Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Three Peaks USA

Three Peaks USA

   Although this would be my 4th race since my crash and resultant surgery, I really felt like it was my first real race.  I rode the bike and set-up that I felt was best for the conditions instead of choosing a more comfort and “just get to the finish” approach.  I had raced the 72 mile Pisgah Monster Cross last weekend (on a MTB), so I knew I could go the distance.  I raced a training series race on my CX bike Thursday to be sure I could still ride a CX bike (actually, I doubled up and did 2 races just to be sure).  So when we all lined up behind the neutral roll-out vehicle – I knew that I was ready.
   The start was a bit chilly.  Most had jackets or arm warmers, many had leg or knee warmers.  We didn’t warm up much during the neutral start as we were braking more than pedaling down Beech Mountain.  As soon as the road turned upward on Peak One the race was on. 

   The first climb started at a brisk pace.  I had to really push to keep up. The overnight rain had made the first unpaved section very hard packed and very rideable.  I'm happy to be on my CX bike.  The fast rolling 35c tires I have picked are working well.  They have a tough sidewall and plenty of air, so I could pretty much ride with reckless abandon - except for the nagging pain in my side that keeps reminding that i still have some healing to do.

   The road from peak one to peak two is mostly paved, predominantly down hill.  The little group I am with swells as we catch smaller groups ahead and larger groups catch us from behind.  I feel like I should be going harder, but it's a trap. I would have to put in a lot more effort to go slightly faster by myself than I would just cruising along in our pace line.  Some people are chatting, indicating the pace isn't very hard.  Still, I press on, reminding myself to stay in the pack.  Determined to save some energy.

   Finally we get to some unpaved road and the pack starts to spread out.  This is my cue to up the pace.  We ride along the creek that we will soon have to cross.  At about mile 21 we get to the crossing.  I had enough foresight to dismount and carry my bike above water level to keep the chain dry. Others did not.  It's deep enough that it's cumbersome to run it, so most just walk.  I did.

   This section of the course is the lowest altitude of the day. It's also where the rain has collected into puddles. I'm leading a couple of other riders in and around the puddles. Sometimes we can go around them, sometimes we have to go through.  Sometimes they are deep, sometimes they are shallow. Sometimes there is soft mud, sometimes it's packed.  It's hard to tell the difference and I am getting tired of being the crash test dummy so I check up and let someone else test the waters for a while.  

   The puddles go away when we begin the climb up peak two. It's steep. My low gear is not really low enough, but standing is not a good option for me.  So I sit and churn the gears over.  This last half of the race has 2/3 of the climbing so I pace myself knowing that when it flattens out I'll be near my first planned stop - aid #2. 

   Soon the gravel turns to pavement. Gary Pflug, having stopped to fix a flat, blows by me on a steep switchback.  On his single speed...

   And then the pavement levels out and I meet my wife at the aid station. I get some nutrition and some encouraging words. It will be a 10(ish) mile "lollipop" loop back to the aid station.  The first half is mostly uphill to the top of peak two.  It starts out reasonable enough, mostly undulating, then gets steeper.  And then more and more sections have loose gravel.  My high pressure/speedy tires are struggling for grip.  I press on.  When I get to the steep, rutted, rocky, 4 wheeler trail section I hop off and hike it.  Some of it seems rideable.  Some, not so much,  but it seemed to be a waste of effort to try to ride it at what would be a walking pace anyway and I really didn't need to be crashing on any rocks.  So I hike.  And hike.

   The volunteer at the top says "it gets better from here".  Which it did, but it was still quite rocky and I was in constant fear of flatting until I got back onto the stem of the lollipop loop that would take me back (predominantly undulating downhill now) to what would now be aid #3.  There are still riders starting the loop from aid station #2.   As then road undulates up and down, the face and pace of the oncoming riders gives a good indication of the terrain ahead.

   After aid #3 there is a fast descent and I really want to drill it, but when I get to the bottom I know that it is one long climb to the finish so I am careful to keep some in reserve.  It's always better to go harder when the going is harder and easier when it's easier.

   When I start the climb up peak #3 I pace myself a bit conservative.  My PowerTap battery has long since died, but I'm watching my heart rate.  I start to get impatient but I know if I go hard now I'll have to pay for it all the way to the finish as there is no place to recover until the finish.  I get passed by 2 riders.  Another singlespeeder(!) and a rider from my class that I had passed on a descent.  Dang it.  Still, I keep to my pace, lifting it ever so slightly as I continue up the peak.  From the profile taped to my top tube, I have a pretty good idea how much climbing remains.

   When I get to a section that levels off for a bit, I keep the same intensity and go up thru the gears.  I catch an occasional rider, including a mtb in my class.  I pass him through one of my favorite parts of the course.  It's got lots of ruts and big, rideable rocks.  Barely rideable, that is.  A perfect balance of sketchiness and ride-ability.  I'm fatigued, but determined.  More determined than fatigued.  I ride the section clean.  Smooth.  I think to myself, "I can still ride a bike".  I smile and prepare for the last, steep part of the climb.  There is less than 5 miles to go and I intend to get all I can in that distance.

   Though I catch several riders, only one was in my class.  Still, I want to beat my goal time of 4:30 and at this slow pace of climbing the minutes are going by faster than the miles.

   By now it is easy to lose focus.  I tell myself to pedal.  Keep pushing.  Pedal.  Push.  Keep pushing.   Some of the gravel is loose and the road so ridiculously steep that it's hard to maintain traction, hard to keep the pedals turning over.  It's hard for everybody.  Keep pushing.  Pedal.  Finally, the last pavement section.  I can see the Pinnacle Resort Inn where the start/finish line awaits.  Pedal.  Smile.  Hammer out the finish.  Finish strong.  No rider ahead.  None behind.  Drive it home.  4:18.  Smile.  Recount blessings and relax.

   I can still ride a bike.  Joy.

   Everyone has strengths and limits.  I can't change my circumstances but I can choose my response.  I've worked hard to get back up to speed.  With the help and support of some awesome friends and family, I was able to make a speedy recovery.  My circumstances changed, but my priorities never did.  To be a healthy athlete, first you need to be a healthy person.

Thank you to all who have helped along recovery road!

See you on the trails!

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