Coming into this race I was feeling very confident. Chris Beck has been coaching me all winter and had somehow gotten my fitness to an all time high. With such a brutal winter to work with, I'm not sure how he did it; he's an incredibly smart coach. As such, my goal was to be on the podium, if not on the top spot, and I was hungry for it.
It was still cold out when we spun slowly toward the start line of the prologue. The race began and immediately I found myself 4th wheel in a tight paceline, ripping through Rosaryville State park. With plenty of duo classes racing, I had no intention to go out so fast, but when I saw Jim Mayurick of Toasted Head Racing tuck in 3rd wheel, I knew thats where I needed to be to fight for contention for the top spot at 6 Hours of Cranky Monkey.
The course for Cranky Monkey is a ton of fun. Made up of 100% single track, it twists and dips, turns and rips through the woods of the park for about 11 miles each lap. As recently as the Wednesday before the race, the course had been covered in snow. But with warm temps the snow had quickly melted leaving tacky trails and the best conditions I had ridden since November. The only downside to the tacky traction, was the climbs were slow and sucked the power out of each stroke, making for longer lap times.
Jim and I ripped around the course for two laps at a cross country pace, attacking the climbs and taking all the risks. At the end of our second sub 57 minute lap, I concluded that Jim was either in a different league or was going to promptly blow up at about hour four, so I dialed back my efforts to settle in for the next four hours.
It cannot be overstated that this course is an absolute blast to ride. If it wasn't for a more technical section in the middle, I'd imagine average speeds would be in the 13mph range. It wasn't uncommon to be leaning through turns so much that your inside knee was grazing the foliage on the trail side. Too much fun.
As fun as it was though, after 3 laps, you begin to realize you're only half way. Those log hops that you enjoyed the first 2 times aren't that fun anymore. The rollercoaster type personality of the trail made for no spots to rest on the entire course. Constant pedaling and power surges accelerated the exhaustion. Somewhere on the third lap, I began to realize how little water and calories I'd taken in on my first two laps with Jim. It began catching up with me as my legs began to feel flat and cramps were threatening to come on full force. But the worst realization of them all, was that my back was coming undone.
My lower back is a continual point of concern as it has a tendency to tighten and become very sore after hours of single track with no break. With no real areas to rest and stretch it out, the pain was becoming unbearable. Just then, Chris Dobroth of Wicked Wash Racing rolls up on me. He chats me up a bit and sounds like he is feeling great. After a few minutes, he passes and immediately drops out of sight. That was it. I was unraveling. The lower back pain wasn't going away and I was now going backwards.
Laps 3 and 4 were dark. Negative thoughts streamed through my mind. Bike races are won by the mentally strong. Those who can block out the pain, focus and do what they've trained themselves to do. I wanted to stop, quit, stretch my back and be done. In fact, I almost didn't go out on lap 4. But I did and I began focusing on the positives.
Twenty20 Cycling had recently built up a new Specialized WC Epic for me that was phenomenal. It was exceeding my expectations in every way and I was flying on it. So there was that. Then the trails were good, fun, and I was holding traction through the turns well with Fast Trak tires. Also very good. The only real problems to fix were my back and my depleting energy. So I went to work.
I had learned the course well enough by lap 4 to know exactly where I could drink and stretch. I began methodically eating and stretching, eating stretching and by the end of the lap, the legs were coming back and my back was fading to the background. I rolled through the pit, got new bottles and Chris Cosper of Joe's Bike Shop said I was 20 seconds back from Dobroth. With my new found energy I rolled into lap 5 like a madman. Pushing the turns and climbs I caught Dobroth to take back the 2nd spot. Mentally, I was back, the negative thoughts were gone and I was excited about the new energy in my legs.
The next two laps were as fast as I could run them, and I ended up coming in just under 6 hours for 6 laps at 5:58 for second place overall.
EX2 Adventures put on a great event and I'm glad I was able to enjoy it this year! It was a successful day because Twenty20 Cycling, Specialized, ESI Grips and Spy Optics had me on the best gear available. Thanks also to Rare Disease Cycling for making it possible! Looking forward to getting the actual team kit to race in!