1st Place Open Women
Last race of National Ultra Endurance Series but the first one I competed in for me.
I heard a lot of good things about this race from all my racing friends. Plenty of Floridians made this trip in the past to the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains and enjoyed this scenery.
Since the start of this season was not like any other of mine so I decided to continue the trend and do something new instead of focusing on the same races and series that I have been to before.
I must admit, it is always very exciting for me to sign up for something completely new and test myself on new soil, different distances, terrain and new competition.
It felt like the right thing to do to take what was supposed to be a 9 hour drive up to Dahlonega, GA all the way from South Florida. We were so focused to arrive early that we had our friend Robert stay over the night before so we can have a very early start. We left a little after 5 am and had great progress until we reached the Atlanta area and were stuck for a good 3 hours in bumper to bumper traffic and were veering in and out of the highways trying to find the fastest route. In the meantime, the thirty or so police car chase with two helicopters was going on around us and it was quite a scene to watch.
But we really wanted to get to the race site before packet pickup closes and before dark to spin the legs out. With time, traffic was gone and we reached our destination now with 12 hours of traveling clocked in. We knew there will be no time to ride especially considering the fact that race next morning was starting pretty early and our hotel was a good thirty plus minutes away.
Approaching the race site, we saw pretty colonial style homes tucked away in the fields and surrounded by greenery of trees and hugged by the hills. It was very different to what we see in flat Florida.
But it got even better the moment we turned to a private Montaluce Winery which was part of hosting our race venue. It was an instant transformation to beauty, simplicity, serenity, perfection. The sun was now low and it was perfectly hitting the most precisely manicured rows of grape vines and when the eyes ventured all the way to the top of the hill there would be standing now covered by golden light the most beautiful French like chateau overlooking the grounds.
There was the whole side which was developed to look like a little French vinery with gorgeous villas tucked and grouped for an eye catching treat and privacy.
We drove on this tiny crazy hilly road up and down left and right mesmerized and soon we got to the race venue. Quite a few people were here grabbing their numbers and setting up the drop bags for the next morning. After reviewing some maps and chatting I decided to bike around for just a few minutes to see what is around.
We rushed soon after to the hotel to drop the gear and headed to the only thing that we could find around for a pre-race dinner, Mellow Mushroom pizza joint.
We were for sure tired already and were running late. It was crucial now to prepare quickly and have everything set for the once again early around 5 am wake up morning. We drove in the darkness but by the time we arrived in the winery the sun was perfectly coming up and the light was emerging from behind the mountains. It was nice and cool, and I don’t remember how cool maybe 50s, I know I needed a little jacket for a small warmup.
Now the hills were covered with cars and racers, it was good to see quite a few familiar faces. Some friends from Florida and some from other venues like the Marathon Nationals in GA. For sure most riders were unknown to me and it was actually a pretty good feeling. I felt no pressure at all and was set to enjoy myself and test my strength as far as racing on such a hilly course. Elevation gain for today was way over 6 thousand feet and this is twice as much that I ever did in any race before, so for sure it was going to be a good test.
I know pacing myself would be crucial especially since I never did this race before, didn’t know the terrain and didn’t know what to expect from behind any corner. I always had some reserves left just in case.
I had some fellow friends give me some very useful advice before me coming up so it definitely helped with setting my mind and my nutrition. Thank you Brook, Eric and Boyco for that!
The first group went off. Now it was time for my start. I positioned myself on the informal start line among a few hundred other riders. I hardly could spot any women in this man dominated group. But the ones I saw I decided to keep an eye for.
