I started prepping for the Black Bear Rampage a little later than I would have liked. I don’t mean I wasn’t physically ready. I still train, but I hadn’t been out at the Ocoee since maybe last year, and still had to tackle going down Boyd Gap and Thunder Rock Express. I made a trip out there with my friend Christine who had her sweet new bike out and pretty much outrode me the entire time. I felt like an overweight version of myself, lethargic and asthmatic, and even had a first meltdown episode where I screamed out loud due to the fact my body was just not doing what it usually could do. I was STRUGGLING. I resigned myself to the fact that I would be 3rd place unless others showed up and outrode me too. I tend to do this mentally, which probably would be a weakness. I even start thinking about NOT doing the race and making excuses for myself like, “Well I’ve been road riding more and I have lost my handling skills…” or “Well I am fatigued from <insert race>.” I didn’t have a race list to check out the competition, but I knew Christine and Monica were showing up in my class and thought, I have to somehow find my way on that podium or at the very least beat my time from two years ago: 4:19:10. Wow, for a “beginner,” I was starting to realize that I may have my work cut out for me. At least from the standpoint of how I felt with Christine that day.
I returned back out there alone 4 days before the race and road almost all of the course, but not at race pace. I did feel that again I was fatigued and that I didn’t have much left to do a “race pace.” Scott’s Bikes up in Cleveland got my bike ready again (as I was eyeing the new Top Fuel on the wall) and put some new Bontrager tires on the bike. I headed out to the Ocoee and set out to tackle the sections that plagued me previously. Coming down Bear Paw Down, I saw a bear to my right – a good 20 or more yards away – and set a PR. I doubt I’ll ride alone out there for a long time. It was a pretty good ride overall, but nothing that I could bank the race on.
During the race two years ago, I cleaned Boyd Gap climb. I couldn’t do it on my practice day. I really think I was in some good mountain bike shape in September 2014. Maybe it had something to do with the excitement of converting from 26″ to 29er with a new Trek Superfly two years ago? Or maybe it had to do with all the triathlon training and watering down my climbing punch on the mountain bike?
I wasn’t as nervous during this race as I usually am pre-race. Coming off of River Gorge Omnium and that huge effort weekend, I think I was just mentally exhausted to worry like I usually do. I had a little bit of debate over how much water to carry, but ended up with a 3L bladder stuffed in my smaller Osprey and a bottle on the bike. That’s a good 10 lbs extra to carry up the climbs. In a perfect world, I’d have bottles strategically placed out there. I had washed my bose earphones in the washing machine, but they seemed to be working ok the day before.
On the morning of the race, I left super early. I was one of the first to arrive in the parking lot. This gave me time to wind down and chill for awhile, and I think it helped as well. I watched the sun rise over the mountains, and I think there was a little tiny bit of fall in the air. Rain had fallen the night before, much more than I expected. And better bonus: clean port-a-potty!
I saw my friends from Scott’s Bikes unloading and getting ready for early morning packet pick-up as kids started trickling in with parents getting ready for the junior races. I had time to just chill and chat and spin a little. I saw my friend Skipper F. and was talking to him about Xterras and bikes and thinking Xterras sound so much fun. Hold me back. I would really like to stick to cycling the next 12 months and see what kind of gains I can make on the road and mountain. I tend to like trying new things but for once want to really focus on racing and see how 2017 shakes out. Maybe an xterra sprint?
I had my husband’s breakfast rather than my usual egg white with english muffin and spent most of the drive eating it. I was eating slow. I typically don’t eat much breakfast and it’s a chore to try to eat as much as I did, but I knew I needed the calories for the 4 hour planned effort. I was planning on using Infinit again (custom mix) and bringing one Honeystinger waffle and a Honeystinger gel with the planned fluids. I brought a tube, levers, CO2, and a quick link for the chain. I had never had a mechanical in a race before.
I did a little bit of warming up but nothing like the usual. I spent more time saying hi to people I hadn’t seen in awhile and some debate on should I go to the port-a-potty one last time? Too late, time to start.
I lined up at the start and saw the pavement ahead. Up ahead was the almost 2-mile climb to Brush Creek. This is where I could potentially blow up my whole race by going anaerobic. Josh, at the bike shop, along with my coach always warn me about the beginning. But let me tell you, there’s nothing like pedaling uphill on the pavement on a mountain bike and watching all the ladies in your class leave you at the beginning. On one hand, I was thinking, I’m pressing close to my threshold effort here. Any more, and I’m anaerobic. I kept trying to keep it around 180-190 watts but ended up averaging around 212 with a HR of 159. I had to calm it down a little when I hit 170, but adrenaline is a powerful stimulant of the heart. I’m not going to lie, I had already settled with third place before the start even happened, but yet I was way behind that by the time I hit Brush Creek.
