The bike floated below me as rocks and roots bumped it up and down, back and forth. My legs and arms resembled rubber bands, shaking loosely as I hung on to the Chunky’s for the ride. The turn surprised me. It came up fast and was a full 90 degrees. Overshooting it would mean dropping down a steep slope into who knows what. I locked the MT8’s, the Epic’s suspension compressed, the tires broke free as the slide began. Dust churned off the ground (the Screws shielding my eyes). Then, as if perfectly planned, I slid through the turn inches from the edge. A slight smile crept onto my face as I realized I had averted near disaster, again. The Fairhill Classic course was tricky, but on Saturday, I was railing it.
Rewind to 2014, and I was lining up at Fairhill for the first time. I had never ridden this labyrinth of trails, littered with more roots than I have ever seen on a trail. From the moment I started that edition, my stomach revolted, limiting my calorie intake, and the antibiotics I was on depleted my power. Simply, it was a BAD day on the bike.
This year’s edition had it’s own challenges too. I only decided to race the night before, and I was coming off of a big workout from Wednesday, that had been one of my best all year. I was fatigued and decided to race for 4 hours instead of doing my scheduled 4 hour training ride as my final tune up for the Shenandoah 100 this coming weekend. Unsure of how my body would respond to such a long effort, I lined up with little expectations.
The start was much more reasonable than last year, and soon there was a group of 8 on the trail. Not surprisingly Ryan Serbel took the holeshot and lead wire to wire, big congrats to him. A few miles in, we crossed a stream and I found the hole everyone else missed and it literally bucked me off my bike! I landed on the other side of the stream and scrambled up the steep embankment to try to regain contact with the leaders. But at that pace, losing 8 seconds snapped the connection to the front 3 riders.
Pushing hard, I clawed my way back to Jed Prentice and Heath Thumel and we rode as a trio for the first hour. About 45 minutes in I saw Jed drift back, so I attacked Heath to get some separation. I put some day light in between us and kept up the pace to stay out of sight, but it wasn’t enough and they both came back, eventually dropping me about 90 minutes in! Fairhill is a drivers course and I was clearly not the best driver of that trio.
I pressed on alone, feeling like I was racing full gas the whole day. The race director is very ambiguous about how long the course actually is. Last year it was 38 miles, This year it was longer, but I had no idea how much longer! I had 3 bottles of Infinit with me and was wondering how I would fair past the 3 hour mark if the course was much longer than last year. Fortunately, once again, Infinit was perfect. I never got close to bonking and felt good all day. Up, down, twisting, rocks, roots, big power, no power, gravel, loose turn; it was a bit of everything out there. And the legs just kept giving and giving. At the end I was amazed my legs hadn’t given up with such a hard pace. I must be in the best form I’ve ever had, big thanks to Cameron Cogburn for that one.
I ended up coming in at 3:44, on a course that was at least 30 minutes longer than last year, which was good enough for 6th. With no prep, and on a course that exploits all of my weaknesses, I was quite happy with that! I can now firmly erase my bad memory of 2014 and replace it with this one.