OK, there's a little more to the story. I've been working a pretty early schedule lately, which doesn't agree with me that well. I didn't prep the night before, which I should have. At least the bike itself didn't need attention. I was a bit nervous getting myself together and out the door on Saturday morning and it took longer than I wanted it to. However, I still reached the staging area with over an hour before the start time.
Last year, the race had a Lemans start. People whined about it, but it wasn't that bad - maybe 300 yards of running. The Lemans start at an endurance race can be a very funny thing. The people who're hoping to win the race try to win the start too. They run like they mean it and everybody else just phones it in. It's a good opportunity to self-seed. I run them fast enough to be among other people in team kits, usually a clue that I'm with the right group.
This year, there was no Lemans start. There were 225 people crammed into a start ramp. By the time I got myself over there, I was back with people wearing Camelbaks and baggy shorts.
|Case in point: This woman is riding a hardtail, yet wearing a Camelbak. Picture taken by the organizers.|
Oops. The race has about a quarter mile of paved road before it gets onto fire road briefly and then singletrack, so I moved myself up as much as I could without riding at an effort I might regret. I still was in a traffic jam at the entrance to the singletrack, but once in, it wasn't too bad. In fact, I maintained an average over 10 mph - pretty brisk for me on a mountain bike on trails.
I make a habit of asking riders standing next to the trail, at least who don't look like they've got it in hand, if they're having a problem. Usually they say they have everything they need and I don't need to decide if I would truly stop and help someone with a mechanical difficulty. This time, the rider in question said she couldn't get her chain unstuck. I had a brief moment of thinking I wanted to set a faster time on this race, then stopped to try to help her with it. It was pretty badly stuck and I couldn't get it out nicely. I was afraid to haul on it, so I told her that that's all that was left that I could think of but I was afraid to do it to her bike. I saw her at the end of the race. She'd yanked hard on the chain to get it out, and it turned out more than okay - she made podium in the Open Women's category. Lots of people had offered to help me, and had helped me later, when I had my mechanical problem at the 6 Hours, so maybe I also needed to earn some karma back.
I lost maybe a minute stopping to look at the woman's chain, although two large groups of riders passed us, which bothered me a little more. From last year's GPS track, I actually don't think I was particularly slowed down by being in traffic during the start of the race. However, it feels good to set my own pace, even if it's the same as the pace of the train I could be stuck in.
|This looks like somewhere near the Fall Creek campground. From Steve Sanders Photography.|
Since I wasn't worried about a possible damaged wheel this year, I blew right through the first aid station and started the big climb of the day, 1500' up the Mima Porter trail. I passed a few people at first, and then a few people caught me. One guy passed me and then either he slowed down or I surged. For a while, I followed him on the theory that he must have been averaging higher than me to catch me. Eventually I got tired of it and passed him again.
The guy who'd passed me caught me at the next aid station, where I did stop and refill my water. Last year, on the advice of another rider, I tried taking little packets of pre-portioned Gatorade with me so I could have my energy drink throughout the race. It worked well, so I did it again this year.
There's a little bit of climbing after the second aid station. Last year, I hadn't expected it, so I remember it being pretty difficult. This year, I didn't kill myself quite as much on the climb to the aid station, and I was in better shape to tackle the last section. It turns out it's only about 150' of vertical, over about a mile, and not that big a deal. Next year, maybe I'll go back to killing myself on Mima Porter.
I had a lot of fun descending to the far end of the course. The trails were smooth, the traction was good, and I don't believe I go faster on a descent when I push it, so I just tried to relax and flow. Definitely the best way to do that descent! This was my one segment PR for the entire race. I knocked a little less than two minutes off last year's time, over the course of forty-three minutes.
I had a power bar on the flat section of road before the big fire road climb back up to the third aid station, which is right next to the second. I remembered the fire road climb being absolutely brutal, but it wasn't so bad this time. The other thing I remembered was that there was more climbing after the aid station, when I thought it would be over. In fact, there's almost 500' left to climb, although over about four miles. Last time, I felt terrible on this section. This time, it wasn't nearly as bad. I tried to keep a good pace going and while I mostly rode it alone, I reeled in a few riders.
One of the banner routes in Capitol Forest is the descent on Greenline Six from the peak to the Fall Creek campground. Once again, I tried to relax, flow and have fun. This took me longer than last year, although not by very much. I think I had more fun with it, though.
I blew through the aid station again. I thought I could probably get back to the start in a little under an hour, and at this point, I was starting to taste the PR I knew I had a shot at. I had about one and a half bottles of water. I had gels. No reason to slow down.
About a half hour after the aid station, I started hitting clearcut and I knew I was close to the finish. I started pushing harder. I had a lot more of that left in me than I realized. After about twenty minutes, I wasn't done yet and started feeling less brilliant. But I kept seeing landmarks I remembered being near the end, and I'd try to hang on for a little longer, then turn a corner and see more trail. I realized I didn't really know where I was, except that I was somewhere near the end. Finally, and somewhat anticlimactically, I burst out onto the last piece of service road in the course. I got in my large chainring and started riding as fast as I could to the finish. I shifted up a bit more after turning onto the asphalt. One of the pitfalls of using Strava is that I can look at my track and know that my idea of "as hard as I can" at that point was only good for about 20 mph. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was out of the saddle and hammering. At least, I thought I was hammering.
My official time for the race was 5:35:50.2. Twelve minutes faster than last year. The funny part is that I'm not sure where I managed to get rid of those twelve minutes. It wasn't the 300 yard run. I only lost about four minutes to my wheel problem last year. And almost every segment I rode this year was slower, although some didn't match correctly and I don't have segments on all of the course. Very strange.
I'd been nervous that I hadn't prepared adequately for this race. I still don't think I did, but I've been mountain biking some, and the Century and track racing must have counted for something too. However, days later, my back still hurts and I'm still stiff. Last year, recovery wasn't quite as bad. So even if I prepared well enough to clock a good time this year, I didn't prepare well enough to recover well too.
I hope to be back next year.
The GPS track: