13 May, 2015

Cohutta 100: Rain and Shine

There are some of you that have been waiting for this report.  I think you might want to seek professional assistance.  The rest of you are probably bored during lunch or sitting in the bathroom at work and want to kill a few minutes.  This is for you.

The week leading up to my first Cohutta was not promising.  Ever since the 10-day forecast was visible, there was 90-100% chance of rain.  Being from Michigan, I held out hope for a few days knowing no forecast can be accurate that far out.  As the day drew closer I began second guessing the sanity of the trip and considered skipping, saving on 18 hours of driving and hotel room fees.
In the end the conclusion was that I have more will than common sense, and we met at 5 am on the Friday before and made the trek south.  It has been long enough that I don’t recall specifics, but it was blustery cold in the mitten when we left, and nice and warm upon our arrival at Ocoee Whitewater center.  We made our way to the check in, got our race numbers, plus all the M&Ms/Moon Pies that we could carry.

Starting area.  A lot green than home.

This would be my first race using drop bags, so I wasn’t sure how to plan.  I tossed in a couple Honey Stinger gels, waffles and chews into each of the 3 bags, plus a single serve pouch of CarboRocket.  Dropping the bags into the designated containers, I saw a whole gambit of preparation.  One bag had 3 bottles of Gatorade, another contained only 2 tubes and 4 CO2s, a third had half a box of Girl Scout Cookies.

The start of the pre-ride.

Then it was time for a bit of a pre-ride.  My partner did not want to ride up the opening hill, electing to conserve all energy for the next day.  We drove to the parking area at the top of the hill, and entered the trail for an ever-so-brief 5-mile/30-minute cruise of some singletrack.  It was warm, sunny, and dry.  Terrific weather and I considered staying out all afternoon and skipping the event.  This was the reason why I came 3 states away. [Hindsight says that we should have ridden from the start, up to the trail and back down just to see the second portion of singletrack]

Local entertainment.

Packed up we headed to Blue Ridge, Ga. (4th sate) and checked into our hotel.  This was the nicest place ever, with the desk clerk telling us “just wheel your bikes in right through the lobby here hun!”  Never have I been invited to bring my bike in, but often told to leave it outside.  We headed back to the quaint downtown for some dinner.  And what pre-race prep isn’t complete without a couple/few cold beers out on the patio?  Full, buzzed, and tired it was back to the room for a few hours of sleep before the race began.  One last check of the weather, no reprieve in site, it was just some fitful sleep between me and 100 miles.

Morning radar.
The blue dot in the middle-right was our location.

We woke in the morning to a steady rain, and no matter how many different radars I checked, things didn’t look promising.   I hit the hotel breakfast (open at 5:00 am!) and we loaded the car to head back to Ocoee.  I think we got there approaching 6.  It was grey, dark, and we were surrounded by cars full of riders huddled from the elements.  Motivation was low as I pulled the bike off the rack and prepared it for the race.  I noticed there was a puddle forming by our truck, and paid it no mind.  Back inside I began to change.  The thought was not wearing a ton of material as I didn’t want to become a sponge.  I settled on the standard kit and a rain jacket.  As I exited the car I stepped into the puddle which was not ankle deep.  I had dry feet for 1.7 seconds total this race.
In my hesitation to avoid misery, I didn’t keep track of the time, only to realize it was 6:58 and everybody was lining up.  I grabbed my bottles ad sloshed to the back of the line.  It wasn’t a big deal; my first attempt was to finish, not to “win”. I did manage to leave my Rocklytes behind to remain warm and dry.

Without much fanfare we headed off.  I stayed in the pack getting sprayed as we exited the Whitewater center.  The rain jacket was smart thinking.   Once onto the road I continued to pedal an easy pace, what my singlespeed gearing will do for me.  I wasn’t attacking, but I wasn’t coasting.  I passed a surprising amount of people, but there weren’t many behind me chasing for the front.  I hit the singletrack in a medium sized group containing Danielle Musto and some of her cohorts.
This was not the singletrack we rode the previous day.  The surface was now flowing with water, slick roots, sharp rocks and slimy mud.  I just stayed in the pace line and focused on not spinning out.  With 95+ miles to go, I didn’t need to risk any passing here.  We hit a brief paved section and the group I was with splintered.  At the other end I was pretty much alone with a few riders visible ahead.  It has been a while, so I decided to try and eat.  I pulled a sleeve of chews out and popped one in my mouth.  Just then I hit a rough patch and grabbed back onto the bars.  Unfortunately, the impact caused the rest of my food to launch into the air like a roman candle.  At least there would be some energized squirrels now.  And when I say “visible” I meant a fuzzy shape that could be a rider, or a bear, or just mud and fog on my glasses.

