Back in early March, after I signed up for the Forty 5 race, the War Daddy began popping up in my FB feed. I clicked on it and it brought up a pic of a killer T shirt that had "Kentucky's hardest bike race" written on it. You had me at "hardest." SOLD! I quickly blew off the fact that these two races were on back to back weekends, War Daddy being the first. I figured I would deal with the fall out, err recovery, when that day arrived.
I headed up Friday afternoon and spent the night at the Wendover B&B. This place has a neat history. It was where Mary Breckenridge founded the Frontier Nursing Service in 1939, a school of midwifery nursing services.
|My room which used to be a dormitory|
|Nestled in a little holler|
Having never ridden nor raced in Kentucky, I availed myself to Strava stalking Brian Schworm and viewing the "Tips by Trevor" videos. Even though "on paper" it looked like a gravel bike race, I soon realized that Kentucky gravel is different than the Tennessee or Georgia gravel I have raced on. I chose my Niner Air 9 RDO with Specialized Renegade 2.0's. Although I do like to recon or pre ride courses if the opportunity presents itself, there is also that excitement that boils up inside of me when I am about to embark on an unknown adventure.
The race began at 9 am and temperatures were perfect. The start was a 5 mile neutral roll out to get us through the downtown of Hyden in one group. It was truly neutral and allowed time for the pistons to warm up. There were 41 of us ready to tackle this beastly day. Agueda was the only other woman ... and she was built like a Columbian climber. I fist bumped her at the start, noting that she was on a gravel bike. I briefly questioned my bike choice, but after counting only 6 other gravel bikes, I quickly dismissed any negative thoughts.
After turning left onto Owl's Nest Road, the police escort pulled aside, and the race began. It was still a fairly chill pace, but once the Owl's Nest climb began, the hammer dropped. Only a mile long, this climb was short, but steep AF! I was surprised at how great my legs felt and spun it out in my 32 x "pie plate," while others were struggling to maintain momentum at grades of 15-17%. It was here that I passed Agueda, quickly empathizing with her bike choice.
The backside of Owl's Nest was a nose-dive descent! Then the course leveled out for a good bit on the way to Aid 1 at mile 20. I exchanged pulls with another racer along this stretch. No need for me to stop as I hadn't even started my second bottle of Infinit. The first 20 was done in a little over an hour.
The next climb was War Baby. Another steep ass climb and on unmaintained gravel. Although hard, definitely rideable ... until you hit that stick you'd been attempting to miss, causing your rear wheel to spin out. Grumble, grumble. Off the bike, run it up 10 yards, and hop back on. Once on top, I encountered my first series of mud boggin' holes. The first two, not so bad. The third (key word) "looked" ok. But my front wheel sunk almost axle deep nearly throwing me off the bike. This was a mud sucker fo sho'! I had to wiggle the front wheel loose and then employ my not so good dead lift skills to "unstick" my bike. I couldn't help but laugh out loud!
Fortunately the next bit of the course was downhill, allowing my bike to shed about 5 pounds of mud that had accumulated on the wheels. I was grateful that I had left my mud fender on as this saved my face and glasses from the worst of it.
The descent off War Baby had a creek crossing. This "crossing" involved riding the creek for about 60 yards. It was here that I employed Trevor Tip #1. I saw the line, became the line, and stayed the line. Although it wasn't pretty (I am used to riding my Top Fuel with a 120/100 mm suspension and dropper) I survived.
The third climb was War Dwarf at about mile 24. Another punch to the mid section, but I was still feeling spry. I just put my head down and gave'r. After that grunt, I was rewarded to another fine descent followed by some easy pedaling to Aid 2 at mile 34. The time between Aid 1 and Aid 2 was a little bit longer at 1 hour 18 minutes. I stopped briefly for a gel as I had emptied my flask.
Pulling out I hooked up with Jordan, a single speeder. We yo yo'd on the Twist and Sourwood climb. This was one of many beautiful stretches of the course. It made the suffering well worth it for the rock formations and running creeks were eye candy.
