Even though this race has been on my schedule all year, I didn't decide to definitely go until the Monday before the race. If the weather was going to be bad I would've bailed. The memories of the Knobscorcher were still very fresh and I couldn't imagine trying to keep a bike running for 12 hours in those conditions. The forecast looked good, though, so I went for it.
I left Tampa Thursday morning so I could snag a campsite at the world-famous Tsali trailhead. The campground is usually full by noon Friday, so I decided to beat the rush. That left me with a full day to kill Friday and plenty of chill-time. I was up pretty late Thursday setting up camp, so I slept in Friday and went to ride the course around noon. There weren't many people around, but I did run into one familiar face. I saw this guy and Bob McCarty from Florida on the pre-registration list and knew that getting on the podium was gonna be tough.
Setting up my pit required some thought. I was going self-supported and the pit area was on a fireroad where no cars were allowed. Usually I'd just pull my car into the feed zone and work right out of the car. Before I left home I picked up a couple of big plastic storage bins (thanks to Dicky for that tip) to keep all my crap in. Parts went into one box, food and clothes went into the other. I mixed up enough bottles to hopefully get me through the day and put them into 2 coolers. Throw it all around a folding picnic table and that was my pit. My IF teamie Patrick was gonna be around riding on a team with Shey Lindner, Peter Joski and Ed Mooreadith, so I could tap those guys for help if needed.
I think I got 10 hours of sleep Friday night. That rocked.
It was pretty chilly Saturday morning, but by the time 11AM rolled around it was beautiful. The layers came off and I started with just a base layer under my jersey. The run was mercifully short and I was on my bike in less than 2 minutes. Chris Janiszewski from Florida (the guy I battled with at Razorback was there supporting some friends and gave me splits all day. Brandon put 5 minutes into me on the first lap and I was in 3rd. I assumed Bob was in 2nd.
Things stayed like that for most of the day. Things started getting weird for me kind of early, though. I started feeling hints of cramps in my quads about 4 hours in. I'd put 2 Endurolytes in every other bottle and figured that would be plenty with the cool temps. Thankfully I had a film can full of them in my jersey pocket and started eating them like candy. I was keeping the cramps at bay, but my left knee started hurting. It got pretty bad, especially on the climbs. I had another film can of vitamin I at my pit and started eating those up. Those 2 issues started the self-doubt creeping in. Why was I cramping so early when i was managing my efforts? What's going on with my knee? Should I really push through this and risk hurting myself before Mohican? I shut it all out and just concentrated on one lap, one at a time. By the time the 6-hour race was finished, all self-doubt was gone and I was just churning out laps. I was feeling great and it showed in really consistent laps.
Chris had quit giving me the ridiculous splits to Brandon, but he was telling me how far off of 2nd I was. At one point I was 10 minutes back, then it started: Chris: "You're 4 minutes back." Me: "Really?" Chris: "Yup, you took 4 minutes out of him that lap." I just kept doing what got me through my dark period: Spinning up the climbs, bombing the downhills and cruising the flats.
As I started my 10th lap I looked to Chris for the split. He motiond down a few tents and said "That's him. You're now in 2nd." It was a guy in a Virginia Tech kit whom I didn't know. I kept at it, not changing anything yet. I figured that keeping up what got me past him would be the ticket at this point. He caught up to me on the 10-minute fireroad section before the singletrack. We talked a bit and he thought he was a lap or two up on me. I told him I didn't think so because no solo racers had passed me all day, and I was thinking that he had no idea what he was talking about. With that, he attacked up a climb. He put a bit of a gap on me but wasn't really pulling away. When the trail narrowed to singletrack and pointed down, I was right on his wheel, riding my brakes. I'd bombed this downhill all day with reckless abandon and wasn't ready to give that up. I got around him at the earliest opportunity, attacked the downhill, then settled back into my pace. I put 5 minutes into him that lap.
The rest of the race was pretty uneventful. I only rode 2 night laps since it was light until 9PM. I suck at night riding and hadn't ridden at night since Razorback, so I was happy to only see my lap times drop off by a couple of minutes.
Though the results show that Brandon and I both finished with 13 laps, he actually lapped me during my 12th lap. While riding with me, he figured out where he stood and realized he didn't have to go out again, so he called it a day at 13.
Huge thanks go out to Patrick for pitching in on my self-support effort, and to Chris for giving me splits all day and keeping me motivated.
Now, for an equipment report:
First, the biomechanical part: I suffered blurry vision in my right eye again. It happened at Razorback and hadn't happened again until Tsali. I thought it was the cold. Now I think it's dust in these lap races. I've never worn glasses because I sweat like a stuck pig, but I think some clear lenses are in order for low-intensity lap races.
I think my knee issues are from the new pedals I put on my road bike a couple of weeks ago. I had the Ultegra SPD-R pedals with that stupid plastic insert that wears out in a month. I replace them about every 3 months and the pedals were toast. The aluminum was worn down around the plastic and support was non-existent. I replaced them with the new Ultegras with a metal plate in place of the plastic one, but left the old cleats on my shoes. I immediately noticed that my right foot didn't feel right, but rotating the cleat a bit seemed to fix that problem. Hopefully replacing and re-aligning the cleats should solve the problem. If not, it looks like I'll be riding my MTBs for the rest of the year.
This was my first big test of my new Ergon GX2 grips. I'd played with them for about a month and thought I'd finally found the sweet spot, so I decided to leave them on for the race. I'm happy to report that my hands were the one contact point that didn't hurt during the race. That's a first. These grips rock.
Shimano has never thrown swag my way, but their stuff just works and I stick with it. I put some new Dual Control levers on my ti Deluxe this year and knew they were a huge improvement over the previous generation. This race confirmed that. The ergonomic improvements are huge, especially with front shifts. It used to be that late in a race when my hands were tired, it took two fingers to shift into the big ring. Now it's a flick of my index finger and it's there. Gotta give the Big S props for listening to their customers and delivering a vastly improved product.