Xtopher and I cannot figure out the timing for this race! Last year, we had our own personal shuttle which was awesome. It didn't matter what time we showed up; we didn't worry about getting our bikes on a trailer; and best of all, we didn't have to ride on a cold cramped school bus for 45 minutes.
This year, we don't have that luxury so we're left to fend for ourselves. Last month we thought we had arrived with plenty of time to check in, get dressed and load up. Well, we didn't. Xtopher and I got on the last bus to the start of the 34-mile and were some of the last riders to start that day.
Not gonna do that in February though, right??? Well, somehow we managed to miss the first wave of buses even though we were ready to go at 7:50.
I was bumming. We got some snow here in GA last week and I was afraid the trails were going to be a sloppy mess, particularly at the start of the race. Now I was going to have to start behind a huge chunk of the field!
It sounds like Xtopher may have cracked the code on the early departure though. Each month, everyone is trying to do the same thing and beat everyone else to the start. Well, when everyone is doing it, that just means the field as a whole starts earlier. In fact, we showed up to the start of the 34-mile race so early that the volunteers weren't even ready to start timing!
I should point out that I'm not criticizing the race organizers here as this is the smoothest operation you'll find. The organization and volunteers are all top-notch and this is one of my favorite races every year. I just want everyone else racing to sleep in just a bit longer, is that too much to ask?!?!
Once the timing table was up and running, the line moved very fast. By 9:15-9:20, Xtopher and I were at the front. I started just in front of him and figured he'd come around me pretty quickly. It takes me longer to warm-up than it does for him and I'm typically better at reeling someone in than staying in front.
The first few miles of the race are on double track and I was quickly passing riders, but there was no sign of the X-man.
I made it to the first creek crossing and was ecstatic to see that it was way low; only a few inches deep. Totally rideable! Last month it was about knee deep and I ended up with very wet, very cold feet for 32 miles of a 34 mile ride.
Making it through the creek dry was a big morale booster. The dry fire road after the creek was just icing on the cake! I have never seen the trail in such good shape at this time of year. It looked like someone had gone out with a mop and bucket to clean things up for the race.
I was keeping a good pace, passing lots of people, getting passed occasionally. About 1/4 of the way into the race I could hear Xtopher encouraging the rider ahead of him up a tough climb. He's right behind me!
I pinned it down the short gravel road section and stood the whole way up the next climb trying to stay ahead. There were a couple other points in the first half where I could see him just one or two switchbacks behind me.
"C'mon, just come around!" I thought, but he never did. I rolled into the halfway point, stopping just long enough to fill one bottle and grab a couple snacks. As I was remounting, Xtopher pulled up and wished me good luck.
The second half starts with a sharp climb and I thought for sure he would catch me. I kept pushing it, trying to go harder on the climbs and recover a bit more on the descents than I normally would. Again, I could see Xtopher every once in a while just a couple turns away. It was nerve-wracking!
When I hit the double track about 3/4 into the race, I gave it all I could. Lots of standing and mashing in the big ring. My legs felt good, but a headache was coming on. I picked up a few more people on the climb and stopped at the top for enough water to get me through the last few miles.
While I was refilling, a group of 5 or so riders entered the trail ahead of me. I caught two of them right away, but who were the others? Had Xtopher slipped by me?!?!
I started fading hard the last few miles. I didn't know where Xtopher was and I was feeling worse and worse. I should have hydrated more during the week leading up to the race. I should have eaten something before the halfway point. My mind was wandering and my legs were on the verge of cramping. Not a good combination for the most technical stretch of trail.
I eventually found myself riding the last little bit of the race with two other riders. One female and one male. We were all around the same level at that point and took turns leap-frogging each other as whoever was in the lead would inevitably dab.
Once the trail ends there is a short, high-speed section of gravel road followed by about a mile of pavement straight down. Hitting this section is the greatest feeling, maybe even better when you're feeling shitty and you know it's almost over (like this post!).
I ended up crossing the line with a 3:50 flat, which I'm really stoked with. It's 30 minutes faster than my time last month (I had a flat) and it's only 5-6 minutes off of my personal best out there.
As it turns out, Xtopher hadn't been in the group that went by while I was refilling, he rolled in just 6 minutes after I did. I'm really looking forward to finishing strong in March!