Thursday, October 26, 2017

12 Hours of the Hill of Truth Race Report

Hill of Truth -- The infamous powerline climb

I had signed up to race this solo.  This race had been my very first 12 hour race back in 2005.  Now in its 19th year, I was eager to get back.  The trail system at Haw Ridge is a spider web of amazing technical trails.  Each year the course is different.  I would go out and race until it wasn't fun any longer, pull the plug, and then hang out with friends.  Two days before I got a FB message from Missy, inviting me to join her and Elizabeth on their team, the YeeHaw Hawties.  It didn't didn't take much persuasion to hop aboard their train.

Three womens' teams signed up and this year was a record turn out with 150+ racers.  I suppose the warm and dry weather had something to do with it, but other factors included Jon and Kent's hard work ethic and the explosive growth of mountain biking in the Knoxville area.

The Hawties shared tent space with the Nox Composites team of Kaysee "the crusher", Cory "the conqueror", Wes "the SS slayer", and Brad "the equalizer."  I asked to do the first lap and didn't get any resistance.  Just a month or so ago, Zeke and I racked our brains trying to remember which race started with a cannon.  Question answered as I became tone deaf in my right ear!

Even though the pace was intense on the greenway, the legs were happy.  Diving into the woods on Soccer, I got caught up in a traffic jam, but by the time we hit the Lake Road kicker that was worthy of a #blamedanny (or, in this case, #blametodandkent) sign, it had thinned out enough to where I could settle into my own rhythm.

East Shore Trail

The course was faassst!  Even though there was some tight and twisty along the shoreline, the Lake, Middle, and Powerline were straight up highways where you could pick up some massive speed.  The Hill of Truth came and went pretty quickly, as I was fresh.  This is a nasty, 1/4 mile rock strewn and loose double track climb that got steeper at the top.  Then to throw salt in the wound, a hard left was followed by more climbing, which wasn't all that steep, but when you are gassed ...

New this year was a downhill option off of the Ridge Trail.  I could either take Low Gap, an old school fall line trail straight down or Washing Machine, a new flow trail with berms and jumps.  I am pretty sure everyone took Low Gap, as it was at least 2 1/2 minutes faster.  And for me, funner anyways.

Hitting Mike's Trail, I knew my lap was about over.  This is where I tried to kick it and finish hard.  I came rolling through, first woman through, and handed off the "baton," a small piece of laminated paper with a bar code, to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth finishing up her first lap.

I rolled over to our pits, shed some gear, ate some food, and sat and enjoyed my friends' company.  Elizabeth finished her blazing fast lap and sent Missy out on her gravity bike.  Talk about bringing a gun to a knife fight!  Have fun pedaling that up HOT, I thought.  But she still turned an amazing time!

Going out for my second lap, the legs barked all the way down the greenway.  Fortunately, by the time I hit the top of Soccer, they were game ready again.  Having no traffic in front of me, this lap felt faster than the first ... but it wasn't ... meh.   I definitely used less brake on Low Gap, as I G'd out on one of the dips at the bottom.  That trail was definitely the highlight of each lap.

After my second lap, I learned about the little set back with Kaysee's Nox Composite team.  Appeared as if Brad took a little detour and went off course.  Either that or he wanted to even the playing field by buying the team a 7.5 minute penalty.  I hated it for them, but if anyone could make up that time, they could.  Anyways, it was fun listening to them strategize for the remaining laps.

On my third lap, I had one goal ... not let Kaysee catch me.  I was hoping Missy would come in quickly, because I figured I needed at least a 4 minute buffer for me to succeed.  Oh, how I miss the days of yore when I was on top of my game and Kaysee was just getting into mountain bike racing.  Now, it is all I can do to stay within walkie-talkie distance of this shredder-slayer-crusher phenom!  Kaysee is most worthy of the "passing of the torch."

I don't know what hurt worse, the climbs or the flats.

So instead of just some steady spinning, I had to race like a scalded dawg! I thought my legs were never going to come around this time.  All those little punchy climbs grew.  The flat sections were also leg burners as I had to focus on turning those pedals over, TT style.  The Hill of Truth was baking in the sun by now and I felt the heat emanate off the rocks and dirt.  I was glad to be able to dive back into the woods.  But then the sun was casting rays of light directly into my eyeballs making it difficult to see the trail. I finally popped out back on the greenway, looking over my shoulder, just in case Kaysee was creeping up on me.  With no one in sight, I was able to spin it on in. Goal accomplished.

