I knew I should have tried to keep up with race write ups each day as now it all feels like a blur. Like, really? Did I just ride my bike for 5 days over 195 miles and 28,000 feet of climbing. It sure felt like it on Saturday, the final day. But it is a funny thing about racing, you somehow forget the pain. Despite the last day being a very tough one, I actually still feel like riding my bike.
After riding sort of conservatively on the first day, I was ready to amp it up a bit on Day 2. It was going to be a tough, but they all are. We had a remote start today but finished up at the usual start/finish area. So we had to take a trolley ride through Brevard. It was a tad boring. Pflug had wanted to carpool over to the remote start but I didn't think that would be a great idea as I knew I would be finishing well after him and he had a massage appointment in town he had to make it to on time. So I rode the trolley that took forever and he carpooled with Garth Prosser ( his fellow competitor). I was sort of jealous but it didn't really matter as we all had to wait for the bikes to make it over to the start. It was kind of chilly that morning, but it was supposed to warm up nicely into the mid-70s.
The bikes all finally showed up and we rode a short distance up to a field campground for the start. We did a very short lemans start and down the dirt road with shallow creek crossing right at the beginning and then a sharp right to start the day's first big climb. The climb went on forever and got progressively tougher the higher up and then we dropped into the 'toughest/most rugged' trail in the forest that bikes are allowed it. It was crazy - super steep, with waterbar drops and, well, I got off an ran as did probably 98% of the racers. I am not too keen climbing forever and then having to ride a trail that's well not -rideable. Then it was on the bike, off the bike, on the bike off the bike. There were several rocky, slippery stream crossings that weren't rideable and then some steeply pitched sections that were also not rideable. It was tough to get into any sort of rhythm. I had been feeling pretty good thus far though and tried not to let it get to me. I did initially have intentions of trying to stay with Melanie, the first place woman, but she was just too fast climbing and I knew I couldn't hold that pace without exploding. Not a good thing to do on Day 2.
The rest of the trails that day didn't seem too bad as far as being super technical. There were some more hike a bike sections which although annoying to be pushing my bike versus riding it, didn't feel as bad as it did on Day 1. We finished up on the same downhill as the previous day. It seems to help make all the hurt and pain and suffering melt away. It really is a super sweet downhill. I definitely rode a bit harder than on day 1, but I still felt reasonably well. I grabbed a sub on the way back to my hotel since I ate like every snack I had after finishing up the day before. I went back to my hotel and cleaned the bike, then cleaned myself and ate my sub. I massaged my legs out and rested with them elevated for a bit trying to do all the recovery stuff I could.
I headed into town for the podium awards and then chatted with fellow racers at the reception afterwards. No alcohol this evening. Gerry and I then went to dinner at the same place. I got the same thing - turkey, stuffing, potatoes and green beans. Seemed to do the trick the night before. Gerry went for the pot roast and said it was delicious.
I slept ok that evening. I'm not sure why I was getting race nerves now a couple days in. I knew after today that to catch Melanie would mean her having a serious mechanical issue or totally cracking, not super likely. And third place woman was pretty far back. I had planned on taking it easy on Thursday, our shorter 'recovery' day, since Day 4 and Day 5 were both going to be super hard. Se la vie.
Day 3 was a remote start and finish and thus a later start time, 11am. It was only 25 miles with 3,200 feet of climbing. I had heard it was fast and flowing, but I didn't totally buy it with quite a bit of elevation gain in short miles. I was feeling relatively good still which I was quite pleased about. So much for taking it easy. The trails were really fun and fast and flowing for the most part. It was hard not to ride them hard. I was having a blast. There was one gnarly downhill section that I had been overly warned about so I rode it completely backed off and walked a good portion of it. It was really short in comparison to previous days' hiking with the bike. We hit the huge climb of the day late in the stage, but I was still feeling pretty good and climbing pretty strong. I was determined to stay on the bike as much as possible and managed for the most part. The end of the stage was deceiving. We came out onto the dirt road climb that we started in on and I figured we were just taking it all the way back to the finish, but we turned off it onto a jeep road that rode as mostly singletrack and that was rolling climbing. It seemed to go on and on especially since it seemed like one more corner before we turned on to this trail and we would have been done. It finally turned off onto some fun downhill singletrack to the finish. Yeah!
