ORAMM: Off Road Assault on Mt. Mitchell (hardest race to date)

Spontaneously, as I tend to do, I signed up for ORAMM in North Carolina. I haven’t ridden my Top Fuel near enough, and it was time to see how she could handle some gnarly single track both up and down. Too bad I wasn’t near enough trained for the distance which made for a long day (7 hours and 34 minutes to be exact). My plan was just to suffer through it with a friend.

I was intrigued by the description:

The Off-Road Assault on Mt. Mitchell is a 60 mile mostly off road Bicycle route with 10,500 feet of climbing. From Old Fort you climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and just below Mt. Mitchell on beautiful Forest Service roads and unbelievable North Carolina single track. Mt. Mitchell peaks at 6684 ft and is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River. The start/finish in the town of Old Fort sits at 1400 ft. Most of the climbing is on Forest Service roads while most of the single track points downhill! Link

But, I learned fairly quick into the ride that 10,500+ feet of climbing is nothing to ignore.

I had a good night sleep (better than usual before a race) because I traveled with a friend, Star, who helped with the getting to bed early. We carb loaded the night before with some friends and had a pretty good breakfast at the hotel.

The next morning had no real issues and made it to the start dropping off our bags for the sag stops. I only chose to leave anything at 2 of them.

At the start, a lot of pavement that was a nice high cadence warm-up for me. The 30 tooth was a better choice than the 32 that I had. In fact, I’m just going to keep the 30 on for awhile. I tried to keep Star in my sight because I figured she’d have a good pace, and I didn’t want to go out blowing up in the beginning. It was going to be a long day, and I wanted to stay at about 70-80% effort throughout.

Finally entering single track, I was in a rhythm even though there were some log jams at switchbacks.

There came a point where I had a fluke thing happen, a bee flew into my mouth and stung me in the back of the throat. My initial thought was one of anaphylaxis and throat swelling and how this would be one crazy way to die in a race. You can’t help but think the worse sometimes. I choked and coughed to get that stupid bee out and spit the bee out. I waited on swelling all the while pedaling and thinking how crazy this was. My throat felt swollen in the back right and burning, but I could tell it wasn’t a direct sting. A doctor riding with us a few minutes later told me if it isn’t swelling right now 10 minutes later, I’d be ok. I took his word for it and put it out of my mind. I only was reminded of it when I drank something. I hope this never happens again.

During one descent I rode off the trail but hopped back on. I definitely need more downhill runs to work on relaxing! I had moments of relaxing, but for the most part remember one guy following me telling me good job but that he was making sure to NOT take the lines I was taking. Ha! He was right, I was constantly reprimanding myself out loud with, “Wow, Beth. Crappy line.” Oh well. That is what happens when you don’t pre-ride a course a few times. Lines are hard to find for me the first go.

At the 1st rest stop, I refilled my Osprey with three bottles as I had been drinking quite a bit! I was ahead of the 1 bottle per hour goal I had for myself.

Curtis Creek Climb was the never ending climb separated from the Blue Ridge Parkway by a rest stop (#3). I saw people walking and taking breaks throughout Curtis Creek, but I just chose to keep going at what felt like a snail’s pace and a cadence so slow that my legs started to fatigue near the top. I refilled 2 bottles at the top. I was still doing ok in hydration but hadn’t needed to pee which probably pointed to heading into dehydration.

Heartbreak Ridge was interesting, to say the least. I’d like to go back and learn all the lines because it was quite interesting trying to get some kind of flow going. I felt as though I’d need new brakes after the race. The hecklers were hilarious. Luckily, they were taking a break from really making comments, or maybe it was the pained expression with the roadie helmet that made them pause. We crossed some tracks were some guy yelled at me for being too close to him crossing the tracks (you had to walk) and I just ignored him for the most part. It felt a little as though he was irritated a woman would pass him. I passed him anyway. There are a lot of dynamics on a trail as a woman, especially in a race that is 90% men, and you get different reactions when passing men. I just had my music playing and when an uncomfortable situation happened, I  just put it out of my mind. Everyone was fatigued at 50 miles anyway.

I finished the descent and headed back into Old Fort with a former Ironman (saw the tattoo on the calf) hoping for a sub 7-hour finish (though not trained) and ended up with a 7:34. I was proud of the time for my first attempt. The Ironman validated my thoughts as this was harder than a full Ironman (I’ve only done a half Ironman but was harder than that, for sure). Definitely could be the case considering how I feel 5 days later. I’m still a little bit off in the IT band area.

