The Short Version:
Where: Loudonville, OH, and surrounding region
What: 62 miles (and some change) and 11,000 feet of climbing on a mountain bike, on mostly trails and some pavement, in just under 12 hours.
Why: insanity? fun? a good challenge?
How’d it go: good! bad! hella terrible! fan-friggin’-tastic! read on for the gory details…
The Long Version:
I started training for this race in January. It was kind of one of my New Year’s Resolutions. But if I do it again next year, I’m starting training no later than October… seriously. If nothing else, just to make up for the black hole that is April in the life of an academic.
Mom, Doc, and I drove down to Loudonville, OH on Friday afternoon, getting a late-ish start after working in the yard all day. We made a couple of wrong turns, and transformed what would otherwise have been a 3 hour drive into 6 hours (yes, that’s right, 6 whole hours). I tried not to see that as a forecast for the race. We stayed in a super-cute B&B (Red Fox Inn) about 20 minutes outside of town, right at the edge of Amish country. Just to help you visualize. It was very pretty, and even in the car you could tell that it was a *bit* hillier than southeast Michigan (!). Dinner was at one of the two restaurants in town: a hamburger topped with cheese and chili and sweet potato fries on the side. Delicious. Screw carbo-loading.
It poured rain all night.
Woke up at 5 am to get breakfast before driving to Loudonville to register and… ride! The innkeeper was incredibly kind and made me an egg, ham, and cheese sandwich on an english muffin, to- go. Paired that with a Cliff Bar and felt ready to roll. Except… my pedals weren’t on, my front tire was flat, the chain needed grease, and the seat was at the wrong height. You’d think I would have learned by now to take care of those things the night *before* a race, but I guess I have been less- than on top of things the past couple of weeks. At least I had prepped my drop bags, sport drink bottles, and CamelBak the night before. I was rushing to get my shoes on and the saddle adjusted, and missed the gun at the start by about two minutes. I almost bailed before I started, but with some major encouragement from my race crew I finally set off down Main Street in Loudonville to the first climb. Oh god.
Thank goodness another girl had missed the gun also, and we rode the first two miles together to the start of the single track. In those first two miles, I climbed more than I ever do on any ride in Ann Arbor, unless I’m doing hill reps up Spring. I seriously thought I would puke in the first three miles.
I settled in after catching the tail of the group and finding the single track. It was comforting knowing that there was so much mileage to make up time, and that I’d be doing the shorter course (there is a 100 mile option), so there would absolutely be people on the trail long after I finished. I hoped.
I rode with one woman for a few miles who’s goal was to make it to the first aid station. She had already decided to drop there. That was both reassuring (I could drop there if I had to, and I didn’t have to be ashamed) but also a little discouraging (I didn’t want to quit that easily!). We chatted for a while, and I moved ahead on a climb and dropped her.
The trail was absolutely gorgeous– I was skeptical at first, since they started us out through some campgrounds (steep climbing, but nothing technical) and a muddy river crossing followed by a muddy wall (hill). But then the trail opened up into this beautiful pine forest, with hard-packed single track that twisted and wound and jumped over logs. Seriously flowy and way fun. I had been worried that the trails would be chewed up with all the rain we had the night before, but they were miraculously bone-dry.
I was enjoying the ride, but found myself walking a lot more than I should have been. Climbing I felt great, and the rock gardens were fine, but for some reason I kept grabbing a handful of brakes before log piles and having to walk them. And I learned very quickly that I can’t descend for beans. Through the entire race, I walked the vast majority of downhills (especially switchbacks), otherwise crouching over my bike and gripping the brakes with white knuckles, my butt hanging way back over the rear wheel. My hands, arms, and shoulders were sore long after my legs recovered!
I found a guy to ride with around mile 10, and we hung together until mile 40, for better or for worse. Chris was actually quite a bit faster than me, but he rested much more frequently (and checked his GPS with equal frequency!). This was good in that it reminded me to slurp some Gu and chug some CarboRocket sport drink, but bad in that I felt like I could have kept moving while we were resting. That said, I don’t think I would have made it if I hadn’t ridden with him for so long… camaraderie definitely keeps you going.
Made it through the first rest stop at mile 20 and had a couple of bananas with peanut butter and a ProBar. I love ProBars. No, not PowerBars… ProBars. They’re unsweetened nut and carob chip bars that taste like Real Food, even more than Cliff Bars. Unfortunately, they’re three times as expensive as Cliff Bars. But I digress…
Things stopped being fun around mile 30, and I was glad Chris was there, chatting up a storm and keeping my mind off the aches and pains developing… everywhere. I thought the second rest stop would never come. But it did, and then I wished that it hadn’t… because the next 10 miles (or so it felt like) were paved. And all up and down. Big up. Fast down. I had NO idea Ohio was that freakin’ hilly. Holy. Cow. I came to love my granny gear with a new sort of passion. At least I wasn’t gripping the breaks on the paved downhills! I had used Chris’s phone to call my mom, and left a message asking her and Doc to meet me at rest stop 3 (mile 46). At that point, I was thinking I could drop out there.
Chris dropped out at mile 40, right before a section of single track. After asking the two guys in front of me, who also paused at the road/ trail juncture and seemed to have some local knowledge, I determined that the next 6 miles were not too technical for my energy levels, and proceeded to walk only about 1/3 of it. I was on the tail end of my third wind. The trail emptied out into a field, and joy of joys, there were my mom and Doc, waiting with a frosted chocolate cupcake (Oh, my goodness!).
I sat for longer than I should have, and when I stood to go had a painful coughing attack. I had gotten a new inhaler especially for the race, but of course I had left it in the car. But I didn’t think it would have done any good, anyway. Basically, my pride got me back on the bike. No WAY was I going to drop out with just 16 more miles, a supply of more sugar than I could consume in two years, and a perfectly functioning bike!
I had been averaging a painful 5 mph (based on the clock and the distance, not on my odometer), and told Mom and Doc that I’d see them at mile 56 in about two hours. That put me in line to finish at 8 pm… 13 hours after the start. Ick.
BUT! The next ten miles were paved, and I somehow managed to average 15 mph on knobbies (I credit the cupcake), making it to the last rest stop so much sooner than I had estimated, that I almost rode right past it. A brief stop, and I was back on the bike for the final 6 miles (with a stupidly-full 3L CamelBak. Don’t ask.).
One of the race volunteers passed me up the first climb, promising a cold beer at the end. Let me tell you, the image of that beer kept me going.
The course finished on the section of single track that we had first ridden, but in reverse. The beautiful pine forest. The flowy trail. Even the log piles (I rode them this time). I came out onto the pavement at the end with a big grin on my face.
But then… I saw the course signs pointing *away* from the finish and up another steep climb. WTF?? I had forgotten about the campgrounds and river crossing. I held it together through the campgrounds (walking a bit, riding in the granny gear when I saw campers) but started blubbering as I stumbled down the wall before the river crossing. No fair!! I thought I was done!!!
And somehow all that evaporated when I finally rolled across the line, in about 11 hours and 50 minutes. Whew.
They had arranged for some Mongolian BBQ for dinner (YUM)… but they were out of the promised beer and pint glasses. Sad face.
The verdict: painful, but fun. Especially in retrospect. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than getting to ride your bike all day, on beautiful trails. Unless it’s followed up by a giant piece of warm chocolate cake and coffee ice cream…. no, I didn’t have any of that, but if I did the race again, I totally would.