I haven't written anything here in three months, which is what happens when you're starting your 10th (yeah, 10!) season of bike racing AND you get injured in the offseason. I don't want to really get into it, but it's just say that my decision to ride through knee pain for four hours on one day (I was on a vacation!) earned me 10 weeks completely on the sidelines. It was a very bad trade. Don't be like me. It also meant I did nothing worth writing about.
But here we are, I've been back on the bike for eight weeks now and it's time for the yearly hundred miler! This time around it was "only" a ten hour drive from home, which meant a whole bunch of my hundred-miler-virgin friends were coming. Most notably, we got Pete Bradshaw to come out of retirement for it. It was his eighth ride of the year. He finished in ten hours. He's a bad man.
But hey, let's talk about meeeee and my experience! The Mohican course is front-loaded with rad singletrack, which presents a variety of problems:
1) It's fun, so you want to go fast.
2) It's hard to pass, so you might want to go fast on the road before you get there.
3) If you're a good handler and a bad pedaler, you NEED to go fast there, because the rest of the course is gonna crush you.
So my preferred 100-mile strategy of "don't race your bike in the first two hours" kinda went out the window because I was excited, and knew that I wouldn't get a lot of chances to drop HANDLINGWATTS later in the course.
That's probably why, when I caught Evan Huff and Cary Fridrich after two hours of racing, I told them they were going way too slow. Because I am a 100 mile expert and they are 100 mile noobs they had to listen to me (especially when I went to the front) so then we went faster and shredded singletrack for another hour.
Here is some sweet footy of other people shredding. Look at that singletrack! MAKE SHREDDING!
I stopped to pee (look how hydrated I am on this humid mid-80s day, this is a great sign!) so Evan and Cary got away. I caught them by making a series of aggressively rad passes on the water bar descent and finished it off by chopping Cary. Adrenaline was high. Feels were good.
We crossed the road, left the rad singletrack section (25 miles down, a quarter of the way there!) and went into a climb so steep up a horse trail that it bordered on hike-a-bike. Evan rode it. I did not. Feels immediately became not-good.
I reunited with Cary and Evan on the next descent and tried to pretend that the current state of feelings was not headed straight into the toilet.
This lasted until the next climb. Which was paved. And long. It's a 100-miler, remember? There's enough trail to look good in videos, but the real work gets done on roads. And my body wanted nothing to do with REAL WORK.
Cary, Evan, and about five other guys rolled so far ahead of me on the climb that they were out of sight by the top.
I ran out of water shortly after (look how I miscalculated water on a humid mid-80s day, this is a great sign!) and limped to Aid Station #2 at 35 miles. I felt like crap. Cary and Evan left as I got there, but the situation was clearly far too dire to try to make time up with a quick aid station stop -- I had six hours left to ride.
I picked up my traditional six-inch sub here and started eating it on the next road section. Before I could finish, the course turned onto super steep gravel climb. I rode 2 mph while eating. I had to move over and get off my bike to let a tractor pulling farm equipment pass me. I didn't care.
Was I really racing my bike just an hour ago?
Some dude ahead of me cramped so bad on this climb that he got off his bike and just hung over the bars for a solid minute as I approached at 2mph.
So I guess how bad things had turned for me wasn't as bad as it could be.
I finished my sub and tried to apply power. It did not work. Guys I had dropped hours ago in singletrack flew by me. Some of them were drilling it. Some of them were riding side-by-side and talking casually. I couldn't hold the draft of either. And my Garmin didn't even say 40 miles yet.
A jeep pulled up next to me. Thom P was hanging out of the passenger seat with a camera. He interviewed me about how bad things were going. It was nice to talk about how much everything in my body hurt. I specifically complained about my bike fit.
After he was gone, I fantasized about seeing a chiropractor who could tell me why my lower back hurt with every breath, never mind pedal stroke.
Then I fantasized about quitting the race and lying down until my back stopped hurting.
Then I fantasized about dying, so I could lie down forever.
My Garmin said 42.
The course entered the Tree Frog Canopy Tours section of singletrack, which is the toughest riding of the day. Some of the guys who had blown by me on the road were totally unable to navigate the slippery rock piles in here, and I started making a few places back, even though I was riding at bare-minimum-survival-pace.
I reach aid station #3, and to my utter surprise, Evan and Cary were there.
This was the slap in the face I needed to remind me: everyone suffers. Especially when the climbs are this steep, and the day is this hot. Bare minimum survival pace IS race pace for many of us after 50 miles of mountain biking.
They scurried off as soon as they saw me roll in, but it was too late -- if two hours of riding at "totally blown" pace had only cost me five minutes against them, then maybe I could salvage this.