And we were off! It was little sketchy to be on a very hilly and quite winy road with so many bikers going at almost full speed especially on the steep downs and sharp turns. Not always I felt in my element on the first few miles that were on the paved road. It was a rolling start and the moment the race director pulled away to the side and gave us the go ahead now we were on our own. At this point I had a solid main group ahead of me and I was somewhere trailing behind that than a little gap with scattered riders and the following groups. I was going back and forth with two girls, one of which I knew and I was pretty certain I had another one somewhere ahead. I could not spot her yet but I knew where someone was tucked away. Shortly after a few miles in we finally made a turn and hit the dirt. In an instant the double track dirt road covered with yellow sand and loose gravel turned upwards. This is when I passed the 2nd girl and just less than a minute later I spotted the 1st one. This was the time for me to take charge and never look back, I went around in an attacking mode and biked away like it was the end of the race not the beginning. Soon after we were going through some little climbs and fasts descents, some riders were going back and forth and the moment we reached the sustained climb small groups started to develop. I was making my way up the hill studying the terrain and seriously questioning my tire choice and pressure. The sand was not completely packed and gravel was pretty substantial, it was too late however for any changes so I refocused on the race. Now I noticed some teams and patterns of people riding together and I was aiming on going from group to group and this way making my ground. I was pleasantly surprised how well I was handling the constant uphill riding. I assumed it would feel really bad and would be a struggle but have to admit it was nothing like that. The relatively mellow however constant grade was very manageable, the cool air temperature was hovering in the 60s and the tree shade was contributing to a very pleasant ride. Even though we were racing the silence of the forest was beautiful and only once was broken by the far below rooster and dog barking announcing the morning.
I caught up with the guy that passed me on the beginning on one of the gravely descents. Now we were climbing and had a chance for a quick chat. Dave told me that he is great in the descending and most likely after we hit the top of this climb, whole 8 – 12 miles from now I will not see him again! :)
It was a long way still to the top but guys were asking me if I was the leading girl and telling me that they will see me soon on the finish like to congratulate me. Ha, it was very flattering but we still had some 45 miles to go of this what it came to be 56-mile race.
I kept cranking up and was shocked often seeing the power (Thanks to my ROTOR InPower power meter) that I was producing with quite ease. There was a team that did the whole race therefore they were all in yellow outfits and all different ages, I decided to pass them on the steeper now portion of the climb.
I just remember approaching the final and the youngest rider who still was ahead of me and this is where I heard the voice of his leader behind ‘hey, you will blow yourself up!”.
And this is when I passed him. Well am I going to do the same since I went even harder? Let’s hope not. I kept however true to how I felt and where I thought my body can go at the moment with still having reserves to finish this hefty race. After some 2 thousand feet of climbing and over an hour of riding I finally hit the top. Now it got really gravelly and guys just started to fly down, we had fast ups and downs and it was pretty good and flowy with still double track sections. But soon the road turned down and gravel got even bigger, now the guys sped up and took off like there was no tomorrow. I was grateful for 2 of them pass me on the right on one of the left turns and hit the brakes hard where there were to white vans driving up and just coming from behind the turn. At 30 mph plus speeds on the loose rocks it’s not the best time to hit the traffic going the opposite way. Thx to them I was able to figure something was going on and slow down and move to far right to avoid the cars.
I stayed right for the reminding of the descent. I wanted to know if this was the section that race organizers were warning us to be careful on that it gets fast and loose and sketchy. I spoke to one of the riders but he was not sure. I thought I had it out of my mind but I had the feeling that it was little too simple to actually be it. There was a lot of that following, long downhill road in the beautiful forest, first aid station than a sharp left into the first single-track. Right away I recognized it from the preview video I watched from the race from last year. It was a nice downhill track, some roots, pretty narrow, rocks, grasses and quite technical. It didn’t last for more than 2 miles but this was probably first time when I felt I was completely by myself. I wondered for a second if I was on the right path. Thankfully on every single trail once in a while there would be a pink ribbon hanging on the right from the tree branches besides the turn tapes and arrows when changing the trail. It was good to be assured I was on the right track and even better where I noticed a rider ahead. I did catch up quickly and soon made my pass.
