For the first time this year, I was traveling to the race with my family. It was great to have them with me although it requires a little more preparation. The drive was pleasant and we made it on time to pick up the registration package and chill out at the hotel.
The morning of the race, the temperatures were comfortable and I did not have goose bumps like at Cohutta. Anyway, with the steep climb right from the get go, I guess it was impossible to feel cold. Although I did not attempt to reach the top of the climb first in order to win the $200 prime, I made sure I was well placed before entering the first stretch of single track.
Shortly after, a group of 5 was created: Josh Tostado, Mike Simonson, Jeff Schalk, my teammate Brandon Draugelis and I. Having already a small gap on the pursuers, I thought that the speed will go down a little bit however Josh Tostado was on a mission and accelerated even more.
Brandon made the jump to Josh while Mike, Jeff and I were wondering if it was reasonable to ride at that speed with still 95 miles to go. A while later, Josh and Brandon were completely out of sight and it took several miles of fun single track to reach back to those two. It was not because they slowed down; it is because we put the hammer down. That intense effort had us gasping for more air.
By aid station 1, our group of five had reformed and the pace was a little more manageable. Still Josh was riding incredibly hard and before we knew it we were already by aid station 2. By now, my stomach was already giving me some telltale signs that something was off but I still was riding strong.
I had a very smooth feed at the aid station #3 but started to felt sleepy in addition to an increased stomach ache. Once the single track section after aid #3 was over, I turned to Brandon and told him that I was not feeling best and will probably not be able to follow the pace anymore however I did my best to take my rotation at the front when we were trading pulls.
Then, I saw the terrifying ultra steep double track climb. Josh was the first crack shortly followed by Brandon. My legs were spinning smoothly while my stomach was really hurting. I reached the top of the hill along with Jeff and Mike but as soon as the dirt road became flat, I could not accelerate fast enough I got drop then.
When I finally reached the buggy trail, I was riding really slowly. I knew that I was losing tons of time to Mike and Jeff on this flatter section. Just like Lumberjack 100 last year, my stomach felt like a balloon, filled with liquid and tremendous desire to stop and take a 3 hour nap in the shade.
It was just a matter of time and it happened just before aid station 4, Brandon caught back to me. He encouraged me to follow his wheel. I was really torn apart by such a proposal. On one hand I was really thankful to ride in good company and not alone anymore, on the other hand, his speed was higher than the pace I could barely manage.
My teammate Brandon was very good to me, by not accelerating too fast and by announcing difficulties and turns ahead. Those were necessary actions, as my entire focus was devoted to follow Brandon’s wheel and I would have probably hit a tree or made the wrong turn if I had been on my own.
With about 86 miles completed, Brandon told me that I should hold tough and that the race was only 96 miles long not the full 100 miles. It was a nice mind trick as I was counting the miles down to put an end to my misery. Mile 96 came and went and we were still in the middle of the last 10 miles of single track.
What a relief to reach the finish line. A huge thanks to Brandon to motivate me and keep me in the race for the last 30+ miles! The Lumberjack 100 is in 2 weeks I hope I figure out what went wrong and try to adjust.