Short version: I was only 7 minutes faster than last year (12:21), but raced a lot smarter and enjoyed the riding a lot more. Tom insists the course was harder and I choose to believe him. Ran 32X19 again and that was just right. Also, I was the oldest woman to finish the race. That has nothing to do with anything, but if I can’t be fast, at least I can be old.
It was a whirlwind trip. As we did last year, we flew at to Pittsburg at the crack of dawn and rented a car for the three -hour drive to someplace so deep in the middle of nowhere Ohio that even they guy from Ohio that I work with who has Buckeyes posters plastered all over his cube has never heard of it.
We got to the Mohican Lodge too early to get into our room, so we put the bikes together under a shady tree (by this I mean “Tom put the bikes together while I ate Subway leftovers and talked to Kerry and Karen). After we checked in, we rode down to the registration at Camp Nuhop, rode back to the lodge, filled our drop bags and rode back down to Camp Nuhop to drop our drop bags, then rode back to the lodge just to make sure the bikes were working. We watched the Weather Channel constantly hoping the forecast for thunderstorms would magically change between reports, but it didn’t and there were still flashes of lighting and rumbles of thunder when I woke up. It was receding though, and the weather got better as the morning went on.
Last year, the race started and ended at Camp Nuhop, which is just half mile from the lodge, but this year, the race started 13 miles away in Loudenville and ended at camp Nuhop. The race promoters had a shuttle van from the camp to the race start so racers could retrieve their cars. This turned out to be a giant pain in the ass.
The first few miles of the race were fine. It’s started out in an SS-unfriendly downhill, then quickly started up again. I was able to climb and keep my heartrate reasonable at the same time. Then we went off into a muddy field and it immediately started to suck. I was smack in the middle of a long conga line in tight trails with ankle-deep mud and there was no way I could ride the climbs at the same speed as the geared riders. I quickly stopped trying and just walked up every hill. It was annoying to watch some girls on geared bikes pass me, but I knew I needed to save my knees and energy for later. I thought to myself that if the MTB trails were this muddy after we got into the Mohican wilderness, I was bailing at Aid 1.
But the MTB trails were much better. They ate more energy than they would have dry, but there was still some traction. Last year I rode this section hard and blew up before Aid 1. This year I was more careful. I didn’t wear a heart rate monitor, but I could tell when I was redlining and started walking when I did. My back was sore for a while, and my right foot cramped for a while, but I eventually got in a nice groove and even started having some fun and enjoying the excellent singletrack. I caught up with Paula a few mile before Aid 1 and we pulled in at the same time.
I re-Heeded my camelbak, ate a Hammer bar and took a picture, then headed out right behind Paula into more singletrack. The first couple of miles were dry and flowy and smooth and I was having fun just following Paula until she got taken down by a hidden log and I went off ahead. The ST got steeper and more technical for a while, then the course turned into a series of bridle trails that were a muddy mess and included a few long slippery hike-a-bikes. This was where I developed my mantra for the day – “it could be worse.” I kept telling myself “it’s not raining!” “it’s not really hot!” “the flowers are pretty!” “you don’t have to worry about shifting problems!”. That worked really well. I just went into bulldozer mode and kept moving forward without letting my brain think anything negative.
The muck eventually popped out into the road. By this time the skies had cleared and it was sunny and pretty. After a few grinding dirt-road climbs then some rolling road Aid 2 appeared. As I approached I heard somebody yell my number and before I even got off my bike a volunteer was standing there with my drop bag. I drank down my first Starbucks double-shot of the day, ate a bar, and took a few pics. There were hoses for washing off the bikes, but two guys using them were apparently detailing their bikes. I finally just headed off to a shady spot and pulled the worst of the mud off with my hands.
After a couple of miles on rolling logging roads, we were on the road for a while. This section was super scenic and hilly enough so I could stay on top of the gear, but not so much that it was a grind (the road pics are from this section). Then we turned right onto Big Hill Road. It was a big hill, but not long or steep, so I felt pretty good when we turned off into the Big Hill trail. This trail was big pile of fun – tight, rolling singletrack and a few technical bits, minus the hair-raising, slippery rock descents from last year. (I did not miss them.) This section is a little weird, because you can see Aid 3 about 5 miles before you get to it.