I finished with a 4th master’s women, and 14/23 overall women and 155/290 male and female finishers total. Not sure how many DNFs there were. It was the course for DNFs I am sure.

I said I never wanted to see ORAMM again at the finish.

A couple of hours later said I would do it again after eating and sitting in the river afterward.

I found one picture – and it almost looks like I was “just” about to smile at the finish line sign.

 

Maintaining Motivation

Thanks to stumbling across Ali’s Facebook post on signing up for ORAMM without a year of intention, I decided to ask another friend about ORAMM and had she done it. “Three times.” Wondering how it was as a “race” – I use that term loosely because there is no race pace on 60 miles and 10,000+ feet of climbing if you don’t train for awhile – and her response, “Let’s go do ORAMM together.”

Yes, let’s.

I have not ridden my mountain bike this year as much as years past. I think Black Betty only has 450 miles or so on her. That’s way behind the usual mileage I would have accumulated since her joining my small steed of bicycles last year. She rides smooth though. I had a 45-minute zone 1 recovery ride (I am the worst at these) last week and decided rather than spin around at zone 1 on the trainer while reading a book, I’d take BB to the woods and zone 1 there looking at stuff in the woods. I ended up deciding pretty quickly into the ride that I wanted to fly. Surely 45 minutes flying wouldn’t hurt me that much, and thus is the reason why I am the worst at zone 1 recovery rides. Zone 1 seems a better fit for off the bike and in the bed with a pint of ice cream OR riding as hard as you can for 45 minutes. It is hard to find the in-between for me and will always be the hardest ride. Most of those are either not done at all, or overcooked to not-perfection.

I haven’t signed up for ORAMM yet because I’m waiting on a transfer ticket cheaper. I figure I can save some money that way. I suppose sometime in the next 4 weeks I will need to put some miles on BB. I don’t mind as long as they are fast miles. Ha!

From their website, I love the wordage:

Do not underestimate the extreme difficulty and danger of this event. The course is extremely demanding and travels over rugged terrain with extreme elevation changes. The forest remains in its natural habitat. It is not uncommon to see wildlife such as a wild cat or a black bear. Be ready to cope with any circumstances!! Please note that firearms are not permitted in certain areas. Aid stations will help with safety matters, but it is the competitor’s ultimate responsibility to insure his or her own safety. A few course-related facts: the 63 mile course record was set in 2014 by pro rider Thomas Turner, who finished in 4 hours 23 minutes. One rider completed the course with only one month of riding under his belt, however this rider quit riding altogether after the race! Others too have retired their biking efforts after competing in this race. This is not your typical race. Regardless of how you finish, you will have competed in the most exciting mountain bike race in the entire Southeast!!!

Perhaps this is the race (ride) that will cause me to hang up my bike forever. It’s the risk I’m willing to take! I just wonder if I should go get a 28 or 30 on the front before this hellacious event. I do think it will shock me back into climbing a little. I feel like I haven’t been climbing like I used to before I had a regimented plan. I guess you can’t train time trial, sprinting, short efforts, and climbing all in the same season effectively on the amount of time I have available to train. That’s the hardest part for me… feeling like I’m losing in an area because I don’t have time to focus on it. Here’s a good 7-9 hour focus on the climb right here. I have no idea how it’s going to go and if it’ll just be a suffer fest from the start, but I do know two good friends going up there, and maybe somehow we will suffer together. I haven’t done a mountain bike race more than 50 miles (Fools Gold, and 5 Points 50) it wasn’t so bad. I wasn’t in that great of shape either.

I get a little bit lost when I don’t have something big in front of me and lose a little motivation. Yes, Oak Ridge and River Gorge are big, but I’ve done both. Maybe it’s that I need something in front of me that I haven’t done before to inspire the same dedication to training and outlook. I hope to have good (very decent) results at Oak Ridge and River Gorge, but my strengths don’t really play up to either very well quite yet, especially in River Gorge. I still have memories from last year’s climb at the end and how I was thinking about being in labor and what I had to do to deal with that pain. Same situation. Uncomfortable and unrelenting. Now if I could shave off just 5-10 lbs before August, that would be gold.

Speaking of which, what’s for breakfast?