A few weeks ago, I had the chance to race outside Baltimore at the inaugural Woodstock Wrecker, a four hour endurance race in the Patapsco Valley. I took the win in the SS open class, which was pretty cool. They have a really awesome series down there - definitely worth checking out if you want a fun and challenging ride.
|Coming through the rocks along the river|
|Heading toward the finish at the Woodstock Wrecker|
So that brings me to this past weekend. I wanted to test my current fitness, so on the spur of the moment this past Friday I signed up for the Stoopid 50 out in State College. The Stoopid 50 is one of the more challenging races in the region, so I figured it was a perfect test to see if the work I've been doing was paying off, or if I would have to go back to the drawing board. It's got abut 7K feet of climbing and when you aren't climbing, you're riding some really technical single track. There are very few spots on the course where you can take it easy or even recover, so if there was an event that was going to give me an honest assessment of where I was at the moment, this was the one.
So Sunday morning, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. to drive three hours to State College for the race. I got there about an hour and a half before the race and got my gear all set up. I was a little concerned about a skip in my chain. Anticipating all the climbing we'd be doing, I had swapped to an easier gear Saturday afternoon and everything was good to go, but for some reason when I starting riding around the parking area, the chain started skipping. Of course, it was too late to do anything about it, so I just hoped it wouldn't cause me too many problems.
The race went off at exactly 9 a.m. I was sitting pretty far back in the pack at the start, so I jus settled in and rode my pace. One of my main goals for the day was to ride at a pace that was hard but not so hard that I'd blow up before the end. That's kind of like a puzzle in an event like this -- you have to solve it as you go. If you start to feel too hot early, you have to back it off, but hopefully, you don't spend the whole day yo-yoing back and forth in your effort (because that is always a recipe for disaster at the end of the day.) What you want to do is find your fastest steady state as quickly as possible and then hang on to it all day. I found that pace pretty early on Sunday.
As soon as we hit the Tussey Ridge climb, I discovered that I was in a rare state for me: I had climbing legs! I felt great going up the climb and I was handling the tech without any issues at all. After the ridge, we hit the long descent down to the fire road, and I was able to stretch a little bit and jut let loose going down the twisty, swithcback singletrack descent. More importantly, I was feeling really relaxed. I lost a water bottle on the rocky Tussey Ridge, but even that didn't bother me. I figured I'd deal with it at the first rest stop. And they did give me a new bottle when I got there, so that was never an issue. In fact, I was having a pretty great day -- rolling along at abut a 10 mph clip and feeling really good.
But no day is ever perfect, and my day took a nasty turn at about 20 miles in. I missed a (very obvious) turn and ultimately went about 4 miles off course. Honestly, I don't know how I missed it -- there was a big sign directing us to turn right. I do recall that I was descending at about 25 mph along the fire road when a car heading up the road toward me moved to the side to let me pass. Maybe they blocked the sign? I don't know. It's the only explanation I can come up with that doesn't confirm that I'm a complete moron.
Anyway, after realizing I was off-course, I turned around to climb back up the road and was feeling pretty pissed off. I had been doing so well, but that suddenly all went out the door in one moment of stupidity. I was feeling pretty lousy as I joined a group of riders back on the course. I passed the group on the climb and took off, thinking I now had to ride hard all day to make up for my mistake. But at the top of the next short climb, I popped out across a pipeline cut-out and happened to look to my left. It was amazing -- there was a huge slope in the far distance that just made the whole region feel so remote. I just had to smile -- it was incredible and it snapped me back to reality: I was racing my bike in a really awesome place, so even if my day had taken a change for the worse, I was still way ahead of the game, net of net. And after that section, it was time to ride the Cooper's Gap trail. Cooper's Gap is just simply amazing -- super tight and twisty and, as another rider I was following said, it rewards you for picking good lines. He was doing great, so I just sat on his wheel and followed him all the way through. It was one of the true highlights of the day and by the time we finished, I'd all but forgotten about my screw up.
But next up, after the rest stop, the real climbs of the day were waiting, so the real tests were about to begin.
And that's where we'll pick up next time!