The challenge was billed as a 100k loop consisting of 11,000+ feet of climbing along mostly singletrack, doubletrack or dirt roads, spanning 4 counties through some of the most remote and scenic areas in the rolling hills of Mohican Country. Climbs of nearly a mile, with elevation gains of 300+ feet, rock gardens, streams, and more!
It is the second stop of National Ultra Endurance Series which brought in tough competitors from across the country. The course had a little bit of everything and if you were ever in doubt which way to go, it seemed you just had to figure out which way had the biggest hill and that was the way the course would go ALL DAY!
So leading up to the big event.....
Last June I bought a mountain bike to ride with the husband and started hitting the trails. While I found the trails to be quite intimidating at first with rocks, tight trees, tree roots and mud everywhere, I really started to enjoy my time on them. At the end of last summer I did my first and only other mountain bike race out at West Branch, which one could say is my home turf trail where I do most of my riding. I entered the beginner class in which I rode about 8.5 trail miles to the finish and as the sole female in it, I won or I guess I was in last place too! Over the summer last year, we did quite a bit of riding typically hitting West Branch 2 to 3 times per week and checked out Mohican State Park several times(which I decided I loved and thought I should sign up for the 100K), and rode a few other trails which included Medina's Reagan Park, Chattanooga's Raccoon Mountain and Georgia's Pigeon Mountain.
Over the winter, I spent a lot of time riding at Rays Indoor Mountain Bike Park. This place is good fun and I felt like it really improved some of my technical skills. Early on this year I rode 1 time consisting of 20 miles down at Mohican State Park and West Branch 3 times, in which I seemed to eat crap a couple times with each visit. While I have spent a fair amount of time on the road bike, I was a little nervous with my "Operation Wing-It" plan for the mountain bike race. After all it was 62+ miles of fun and my longest mountain bike ride ever was 20 miles.
Not to be deterred, I signed up and we borrowed my husband's mom's rv and headed down to Mohican to start the fun. We left Friday about 2 and got to set up right next to the finish at Mohican Adventures which was primo real estate for this event, next to the bath house, expo, and awards ceremony. BTW, the folks at Mohican Adventures really ran a nice park and were just fantastic! I will definitely make it back there in the future!
After some good food over the fire and a couple beers, I settled in for some sleep before the big day. In the morning I met up with fellow TLE teammate, Todd to ride the mile up to the start through the morning fog to line up with 400 + other racers to start the day. The mass start was simply amazing to me and I could hardly believe I was in the middle of this huge event with so many talented individuals. We took off down the street and started a 3 tiered hill. It was such a site to see so many bikes high up on the hill ahead of me...it was so friggin cool to me!
I just tried to ride in my comfort zone as I knew it was was going to be a long day. Mountain bike miles are just so slow compared to road biking and I would say my speed overall is typically only about half as fast. We traversed down the paved road to a gravel road and then funneled into the single track which led to a back-up as everyone waited there turn. Just before mile four I looked up to see an incredibly mean hill which was littered with mountain bikers pushing their bicycles and not one person riding. Ugghhh, not even mile 4 and my calves are screaming walking up that hill in my shoes. Pushing my bike up about 4 of these un-ride-able hills (at least for the majority of participants) was SOOO much work and so tiring.
By 5 miles in, my back was already whooped. I generally wear a camel back mountain biking but typically I carry up to about 30 oz of fluid and today I had nearly 60 oz and it was waaay too much for me. I was already fidgetting and trying to stretch it out. Between my calves walking up the hill at mile 4 and my back already at mile 5, I was a little concerned.
Yet, as we headed into the trail at Mohican State Park, I was feeling quite comfortable as I have always loved that trail. I started to look forward to the aid station that was coming up at Mile 20. I took a gel about mile 15 and tried to drink some water, as much for my back as for hydration! Every aid station I ate 1/2 a PBJ (MMMM!) and drank some water. Once I hit the first aid station I pitched my Gatorade Endurance that I had not drank and put the 20 oz Fruitpunch Rockstar in my cage to get the weight off my back. I also peeled the arm warmers! Aghhh, what relief! I was feeling way better now and things continued to look up.
After wrapping up the State Park and pushing my bike up the insane gas line hill and crossing a gigantic tree, we were on the Blue Horse Trail. This section was insanely muddy, greasy and had lots of sketchy plastic railroad tie boards on the descent. Oh I was thankful when that section was over. There were quite a few folks that bit it in that stretch.
Then we hit quite a few gravel roads with yes, more climbs! Aide station 2 came and went and I just recall lots of climbing but overall as I was looking at my average speed, I was able to bring it up nicely and was passing several people. By the time I hit Mohican Wilderness, I felt like I was having a hard time getting my rythm on the trail. Maybe it was that I was tired or just unfamilar with it but then it was over and it was time for another nasty hill on the road. I could not even bear to look at a few of the gigantic road climbs in which several cyclists were walking. I hung my head down looking only directly in front of me and tried to put myself somewhere else repeating ABCs or singing a song silently in my head. I refused to walk any section that was ride-able. As the 100 milers rejoined us, I was amazed with the speed with which they would blaze by. Throughout the day, I was back and forth with many of the same people and I was enjoying the friendly banter out on the course and I was truly enjoying the experience despite the difficult climbs.
I was stoked when I hit the last aid station with only about 6 miles to go. I seemed to be getting stronger as the day wore on and felt good. About a mile and a half up the trail, I hit a bunch of rocks pretty hard and I knew right away I had a flat tire. Huge bummer! While I should be way smoother changing a flat I was struggling and getting ate alive by bugs in the process. One guy who I had spoke with earlier in the day stopped to help after I had been off to the side forever trying to figure this out on my own as I was mad at myself for not being better prepared (NEVER AGAIN!). Thank goodness he stopped because my spare tube had a hole in it and he had an extra one. Then when we were about to put the tire on, we realized the skewer cap was no where to be found. Even biggger bummer! Now what??? Another rider had stopped to help us look for this cap that was probably somewhere hiding in the leaves and dirt. No dice. This process had now been going on for so long and I sent them on as I did not want to take up any more of their time. I was hugely disappointed and grabbed my phone to call my husband as I was at a total loss. He was going to try to find one and meet me 1.5 back on the trail and I was going to make my way there. Yet, as I hung up the phone, I found my cap out of the corner of my eye on the trail! YEAH!!! Then I wasted a bunch more time trying to figure out the chain and putting my rear wheel on.
Finally I was back riding after losing at least a half hour on the side of the trail. With about 2 miles to go with the end in sight (literally in sight which was such a tease) I felt my hamstring tug and saw that they were sending us up another gigantic hill back into a trail. Ughh, I pulled over, took some salt, a gel and mentally regrouped before heading up the climb. Finally I made my way to the finish with a time of 8:30:19! I even felt pretty darn good at the finish so perhaps I should have rode a little harder! My goal besides finishing was to come in under 9 and I thought if I had a good day, I could have been under 8 which I think I would have had, were it not for my technical difficulties. So I was quite happy!
At the finish, I collected my beer glass and of course I had to fill-er-up!!! The rest of the day included hanging with the other racers, eating food, drinking beer and water and watching the awards. Overall this was SUCH an amazing experience and I already can not wait to do another one!