At Aid 3 one volunteer cleaned and lubed my chain and another filled my camelbak while I wandered around with the camera. Then it was off up a grassy climb through a field to some more singletrack with some fun log jumps at the top. After that was some fairly flat road that I was undergeared for, so I just cruised and enjoyed the scenery.
Then the course turned on to a mucky jeep road climb. I had been alone since I left Aid 3, and finally caught up to a guy from Virginia having a snack break here. We played leapfrog for a while and caught up to Indiana on a long hike-a-bike (we rode together for a while in W101 and Cohutta – he has a name, but he calls me Massachusetts and that seems to work). I rode with Virginia and Indiana on the next section of road until the railroad grade. Along the way, we picked up Sandra and Richard and a guy on a Klein and headed off into the 8ish mile railroad grade together. I thought for sure everyone would just gear up and ride away from me here, but we all rode together until everyone eventually dropped back about 2/3 through.I hated the RR grade last year, but it went by fast this time with the help of my new friends.
The RR grade finally popped out onto pavement in a tiny little town and it was less than a mile to Aid 4. When I pulled in, the volunteer told me I had to be out of the Aid in 10 minutes because you had to leave there by 4:30 to make the next Aid before the cutoff at 6:30. This seemed weird to me, because I thought the cutoff for Aid 5 was 8pm. I didn’t plan on spending more than 10 minutes there anyway, so I just downed my second Starbucks Doubleshot. By the time I finished one volunteer had my bike lubed and another was holding my fully re-Heeded camelbak for me to slip my arms into. When I commented on how awesome that was, the volunteer said “it’s an AID station” and I said “well, that was excellent aid!”
Aid 4 to Aid 5 started out with some easy rolling road that turned into road climbs so steep I just walked them. There was one guy ahead of me in a Vassago jersey, who was also on an SS and I went exactly the same speed for 4 or 5 miles. I finally caught him when the course turned onto a muddy trail next to a streambed. That muddy trail turned into a muddy hike-a-bike, then a rolling jeep trail with a steep downhill that ended at a footbridge. From there, it was flat to rolling roads to Aid 5, where I was greeted by the same volunteer from Aid 4. I got another camelbak topoff just out of habit. I was simultaneously hungry and nauseated (my bloodstream was probably 50% Heed at this point) and while I tried to find something to eat that wouldn’t make me gag, a volunteer mentioned they had Starbucks Doubleshots on ice. What are the chances of that happeneing? I can’t even find them in the kwiki mart half the time!
So I downed SD #3 and headed out towards the arrow pointing into a singltetrack. This arrow should have said “Reenie, we made this trail just for you.” It was the perfect momentum-having SS trail with enough fun rocks, bridges and logs to make me forget that I had already ridden 93 miles. There were a few unridable sections further on, but they were short and I knew I was making good progress on the 7 miles between Aid 5 and the finish. I also knew there was a huge hike up the side of dam at the end of the trail, and I was psyched to finally see it. As I approached, I saw a guy starting the climb. As I got closer, I realized the jersey looked familiar – it was Tom. Turns out the muddy condition of his shorts caused a catastrophic failure of the butt/chamois interface and he could only stand (on an SS) for the last half of the race. So we ended up finishing together, which is definitely a first!
While it was nice riding the last few mile with best buddy, it complicated the logistics of retrieving the car and getting our bikes packed up (which we had to do after the race because our 2:30 flight was cancelled and we now had to get to Pittsburg for 10:30 flight – screw you Jet Blue!). The original plan was that Tom would finish two hours ahead of me as usual, pack up his bike, go get the car, then pack up my bike when I got done. Plan B was for me to ride back to the lodge, Tom would pack both bikes while I walked back to the finish and took the shuttle to the car. By the time the bikes were hosed and we got back to the lodge, it was almost 8pm and I was shaking from lack of food. Then an angel knocked on the door. It was really Kerry, but she offered to go get our car for us, which pretty much puts her at saint level in my book.
The trip home went smoothly, (the people-watching at JFK is the best anywhere). When we pulled into the garage at 5pm, it was like the whole weekend had never happened (until I walked up the cellar stairs).