Thursday, March 22, 2018

Snake Creek Gap TT 50 Race Report

Buckle secured!

Oh my goodness!  That was my mantra for this race.  Having blown through a slew of profanities earlier in the work week that would have made Yosemite Sam cringe, I promised myself that today cursing would only be acceptable if I broke a body part.

The weather at the start was perfect.  A cool 52 degrees with a slight drizzle.  The trails were dry and fast.  Getting up towards the front at the start, I didn't have to fight through the usual drove of racers and was making great time through the Dry Creek section.  Despite my addiction to CrossFit, my legs felt the best they have all season.  The first 7 miles the trail was highlighted by the controlled burn that had recently taken place.  The trail was leafy brown, while the rest of the forest floor was black.  With body memory at 100%, I was able to rail the loose corners with ease.  I ended up reeling in several who had started out at greyhound pace.

Around mile 14, the drizzle turned to a light rain.  It felt great, at first, helping to cool the engine, but when it began to intensify and the trail turned to a stream, conditions deteriorated quickly.  The trail became slickety slicker n snot, and the pinball games began.  I still managed a decent time through the Dry Creek section and headed up the double track to start the real race ... the remaining 30 miles.

The rain had stopped, but the damage had been done.  I was wishing I had left my fender on as the drops of mud began to build up on my glasses.  I felt sloth slow through the muddy sections, but with the Pisgah Stage Race looming, I did not want any mishaps.  Jen caught me at the exact same location as the January race.  I was hoping to hold her off until at least Snake Creek Gap, but she was just too powerful.  I made a brief attempt at holding her wheel, but when I saw my HR in the red zone, I was smart enough to back off and just ride my own race.

The descent off the backside of Pine Hill was interesting.  Talk about an 8 second bull ride!  I held on for dear life, feathering the brakes just enough to keep contact with the ground and prevent any tree-kissing.  After the road crossing, I slogged through energy sapping mud around the Pilcher's Pond area.  Somehow I managed to clean the steep switchback to begin the climb up Horn Mountain.  Trail conditions improved and I began to see the tread in my tires again.  With the sun coming out and temperatures rising, I found my happy place rolling the rocky ridge line and picking off the 4 climbs.

Coming into the Snake Creek Gap parking lot, I was making great race, not far off my 2017 time.  The volunteers were NASCAR ready, helping me to switch out nutrition and even cleaning my glasses!  My bike looked awful, with the drive train being caked in mud, but it was amazingly quiet.  I continued onward, up the sustained Middle Mountain climb. This is a beast and I consider this the hardest of the course.  Not because it is overly technical or steep, but it comes at a point in the race where I always feel the first signs of fatigue: heavy legs, strained breathing, falling heart rate.  Once up and over, I consider myself to be in the home stretch, especially once I hit the descent down to Swamp Creek.

The rain and 150+ racers doing the 34 and 17 had wreaked havoc on this down hill.  Frustrated that I could not go with the ferocity I am used to, I had a few "Oh my goodness" moments in the sloppy conditions.  The double track climb out of Swamp Creek was messy as well.  Not only was I getting bogged down by the mud, but my body seemed to be shutting down.  Nutrition was on point, but not having logged the training miles as in years before, my fitness was subpar.

By the time I reached the Dug Gap single track, I was gassed.  I stopped at the tent and grabbed a handful of shot blocks and devoured them as I pedaled away.  It gave me a brief respite as I had to slow down in order to breathe in between chewing. Once finishing my little bite of goodness, I turned the pace up and began inching my way towards the finish line.  I felt confident that I would secure the buckle and a solid second place performance.  Now the battle was to get to as close to my 2017 finishing time as possible.

For the most part, the mud was gone and the trail was dry, but through the trickier sections, I was doing more spinning out and bobbling among the rocks than usual.  I had 3 slow speed crashes and could do nothing more than laugh at my predicament.  A cuss word or two may have slipped between my lips.

I was ecstatic to see the cell towers and knew the suffering was almost over.  Spencer, one of my team mates, had been riding/walking with me along the last few miles, and encouraged me to "drill it" to the finish.  I told him, as I crawled along the last 1/2 mile, "This IS me drilling it!"  HA!

Got my mineral and probiotic intake for the day!

I finished in 5:45:11, losing most of those minutes in the last 10 miles.  Disappointed in that, but knowing that this year is a slow work up to my ultimate fitness goal, I was happy to finish securely in second place.  $500 is not too shabby for a day's play!

Helping Jen to the top step while Lara is all smiles with a solid 3rd place!

