Monday, August 1, 2011

2011 Wilderness 101

Third 100 of the year done. I came in 3rd place which was great considering I wasn't feeling really 'on' and I got a major mechanical at about mile 85.

I first off have to thank a great mechanic, Brian Spring, for some necessary bike fixing late Wednesday night before heading off to race. I was being nonchalant about how race ready my bike was and thankfully, a couple issues forced me to seek his help before heading to the race as the bike most likely would not have made it through the race had he not fixed it. My bike still needs some TLC since I have been riding it a lot this year in wet conditions and haven't done too many miles on my road bike to mix up the wear and tear, so many parts are pretty worn out.

The adventure started out Friday morning. I picked up Brandon in Millbury just after 8am. I was looking forward to actually having some company for the 7 hour drive down to Coburn, PA (just outside State College area). It was Brandon's first 100 miler (hopefully of many) so there would be lots to talk about. Although, I was thinking by the end of the weekend I would be completely 'bike' talked out. But here I am, writing about a biking...

The drive was pretty uneventful. We stopped in Scranton for some lunch at Panera's followed up with some frozen yogurt from a random TCBY yogurt. We headed off with bellies full to finish the drive. By the time, we were on to Rt. 80, there seemed to be just enough traffic on the two-lane highway to start making me rather cranky. I decided it might be wise to get off the highway and take some back country roads to relax and enjoy the scenery a bit more. Despite the back country route being somewhat of a main route, we did pass an Amish horse and buggy along the way. They seem to typically stay to lesser traveled roads.

We made good time for a ~3:15PM arrival at a friend's house maybe a 1/10 of a mile from the race start/finish. It is the perfect location for the race. It was myself, Brandon, Doug and Lee and Brenda Simril (a couple we had met here a couple years back and run into often on the 100 miler circuit) staying the weekend.

Brandon and I went for a short ride up the opening climb of the race to shake out the legs from the long drive. It was in the low 90s and very humid out. I sweating in no time. I did a couple hard efforts which hurt, but felt good to get the body revving. I felt pretty decent and was hopeful that was a good indication for race day.

After the short spin, I got my drop bag items ready - lots of Carborocket (my sports drink mix of choice), spare tubes, CO2 cartridges and cliff bars or the like, that I never seem to eat but want on hand just in case I decide I want to eat something other than what's at the Aid Station. You generally get two gallon sized ziplock bags to have brought to two of the Aid Stations on the course for the 100 milers.

I then headed over to park where race starts and finishes to register and tried to hurry back to shower up and go grab an early dinner with Brenda and Lee. After doing several 100 miler races, the Transylvania Stage Race, and just riding with lots of different groups here at home, I know lots of folks at these races so it's hard to 'hurry'. I'd make it maybe 20 feet and run into another friend to catch up with quickly. It is a nice aspect of these races - getting to know your 'community' so to speak.

We ended up eating at a local spot, the Ale Creek Cafe which was quite delicious. They provided the post-race kegs of delicious beer (see picture of me post race).. I had a turkey club wrap and shared a delicious salad with Doug that I could have easily eaten on my own. Brandon's pesto pasta dish looked quite tasty. After dinner, I went back the race site to catch up with some more friends - including my travel mates from the Lumberjack race. It was good to catch up. Although, I was starting to feel all chatted out and the heat and humidity was making me feel pretty sleepy. So I headed back the short walk to get to bed at a decent time.

I typically start getting nervous or anxious about the race the day before, but maybe I am becoming more of a veteran this year as I seem to be less so this year. I hope that is not speaking to my motivational levels. I prefer not being anxious as it certainly helps me to try to actually get some sleep the night before the race. Most of these nights are spent convincing yourself to stop thinking about the race and how it might 'go down.'

I was thinking, though, that I was maybe a tad bit cocky about feeling good for the race. I have done enough racing to know that you never really know until you're out there racing how you are going to feel. I did slept ok for a night before a big race and woke up feeling fairly rested. I ate a couple pieces of toast for breakfast and drank some espresso.

None of us had heard a peep from Brandon's that morning, so I eventually went to see if he was up. He only peeked his head through the door to say he didn't know if he was going to race since he came down with something flu like overnight. I was really bummed out for him. I remembered I had brought some Alkaseltzer with me as sometimes I don't feel so hot the day after a race and wish I had something to take. So I offered those to him which he took. He said he didn't want to come down to breakfast and risk passing anything on to the rest of us. But, I was thinking uh oh, I just spent the whole day with him yesterday...hmmm...might I be feeling terrible later on today myself. Amazingly, Brandon mustered up the energy and courage to start the race with little sleep and a just a banana for breakfast.

