This past Saturday, April 30th, was the first 100 miler of the season down in Ducktown, Tennessee (southeast TN) and is staged out of the Ocoee Whitewater Center. Roughly 30 miles west of the Whitewater Center, tornadoes had gone through one of the towns we passed through. The damage we saw driving through the area was truly eye opening to the force and power of tornadoes... Maybe New England winters aren't so bad. The race course itself had few signs of rough weather, and was mostly in pristine shape.
I started the long trek to Tennessee on Wednesday evening by heading down to Doug's in Maryland. I was originally planning on departing Thursday morning but my work schedule was such that allowed me an earlier departure. I prefer to drive late if it's going to give me a full day of 'down time'. I got there at 1am Wed (well Thurs technicall). I was glad I made the drive then as I would have hit some of the severe storms seemingly hugging Rt. 81 Thursday morning, and thus would have made for a sketchy, stressful drive. It was rather gusty though Wednesday evening but there was no rain until after I made it to Doug's.
The week going into this race I was actually feeling pretty relaxed and not running around like a maniac trying to get ready, work etc. All I had to do Thursday was put some new disc brake pads on and just take a spin to make sure everything seemed fine (mostly, a last minute check on the new saddle I had only been riding on for the past two weeks and my new shoes that have been giving my left heel some issues). So, I swap out said disc brake pads which takes much longer than I anticipate and the piston won't push back in properly on the front brake thus rubbing annoyingly. I fussed with it for a bit but it was just frustrating me. Then, for some reason, the front derailler was not quite working properly and well, I just didn't want to deal with it anymore (which might have ended in my throwing my bike and having more problems to fix) so I decided to bring it to the bike shop for a quick tuneup since the mechanics could fix this is 5 minutes. Doug's bike was getting last minute work done as well so we were going to the shop anyways. And, thankfully, it was all fixed easily. I bought myself some new gloves while I was there, which was a tad risky to go with 'untested gloves for a 100 mile race, but I realized all my short finger gloves were in pretty sad shape. New gloves wouldn't be worse than goign with what I had. Plus, it had this extra side thumb pad thing that struck as a nice feature and proved to be durign the race. Anyway, mostly uneventful day otherwise.
It was to bed early and up at 5am to hit the road to Tennessee Friday morning. I have to admit, the driving is getting old. 5am was not met kindly. I dragged my butt into the car, which we had packed the night before, and even nodded off again for the first couple of hours. And then it was just a long long long long drive down 81. I had gotten a book on CD which proved to help pass the time. I am not a fan of channel surfing through country songs, classic rock and christian music.
We passed through one of the towns in Southern Virginia that was hit by the tornado. It was impressive the damage that was done. There were still 18 wheeler truck bodies strewn about the median. A whole travel center/building for turcks was wiped out and trees were completely blown down or half chopped off. It was stunning damage. The exit was closed there. We passed through another area just west of the race by about 30 miles. There were downed powerlines and damaged buildings, etc. I was almost afraid the hotel we were staying at might have suffered some damage but the tornado didn't travel quite that far.
We checked into the hotel, changed into riding clothes and drove the ~25 minutes to the Ocoee Whitewater center to register, get our race packets and ride the beginning section of the course. It was pretty warm out, well the warmest weather I have ridden in all season thus far. Not an entirely surprising fact. To my dismay, my disc brake pad was rubbing again which was very annoying since it had just seemed fine post bike shop tuneup. That, and I had to stop a couple times on the ride to tweak my saddle position. I finally got it right which made a world of difference in comfort. After the ride, I thankfully was able to adjust my brake pad/pistons.
We headed back to the hotel to cleanup and go grab some dinner since it was getting late. We ate at the same small italian place we ate at last year. I remember I was being 'smart' last year and going simple chicken and rice dish but I recalled it being bland. So, I decided on something a bit more flavorful. When it arrive at my table, I saw I had what I had ordered was super sloppy, juicy, cheesy... It tasted ok, but I didn't want to eat an overly heavy the night before a race. I ate my bland potatoe and picked at the entree best I could.