Thank you once again to the NWGA SORBA crew, as their monumental efforts ensured another awesome day on the bike in the North Georgia woods!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Old Capitol Classic Race Report

Having not been on single track since the first of February when I went to Florida and seeing the forecast for this weekend ... cold and wet, I decided to suffer the drive through Atlanta and race the Old Capitol Classic.  This was the second race in the Chainbuster 3/6 hour series.

Not sure which one to do and with The Snake finale the following weekend, I would let my legs tell me during the pre ride.  I rode my SS with a 32 x 17.  Within the first 4 miles, I knew I did not have a big enough gear.  This course was pancake flat and fassst!  The course was a 50/50 mix of ribbon like single track through pine forests and straight aways on double track.  After finishing my pre ride, I knew I did not have the mental fortitude to race for 6 hours, so I chose the 3 hour race.  I was also thankful that I brought my geared hardtail as a back up, as it was now my primary weapon.

I got a wonderful night's sleep, yet when I checked my HRV (heart rate variability) in the morning, it was extremely low ... as in, my app told me that the day would be better spent resting.  Uggh!  Not good.  Last year I added HRV to my toolbox; just another way to analyze my fitness and recovery.  It has been very predictable and when I saw my number for the day, my heart sank a little.

But, the day was going to be glorious no matter how my body responded.  Sunny and warm!  I have not seen those two together in quite a while.  Start time was 10:15.  When the horn went off, the dude in front of me couldn't get clipped in.  That led to a hesitation in my pedal stroke, and then I couldn't get clipped in either.  I laughed inwardly, got it together, and then hammered up the parade lap hill.  Towards the top of the hill, I thought was heart was going to rip through my rib cage!  This, being only my second race of the season, I was not used to this XC start.

I made it into the woods first woman.  Going through the first pine straw corner, I heard the racer behind me eat dirt.  Glad to have escaped that carnage, I pushed myself hard the first couple miles just to see how my body felt and perhaps get a gap on my competition.  Despite a solid warm up, my legs felt a bit heavy.

Any chance I got, I hopped on someone's wheel.  This was a roadie course, no doubt.  Anytime I could draft, I could conserve much needed energy.  When I hit the switchback powerline climb, I saw Angie and Danielle not far behind.  As I crested the top of this 0.3 mile climb, I slowed up a bit, realizing that the 15 second gap I had was not going to hold.  I focused on riding smoothly and staying off the brakes through this next section of flowing single track.

By the time I hit the second (0.75 mile) powerline climb, they were on my wheel.  That was when I knew this was going to be REAL.  I offered to let them by, but they were content to stay where they were.   When we entered the last 1/2 mile of single track, which was technical with lots of roots and short ups/downs, I tried to establish another gap.  While I was faster on the descents, they were able to get back on my wheel on the climbs.

After popping out of that single track, we came through the start/finish area.  It was here that they passed me.  Danielle stopped momentarily, but Angie didn't.  I hopped on her wheel, hoping that I had the legs to stay with her for 2 more laps.  Danielle bridged back to us quickly.  I settled into third behind Danielle.

I was in a hard spot.  This course did not play into my strengths at all.  I was definitely not used to pedaling with force continually.  I needed there to be more roots and rock gardens to slow these ladies down!  I could hang in their draft on the open double track and through the ribbons of single track, but whenever there was a bit of an uphill or we had to pass a slower rider through the single track, I would pop off their wheel and have to dig deep to hop back on.  I was running out of matches quickly; heck, it seemed like the ones I had were wet anyways!

Towards the end of the second lap, I got stuck behind a dude in the rooty single track.  Once I lost sight of Angie and Danielle, I lost my mental focus, and allowed myself to just settle in behind this guy.  I told myself I would catch them in the transition area.  My legs were screaming at me as I climbed the short hill through the transition area.  It was here that I lost my mental game.

Lap 3 was a mini Death March. I tried to will my legs to work, but on the "hills" I thought they were going to seize up.  I managed to catch glimpses of Angie and Danielle through the first 4 miles, but then they were gone.  I fought against my inner demons, determined to "not give up," hoping that they would blow each other up and I could scavenge a 2nd place, perhaps even a first.

That last powerline climb, tho'!  That is not even a hill by my definition, but that third time up it, OMG!  How could something with only a 4% grade almost crush my soul?  I was hurting so bad at the top, I had to laugh at myself!

I finished 3rd overall 1 minute 20 seconds down.  I wished I could have stayed with Angie and Danielle, because it would have been cool to see their sprint finish, with Danielle besting Angie by a wheel.  Even so, Angie went out for a 4th lap.  Kudos to her for trying, but she ran out of time.

Although this course was not technically demanding, it was brutal.  This was a good early season test for me.  I now know what I need to focus on ... muscular endurance.  Thank you Danielle and Angie for kicking my arse!  This was a great motivational lesson for me.