Firstly, I raced a few weeks ago at the 12 Hours of Iron Maiden and managed to slide into a 2nd Place spot behind Tim Winters from Georgia...then never wrote about it. I don't know why, really. It was fun, I rode well, and it stormed. All the makings of a great story. Ooops.
Brent Marshall's newly expanded (60,100, and 200 mile options) Skyway Epic was this past weekend. I initially signed up for the 100 and tried not to overthink how long my day would be with driving and whatnot. The week before, it really hit me and I dropped to the 60. In full disclosure, I also had an incredibly bad ride the Sunday before Skyway.
Started out dehydrated. Stayed that way. Still rode 5 hours like a complete idiot. Tingly hands. Hand cramps. Couldn't drive home and had to stop at our clinic to drink water for an hour with Melissa babysitting me. So yah, big confidence booster to go race. I considered just bailing totally but rode normally Tuesday so promised myself I would do the short distance and focus more on hydration than racing.
The real irony of my mishap was the carefully typed Fuel and Hydration Basics document I made about 2 weeks ago. Do as I say, not as I do?
The 100 and 200 mile folks started at 7AM and we pushed off at 9. Brent gave us warnings about directions, a downed tree, and jeeps. If Brent Marshall says something pre race...LISTEN. Everything was relevant.
I kept to my pacing promise (ride easy, eat, and drink) by starting near the back for the singletrack. This forced me to ride slower than I wanted but ended up in a good group with the SmithLock boys and Frank Davis leading the bunch. Spin, spin, spin. The singletrack at Lake Howard is twisty, kinda flat, and sooooo much fun. Our group absorbed Lennie Moon during the singletrack. He was ready to quit but took up our offer to "just go for a ride."
Soon enough, we were out on the rollers of Rocky Mountain Church Road. I started having problems here keeping up. I was way spun out on the downhills and barely able to keep up with the geared folks. The group was moving fast so I stuck it out until the first aid station at 19 miles. Kim Wynn was also in our group. She was quiet but riding really well. Focused. Great riding, Kim.
I left the aid station and saw a wobbly Jimmy Smith headed up the Bull's Gap climb. Hmmm. Chase? Or stay true to the plan? I kept him in eye sight and continued to ride really easy. Turns out Jimmy had crashed already and had a cramping incident. Not his greatest ride from what he said later. I really should have passed him headed out Skyway but left it alone. I was happy with my pace and felt good, so no sense ruining a good thing.
Brent's warning of traffic on the course was valid. I saw lots of Jeeps out and a couple 4Runners. Everyone was really friendly and made passing easy, which was cool. I saw the leaders coming back our way a couple miles before the turnaround, and calculated about a 35 minute gap, less than I was suspecting. I arrived at midway with Jimmy, then promptly wasted a bunch of time fretting over how many Oreos I wanted and trying to find a gel I thought I had. It wasn't just any gel, it was a Gu Roctane. I really wanted it but eventually gave up and headed back with Jimmy now totally out of sight. Not good.
The temps were up around 70 now and the sun was bright. I still felt good but walked steeper hills on the way back to save effort. I lost more time coming back in but the goal was get back home safe with no weird shit going on with my hydration. The day was super low humidity which means not much sweating. I watered the bushes a couple times during the race, which was a good sign. The downhills on the Skyway ridge were harder than normal. Like, NO good lines, just a mess of ruts and rocks. Ah, the thrill of the unknown. Great fun!
As usual, Rocky Mountain Church Road hurt me on the way back. Sunny, hot, steep. My climbing was harder than I wanted it to be, which I am currently blaming on some equipment. Weak excuse? Maybe. I'll write an article on which equipment it was soon and let you decide if I'm nuts!
Coming back into the closing singletrack I got super confused about course marking and spent a few minutes roaming around and looking over course directions. I was still not confident but lucked out with my decision. I was really happy to be back in the woods and upped my pace. I waited 57 miles to ride hard, so enjoyed the last few miles as my only time at race pace. I felt good about hydration and nutrition. No chance of catching Jimmy but I wanted to at least get some good efforts in. At some point I realized the 60 was more of a 67 mile race than a 60. Meh. Bonus miles might as well be trail miles, so I'm not complaining. Oh, and about that precious Gu Roctane? It was still in the middle of the trail with about 2 miles to go. Off the bike, Gu in my pocket, back on the bike. Nothing to see here. I popped out of the woods in 3rd behind Randy Kerr and Jimmy Smith. Both are great riders and I felt proud to stand on the dirt podium with them.
I felt pretty normal thanks to my restricted efforts and immediately guilty I didn't race the 100! I think racing the 60 was the right choice as I didn't want someone responsible for me way out in the Forest if I had a repeat of last week's hydration problems. I planned better at Skyway and it paid off. What a relief. My concern level before the race was way high. If Trans Iowa nerves are an 8, I was a solid 7 out of 10 before Skyway.
Brent and everyone involved killed it again. The day was overall awesome and the real story is the 200.
Brian Toone won in right under 17 hours with Eddie O'Dea a few hours later. I am in awe of everyone that finished that distance including Pete Foret... I credit his success to wearing longer socks, of course!
It's funny, 200 miles on a mountain bike is just, a long way. To finish is a huge accomplishment. I've done it a few times and it only takes a few hours in normal life to think, "How the hell did I do that?"
That is what makes long dirt races so great. The fear of the unknown and the curiosity of what you can do if you try hard. Thanks for giving folks that opportunity, Brent.