I was still pretty calm for race day, although every now and then the thought of 'you know this is going to be hard, why do you keep doing these..." passed through my head, but I pushed it aside. I was here. I was going to race. There was no room for those thoughts. And before too long we were racing.

I know I always say this, but I don't like these mass starts of a blob of mountain bikers all trying to vie for the front position. It can be totally unnerving. This is probably the one reason I should do some road races to get more comfortable racing in a tight pack and either holding my spot well or getting better at moving up in the group. Needless to say, I didn't start that well and had to work hard on the first climb to get myself into a good position. Vicki, the eventual winner, and Cheryl, the usual winner, were way off the front by then. I had passed a few women but I had no idea who else might be up ahead.

The first 30-40 miles are pretty fast. Getting into a good group to draft is crucial but that was not panning out that well this year. Last year, I got into a really big group that held a fast, steady pace. It was great. This year I felt like I was having to waste a lot of energy working with other riders who would surge and fade and surge and fade. So I would work hard to keep their wheel. Then they would drop off and I'm on my own working hard again. It was a tad frustrating. I'm wasn't feeling particularly great at that point either so it was hard to not worry I was putting out too much work then so early in the race.

Brandon caught up to me between Aid Station 1 and 2, maybe around mile 35 and we rode together into the Aid Station 2. He was a good draft, riding super strong, especially after feeling sick all night. He was looking forward to the Aid Station to finally get some food in him. I was happy he was feeling much better and looking like he would be able to finish the race. I stopped briefly at the Aid Staion to refill my camelback with my 333 Carborocket mix and fill up on water. It was definitely a day to stay on top of water intake.

I was still feeling mediocre at this point but I know by now, that all you can do is keep pushing on. I am thankful that my body knows this and just keeps going, even if it doesn't feel great. Heading out of Aid Station 2 was a long, gradual climb and part way up Cheryl comes bombing down the other way. I was with a couple other riders at this point and we asked if she was ok, but she just flew by. So we weren't sure what had happened - apparently she got sick and pulled out. She's the kind of rider though that makes you worried that she just went back for who knows what, something she might have left at the aid station, and will turn around and catch you again. But she did pull out of the race.

A bit further up the climb, Brenda and Lee passed me. I was worried about her 'being trouble' this race since she seemed to start really strong and that's not her usual pattern. She's a steady racer and generally gets stronger as the race goes along. I wasn't feeling like I had much gas so I knew this would be a struggle to keep up with her. I did find some oomph to get climbing and passed back by. We then hit the first of some nasty technical descents that I rode down well. Although my hands and feet and back and well, most of my body was pretty mad at me by bottom of it. Unfortunately, the downhill did take a toll as I started back up a steep climb shortly thereafter, my inner thighs cramped up on me. I had to soft pedal and down some electrolyte tabs. Brenda caught back up and passed me again.

There was a new singletrack section that was nicer than a long slog climb the race route used to use. But I was feeling like I was going no where on it. I was getting a bit frustrated at this point with how I felt. I felt like I was putting out a good effort but just going no where. I kept thinking that I didn't remember it all hurting this much last year or at the stage race, that it felt like this much work. I just kept plugging along.

I eventually made it to Aid Station 4 about 70 miles in. I refilled my camelback again with my 333 carborocket mix. I ultimately went through three 70 oz camelbacks of 333 carborocket mix and 5-6 bottles of water. That's definitely a few more water bottles than normal for me. It was hot out there. Thankfully, my body handles the heat pretty well. Out of Aid Station 4 is a long long climb that's kind of consistently bumpy. It can take a lot out of you at that point. It seemed like an eternity even though I knew from having done this race several times that it just keeps going on and on. I just wanted it to end. It did...eventually.

There were some more changes to the course between Aid Station 4 and 5. We ultimately ended up on this ridiculous jeep road descent that was just strewn with jagged rocks everywhere. There was no good line. It wasn't steep at all but just enough of a descent to have a lot of speed but with all the jagged rocks, it was super painful to the feet and arms and back. I just wanted to sit but there was no way that was happening. Well, I would sit, but for maybe 2 seconds. I had caught back up to Brenda. She was just in sight and I figured I would see how I felt heading into the last of the climbs out of Aid Station 5. But then, pssshhtt... *%%#@@! I flatted like instantly. That was not good.

