It was the ninth time I’ve put my bike on the start line for this race. If I were playing the odds at Vegas, I might have put some money on me, as I’ve never finished below 5th place in my 8 previous attempts. Nonetheless, the lineup of serious competitors was giving me the chills…
I don’t know how I messed up my preparation, but I forgot my favorite GU gels at home, then I did not put my “racing” prescription glasses, and kept my regular glasses that have the tendency to slip down my nose, plus the cold temperatures had me wonder if I should wear a sleeveless wind jacket or not during the first lap. I opted for the latter and I glad I did, otherwise I would have overheated in no time.
The start on the pavement was maybe not faster than previous years but way more nervous. A lot of fast competitors were fighting for a good spot to enter the single track. Anyway, I managed just fine and then we were off for a quick first lap in the Manistee forest. And quick it was indeed! Even with the roll out on the road we completed the lap in 2 hours and 12 minutes. That is not completely surprising but what was is how many racers were in the lead group. We were over a dozen riders!
All of us were riding strong leaving no gaps between riders. However, I started to feel the effort and I guess I was not the only one. At the front, Mike Phillips was pushing a great pace thru the Road Monkey trail section: a flattish single track quite twisty at times forcing anyone to be on the gas at all times. Then I took over the lead for the last 8 miles of the second lap and continued the fast pace. More riders fall of the lead wagon and we were a much smaller group to reach the aid zone at the start of the lap.
In the succession of small hills up and down, Brian Schwarm was on a mission drilling the up hill so much so that I was wishing I was wishing for a slower pace. I got my wish granted but we were only 3 that could hold on to Brian’s rear wheel: Tinker Juarez, Jorden Wakeley and myself.
I led our small group again thru the road Monkey section. We were riding at good speed and lost Jorden and Tinker. Shortly after the mid lap aid station, during a short uphill, both my legs cramped. We were about one hour from the finish but I had to back off the pace or I wouldn’t see the finish line.
Now, really tired and looking for my path around the trees thru a veil of fog, every pedal stroke was a struggle. The dust I was riding through all day finally impeded my vision by scratching the front surface of my eyes.
Despite the cramps, the foggy vision and the less than optimal nutrition from the get go, I managed to reach the finish line in under 6 hours 30 minutes. That was 2 minutes off the pace of Brian but I am satisfied by my 2nd place result.
Like at every race, I gave it all and I could not have gone any faster given the circumstances.