I think the lack of any sort of "preparation" type blog entry should be evidence that I was almost caught off guard by this past weekend's hundie contest. I red-eyed out of San Fran Thursday night, did a whirlwind of errands, apartment looking, hospital visiting here in Asheville, and called it a day. The bike barely got built, it certainly didn't get a once over, and I didn't pack for the race weekend. Saturday morning hit, slept through the alarm after having 3 hours of sleep the night prior, ran over to Ed's place half packed and jumped in the car to go to someplace in Virginia that I couldn't point to on a map.
Somewhere along the way I realized I also hadn't looked at a course map, an elevation profile, the current NUE standings, or even checked the pressure in my tires. I was, for all intents and purposes, going in blind. What I was sure of, I was heading to Virginia to see a bunch of friends and my bike was on the roof, two things I felt comfortable with after a recent week of personal upheaval.
We pulled into the campground and found it to be already full of racers. We were lucky enough to grab a shady spot in the woods, avoiding baking in the field above. This year's SM500 boasted 500 registered racers, giving weight to the argument that we can't all be crazy. The usual suspects were there, all the SS racers and all the wilderness 101 racers that must follow Chris Scott around like the endurance promotion messiah. Night fell admittedly early. Dicky is of the opinion that this involves a large paradigm shift amongst the one speed brethren (and sistren). Speaking for myself; I was just tired and the party wasn't happening. I do agree that Sunday morning's five a.m. wake up felt a lot better than it would have had it been laced with more than the obligatory four beers (one being a PBR, so make it three).
Sunday, 6:30, race start. I finally figured out the whole race prep, coffee, bathroom, organize schedule and was able to line up without rushing around. This put me in the front of the pack of 500 racers. Unfortunately, the "front" was 50 yards wide and the gravel road leading out of the camp ground was 12 feet wide. Further confounding the start, no one gave the moto guys a heads up, and after the word go, the pack of human powered bikes swarmed passed and engulfed the gas powered bikes. Kind of chaotic, but we all made our way out of the camp ground and onto the gravel roads leading into the first climb.
I really can't say much about the race that was going on in the SS class. I never saw any of it. Somewhere in the first major climb, one that we later repeated half of, I was told that Tomi was just up ahead, but I never caught him. I got stuck behind some geared folks in the singletrack at the top, and wasn't able to make ground on the descent. Either I was running too much pressure in the front, or I was just off on the wet terrain, but the descents felt sketchy all day. The section that follwed was a few miles of flat road. It offered just enough visibility to see that Tomi wasn't in sight, and that everyone else, all riding gears, was slowly pulling out of reach. There goes my chance at a pull across the dead zone, and I slipped into mental limbo. Mental limbo invovles riding with my hands of the bars, sitting up, and bobbing around trying to spin enough to maintain a paltry 16 mph.
By the time I hit the dry creek crossing and started the long singletrack climb, I was out of the race. My legs were spun out, and I didn't feel like I had much power to offer, a phenomenon that was present all day. I walked a lot of the steep sections of the climb, and got lulled into staying off the bike by all the other geared midpackers that were doing the same. If I did try to saddle up from time to time, I was either thwared by some slight rise, or the back of another rider with no room to pass on the tight line. If I was trying to catch Topher or Tomi or any of the other tangible goals, this climb put them out of reach.
The following descent went a little better. I had dropped some pressure and things had dried out a bit. I was feeling better connected to the bike, and opening it up just a bit. My progress obviously wasn't enough for a rider that demanded I get out of his way with a "you're going fucking slow," followed by riding up my ass on some technical sections, and as I finally crashed out of control over a rocky drop, yelled "Nice!" as he passed. Great sportsmanship from midpack fodder, who was at that point a good hour behind his geared race, and who managed to lose more than an hour to me in the last third of the race. Well done sir.
The course dropped us out onto another flat section of road that went on for 5 miles before slowly pitching up. I again felt like hell through most of this, but was able to latch on to a few gears that helped me cross the void. The climb felt good, it was gradual enough that I didn't need to call upon my missing power, and was able to spin through to aid 5, passing quite a few riders along the way. I made a quick transistion through my second aid stop, just filling the two bottles and grabbing some pretzels. Aid 5 is not at the top. This always seems to happen. You look at an elevation profile, now conveniently located on your number plate, see a big climb, and assume they put aids at the top of climbs. Nope. I've been burnt on this all year, and tried not to succumb yet again, but the road leveled off, and even descended a bit out of aid 5. The remaining grassy, muddy and slick climbing, complete with numerous summit suggesting clearings, was a bit of a suprise, but I felt I held together pretty well and continued to race up, passing a few riders before the singletrack descent.
The rest of the race was series of rolling terrain, half of the first climb repeated, and a descent back down into the campground. I went into the last singletrack with IF's Trish Stevenson, and was able to pull away from her on the double track leading to the campground. This put me just ahead of the 2nd place women's finisher, vs. just behind the 2nd place women's finisher, Michelle Stopper, in the Wilderness 101. I'm starting to think that since I never see the one speed guys after the start line, I'll just start following the fast ladies and try to pull away a little before the finish; a strategy I may have put together a little late, as there are no more hundreds on my horizon this year.
All in all, a fun day in the woods. I had no idea what I was getting into, and as some punk in Reno is still figuring out how much he can sell my Garmin for, I had no idea where I was all day. I just paced myself, and made sure I had something in the tank should there be 60 miles left, a long climb, or 5 more miles of flat rail grade. I think it would be hard to be competitive in this mode, but it made for an interesting day in the woods, everything catching me off guard and making me adapt.
I finished in 9:19:something, good enough for 10th place in the SS class, and 50th overall. As far as the NUE standings go, I'm going to plummit from fourth, to somewhere in the top 10 as Chris, Matt, Tomi, Rich, and Topher all accumulate 4 respectable finishes. Back to Asheville for two weeks of deserved rest time, void of any sort of schedule or obligation beyond taking care of myself and finding a niche.