Syllamo is a wild, brutal trail. It’s hard on your equipment, your body, and your mind.
Since Wednesday this week, I’ve been out at the cabin riding a little and relaxing a lot. I spent a lot of time hanging with Amanda Carey and hoping that some of her pro fast-ness would rub off on me. She makes a mean bowl of food…
Aside from short pre-rides (during which, we discovered the trail was viciously overgrown in some areas), we spent most of our time watching hummingbirds
Or, just generally kicking back and enjoying the sunset
The last few weeks have been tough… for reasons still under speculation, I didn’t experience my usual speedy recovery following the Cohutta 100. I was feeling somewhat better last weekend, and I figured that I’d be 100% back on point with a few days at the cabin participating in the aforementioned activities.
However, yesterday morning, I felt as if I had a subconscious aversion to the race. First, I forgot stuff at the cabin… extra water bottle, extra sports bra, and, oh yeah… MY SHOES. Luckily, Ryan (racing the 50 miler, which started an hour later), was able to bring them to me. It was as if a ghost didn’t want me to get on my bike, and could only barely grasp at me like that transparent ghost hand in the movies.
The race start was as it always is- a drag race up the 3/4 mile Blanchard Road climb to the entrance of one of the more technical sections of singletrack. By not being on a granny gear up the climb, I was able to be with some slightly more technically-abled riders once we hit the yellow trail
The riders I was around were generally alright… however, I felt a strange malaise about my placing in the pack. A few miles in, Brenda passed me on a rare doubletrack climb. I felt indifferent. I sort of picked up my pace to follow, only to realize that I just didn’t feel like a battle. At that point, I figured I’d just go for a long ride and, based on my general good fitness and riding ability, it’d all turn out pretty good.
That worked alright until about 3 hours in when I reached the long climb from up the blue trail from the highway to Green Mountain road. Even though I was doing everything “right” as far as pacing and nutrition, I started to feel overly-fatigued as I hiked & ground my way up the hill. I ended up walking a good part of the climb that I’d normally ride. Not really sure what was wrong with me, or why I was feeling much more exhausted than what I’d normally expect at that point in a race, the urge to drop out started to creep into the back of my mind.
The hardest racing condition in the world is not a physical condition- If your mind doesn’t want you to race, you’re dealing with something much worse than any bad weather, injury, or difficult terrain.
I crept my way up to the 3rd aid station to grab some fresh bottles and get onto the red trail. Up there, I was greeted by Steven from Texas (a.k.a. Dude Brah) who had broken his chainring early in the race and forced to drop out. He asked me how I was doing, and I just told him it wasn’t a good day. He gave me several cups of ice cold coconut water and a quick philosophical talk about how I could appreciate a bad day because it brings about self awareness. He was probably a little stoned, but it gave me something to think about for the first few minutes of red trail. It was getting hot- probably around 90 degrees.
Then, my brain started to go. I was spacing out and losing awareness of time and space- other than “red trail,” I didn’t really know where I was or how long I’d been riding. I recognized the feeling, and, coupled with how I’d felt up the blue trail, it all made sense- I was bonking my ass off. How? No idea… I was eating and drinking how I have successfully in the past. I wasn’t necessarily riding any harder than usual. My legs began to complain and feel pre-cramp-ish.
Somewhere along the trail, I made a deal with myself: if I started to get full-blown leg cramps before I started the 2nd lap, I’d drop out.
That didn’t happen. I passed the “drop out” point and started back onto the Yellow trail. I was the tiniest bit happy to see that my “50 mile” lap time was right at 5 hours and 30 minutes… not that bad, actually. I was bonkish and overheated, but I decided at that point that the only way I was leaving the trail before crossing the finish line was by paramedics and a stretcher.
There’s something really creepy about the second lap on the yellow trail during the 125k. You see lots of evidence of lots of riders, but hardly ever an actual, live person. The couple of guys I did see were in pretty rough shape (how someone could be worse off than I was and still out there, I have no idea, but they were). Every time I’d get a little anaerobic, I’d feel like puking, so I walked up a lot of the steep/rocky stuff. I tried to go back into the bonk cave in my head so that I would be less aware of how slow I was moving, but instead just hung in a limbo of altered overheated consciousness.
It took forever, but I finally made it to the last rock garden and climb out to the “easy” part of the yellow that looped back to the final lap of the red trail. I knew I was going to make it. At the aid station, I put fresh water in my bottles. The Roctane I’d been drinking wasn’t sitting well, and I was afraid that it could be turning sour in the afternoon heat and sun. A half mile into the trail, I found a pocket-sized bottle of Elete drops. I stopped and put it into my water. Later on in the trail, I shared it with some 50 mile guys who were sitting at a road crossing, trying to get the energy to continue on.
There’s a point about a mile from the end of the red trail where you pass through two pine trees. It’s a narrow spot- the only one like it on the trail. From there, you climb a tiny bit and you’re done. I wanted to stop and hug the trees when I saw them.
So, I finished. 8:50something on the clock- more than 30 minutes slower than last year. I still finished 5th.
I’m mentally and physically wrecked right now. Coach and I are trying to figure things out, starting with 4 days off. It’s not really clear if I’m suffering from a simple lack of recovery, a lack of recovery due to something physiologically wrong, or a simple need to HTFU and ride harder. It’s never immediately clear. I hate being here at this point in the season, but it’s where I am, and, when I eventually rise up and overcome, I’ll chock it up to a learning experience, and it won’t happen again.