow.  I'm glad they did that, as I was feeling so good I just wanted to GO!  Grabbing my last bottle from Zeke, I headed back up Old Copper Road to the finish.  I was lucky enough to tuck in behind two racers all the way to the pavement.

Headed back up Boyd Gap, I remembered past races when I was on my single speed ... and how I had to get off and HAB up two short sections.  The challenge today was to not dab.  Some poor soul behind me was riding a bike making all sorts of pitiful noises.  It sounded like it belonged on the Island of MisFit toys.  He told me his shock or maybe his fork was blown.  He was indeed struggling. I let him pass on a flatter section so that he could get some speed up to try and make it up one of the punchy parts.  He hit it hard but that poor bike was not cooperating and he was bucked off.  I managed to make it around him, gassed it, and dropped him.

Entering Brush Creek I had only 7 miles to go.  I tried to imagine this as a 20 minute L4 interval.  I started out good, but forgot about that first bridge, was carrying too much speed going into it, and kissed it HARD.  My left shoulder and hip made contact first and I heard a pop in my low back.  I immediately jumped up and swiveled my bars back around. In my mind, the quicker I get back on my feet, the better my chances of avoiding a race ending injury.  Although I could tell I was "out of alignment," it did not hurt too bad.  I just figured I would out race my pain.

The first few miles, I had adrenaline fueling me.  The last few miles, the pain was catching back up to me.  I fought hard to keep my speed up, but after 3 hours and 15 minutes, I was about spent.  I did not want my PR to slip out of my grasp.  I locked out my suspension, stood, and mashed the pedals in fury for the last 1/4 mile.  I could feel a twinge in my left inner quad, but pushed on ... relentless. I wanted Kevin's approval for fighting for every inch of trail!  I crossed the finish line in 3:24, first woman.

I managed to get off the bike, but it took about 5 minutes before I could straighten out my back. Brad Cobb handed me an ice cold coke which I quickly chugged.  Slowly but surely I started coming back around.  Zeke was kind enough to drive me back down to the start.

Every racer got a hoodie.  I got a first place mug and some Tifosi's, which I will wear.  Although I think that in the future they ought to award the Masters' winners with a pair of Tifosi readers!  Part of the draw to the race is the fantastic schwag that Scott's Bikes has.  And the number plates are defintely wall worthy.

Lisa managed 2nd despite racing on very tired legs.

While cleaning up, I reminisced about the past 3 1/2 hours.  I couldn't explain my "chainless" day. It could have simply been my coach's training plan and the fact that I was getting ready to peak for my "A" race.  It could have been the easy week leading up to this race, especially since I wasn't feeling well and had backed off the training plan a bit.  But I BELIEVE it was Kevin's spirit that touched my soul and propelled me forward.

Every time I race, at some point the "pain cave" appears.  It can be a very dark and self destructive place.  It is when the legs are burning, the breathing is ragged, and focusing becomes difficult.  This is where the mental games take place.  You must know what you want and no matter how difficult and perhaps unreachable you may think your goal may be, you must conquer those inner demons.

Well today, I would take Kevin's motto and turn it into my Power Phrase.  I must have said "Be Relentless" a hundred times as I tackled the climbs and the steep grunts.  And it worked!  I threw everything I had at the course today.

Unfortunately I missed my PR by a few minutes.  But I was ok with that, because it still felt like the ride of my life.  And that is how Kevin treated each and every one of his cancer filled and cancer free days.  I will miss him.  But every ride from here on out, I will carry a piece of him.

2 Timothy 4:7:  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Cherohala Crossing #9 Ride Report

HillBilly, aka Wayne Nix.

Way back in 2007 when gravel racing was first cutting its teeth, Wayne started a ride/race/adventure over the mountains and through the woods of Tennessee and North Carolina.  He suckered in a two of his closest friends, Farmer G and Troy Adams, to ride bikes on, of all surfaces, gravel!  From that epic day was born The Cherohala Crossing.

This was the 9th edition.  The first/last time I had ridden this was in 2013 and I remembered it as a brutal, but beautiful ride. Essentially it is an 82 mile route with 3 big gravel climbs/descents connected by some buttery smooth and scenic pave.  Most of the 8500 feet of climbing occurs on those 3 climbs.

This year timing was perfect.  My training called for a 6 hour day, spent riding at 100 miler race pace. However, it was also my daughter's birthday weekend.  Luckily for me, the ride was rescheduled from Sunday to Saturday due to HillBilly's need to show his shine at an event on Sunday.  This worked out well for the party to be on Sunday so that my Mom and Stepfather could make the trip from South Carolina.  It's all about priorities!

25+ showed up for the ride.  We had 3 SAG's, following us around and keeping us stocked with water and food and carrying any personal items we desired.  It's nice to have such a small event where they can tailor to our individual needs.  A big thanks to Sharon, Jared, and Micah for making us feel like real pros!

