7am and the siren sounds. The sound of 400+ mountain bikers clicking in and the hum of the knobby tires on pavement signaled that the Lumberjack 100 2012 had begun. For some, like myself, they are new to endurance mountain biking and nervous about the journey ahead. The weather was going to be hot and the trail sandy. This has been called the easiest hundred but today would prove that wrong and the DNF rate was going to be high for this rate and many experienced racers would call this the toughest race of the year over Mohican and Cohutta.
My day started off fast. I lined up in the third row making sure I didn't get pushed too far back on the start. I felt confident going into the race so I didn't want to get pushed too far back in the pack. I felt like I had a 7:30-7:45 finish in me and I wanted to run my own race as much as possible. I'd much rather be the person getting passed than having to do the passing. On the road leading in the pace was high. We were pushing 26mph which is flying on a mountain bike with tiny gears. Within a couple quick miles we were filing into the woods like ant's. Early on the pace of the race was closer to a cross country race with everyone, including me, trying to checkout. The course starts basically uphill. There's a few hundred feet of climbing. This was just what I needed to help thin the pack out. Over the course of the first lap I would get passed but many times find myself passing that person back. I would bridge between groups and keep pushing forward. I would get through one pack of riders and move on to the next. You probably wouldn't think it, but you can draft in mountain bike racing. I would go all out going between the groups and then ease off for a bit once I made my way up to the next group and have a nice convo before I would pass and move on. The climbs on the course weren't terrible except for a couple. There was one that I remember that felt like I was riding a vertical wall. Here is a pic of me walking up that wall. I would only do this climb on the first lap. The next 2 I walked it. There is also another climb at the fire tower that you have to walk. There are wooden stairs in the dirt that you can use as steps. Here is a pic of me walking up the first lap.
The first lap seemed to go well. I had taken my Powerbar Peform in my Camelbak and 1 additional bottle. I also brought along a gel flask. I tried to stick to my usual plan of 1 bottle per hour. I was expecting about a 2.5-2.75hr laps so that amount of fluid should have been perfect. I caught up to Amanda Carey by the end of the first lap and followed her in to the pit area. The first lap went in 2:28 which was right on pace where I wanted to be. I felt very good coming in. I refilled my Camelbak and grabbed another bottle for the next lap. I also slammed some Coke and a Milkyway and took off for the second lap. As soon I got into the opening set of climbs on the 2nd lap I started to cramp. These cramps would continue for the remainder of the race. I rarely have problems with cramps. In the past I've done is just take in a little extra electrolytes and the cramps were gone. I didn't think much of them at first but as I continued on they got much worse. At mile 40 I had to pull off the course due to the cramps. I stopped for a couple minutes and tried to stretch my legs out. Meanwhile watching many of the riders I passed, pass me back. I would start back riding only to cramp again. Over the course of the race I probably got off my bike at least a dozen times. When I got to the aid station I was able to get 4 salt tablets from a volunteer. These really helped me a lot. I also sucked down 5 cups of water. That's when I realized that I wasn't drinking enough plain water to flush all the gel and drink through my system. My stomach also starting cramp and I knew I wasn't absorbing all the stuff I was taking. I was able to complete the 2nd lap in 2:52. My fitness felt fine during the 2nd lap but the cramps were killing me and I was starting to worry about not absorbing enough calories for the third lap.
When I came in after the 2nd lap I decided I was going to take on an extra bottle of Powerbar Perform and fill my Camelbak with just plain water. I figured I was going to need all I could take as the heat was really starting to pick up and the humidity was very high in the woods. My sunglasses were fogging up quite a bit. There was also someone in the tent next to us that overheard my conversation with the guys in my tent and gave me a whole container with salt tablets. Score! Shortly after I started the 2nd lap I went to grab one of my Powerbar Perform bottles. I then realized that I had dropped it at some point. So much for that master plan of 2 bottles. Luckily though I did bring 2 bottles or I would be without completely. The cramps continued through the lap. It got so bad that many of the climbs I would have to get off the bike because I would cramp too much trying to ride up the climbs. Not only was I cramping, my stomach not absorbing, but now I was really starting to notice that I was reaching the end of my fitness. Basically the whole third lap was one big bonk! When I got to the aid station I was dry. I had nothing left in my Camelbak and the 1 bottle of Perform was now empty. I asked if they would refill me. They were kind and filled my bottle up with their drink and my Camelbak full of water. I dumped a cup of water over me and I went on my way. I felt extremely well at this point. No cramps and for whatever reason I felt strong. Completing this race really came into focus. Unfortunately this feeling wouldn't last the lap. I really started to suffer and suffer bad during the third lap. The last 10 miles were an absolute hell on earth. I've never experienced anything like it. I was riding and I had trouble telling if I was riding on an off camber or if I was off camber. Many times it was probably both. Finally the parking lot was insight from the trail and I knew I had finally made it to the finish. I crossed the line in 8:19 and I almost felt like crying. I had suffered worse than anything I had ever done before and I was very proud of myself for not crashing, not having any mechanicals, or most of all, not giving up. For most of the 2nd and third laps I told myself I would never do this again. It was the dumbest thing I could ever imagine doing on a mountain bike. Well 2 days later and I feel differently. I am definitely going to be back again for next year and have the finish I wanted.
Big thanks to my new friends Shaun, Steve, and Keith for letting me pit under your tent. I had the best possible access to my stuff I could have asked for and I look forward to riding with you guys in the future. Thanks to Powerbar for your awesome support. Even thought I am not currently doing triathlon you've chosen to continue to support me. An enormous thank you to my coach Curt Wilhelm from mtbcoach.com. You are a genius with your training plans and the amount of growth I've seen since I started working with you has been incredible. Train safe and have fun and I'll see you all next year at Big M!!!