Jump Trail

Our team by now had a substantial lead so I figured I only had 1 more lap to do.  So in between drinking, eating, and conversing, I prepared for a night lap.  With the sun starting to go down, there was a chill in the air.  I didn't add any layers, as I knew I would quickly warm back up, once out on course.  I started my final lap at dusk.  As I made my way around the course, darkness fell upon me.  I enjoyed this lap, more mentally/spiritually than physically.  My body ached, but my mind was clear.  Body memory from the previous 3 allowed me to negotiate the trail.  Of course there were a few tricky areas where depth perception made it difficult to judge where the trees were and I banged off a couple of them.  But other than that and a few big scary roots, it was almost surreal.  I really ought to night ride more, as I genuinely enjoy this kind of ride.  It is just hard for me to get out there when my circadian rhythm has me yawning at 7pm and ready for bed at 9pm. 

As I pulled into the transition area, my team mates were no where to be found.  No worries, I told myself, as I pedaled back to my pit area.  I handed off the bar code to Missy, who was going out for her last (and our team's last) lap.  Elizabeth managed to finagle her way out of a night lap, that little rascal!

While cleaning up, I learned that Kaysee's team was back in first place in the Open category, making up that 7 1/2 minute deficit in three or four laps.  Day-em! 

Kevin, one of my hometown buds, showed up at my truck.  He had completed 6 laps and was debating a 7th.  But he was also having some achy knee issues.  I talked him out of it, as we struck up a conversation reliving the good ole days, when we were both in our prime.  We must have talked 15 minutes.  That was one of my highlights of the race.  Had I raced solo, we never would have had that great conversation.

I managed to get in a great work out as well as reconnecting with friends! And Team Yeehaw Hawties won!  Doesn't get much better than that.  So thank you Missy and Elizabeth for the invite.  And thanks to Jon and Kent for another awesome HOT.  Thanks to the great group of screaming fanatics at the bottom of Low Gap and the Harper's crew at 5 points. 

I hope I can go back in 2018 for the 20th running of the 12 Hours of the Hill of Truth!

Friday, October 20, 2017

5 Points 50 Race Report

After my back fiasco 48 hours prior to racing the Ozark Trail 100 (and sadly having to DNS), I was happy to have finished my leg openers the day before without throwing my back out.  After making a $130 "trail donation" to the OT100, this race was the first time I selected the $7.99 insurance add-on during registration. 

I had no expectations for 5P50, other than to have fun camping with my daughter and one of her friends, enjoying the awesome network of trails atop Lookout Mountain, and hoping my back held up.  In my experience, this is one of the hardest 50 milers I have done.  It starts out easy with a great paved warm up which leads to the fast and flowy 5 Points trail system.  After that, you slowly get a taste of some climbing along the loose and scabbly CCT.  Then, to finish you off properly, the last 15 hits you with some gnar and a hellacious climb up to the heavens.

Perfect weekend for camping.

We were the first to arrive at Lula Lake Land Trust.  After setting up camp, I went about preparing dinner while the girls explored. 

Toasting the marshmellows for the S'mores

After the RV 10 feet from my tent turned off the generator for the night, I was able to easily fall asleep to the babbling waters of Rock Creek.  The girls amazingly slept well beyond the 9 am start of the race.  How, what with all the ruckus that was going on with racers coming in and gearing up, I don't know.  I guess that is a teenager's special power.

The start began at the entrance to Lula Lake.  I made my way up there early to get in a good warm up.  It seems the older I get, the longer the warm up needs to be to prevent my legs from seizing during that first 5-10 minutes when everyone is jockeying for position.  Even though the first 5 miles was pavement, I still had to fight to stay up in the front so that I did not get bogged down once the single track began.  And having happy legs is SO MUCH better.  So my warm up consisted of 30-45 minutes of aerobic spinning with several 1-2 minute hard efforts thrown in.

