Thursday, April 18, 2013

Leesburg Bakers Dozen: Chainless Days, Flat tires and so ... much ... cow poo ... (Part II)

Photo credit: Natural Artistry

Part I

All the racers gathered near the silo for the start and after a few brief announcements the promoter shouted "GO!" and we were off. About a hundred riders poured through the start area and into the woods. And when you do the math of funneling a hundred riders into a thin band of single track, what happened next was kind of inevitable -- one massive back-up at the first semi-technical section. At one point, we were literally standing and waiting for our chance to go through the first small rock garden. I never get mad in situations like that - for one thing, it doesn't make anything move faster and, for another, if your entire strategy for a 13 hour race depends on how fast you go in the first five minutes, then you probably need to reconsider that strategy. So a few of us just joked around, yelling "STRAVA!" or "Rider back!" from far back in the pile-up until we were able to get going again.

Eventually we got through the pile-up and started to roll.  I was feeling really good and found a few different wheels to follow and basically played hop-scotch through the field for the whole first lap.

Through the pasture on lap one
Photo credit: Jim Smith
Since the first lap was my introduction to most of the course, I tried to pay attention to lines and come up with some kind of plan for how I'd ride the rest of the day. For the most part, the plan I came away with was just "stay on the gas". The course was sweet - fast and flowy almost everywhere and pretty much 100% single track. And in the few spots where it wasn't it may have been technical but still really fun to ride. For example, there was one section where you could opt to ride straight up a rock face or take a less direct route to get over it. I probably would have gone the alternate route if I was alone, but the guy I followed into that section went right at it, and I figured, "screw it" and followed suit. And sure enough, it was faster and perhaps even smoother to go right at it, so from then on that's what I did all day.

Following wheels was a great way to get to know the course early in the day
Photo credit: Jim Smith
By my second lap, two themes that would play out all day first presented themselves.

First, I noticed that I was feeling really, really good. And I mean really good. I don't have too many days like that, but I can always tell early on when it's going to happen. Everything felt effortless, like my bike had no chain. I would look down at my Garmin periodically throughout the day and see that I was hammering along and yet I'd feel completely under control. That was really surprising, considering that I really hadn't been riding all that much leading up to the race. Maybe I stumbled into an "accidental taper" or something, but I didn't even want to question it. I've had enough bad days during races to know that when the good ones come, you don't question them - you just accept them and ride hard.

I'd love to say that the whole day was all good like that, but that isn't exactly true. The second thing that happened wasn't so great. My rear tire flatted on me when I was a little too cavalier going through a set of jagged rocks. I thought to myself at the time that I was lucky to get it out of the way early on a long day. Little did I know that I was actually just beginning a central theme of my day.

My fastest lap of the day was my third, and that was to be expected. The first lap had the stop and go in the early rock garden which slowed us all down. And then I flatted on my second lap, so the first time I really had a clean run around the course was my third trip. And I made the most of it, completing the roughly 9 mile lap in about 44 minutes. Certainly not the fastest lap of the day, even for the SSers, but it worked for what I was looking to do. At that point, I was starting to do some math in my head, I was assuming that eventually I'd slow down and I wanted to give myself a cushion for when I did. I was thinking that 15 laps would be a good goal to aim for, which I figured meant I had to be two laps ahead of the hour by the time I slowed down enough to average about an hour a lap. At the pace I was going and the way I was feeling, that seemed pretty reasonable.

Even the climbs made me smile on Saturday
Photo credit: Jim Smith
What I didn't realize was that my strategies and plans would actually have nothing to do with how things would ultimately play out. Nor would my hand injury really have any impact at all. When all was said and done, Saturday ended up being all about those two things I mentioned above and how they would compete with one another all day to determine just how far I'd go.

Part III