Like I mentioned before, I went into this race with nothing to lose. Even though I recovered physically from my adventures out West, I’ve been an emotional sh*tstorm ever since coming back from Breck. I did, however, feel ready to face another 100 miler following my 100 mile breakup following Mohican back in the early parts of the season. It was the same weird combination of emotional exhaustion and magical leg power that I got during the latter part of the Breck Epic that propelled me upwards in a way that I even found surprising.
This feeling was confirmed on Friday afternoon when we pre-rode some of the first climb. I kept having to rein myself in because I felt like breaking the cranks off of my bike. Save it for tomorrow…
Too bad 100 mile promoters can’t allow a “late start” option for the racers who won’t be battling cutoff times on course. Ryan (who raced the 50 mile version) and I were up for 5am breakfast and out at the winery for a 7am start. The course began with 2 miles of neutral rollout. Surprisingly, it was neutral enough (my frame of reference is whether or not singlespeeders can keep up. I was riding geared, but I watched a large singlespeed pain-train develop behind Gerry Pflug during those 2 miles).
I wasn’t far behind Amanda and Cheryl when we reached the course, and, surprisingly enough, I was able to pace them with a non-heroic effort. I had no idea where Brenda and Lee Simril were, but I figured that if I was watching Amanda and Cheryl race, that I was doing alright. We reached the turn up the first climb, and I fell into a great rhythm. I’ve come to realize that, even though I’m not on a singlespeed, I can always pretend. I found a comfortable gear to stand on, and never looked back. It wasn’t until we were several miles up into the steeper sections of the climb (about 35 minutes in) that I lost sight of Cheryl and Amanda (it looked as if Cheryl turned the screws and Amanda made efforts to follow). I kept my own very awesome-feeling pace.
I stopped briefly at the first aid station (18 miles in) and took off down the road to the first section of awesome, zoomy singletrack. The next few hours would me more of the same. I felt great. I kept up with the same strategy- eat, drink, and don’t go too hard. There’s still another lap to do. Other than that, I didn’t think. I felt like robot programed to steer my bike through a 100 mile bike race. I finished the first lap in 4 hours, 30 minutes (looking at women’s 50 mile times, it could have been a helluva fight in that race). Then, my brain woke up.
Once I was started back up the hill to the next aid- a cooler drop, I felt tired. My head was listening this time instead of tuning out the fatigue. I made the mistake of thinking about how I could be back at the car, having a beer and eating lunch. I thought about the prospect of riding another 40something miles. Then, I remembered how I’d sworn off 100s earlier in the season for the same reasons. I loitered around the cooler drop long enough that Brenda, Lee, and another one of their teammates were pulling in as I was leaving. Well, damn.
The next hour or so, I swung wildly from “screw this” to “stop thinking and keep doing what you were doing when this didn’t suck.” Then, Brenda, Lee, and the other guy caught back up to me at the horse trail before the Bull Mountain loop. I didn’t put up much fight at that point. However, as I rode through one of the meadows that punctuated parts of the trail, I noticed that I was headed for a large, black cloud on the next mountain.
If you’ve never heard the horror stories of the 2010 Fool’s Gold race, I urge you to start poking around the internet for photos and race reports. The mud on course is a special type of wonderful- when it gets wet, it turns into liquid sandpaper. It destroys any moving bike parts it touches. So, when I saw the cloud, I decided that I needed to HTFU and get through the Bull Mountain part of the course ASAP so that I could avoid the worst case scenario.
When I arrived at the aid station at the base of the Bull loop, there were ambulances. I didn’t think much of it, but as I was filling bottles & having a snack, I caught wind of a guy who had wrecked, broken his pelvis, and been laying out there with paramedics trying to reach him for several hours (Bull Mountain isn’t really hard, tech-wise, but it’s got some sketchy downhill spots that can eff you up big time). As I started the climb, I realized that the timing of the guy’s wreck was just right for when Ryan passed though. I started envisioning Ryan wrecking and breaking his pelvis. Then, it started to rain.
I was in “chase down the guy with a broken pelvis” mode. I made it to the top of the mountain and started to pick my way down. I was rolling along at a good clip (not edge-of-control fast, but not holding back, either- maybe about 10-15mph?), when I rolled over some off-camber roots. Before I could even register the noise of a sliding front tire, I was flailing through the air and watching the ground approach my body at a high rate of speed. My right knee whacked into the base of a pine tree, and the rest of me landed on various other roots and ground-bound objects.
(That’s all I could think for about a minute)
I thought I’d broken my knee on the pine tree. Blood was already running out from under the mud on my knee and shin, and it hurt to wiggle my toes inside my shoe. I poked around on my torso to make sure that my ribs felt intact. When none of them hurt, I decided to get up and get back on the horse. My right bar-end had twisted itself straight up, so it took me a minute to fish my multi-tool out and re-position it. Luckily, the bike was OK. I was hurting.
Eventually, I caught up to the guy who had wrecked. He was being gurney-ed out, and a train of about 4 guys was pushing bikes behind him. I saw a bike the same color as Ryan’s (it’s an odd blue-ish turquoise that’s not very common) and my heart made it nearly to my toes before I realized the fork was white and the guy in the stretcher was balding. I made my way around the procession and finished the last mile or so to the aid station.
The next section of trail is slightly downhill and lots of fun, so it helped get my head back on right. My knee was aching, but I figured it’d hurt just as badly whether I went fast or slow. I finished the last 15 miles back in my “groove.” I ended up coming in about 9 minutes behind Brenda with 9 hours & 1 minute. Fourth place, and, surprisingly to me, good enough for 5th in the NUE series.
Here’s the post-race interview. It’s long and full of inside jokes and innuendo, but it’s also the only one I’ve done following more than one post-race beer. Enjoy:
Watch more video of 2012 Fool’s Gold 100 NUE Series Final on thom.cyclingdirt.org
It’s not often that I let my head get to me during a race. It gets to me during 100s. Shorter races, I can destroy myself. I can ride outside myself and find new levels of pain and enlightenment. Through this season, I’ve realized that 100 mile races, for me, are an exercise in boredom and extended fatigue. My future in racing is not in the 100 mile distance. I’m OK with that. I’m glad that I gave them a hard run and figured out that my strengths lie elsewhere.
What’s next? (other than a break from training while I take on LasVegas and Interbike) a few beers, a couple of late season regional XC races, and prep for Cyclocross.