There soon were two other riders and I let them go by. Shortly we were back on the double track. I think now we were going to approach the section with feed zone 2 and 3 were we will be tackling in between the infamous blue mountain. The 27 and 37-mile mark was certainly a good time to take the nutrition choices and progress seriously. I was doing the whole race on Clif gels that I kept on my bike and in my back pocket and I always had one bottle filled with water and one with Clif electrolytes. I was very punctual with how I scheduled to take my nutrition so I felt really energized for the whole race.
I was considering the drop bags strongly but I also had my amazing Pax with me who found a way of taking the car off road through the most ragged and rocky forest roads one can imagine to get to this feed zones. I noticed how fast and amazingly organized the volunteers were but it felt just so good to have my own husband for the support. The guy on the chair usually some 100ft down would yell out the rider’s number and then another volunteer would run to grab the neatly organized matching drop bag. I was happy to see my Pax and quickly grab new bottle. I found very quickly how very little I knew about this course and how tough this section was going to be. Things changed drastically, now the total opposite took place all the double track first turned into the grassy descent and then quickly turned into single track. And it was not just any single track, it was sharp turn, up the steep grade single path with massive often foot deep water carved ravines. Some sections were easier to ride than other, I lost my balance on one and had to hike a bike with some other riders approaching. This is where I met my partners in crime in orange. Those two guys passed me temporarily but I was on their wheel just a minute after. There were still other riders around but it seemed it became a little game when guys would pass me on the descent, go by me and say “we will see you on the uphill!” and certainly they did!
One after the other, the climbs were getting more and more brutal. Toward the top of the climb the trail was all filled with tree roots, very narrow and steep. This is where the small ring payed a huge role, how the eyes even were sweating, heart rate was big time up and everyone was gasping for air. It was a very sensitive play between effort, balance, power and skill to put the wheels over the roots and still keep on going upwards. It was not easy and this was the reason while this climb claimed so many riders to stop, get of the bike and finish it walking. One after the other everyone seemed to be having a hard time and falling off the track. I kept on going, toughing it up and keeping on the gas. I think I heard a breath of the person I was passing and it sounded really girly, now I wonder if there was another female rider ahead that I didn’t know about. But my eyes were pilled to the roots and upward path I didn’t have the smallest split second to check who it actually was. Possibly it was a man with very feminine sound that this time of effort made him do. Either way I was ahead, now reaching the top, finally, I got to the top off the climb. Now my concern was when I looked back was my back tire pressure. I knew I just changed the tire and was concerned of losing some air if it didn’t seal properly yet. I started looking back and being quite concerned. I noticed it looked a little low now and I was afraid that bumpy and rooty descent might be a concern. After looking back and thinking about it for a while and knowing I had 8 miles still to the check point/feed zone 3 I decided to quickly stop and check the pressure before hauling down. It was not bad and as long as it was going to stay that way I figured I will be better off taking risk and going than stopping now and wasting valuable time for no reason. The descent was decent so far but it was all about to get worst. Apparently the rocky gravely descent after the first climb was not what the organizers were warning us about but about what I was going to approach just now. The path did widen and turn even more downwards, massive rocks, holes, ravines, dips, loose sand, it was all tighter and speed. They told us it was in a worst condition than in the past years and to use caution and shade speed.
It was tough not to go fast, but even tougher to hold to the bars and don’t lose them. My bike behaved like my bellowed Duno the Donkey and was just kicking around like crazy. I just held on hoping for the best. Now the hands, arms, calves are cramping, it was truly bumpy and testing descent.
Getting out of it gave me a nice relief knowing I passed the worst section of the race.
At approximately mile 30 I reached the 3600 ft. mark of elevation gain. I watched this number because in a month I have to ride this elevation up in under 20 miles total, but truly most of the gain happens on the first 9 miles. So the grade difference in Maui for XTERRA Worlds will be substantial.
My legs were still feeling well and now it was all about getting as fast as I can to the 3rd feed zone.
