Having never really done anything quite like this solo I had grand plans of training etc. But hence real life sometimes gets in the way and it was just bad timing this year for proper preparation. But I was still was determined to see if I could ride 50 miles solo, even though I had not ridden more than 30 in over 9 months. Not really a good idea but I set a goal of 6 hours and not to die.
In the weeks before the race I had a nagging lower back issue that I really couldn't shake, so I was worried it would be a problem. And race morning my back was hurting before the race even started. But I was excited anyway and had Gretchen and Jeff McCord from my team MG&G doing the race also so there was no way I was going to bail! I would have taken way too much grief for that.
My race itself was rather uneventful the first lap. I have learned over the races that I have done this year that you should always try to be the first in the woods. I didn't use this strategy for this race since it was 50 miles thinking it wouldn’t matter. NOT TRUE, especially on courses that you are more familiar with than others. (And yes, I ignored good advice on this) I was surprised that at the start everyone took off and I caught the entire group at the entrance to seven bridges and was bottle necked. Wet slick roots were tripping a lot of riders up. So until camp road I was in a pace line it seemed. I decided to take the first lap at a pretty easy steady pace just to get through, hope it would ward off lower back trouble and make sure I didn't wear my legs out too fast. But alas, by the time I got to Jekyl and Hyde (JNH) it was time for some more Advil, so I knew it was going to be a long day. Shockingly though I passed quite a few riders on the technical part of JNH which put a big smile on my face. I love technical stuff. Then the climb up Peavine, and I was passed by one rider that I passed on JNH. But only one caught me. That was actually quite an accomplishment for me. And I caught another rider. Another huge accomplishment for me! As I finished the first lap I knew I just had to survive the second.
My legs were OK but there was no way my back was going to let me push too hard. I could spin and the pain was tolerable but too hard and "no go". Gretchen and I "pitted" about the same time. I had really hoped to keep far enough ahead of her to get out of the pit before she got there. (Sorry Gretchen) Pete Foret was grabbing our camel backs off of us and refilling while we grabbed our pb&j's. Pete, who always has a car full of anything you can imagine, had a thermo wrap thing that I put on my back to see if it would help. Gretchen tears out of the pit saying "see you at JNH". While I love my cycling friend we are competitive and it’s every man for themselves during a race. So I hated that she was gone before me, but thought I may be able to make up some ground on technical stuff because she would kill me on the climbs. Well that thought was short lived when I somehow had a nice crash on seven bridges. I still don't quite know what happened but taking a handlebar to the armpit was quite painful. And the calf cramp had me leaned against a tree trying to get the knot under control. So no way to catch her now! (BTW...Mitch Moses seemed to come out of nowhere to help me on my feet and hold my bike so a belated thanks to you!) I decided just to ride out the last lap to finish.
I had no idea who I was racing or where they were but this was going to be a personal accomplishment for me and I needed to treat it as such. I was alone for most of that lap. So I began making a mental list of "Things I learned today" to keep my mind off of my back and arm! Here are items that I can remember from my list:
1. I have got to figure out what the heck is going on with my back.
2. I am not too bad of a technical rider. But I hate climbing.
3. I'm glad I still have a triple on my bike.
4. I really want a full suspension bike!
5. I may have been too old to start this sport.
6. I would like to ride an endurance race and not be lapped by Brian Toone (as he went around me topping Pevine falls road on my second lap and his third. He did say Good job though. But then Lee Neal, as I’m about to go up Johnson’s, says “Hey Jan, Brian Toone lapped you.” I yelled back “It’s on my list!!”)
7. I wish I could get a different song in my head. I like "Some nights" by Fun but I need a new song. (And the Mosh up of the Lords Prayer, Some Nights, Third Day and counting pedal strokes is really a weird mix.) 8. I count my pedal strokes. Why did I do this??.
9. Is eight Advil and two Excedrin too many?
10. This is all Holly and Gretchen’s fault.
11. I will not quit. Monty Morris will never let me live it down.
12. I'm glad I have family obligations or I would have to race a cross race tomorrow because if Gretchen and Holly do it then I will have too.
There were many more, so it’s clear that my mind was all over the palace as I finished that lap. On JNH (I passed some more riders, happy day) someone was behind yelling at me. I thought I was in his way so I said go around. He yelled back "No way, I'm following your line!". I think that is one of the best compliments I have ever received!!! I met him after the race and he told me he had walked some of that on his first lap and he got behind me on the second and got through it. I coasted to the end at 6:20. Not my goal but I finished. As I went over the finish line someone said "I'll get your timing chip you need to get to the podium. You’re fourth.” I was so confused. I walked my bike over to the podium and was handed prizes. I still had on my gear: helmet, camelback etc. The picture is priceless to me. I may not have accomplished the goals I had originally set for myself, but I learned a lot during that race one of which was stubbornness will trump pain. Later Jacob Tubbs said “That was pretty much the most badass podium walks I have ever seen!” (I have to admit, I usually think the superfast guys don’t usually pay much attention to us slow pokes, so that WAS the best compliment I have ever gotten!)
As I sat with my friends waiting on some 100 miler friends to finish, I devoured some of the best stew I have ever eaten and we all told stories of our day and cheered other riders on. I was already thinking of the next big race I will do. I love this sport and the friends I have made. I may not win, but I’ll have fun trying. So a huge shout out to all of the organizers (I was glad to finally officially meet this legend, John Karrasch) and the Birmingham mountain biking community. You rock.