Pre-race: Took longer to set up than I planned. No warmup, no chance to get my trail legs. Feeling pretty good, do a quick once-over of everything with Kari. Go time, 8 a.m.
Lap 1: Good start. Sixth onto the trail, first four are teams/duos. No warmup means I’m not 100% ready to ride trail – I don’t yet have the muscle memory I’ll build up over time. So I make some stupid mistakes, wash out the front wheel twice and go down. Lose some places but feeling really good in the legs. Not aggressive enough behind a singlespeeder, lose some time through the middle part of the course. Happy with the backside, wide open and fast. Kari tells me my camelbak bladder is broken when I come through, and no splits to other riders yet.
Lap 2: Still pushing hard, too hard in a slick mud corner and go down on my left knee. Ouch. I manage to stop my watch, too, and don’t notice for 45 minutes. Whacked in the head by a sapling after the first S-curves, and again at the end of the lap. Cleaning the rock gardens, only one dab spot that I don’t clean on a normal day at Kettle anyway. Plenty more laps to try to get it right, I tell myself. Way too much 24 Solo in my head, “got it in the dog” on the first and last part of the course, legs feel awesome. Still no splits, but my neighbor Ernie has fixed my camelbak. With a tube patch.
Lap 3: Still flying, but something wrong with my shifting. Can’t use two biggest cogs in the rear, and chain keeps falling off the big ring. Shit. Still, able to clean everything with a combination of middle ring and big ring where I can. Get hit in the head AGAIN. Finally the course and rocks and roots start to dry, and I’m feeling great. Kari is awesome at handing me what I need, every time.
Lap 4: Still feeling awesome, great lap despite the shifting and getting whacked in the head again, catch the Subaru/Gary Fisher guy after the sand, we’re on the same lap. I tell him I’m having shifting problems, and he can go past me on the hill … but then I drop him through the last part of the course. When I come in, Kari says I was in 3rd to start the lap, 1 min down on 2nd and 4min on first – that means I’m in second place, having caught the Gary Fisher guy! Decide to get the shifting fixed, have some help – the cassette is bent! Change wheels, but I lose 10 minutes or so. My seat pack has worked its way open, and I lose my brand-new multitool. Kari is a super task-master – when I try to play with Zoe for a minute, she tells me to get back out on my bike!
Lap 5: Rear shifting seems OK, but now the front is completely FUBAR. Start the lap with another rider, and I bobble on the new rear wheel and cause him to hit me and go down. God, did that feel horrible. Hit my head again, and he caught up. He was OK, we ride the first half of the lap together – he’s in his third-ever race, having done Grand Geneva … and La Ruta last fall! This dude is NUTS, and I wonder if I have a chance against him. But he’s on a hardtail, and the course takes its toll … about halfway through, he bobbled and I was gone. Shifting completely messed up, pull into the pits. The 6-hour race is about to start, but Jeremy and John Gatto try to help me anyway. Rachael keeps telling me to just jump on Kim’s bike (my backup) and go, but I don’t trust Kim’s bike, so I try to fix the Rush. BIG mistake, and one that a ‘cross rider shouldn’t ever make – I lose 35 minutes dicking around, and end up racing the rest of the race on Kim’s bike anyway. And it was awesome for that course. Crap!
Lap 6: Blast out of the pits going 100 miles an hour, legs feeling great after such a long break. WHACK in the face by the sapling – glasses broken, split lip, total head shot. Gatorade with salt STINGS on my now-bleeding lip. I have no idea where I’m at in the standings, but at this point it doesn’t matter. I just need to keep going in order to get good training. Kim’s bike performs flawlessly, and her suspension setup is even better than the Rush’s for this course. Who knew?! Somewhere in there, pass by Amy, but I'm on a mission and I wasn't really nice to her. Sorry!
Lap 7: More of the same. Still feeling good. Surprised that I’ve “got it in the dog” after 7 hours of racing. Thanks Craig Gordon. Start to feel real hunger for the first time. Manage to place the sapling, and miss it this time. Come into the pits and ask how I’m doing – Kari: “Last check you were in 8th place, so we’re not talking about that right now.” Off I go.
Lap 8: Still passing people, getting some mixed traffic when we merge with the 3/6-hour loop. Even after 8 hours of racing, able to pass some folks doing the shorter races. Finally having some fun again. A small cramp on Peanut Butter Hill; grab some Tums in the pit. Should have grabbed more Chamois Butt’r, starting to chafe. Kari tells me I’ve moved into 5th place. Cool! But 4th is way ahead, she says. Time winding down – at 55-56 minutes per lap, unofficially, I may be able to do 4 more laps, but it will be CLOSE … like, 1-2 minutes close. Gotta’ go.
Lap 9: And so I went. At the top of a hill. Only my second bladder stop, but it cost me a minute or so. And I was starting to hurt a little. Still felt OK, still strong, but time was really ticking. Picked up a passenger at the end of the lap, who “just wanted to see what 12-hour pace feels like.” I’ll remember that next time we go head to head! Seriously, though, I was happy for the company, and he was super-encouraging. But it’s embarrassing when you’re counting down the hours and starting to struggle on the hills – I don’t like to show weakness to anyone I race against, even if it’s not that day. My 1-2 minutes has now become 4, but it’s still mathematically possible if I have a great next lap.
Lap 10: Blast out of the pits, Is that 4th place in his tent? Keep it going, keep it going … but the dog is tired. The first half-lap, where I was flying up until now, suddenly gets very difficult. The middle is even tougher. Recover where I can, coast a little too much, crawl my way up peanut butter hill. This sucks. Time ticks away. 55 minutes becomes an hour – that was it. Game over. One more lap is all I can do in the time allotted. Crap. At least I made the effort, and will finish no worse than 5th. Or so I think …
Lap 11: Start out very conservatively. Knowing I’m finished, and feeling it too. Feel OK, but ready to be done. A bit too conservative in the middle, lose too much momentum in a couple of places. Pop it in the dog at the end of the rock garden, it doesn’t want to turn too fast, so I pump the suspension to get it going. Hit the sand and start to worry – is that a bike behind me? Is that 6th place? Kari says I had a good lead, but she wasn’t sure … did I go too slowly in the first half-lap? Oh shit! I can’t lose 5th! Go! Go! Go! Cram and jam, dig deep to finish before him. Gogogogogogogogo … ugh. Over the hill, pop it in the big ring, bounce through the trail … and whew. That’s all folks!
In the end, that last half-lap was for pride more than anything – I had moved up to 4th place, and I was more than 30 minutes in front of 5th. So whatever it was that was chasing me, it wasn’t the next spot in line … which begs the question, was there anyone really behind me?
All in all, a fun race and a great way to spend a day at Kettle. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, rebuilding my bike, but I’d say it was worth it … and I feel good about how I raced. It’s easy to have a great day when you're 30 minutes in front … the real lessons, though, are learned on days like yesterday, when you’re 30 minutes behind. Now I’ve got 3 weeks of no racing ahead of me to recharge and rebuild, and I’m happy about how my first block of racing has gone … and today I got to start my calorie replenishment in style … Dunkin’ Donuts and a turtle concrete malt from Culvers … Yummmmmm …
6 hours ago