I didn’t spend much time recovering after Cohutta before getting back in to training. Of course I wanted to rock Syllamo pretty hard, but I have bigger races on the schedule, so I treated Syllamo as a hard training day.
I headed over to Mountain View Thursday morning for a little trail workÃ‚ (on my adopted section of Orange trail) and preriding. I was feeling pretty awesome through the rock gardens (even rode the green trail 2x, just to make sure!) Friday, I went for a longer ride on the yellow and red loops. It took about 3 hours, and I was pretty beat when I got back to the cabin. My legs were still feeling Cohutta.
All week, the forecast had been looking messy for the race. Friday night, Ryan, Matt, the dogs, and I ended up taking to the storm shelter as severe storms and several tornadoes rolled through the area. I had resolved myself to more of the same for the race.
Saturday morning came early. The skies looked cloudy and the radar was iffy. When we arrived at Blanchard Springs, I got my packet and readied myself to ride so I could get in a good warmup- very important since the course starts with a 3/4 mile climb up a closed forest road before turning off into miles of tight and rocky singletrack. I felt like I had a little bit of an advantage since I knew the course well, so I wanted to get up the hill ahead of as many people as possible without blowing myself up.
I felt like I did a good job of pacing there. Carey Lowery (who went on to beat me and finish an awesome 8th overall) passed me on the climb. I didn’t try to catch her because fitness-wise, I’m not quite ready for an epic singletrack slugfest… even if it is on my “home” turf. Once we entered the singletrack, I settled into a hard tempo. I quickly realized that all off my practice and learning how to ride the rocky sections were in vain… the rain overnight had left them incredibly slick. I made it through a few tough spots, but soon took a couple ofÃ‚ hard falls that shook my confidence a bit.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about rocks, it’s that you can’t hesitate or be indecisive when it comes to riding them.
Every time I’d approach the wet rocks, I’d tense up a bit and mentally prep myself to stop and unclip if I needed to. That, of course, led to stalling and unclipping.Ã‚ It was like taking 50 steps back from where I’d worked myself up to as far as technical skill. I was hating it, and ended up hiking more than I probably needed to. It was more of the same through the yellow and short portions of blue and orange that remained before the 1st Aid Station. I was a little discouraged at that point, but figured I’d make the best of it by just keeping steady and making the best out of all the other parts of the trail that weren’t slippery. It worked out well enough and got me to the aid station for a quick snack and water refill before heading out on the green loop.
The green loop is a lot of fun. With the exception of a couple of switchbacks and the rocks along the White River Bluff, it’s pretty flowy. It was a good chance to get my confidence back a bit before taking another painful spill on the rocks and resigning myself to walking the entire bluff section (along with about 5 guys that didn’t want to bust their butts the way I had). Matt called us the fail train…
The next bit of trail was the orange and blue down to the first Livingston Creek and Hwy 5 crossing. It was pretty uneventful, but I stopped and laid my bike down in the creek in order to clean out the drivetrain. When I got to the Hwy 5 Aid Station, Todd H. was there with my drop bag (including a spare derailleur!) and some chain lube.I refilled, had a snack, then headed on my way up the hill.
You have to be in the right mindset for the next sections of trail. The initial part isn’t really that bad- First, you have to climb a bit. Then, more rocks, and you head back down across the highway and across the creek two more times (those crossings were very sandy, so even though they were rideable, I carried my bike across to keep the drivetrain from getting fouled up).
It’s the next part that takes perseverence. The trail goes up. It gets steep and impossibly rocky. It includes stairs (made of rocks). It’s not really that long of a climb distance-wise, but it can break you if you let it. I passed several racers who were sitting on the side of the trail looking as if they didn’t know whether to keep going or to fling themselves back down the hill. I told them to get up and at least start walking. Hopefully it helped. It’s always a relief to see the logging road at the top (which, btw, still goes up at a healthy pitch, but doesn’t include any rocks or switchbacks, so it’s pretty refreshing). Once I crossed Green Mountain Road again, the sun was out, and I could smell the finish. Only the red loop and some mad crazy descending stood in my way.
Even though the red loop is not technical, rocky, or steep, its length (~13 miles) nearly drives some people insane. I forced myself to not look at my bike computer and to just keep hammering as best I could. Soon enough, I was back at the final aid station and on my way into the last section of yellow trail that led to the screaming-fast hill back to Blanchard. I was tired, a tiny bit crampish (same spots as the week before), but feeling otherwise alright rolling across the finish with a final time of 6:04. Carey had come in at a hair under 5:17 (Daaaaaamn!), and the next woman (of 13 who finished) was at 6:42.
The trophies for this race are pretty sweet (as is the cash in the included envelope!) Here’s a shot of mine with a little post-race libation:
I’m pretty happy with my finish. The next day, Matt and I built a fire pit and rode forest roads for a couple of hours… which is another post. Hopefully the race photographer will get the shots up soon!