But boy, was I feeling tired by now. I drove back to the hotel ate a sub, took a shower and napped with my legs elevated.
The nap did me a world of good. I would have been a crabby monster at the awards podium and reception. Gerry and I decided to branch out tonight with a group of racers and check out a Mexican restaurant. It looked like that had some decent, not overly heavy chicken dishes so I was keen on it. Plus, the mariachi band was playing! It was quite entertaining. It did seem to take a bit to get service. My dinner was quite yummy and quite large, enough so that I had lunch/post-race food for the next day. I was sitting next to Clair, who was racing the open women's category. She raced it last year as well while visiting from Australia. Funny, she ordered burritos and two very large burritos came on her plate. She was served before most and waited till everyone had their food. I wasn't quite sure why she was so patient as others had started eating already. I finally got my plate and took a couple bites and then I looked over at her plate and only part of a burrito was left. I was like, hmm... maybe she only got one burrito. Nope. She really ate it that fast. Amazing. And she wouldn't do the pie eating contest the last evening!! Anyway, everyone was a little anxious about the next day's stage which had been touted as the hardest, or at least the longest time wise.
Day 4 entailed 39 miles and 8,000 feet of climbing on mostly singletrack. I had guessed based on the finish times from last year that I would likely be out there for ~5.5 hrs. It was a long day out there but some really awesome trails. I was still feeling pretty good, had some climbing legs etc. It did seem to take forever to get to Aid Station 2 at 20 miles. I seriously started to think that maybe we had missed it somehow. But nope. It took a good 3'15" to get there. I was banking on the 2nd half of the course to ride must faster and thankfully it did. I still felt good up the last climb and was railing the downhill that we finished on Day 1 and Day 2. Super sweet. It really makes you start to forget all the pain of the day's ride. I was still annoyed with myself for chickening out on two short sketchy parts and running down them. Maybe tomorrow....
One more day... one more day.
After the stage, I decided to take the time to drive up the road a bit and check out a couple waterfalls. It is so beautiful down there in Pisgah National Forest. I highly recommend a visit to the area to anyone who appreciates the beauty of the mountains and thick, lush forests. It's a outdoor enthusiast's paradise. I then went back to the hotel and showered up and rested a bit. I didn't get to nap really and probably should have but I seemed to feel ok and thought I'd be fine getting through the last day. I went to town for the podium awards and reception. Everyone was talking about the cold weather coming in for the final day. The temperature for the start was going to be ~40 and only get up to mid-50s. Brrrr....and to top it off we had a bunch of creek crossings early on. Yuk! I hate being cold. The first Aid Station was a mile 14 so most racers dropped spare shoes (if they had them) and dry socks. Hmm...I had both so seemed like a good call. Off to bed and unfortunately not solid sleep.
I woke up feeling surprisingly ok. Once I moved around some though, I could tell the week of racing was catching up with me, although really not too bad. It was chilly out and thankfully I had a bunch of cold weather riding clothes with me. It was a base layer day, leggings, ear warmers, warm wind vest kind of morning. I started out wearing my older bike shoes and had dropped my better shoes and dry socks and other dry items just in case one fell in the creek. We had a 7+ mile road start and it was windy. In the pack it wasn't too bad but it fell apart some. I could tell on the first climb that it was going to be a tough day. The legs were stiff and tired. And the cold in general was making me feel like I was in a fog. I was hoping I would warm up and come around some.