Because it was a hot and humid day (and definitely not because I ate a 6-inch sub), my stomach was totally jacked up and I ate the first of what would be at least 12 gels in the last 50 miles.
I noodled up the steep singletrack climb out of aid 3 and tried to get my head around both how much this hurt, and how much longer it was going to hurt for. I've honestly never felt like this in a hundred miler before.
The climb got so steep it turned into hike-a-bike. It seemed so unfair, I thought about crying. I concluded that I still had to ride 50 miles whether I cried or not, so there was no point. So I walked.
I got lucky on the next road section, and one of the guys who had blown by me on the road last time was now riding at a draftable pace. We turned into the woods and found another miserably steep climb to aid station 3.5 -- but I also found Cary and Evan when I got there. And this time, they didn't leave right away.
I missed a great chance for psychological warfare by telling them this was the hardest thing I'd ever done. I should have said "halfway there, time to start actually racing!"
We headed into a singletrack section, which meant a rare chance for me to make some time up on the pedalers. I went ahead of Cary and Evan. Evan interpreted this as an "attack." Five miles later, when we hit a road section, he responded with his own "attack." The difference between our attacks is that he was quickly out of sight.
But everything hurt a lot, and my Garmin had only just ticked over to 60, so I wasn't sure I cared too much about this.
The 2nd and 3rd place woman, along with two other guys, picked up Cary and I entering the "legendary" 10 mile false-flat rail trail section. At first it's a false flat downhill, so we were cookin in a paceline. I took exactly one feeble pull during this time.
Evan appeared in the distance as we steadily pulled him back.
The rail trail switched to false-flat uphill. The effort required to stay with the group apparently quadrupled, because I immediately decided I couldn't go that hard with 3 hours left to ride and popped. Cary came with me.
The women caught Evan, he jumped on their paceline, and then they popped him a few minutes later.
Cary and I climbed the rail trail for miles.
Every single pedal stroke hurt my back, but Cary was riding about 75% standing because of some... um... humidity-related issues. Everybody suffers.
The rail trail went back to false-flat downhill and soon we dragged into aid 4. Evan was there. He was not happy to see us. Greg Whitney was there (and had been, for a while). He was very happy to see us.
Evan fled the scene while we wandered around bumping into things. My brain was working so slowly that I almost left without filling my camelback or reapplying chamois cream, even though those were the only two things I actually needed to do here.
Greg, Cary and I rolled out from aid 4. To quote Cary, "I haven't felt this bad since I had the flu." The group was so cracked that we didn't even paceline, we just rode in the general vicinity of each other while mumbling about whatever we could think of to distract from the suffering. Which was usually sarcasm "oh, another climb," which really wasn't very distracting.
There's five major climbs between aid #4 and aid #5, I strongly recommend you commit this fact to memory if you're going to do this race. I had an elevation profile taped to my top tube. I wanted so badly for it to be wrong. It wasn't.
Each climb seemed to have at least one section of inhumane steepness, the worst one being the climb out of aid station #4.5 -- peaking at 19% on gravel. I dropped below 3mph and my Garmin auto-paused here for over a minute. Cary kept pace with me while walking, because pedaling was making him cramp. The only reason I pedaled is that walking was making me cramp.
The saving grace in this section was that we had reuinted with the 100k course, and were slowly picking through the back of the 100k race. Seeing people suffering more deeply than yourself (we'd ridden 38 miles further than the folks we were passing) really helps you keep perspective on things.
Cary's growing inability to climb without cramping eventually led to him getting dropped on a climb.
Somewhere around mile 90 I gapped Greg Whitney on a climb, which is proof that 100-milers have very little to do with normal bike racing.
Greg came back, though, and we rode into aid station #5 at mile 95 together.
The final section of course is five miles of the trail you started with, backwards. Finally back on something that "suited me, " I did my best to distance Greg while pretending to be his friend. Once the climbing ended, it actually worked.
I almost killed myself with a pedal strike on a rock descending, because I was too tired to hold my pedals level or look at the trail.
I found the 2-miles-to-go sign, and it became clear that I was, in fact, going to live. And obviously never do a one hundred mile mountain bike race again, because these things are horrible. I spent a solid six hours in the deepest suffercave I've ever spelunked. Here I am telling Thom about it.
It was HEINOUS.
Now it's been three days... so what hundred miler do you guys wanna do next year? I hear Shenandoah is good.
Meanwhile, Christin had the best hundred miler of her life by a huge margin, finishing barely an hour behind me as the 9th overall woman. Here she is directly after the finish attempting to talk about the race but mostly about farts.
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