Always a struggle to put the experience of a 100 mile race into written words. Not only is it a long day but, there is typically so much action throughout. Not to mention there is typically so much preparation beforehand and aftermath post race.
Well here we go. Teammate Bryan Deal and I headed down to Loudonville Friday a bit earlier than last year to avoid feeling as rushed as we did the year prior. I spent most of the car ride down consuming as much liquid as I could stomach to attempt to compensate for the lack of hydration in my typical work week and fought back the urge to speak out loud the fact I was actually a little concerned I was feeling under the weather. We arrived at Mohican Adventures Campground just after lunch time and spent the afternoon stocking up on supplies for the weekend, prepping the bikes and our drop bags, grilling a great pre-race meal and consuming some fine micro brews. Then called it a night relatively early.
Cozy Cabin #8:
View from the Cabin:
Our Cozy Cabin accomidations were stellar and I had a decent night's sleep but, still beat my 5:30am alarm up with anticipation to inhale the staple pre-race breakfast of a Chocolate Fudge pop tarts and forced down some more liquid and various other nutritional supplements. We rolled out the path to downtown soon after, avoided a near pile up after someone bit it on the asphalt path along the way and jumped in a decent spot in the first 1/3 of the pack. The weather was rather cool but, I am sure everyone was thankful the rain held off for the most part the night prior and the forecast looked rather clear for the day. Reports were the trail was in decent shape with some pockets of mud and puddles but, nothing serious. So things were off to a positive start. This year the 100 mile and 100k racers started together and the field looked massive. When we lined up I was thinking we may have lined up a little closer to the front than we were worthy of doing but, looking at the size of the field I was not only glad we did but, was staring at the climb just past town with a grin hoping I could use it to gain a good position for the start of the single track. I was a bit distracted when the horn or gun or whatever was sounded went off looking at all the bike bling and mean muggin' riders surrounding us and fighting back the urge to tell the riders behind us to STFU and I'd show them how to climb as they made comments concerning my obviously smaller in diameter rear cog and the fact Bryan was running a 1x9. Then we were off. We hit the first climb and I followed a few other SS riders in a serpentine through the mass of riders spinning away in their granny gears and ended up in a good position as we crested the hill. Along the way to the first bit of single track, I could tell I was over dressed. I pulled my arm warmers off and shoved them in my back pocket just in time to enter the trail. Then took my first spill after about 50 feet on some slick roots other riders were dismounting to pass. I sprung back up and attempted to catch the group of SS riders that gapped me. This year was entirely different from last. I remembered struggling to clean every rock pile, rock garden, log pile and switchback while my legs felt like they may explode or snap my chain pushing my 36/18 gearing. Partially due to the slower climbing geared riders and partially to the fact I was pushing a ton of gear. I was feeling rather confident the 32/17 gearing choice versus the 32/18 I considered was a wise decision. I really enjoyed the first 20 miles of mostly single track. Even the hike a bike sections. I was riding pretty confidently and was passing some riders but, trying not to ride too aggressively and find myself swallowing a mouthful of teeth or burning myself up too early in the race. Unfortunately, that put me out of touch with the group of SS riders I had entered the single track with. They were clearly taking every opportunity to take as much time off the clock before the monotony of the roads tested their will to spin. But, that was alright, I was pushing a decent gear, I'd make it on the roads, right?
I rolled through the first aid station putting aside the fact I had barely had a chance to drink anything the first 20 miles. Partially do to the amount of single track and the remainder due the fact my glasses were fogging in the slow climbs and I must have ridden 8 miles with them in my teeth without a chance to put them in my pocket. Just past the 20 mile I was caught by a group of about 5-6 riders lead by a michigan local Adam Naish. All of which but, one were sporting full suspension geared bikes. They came up in a hurry and in my melancholy state of mind, I moved to the side and let them through and quickly jumped on the wheel of the rider in the rear. I had no issues hanging with the group in the climbs and flatter sections of the trail but, quickly realized why they had closed the gap on my so quickly. They were killing it and me on the downhills. I made a comment to one of the riders in the group after catching them back up after a few sections and his response was "Six inches of travel, baby!" and then they began pulled away from me on the next downhill. I rode the rest of the single track somewhat alone but, dodged a few riders from the full suspension group when they wrecked at break neck speeds on some of the more technical downhill. I let another small group past just before we busted out into the section of serious climbing prior to the aid 2nd aid station. I really enjoyd this climbing. I reeled in droves of geared riders and one SS rider that seemed to be able to make up any distance I put on him on the downhills. At some point I hit 42.8 mph. It was an entertaining battle.