Jordan was excellent company and soon I found myself in single speeder mode along Grannie's Branch. This was some fine ridge line riding with nice rollers where I could stand and hammer up the short climbs and then sit and enjoy the short descents.
|Grannie's Branch, a nice respite from the previous "enhanced" gravel sections.|
After a baller descent off Grannie's, Jordan and I rolled into Aid 3 at mile 44. Time elapsed between the 2nd and 3rd was a quick 41 minutes. I had my Infinit "secret sauce" mix here. My bottle cage had also rattled loose, so while the awesome volunteers tended to my mechanical, I shoved 2 caffeinated gels down my pie hole ... 100 milligrams of frenzy. And my bottle of Infinit contained another 200 milligrams. I was either going to burn rubber in about 30 minutes or self-combust!
The next 5 miles was pancake flat pave and gravel to the War Daddy climb. I happily pulled along Jordan and Kevin, both spinning it out on their single speeds. While they chatted about 1st and 2nd place (they were currently sitting 3rd and 4th), I was in TT mode.
And then War Daddy was upon us. It was here that I utilized another Tip by Trevor. You gotta hard charge it! And so I did! Although insanely steep, the gravel was firm, and I flew up War Daddy ... or so it felt. Initially the legs were flailing, but then the caffeine kicked in, and all the lactic pain seemed to melt away. I dropped both of my SS buddies on the steepest section as they had to HAB.
More rollers on the way to Aid 4 allowed me a chance to recover. I knew the worst was coming in the last 10 miles. Just before the final aid station, Kevin passed me back. Man, that dude is lumberjack strong! I stopped briefly at the final aid station (mile 54) to fill a bottle. The volunteers told me that finally I was going to see some trail. As if it was going to be all rainbows and unicorns to the finish. More like gargoyles and banshees!
Four miles of "easy" gravel led me to the Redbird Crest Trail. It was very similar to Milma and Tibbs. Let's just say my left thumb kept trying to push a dropper lever that did not exist. And I was wanting more rubber and travel as well ... but, at least I was not on a gravel bike. Six miles of relentless ups, down, and mud holes had me in Yosemite Sam mode more than once. I more than happily let a fellow racer by so he could be my mud hole tester! Unfortunately, even though he had mad skills, he was on a gravel bike and had taken a wrong turn earlier in the race (bonus miles), so was pretty much spent after a mile or two, and I was forced to go around him and test the waters on my own.
After 52 minutes of this insanity, I finally hit the strip mine section. It was a little bit easier but still muddy nonetheless. Watching all those silly ass "Tips by Trevor" was not only hilariously entertaining but informative as well. Taking the high line kept me out of the quick sand like mud.
|Take the right side high line ... Trevor Tip #3|
Despite the ride arounds, I still managed to accumulate 1 pound of mud per wheel every few minutes. I just kept telling myself that this was puncture protection and free facials. By the time the tires had flung it all off, I would hit another muddy section. This went on forever ... well, maybe just 20 minutes.
As my Garmin hit the 67 mile mark, I was ready to be done. Not really knowing where I was, I was desperately hoping that this was 68 miles as was stated on the FB page and not 70 or 72. Finally the course began to point downwards and I could smell the barn. This last descent was not free, though. It was rugged with sharp pointy rocks. I told myself that I would ride the rims to the finish if I had to. I let it go only to run upon a side by side. He finally noticed I was on his ass and gassed it, pulling off when the opportunity presented.
I hit the bottom and the finish at 5:40:22. That last 14 miles was the DEVIL! It took 1 hour and 35 minutes of my life away! But I would do it all over again as the rush from finishing the War Daddy was elevating. Yep, the hardest MTB race in Kentucky!
I waited awhile for Agueda as I wanted us to be able to share the podium, as the only two women to dare to tackle this race. Unfortunately I quickly became tired and hungry and was relishing a hot shower. So alone I stood. I did hear later that she finished, so fist bump to you, girl!
John Maggard, the race director, not only had food at the finish, but a post race party at the Wendover B&B, where the spread was a cornucopia of home made fixin's ... and beer. John's family and extended family, the Sheriff, the Mayor, and a lot of the volunteers were there. It felt like a Sunday post Church pot luck dinner. Amazing!
|This was plate 1 of 2. Nom nom!|
What an awesome weekend. If you want to test your legs (9000 feet of climbing in 68 miles), mental fortitude, and your love of mud, then this race is for you. If you are expecting groomed pavement and gravel, search elsewhere. John and his family/friends poured their love into this race and it showed. The course was marked impeccably, the aid stations where phenomenal, and I went to bed with thrashed legs and a full belly.