I spent all day Thursday in the car. I think 13 hours is my limit for driving solo. By the time I reached the Whitewater Center I was talking to myself. Out loud. Even in the evening temps were high and everything was SO GREEN!
The next day I woke up early and guess what? It was already warm! It felt so good to throw on flip-flops (toe freedom). I got ready to meet up with my fast, fast, fast (and XC SS National Champ) friend Carey Lowery, who I met while doing endurance races down South. It had been at least 3-years since I've seen her, but we were able to pick up right where we left off.
|This picture does not to justice to the fact that I was about 10 shades whiter then Carey..haha|
The area around the whitewater center is so pretty and after our pre-ride I was able to hang out for a while and catch up with a lot of friends that I hadn't seen in a long time. Then it was time to head back to Zeke's and eat a delicious dinner that Carey had prepared. I slept pretty well for it being the night before a race and before I knew it our alarms were going off at 4:30 a.m. BTW...my least favorite thing about 100-milers is the early wake-up call. Ugh. There's never enough coffee in the world to make me feel awake at that time...
It was still dark when we pulled into the parking lot. I got my bike ready and lined up with everyone else. I had done this race in the past, but ALWAYS with a few warm weather endurance races or training trips already under my belt. This time was going to be completely different as I was basically jumping from short XC winter races to a hot hundred miler. Instead of going all out my game plan was to ride conservatively at the start and try to keep a consistent pace throughout the race.
The start was a paved climb and I felt comfortable enough to be able to talk easily. From there we entered really fun singletrack. It felt so great to be racing on dirt again but I could tell that I was rusty. I was braking too much on the corners and not carrying enough momentum. Oh well, even so I could have stayed on the singletrack all day.
After that we crossed this suspension bridge...
After a while we dumped out on gravel roads and I was reminded of what it's like to climb in the South. At home the longest climb I can find lasts about 5 minutes. On the Cohutta course some of the climbs lasted forever. Eventually I found myself climbing Potato Patch mountain. I'm not sure how long it is, or how steep, but I think it takes close to an hour (or more) to get up. I wasn't paying attention because I was trying to just focus on the dirt right in front of me. Looking ahead just showed more climbing. The sun was beating down on me, sweat was pouring into my eyes and little gnats/mosquitoes/black flies/whatever were flying around my face. I came really close to losing it. I could not out ride those little black bugs for the longest time and the climb was steep and gravelly enough that I couldn't take my hands off of the handlebar to wave them away. Aggghhhhh! It's funny, I signed up for Cohutta to escape the never-ending cold that we have had in Michigan but there I was cursing the heat and wishing for snow flakes to start falling. That would have felt great.
After what seemed like a year I reached the top but the downhill provided little relief. The lead riders were starting to climb up the backside of the hill. PS. I'm not even sure if I can call it "a hill," it was more like a mountain. It was literally impossible to enjoy the descent when I saw the pain in their faces because I knew that I would be in the same boat shortly. Their faces did not lie. Climbing back up was steeper, hotter and harder.
To tell you the truth I don't remember much more about the rest of the race, except a lot of climbing and a lot of being in the pain cave. Finally I reached the last bit of singletrack section. Both Carey and Zeke told me that they would be waiting there with icy water to throw on me and I will never be able to thank them enough for waiting for me...because I was probably at least an hour slower then they thought I would be.
Crossing the finish line felt amazing (as it always does). If we are going to get all technical, the race was at least 101 miles long and had close to 14,000 feet of climbing in it. I was so whacked out from the heat after the race I just left without knowing what place I was in. It turns out I was 6th. It also took about an hour of driving in air conditioning for me to realize that I had left all of my aid station race bags at the race venue...3 hydrapaks, tubes, air, and who knows what else was in there. Luckily Carey was able to get at least two of them and I'm hoping someone can bring them up to Lumberjack.
Overall I'm really happy that I went down and raced. I completely signed up on a whim but I got a really good training day in and know what I need to work on for my endurance races coming up this summer. It was also a really great reminder of why I love endurance racing so much.
I'll definitely be back. The promoters and the volunteers and the venue were all terrific. Plus there were sweet potato fries waiting at the finish line which almost made up for us having to climb that dreadful potato patch climb...almost, but not quite. That being said, I think the next time I race Cohutta I will make sure to do a few longer races before hand. Jumping into a 100 miler in that sort of heat with that sort of climbing is no joke. I'm still sore today :-)