Last year, I did the Darkhorse 40. It was 90 degrees and humid. I flatted out like a chump after 15 miles, sparing myself a good 2 hours of suffering in the heat, and also allowing me to be back home in Boston by 4pm. This might be why I was convinced that the event was SO AWESOME that I HAD to come back this year, even though I could've just driven to the local Root 66 race just an hour away.
This probably sounds like a segue into "so it turns out the Darkhorse isn't awesome at all" but guess what, it's not! The Darkhorse rules, which is why it registration filled up three weeks ago.
My hotel companion was the lovely MegA, because Linnea has started transforming into a cyclocross killing machine and no longer has interest in 4 hour mountain bike races. It is August, after all.
It was Meg's first mountain bike race of the year and first-ever 40 mile mountain bike race, so I spread as much lies and false information about what was up as possible. Despite my best efforts, she ended up having fun and doing well!
This year they combined the pro field with the age-class cat 1 fields into a no-nonsense "Elite Men's" field. OTHER PROMOTERS TAKE NOTE! You can do this too!
We had 50 guys, and the guys I was most afraid of were all on rigid singlespeeds. Seriously. Harmon, Stine, and Montalbano were about to crush me without gears OR suspension. Well, that's annoying.
With minimal warmup in my legs and 40 miles to ride, I took it pretty easy at the start. We bottlenecked super hard at the first singletrack, of course, but I knew I was in for that -- what I wasn't expecting was the guy in front of me to start falling of the wheel ahead of him in the first mile of the race. At first I thought he was leaving some space ride to ride smoother, but when the gap grew to 20 meters it was go time.
Up to the next group and more of the same. My addiction to low-pressure, reverse-holeshot starts is starting to be a real problem. This time it's three guys letting the train go, and since it's nothing but SUPER SINGLETRACK in here I can't get around for a long time.
Eventually I broke free with on other guy who'd been similarly bottled up, but it's too late, we're on our own now. I can see one guy up the trail ahead and he promptly blows a right turn (four arrows! but it was at the crest of a hill, so I can see why he was looking down) and ignores me screaming at him to come back, so now I can't see anyone. 4 miles down, 36 mile TT to go. DO IT.
I soon realized that my modest breakfast was a huge mistake and I would be eating every one of the six gels in my jersey by the time this thing was done. My stomach was full of very little, least of all anger.
As a result I ignored the group of six that I eventually spotted up the road on the gravel climb. I am at peace with my pace. I am a zen master. I am one with my exertion. I will see you in twenty miles.
It took me most of lap one to close the gap to these guys, which was never more than thirty seconds (I timed it every chance I got; inner peace was not achieved). By the time I made contact they were far to strung out to be a group, but whatever, I had some guys to ride with.
Unfortunately, the two I caught first were in the throes of "omg we're not even half done" realizations and thus were riding slow as death in the tight singletrack. I once again tapped my inner zen master and rode slowly behind them for five or six minutes.
We finished the lap and I ditched my camelback, which was annoying my lower back, and threw a bottle in my jersey. My companions stopped for water as well, but I passed them on the road and soon found myself alone in the woods having apparently traded my camelback for ENERGY LEGS.
Mile 20 through 30 were amazing. The course seemed to be nothing but 2% downhill singletrack with berms. I was riding roughly 60 miles an hour through the woods in my 44x12 (do the math on how many RPMs I was spinning!) and passing the shit outta people. This feeling is why I'm addicted to starting slow...instead of bleeding slowly against the leaders, you get this idiotic notion that you might be gaining on them as you tear up the middle of the field.
Of course I wasn't, which was pointed out to me by some guy catching me from behind. He had flatted earlier and was going 70 mph to my 60. He had a black jersey. He was one bad motha. I did not stay with him for long.
Thus began my slide into the pain cave, as my gels fought a losing battle with my energy needs. ENERGY LEGS turned into WEAK LEGS turned into CRAMPY LEGS and hey, I'm ready to be done now.
With five miles to go my bike was starting to handle funny. I've only been racing bikes for what feels like my entire life, so figuring out what was going on was completely beyond me. Only when I went to hop a log at mile 36 and heard the dreaded "front-tire-fart-sound" did I realize what was going on. Slow leak.
And of course, my pump was in my camelback, back at the start line, so this one CO2 in my seat bag is my only chance. Fish it out, put it on the tire and... nothing. Empty. I've been thinking about this for 24 hours now and I still can't remember when I used it. Maybe the basement elves empty my CO2's while I sleep.
Well that makes it easy. Ride till it's flat and then start running. AND THEN COME BACK IN 2011 TO FINISH THIS STUPID RACE WITHOUT A MECHANICAL.
Somehow my tire sealed at 5psi and I was able to ride the last 3-4 miles. I was not, however, able to turn or descend with any kind of speed whatsoever. Twice I rode into the woods rather than attempt to turn under braking, for fear I'd burp the rest of my air out. As a result... eight guys (six elites, two singespeeds) passed me.
Good thing the riding was awesome, there was free beer & barbecue, and half of the field seemed to have flatted or missed a turn -- otherwise I'd be kind of upset about this. Oh, and by dropping to 14th elite, I was able to jet outta there early instead of sticking around to see if the promoters were crazy enough to pay 8th place. Because they probably are.
Say it with me: NEXT YEAR.
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