As is customary for long pre-race drives, I broke the 11 hour trip to Stokesville, VA in half to keep myself more physically and mentally prepped to race. Friday afternoon, I drove to Harriman, TN, then Saturday morning I slept in until almost 7 before starting the remaining push east and north. There must have been some sort of football thing going on in Knoxville over the weekend, because along the way, I got to meet one of the UT mascots when I stopped for breakfast near Sevierville.
(he refused to give me an autograph, though he did have a lovely singing voice)
Once I finished the drive, I set up camp and took off to pre-ride the first climb course. My legs felt fabulous.
Unlike last year, when I overslept until 6am (race start is at 6:30), this year, I was awake Sunday morning before my alarm went off. I was prepping everything in the dark, when Nate, who was camped next to me, “found” something sitting on the saddle of my bike, which had been propped up next to the car all night. It was a plastic doll who quickly because known as “Bondage Barbie,” which, because of this blog post by Dickey, made me think that he was the culprit. I decided to zip tie her to my fork, and all day, whenever people asked about it, I blamed him.
There’s more to the story, but I’ll leave that for another post since this one is already novella-length.
When I lined up at the start, I optimistically went for the 9-10 hour corral, but when I looked at the guys lined up there, realized that some people were probably much more optimistic than I was. So, in order to give myself a little more “singlespeed fall-back room” on the way to the first climb, I inched up to the back end of the 8 hour group.
The beginning of the race went much like last year- lots of geared riders going very fast, leaving all of the 32×20 SSers in a clump within the first paved mile. The first doubletrack climb went great. I felt like it was much easier than the previous year, and I was not in nearly as much granny gear traffic. I only had to make 1 smartass comment on one of the rollers at the beginning of the climb- I got a little squirrely on some gravel and grabbed a brake. A guy behind me told his teammate, who had been on my wheel to “stay out from behind the people who are grabbing their brakes on all of the descents.” I gave his teammate some more advice: “be sure you guys stay off the granny gear on the climbs.”
The first singletrack at the top of the climb is an exercise in patience. It’s got a few rocky/steep/tech spots which are all generally ride-able by someone accustomed to rocky/steep/technical. However, if one person in the conga line walks, so does everyone else. So, until we were clear of that, there was a lot of hiking, which included a lot of yelling by the guys who felt as though their 200th place finish spot was in danger since they were unable to ride because of all of the people walking. Eventually, I made it down to Aid 1, refilled my bottles, and headed off down the road to climb #2.
If you aren’t familiar with the SM100 course, the best thing I can compare it to is Leadville – elevation + singletrack. You have big climbs that are all separated by miles of flat to gently rolling road. It’s absolute Hell for singlespeeders. It was on the flat sections between the first, second, and third climbs that I was constantly being picked off by women on geared bikes (including Laureen Coffelt, who would be looking to beat the snot out of me in order to take my spot in the overall NUE standings). I honestly think that this was the first race of this season where I could have placed higher by riding gears.
The second climb is a bitch. I’d love to go and try it alone because the steepness of its singletack put nearly all of the people around me on their feet. So, I hiked up the mountain with 100 or so of my new best friends for what seemed like an eternity (or half an hour) before speeding back down the other side, where I found Aid 2 and eventually climb #3- Hankey Mountain.
The profile of this climb happens to be right in my comfort zone for the 32×20. I hauled at least 3 women (including Laureen) in on the way to the top and never saw them again. The descent from Hankey starts out pretty sketch- to the point of where they’ve stationed medics on the first few pitches. I made it down that part and railed the remainder. I figured that since I was losing time between climbs that I’d be a tick less cautious than usual on the descents. It mostly worked out well.
Before climb #4 (Ramsey’s draft), there’s 5 miles of road. I was spinning my ass off, and was passed by many a geared rider (luckily, none of them were women). Being the 2nd of 2 singletrack climbs, I was a little worried about being stuck in another conga line of hikers. However, this time, I started up the climb with a couple of other singlespeeders who seemed to be similar to me in gearing and ability. The geared racers we did encounter were nice enough to move if we needed to pass. It was on the back side of that climb that I had my only wreck of the day. I was hauling ass when I hit a sketchy spot where some people had already slipped off the trail bench. My front wheel momentarily caught something and my bike started to endo. Somehow, I managed to push myself back far enough that I went behind the bike as that happened. I’m not 100% certain of the order of these events, but some where along the line, my right foot was solidly planted on the ground, the rear wheel punched me in the gut, and the forward momentum of ass-hauling yanked me to the ground onto my left elbow, which sort of hyper-extended my back. I dusted myself off, realized I wasn’t hurt too badly, and continued on.
Climb #5 is the “Death Climb.” It’s mostly gravel road (a little doubletrack jeep trail stuff at the top), and, according to the Garmin, goes from around 1600ft of elevation to about 4240ft at the top. I started to feel hot & tired about halfway up. At aid #5 (just before the remaining hardest section to the top), though, I was slightly revitalized when I realized that I’d caught another one of my competitors who had passed me earlier. Unfortunately, soon after, I started to get quad cramps whenever I’d try to hammer up something steep. I decided to try walking the steepest parts in order to delay the full-on cramps that would start if I kept up at my current pace. Lucky for me, this worked, she never caught up to me, and I was on my way back down the gnarliest of the descents and headed to the final short climb up the first part of Hankey Mountain.
Once again, no one passed me on the road. I was sad to not be able to hammer up the last climb. Mentally, I was ready to, but my quads were writhing under my skin like a dying snake. I death marched up to the top and eventually found myself dropping down into the backside of the Stokesville Campground and rounding the final corners to the finish in a time of 10 hours 40 something minutes- just barely 10 minutes faster than last year, but good enough for 8th place out of 36 female finishers (an improvement over my 11th from last year).
While this result in and of itself was not particularly awe-inspiring, it meant that I accomplished my season-long goal of finishing in the top 5 of the fiercely competitive NUE series. All races on one gear. Epic win in my book.
There’s only one direction I could possibly go from here…