Did the French Creek Enduro today. I think I will be recovering for a week. It was ... rough. But I actually had a really good time racing today, and that hasn't happened in about a month, and hasn't happened for an Enduro since last November. Granogue, as I described last week, didn't go so well. Today was a little different.
The race actually started a half hour late. We originally were supposed to go off at 8, but they were running way behind for registration and set up, so they announced the Enduros would start at 8:30 instead. That was fine -- six hours is six hours no matter when you start. I was a bit worried about the course, though -- there were no signs directing us to the location, so I wondered how well marked the actual course would be. Ultimately, there were a few spots that were a little shady, but it was otherwise easy to follow.
Now, I've never been a really big fan of long laps for endurance races. Practically speaking, the longer the lap, the more you have to carry. And carrying more is always a pain the ass. If the laps are shorter, you can rely on your feed zone. So, that said, today's laps were about 14 miles each. And in French Creek, 14 miles is a brutally long lap. This was a big change, by the way, from previous years. The promoter has always prided his race on being very difficult, and in recent years, it seems to have become an obsession. A few years ago, they changed the location of the race in the park, which meant the race had to go through a ridiculous set of drops off water bars (about three foot drops each) just to access the first singletrack section. The rest of the course was similar, except there was also an added climb that replaced a road section. Then this year he added five more miles to the lap. I'm starting to wonder if the race itself is at risk of going too far -- in order to continue making it more difficult it might end up being just a slog. Today, even the downhills were challenging. I mean, really challenging in some sections (like the last descent before the fire road to the start/finish area - it ended with a drop down a stairway.)
I don't want to sound like sour grapes, though -- it was great race and the course was in super condition. And challenging is just a part of endurance racing ... hell, of mountainbiking in general.
So how did it go?
I was kind of wary all week about this race because I have been having some trouble with my left quad all week. I did a training ride on Thursday night and it felt weak -- like it could cramp at any time -- almost the whole ride. In fact, I even went out last night and bought some Icy/Hot patches and a knee support to hold it in place. The I just hoped it worked.
The first lap, I was feeling pretty good. Had a small issue with my first water bottle -- it kept trying to fall out of the cage. I even hung up another racer on a climb because of it. That sucked. But I worked it out. I had a few sections where I wanted to move, but I was really cautious because last week went so poorly. So I kept it steady, and walked the really steep hills (there were two of those.) The first time I hit the last descent, it was a bit of a surprise. Crazy technical, with multiple drops, a log hop, and those damn stairs, which were just wide enough where both wheels would drop of their respective steps at the same time. That's a weird feeling and, I think, makes it tougher to control. But I finished the first lap in about an hour and forty minutes or so, and I was feeling good, so I started to think that I would have the opportunity to get in four laps like I really hoped to do (I only had to start my last lap before 6 hours, so I could basically take 5:59 to do three. As long as my body and bike held out, I figured that wasn't going to be too tall an order.)
The second lap went really smoothly - in fact, I don't remember anything specific about it except that I rode one of the climbs I thought I'd have to walk after the first lap. I came through the start finish area still feeling good -- no problems with my leg so far!
By the third lap, I knew I'd get a fourth in if I wanted it (barring total disaster.) I was feeling pretty tired by the time I came through the climbs on that lap, so I did walk quite a bit more that lap. Toward the end of the lap, I was certain I had a fourth lap coming, so I purposely walked one climb I knew I could ride simply to save some energy. I also stopped at the second water station and loaded up on water and ate an orange which, by that point in the day, tasted like the best orange ever grown. I even told the kids working the station that and they just laughed. That reminds me -- the support stations were manned by a local Boy Scout Troop. Those kids were awesome. They were well prepared and really nice to everyone. And they didn't just work the stations - they cheered on the racers and chatted up those who stopped. Nice bunch of kids!
I came through the start finish area at 5:35, and immediately started up the road for the fourth. My legs were tired but holding strong. When I stopped at my feed zone halfway up the road, Jeff Schalk came flying by in the elite race. And I mean flying! He went up that road --a loose blue stone fire road -- like it was a paved downhill. That dude is fast! At that point, however, I wasn't. I knew I was on my last lap and I kind of treated the lap like it was a tourist lap. I stopped at one point to see if there was anything I could do to help an elite racer who was having some back trouble,and then later I stopped to give some hikers directions (I'd been out there long enough to know the area by that time!) I wasn't in a hurry because, first, I wasn't going to be able to move that fast even if i wanted to at that point and, second, I knew it was my last lap and my goal had been to get the opportunity to do four laps, and I had made that goal already. So I just rode it out. I did, however, stay on the bike more in my fourth lap than I had in the third. So there was that. And in the last little drop in section off a tree root before the finish area, I styled it a bit by jumping he whole thing. I was feeling so happy to be done by that time, I didn't even think that I could go down pretty hard if I didn't stick the landing.
I rolled across the line at 7 Hours and 42 minutes. Good enough for sixth place in SS Open Enduro class. That's not setting any records, but considering the issues I had all week and my crappy showing at Granogue, it felt like a win. In the end, my legs held together, the Icy/Hot with the knee wrap worked to perfection, and I got about 54 singlespeed miles on a brutal course. I'll take that any day!