Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wilderness 101 race report

This past Saturday I raced in the Wilderness 101 near State College PA. The plan: throw two weeks of stuff in the car, including the dog, and head up to Penn. for this race then out to Colorado for 2 weeks ending with Leadville 100. Driving north from South Carolina it was raining non-stop and I was starting to wonder if this was a good idea. Heading away from Colorado, and from crappy weather into even worse weather, rather than out to the mountains like I should. In the end I was happy I went, though. It was a real tough hundred miles for me but a lot of fun, and a great way to start two weeks of vacation.

When I rolled into the tiny village of Coburn around 5pm the rain had tapered off and the town park was filling up with racers. I set up camp and hooked up a 40-feet-of-climbing-webbing megaleash to give Tiko space to roam around. It was a little experimental to leave him alone for such a long race but he's really mellowed out with age and I doubted he'd get into any trouble. With Chris & Beth's and Garth's cars parked right near my own it made a real secluded compound for him to chill out in.

It was my first time doing this race but I'd taken a good hard look at the maps and elevations. I got some last minute advice from a few folks who had raced it before. This techy section, that 200 yards of hike-a-bike, an open-slat bridge, etc. Everyone agreed it was easy to go out too hard on the early fire road climbs, and it was best to chill a bit early on and let other people blow themselves up. But Tim D also said that if there were people you were interested in finishing close to, to pace with them. OK. I could work with that.

I slept great and woke up to a foggy-but-not-rainy morning feeling pretty good about the race. I saw Laureen at the starting line and she was still telling me about the tornado or hurricane or something that had kept her flight from Memphis delayed til 3am when everyone around us started moving. We'd totally missed the starting horn/gun/whatever, but we were being motorpaced out of town so it wasn't that big a deal. I found Denelle Grant and Brenda Simril, both of whom I consider either faster than me or just about the same speed as me depending on how good I am feeling about myself on a given day. I decided I would try to pace with them for as long as I could like Tim had said to. Race strategy! Yeah!

I felt pretty good through the first aid station though my legs felt a bit beat. I hadn't really tapered per se for this race and was feeling the week's miles a little bit. I hung with Denelle for a while but that girl was looking pretty strong. Tim's advice was probably not going to end up getting me across the finish line before her. At one point a spectator had yelled out I was seventh woman, then Brenda and her husband cranked past me up a hill, never to be seen again. Then Denelle did the same. I wasn't really feeling up to chasing.

It's definitely a course with a lot of fire roads, but there were some fantastic singletrack sections to shake up the race. After aid station 3 there was some climbing up to a ridgey trail with big rocks, the kind of technical riding that favors locals who know the good lines. I am not one of those locals and bit it here once but it was such a fun trail that I didn't mind.

All that time in Pisgah has honed my hike-a-bike style. Look at that technique!
(My Cowbell xc race DNF still fairly fresh in my mind, falling off a wet wooden bridge didn't seem like good race strategy. After seeing how many of the race leaders walked this too, I don't feel as bad about it at all)

There was also this very steep exposed descent with a great view, which unfortunately, because the trail was so loose and off-camber, I couldn’t even glance at. Another techy descent was all shaley, wet rocks and was exposed enough in one section that falling meant landing on boulders a few yards down. I know that is what would happen because the guy in front of me did fall, rolling down the hill and leaving his bike wedged between rocks up on the trail. Real tough to ride when tired out from the miles already done, probably pretty tough riding even if you were completely fresh.

This elevation profile was also printed on our race number. Convenient for mid-race despair.

Somewhere after aid 4 the course turned to enter a set of ORV trails alongside a tall wire fence. It was rolling up and down steep little climbs covered in loose rocks, wide and really ugly. Apparently this section was new to the course this year— I have no idea what it took the place of but it must have been bad if this was the improvement. Mentally it was the hardest part of the race for me. Over and over I’d spin out trying to get over some rock, then dismount and hike it up. It was brutal. I started contemplating what a crappy rider I was and how much less I should be suffering. I mulled over long-held grudges. I started resenting everything. I started considering how much every facet of my life sucked. Eventually the trail opened out into a long sweet downhill on an old logging grade. Still feeling slightly suicidal I bombed down it without brakes and by the bottom I was happy again. Attitude adjustment!

I absolutely don't remember going over this bridge at all, so I am guessing it was near the end of the race.

The last parts just hurt, aerobically I was fine but my quads and hip flexors were killing me. I rode with a couple guys for the last ten miles or so but don't think anyone said more than a grunt the whole way. All I remember is there was a rail trail that went on way too long with a couple creepy wet tunnels. Also a nasty riverside hike-a-bike section where I was convinced someone on the other side of the river was watching and laughing at me. I rolled over the line at 10 hours 00 minutes and 51 seconds. I choose to round it down to ten hours even.

I ended up ninth open women for the day. The women’s field was pretty stacked, with Pua Sawicki taking the win and Sue Haywood second. I was definitely hurting on this race. The fire road climbing really took a lot, then the fatigue would get me on the techy sections. Late in the race my shoulders were too tired to really lift my front wheel very well which was an issue. I definitely could have ridden a bit faster but might still have ended up in ninth. I mean, damn. That was hard.

This course is really great and I definitely want to come back. It had a little bit of just about every kind of trail you could ask for on the east coast, plus giant helpings of fire road climbing in between. Next time I know what's in store for me-- I will go ride Farlow Gap a couple times to get in the mood for high speed rocky descending. Also, I will taper for it.

The race atmosphere was great, there was a really laid-back vibe to the whole weekend. Unlike some other 100 milers, there is no shorter option to the Wilderness, which meant less chaos and crowds in the beginning. LOTS of extremely fast people turned out for this race, but since there was no time cutoff there were also plenty of folks rolling back in the dark at 13, even 14 hours. It was cool to see them coming in with headlamps and big smiles on their faces. And for some reason my ninth place was good enough for a little random patter and some free schwag, thanks! Chris Scott and Mountain Touring put on a great race with awesome food and drink, and even though the trails were a bit damp we had decent weather. It was cool to see spectators out on the course at random spots, including a guy in Trojan warrior attire who pushed me up about 20 feet of hill, and the FREE BEER guys whose free beer I wished I had taken almost as soon as I had passed by it.

Oh yeah, and the dog did fine all day on his own. Except: the last thing I did before the start was roll down the windows of the car so he could jump in and lay inside it if he wanted. And left the keys in the ignition all day. So first, thank you citizens of Coburn for not stealing my car and along with it about half of all my worldly possessions (my road bike, my computer, my dog, my bike tools, umm... my spare sunglasses). And second, thank you Garth and Chris for jumping my car the next morning. Who would have guessed the battery for a Prius is in the trunk?

I'm in Colorado Springs now and so expect a post soon about how I can hardly breathe up here. It's beautiful and I am psyched for the next couple weeks.

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