It was at this point we hit a massively rooty section.  I wish I had pre-ridden this area to know if a viable line existed.  Just then the rider in front of me went down; I adjusted to go around when my back tire spun on an angled root.  Bzzzzt went Ralph and I hit the ground.  Smacking my knee good, I took quick inventory, jumped up and ran to the top of the section.  I remounted only to make it a short distance to a creek crossing.  All the rain mad the flow pretty decent, and as I tried to pedal across the concrete slabs my back tire washed around until I was facing upstream.  Off again and running through the water.  The puddle this morning prepared me for this.

I babied the bike across the long, wet bridge signaling our exit from the start area and onto some more rough, wet rooty riding.  After somewhere between 1:45 and 2 hours it was finally to the fire roads.  It was then that I noticed it had stopped raining.  I was grateful the all day rain was not coming, but I was still steadily getting sprayed from the wet roads.  As I rolled past station 1 I realized I was deep into the race and barely touched a bottle, and had only one chomp.  Not even 25% in and already in a nutritional debt.

Aid 2 I grabbed my first bag.  Gulped some food, filled my one partially drained bottle and took back off.  This section was full of rolling hills.  It was climb and descent, repeat ad nauseam.  I don’t recall any flat areas around.  On every other climb I would take a swig of water, spitting half back out to clean my lenses.  On the downhill they would fill back up with mud.  No need to stop at aid 3, and headed onto the first loop.  Here another single speeder passed me.  The only one that did all day (that I recall).  Red-headed fellow, pony-tail and a giant hub, like a Hive Chub or something.  Determined to stay with him, he pulled away on the climbs here.  I was already fading, losing energy.  I took in more food and tried to maintain.  I also notice my chain was sounding pretty rough; I planned to address that at the next station.

Finally to station 4.  I took half my food, filled my bottles, and one of the workers cleaned my glasses.  I also ditched the rain coat, as I wouldn’t need it on the next 35 mile leg.  I spent this portion keeping the pace, listening to my chain grind, and continually doing math.  If I reach 50 miles at 4 hours…. 66 miles in 6 hours… etc.  I made it to station 5 in under 7 hours.  21 miles to go, easy peasy.  I grabbed the last of my food, mixed my bottle of 333, threw on my jacket and took off. 
The 10 miles to the next station about killed me.  I had nothing left, and each little rise was a struggle.  After way too long I got to station 6 (83 miles).  I finally remembered to lube my chain and when I took off that was a bit better sounding.  However, it was at the top of the next rise when I realized I was overheating, steaming like a salmon filet in my rain coat.   I took this back off, then rolled it up and wrapped it around my waist beneath my jersey.  This made things better, but the damage was done.

Bike left to drain and dry.

I weakly rode past the final aid stations, and into the singletrack for the final 10 miles.  I don’t know if this section was particularly brutal, or if I had nothing remaining.  I struggled through here for what felt like an hour.  More wet roots, slick rocks and mud holes.  I had no idea where I was, just wanted to be done.  I was desperate to hear a truck on the road, or something to signal the end. 
Finally I popped out behind a dam and crossed the concrete bridge.  I was a bit confused to see another rider coming at me across the bridge in the opposite direction.  However, I did not care because I wasn’t going back the other way.  The final section of road seemed endless, and I just kept spinning, hoping not to be passed, but not caring if I did.  Once across the line I was glad to be done.  Muddy and soaked all I wanted was dry clothes.

Luckily much of the dirt dried and flaked off towards the end.

I took off my shoes and my insoles had silt filling the spaces between my toes and arches.  I finished with custom orthotics. [Side note, I had not foot, toe, or any issues during the race.  I should have kept the dirt perhaps].   I joined a slew of other racers down at the river, pole rinsing in the water, bunking bikes and beating clothes against the rocks.

The nice lady at the finish cleaned my glasses.

Slightly cleaner, I pulled out a chair, grabbed a beer, and ate my finisher turkey wrap while waiting for my companion.  A couple beers later, he crossed the line after his first MTB hundie.  I am sure this would remain extra memorable for him.  I pushed him into the river, loaded the gear back up and we headed for Knoxville to complete the adventure.

Credit to Sara Kristen.

Shout out to Twin Six for the new kit, CarboRocket for the elixir of life, ESI Grips for keeping my hands connected all day, Tire Maniacs for the tread, Squirt Lube, and the rest of the folks that got me to and through this race.