The descents were still fast with numerous creek crossings with wet and greased up rocks. Wet boulders were scattered along the whole descent. It was really an art to go fast, avoid all those obstacles at speed and actually spot them quickly in between the sun rays shooting from in between trees and highlighting only randomly some sections and not the others. Other rocks would just pop in the last second and it would take a ninja to avoid them, and then another. It was a long and joyful descent and soon I hit the final narrow and smoother single track. This is where I had a guy trying to pass and before I had a chance to move enough he went by me clipping my bar. I lost my balance and had a bunch of other riders behind who I let go also. It was not all necessary since just seconds later we were spilled on the gravel road and feed zone. Here I had my Pax spending all this time and more contributing and volunteering and helping out other racers. I grabbed new Clif gels and new filled bottles and had my Pax confirm my pressure was still fine and good to goo. I biked away and hoped in into the next single track. Next time we were going to see each other was on the finish line.
I still had many miles to go. But path was now more flowy and more enjoyable. I don’t remember ever in my life riding so much new single track before. It all felt like an adventure than the race to me. I had this feeling I had not much to worry about as far as competition goes and I was just concentrated to make sure I am smooth, don’t make any mistakes and pay attention to ever changing terrain. I remember lots of rolling hills, numerous turns, and something my friends mentioned to me before, sharper and steeper pitch climbs of which I was warned off. My legs were for sure more tired now but still I felt good tackling this terrain, some climbs were really punchy and forced me to scooch all the way on the tip of the nose of the saddle on the steepest grade imaginable (this is where my mind ventured thinking of Selle SMP little saddle babies). Somewhat shocked I made all the climbs. I recall being on the one narrow climb and looking down on the path ahead and thinking of all my girlfriends from Florida that made a tire marks right under my tires. It was just a good feeling sensing the presence of people I know right at that moment, I thought of Brook who gave me some nice tips for this race (Thank you!) and of Jen who was brave enough to do two loops of this lengthy course. I was now not really surrounded by that many people and kept my own pace and was looking into approaching the end of this single track. It kept on going and going however. When finally, the trail spilled me on the gravel path I pretty much ended up just where we started the day with the climb. Now however instead of turning left into the climb I would turn right into rocky and gravely descent. I had some jeep in front and it completely dusted up the whole air in front of me, I think after a while he realized that he was making it kind of tough on me and other riders and decided to pull to the side to let us go. Now I had fast rolling ups and downs and was counting miles down, I was somewhere near 50 and knew there were not many more. Shortly road turned to the asphalt and my company was only rolling road, the mailman, guy somewhere behind and to my surprise my most memorable company from today’s race, the two guys in orange! I was pushing now a little more wanting to have a good finish time and hoping to hear the finish line sounds soon. But the road kept on going and it seemed it was getting to everyone. Few miles went by and finally I got spilled again on some gravel path, very surprising deep into the creek and hike a bike section to get out of it. It was steep and rocky and really not ridable. Than grassy stretch and I could see the finish line ahead. It was now the final climb into the finishing banner and I was done. First female Overall and in the Open Class for 50 miler. The guys in orange were right behind, it was cool to finish together and chat about the race.
It took me 56 miles, 4:56 minutes and 6k of climbing to get back to this spot. It was a good day and definitely good training day and good effort. I really enjoyed this course and have to agree with those who raced here before who recommended this event to me.
Another good trip in the books and I have to admit I felt like this distance really did suit me. I felt I did just enough to feel accomplished and tired enough to want to stop riding.
Thank you goes to:
Syntace, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Trainer Road, Garden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, KT Tape, Cycleops, Mack Cycles, Oakley, Pocketfinder, Specialized, Louis Garneau, KMC Chains and Rotor Bike Components and New for 2015 - Health Fit Chiropractic, Enduro Bearings, K-Edge, SquirtLube and SelleSMP
Until Next Time….