It was a chill evening watching some TV before hitting the sack. Funny, Doug set his phone's alarm which also has his calendar events in it and it went off around midnight to 'alert' of an event the next day. He jumps out of bed and said and said, "Ok, race time!" I'm cracking up (since I hadn't fallen asleep yet and knew it wasn't possibly 5 in the morning yet). Back to bed for a little bit. I slept ok for a pre-race night. I hadn't really gotten too nervous about this race all week but it was starting to make me a bit anxious and thus hard to fall asleep, which seems to be standard for me.
And 5am did come early. I ate some oatmeal, drank some espresso and was off to the race with the dread thought of why? It's going to hurt...but I have to keep pedaling anyways. It was chilly that morning. I knew it was going to warm up but it was hard to not want to put on all my standard winter riding wear. I did start with arm warmers but the short fingered gloves left my hands quite unhappy for the first hour of the race.
The race starts up a moderate 3 mile road climb which helps spread out the pack before hitting the tight single track. Positioning onto this first single track is very important so I tried to go pretty hard. But then again, there's still 97 miles to go. I went into the singletrack in 5th place. Got into 4th half-way through but passing on a tight corner. Towards the end of the opening section it widens out some and by this point I had made it into 3rd place, but mostly because Viccki had to pull off to check her bike. Mechanical? I wasn't sure. Anyway, Amanda (the 100 miler series winner last year) and Cheryl (previous 100 miler winner, and fresh off a grueling long stage race) were up front and I wasn't overly confident I could catch them. I was a bit more worried about who was behind me at that point.
I managed to hold that lead throughout the race. I felt pretty good overall, especially for not having a lot of long sustained climbs under my belt for training this winter/spring. The legs felt, for the most part, 'there'. Although, the feeling lessened as the climbs kept coming, especially since it's all mostly over the long 60+ mile stretch of dirt/gravel roads that bores the crap out of me. So when my back starts hurting, and my feet are starting to make some noise and my legs are starting to feel heavy... there's not much to distract me. Although, there were some very nice views here and there. It is a held in a beautiful mountain range SE Tenn/NW Georgia. There seemed to be a lot of newly laid gravel on the roads which made some of the fast descents rather hairy, sliding around some corners. I don't know if there is any tire that handles that well.
The race does seem to go on and on these dirt roads that every corner looks the same after a while. I was mostly on my own, with the typical group of male racers that would pass you, fade, you'd pass them, and fade...etc. Although none of us seemed overly chatty with each other - too much suffering? Maybe too much wondering why are we suffering so much? My sister's frequent question of "wouldn't it be easier to sit on the couch eating bonbons?" seems more and more appealing.
I of course forged on, occasionally cursing the course at the top of a punchy climb that my legs no longer wanted any part of. The gravel made it difficult to stand and climb much to use the muscles differently and stretch the back out. I finally made it to the last stretch of single track. I was trying to remind myself that there was a lot more climbing in this section than you anticipate at this point. You are still rather high up on the mountain and the end of the race is just down the side of the mountain, but of course, it's not that simple. While I was happy to have the distraction of single track at this point, it just seems to be endless. And having the climbs in there that seem cruel at this point despite not being really all that long in comparison to other of the 100 miler courses. You can almost smell the end of the race-- it's just down there....if we could get there. And eventually you do and finish up with 1.5 miles on the road. I felt pretty strong finishing up and gave it all I had at that point, just in case one of my competitors had been sneaking up behind me. It would absolutely be disheartening to lose 3rd place in the last mile. So I crossed the finish line in 3rd in 8:18. I'll take that. Amanda superstar was 7:33 and Cheryl was 8:03.
I hobbled off my bike. My lower back was quite tight. I went down to the river and joined some other racers soaking their legs in the cold water. It felt good. I cleaned up a bit and went back to hang out with some friends/fellow racers and get the scoop on how their days went. I even almost won a raffle prize for 'person who drove the farthest to this race' - it was for a thompson seatpost which would be excellent timing as I need one to build up my new frame from our team sponsor, Zaboo Bikes. But some dude said he drove from California.. yeah right.. oh well.
While, I can't say this race is a favorite of mine - it's a long drive for a lot of dirt road riding - which is not my strong point - it is beautiful down there. We drove home heading east from the whitewater center and into Asheville,NC for lunch. Really gorgeous! And the weather was spectacular Friday through Sunday. Just long long drive home. Stayed in Maryland Sunday night and back home Monday.
Next up is Transylvania Stage Race at the end of this month... going to be some real tough competition. Being on the podium there for any of the stages will be quite a feat.