My eyes popped open this morning with ease. It was the first of three mornings so far where I didn’t feel sluggish so I figured it was a good sign I’d feel great on the bike. Even riding up to the main race venue to leave my drop bag, I thought, “My legs are feeling strong today.”
This video from today is my favorite one so far:
Within 3 minutes of the start, things were not as I predicted. Immediately, my legs locked up and were sore. I tried to hang near the front and thought I was doing ok. Hurting, but ok. Suddenly, Katie from the 2nd place team (Kent Eriksen) came flying by me. I thought, “No!!!! I need to get back up there.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but Jeff and I already were up there, she was just flying! I didn’t like that one bit so I pushed hard and bridged up to the next group, hoping to leave them in group 2. I didn’t look back. I didn’t want to know, but I was nervous and kept moving forward. We have been racing around the same people day to day. I usually hang right behind the leaders of the Men’s Duo category (Mark Thompson and David Overstreet) for about 45 minutes. Then around the hour mark, the 2nd place men’s duo come around us, who are also our neighbors at the condo we are staying. It was comforting to know I at least was being consistent with the others from days past. We usually see the same people near the end of the race too. I was climbing better at the start than I was yesterday because my back wasn’t paralyzed with pain. I could tell on the descents today that general fatigue is starting to set in. My reaction times were a little off, and my arms and calves are starting to get a little tired.
The first 12 miles or so went by really quickly as we rolled through Aide 1 in about 1 hour 10 minutes, and then the slog to French Pass to get around Mt. Guyot began.
I was doing fine up the jeep road, which eventually turned into river doubletrack, turning into narrow singletrack and tundra above treeline. We looked up and couldn’t see half the mountain. It was swallowed up by a large cloud, and we ascended into the rain and fog.
It was cold and windy, and in no time my gloves were wet and my hands were numb. My legs also got really cold and abandoned ship. There was about a 10-15 minute hike a bike at the top (12,000′ elevation). I rode as much as I possibly could because I’m not the best hike-a-biker. On the descent from French Pass, I could barely see the choppy trail in front of me because my eyes were tearing up from the moist, cold air, and I had no perception of my speed or where I was due to poor visibility. I knew I was not descending like a champ. My whole body hurt, my calves were on fire from the hike and I could barely stand on my pedals, my forearms were cramping from being tight and nervous on the descent. I was starting to fall apart. Poor Jeff kept having to wait on me downhill and we kept getting caught by guys we passed on the climb. Jeff said as nicely as he could, “We are loosing a lot of time on this descent.” I already knew it, and I felt frustrated with myself. I felt like I was going to crash any second and I could not relax. We got to a jeep road, which did not lend much relief. In fact, it was another climb up to Georgia Pass. I had no idea how close 2nd place was to us, and I was stressing because I knew I was slow on the downhill. I tried to pedal circles, searching for power and finding none. I was frozen, it was still lightly raining, and I started feeling as gloomy as the weather. Jeff was trying to encourage me, and was giving me a push every now and then. I knew I didn’t have any option but to put my head down, turn the pedals the best I could, and hope to feel better. I will even admit that I was on the verge of tears… I don’t cry often, and in races if I start to get weepy, it’s usually due to low blood sugar and they I realized what was going on. I was bonking. It was cold, I wasn’t eating or drinking a lot and it caught up to me. I started downing gels and water. All I could say to Jeff was, “I am suffering. I am doing my best.” I haven’t suffered like that in quite awhile but as we got closer to the top, I felt life slowly creep back into me. All I saw for miles up that climb was the road in front of my front wheel.
We arrived at aide 2. I realized we had only gone 10 miles since Aide 1, but it felt like an eternity. I remembered I had a jacket in my pocket so I slipped that on and off we went. As I slowly came back to life, we were greeted by the Colorado Trail which started as a fun, fast, buffed trail which got heinously technical the farther down we descended. Mentally and emotionally exhausted from the hard push we had just laid out, the downhill didn’t come easy there either but I kept it rolling.
By the time we reached Aide 3 at the bottom of the descent, I felt like me again, and the sun as out. I burped air from my front wheel, so I got that mended at the aide station, quickly re-supplied and we were off. Game on. 16 miles to go, and go we went. FAST. Jeff had warned me about the upcoming climb since we started. “The last climb is really steep. Don’t forget about it.” The last climb was my strongest part of the race. We started the climb with 4 guys behind us. The road was getting steeper and steeper, but I refused to get off and push. I kept saying out loud, “I refuse to walk” and charged up the road full of power and venom. We quickly dropped the guys behind us which made me want to push even harder. I was full of adrenaline and determination… I even felt a little crazy. Fortunately my partner is strong as hell, so when I get a little loopy and aggro, I don’t have to worry about him keeping up. I didn’t stop my maniacal push until we reached the finish line, and once again, I was sorry the race ended. 4 hour 30 min… I wanted to keep going. The deep dark pain cave from Georgia Pass seemed far away, and I was a muddy smiling mess(I also crashed in mud puddle, woops).
We won today by 13 minutes giving us a 42 minute lead over 2nd place. It’s a margin that is still not good enough…anything can happen.
Thanks again to all the volunteers, sponsors, and most of all, my teammate Jeff Kerkove.
Tomorrow is the “queen” stage. Today was hard enough… I wonder if I’ll find a new depth in the pain cave tomorrow, I just hope I can find my way back out. Ah stage racing… fatigue is starting to set in. We have raced about 12.5 hours over the last 3 days, over 22,000′ of elevation gain so far. My legs are tender to the touch, but my mind is still determined and strong. Stage 4. Lock and load.