Listening to the pre-race briefing as I typically do, it went something like this.  "Thanks for coming out ... blah, blah, blah ... beware of 3-4 aggressive pit bulls along CCT ... "  What? Wait a minute!?!  If they charge you, Justin told us to charge back at them?  I made a mental note to try to find someone slower than me to ride with along the danger section. (Fortunately they never appeared.)

I was able to stay up with the lead group until the first big climb on the pavement.  I had to let the first group go when I saw my HR in the high 160's, which I knew was a "no-no" so early in the race.  I was extremely happy with how my legs were responding.  I would say they were sparkly!  But in order to keep them that way, I had to back off the pace and let Jen go.  The day was young and there was ample opportunity to give 'r later.

I entered the single track with just one or two fellows.  They were moving along at a perfect pace, so I didn't feel like I was "losing" time to Jen.  At one point I was with 3 of my future Rescue Racing team mates, Michael, Mark, and Spencer.  It was great to finally meet some of the fur-rocious gang!

Conditions could not have been better.  60 degrees and tacky trail!  The first 19 miles flew by.  Dare I say chainless?  No doubt due to time off the bike rehabbing my back.  I felt comfortable on all the trails save for the tricky CapRock section.  Not wanting to tweak my back clawing my way up the rock, I opted to HAB it.  (So much easier when you leave your ego at home.) Which really is probably just as fast.

I pulled into the first aid station, grabbed a fresh bottle and headed out to rock it on Kindergarden.  I usually wear a hydration pack at this event, but not wanting any added stress on my back, I opted for bottles.  It worked out well, as the exchange in the pits only took about 15-20 seconds. That was in part to the awesome volunteers as well as the bright pink tape on my drop bags.

I really enjoy the trails on this side, Kindergarden and Barkeater.  They have more of an old school flavor.  Bike and body were one today as I seemed to effortlessly glide over the roots and rocks.  Even when there were those stalled out in front of me, I was able to change lines without getting all jammed up.  Climbing back up to aid station 2 (which is also aid 1), I felt great!  The legs were indeed sparkly!  I had not felt that way in a long while, which, earlier this year was disheartening and frustrating. 

This time I swapped out bottles and gel flasks.  (Soapbox speech) I wish more racers would use flasks as opposed to single serve gel packets.  It is really a no-brainer.  There is ZERO chance of you accidentally littering, it is less expensive, and you can choose how much to ingest.

I had the opportunity of riding Hogsback and Tailings with Zedediah.  This was his first race in a long time.  He had gotten the opportunity when his friend gave him his entry.  He asked me what pace I was on and I said 4:30.  He wanted to beat his friend's time of 4:55 from last year.  Together we rode and chatted. 

Then it became quiet.  I missed his companionship, but after all, this was a race, and I had a rabbit to chase.  That one being the fast and rascally Jen.  And who knows who was just right behind me.  Beth had made mention of jumping up to the 50, and she was a hard charger.  Starr, even though she was not racing open, was still a threat, too.  Kayla and Christine can not be left out of the mix, either.  It was a strong women's field, for sure.

Upon coming up to the highway crossing, I had to stop for a vehicle.  As I unclipped and placed my foot down, I felt a little tweak of pain in my L5.  Not wanting to give it any credence, I blocked it out.  Motoring along the connector trail, the pain began to come in waves, small ones at first, but as I began the loose cat head rock climb, I felt it intensify.  L5 is my Achilles heel.  Vertebrae are pretty mobile, front to back, and side to side.  But what they are NOT supposed to do is swivel, you know, like a desk chair.  Well, mine likes to do that.  And when it does, it feels like someone is taking an ice pick and jabbing it into my spine.

I had to back off the power surges and try to pedal at a steady pace.  Kind of hard when having to negotiate uphill rock gardens.  The downhills were fine.  It felt good to stand on the pedals and let the bike go.  Thank goodness for full squish!  But when making the transition back to a seated position, I had to go easy and not slide my butt back, because that is when I would feel it.

The next few miles along the connector was all about staying mentally strong.  And then I came upon a fellow at a gravel crossing who told me that Jen was 3 minutes up on me.  I didn't expect to be that close as I felt I had lost a lot of time in just a couple miles.  Now I had to battle my back pain and the desire to close the gap.  The legs had it in them, but one wrong core move and I would be in agony with an out of place L5. 