The next 5 miles after entering the woods were pretty hilarious. My headphones weren’t working right and my cell phone was playing every ringtone I had out loud. The guy behind me in the woods was laughing and getting a kick out of it, and I was too. Instead of trying to pass people and getting all worried and frustrated, I had the minion cell phone ring playing in order of every single one and I couldn’t help but laugh. I finally turned it off after some stupidity on my end of dropping the phone on the trail and having to stop. I know, I know… time’s a wasting. For some reason, I had sort of mentally resigned myself to the fact that I would probably not podium this time, but I did have a little shred of hope that maybe, just maybe the endurance I had would supersede others in my class on down the trail.
I had a bit of a pause on Copper Road but didn’t wreck like some do. I crossed the little creek that I’ve wrecked in before with no problem. I heard my name at the WWC, but the warning about slick bridge kept me focused on the bridge and not braking and wrecking. I climbed Bear Paw Up and remembered the last time I did the race how I felt climbing. I felt ok. Better today than I did last week climbing which was good. Arriving at the top of Bear Paw and onto Chestnut was pretty uneventful. More of the same of surviving and passing people a little bit. I passed my friend Skipper somewhere on Chestnut and just kept going. I was lost in my own thoughts and music when I looked up at the beginning of Thunder Rock and saw Monica. My reaction was something a little bit like Dr. Evil. I knew I didn’t want to pass her going down Thunder Rock, and so I just watched her all the way down it hanging back 2-3 people. Descents are not my strengths, and I kept telling myself, “this is a climbing race.”
I reached the forest road and started the climb passing both Monica and Christine and taking on West Fork. So much climbing – almost 4 miles with about 1000 ft in elevation, if I calculated it correctly. I felt good. I was in the lead, I thought and was making some headway, maybe. I didn’t look back to see. I did the Quartz loop and had no issues and turned left onto 1330 Bypass. I lost tension and heard the snap. I looked down and I said out loud, “No. No!! Not now!” My chain was snapped. I had never had this happen before and I remembered I had a chain link but I didn’t have a chain tool. Like I said before, I had never had a mechanical in a race. No flat, nothing. It was a matter of time I knew it, but not today. People were riding by shaking their heads no when I asked if they had a chain tool. One guy cracked me up (in hindsight more than at the time), “I am a rock climber. I know nothing about mountain biking.” A guy named David stopped with a chain tool and got my chain going again. The worst part about having a mechanical is that feeling on the inside. The one that tells you that you have lost the race and that you won’t meet your goals. It is a combination of disappointment and the flight or fight adrenaline rush. I hate that feeling.
I thanked David and hopped back on the old Superfly and pedaled away chasing my competitors who had passed me while I was down. I lost 11 minutes on the chain break. I started shifting on Riverview on some of the punchy little climbs and realized that I had lost gears. I was worried I was SS at this point and was really going into panic mode. I tweaked the adjustment a little and was able to ride in 7 of my 10 gears; unfortunately the 7 hardest and not the 7 easiest. My legs started twitching with the extra mashing and lower cadence.
This is the first year of cramps. Higher cadence work leaving me more vulnerable?
Dr. Evil face was reincarnated when I saw Christine on Riverview. I suppose Monica had passed Christine somewhere, but I was overjoyed though I was not in the mood for any head-to-head mashing. Christine wasn’t either. Pedaling steady and downing some base salts, I caught up with Monica back at Bear Paw. I chased her as well as I could downhill (again, not my strength at the moment) and chased her across the bridge to WWC back to Copper Road. I passed her on Copper Road and saw her boyfriend Thom right up the trail a bit. I wanted to be done.
I arrived on the pavement for the climb up to Boyd Gap and saw another lady who asked me what class I was in. “Sport,” was all I could say. I was ready to be done. “Good, ” she said though she ended up leaving me once we entered Boyd Gap. She was in the expert class, I think?
Boyd Gap climb was all walking since I had no gears to climb it. I looked behind me a lot on the climb up thinking Monica would catch me. I fought some cramps and took on more base salts. I also realized at the top of the climb that my saddle was loose. More problems. My music had quit working long ago due to the washing machine bose ear buds, and so I just sang to myself the rest of Brush Creek. I had cramps try to take over and so I’d back off the watts. Over and over I just kept turning over the pedals to be finished. I only remember one person the entire length of Brush Creek and finally, the little hill to the finish with a very wobbly saddle and two chain links back-to-back. I found the guy that helped me on the trail and saved my race, David, and thanked him again. I finished 1st in sport class and 5th overall female (19 women total).
As far as goals go, I wanted to ride a sub-4-hour race. I finished i 4:12. I may have accomplished the sub-4 had I not snapped my chain. I lost 11 minutes there and another 2 minutes or so goofing off with my cell phone trying to turn off the ringtones going off on Brush Creek. Next year, I expect a sub-4 by more than barely.
Scott’s Bikes puts on a great race every year in September. I highly encourage you to give it a try!