|Always awesome schwag!|
I debated as to whether put "race" or "ride" in the title, as conditions (both weather and body) limited my abilities to perform. In the week leading up to the race, my chimp brain was all up in my face, telling me to binge watch "The Walking Dead" instead. "You've been sick.", "You are going to make your frostbite worse!", "What if you injure yourself and then freeze to death?" were just some of the inner conflicts I was dealing with. In the end, though, I kicked the chimp to the corner, and signed up for the Money Class with two hours left to spare.
I must be part reptile, as I do much better in the heat. Below 40 degrees, no matter how many layers, or how hard I try, my engine is just sluggish. I used 3 sets of chemical warmers. 1 set in between two sock layers, and 2 sets in between two glove layers. Pearl Izumi Amfib tights down below and 2 wool layers plus a thermal LS jersey up top. Feeling like the Michelin Man, I stayed in the comfort of my truck until the last minute. I determined that my "warm up" would be the first 30 minutes of the race.
It was 28 degrees at the start with brisk winds that probably made the wind chill in the upper teens/lower 20's. Cold enough that when the wind hit my face, it took my breath away. I was in the first 20 or so to hit the trail. The Dry Creek portion of the race was in excellent shape. No freeze thaw and only a couple of muddy spots. I have a love/hate relationship with this part. On warmer days and when I am feeling good, this trail is an absolute hoot! I love railing the corners and hammering the short, grunty climbs. Today I was just thinking about how these first 20 miles were "filler" miles. Why did I sign up for the 50? The true Snake is the 34. This is stupid!
Battling my inner demons, I had to ask myself the real reason for being out here. When I determined that it was NOT to try to win or even podium, but to find my limits and destroy them, as Todd Poquette, race director for the Marji Gesick, would say, I found some sort of happiness ... and just began to ride and appreciate the fact that I had the ability and grit to see this through.
And then around mile 12 my water bottle completely froze and when I went to take some gel from my flask, it had solidified as well. So now I was running on breakfast only, which consisted of coffee, 2 eggs and a sweet potato. This was going to make for an interesting experiment. What is the minimum number of calories I can complete this race on? I guess I was going to see just how fat adapted I was.
Stopping at the water station at the end of Dry Creek and by adding some water to my bottle, I was able to gulp down some slush. By unscrewing the top to my flask, I was able to get a small bit of gel as well. This was the first time I had to "chew" my gel.
Halfway up the double track climb, Thomas Turner came by with such speed that the turbulence almost knocked me over. He looked to be only wearing a skin suit and arm/knee warmers. What I would give to be able to generate enough power to keep my core warm with such minimal clothing.
Finishing up the 4 mile section of single track, I had to pull over on the gravel to get more nutrition which involved unscrewing lids and sucking down frozen liquids. It was here that Jen caught up to me and made the pass. I was both happy and sad. Happy that now I didn't feel the need to push it any harder since the pass was made, but sad that I was unable to hold her off until at least Snake Creek Gap. I love the thrill of competition and being able to "duke" it out with the best, but I also realize that I am of the age where I am not going to get any better/faster. Now the goal is to stay on the plateau (keep what I have developed) for as long as possible.
I rolled into the Snake Creek Gap with my water bottle 1/2 full (frozen) and my gel flask 1/2 full (frozen). So, in 3 hours 40 minutes, I had taken in approximately 15 ounces of fluid and 350 calories. Fortunately I was not experiencing any bonking, but probably because I was not going fast enough (Ha!). I was feeling a little cotton mouthed so I did make sure to drink about 1/2 of the Skratch in my bottle that I had at the SAG. I swapped out for my full gel flask, which wasn't frozen and took in about 2 ounces of gel.
Heading up that long arduous climb out of Snake Creek Gap, I felt so sluggish. It took forever to get to the rock pile at the top. I am sure some of what I was feeling was dehydration. Just the nature of the beast, I told myself and to "suck it up, buttercup." As the trail planed out, I was at least able to drink without having to remove the lid. Insert small victory happy dance!
Rolling along on the ridge line, I caught up to a racer. We were in a section where there were some short, but rooty climbs. He was handling the terrain remarkably well ... with 1 arm! I was amazed at his strength and sheer tenacity. I cannot imagine being able to ride what he rode. He was just what I needed to finish this race with a smile on my face and Thank God for the ability to be out here in brutal conditions living my life to the utmost.
The descent down to the multiple creek crossings was totally sketchy. My eyes were watering so bad that I lost sight of the trail, my feet and hands (despite the chemical warmers) were so cold that I had a hard time feeling any connection with my bike. I had to rely on my body's "trail memory." It could have ended badly ... but it didn't. I survived the creek crossings at speed and pedaled up the gobbledygook mess of the double track climb.
Fortunately the last water station had some leftover electrolyte mix. I refilled my bottle and drank in some of the life restoring calories before entering the last single track. This has always been the most fun part of the course for me. I absolutely love rock crawling. Granted, it was more difficult today, as I was cold and not as "fluid" through the gardens. I think my bike's suspension was not as supple, either. Those brutally cold temperatures have got to affect the oil in the fork/shock.
The technical descent before the wall has become Pisgah-ish! My bike got sideways more than once. I so wanted to use my dropper, but was afraid it would not return due to the cold. When I began to hear the interstate traffic, it was music to my ears, as I knew I was almost out of the single track. Seeing the cell towers was heavenly! I was going to survive another Snake!
By the time I hit the final pavement descent, I was already so cold that I could not get any colder. With frozen eyeballs and a snot-sicle on my upper lip, I crossed the finish line in 6:14, about 44 minutes more than I wanted to be out there. But I finished the dad-blame thing and was proud of my effort. Hell, anyone who finished any of the 3 distances should be extraordinarily proud of themselves!
I ended up surviving (and not bonking) on 35 ounces of fluid and 800 calories. Not my best race, but in all of the 14 years I have done this event, I have never DNF'd. I'll take that as a victory. As Grace Ragland says, "Finishing is winning!"
|My winter shoes|
For those of you who have trouble figuring out what to wear for extreme cold, the above has worked for me the past 5 years. An old pair of summer shoes, 1 size bigger, with added Gorilla tape. I don't like shoe covers, especially when there is hike-a-biking. The bigger shoe size will accommodate 2 pairs of socks (1 synthetic, 1 wool) to which I place a Hand Warmer in between. The ones labeled toe warmers don't generate as much heat. I've tried boots in the past, but they have been harder to hike in and if your foot takes a dip in the creek, it just fills up with water.
Thank you to the volunteers who braved the incredible cold. I cannot imagine sitting/standing still for hours on end in these temperatures! Although I did not partake in the food, they always provide chili and coffee/cocoa that will defrost the most frozen racers.
I am looking forward to the February edition? How is that even possible? Glutton for punishment or an individual who loves to feel ALIVE!