Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cohutta 100!

The day for the Cohutta 100 finally came!

In fine Cohutta tradition, the race started out chilly - low 40's.  The race also started 3 minutes before the advertised start time - another Cohutta tradition.  Be prepared.

The race starts with a 3 mile climb on Hwy 64 before you duck into the single track section.  I pre-rode the first 10 miles or so the day before, so I knew what to expect.  I made my way thru the field to get a good spot in the single track.  Two miles into the single track I notice the rear tire is feeling squishy so I ask the rider behind me if my tire looks low.  He says "It looks a little low."  From two riders back I hear, "It's flat!".  So I rode about a half mile with all my weight on the front until I find a place I can pull off.  The tire change goes well (I practiced for this last year).  Of course by now the entire field has gone by.  ...and my HR monitor gives up.  Which was not good because I rely on it to pace myself.  Patience is not one of my gifts.

It's pretty difficult to pass in the single track section, so I decide to just pass when I can until we get to the fire roads.  I must confess that when the Big Frog 65 leaders caught us, I followed them through when they were passing people.  They weren't so patient with their passes...  The good news is that my HR monitor rejoins the race 15 miles in.

About 18 miles in and I arrive at Aid station 1 which marks the end of the first single track section and the beginning of the fire road sections.  I get my water bottle refilled with Heed and roll off as soon as possible.  The next section is mostly undulating climbs and something not found on the rest of the course: a little section that is relatively flat.  Before aid station 2, the big climb begins. 

Aid station 2 is somewhere around mile 36.  I've been losing satellite reception so I don't really know what mile I'm at.  A small mix-up, but I meet the wife, drop my jacket and pick up some nutrition and get another HEED refill.  And then the climbing begins.   And continues and continues...

Fortunately it's not as far to aid station 3 as it was to #2.  But I am now approximately 50 miles and 5 hours into the race.  The single biggest climb is over but there is still plenty of climbing.  Eventually we get to the single longest descent.  It's completely amazing.  I keep pedaling the descents to keep the blood flowing in the legs but I am spun out often.  Speeds in excessive of 40mph, giant ravines, some loose gravel.  If you don't scare yourself here you are losing time.  Toward the end of this section the gravel becomes more loose.  Stupid new gravel.  I lose the front wheel big on a fast descent in a right hand corner with a huge drop-off rapidly approaching on the left.  Just when I am deciding if it's better to go ahead and just wipe out and slide over the edge or fight it and likely go over at a higher rate of speed, the wheel grabs.  I nearly high side.  The tires hook and I make the corner.  I'm filing this one under "Great moments in divine intervention."

I have no idea what mile aid station 4 is, but I pick up my drop bag and refill my water bottle.  One of the volunteers asks if I need anything mechanical.  I ask him to check my rear tire pressure that I filled with a CO2 inflator early in the race.  I notice his gauge read 20psi as he begins to inflate it to a more pinch flat-resistant 36psi.

After 1 of the last 3 big climbs I hit aid station 5 at about 7 hours.  They tell me I have 20 miles to go.  Which was a lie - they always tell you more miles than actual.   It's a bright sunny day, and this section is all out in the open.  You get to soak about the heat.

It's a short dash to the final aid station where my wonderful wife has been waiting patiently (did I mention today is our 23rd anniversary?).  I get an ice cold bottle of water, eat a gel, kiss the wife and make the hard right hand corner into the single track.  This begins the last big climb of the day.  Last year I felt like I gave up some time in this section.  This year I saved some energy and was able to hammer this section.  I passed about 8 riders that were doing the 100 miler and several riders still finishing the 65 miler.  This part of the single track is a lot more technical then the beginning section of the race.  However, at this point I just want to get to the finish so I just stayed focused, and hammered away.

At the end of the single track the volunteers yell "Good job, 2 1/2 to 3 miles to go!"  I ride 2 tenths of a mile to the hwy and the volunteers yell "Good job! 1 mile to go."  They did fail to mention it was kinda uphill and directly into the wind, but I put my head down, lock the fork and ride as hard as my remaining energy allows.  Official finish time was 8:41. 

What I learned:
1. Pedal going down hill as much as possible.  Keep the legs fresh!
2. If your fork has a locking function, use it.  There are A LOT of gravel fire road climbs.  Do not forget to unlock it for the descents.  They are as steep as the climbs and your speed builds rapidly.
3. Pace yourself.  Granted I started in the rear, but I ran pretty even pace and I passed a lot of people all day - including some hike-a-bikers that went out too hard early.
4.  Have fun!  There are a lot of scenic views and the racers are generally quite friendly.  Sort of a We'll-all-endure-this-together community.
5.  Oh, and don't forget - the race starts a little early.

Special thanks to the wife who gave up doing anniversary stuff to help me out today and to Cool Breeze Cyclery for helping with the Superfly 100 Elite.  It really worked awesome today.

See you on the trails!

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