"It doesn't get any easier, you just get faster." - Greg Lemond
There is a sticker with this quote in my dad's basement that I read every time I either rode the rollers or did some weight lifting (I'll give you a minute to stop laughing at that one) and until now have I really came to the same conclusion.
After I completed the Lumberjack 100 this year I said this was the hardest race I've ever done and I realized that I have said this quite a bit of late. I think just about every race can be that way if you ride it as hard as you can, but in this mountain bike race there isn't much hiding.
We drove up to the race Friday afternoon and rode a bit of the course after completing registration. We ended up doing 11 miles and it took an hour. After that ride is when I realized that the following day was going to a brute. I knew the winners took over 6.5hrs normally, and I would be out there for a solid 7. It didn't seem like such a bad idea in February on the couch but as the week went on I started to think about how long of a time that was going to be on a mountain bike. Unfortunately I hadn't been able to get much time on my mountain bike before the race as I was gone racing on the road every weekend, and the last time I actaully was on my mountain bike I crashed and broke my collarbone in March.
The race starts early to give everyone enough daylight time to finish and I eventually made my way to the start with 10min to spare. By the time I got there it was 20 rows deep and spread across the whole road and onto the shoulder to the edge of a ditch. I did my best to squeeze on on the side and waited for the start thinking maybe on the 2 mile road section I'll race to the front. Well that never happened as it stayed edge to edge the entire way till we hit the right hander into a van that was blocking the entrance to the trail head parking lot and finally onto the trail. I entered around 60th into the woods which was mostly single track. There were riders bossing off everything including each other.
One of my biggest fears of the race came into play not even 5 miles into the race. We hit a faster downhill section and soon enough there was that dueshbag who said, "Don't use your breaks." Followed shortly by, "Go faster." Irritated by this and considering there was 95miles to go I yelled back, "Shut up as$whipe." Then I proceed to take off on the next hill and never saw him again. It's not like I yell at people to go faster on the road section, flats, hill sections, and etc. I know your not out there purposely blocking the trail and going slow.
I spent the first lap going from group to group. I would sit on the tail end of guys in the single track and let them pace me. I few times it was pretty wild, especially when the trees are close and you are right behind the rider in front of you. Things seem to go by really fast. Then if we hit a hill or one of the few wider sections I would take to the front and go hard up to the next group. By the end of the first lap my dad said I was in 30th.
The next lap I was on my own the entire way until I caught a few guys here and there. I would let them hit the single track first but soon realized that they weren't going as fast as they lap before and that I could faster through it on my own by keeping pressure on the pedals like I do out training on the road. Of course there were a few times when you do long sections of tight single track that I start to doze off and the speed drops till I realize oh yeah this is a race! I'm not use to cruising through the woods on my own. Also that's the thing I love about road racing. I can just turn my mind off and go hard. I can't do that mountain biking. I have to stay focus or I'll crash or hit the same tree twice with my arm like I did.
By the start of the 3rd and final lap my dad said I was sitting in 15th place. I got pretty excited about this and continued to cruise on my own. I started to pass more guys and started to count what place I was in. By the time I got to 12th I was really excited about the possibility of finishing in that place. Then I hit 11th place. Funny thing about that was the guys who I passed for that was sitting on and asked me if I had a mechanical or something because I was flying. Then I soon caught up to 10th. Eventually I passed 9th and 8th on a wide section and they didn't even bother trying sitting on.
Then I hit the last hour of the race with no water left and temps in the 90's. I started to fade a bit, and then really started to slow a bit with 30minutes to go. I guess I can get through 4-5hrs without eating on the bike, but after 6hrs it really catches up, along with having no water left. I just did my best to keep pressing on. Soon enough I got to the finish and was so excited to get off the bike.
How tired was I after the race. Never in my life have I chose walking somewhere as opposed to riding. No matter how close something is I usually rode, but not after this race, I walked. Of course my dad asked if I wanted to do that again directly after and I didn't have a positive answer for him. But driving back to Indy the next day I actually started thinking of the next one and how I could improve and maybe get a top 5. I must be really stupid.