Gotta kick this off with how my week leading up to LJ went. The story begins Weds. am. As usual, I am on the phone on my way into work. I'm about 1/2 into the office and I tell the person on the other end of the the line I need to hang up. Not because I may be distracted driving and talking but, because I am feeling so weak, I need both hands to drive the car. I arrive at work and tell myself to "man up" and push through the day. However, 30 minutes in, I realize I am not going to make it. I am incredibly fatigued and generally not feeling well. Soon, I have a head and stomach ache. Sh*t. Exactly as I feared. I got the stomach bug my wife has been battling all week. I do my best to attend a few meetings and then clear my calendar for the rest of my day. I head home barely lucid and fall face first into bed as soon as I reach home. I spent the next 19 hours there with chills, sweating and fighting the urge to empty the contents of my completely empty stomach. Thurs. is spent working remotely from home and feeling about 50% better by the time the day ends. I spent a little time cleaning the chain on my bike and decided that was all I could muster. Friday rolls around and it's decision time. Feeling about 75% at this point. Still a bit fatigued. Still need something to take the edge off of the headache. I quite frankly would have called it at this point but, I felt obligated to head up given I had reserved a hotel with my teammate Lee and planned on splitting gas and etc. I figured worst case, I could head up and work race support. Maybe I'd feel good enough to sip on a beer or two throughout the day. I spent Friday morning driving around to places in a failed attempt to find replacement o rings for my front hub that had mysteriously disintegrated at Mohican or the only chance I had to ride my SS since then the prior weekend at ILRA. Oh well. How dusty and dirty could LJ be, right? Who needs dust seals? At this point my mind was set on finishing LJ being a real accomplishment. After a thankfully uneventful drive up and an entertaining night of conversation with the team and their significant others hanging about the Motel, it was time for bed. For those that know me, not a single drop of alcohol was consumed Friday evening. That's got to be a true indication I wasn't feeling up to snuff.
Fast forward to Sat. am. We rolled out, drove the whole 5 miles to the start from the Manistee Outpost and were at the parking lot by 5:40. I am not sure how it's possible but, we were rushed as h*ll dragging all of our gear to sweet spot former teammates Jim Colflesh and Melissa Mabry staked out for us the day prior. I still wasn't felling 100%. I woke up with a headache and rushing around versus working up some guts didn't feel like a confidence builder but, maybe the distraction of the hustle was better than stewing in the fact I knew I may not be up for what was in store for me. After some tire and fork pressure checks, I found myself a couple of miles down the road lined up in a semi primo spot with my teammates Scott, Bryan and Lee. Jim was clearly ready to hand out *ss kickin's and lined up a few rows (if you could make out rows in the mass chaos) closer to the front. At this point I'ddetermined my strategy. Worried I'll get swallowed up by the masses behind me and using whatever I have in the tank up in the first lap, I'd do my best to roll out near the front, hope I didn't get bull dozed when the group inevitably stacked up at the trail head and pray I wasn't in a conga line for the first 6 miles. Assuming that plays out as planned, I will put the hammer down, do my hardest riding early before it gets hot and hopefully put myself in a position where I am motivated to battle on versus curl up under the pop up inbetween laps and sob that my tummy hurts.
