Unable to get back to Cohutta this year to do battle in the Tennessee mountains, I opted to stay local for the other endurance mountain bike race in the region: 9 hours of Cranky Monkey. This is a timed race at the Marine Base Quantico in Northern Virginia. Timed means that you do laps of a preset course, logging as many as you can get in over the set time, in this case, 9 hours. Being on a military base I'd never ridden at the closed-to-civilian trails and had only heard they were rooty. So off I went to have some fun. After a quick prologue that took us up a very steep and loose gravel climb, I set out with a small pack onto the course. I would describe the course as fast and flowy, mostly smooth and an absolute blast to ride. All of that is true when you are fresh and doing your first of many laps for 9 hours. Midway through a race though, you begin to develop perhaps more realistic thoughts about a course...
But back to the start. We were 4 strong on the front and after a quick check, I found I was in the company of 3 relay team riders, whereas I was racing solo. Because of my excitement for new trails I happily cruised through the course, pushing the climbs and enjoying the descents. I let one relay guy go when the courses true reality sank in: it was either steep up or down. There was no flat. Anywhere.
Shortly thereafter, I was alone. Off the front of the solo riders I was content to set my own pace. The course was great for me, lots of very steep and loose climbs that required max power just to keep moving, but nothing too technical to slow me down elsewhere.
I had fun. Even riding alone all day with no pressure from behind that I knew of, I still felt motivated to push and ride hard. The aid station volunteers were very encouraging despite the colder conditions and the rain that came... That's where the battle started.
Usually when racing I'm battling people. Back and forth we mentally assault each other by pushing the pace, always trying to crack one another. But today, the clock and weather battled me. Racing for 9 hours is no picnic. Doing it on the same 9 mile loop over and over adds even more difficulty. And lastly when you add any adverse conditions, it becomes a real struggle!
It was lap 8 and I was tired. The course was either full gas or coasting and my legs were feeling the effects. Then the temperature plummeted when a storm rolled in. The rain came and though it didn't change the course much, it was just enough to scare me in my depleted state.
After 7 hours on course, I was losing it a bit. My focus was drifting, my body was hurting, and I had very little mental stability left. My brain was off and I was just turning the pedals. Getting cold was a rough addition. I tried doing the simple math of how much of a lead I would need to not have to go back out on a 9th lap. No, I couldn't do that, I had to do 9. Then I tried thinking about 10. That math proved too hard, so I gave up. Getting the heart rate into zone 3 at this point was a chore. The legs hurt. My hands were destroyed. Lap 9 came and I was slogging. Trudging. I started resting my wrists on the bars to avoid using my lifeless fingers. Thankfully I had fuel, so that wasn't an issue. Nothing like finishing a long race without bonking or coming close. I used Infinit GoFar and Jet Fuel all day and felt great, but, the fatigue goes beyond what calories can provide. Being such a physical course, I had to be all over my bike. My back had long since given up protesting, settling into a numbish state that faded into the background. I was a haggard figure as I rolled into aid 3. A sweet woman there had been encouraging me all day and told me the greatest news ever. The rain had forced them to call the race an hour early! I was elated.
1 more mile to get back to the finish, so I hammered it with everything I had left. I don't know why. I just gave it everything. I crossed the line just over 8 hours with 73 miles and 13,750 FEET OF CLIMBING. I'd never done that much climbing in a race, and never that much in such a short distance. The closest was probably the Shenandoah 100 mtb race that has about 13k, but over 25 more miles. It all made sense now. At almost 200 feet of climbing per mile, it was unrelenting!
All in all, it was a good day. SCORE did a great job with the race and the course was perfect. A fine case of Fat Tire rewarded me for my efforts and post race food never tasted better! I won the solo category by a lot and forfeited second and third overall against the relay teams by talking to the timing guys on my 7th and 8th lap. Oh well. I did my work, and had fun. It was a solid day of training and a good race.