Standing around waiting for the pre-race meeting I met up with Xterra triathletes Craig Evans from Nashville, Omar Fraser and Scott Mills from Alabama and Mark Rudder from Atlanta. Ed Hamilton was also there (the 6th rider from the Oak Mountain group ride whose name I forgot - made sure I remembered it this time). Omar drove up from Birmingham and when asked about Casey Fanning said he left at least 45 minutes behind him. As it turns out he also got a speeding ticket on the way, so as per usually he was running for the bus as it was pulling out. The bus ride to the trailhead was about 45mins were everyone immediately jumped out, headed to the bushes for a pit stop, grabbed their bikes and lined up for the start. The start was a moderately organized time trial start. Basically about six people lined up at a time and were started a couple minutes apart after their numbers and names were recorded. Craig and Omar jumped right in at the front and we never saw them again. The rest of us somehow all ended up in the same start and headed out together. I had no idea what I was up against so started very conservatively and hung back with Ed.
The first section was a pretty mellow dirt road except for the creek crossing within the first couple of miles. Nice, four hours of riding with wet feet. Thankfully the weather was great and warming up nicely. Then the mud started. I have never enjoyed, or been able to ride well in the mud so it was slip 'n' slide for me. The mud let up once we got onto the single track and the climbing started. It would total over 5,000 ft by the end. I spent most of the time going back and forth with a group of guys. I would pass all of them on the climbs and they would fly by me on the downhills, repeat, repeat, repeat. I was cruising along nicely until I got to a set of 3 downhill, narrow creek crossings. I flew through the first two then missed the line on the third and ended up on my ass. While I managed to avoid landing in the water I did manage to land right on a big rock. Definitely going to leave a mark. Got back on my bike, hiked it across the river and cruised it into the halfway mark.
At halfway, where the 17mile ride started, they had a sag station set up. My bike was totally mudded up and threatening to stop shifting. I have to admit that I feel a little guilty about this but sometimes, especially at mountain bike events, it is great to be a chic. I pulled in and there were several guys hanging out. A mechanic was offering lube to those who needed it, but as I pulled up immediately came over, grabbed my bike and proceeded to clean the chain, derailleurs, shocks, rocker link, and relube my chain while I switched out bottles, grabbed some food and lost the arm warmers. Wow, can you say full service. The second half started with, you guessed it, more climbing. All the riders were pretty spread out by this time so there was lots of room to ride your own pace. I was approaching the three hour mark and thinking that I hadn't bothered to fill my camelback at halfway and was quite possibly going to run out of water when another sag stop appeared, whoohoo, saved!! From there until the last mile it was rock garden, after rock outcropping, after rocky climb. I really got the hang of it and ended up riding really well, mostly because I was so sick of getting on and off my bike and just sucked it up and rode it. My goal, based on nothing whatsoever, was to get under 4 hours. I ended up at 4:16 total time, 4:08 ride time. (next time definitely under 4, might have to forgot the full service bike stop at halfway)
Riders post-race (CJ, Scott Mills, Casey Fanning)
Woke up Sunday morning a little stiff and sore, and definitely a couple of bruises but overall feeling pretty good. Next up, recovery week (nice) then a week in California with my coach, Gareth Thomas (even nicer). It will be great to finally get some sun on my training camp.