Early on a couple guys who I had been riding near a lot this race were with me again. One of them was riding my tail tight and I offered a fair warning of being overly tired and a bit cranky so I might bitch at him if he kept riding too tight. He took heed. He eventually passed me thankfully. We descended to the creek and then proceeded to have to cross 8 times! It was only about knee deep but long enough and strewn with boulders that you had to carry your bike across. It was quite cold. I still can't understand why they couldn't just keep the trail on one side of it... duh! j/k My feet were freezing. It seemed like a very long 14 miles considering half of it was on the road to get into Aid Station 1. I was very very happy I dropped shoes and socks. It took a bit to change since I was so cold and stiff but the volunteers were awesome. I had 4 of them helping me at once. It was a bit overwhelming at that point as my brain was not functioning to efficiently yet. One of them asked me how my warm socks felt? I said, they aint warm...but at least they're dry. And off I went.
I was wooped. I was definitely struggling to stay in the game today. We had a long climb up to Pilot mountain which of course included some steep hike a bike sections. I got to the top of the steepest portion and had a near hissy fit trying to get to my now crumbled odwalla bar in my shirt pocket under my vest under my camelback.... arggh! I got some of it and figured I should get pedaling. It took a while to crest Pilot Mtn. The views were pretty amazing up there but I was too tired to really care. Then it was a long harsh descent with super tight switchbacks on loose rocky terrain and of course lots of drops. It was mostly rideable if you weren't five days into a stage race. I had a rough time on this descent. I think I may have been extra frustrated in the fact that i was too tired to ride it and if I weren't so tired, it might have been a lot of fun. Well certainly a lot of fun on a dualie suspension bike. My hardtail was beating the crap out of me today. My long fingered gloves also don't have pads in them so that didnt' help either.
Probably about half-way down the super rough part ends in a rock garden that I almost made it through but had scrubbed too much speed. Thom Parsons (of cyclingdirt.com) was there filming some of the riders (check out the website for racer interviews). He told me it smooths out after that and gets easier...cool.... but BS.. It went on and on. Not so rocky, but still lots of waterbar drops. I was so beat up and tired. I finally made it out to the dirt road and nearly broke into tears. I was kind of surprised at my reaction since usually I just get to the point of telling myself "you don't ever have to ride your bike again if you don't want to" to get through a race, but I seemed to have skipped right over that phase and was near breakdown. What do I do? I talked myself down and told myself to just think of the funny things my doggie has done and that seemed to help me snap out of it enough to finish up. But I was not a happy camper out there. There was one more super rough descent and I was so ready to throw in the white flag. I just had to finish that's all I had to do and I'd still be in 2nd.
I finally made it to the last climb and knew I was ok. I started to relax a little and take in the scenery since this was the last day. And the descent into the finish was still really sweet. I still didnt' ride the couple short sketchy sections but I didn't care at this point. At the finish I was rather cranky and knew I just needed to get out of there to unwind and recover so I headed back to the hotel asap. I showered and ate and tried to nap a bit. Then it was time go head to the Music Center for the final awards and dinner. I was much better by then and add a couple beers to that and well...it's all a memory now. The dinner was great and hanging with all the racers was good fun. I was surprised I wasn't completely trashed but I was ok. I headed back to my hotel around 9pm and was probably in bed shortly after that.
I woke up feeling a bit sleepy. Walking up and down stairs was a tell tale sign of weary legs. Although, they really weren't as bad as I thought I would be coming out of this race. I packed up the car and drove through the forest up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was another cold day. My car thermometer was saying it was only 35 degrees up in the mountains. It was a gorgeous day out and the views were spectacular. I took the parkway to just about Asheville and then it was all highway back to Doug's in maryland and being reunited with one happy pug.
It is an odd feeling now being done the season I felt so done before the race but now it feels like it shouldn't be over. I even went hunting for ice cream tonight and the seasonal shops are closed :( What happened?! I guess it is October. Time for some fun riding, hiking, relaxing, etc.
Till next year! Probably more of the same -- or different same long distance races... something like that.