After a huge effort on Thursday that thrashed my legs, the 16 mile flat start was what they were needing ... a nice easy wake up.  I was able to shake most of the concrete out of them by the time we hit the first 5 mile climb up Tathum Gap.  Although the competitor in me wanted to go faster up the gravel climb, I stayed in my happy rhythm as I watched 8 or 9 guys ride by.  There was only 1 other woman, Jessie, who was riding and she was already up the road by a few miles as she and Troy started on the route in Andrews.

Aside from a couple steep, but short pitches, this climb was pretty mellow.  At the top, I stopped and refilled a bottle.  Then came the tricky descent.  With no rain in a long time, the road was pretty chewed up.  Lots of loose rock and stutter bumps. I was riding my Cysco Cycles cross bike with 33c tires.  I was passed by a few on mountain bikes, but was o.k with that as I still felt this course was better suited on a cross bike due to the amount of pavement in it, which I estimated to be about 50%. I was fortunate to be able to hook up with Travis towards the bottom and was able to tuck in behind him for the straightaway gravel portions and then when we continued descending on Hwy 143.

But when the road began to pitch up, I popped off pretty quickly.  My legs were still angry with me; they were more in the mood of stretching out on the couch while the body watched some nonsense about big guys running around on grass protecting their little balls.  I just had to make the most of it and settle into a sustainable L2/L3 pace, drinking and eating, and hoping for the diesel engine to eventually kick in.

Now we're talking.  The mountains made me come alive!

I had to stop and take a picture just before the FS 81 climb into Cherohala country.  I also grabbed a little more water to ensure I had enough fluids for the 9 mile gravel climb up to Stratton Gap on the Skyway.  This section is my favorite as it follows Santeetlah Creek. Very calming to listen to the running water as I made my way up 2100 feet of elevation.  The gravel here was worse than the first climb; like riding on marbles.  There were 2 long, steep pitches where I had to just grind away like a single speeder, but sitting down.  Anytime I would try to stand, I would lose traction.  Having no other choice but to pedal hard and suffer, I was able to blow the last of the grunge out of my legs. Towards the top with just a couple miles to go, my legs felt the best they had all day.  Slowly but surely I was able to pass several guys who were just hangin' on.

Stewart Cabin on FS 81

At the top, I took a short breather, and refilled my bottles for the last push back to Murphy.  There were alot of riders hanging around the SAG vehicles and talking.  Most looked pretty spent.  I was feeling good and not wanting my legs to seize up, I did not linger.

SAG at Stratton Gap

The first couple miles of descending on North River Road (gravel) was loose and stuttery, but then it smoothed out and I could carry my speed through the curves.  Top speed was 37 mph in a few sections. HillBilly even came up on me on his moto and tucked in behind me for a few minutes. When the road opened up, he came on by, and I gave chase.  After about 30 seconds of staying with him, I realized that my speeds were getting a little ridiculous, and that I was a mother first, bike racer second.  So I backed off, which was a good thing, as the holiday traffic was crazy!  I counted no less than 12 vehicles coming up as I was going down.  And I passed two on the descent.

Heading up River Road to the next gravel climb, I attempted to pick up the pace.  I was really wanting to at least equal my 2013 time, but knew that it would be hard to do, since I was alone for most of the day, whereas the last time I had help.  At least the 1 mile steep portion of the Harshaw Gap climb was paved this year, but it was still a beast.  The sun was shining, it was hot, and the legs started barking! The total mileage for this climb, including the paved Tellico River Road section, was 8.5 miles.  The hardest, steepest, and gravelly bits totaled 3 miles.

13% grade right here!

I stopped and took some photos, managing to capture one of my fellow riders making the climb.  I followed his wheel to the gap, but then he dropped me on the descent.  The previous time I had been able to rail this descent as it was "hero dirt," but today the corners were super loose with lots of stutter bumps.  The shadows cast by the trees also made it hard to see the holes and large embedded rocks sticking up. I had a couple squirrely moments, but managed to save my precious skin from some serious road rash.

After 5 miles of gravel descending, the road turned to pavement and the descending continued.  At some point I saw a sign:  Murphy 12 miles!  Fortunately the road continued to descend, but a headwind picked up.  Arghh!  I was pedaling as hard as I could, feeling the need to see the finish line, as my tank was on E!  But before I could roll in to the park, I still had 3 little hills to climb.  Although none was longer than 1/2 mile, each one felt like another Tathum Gap. No amount of gel or my new favorite ride food, Gluten Free Honey Stinger Waffles, could revive my legs.  They were done!

So, to make the ride just that bit harder, I missed the super sharp left hand turn back to the park.  I ended up back in to the center of town, adding another mile to the ride. This course was not marked, so you either had to rely on a GPS or your memory.  Note to self:  memory does not work well when the body is spent!

Discovery Channel:  Moonshiners, season 3, Mr Wayne Nix himself!

I was about 15 minutes slower than my previous time, but still content on how my body responded when called to duty.  I used this ride as my last long ride leading up to the Marji Gesick 100 in Marquette, Michigan, on September 24.

Thanks, Wayne, for the invite to this year's running.  I am anxious to see what you will have for us on the 10th year anniversary in 2017.  Perhaps moonshine shots at the bottom of each climb which, for the takers, gets them a 60 second time bonus for the Strava KOM/QOM.