I spent a decent amount of time at the 2nd aid station hydrating and taking off the base layer I was wearing under my jersey and headed out. In my king of the hills battle just prior to the aid station, I had been getting some "strange" feeling in my left quad and I was starting to get an equally perplexing feeling in my head. As the hills wore on in the next section, the feeling materialized into a binding sensation and ultimately pain in my leg quad and head. Sh*t, my quad was cramping and my head was starting to ache from what I can only guess was dehydration. I feared the worst and drank my fluids and forced gel down my throat as much as possible hoping to stave off the onset of a complete meltdown. I rode as many hills as possible seated as it seemed to provide some relief to my quad but, many were impossible to make without some mashing. The remainder of the ride to the 3rd aid station is a bit of a blur. I battled a bit with some geared riders on the road, passed some folks but, mostly concentrated on keeping my body off the rev limiter and hoped to recover and rally post aid station 3. I felt I held my own on the roads in between the 2nd & 3rd aid stations. I did have a low point where I threatened to kill a geared rider for his gears if there were no witnesses on a large climb I had to walk. Unfortunately, I had exhausted my already limited ability in the single track. My lines were terrible. I was tired and my mind was on just finishing at that point. I still amazingly held off most on comers that attempted to catch me but, endo'd over one of the errosion breaks, landing on uphill side of the trail in a downhill section (this may have actually occurred post aid station 3, I was a bit delirious at this point), marking my second and thankfully last full on crash of the race. Memories of feeling exhausted post aid station 3 last year haunted my mind but, I attempted to remain positive and told myself that if I could climb the grass hill post aid station 3 on the bike, I was in better shape than last year and maybe a death march/ride was not imminent. Maybe I could recover on some of the upcoming road sections.
Prior to the start of the race, I had debating even dropping a bag at the 3rd aid station. However, when I rolled up to it, I had exhausted all of my fluid and gels in my attempt to become whole again. My headache seemed better and my cramp in my quad had moved to my hamstring and IT band. Which for some reason I felt was advantagious. I quickly reloaded and was on my way. Contrary to my fear, I made the grassy climb into the single track. Though I had to walk a good deal of the rest of the climb through the rock gardens and such. While feeling a bit drained, I seemed to remember much of the remainder of the course leading up to the next aid station being road or kinder single track. Soon after the leaving the single track, I was caught by a group in a pace line led by Brenda Simril. I thought to myself that I must be doing better than last year. Last year, Brenda caught me somewhere around 30 or 40 miles and proceeded to school me in single track riding before she disappeared into the forest. This year I was able to jump on the wheel of the group, hang and take turns pulling with the group at a solid 17mph. This went on for awhile. The group would fall apart at a hill, I'd rocket out to the front and they would reel me back soon after and I'd hop back on the pace. That was probably the most positive point in the race for me. Here I was killing it with one of the fastest ladies out there. At some point, Brenda and her riding partner and soul crusher Lee broke the entire group as I followed and picked off all of the stragglers. When we made it to the rail to trail section, I could still see a glimpse of them and as I had hoped, the road sections saved me as they had the year before. I was not feeling fantastic but, I was feeling better. Well enough to hold hope I would actually gain some ground. I did what I could to hold 16-17 through the trail. My formerly cramping leg was now just very sore and the cramps were now in my calf. Which didn't seem to bother me much. I ended up linking up with a geared rider and he started to draft me. Which was even more of a confidence builder. I thought to myself, I feel alright, people are drafting me, I am going to be ok. At somepoint another rider passed us and the rider on my six chased. I was then alone. I glanced at my computer and this time paid some attention to my time and began to panic more and more as the time passed. It was near six hours and I was concerned aid station 4 was miles and miles ahead. Time ticked on and I remember nearing 6:30 or more. My normally and at this point very confused mind began to do simple math. Before the race I had hoped to better my 9:09 from the year prior. The next aid station was at 72 miles. Which meant I had 28ish to go from there and I remembered walking a whole bunch between 4 & 5 last year. I feared I was going to need to average some unrealistic speed to even come close to the 9 hour mark. This was a bit demoralizing but, I pressed on and worked to keep my cadence up. After passing a regular back country, hillbilly wedding by the one lane bridge, I rode through the small town just prior and eventually made it to the aid station. I rolled up, switched out water bottles (of which I barely drank any) and refilled my gel store. Just as I was eating a secong banana and getting ready to go, I realized another SSer was just leaving the aid station and one was right on my tail when I rolled up. I am no bike snob but, I was a bit bummed that the SS rider that followed me in not only must have reeled me in on rail to trail where I was working hard to motor but, was mounted on probably the lowest dollar steed I had seen all day. Possibly meaning, my hopes of improving my time and overall position in the race from last year may had completely evaporated.
I paniced a little a shot off in pursuit of the SSer who had just left. While there is certainly single track in the remainder of the course leading up to Aid station 5, there is a good deal of road. I figured this would be a great equalizer and I'd use my gearing to my advantage. This strategy worked magnificently as the SS rider ahead materialized and I reeled him in on hills. However, clearly I was not the billy goat of the day as the SS rider on my heels at aid station 4 caught and passed me on a road climb I had dismounted to walk. We entered a section of trail none of us could ride and walked together. I felt like a 10 year old little brother scurrying behind his older brother and friends struggling to keep up. Once back on the road, a vicious cycle of me chasing on the flats and downhills and the two SS riders pulling away as they pedaled as I walked up the onslaught of what felt like monster climbs leading up to the final aid station. I'd like to think I gave it my all stay with them but, fact is I was a bit complacent at that point in the race. Mostly because I was convinced I didn't have much of a chance at a big improvement over last year and each time I would rally and attempt some self motivation to put up a more significant chase, parts of my body would act up and I would start to question whether I was risking not making it the full distance. I decided I would use my typical strategy from my running days and ride my own race and if they came back great, if not, I would still be giving it an honest effort. I finally lost site of both riders after a series of 30 mph downhill dirt road sections. I can only imagine because I was braking a little in the turns and they were running WFO. After a brutal double climb on asphalt, I caught a glimpse of one of the SS riders and mustered what I could of a chase. Then he literally vanished. I put my head down to press on harder and rode right past the switch back turn to cross under the highway to the last aid station. Luckily, I only over shot it by a few hundred feet. As I rolled into the last aid station, I took an inventory of my remaining fuel and general sense of well being in comparison to last year. While, I certainly didn't feel like a million bucks, I didn't feel like pure death as I did the year prior. I had plenty of fluid left in my bottles and the SSer in front of me had just stopped at the aid station. I remembered the last bit of single track being rather tough and I figured I may have a chance to pick up a spot in the SS rankings if I could get a lead so, I decided to roll past the aid station. As I passed, one of volunteers yelled "You got about 5 miles to go!" My response was "You better not be lying to me or I'll be back." Excited as hell I didn't have 8 to go as I thought. Here I had been building myself up for 8 miles of hard single track and I only had 5. Better yet, I felt like I had the legs left to actually ride most of the climbs in the remaining trail.