I stopped immediately so as not to ruin my rim if I hadn't already. I pulled off the trail and saw right away that I had sliced the sidewall of my rear tire. I was done I thought. I tried to guess how long of a walk out it might be and then convinced myself that I should try to fix it as it's probably a long walk. Miracle of miracles - Wednesday before having Brian work on my bike, I had to get some parts from the bike shop last minute and when I was there I asked if they had any tire patches or whatever they use to patch up a tire. I was handed a sheet of 3M tape and happened to take them with me. Premonition? This race doesn't have a ton of sinlgetrack, but the singletrack it has is super rough, rugged rocks. I had passed many many racers on the side of the trail already so I was trying not to let myself get too frustrated or stuck in a 'why me' mode. It happens and as far as racing goes, I have been pretty fortunate to not have a lot of mechanical issues in races.

So, I pulled off the rear wheel, removed the valve stem, tried to dry out the inside of the tire from all the tire sealant, stuck the 3M tape on as best it would stay (it was still kind of wet on the tire), stuck a couple more on the outside and threw the tube in. But then, I couldn't get my CO2 head to grab the valve stem of the tube enough to blow it up properly. Thankfully, a friend stopped and helped me out and we got it blown up. I then rode as daintily as possible down the rest of the hill as the tube was bulging where it was torn a bit. I managed to make it out to the dirt road and into Aid Station 5, without getting passed by another woman, but Brenda was long gone by then.

I asked for a tube at the Aid Station so I would have a spare, but then thought better of that and asked the mechanic there if he thought I would make it the rest of the way on my torn tire... emphatic NO! He had a spare tire there and replaced mine for me quite quickly. I thanked him profusely and hit the road. It would have been a long 11 miles from there if I hadn't gotten a tire change. So I just tried to finish up strong from there and maintained my 3rd place. I wasn't entirely happy with how I felt out there, but given that, I was very happy to still manage 3rd place given the lackluster legs and the torn tire.

I finished up with little fanfare and went to sit in the creek to cool off. It felt great. Funny, Cammy, who's house we were staying at, came down to chat with me and asked me if I "saw the snake". I thought she meant there was a snake right there in the creek the way she was gesting and I started to panic, but she said that Brenda and Lee had seen a bit rattler out on the course. I missed that, surprisingly as it sounded like where they saw it was near where they had passed me on a climb. At least it wasn't right beside me ready to attack :)

I cleaned up and went back to get some post-race food and beer and chat my brains out. Oh, and do the podium thing. It was all good fun. I was definitely feeling my lower back and my triceps. Ouch. Note to self for Shenandoah 100 miler and the Pisgah stage race in September that doing some serious core exercises on a regular basis is in order.

We all went out to eat at Mt Nittany Inn which sits up on the mountain side with a great view out over the valley. The food was delicious. It was actually a fairly quiet drive back and in to bed. I slept ok for post-race too. A wonderful breakfast by Cammy in the morning and then Brandon, Doug and I did a short ride along the river to spin out the legs before driving home. Brenda and Lee had gotten up earlier and had already ridden.

I found the more 'obsessive' racer in me came out when I got home and saw my 'data' for the race. I would have guessed my average heartrate was low for the race given how I felt, but it was actually rather high. So, it got me to thinking about how was 'inefficient' then if I put out a hard effort but didn't feel like I got the result or felt like I truly had that kind of effort in me. I'm sure some it was due to it being so hot. In retrospect, I realized that taking off the time I lost dealing with my tire issue, my finish time would have been right around or a little bit faster than last year and last year I felt great at this race and nailed it. So, that was a promising note. The course this year, however, was riding about 10 minutes faster than last year due to a climb being taken out. I guess it's nice to see that I still have fast race times even when it doesn't feel that way.

I think the interesting thing of having a mediocre race is that it makes me reflect more on what could I truly have changed to have a better race or feel better - like rest going in? or eating more properly? is my bike as efficient as it can be? Getting the flat out there was absolutely just bad luck. I rode the same tire over pretty much the same trails for Transylvania race. So, it will leave me pondering and hopefully making those small changes that will make a difference in the next race. If it were truly a day of feeling totally off, I would chock it up to just that, and to some degree, I chock it up to just having a not so 'on' day, which happens. But, I wasn't totally off either. And as I've said before in my 'books', that is just the way racing goes.

Next up is my killer weekend - 6 hour race on 8/20 followed the next day by the Hampshire 100K... ouch! But this week, I will rest :)

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