The weekend was full of random oddities that made it memorable (other than riding for 100 miles). I made sure to highlight them in case you’re not up for reading the entire story.
I left Memphis later than desired on Thursday, so I ended up crashing on Kim F’s futon inÃ‚ Chattanooga that night instead of at Thunder Rock campground as I’d originally planned. Good move, though, because finding/setting up camp in the dark kinda sucks.
Friday morning, I headed out to the campground.
On the way out, I stopped by Panera for some coffee. There was an old, fat guy in a sweatsuit and cowboy hat smoking on the patio near where I parked. When I got out of the car, he watched me intently as I locked my bike up, then as I went inside, he made a comment about how my hair had something of a European look to it. When I came back out, he told me a philosophical verse in Spanish that he’d thought up. I can’t remember his translation, but it made me smile.
When I got to the campground, I found a nice spot to set up, then decided to head back in to Cleveland to go to the bike shop (it’d been too early when I’d passed through before) to get a fender for my bike. I figured it might be an insurance policy against rain (spoiler alert… FAIL).
When I arrived back at camp, I met up with Todd H (my best Arkansas buddy), who had set up at the campsite next to me. He’d done the race a couple of times before, so he helped me figure out where to pre-ride that afternoon. While I was out, I came around the corner and saw a guy standing next to the trail with a camera as if he were waiting on someone to photograph. Thing was, I hadn’t passed anyone for a while… I think it might have been Harlan Price (pro from Independent Fabrications), though I was moving kinda fast & didn’t get a good look, so I could be wrong. I asked him if he were going to take my photo as I zipped by.
Even though the trails were really easy compared to the stuff I’m used to in Arkansas, pre-riding was a good idea since the final bit of trail was a screaming decent (including a couple of tricky corners) off of the mountain. Afterward, I picked up my registration packet, cleaned up, and ate some dinner before settling in for bed.
It rained a bit over night, but in the morning, seemed as if it’d be holding off. I had some oatmeal, changed, and headed up to the start area. When I lined up, I was chatting with some of the other women when Cheryl Sorenson (who went on to finish 2nd) and I had the following exchange:
CS: What’s your name?
CS: What’s your last name?
Me: Wilson. You haven’t heard of me yet.
Surrounding others: giggling/mumbles
CS: “not amused” look
I might be new to the 100 miler game, but I know when I’m being sized up…
Anyway. The race started. There was a lot of pushing and shoving, but I settled in on Todd’s wheel since I knew he’d be pacing himself via powermeter up the first 2.5 miles of paved climb. About a mile up, that got to be a bit much, so I dropped back a bit. I wasn’t in a bad spot when we hit the singletrack, though being in a big group, it was hard to settle in. I went kinda hard, because I could see/hear some of the competition ahead & behind me.
This would prove to be a mistake.
After about 10 miles, I settled in to a more comfortable pace. I also got passed by a lot of people in doing so. The singletrack seemed endless, but eventually we were dumped out on to the forest service roads. It was there that the longer climbs started. I felt OK. Not great- I was cursing my lack of climbing fitness as well as the 10 winter pounds I’ve been “meaning to lose” for longer than I care to reveal. Then, about mile 30, my back started to hurt. I kept trying to shift around to find a more comfortable position, but to no avail. It was bad.
Soon enough, Laureen Coffelt came trucking along from behind me. She asked how I was doing, and I told her my back was on fire and I felt horrible. She reassured me that if I just kept plugging along at the speed I was going, that I was still on track to have a respectable time. I resolved myself to getting to the 3rd aid station (almost at the top of the longest climb and taking some aspirin with half a sandwich to see if it’d make me feel better.
Not much further (about mile 40), my legs started to remind me of the effort I’d put in earlier. My quads cramped every time I hit a steep pitch of road. This, along with my back pain, sent me off my bike to stretch every couple of miles. Somewhere during that time, it started to rain. A lot. It stormed bad enough that Lynda Wallenfels was nearly struck by lightning, forcing her to DNF the race.
I won’t lie- on that climb, I wanted to quit. I told myself that I didn’t deserve to finish the race because of my lack of preparation. The thing about racing 100 miles is that you can’t fake it…
You can fake road races where you pull up to the start and everyone expects you to do well, so they’ve already partially resolved themselves to being beaten. You can fake the endurance races that are done after 5 or 6 hours by relying on halfass fitness and sheer determination in order to put up the front that you’re a machine that can hammer that stuff out like it’s no problem. But when you’re facing 100 miles of time on your bike, it tears you down to the bare, soft underbelly of your exact level of preparation and training.
I finally reached the 3rd aid station at mile 50something. I took a few minutes to get my chain lubed, eat some food, take some aspirin, and compose myself. I reminded myself about what Laureen had told me earlier about plugging along. Once again, she helped me to NOT DNF a race (see the Fool’s Gold 2009 report in reference). I got back on my bike and rode on. I knew that after a bit more climbing, I would be rewarded with a long decent, and was hoping that by the time I reached the bottom, the change in position combined with the meds would have me feeling better.
I took my frustrations out on the downhill. There were nice lines from faster riders already worn on to the dirt, so all I had to do was follow those. All the while, the rain was falling steadily… I squinted hard enough that if you were to have taken a photo of me, I probably looked like I was riding with my eyes closed. I was working hard enough absorbing the washboard bumps in the road with my legs and shifting my weight around that I never got freezing cold as a lot of people reported. I’ve seen a few people’s reports of how horribly bumpy, slippery, & treacherous the descents were, but I didn’t think they were all that bad. Maybe those people were on 26ers or something.
After going down for a while then hitting some tall rollers, I finally came to aid station 4. They had gummy bears. When the aid station worker uncovered their bowl, all I could say was, “Oh my god, that looks better than diamonds!” and cram a handful of them in my mouth (along with all of the dirt and sand from my glove). Everyone laughed at me. I’m not sure why… I mean, gummy bears were a lot more useful to me at that point.
The next bit of road was nice and flat for a mile or two. Some guy on a nice carbon FS Gary Fisher drafted me until I told him that if it started to rain again that I was going to pee. Without stopping. (Squatting at that point would = leg cramps, so ya gotta do what you gotta do…) Eventually we reached another (shorter) climb. The wind picked up a lot in the time it took me to get to the top, so I was kinda worried that I was about to get stormed on really bad. Luckily, it only rained.
The rest of the race is actually a bit blurry. I’m sitting here at my computer trying to think of what to type, but all I remember really is just lots and lots of pedaling, wind, and rain. Somewhere between the pee guy and the singletrack, I got more chain lube and a chocolate moon pie.
Once I got to the last section of singletrack, my leg cramps came back with a vengeance. I was forced to granny gear or walk some stuff that I’d blown through in my middle ring the day before. Once I was up the initial climb, I took one last stretching break. When I got back on the trail, a gust of wind fell a huge, rotten branch onto the middle of the trail about 15 feet ahead of me. It exploded when it hit the ground, and probably would have fallen on me if I hadn’t paused just before then.
Suddenly, I was at the Thunder Rock Express trail. A bit of adrenaline boosted me through the first few turns, around several riders (one of them a female competitor!) and down the hill. I haven’t compared the times yet, but I’m guessing that despite the rain, I made it down faster than I had the day before. Once I was at the bottom, it was 1.5 miles of headwind up Hwy 64 to the finish. I like wind, and I had absolutely no idea if the person I’d passed was chasing me, so I buried myself.
Crossing the finish line, it took everything I had to not burst in to tears. I stopped on the other side and put my head down on my bars to absorb the enormity of what I’d just done. Hopefully, by the end of the summer, this will be old hat, but finishing the first one (and all of the emotions I felt along the way) will be a memory branded into my head forever.
My 9:59:30 finishing time landed me 11th place out of 16 finishers (DNFs weren’t listed, but 21 women were registered @ the start). Not stellar, but at least a benchmark. I’ve got a long way to go before I’ll be on the radar of the ladies who were duking it out for the podium, but hopefully that’ll come by the last couple of races this season.