I rode conservatively over the remainder of the connector trail, hoping that perhaps my back would settle back down and I could lay the hammer down again.  I reached the third aid station, hopped off my bike, and stood straight up.  That felt pretty damn good!  I did a few stretches while the volunteers helped me switch out bottles.  One fella told me I was 4 minutes down from first. I downed a Coke, stretched a few more times, and hopped back on the saddle.

Pedaling up the road, my back felt about 75% better.  I'll take it!  I increased the power and my back was cool with that.  Speeding down the gravel into the back door of Lula Lake, the pain began to lessen considerably.  I began the long climb up to the Jedi Trail with a new outlook.  Entering Jedi, I imagined I was on a Speeder Bike, flying through the forests of Endor.

Amazing how the mind can take away the pain.  I went to another place, as I was racing along Jedi, Middle, and Homestead.  I was back in my happy place and completely forgot about my back pain.
Approaching the South Trail, I came back to reality, as this trail took a little more focus to move through.  On a couple tricky uphill over a big rock sections, I had to dismount.  I just did not have the torque to get over and I was nervous about my back flaring up.

The creek crossing was tricky.  The water was thigh high and muddy from those who forged ahead of me.  I was very careful and engaged my core so that any sudden slip would hopefully protect my back.  The water was cold and felt great on the feet and legs, though.

Coming out of the creek, I pedaled along the gravel, gearing down for the steep ass climb out of the Land Trust.  I crossed paths with Carly and Azia.  I slowed a bit and chatted.  They were having a blast exploring the trust!

I got a boost up the last bit of the climb from a volunteer at the 4th aid station.  Then out onto the highway for a mile before the infamous power line climb.  I passed a few people on this section.  It seemed like I was gaining some ground back.  Left onto the double track climb, I shifted into granny, and focused on keeping the pedals turning over.

I passed a family of three: father, mother, and young daughter (couldn't have been older than 8) HAB'ing the climb.  They were doing the 25.  I gave a huge shout out to the little girl.  I can't imagine what kind of thoughts were going through her mind, tackling this beast of a race.  I tried to pump her up by telling her of the sweet single track at the top.  Pretty sure the only thing that would make her happy at this point was a never ending supply of My Little Pony's and ice cream.

The climb was 1.5 miles long. But the skies were overcast and I knew that the "Easy Button" was at the top, having ridden the Moonshine Trails in the week prior.  My mind went back to 2013 when Elizabeth and I were battling it out in the final miles, including this climb.  Never give up!  So knowing that there is always a chance of catching Jen, I pushed myself to try.  I told myself that she was just a minute up ahead.  Thinking positive, I tackled this climb. 

Then it was off to the flow of Moonshine.  It was mostly downhill and I put myself into TT mode.  Pedaling when I needed to, staying off the brakes as much as possible, and hammering out of the saddle on the few short climbs.  My back started to hurt again, but this time it was just the muscles aching.  This I could dismiss with ease, compared to how I was feeling earlier.

Crossing the highway for the final time, I descended down the gravel to the finish, still fighting with all I had.  I crossed the finish line in 4:48.  I forgot to get my finisher's glass.  As I was turning around and walking back, this cutey pie of a little girl who was probably 3-4 years old, came up to me.  As she handed the glass to me, she said, "You can fill this up with beer over there," pointing at the tent. So ... stinkin' ... adorable!  I enjoyed a good laugh!

So proud of this amazing yet humble competitor!

I must give Jen her due.  Even without my back issues I don't believe I would have caught her.  She smoked the women's field, placing 35th overall.  I couldn't have been happier for her, as she has had her own injuries to overcome this year.  I was happy to have kept her on her game as well as she on mine.  That is what makes great bike race, each pushing the other to exceed their so called limits.

As for the course, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I did miss the LongBranch trails with the creek crossings, technicality, and a little bit of HAB.  I loved Bathtub Gin Trail.  I even mentioned to Justin about including both the LongBranch and Moonshine Trails and making it a tad bit harder/longer.  We'll see!

After the awards, the girls and I went hiking.  After racing here 4 times, I had never been to see the falls and lake.  Shame on me!  Absolutely stunning!

We camped out Saturday night, grilling burgers, playing cards, and making S'Mores.  The next morning we packed it up and made it out just before the rains came.  What a glorious weekend!