I tried to get a bit of cheating bastard advantage on Friday by driving out on the gravel south of Cumming. I was second guessing my initial plan of riding the cross bike. Indeed, I found extended sections of slick hardpacked snow interspersed with wet gravel that would be frozen come Saturday morning. So, last minute, I changed my plan and moved to the Superfly as my weapon of choice. I knew I'd be giving up some overall top end and rolling resistance, but I felt being a bit more comfortable on the slick sections would be a good trade. After all, I was out to have a good hard ride, and didn't really expect to be near the top finishers, so why not reduce my risk of crashing out and get on a bike I knew would be a solid choice no matter the final conditions. All told we had some 70+ starters enjoying a balmy 15 degrees and a solid 10+ mph wind from the NW.
After riding last year, I knew the course would bring on plenty of pain in the form of hills. The wind almost always has to factor in this time of the year as well and is predominantly out of the northwest making many sections seem that much longer and harder. I was quickly dropped out of the pack last year. I didn't even make the first hill with the group of leaders and had dropped to nearly the back of the pack within a few miles of the start. My riding and training has progressed through leaps and bounds since 365 days ago. That being said, I felt great at the start. My legs were sharp, my mind was good, I was excited to see what I had in the tank. I had no real delusions of grandeur, but I thought maybe a top 10 finish would be a great finish for me considering the growth in the number of participants over last year which was sure to include to serious racers coming from far away exotic locales like Missouri, Kansas, and Minnesota.
I managed to hang on long enough to get warmed through quickly as the pack was fairly well flying along. I think we were hanging out with about 25 riders through the first few miles. I got slightly shuffled on one of the first bigger hills, but the leaders made a miscue going past a turn and I was the first to make the correct turn, thereby finding myself right off the front for a few seconds. We powered the climb up and over I-35 with a few guys looking to make a move off the front. I hung back for a few seconds of indecision and bridged up with a few other guys. The road race tactics were definitely playing big time in here. Somewhere about 15 miles in, one of the lead guys powered through a long false flat and fairly well blew the remaining group into a small pack of contenders. I was hanging by a shirt tail at this point and got a little boost from Wild Bill Fanter that got me right back into the group.
Riding in the lead pack early on:
After the push from Bill, I knew I was going to be out the back sooner rather than later. I felt good making it down to the selection of roughly the top 10-15 guys and was ok with staying at that point. I'd been hydrating with my usual Accelerade, but the first nutrition I got was in the form of 3 mostly frozen FRS chews roughly 45 minutes in. They went down relatively well and I didn't think much of it. But they were something I hadn't eaten during training or racing before and while there's got to be a time to try something new, training is probably a better time. That's enough foreshadowing, now on to the race. Around 20 miles in, I was displaced from contender to pretender. I got gapped off the back and just couldn't quite find the legs to catch back on. I kept the group in site for close to another 5 or so miles. The gap stayed pretty steady, but I could tell it was slowly increasing. I could also see another couple riders that were tossed off in the middle ground. I had high hopes of slowly reeling them in over the rest of the course and maybe picking off a few more casualties along the way.
About 90 minutes into the race, things went to hell in a handbasket to put it mildly for me. I'd taken in another gel, was still working on my first 24 oz of Accelerade and suddenly the combination of an early high pace and untested nutritional choices came around to bite me in the ass completely and thoroughly. I looked back at my readout from the Garmin at my heart rate to see what it would tell me. There's a pretty clear line where I went from averaging 170's (low zone 4) to averaging 140's (top of zone 2). My stomach was doing flips and I my legs turned nearly instantly from feeling good and solid to crampy and no power. I knew I was bonking and tried my best to back off quickly in hopes that I'd recover.
I'd love to say that happened, but alas it wasn't meant to be. I soldiered to the checkpoint feeling like hell. A 30 second stop to refill one bottle and I was back on my way. However, I spent the remaining nearly 3 hours struggling to gain every mile. I watched rider after rider trickle by in ones, twos, and threes. I was resigned to finishing whenever I could and in whatever place I could. I knew it was game over at this point. I kept hoping that my stomach would stop turning and I'd be able to get more food in. I munched on a cliff bar that was akin to eating clay and got about half of it down before my stomach said "no mas". I kept hydrating with plain water. Something had to give. Unfortunately, that thing ended up being my strength. Any effort that raised my heart rate more than a few beats brought along a wave of nausea that quickly reminded me I'd be stopping to hurl if I didn't back off. Thankfully, I didn't leave any piles on the side of the road, but I tested my resolve to the limit finding my way to the finish.
I rolled back to the tap just shy of 5 hours. The goal time in my head was 4.5 hours knowing I'd rolled the course that fast last spring during a training ride in some nasty headwinds. I think I had that in me had I not sidelined myself with strength sucking issues. I'm still not sure if my early efforts of staying with the lead pack hurt my overall effort or not. I've been working a lot on my strength this year without much endurance riding so I think it showed in being able to hang in for as long as I did. Beyond that, I think if I'd started out slower (and not had other issues), I may have been able to finish a bit stronger. I typically figure myself as more of a diesel engine finding that I work better metering out an even effort over the long haul versus sprint, recover, and repeat. All in all, I feel pretty good about my fitness level at this time of the year. I was a bit disappointed that I seemingly took myself out of finishing where I'd have liked, but better now than later on in the race season.
I do have to give a big shout out to Kent and Jed for putting this thing on. Sponsors like Rassy's and Oakley Rob also have a huge part in making these races possible. Thanks to Rob (and a bit of luck) my suffering was more than justly rewarded with a sweet pair of Livestrong Flak Jackets in the schwag giveaway. I also have to give one more shout out to team sponsor Ergon grips. With the bonk I had going on, I was putting way more pressure on my hands and arms supporting my whole upper body than reasonably prudent. Even with all that, I wasn't feeling it at all today in my arms and shoulders.
After the pain: