What a way to kick off the race season. CIRREM was a kick in the nuts to say the least. I remember thinking a couple of times throughout the course that if I made it back to the finish and had enough energy, I wouldn't mind sharing that kick in the nuts with Kent or Jed who organized this suffer fest. OK, so it was all in good fun, but the thought made me smile a bit.
I made it down for the free breakfast burritos and other goodies provided by the Cumming Tap, but a late night run back from Omaha left me running on about 4 hours of sleep all told. I wasn't quite up for stomaching a burrito though so I managed to eat half a cinnamon roll and half a Clif builder bar. Not exactly the breakfast of champions or the hopeful endurance racer, but it was as best I could do. We gathered about 25 strong for the start of the race in the rain and slop at 9 AM. While it was raining steadily, the gravel was in better than expected condition with a solid base and overall it was pretty firm considering the 1.5" of rain we'd had on Saturday.
Right off the bat I didn't feel that buzz in my legs. I stayed with the lead pack for about a mile and then slowly worked my way backward until I was pretty much last man standing. I knew it would be a long race and as I warmed up the engine, hopefully I'd real in some of the people that cooked it right out of the gate. I kept the pace reasonable and slowly I did real in a few people. the most notable thing in my mind was where I was gaining ground. Rolling the downhills and flats I maintained, but on the hills I seemed to gain the majority of my ground. I really think I'm a pretty weak climber, but my sitting down and cranking the hills seemed to garner me a lot more speed than those climbing out of the saddle.
Around 15 miles in, I noticed the rain starting to seep into my shoes as it drained down off my legs and into the neoprene cuff on my winter shoes. Nothing much I could do, but wait for the inevitable cold and sogginess to set in. By 20 miles in, I had water literally sloshing inside my shoes. The nice thing about winter shoes is they're really well sealed on the bottom side. The really bad thing about winter shoes is they're really well sealed on the bottom side. I now was riding in two partially filled canoes with water sloshing back and forth on each pedal stroke. By mile 25, my feet had settled into being uncomfortably cold and nearing numb. I'm not sure where they actually went numb, but I just remember noting that it felt like I was pedalling with two solid boxes attached to the bottoms of my legs. Its a great feeling I tell ya!
Somewhere in here Dennis suffered a crank failure and a couple of us stopped to phone some roving support to get back to the bar. I also passed Chris down from Rochester fiddling with a dropped chain on his fixie. Both would make opt out of the race and head back for the warmth of the Cumming Tap. I would be lying if I didn't say thoughts of pulling out were in my head for a solid 3/4 of the ride. I'd make deals with myself and then renegotiate every few miles until I finally got close enough to the end that I knew there was no reason to quit. Through to this point, we'd been having bouts of rain, sleet (feels great on 30 mph descents), and chunk rain/snow mix along with the varying winds.
A nature stop about midway up a rise put me off the back and chasing again. Trying to pee when your hands and various other parts of your body are approaching critical levels of cold takes a while. I think I lost close to 5 minutes stopped before I could get moving again. I took the opportunity to suck down a gel and got back on the bike feeling much less bloated and overall in better spirits. I could still catch glimpses of the large group ahead of me as we'd hit long stretches of rollers where they'd be a hill or two ahead of me. I was slowly closing in again.
At the checkpoint the group in front of me were stopped to warm up and catch some nutrition. I gave them my number and after digging out a half clif bar and a gel to eat along the way, was back on my bike in just a minute or two. I opted to keep moving and eating in lieu of sticking around with the group. That decision probably saved me from DNFing as just after I left, the group collectively decided to head back towards the start and meet up with Sumpter's lady driving the big black van of salvation. I mistakenly thought the one person I was decidedly racing against was part of the group I'd just passed. Kurt Benson and I have had some fun going back and forth trying to beat each other at a few various races and were engaged in some good natured smack talking during this race as well. In my haste to leave the checkpoint, I hadn't noticed that he'd kept right on going as well. I also made a 2nd mistake at the checkpoint. I'd opted to run with only 2-16oz bottles for the race and didn't take advantage of the refill station. I'll get back to this later.
From the checkpoint on we really suffered the hills and wind even more. A push up the monster hill on Old Portland road was the biggest grunt of the course, but it was the 5 mile stretch headed due north shortly after that where I hit the wall. I finally got off the bike with numb feet, cold hands, and little energy to walk a short stretch. I could see a few riders at varying points up in front of me and wondered if they were suffering the same as I. I also got passed by a way too energetic Kent along in here somewhere and wondered how he'd gotten behind me. Sucking down a gel as I walked, I felt every so slightly better and hopped back on after walking about a 1/4 mile. Eventually, as I rolled north, I realized I was indeed picking up ground on at least one rider in front of me. By the time we'd turned east again, I was pretty close and eventually caught up to Ben who was suffering mightily on his fixie and walking a number of hills. We chatted for a bit and I learned Kurt was actually up the road at this point and I resigned myself that he was in better shape for the day.
We were somewhere around 10 miles left to go when I began to bonk again, I was running dangerously low on water and even lower on energy. I snuck out my last bit of food in the form of a pack of sport beans I'd grabbed from the schwag table at sign up. Never having tried them before, I was pleasantly surprised to find they gave me a nice shot of energy and I was back to chasing for a bit. Up ahead, I could make out a figure all in black. There was my rabbit. Kurt was moving about the same pace as I was, but again, I made up time on the uphills. Ever so slowly, I gained ground on him and caught back on.
Regardless of the suffering throughout the course, the real fun was the last half hour. Kurt and I duked it out for a semi-climactic finish. I caught him a couple miles out of town and rather than attempt to kill each other pushing the pace we reached a gentleman’s agreement to find a suitable sprint point close to town and go from there. Kurt, ever the showman, decided to make it more interesting by wiping out hard not once, but twice inside the last 3 miles. He dropped a wheel off into a crack on a nasty wooden bridge flipping over the bars and apparently didn’t think he’d done enough damage at that point and opted to have me roll over a couple various body parts as I attempted to miss him. Holding to the agreement, I waited while he got himself back together and we let that sneaky Ben Shockey slide past us. I also have to give some major ups to Kurt's chase crew for refilling my bottle at this point as I was out and sinking into a stupor fast.
From there we determined the turn onto 25th street would be the start of the sprint (if you can call 7 tenths of a mile a “sprint”). I did my best to drop him off my wheel as we headed up a slight incline since that seemed to be my strong point of the day. Alas, I had nothing left in the tank and he gritted his teeth determined we would be sprinting it out across the Cumming Highway to the tap. As we both stood up to hammer the last hundred yards he later told me he was attempting to give me the old slide job and cut me off. A slight miscalculation on his part (only by 5 feet or so) had him bouncing off my back wheel and skidding across the highway leaving me to finish out the sprint wondering what the hell just happened. We finished close enough to DFL to taste it, but alas, we weren’t quite that lucky.
I finished 10th, Kurt 11th, and one final finisher rounded out 12 of the 25 starters. 13 DNF's so I feel good just having completed the ride. I did walk away with some pretty sweet schwag in the form of a case of Off Kilter Ale courtesy of Olde Main Brewing!
All in all I great day to suffer on the bike and damn was I glad when it was done. I'll post a few more post race lessons and thoughts a bit later on.