The end of May and beginning of June were pretty awesome for me, fitness-wise. I had a good run at BURN, and just a week later pulled out 100 miles on the road at this year's Fletcher Flyer. And I felt good doing it.
Since then, though, things have been kind of up and down. Summer hit hard, and quick, and my fitness and -- more importantly -- my mental state, have suffered. I bombed out of a couple of workouts a few weeks back, unable to drag myself through in the heat and humidity, and though I never didn't want to ride, I really didn't want to ride hard.
I was pretty close to pulling the plug on the Iron Mountain 100k -- it's one of the harder races I've done, and my heart just wasn't in it. But last year's stunner earned me a free entry this year, so I had nothing to lose -- and I really didn't want to go to Wausau cold, without a race in 2 months. The deal was further sealed on a Liberty ride a few weeks back, when I found out Jamie was planning to go to Damascus as well, and we could share the logistics.
So I was, at the very least, resigned to lining up on Sunday morning, if not looking forward to it. But then I had a great workout last Thursday, pushing hard up Bearwallow, and things started to look up ... that is, until I called SRAM on Friday afternoon.
I began to experience shifting problems last weekend at the Bracken Mountain volunteer appreciation day -- I just couldn't get my drivetrain to set up in a good climbing gear, as the steep slopes of Bracken exposed. I tried swapping some things around, but to no avail -- I thought it was me, but as it turns out, I may have stumbled my way into a sometime-problem that SRAM corrects as needed. When I asked the customer service guy if I could ride this weekend, his response was telling: "Well ..."
I tried to get things to settle in on Saturday's warmup ride, and felt comfortable enough that Sunday was a go, despite some niggling worry. One more change that was sure to correct, and off to the races ...
... where things were just not right. Every pedal stroke produced a pronounced tick in the rear, and every couple of revolutions sounded as if my cassette might explode. Add to that the new-chain packing grease that hadn't quite cleaned off all the way, producing rancid chain suck, and the propensity of the derailleur to throw my chain, and you begin to get a sense of how my day went -- from the moment we crossed the road from the Creeper to the trail, I was on the defensive, with 5 more hours to go.
To be fair, it wasn't all bad. We had cloud cover this year, more than in the past, and a cool breeze made the central climbs more bearable. Jamie and I rode together early, until I admitted to him that I was in a bad place and asked him to leave me to myself. We were never far apart, though, and I would see him from time to time -- that is, until my drivetrain puked again, and he would ride away. I had a lot of fun on the downhills, pleasantly surprised at my new, more narrow, tire set-up, and once I stopped feeling sorry for myself at about the 3-hour mark, I kind of started to feel good. In fact, my best hour was probably between 4:30 and 5:30, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well I rode some of the uphills.
My goal became to get as close to a 5:30 finish as I could, as that would be a decent barometer of my fitness heading into W24. Particularly as this year had a bit more soft sand on the long gravel, and so was a slower course, anything I could do to be close would be a confidence boost. And things were looking decent, despite the drivetrain problems ... right up until the very top of the very last climb. I hadn't even begun to drop, had just barely crested the knoll, and hissssss ... a small, sharp rock that I never even saw, grabbed my rear wheel and caused a small puncture. To be fair, I was drilling it to escape the rider coming up the switchbacks behind me, and so wasn't being as careful as I might have been otherwise, but still -- the gift I received last year was now being repaid. I stopped four times on the way down to add CO2, got passed by the rider on the switchbacks, and rolled in at 5:42 ... having lost a top-10 finish on the last descent and finishing just barely 30 seconds ahead of the next rider coming down.
Considering that I thought I was fighting for a top-15 finish, I'm not too disappointed. Worried, yes -- that drivetrain needs to be fixed, quickly. But I suppose it's part and parcel for this time of year -- bike and body have been put through the ringer since February, and things are starting to break down -- I just hope I can pull it all together in time for a good showing in two weeks. I'm almost afraid to admit that I felt good at the end yesterday -- the clock is ticking on this season, and I'd love to end it with a bang!
Mad props to Jamie, by the way -- he pulled out a great ride despite a tire that didn't want to seal on Saturday evening and a small crash heading into aid station 2!
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