Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Longest 'cross race . . . ever (or The Highland Hex)

Full Disclosure: What you are about to read is being written by a non-mountain biker. I race CX, road, and on occasion ride MTB's badly.

As some of you know, I'm taking what would typically be my road season and switching it up with some new challenges. I started road racing purely as a means to be a better CX racer. In an effort to keep the motivation high and play around with the lead up to CX, I've stumbled into a healthy mix of road racing through spring and MTBing mixed in with the Tuesday Night Training Series through summer.

A few weeks ago I was on a training ride preparing for the Wilmington/Whiteface 100. I innocently said "I'm not sure if I'm going to do the Syracuse race or the Highland Hex." After two minutes of discussion it was decided that the Hex would be a great overload workout four weeks out from Wilmington. Done deal. Checked with Haight (Bob) and Drumroll, and they were in as well. In the words of Cosmo Kramer . . . "Giddy up."

After peppering Bob with no less than 3 questions a day in the week leading up to the race, I was pretty sure I was ready to go. If anything, I was overly confident. Not about racing fast, but I definitely blocked out any thoughts of the suffering that might occur.

With four of us going from the team, I snagged a big tent from Syracuse Bicycle, brought the tools and a stand, and of course some post race Ommegang. I had a cooler full of bottles, gel packs, Cliff Bars, Endurolytes and a sandwich in case the wheels really fell off.

I'll try to keep this brief, but I could write a novel like "The Rider" after this race:
Lap one - ride easy and try not to get in anyone's way. In my last MTB race a few years ago, my motor kept me up front early, but once it got technical I was more in the way than a drunken monkey on a unicycle in the Tour de France. Regardless of taking it easy, I ended up running through a mud section, running through a spider web of roots section and then crashing in a flowy single track section. When I crashed I jammed my right index finger on a log. It hurt pretty bad, and I refused to look at it for about 200 meters for fear that it would be pointing in the wrong direction. Thankfully it wasn't, although it never ceased to remind me that I'd jammed it earlier.

Lap two - Bob and I are trading positions constantly. In the technical sections he gaps me by 100 meters. On the non technical sections I catch him and press on, telling him I'll see him in the technical stuff. Right around the same place I jammed my finger, I'm back off the bike. On my CX style remount, the bike moves on the trail and I completely rack my left . . . uh, what's the word I'm looking for. Oh yeah, testicle. That never would have happened to Lance Armstrong, but I digress. After another 200 meters, I decide it's still intact and resolve myself to relaxing. If I don't find some Zen, I could lose an eye, break a finger, lose my other . . . never mind.

Lap three - I get my Zen on. Firing on all cylinders, flowing as well as a drunken monkey on a unicycle can flow and generally feeling good about things. I also verbalize one of the dumbest thoughts I've ever had. I say to Bob "Most of these guys can ride mountain bikes, but they're going to get tired, so hopefully it will level the playing field and all of our handling skills will be similar." Man was that stupid. In my defense I was probably well on my way to an oxygen debt fueled trip to Stupidville.

Lap four - I get lapped by Tim O and Bob passes me for the last time in a technical section. Thoughts of catching him again on a non-technical section leave my head. If he doesn't stop to grill a cheeseburger from scratch I won't see him again.

Lap five - this is where things get fuzzy. This is where I start wondering how slow I can possibly ride so that I can minimize the damage but still finish. Also, in an interesting twist I start to think that most of the sticks and roots that I see in the trail are snakes. I really hate snakes. It bears repeating, I really hate snakes. It's primal.

Lap six - I decide that if I play my cards right, I can milk the next two laps and finish in just over six hours. For those unfamiliar with six hour races, 5:59 is a DQ, you need to race one more lap. At this point I'm popping Endurolytes every lap, and running over a bunch of obstacles because I've lost what little trail mojo I ever had. Also, Tim O laps me a second time. He's literally flying, fresh as a daisy and no one else is in sight. If he wasn't a good friend I'd punch him in the nuts for feeling so good while I'm seeing snakes.

Lap seven - I'm ahead of schedule and I don't think I can possibly ride slow enough to make my lap last past the six hour mark. I also don't see how I can possibly ride an eighth lap. On the plus side, I stop seeing snakes. That's as close to an endorsement as I can give for the Endurolytes. "Endurolytes . . . if you completely lose your $&!# in an endurance race, they'll make the snakes go away." If the Hammer Nutrition folks are reading, I'd be happy to work something out in trade.

At the end of lap seven, it's clear that I'm going to roll in just under six hours. A few people are hiding out in the woods to avoid another lap, so they can roll in at 6:01. I see Big John O coming down the trail and he's in my race. I was a little on the fence, but now I decide to grab another fresh bottle, two more Endurolytes to keep the snakes at bay, and head back out. John says he's done. I shake his hand and tell him I'm going back out. As I'm riding away, he says he's all conflicted cause if he goes back out he can probably beat me. He's probably right. He has five minutes to decide.

Lap eight - Oddly enough I hit my stride. I'm still cramping, but I'm getting some flow back and nailing most of the obstacles. When I say nailing most of the obstacles, I mean riding over logs that a seven year old with an MTB could easily clear after a weeks worth of riding. I find some form of inner peace and roll on. I wouldn't want to do a 12 hour race right then, but I can see how it could be done. I'm still slightly concerned that the five minutes of debate got the best of John and that he might be chasing me. I run best scared.

I roll in at 6:49:50. Give or take a second. I ask Jason if this course was normal and he says it was really hard. That's what I was hoping to hear. It was tough, but I'm glad my first one was tough. That should make future races easier mentally if not physically.

Again, I don't have a lot of perspective when it comes to MTB races, but CNY DIRT put on a great low key race. Everyone was SUPER supportive. Much more like CX than road racing. That could be a post in and of itself.

Tim O won, and Drumroll and Bob podiumed in their age groups. I lived and hopefully learned some MTB skills for next time.

Love to ride your bike, whichever bike it may be.

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