I’ve never seen so many cyclists cringed up along the side of the road. The hot weather on Saturday induced cramps in even the healthiest of riders. It looked like a forced march through the Sahara Desert at times.
The race started at 10:00 am when it was still relatively cool. I had the best start of the three times I’ve done this race, and at aid station one (20 miles) both first and second place were just a few seconds ahead of me while I sat in third.
Having contact with the leaders that far into the race was significant because in the past, I had lost a lot of time on a muddy road with slick, water-filled potholes as wide as the road itself. I did not ride that section fast, but it was the fastest I’d ever done it.
Unfortunately, soon after aid station one, I irreparably bonked – with 52 miles to go. I watched helplessly as the lead woman spun away from me up a hill. This was going to be a long race.
It’s fair to say I was not prepared for this event. Three weeks prior, I was in a pretty violent crash on the road, and although I didn’t break anything, I was pretty bruised up all over and could not inhale all the way due to bruised ribs.
You never realize how much limited lung capacity can slow you down until you experience it yourself. On the plus side, I got to ride a lot with my father during my recovery. He had a knee replacement a few weeks prior to my crash – and we made a fine pair – creeping along the rail trails around Pittsburgh together at half strength.
After I bonked, all I had to help me get through was my head. So, I rode as smart as I could – drafting as long as I could behind other riders, coasting down every slight downhill, metering out my food as planned. I knew the course, which gave me a sense of familiarity, at least.
I constantly looked over my shoulder, wondering when (not if) the next woman would catch me. Every time I came upon a steep hill and saw other riders walking I thought – this is it, I am going to have to walk this hill. But somehow, I made it up every one. I credit my gear choice for this – I have mountain bike gearing on my cyclocross bike.
Since Hilly Billy is my home territory, all the corner marshals knew me and cheered me on, but I could barely groan in response to their encouragement. If I am painting a pathetic picture here – it is because this was by far the worst I have felt at any race, ever.
40 miles to go, fourth place hadn’t passed me. 30 miles to go – anything can happen! 20 miles to go, I keep looking back for her. 10 to go and my friend yells, “Keep grinding, Stephanie!” By some miracle, I made it to the finish in third place. I have never felt so happy – to feel so bad. I was thrilled with my result considering the circumstances.
Three Peaks is the next ultracross I’m planning on, in September. Between then and now I plan to make a full recovery and train hard. With my improving gravel riding, that will assure that I am prepared for the challenges of the mountains around Banner Elk, North Carolina.