I woke up to rain on my tent race morning. I stopped myself from freaking out because I knew how dry and sketchy the fireroads were, and a little rain would only help. I was sleeping in a park just outside of Coburn, PA, and when I say just outside, I mean almost right next to someone’s house. I couldn’t help but wonder what they thought of us all waking up and making a lot of noise at 5:00 a.m. for 100 miles of mountain biking. The short version of the 100 miles is that is was hard. Really hard. The long version follows.
Enjoy the start
By start time, the rain was pretty much finished. The first 20 miles to aid station 1 flew by, as they were all fireroads. I learned in this section that I somehow excel at descending fireroads, which was a surprise to me.
After aid station 2 we had our first short tastes of single track. We headed down Longberger Path, which was lovely, and then over the three bridges. I do not like bridges, and I particularly do not like 3 in a row. But overall, the section between aid stations 1 and 2 was pretty mellow, lulling us into a false sense of security.
Don’t trust your Garmin
After aid station 2, I was still feeling fairly chipper when I saw the “Mile 44 Beer Stop” sign. Yes, I’ll take one, thank you! A nice long grinding fireroad climb awaited us on the other side of the beer. It didn’t look nearly steep enough to hurt so much. I checked my Garmin, because it must just be steeper than it looks. If you can believe it, my Garmin had the nerve to tell me that I wasn’t actually going uphill at all. In fact, it even suggested that I might be going downhill. I was about ready to throw my Garmin off the side of the mountain. However, considering that I had just recently purchased this evil Garmin to replace a broken one, I decided to keep it.
Going downhill on a mountain bike is harder than an Ironman
As soon as we got to the top, we headed straight down the mountain on rocky steep single track. For the non-mountain bikers out there, picture trying to hold both a lunge and a push up at the same time for about 20 minutes while people continuously hit you with Nerf bats. Except that instead of being safely on the ground, you are on top of a bike, on top of rocks, in between trees, heading straight down a mountain.
There were many times I wanted to stop and rest, but I resisted the urge. When we got to the bottom, a guy turns to me and says “I have done three Ironmans, but that last ten miles was the hardest thing I have ever done.” I wonder what happened to that guy because we basically repeated that climb/crazy descent sequence for the next 50 miles.
However, the next descent was even harder. I am pretty sure that I have never ridden my bike down something so steep. Scanning my gps file, there is a spot on the climb that has the grade at -47.9%. Yes, that is absurd, and yes, my Garmin has been known to lie. I’m guessing this was only in one tiny spot, but I think I know exactly where that spot was as it is the most vivid part of that descent in my memory. It was insanely steep with two drops (think two big steps ). I had my dropper seat lowered all the way down, with my chest on the saddle and my butt practically sitting on my back wheel. People were walking this section, but un-clipping seemed more dangerous than riding, so I just hoped for the best and went for it. I love that I not only rode past these guys, but shortly after me, so did Jessica who was right behind me.
Don’t worry, you can make it over that giant rock
The next section, between aid stations 3 and 4, had most of the really great single track. I learned during this section, that after about 70 miles of riding, my ability to pick lines through the giant rocks seems to deteriorate. However, that doesn’t stop me as I just ride on through anyway. There was a photographer on one of the big rock piles that I am familiar with, but I have never ridden. I saw him and figured, hey why not? Sure I can make it up that big pile of rocks that has no real obvious line at first glance! (Who is this person riding my bike?)
Maps often lie
I had done some pretty good course recon without actually riding it and had been tracking our elevation gains and losses against the handy diagram on my nameplate, so I had a pretty accurate idea of what to expect up until aid station 4. But after that, it got a little fuzzy. My map said it was mostly road, except that my map and I apparently have different ideas of what constitutes a road. Many of these “roads” were actually non-technical but pretty rough trail. And the last descent was like riding a jackhammer for endless miles down a mountain. I was in a really dark place here. All I really wanted to do was pull over and cry, but that wasn’t going to help get me out of the woods any faster.
Don’t crash in the last 20 miles
This jackhammer descent is where I moved up to 5th place when the woman ahead of me crashed. Shortly after, I finally rolled into aid station 5. I thought it was 12 more miles to the finish, but I was hoping I was wrong. Tentatively, I asked how many miles were left, afraid the friendly volunteers would confirm the 12 miles. “5 miles, nice and flat, all along the river,” they said. I almost jumped with joy.
Real mountain bikers can see in the dark
The volunteer’s description was fairly accurate, but she failed to mention the mile of hike-a-bike shortly after the aid station. However, at this point, I would take a hike-a-bike over a climb. When we were finally free of the giant boulders, it was time to ride through a dark tunnel full of rocks. It wasn’t only dark, it was about pitch black in the middle. For some reason I seemed determined to keep riding even though I could see nothing. I almost crashed into the wall. After that, I was finally able to pick up the pace and get to the finish as fast as possible. The woman who had crashed was right behind me, and I wasn’t getting passed in the last mile. I had been going between about 4th and 8th place the entire day, and it was time to claim my podium spot.
And the finish…
I finished out the race in 5th place in the Open Women’s class. Part of me can’t stop thinking that I got lucky because a few regular NUE series racers didn’t show up. But on the other hand, I can’t be responsible for everyone who doesn’t show up at races, and the women who were there certainly did not make 5th place easy.