It was a race of triumph and tragedy…
Ryan and I arrived at Mulberry Gap a little after 8:00 Saturday morning. First off, Mulberry Gap is a really sweet little mountain bike getaway place. They’ve got cabins, hot tubs, showers, and access to a lot of trails. If I actually HAD a mountain bike, I’d be going back to visit more often! However, I digress…
I almost forgot to mention… the temps were in the 40’s and there was a steady rain falling. Luckily, by the time the race started, it was around 50 and cloudy. The race itself started and finished something like a “normal” CX race, with a 1/2 mile or so loop around the Mulberry gap property (included were things like a creek crossing, a couple of run-ups,Ã‚ and a really tall barrier). Following the CX loop was the meat of the race- the 38 mile forest road loop that, after 12 miles of gravel/paved/decent/small rollers would pitch up to just over 3000 ft of elevation over the span of 12 miles.
As soon as I got the initial CX loop out of the way, I implemented the strategy that I’d devised pre-race: KILL IT!!!!
Let’s face it- I’m not exactly Kristen Armstrong when it comes to climbing (the 23 pound bike doesn’t help, either). So my plan was to nail the initial decent and flat portions of the race and make the other (3) women chase me to the climb. This worked fabulously. After dropping the hammer on the initial decent, I ended up getting a draft through the headwind up to the climb (the others were not so lucky).
For the first 7 miles of climbing, I continued to feel very strong. The grades were long, and (as I estimate) ranged anywhere from 3-7%. This initial portion of climb was a bit of a stair-step (good for me!), with a steep-ish grade followed by a flat-ish portion of road. However, once I passed the course “sag” stop, it started to get ugly… the grades were steeper- somewhere in the 10% range (some sections getting closer to 15%), and the longer reprieves of the initial climb gave way to ~10yard “teaser” flat spots that were just long enough to coast for a couple of seconds before the next onslaught of hill was in your face.
I’m not ashamed to say that I walked twice. Even with 39×27 as my lowest gear, the added resistance of the mud (which was a little bit like wet peanut butter), was too much for my legs to take in a couple of spots. I wasn’t the only one… as I slogged on foot, I was looking down at the ground and noticed muddy imprints left by the shoes of those that had passed through ahead of me. The last few miles, fog encased the woods and road so that the road ahead was not visible. During the last few miles, the mud was mixed with snow and slush, making the steepest section of course also the sloppiest. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that conditions bordered on epic…
Finally, somewhere near the top, the sun broke through, and I heard the voice of a course marshal telling me to turn right and have a nice trip back down. The decent was about 7 miles, and, though I was exhausted (both physically and mentally), I shook the proverbial cobwebs out and concentrated on descending as quickly as possible through the rocks and muck. Following the decent, the course rolled back to Mulberry Gap. When I finally got there, a course marshal directed me to turn left and go up the hill…
A wet, leaf and mud covered hill that, according to Ryan’s Garmin 705, was 175 feet at a 56% grade. After pausing to curse, I started trying to push my bike up the wall. At times, I was using trees to hoist myself up a step or two. There was a woman taking photos about 1/2way up who yelled at me that some people were dragging their bikes… excellent idea! I let the bike tip, grabbed it by the front wheel, and drug it up like the dead animal that it was while cursing the steel frame with some pretty “creative” language. At the top, the hill continued up another 65 feet of elevation gain at 16% (400 more feet of rolling my bike before reaching the top). I thought that the worst was over.
From the top, the course went screaming downhill and onto the pavement, passing the finish line, and re-entering the CX loop that we’d followed at the start of the race. My legs were on the brink of collapse, so I was having a difficult time negotiating the barrier, the remount, and the first (realllly long) runup.
It was there that the stuff of nightmares occured… Carey Lowery, who I found out later was a locally well-known MTB endurance racer, caught me. She ran by me about 3/4 of the way up, and I started after her. We were close when we both re-mounted at the top, and jockeyed for position going down a steep hill to a narrow bridge. She got the inside turn and was just ahead of me on the bridge. Coming off, I attacked up the steep pitch of gravel hill that followed. This launched me ahead of her, and the course swept back down a steep hill and made a sharp right, which I took at “make it or break it” speed, praying that the finish line was around the corner.
I’d forgotten something.
There was one more run-up between me and the finish line.
I bobbled the turn into the run-up and stalled out, making for an awkward and slow dismount. Carey jumped on the opportunity and dashed past me. Her remount at the top was flawless. I cursed and fumbled my way up the hill and over the log at the top. As I rounded the short corner, she was crossing the line. I crossed a few second later, covered in mud and immersed in defeat.
I think this sums it up:
After I banged my head on a dirt wall near the finish line a few times, I had some vegetarian chili, an oatmeal cookie, and a hot shower. Once Ryan and I were warm, clean, and fed, we hung out for a while talking and laughing with some of the other racers & volunteers. He ended up in 12th place for the men (I was 16th overall out of around 50 racers- mostly men).Ã‚ I have to say, though I’ve never had a problem with “roadie” people, I loved the MTB people that I met while I was there. I even got a good cookie recipe or two…
I found a couple of photos- taken by Namrita O’Dea of 55nine performance…
A cold, wet starting line
First run-up of the day
Near the end of the race, just before my Epic Fail
The women's race "podium"