When I decided to do the Patapsco 33 at 11:30pm the night before the start, I knew it would either turn out to be a very good decision or a disastrous one. I was away for the July 4th holiday and ended up getting back early, putting me back in Baltimore at 2am the morning of the race. I love the trails of Patapsco and after hearing all the good things about the race from those who went out for the inaugural race last year, I decided I just had to try it. So, 2 hours of sleep later, I was back up and heading to the start. The day turned out to be a true battle; I battled others, the trails, my mind and body. It really can't be overstated, AFC does an incredible job with this race. They're obviously racers themselves because they have all of the important parts of a race dialed perfectly. And its only their second year having the race! The aid volunteers were excited, motivated and encouraging. The course marking could not have been any better. And the trails, well, we all owe a huge thanks to Ed Dixon who put in thousands of hours the past two years making the trails ridable and ready. He was even out at 8:30pm the night before clearing a new tree that had fallen on the course that is 99% single track! The course really is incredible.
Given the shorter format than usual, I elected to just take 3 bottles of Infinit GoFar with me on course, and roll through the aid stations in order to save time. That strategy worked out perfectly, as I felt energized and sharp the whole race. This would've been a good course for a camelbak though, as the unrelenting terrain was a bit tough to sneak drinks in! Twenty20 actually hooked me up with some really cool Specialized Purist bottles recently that have some sort of coating inside that keeps your fluids from tasting plasticky, which is really nice! I loved that during the race.
With a tough course ahead, the start line was ominous. To add to the impending pain awaiting me, I line up next to none other than Chris Eatough, former 7 time 24 hour mountain bike world champion! I readjusted my expectations and presumed it would be a race for second. Given my training though, I felt confident I could race well and get somewhere in the top 5. Chris Beck had prepared me for months for these moments.
At the start, Chris Welsh (Diamondback), Eatough and I got an immediate gap in the opening single track. We ripped the first sections, flying over the most technical and narrow sections of the course. Eatough and Welsh were taking more risks on the technical descents than I was willing to and were getting separation that I would push to make up on the climbs.
Then, unfortunately, Eatough flatted and had some issues with his flat kit, taking him out of our group. Welsh was up the trail a bit, so I dug in and pushed the climbs even harder to get him back. I reeled him in finally and we began working together on some of the flat sections to try and hold off the image of a charging world champion behind us. The trails were super fast, with just enough moisture to keep them tacky, but not enough to slow you down. I was worried my tires wouldn't be aggressive enough running a Fast Trak in the front and a Renegade in the rear, but I couldn't have been happier. The format of the race, 3ish hours, is just long enough to be endurance, but just short enough to require full gas racing. That meant every section was taken full speed and all energy saved was vitally important. I rode my Specialized Epic World Cup and was very pleased. Out of the saddle the brain was locked out, but over the rocks and roots (that seemed never ending) it just floated. At one point even Welsh remarked he was jealous!
Right around the half way point, Welsh and I had slowed a bit as we rolled along some flatter sections of flowy trail near a river. I came around him and put down a long effort to speed things up, thinking we might be leaving ourselves open to getting caught. Immediately a little gap opened, so I drove it hard to see what I could do. Welsh didn't respond and I started drilling the climbs even harder to make the gap permanent.
One thing I loved about the course was that it was never boring. Every section was different and relatively short, so the terrain was changing constantly. This minute you might be climbing a rocky single track, and the next you were flying on a smooth, flat, flowy track. I did hear some folks comment that the constant changes lead to them having difficulty seeing. Sometimes it would be super bright and sunny, and moments later you were in thick woods where it was much darker. I was wearing the Spy Daft's and found them to be perfect the whole race, even for the early morning start.
Leading a race with 90 minutes to go is anything but relaxing. With no idea whats going on behind you, its really stressful. Such was my lot for the remainder of the race. My mind played constant games on me, taunting me into slowing down. I pushed and pushed as hard as I dared hoping I wouldn't blow up before reaching the finish line. I turned into the park onto the final climb (3rd of a mile at 11%) and couldn't see any chasers. That was it, the top spot was in the bag in 3:05:30. I sat up and took the ride through the park nice and easy to enjoy the victory; a nice taste of redemption after last week! Every race is a learning experience and I learned some new things about myself that day, especially how I handle stress! Talking to myself to maintain a positive but focused perspective was huge.
All in all, it turned out to be a great decision to race, even if it was a tough battle. Not only did I get the win, but I got to ride with tons of friends who were racing various distances or volunteering on course. It was such a fun day, I can't recommend the race enough!