This wasn’t a very dramatic race, not like the last one. So I felt compelled to give this a more catching title. Figure 90 rpms (revolutions per minute) x 60 min x 6 (hours of racing). That’s how many times each foot pushed/pulled on the pedals. So come to think of it, it’s more like 64,800 pedal strokes PER FOOT. No wonder my legs are so tired.
I signed up for this race at the very end of January. Since then, at least on a weekly basis, I’ve questioned whether or not doing this big race was a great idea or an utterly terrible one. It’s exactly 2 weeks from my “A” race, the USAC Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals, so this would either help elevate my fitness and preparedness, or threaten to crush my spirits and plague me with fatigue leading up to the most important race of my season.
In the past few months, after each workout, I’d geek over Training Peaks data on TSS, form, fitness, and fatigue. These are numbers that help me understand how I’m benefitting from my workouts and guide me as I plan my training weeks based on intensity balanced with recovery. It’s not a perfect science, and I just tinker with it all as an amateur, but within the numbers I found the justification to just go for it.
The race is out of Ducktown, TN, just south of Turtletown, TN. Yeah, I don’t expect that you’d have heard of either. But it’s a nowhere town surrounded by the Cherokee, Chattahoochee, and Nantahala National Forests. It’s remote and beautiful. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Greenville, so I drove out the day before so that I could be close for the 8am race day start. Glad I Yelp’d for local eateries. There are none, so I packed up a spaghetti and mixed veggie dinner and grabbed a Snickers bar at the gas station across the street to top off my fuel tank.
You may have heard of the Ocoee Whitewater center. It’s known for being the canoe slalom venue for the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. What am I thinking?!?!? You’ve never even knew canoe slalom was a sport…. Well, anyway, that’s where the race started.
Like many big races, it’s a mass start, meaning all categories, both men and women, become a mixed mob at the start line. There aren’t tidy starting lanes and you don’t exactly know who your competitors are. Your starting position is mostly determined by how long you want to stand in the cold. 😉 I landed mid-pack. During the pre-race meeting, I tried to spot the other 39 women who registered in my category. Third row was a woman kitted up in my same cranberry colored Hammer Nutrition kit. But most just blended into a crowd, and I quickly got bored of Where’s Waldo.
The uphill road start wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. I tried to keep a quick, steady cadence and tucked in behind others to catch a draft when I could. Just before we veered off onto the gravel road, I was stoked to catch up to the other Hammer racer. But she quickly zipped around me again and sped away on the single track.
The 1st 27 miles were mostly single track. I was trying to push my pace, as I felt I had a good flow going. Legs felt strong, arms loose. And it was just fun! After completing the single track, you do a 34 mile gravel lollipop. 10 miles out the “stick,” a 14 mile loop, then you return back on that same 10 mile “stick.” And boy, does it stick it to you!!! I was well paced on the first 10 miles segment, and a Peachtree kitted lady caught up to me towards the end it. I continued a steady push, trying to gauge her fitness against mine. She stopped at the aid station and I carried on, well supplied, so I tried to create a gap. But alas, before long, she returned to my side, and during one of the interminable climbs, her legs took up a swift cadence and she left me in the dust.
I entered the deep dark pain cave somewhere during that 14 mile loop. My Garmin lost its signal, so I don’t know exactly when it got so bleak. The mileage was creeping ever so slowly by. I was just focused on turning the pedals and trying not to stop. I didn’t really make note of the time, and I had no idea when to expect the aid station. I was running out of water and nearly out of my nutrition. The gravel road just kept going up. And up. And up. It was dire. There was one point when I was so convinced I had lost my mind. On one of the fleeting descents, I came around a corner to encounter two horse drawn wagons!!! Say what!??! A hallucination? Nope. But oh so weird.
After some unknown mileage and time, I was elated when I rounded a bend and saw the aid station. Mile 51!! My Garmin only read 45 or 48 or something. I stopped to fill up my Camelbak and grab some Hammer gels and Endurolytes. Hope was restored, and I was able to regroup for a painful 10 miles of more climbing back to the top of the final 4 mile descent.
It was halfway into this return trip when another lady passed me. I knew for certain, there were 3 women ahead of me, but who knew how many more bolted away with the lead group from the start line?? She seemed to have more in the tank then me, but I didn’t give up. I tried to stand and push on the hills, hoping she would tire and that I could close the gap. Unfortunately, I never did catch her in my sights again. She ended up about 3 minutes ahead of me by the finish.
The final single track descent was awkward and clumsy, but I stayed upright. A final stretch behind a guardrail along the highway, and there was that coveted finish line. No matter how exhausted and painful the race was, it’s hard not to break a smile as I stood one last time to accelerate across the line.
Took fourth. Pleased with the effort and to know I wasn’t so far off the times of 2nd and 3rd places. Now to recovery and regroup for MTB Nationals!
Epilogue: Nutrition and race reminders:
Carried a Camelbak filled with 70 oz water, 1 full bottle containing 3 scoops Caffe Latte Perpetuem and 2 scoops Sustained Energy. Also had one smaller bottle of Melon HEED. 2 Endurolytes per hour proved too little for the intensity and duration of the race. I should have carried enough for up to 3 per hour. For the first time ever, I carried a gel flask with 5 servings of Raspberry Hammer Gel, plus 1 packet each of the Tropical and Espresso gels, both which contain some caffeine. 30 minutes before starting the race, I did my usual dose of Race Caps Supreme, Endurance Aminos (BCAA+s), Anti Fatigue Caps, and Fully Charged.
At the aid station, I refilled my Camelbak with 2 bottles worth of water, grabbed a couple more gels and Endurolytes.
Immediately after the race, I downed my Chocolate Recoverite and then after eating some solid food, I took Premium Insurance Caps, Anti-Oxidants, and BCAA+s.
Despite the hard effort and duration of the race, I didn’t experience nearly as much soreness the day or two after, as I had in the past. Feeling strong and ready for Nats!
Nothing around Ducktown, TN, so bring dinner and race morning breakfast if you show up a day early! The lodging was so-so. May try the other dinky motel next time. Despite their obvious efforts to update the place, it was still very dated and a bit rough around the edges.