September 10, 2007

SM100: The race

The crack of dawn start

The photo credit goes to directly to Lauren and indirectly to Fontana. Seems the pooch was a bit un-nerved that Daddy was up getting ready to ride his bike and wouldn't let Mommy sleep, so she got up and watched the start.

I was up about 10 minutes before the 5AM gong "alarm". This always happens without an alarm. I guess it's pre-race nervous energy. With a proper good night's sleep, I usually start sleeping pretty lightly around 3AM, looking at my watch every half-hour or so. I've always considered this a good thing since it gets me to the blue rooms before things start to pile up. Let your mind interpret that however it will.

Experience rocks. I have these early-morning starts dialed now that I've done so many of them. The routine is something like this: Wake-visit blue room-make coffee-make breakfast-eat-visit blue room-get dressed-roll to start-visit blue room on way-find spot on line-pee-go! I've also been simulating no warm-up starts by jumping right into my early morning training rides. I ride before work during the week and had gotten into the habit of spinning around for a half-hour or so before starting to "train". At hundies I'd always feel a bit sluggish for the first half-hour or so, so I started kicking it into gear sooner and it seemed to help. Once the neutral start was over and things started ramping up, I started working my way up and felt great.

As I was working my way up the first fireroad climb I was passed by Sue Haywood. She was keeping a nice pace and looked like a good wheel to jump on. I was already blowing by guys who'd started too hard; now we were really blowing by them. When we hit the first singletrack I got a taste of how my day would go. There were riders stumbling and bumbling up the first steep rocky pitch. It was short and would require a short effort, so why walk it? I blasted up it, taking bad lines around a few walkers and made it up easily. The legs were feeling great.

As I started the climb up to Wolf Ridge I found myself amongst a big group that included Sue and Jeff. She let a bunch of guys go around but they weren't really going anywhere, so when it was my turn and she asked, I declined. The girl's got some serious skills and her wheel was a great one to hang onto.

Somewhere on this climb we passed Chris Eatough. At the time he was trying to figure out what was going on (back wheel wouldn't spin), which turned out to be a broken axle. It sucks to see a fellow racer taken out early by a mechanical, especially somebody with Chris' meticulous preparation, but it goes to show that it happens to the best of us.

Shortly after that I bobbled on some rocks, Sue got a gap and I was alone. It was no biggie since I was near the top and pretty soon my lousy descending skills would've made sure I was alone anyway.

I soldiered on alone and it would stay that way except for the road sections. I'd finish a singletrack or leave an aid station and I'd inevitably end up with a few other riders and we'd start pacelining. I never consciously tried to, but at some point I'd ride all of them off my wheel.

Good things started to happen on the way up Hankey Mountain, in the form of catching and dropping riders on the climbs. I've figured out that this flatlander can't descend, but I sure can climb if I'm having a good day. So far I was having a good day. I worked my way through 3 riders up that climb and none of them caught back up on the downhill.

This shot was taken in the ripping grassy singletrack around Braley Pond, right before aid station 4 and the race's defining climb that follows it. I actually wiped the scowl from my face and looked like I was having fun, instead of my normal racing look of twisted pain.

The good vibes continued on the climb up to Shenandoah Mountain. I kept a good tempo all the way up, with occasional surges to catch and drop other racers. I made my usual quick work of aid station 5, made even faster with the help of my teamie Mark who was up there volunteering. He lubed my squeaky pedals, helped top off my bottles and ran alongside me with a last piece of that heavenly watermelon as I scarfed down another. Thanks, Mark. You rock. Despite all that help I still got caught up in the desire to resume chasing down riders, forgetting to grab a fresh gel flask and can of Endurolytes. I took stock of what I had left (swig of gel and 3 Endurolytes), estimated the time I had left to the finish (2 hours) and decided it wasn't worth turning back.

The climb up to Chestnut Ridge was a highlight of the race for me. I was continuing to catch riders, but that wheel-sucking grassy singletrack was one of the most beautiful places I've been to recently. The air was cool, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and wildflowers were going off all around me. It would've been a perfect place to waste an afternoon, but I had business to attend to. Jeff later said this was a sign that I was in the zone. All he thought about was how much that climb sucked. I was definitely in the zone.

The racing started to get interesting near the top of Chestnut Ridge. I passed 2 more riders right before the top. I started the descent and shortly thereafter I heard a rider coming up from behind. I stopped to let him by, but it was the first rider I passed, not the second. Then I boogered a switchback and the first rider got me back. Rider #2 was gone for good (almost), but I played cat & mouse with rider #1 all the way past aid station 6. I got him on one of the short climbs, then my rear wheel popped out of the dropout on the next descent. He got me back and gapped me before I got rolling again. The gap was enough that he kept it all the way past aid station 6. Once we got to Hankey and started climbing again, I finally got rid of him for good. I knew I had less than 1 hour left and ramped the pace up as high as I could, keeping it pinned all the way to the top. Right before I got there I saw rider #2 from Chestnut just ahead. I pinned it but couldn't reel him in before the downhill.

I crossed the line in 8:22, knocking 50 minutes off last year's time and finishing 14th overall. I was shooting for 8:30 and figured the placing would take care of itself if I did my part. Wow. This was the race I was looking for at the Wilderness 101. I just needed to fine tune the chill plan.