I pointed my bike at the single track and pedaled hard to the entrance. I remembered doing the same last year and being immediately demoralized by the first climb. Hell bent that wouldn't happen this year, I hit the entrance with speed, pedaled hard to clear the first group of rocks and POW, was brought to a complete stop by a pedal strike on the larger than expect rock at the beginning of the trail. Even more embarrassing the SS rider I had attempted to put some time on by skipping the aid station was clearly paying attention. He was once again on my wheel and about ran me over as I flailed around in the middle in the trail trying to escape my gummed up pedal to remount. As I gathered my pride, I allowed him to pass and scurried up the climb on foot in pursuit. The remainder of the trail was strewn with 100k riders pedalling along a the warp speed of a snail providing the rider ahead a chance to gain some space as he found some more efficient methods and spots for of passing. He eventually disappeared and I focused on staying on my bike as much as possible in the climbs and maintaining smooth lines in the turns. Given how horrible I felt in the same section the year prior, I was pretty happy with how I was making progress through the trail and starting to feel confident the was no giant Kodiak bear of legs cramps and exhaustion waiting to pounce on me at the next turn. Sooner than expected, I reached some fast downhills in what I suspected was the campground near Mohican Adventures and ultimately the FINISH. I blazed down them until two guys in cycling gear pounced from their campsite waving there arms and yelling as I reached an intersection with no markings. Their reason for such excitement? I blew an easily missed turn near the top of the refreshing decent I just bombed down. Surprisingly, not phased by the news, I course corrected and navigated to the finish.
I am sure it was there but, for whatever reason, I didn't see the finish clock when I crossed the line. Assuming I wasn't going to be that excited about it anyway, I did what any respectable mountain biker that just finished a 100 miler would and headed directly to the beer trailer and filled up a cup with a refreshing Great Lakes Doppelrock. After finishing my first and working on my second beer and not seeing any familiar faces to shoot the bull with, I decided that I would brave a look at the time on my computer. It read a suprising 8hours 20min. So now the big question, how much time did I spend at the aid stations and was I even moving fast enough to cause my computer to register time when hiking my bike up the many climbs on which I was unable to stay clipped in? At that point, I no longer cared. I finished. I didn't feel like death. I fought through leg cramps and some level of dehydration. At times I held my own and even put it down on other riders. I managed not to wreck so badly I broke my bike or worse myself. I certainly had plenty low points in the race but, there were plenty of times I was down right happy as a little kid on his big wheel riding my bike. More importantly, I was in a campground full of people whole loved mountain biking, overlooking some beautiful scenery, in perfect weather, with a trailer full or free beer and it was time to kick back and tell war stories of the race. I limped down to the cabin in search of Bryan and a shower. Separately, not simultaneously. Shortly after Bryan and I made our way up to the festivities and camped out in our folding chairs in a prime spot. Directly in front of the awards stand and within arms length of the beer trailer. We spent the remainder of the time between the awards chatting it up with fellow bikers, riding out the feeling of accomplishment and generally having a good time. I can say with certainty riding the race is only 50% of the reason I show up and clip in, the rest is what happens after the race.
It wasn't until Sunday I found out my official time. Seems I made it in one second under 8:31. 8:30:59. Which coincidentally was exactly the time I had secretly set to deem the race a significant improvement over last year. While I had hopes of a top 10 finish, I managed 13th. Which is for some is considered bad luck but, I feel pretty damn lucky.
Yours Truly Post Race:
After cleaning it up Sunday, I got a chance to assess the damage the race took on my bike last night. When cleaning it, I noticed the cassette ring appeared completely loose and ready to spill my cog and spacers the moment I pulled the rear wheel from the bike. Turns out, the lockring is too small in diameter and slipped inside the outer spacer. My chain had a ridiculous amount of slack at the end of the race. I suspected chain stretch. However, the mud clearly added to the abrasiveness of the lack of lube in the chain and wore the chainring to the point of the need to replace it. Either my lack of bravery using the brakes on the downhills or the mud had a similar effect on the brake pads. Both front and rear are toast. Which explains why my levers were nearly hitting the bars when braking by the end of the race.
Next up is Lumberjack. In the immortal words of Kirsten Dunst, "Bring It On!"