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.|
|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!