|Granogue Tower from Above - Kevin Fleming Photography|
Saturday was the 12 Hour race at the Granogue estate in Delaware. The Granogue race has stood the test of time in the Mid-Atlantic Super Series, existing as in some form or another for as long as I can remember. I remember way back about 10 years ago or so, it was a "regular" XC race only and it was held in the sweltering heat of July. Over the years, as multi-lap endurance races grew in popularity, Granogue grew along with it. Granogue has always had a flowy but challenging course with lots of climbing. And the endurance class has always raced the same course as other XC distances, which isn't the case in many other races.
Personally, I've have a lot of race memories from Granogue. It can be a brutal place to race your bike under the right conditions - heat and humidity combine with many open field sections to cook riders on sunny summer weekends. But it also has some really fun and unique features - the drop-in section of super fast singletrack, the super fast bamboo forest section, and of course the "tunnel of love".
|Riding through the tunnel of love|
Last year, during the four hour endurance race, my knee locked up on me for no obvious reason on my fourth lap. I couldn't straighten it out without pain, and I decided to bail before the end because I had no idea what was going on. And in 2009, I managed to finished in second place in the endurance open category when I just simply kept pedaling during a war of attrition in a miserable, rainy mud-soaked slog when most wiser riders gave up after a few laps.
This year, promoter Fatmarc Vanderbacon decided to mix things up and make a full race weekend out of the event, with a night-time TT on Friday followed by a day long running/racing festival on Saturday. The main event was a 12 hour endurance XC race, but the day also featured a fundraiser event that involved an 11K run and a 6 hour mountainbike race for participants crazy enough to do both. As far the 12 hour race was concerned, you could run it solo or with a team, geared or single. I signed up for the 12 hour XC in the solo singlespeed category. Mine was a smaller field, which makes sense since not a lot of people are going to think spending 12 hours on one gear in the summer sun equates to "fun".
Any 12 hour race is going to be tough. It doesn't really matter what the terrain is like, 12 hours is along time to be on a bike. And even though they routed the course to be a little less taxing in sections than in previous years, Granogue is still Granogue. So I knew it would be a long day. But still, I was psyched to ride. I haven't been that pumped for racing in general this year, but I knew this event was going to have a pretty cool vibe to it - it always does.
Marc decided to start us off with a LeMans start. I hate LeMans starts on endurance races. It makes no difference in a long race, but a lot of racers will charge off the line like they only have to go a hundred yards all day. And sure enough, that's what happened. But not for me. I just jogged the whole way, hopped on my bike and headed off into the prologue lap.
The first few laps went by like a blur. Honestly, all I remember about the first three laps was the time on the clock when I'd pass through the start/finish. I was spinning laps at around 50 minutes or so counting fuel refills at my pit stop - certainly not setting the world on fire or anything, but it felt like the right pace for a 12 hour day.
The conditions on the trail were perfect - dried out from last week's rain, but not dusty. The only issue would be the heat. It started to get really hot after the first couple of hours. I wasn't too concerned because I was drinking plenty and was still feeling pretty good, but one or two sections -- especially the Koppenberg climb -- really started to feel like a chore.
I spent most of the day in third place -- the first place rider was a guy who was just killing it. He ultimately would ride two more laps than the second place rider. The second place rider was out alone, as well. I didn't even realize he was there. I never saw him all day. But I sat in third for a long while until my friend Mark rode away from me when I made a pit stop. I had been getting hotter and hotter all day and stopped to try to eat some food. And that's always been my Achille's heel in endurance racing. My stomach just won't tolerate food during really hot races. But without any food in a 12 hour race, you're pretty much doomed. And so I figured I'd fade the rest of the day.
The last few hours of the race did get tough, but I never completely faded. I didn't have anything left to try to chase back Mark. I had to sit down at one point for a while to work out leg cramps, and that took a while. I was briefly passed by the fifth place rider, but caught him again on my next lap and then never saw him again.
I ultimately finished in fourth place, finishing my eleventh lap at about 9:20 or so (you had to finish your last lap before 10 pm.) I was happy to be done, but a little disappointed that my legs gave out. I had really hoped to get 12 laps on the day, but in the end my legs just didn't have it on Saturday. All in all, I was happy with the race. As much as my legs were hurting, I was able to keep going and didn't lose any more spots. I may have fallen off the podium, but I was okay with that for two reasons - first, Mark rode awesome and I really couldn't hang with him, so it wasn't like I gave it away. He took it. Second, it wold be impossible to be disappointed after a day like Saturday no matter what the result.
And that's real thing about Saturday -- I can't say enough about how awesome the race was. And I doubt there are too many people there who would disagree. I saw a bunch of friends I don't often see (seeing Derek out there ripping it up was really cool!) and no matter how awful things got coming up the Koppenberg after about the sixth trip, I always had the ripping singletrack sections to look forward to!
Huge thanks to Fatmarc and his crew for putting on a truly epic event. Racing doesn't get more fun than it was on Saturday, and it was obvious they put a lot of time and effort into making a great event for everyone there. When you've raced that many hours and you're feeling hte effects, a poorly run event could devolve into a really bad experience. Despite being physically wrecked after crossing the line, all I could think of was how much fun I'd just had. And the community feeling among the riders afterward during the pizza party/bonfire/awards ceremony was evidence that I wasn't the only one who felt that way. It was, quite simply, one of the best race experiences I've ever had.