The longest defeat

This weekend brought about a refreshing, albeit it uncomfortable realization: you need to train for your races. If you read this blog, you’ll notice plenty of training and even plenty of racing talk. Training, though, has been fairly focused on a shorter cross-country races, hitting up some base miles, getting in some interval work, and climbing. But out of the last three weeks, I’ve done two endurance races and both have dealt me some lessons.

So back to this weekend, I headed down to a new race for me: Syllamo’s Revenge, a 50 mile jaunt in the woods of Arkansas. Firstly, two things about this race: 1) the area is absolutely beautiful and 2) the aid-station volunteers were great. I also knew second hand about a couple things about the race including the first climb and that the first leg was technical.

The climb turned out to not be that bad. At least at the snail pace I was forced to climb it. Unfortunately I didn’t even get a mid-pack start, so I was fighting my way (e.g., walking my bike) at the beginning of the climb and making some of the slowest passes in the world of racing (‘On your right! And I’ll be here for a minute!’). My glasses were fogged from the effort by the time I hit the singletrack. The trail started out awesome with all the things you’d want: narrow dirt, a few small rocks or roots, a bit of up and down… great! But then the traffic began as soon as we hit the glass-like limestone that was wet from the previous day’s storm.

This started the longest hike-biking I’ve ever done. I think the first aid station was less than 15 miles into the race and I must have hiked a good 25% of that. Some of it was nerves (wet rocks are not on my cool list), some of it was from poor riding on my part, some was just from not wanting to die climbing some short but steep hills in the first third of a long race. I already knew today was going to be tough: my legs hadn’t really “warmed up” and were in fact tired. I wasn’t even half done and some of the walking sections were tiring out my legs or sending my heart rate into uncomfortable territory.

I spent only about a minute and a half at the first aid station and felt a little better about the green loop. There was one early snapfu and a steep climb, but things were good. I did come across one rider sprawled across a rock — at first there was a good chance this guy was seriously hurt, but he got up and chased me down twice later in the race. The green loop has some outstanding views of the White River to boot. Too bad I was carrying my bike by them instead of taking them in.

After the green loop, I stopped for some HEED and checked my water. I got going again, a little slow, but better than people coming into the aid station from the first leg (the first aid station is technically after the first leg, but you pass it again after leaving the green loop before the orange). The orange loop seemed like a good change: downhill, rocks were still wet, but I put trust in my bike and rode them. Eventually some up hills started to torture my legs more, but I kept trucking as best as possible. I lost ground on some people and gained temporary ground on others (flats ruled the day… I know of at least three riders that had over three flats in this race and one that had to boot a tire with a wrapper).

Right before the second aid station, there was confusion on the course and several riders (and almost all that I knew over the course of the day) lost time here going up a gravel road, missing a not-so-well-marked turn into singletrack. I made the cut off at the aid station by 1 hour. I was well off schedule and suffering. I filled up water, lubed the chain with the awesome help of the aid station crew and began trucking up the never ending climb. After leaving this station, you essentially climb a few hundred feet, to drop down some very technical trail back to Highway 5. After this you climb for what seems the rest of the day. You encounter more rocks and some downhill, but overall it’s up and up. Eventually you are spit out on Green Mountain Rd for, you guessed it, more up hill. Luckily this starts a very nice section of singletrack that is easy to keep your momentum on.

I pulled into the third checkpoint ahead of the cutoff again, but by only 10 minutes or so. I was cooked. My nutrition/energy seemed OK for 6.5 hours into a very tough ride, but my legs were thrashed and I had a million excuses in my head. One volunteer pointed me to the next 13 mile segment. “It’s mostly flat and fun,” I believe he said. I said, “I’m done. Which way back?” He pointed me to the yellow trail marker and said it was just 2 miles down. In my pain cave, I saw a sign: 2 miles of downhill or 13 miles of questionably “flat” trail. I took the downhill home.

It was a sad way to finish the race, but the trail had really won. I had hoped to finish in less than 7 hours and even with skipping the last 13 miles I finished right at 7 hours. That last loop would have put me close to 8 or over. The worst bit was somewhere after 24 miles, I was climbing a hill fighting to keep going over technical roots or rocks and the thought came to me: I’m going back next year.

See ya in 2011, Syllamo.