Soon after the siren is sounded and we were off cruising down the stretch of paved road to the trail. I was amazed I was able to maintain 21-23mph drafting and putting bursts of mad spinning. The leaders spread the group out a bit on the turn just prior to the entrance to the parking lot and the group snaked around the conversion van stranded at the entrance when it was consumed by the mass of riders. We looped around the lot and I made it through the stack up riders only rubbing only a few tires and dabbing my foot once or twice. While I was definitely in a conga line, it was nothing in comparison to what I dealt with at the start of the 2010 race. I had clearly made it in with more experience riders that could clean every hill. Even a the conservative pace we were traveling. In the roll out, I had spotted former teammate Tom Payn who also happened to be riding SS. Knowing he's got a knack for finding a good position in the start of races, I had keyed off him to determine my own in the roll out. I had lost site of him when the group scattered to avoid the van at the entrance but, I realized he was now only 4-5 riders ahead of me. Still not knowing how serious I was about the day, I used a few climbs to pass up to his wheel in full stealth mode. Still unsure of what my next move was, I was unsure if I was going to shout a derogatory remark and pass or alert him of my presence and team up. Soon came a few fast descents. Tom made a few moves and put some riders in between us. I was feeling pretty good, I was handling the bike well and felt like I was pressing the riders ahead of me. In fact, I was actually really enjoying myself. I decided at that point I was going to keep up the what felt like a bit of a furious pace and see what happened. Probably about 4 miles in on a pretty stout climb by LJ standards, I stood up, swung left and started passing geared riders. Near the top I realized I was catching Tom again and had to decide if I was going to remain in stealth mode and silently stalk him from behind or make a pass and potentially seal my fate for the race. In my indecision, I closed the gap and my momentum carried me right next to him and another SSer in full Specialized kit. For whatever reason seeing the other SSer made me decide to press on and attempt to get ahead. So, I offered up some sarcastic words of encouragement of "climb, climb, climb" and pushed ahead. Not sure if I had just slapped Tom in the face with a gauntlet, I admittingly put the hammer down through the rest of the single track and really laid in down on the two track that followed. Partially because I expected a sarcastic reply of "spin, spin, spin" from Tom on my wheel to appear and also due to the fact I had caught up with a guy on a CX bike and wanted to put him in the rear view before more single track and I somehow ended up with crank bending teammate Scott on my six and he seemed to mean business. Which may mean we could ride together for some time and work through the first lap. Well that didn't last long didn't last long. The dust was ample. I suspect Scott (this being his first 100) may have been using me to judge pace off of but, eventually got his fill of dirt for breakfast and shot off like a rocket, leaving the group of riders I was trading positions with on the 2 track in his dust. Literally. The remainder of the first lap was pretty much the most enjoyable riding I have done all year. I found myself at the rear of a group of riders that could not only ride but, could climb a decent rate as well. Included in this group was a rider from D2 Labs Racing (who I deemed "Snap Crackle Pop" due to amount of creaking coming from his bike). As we snaked through the single track under the pines near the aid station, I debating whether I should stop and refill my bottles as I had planned or blow it and hope the fact it was already getting hot didn't make me regret my decision to only carry two bottles on the first lap. I decided to go with peer pressure and follow the lead of the group right past the aid station. At the time, I felt it was a good decision. The rest of the single track leading up to the fire tower climb flew by. The trail felt smooth and the hills minuscule in comparison to the dramatic changes in elevation at Mohican. I was honestly a little disappointed when I realized how short the run up section was at the top of the fire tower climb. After a couple of white knuckle two wheel drifts on the decent from the tower, I finished out the lap and rolled up to our pop up ringing the bell on my handlebar in full tool mode.
At this point I was hot and a bit lightheaded. I had run out of water about 30min before the end of the lap and was a little concerned I may have made a bad decision rolling through the aid station on lap one. I guzzled some water, grabbed 3 bottles for the next lap, a banana and coaxed Scott out of the tent. Mostly, because I was honestly a little tired and he looked completely relaxed eating a PBJ and I suspected he'd been there for 5 minutes or more already. I think he was sitting there with his feet up while his wife massaged his shoulders and Bryan's gf fanned him with a palm branch. Anyway... We left together and I am not sure I saw him for more than the first hill his as he once again rocketed off into the distance. I noticed one of the riders ahead called out his name as he passed. As I caught up, I realized that rider was former teammate and 50+ BAMF on a bike, Ray Fulkerson who informed me he was concerned he was going to have a bad day due to the heat. We concluded that we'd team up and work together. As we rode, the heat picked up, I finally realized unzipping my jersey would provide me some relief from the heat but, it didn't