As usual, I came to Cohutta without any markers. Thanks to the milder weather during the off-season, I rode more often outside but it is incredibly difficult for me to ride with someone as my riding hours are completely unpredictable. Nonetheless, my trusty trainer displayed some good numbers.
After the uneventful drive from Michigan to Tennessee, the fog accompanied with some mild temperatures welcomed us at the start of the race. The field was stacked and consequently there was a sprint to enter the single track trail after the paved rollout. I was left in the middle of the fast moving group and quickly retrograded from around 10th place to the 20th position. The following hour was spent passing racers on the single track. A little sprint was necessary to pass those racers, each time hurting my legs a little more…
Once on the dirt roads, a large group formed and I could barely follow. At some point, I was really considering let the group go as I had no energy left in the legs… One can only hope, than the group would slow down or that the legs start to feel better. I got my wish granted and at the same time the group of 10 was finally trimming down. That must have been around aid station #3 (about 40 miles completed).
By aid #4, I was not going to be stuck behind slower riders in the single track again. I stayed at the front both up and down on the dirt roads. When we finally reached the single track I was in the lead. The addition of the single track was a welcome one especially when the trail has such a nice flow… I had a blast and so were Jeremiah Bishop and Mike Simonson, the only two who stayed on my wheel.
Back on the dirt roads and right before aid#5 (around mile 60), Jeremiah accelerated. I did what I could but my legs were completely drained. I was really not looking forward climbing back the 2000ft on the same dirt road we were ripping down earlier in the race. I distanced myself from Mike but Jeremiah was out of sight at the front.
The sun was out and along with the effort climbing I start to notice my vision getting blurry: a sign that I was really fatigued. If I learned something in the previous years of NUE racing, it is that sometimes you just need to back it off a little bit. Maybe the cooler air at the higher altitude was going to help cool me down? No, it was even higher temp there, but my Hammer gel I swallowed in the middle of the climb started to give me life again.
Between mile 65 to mile 88, the course is mostly downhill on fast rolling dirt roads. That combination is just a killer for me. No matter how hard I pedal, I feel slow. Possibly I imagine stuff and my competitors don’t ride necessarily faster than I do but another mood killer is the speed display on my GPS computer. This year, I decided to share all my rides on Strava.com, so I traded in my trusty wired computer by a GPS unit. During the ride, the current speed was more like a random number generator, displaying anything between 8 to 12mph where I know I was riding more than 20mph. By some miracle, the total mileage reached the 100 miles… I guess the average speed should be accurate.
Going thru aid #7 (mile 87) I saw a rider coming to the aid station while I was leaving it. I was certain that it was Mike Simonson catching back to me because until the time we split up, he was riding incredibly strong. In addition, Mike has some serious power and he can easily make up time on those rolling dirt roads.
I did not feel like it, but somehow I managed to lift the pace a tiny bit. If I was going to lose my second spot, it would not be because of a lack of effort. Each time there was a stretch of straight dirt road I looked behind me but I could not spot anyone. I know that looking behind does not make me go faster (on the contrary) but this was the only comfort I had to re-assure me that I my efforts were not in vain.
I finished at the 2nd place and I could not be more satisfied with my ride. I did not hurt myself, my Epic 29 was fantastic and I know I can still improve my fitness. The weekend became even nicer when Cheryl, Kristin and Nikki achieved a top 5 finish with Cheryl on the top spot. Way to go Team CF!
Log to Strava.com to see my ride.