matter, my head felt light and like my brain was boiling in my head. It was probably about 10am and it had to be over 80 degrees in the shade. Regardless, Ray stuck on my wheel and we road what I felt was a respectable pace through the single and double track. It was great having someone to ride with. Especially, someone as cool as Ray. The trail didn't feel nearly as smooth, all of the good lines were destroyed in the two track, tire sucking sand seemed to have appeared everywhere and the hills certainly felt significant on the second lap. But, we pressed on. I am pretty sure we didn't get caught by a single rider and caught a handful. I had to stop at the aid station on this lap. Not only because I wanted to refill the two bottles I had already emptied but, in my haste to shew Scott out of the tent, I forgot to refill my Gu and had nothing to eat. Oops. Ray pressed on and got off my bike and literally staggered to the table and sweet spread of fruit, cookies, gummy bears, you name it that was set out. I must not have been looking so well because I was asked at least twice by the table attendants if I was alright. Which concerned me a little. I made whatever humorous remarks about air conditioning I could think of, ate two orange slices and a cookie and was off with three full bottles of fluid. Just past the aid station, there is some gradual sustained climbing and I caught up to and yelled out to "Snap, Crackle, Pop." Who after hearing my yell that, must think I am a total a**hole and was caught. Soon after I was passed by a very strong rider from Cycle to Fitness that I believe I battled a bit with in 2010 and was ~15min ahead of me at Mohican. I was pretty tired at this point but, I thought to myself that I was making good time and was still mixed in with some good riders. I was holding my own in the single track. Feeling confident I still had enough in me to consider chasing, I eventually caught and passed the both the D2 and CtoF riders in some of the tougher single track with more climbing in the last 5 or so miles of the lap. In the last section of single track, I spotted the unmistakable Mom and Pop Racing jersey Jim was wearing. I called out his name just prior to a fast somewhat technical downhill and didn't see him for what felt like 5 minutes. He appeared again on a sustained climb just before a switch back and the last remaining significant climb prior to the end of the lap. As I closed the gap he asked if I wanted by and told me he was "done." We walked the short ascent and I offered what words I had of encouragement for him to remount and finish the lap with me. Unfortunately, he really was having and bad day and what I found out later was heat stroke. I didn't see him again. I finished out the lap as respectably as I could getting passed by a guy literally coming through the single track as noisy as a tornado and riding wheelies. WTF? That was a real confidence builder. I rolled into the pit area in full tool mode again ringing my handlebar bell. It was hot. Really hot. Lap 3 was going tough. It was about survival not racing now.
I let our fabulous pit crew know that Jim was coming in soon and not feeling hot. I offered some sarcastic and serious words of advice to pass on hoping they could encourage him to press on. Scott was once again chilling in under the pop up. I think this time he was kicked back and his wife was feeding him grapes. He didn't even look tired. In my disgust, I think I told him he looked like a raccoon due amount of dirt adhered to his face and around his eyes. I slammed a couple of bottles of water and sports drink, stuffed what I could of a banana down my throat, held back the vomit, remembered Gu this time, told Scott that I needed a head start on this lap and headed out. I had looked at elapsed time on my computer on the first lap and saw about 2:30. It now read something just over 5 hours. After my first lap, I was seriously thinking a 7:30 may be in the cards. At that point, I determined anything under 8 hours would be pretty respectable. Just prior to the first climb I passed my favorite riding companion Ray fiddling with his camelback. We met back up when I was forced to dismount the climb due to rear wheel slippage and set out for what we agreed would be a lap in "survival mode". The trail was pretty tore up by this point but, I did what I could the maintain a good pace through the single track and the sand pits that had formed. Ray rode patiently behind me as I could tell I was holding him up a little by over breaking. Not surprisingly, soon after, Scott caught us up and we rode the remainder of the single track prior to the two track as a group. Once we hit the double track, Scott left us once again in his dusty wake as he disappeared into the horizon. I am not sure if it was Ray and my conversation that bored him or he was once again was tired of eating dust but, he was off in a decisive manor. Ray and I continued on together at a much more conservative pace than before. The trail was rough. The ruts seemed bigger, the hills longer, the sand deeper and quite frankly I was riding like crap. We pressed on until we neared the decent just after the last long climb prior to the aid station. I had been riding so poorly, nearly losing it and unclipping in the sand pits. I finally went down in the sand and nearly rolled/slid down the side of the hill. Ray asked if I was alright as he passed, I acknowledged, gave chase and worked to close the gap in the single track leading up to the aid station. I was able to finally close the gap just as Ray pulled off at the aid station prompting me to do the same. I asked to a refill of my water bottle and let Ray know I was pressing on. I am not sure if it was just general concern or if I looked again like crap because he asked if I was alright. I lied and told him I needed to press on because I didn't know if I could finish if I stopped for too long due to the hot spots that had developed on my feet. Which really did feel like my toes were going to pop off my feet and were limiting my ability to mash up hills. However, the real reason I decided to keep moving was because I felt like the whole earth continued to move under my feet when I got off my bike to refill my bottle and I was a little afraid I was going to fall over while standing. Soon after my departure, Ray caught up in the single track and followed me and my what had to be embarrassing to watch navigation through the trail on the way to the fire tower climb and decent. Mashing up the climb put a little space between Ray and I. Somewhere in the vicinity I caught or was caught by the CtoF rider I had made an effort to pass the lap prior. I knew he was a strong rider and from that point on focused all of my effort to stay with him with hopes that once we reached the last 5 miles or so of tougher single track, the outcome would be the same as the lap prior. I was able to pass him on a climb at some point and made a conscious effort to spin on the descents where I previously was coasting in order to put as much of a gap between us before we reached the section of road before the last single track section and he inevitably reeled me in. I was excited to realize I was racing again. While I didn't feel strong, I making and effort to ride fast. The strategy worked. He reached my rear wheel just as we entered the single track and I went back to my strategy of spinning whenever my legs told me to rest. My mind worked fast on a strategy to hold him off to the finish. I remembered 2 tough climbs, one long gradual climb, two fast decents and some single track at the end where I had previously had trouble maintaining good momentum. Knowing I was not the better rider, I decided I was going to have to out climb him if I was going to finish in front of him. When we reached the first section of tough climbs, I saw the familiar site of the team jersey. It was Scott walking the only climb I hadn't cleaned on the first lap. I dismounted and called out to him as he cleared the crest of the hill and peddled away. The CtoF rider passed me as he was able to pedal most of the hill. I gave chase on the next climb and passed him back near the crest. I remembered the upcoming climb was as steep but, about 1/2 as short as the one I had just walked. As I rounded the top of the hill prior, I saw Scott walking and decided, that this was my opportunity not only put away the CtoF rider but, possibly pass Scott. So, I screamed out that I was coming, put the hammer down and cleaned the next hill with a purpose. An effort to which I quickly feared I would regret as my legs screamed in agony on every climb that followed. Both Scott and the CtoF rider caught back up at the same climb I had caught Jim on the second lap. At that point, I figured I was finished for sure. Assuming they'd both ride the next two climbs which I was certain to walk and I'd never see them again after the fast and open descent that followed. Much to my surprise, I reached the descent first and passed a rider on the way down who I hoped would to slow in their pursuit of the riders on my tail. I rode the last bit of single track in a bit of a frenzy hoping I wouldn't hear flywheels buzzing and chains shifting into larger gears closing the gap I had managed to build on the descent. A bit amazed, the buzzing and shifting never materialized. Soon I could see the see of glass from the windshields in the parking lot and reached the short road leading into the finish. I was surprised to see Lee camped out in a chair in the clearing just prior to the finish area. Clearly, he didn't have a good day either. Which was a bit of a downer. We shared some insults referring to each other as parts of the female anatomy and I crossed the finish line catching a glimpse of the finish clock at 7:54 and change to collect my finishers patch.
As I waited to congratulate the CtoF rider (I should probably figure out what his name is), Scott and Ray on a great effort, I felt both relieved and proud I was able to pull off a sub 8 finish in that kind of heat and ~72 hours after being bed ridden with stomach flu. When I arrived at the tent, I discovered it also wasn't Bryan's day and the heat had forced him to call it a day after lap two as well. More proof the weather was no joke.
I ended up cracking into the top 10 in 7:54 and was the second MI SSer to cross the line. Same overall position and about 3 minutes faster than two years prior when I felt I literally rode outside myself to do so. While is wasn't as significant of an improvement as Mohican, it's definitely an effort I am damn pleased with.
Scott and I filthy happy post race:
Needless to say, the after race festivities were pretty mellow that night as everyone focused on feeling better versus destroying as many brain cells as possible. We hit the rack at a reasonable hour and made the trip back to reality early in the am.
While I wish it would have went as well for Jim, Bryan and Lee, I think the weekend was still a success. Gotta give anybody some serious credit for even an attempt at a 100 in those kind of conditions. My bike handled and rode flawlessly. Even after some last minute hasty prep. The weekend was also a reminder of how thankful I am to have a great group of teammates and cycling friends with supportive significant others. Not to mention the privilege of sponsorships that make racing and results like this possible.
Next up is the single greatest weekend of the year GLR