A week ago today, I was on a plane to Atlanta, GA to go race Mountain Bike Marathon Nationals in Columbia County. After arriving at the airport I rented a car ad drove 2 hours to Augusta. It was a long day of travel, but the SouthEast is pretty beautiful this time of year so the dive went by fast, and I think the minimum speed limit is 80mph on Rt. 20, so that helped too.
I had a mellow morning on friday and made my way over to the course to give some parts of it a little pre-ride. Since a lot of the course was on private property most of it wasn’t marked yet, and I spent a good bit of time looking at maps and talking to other racers, trying to get the low down on how to get around. Pretty much everyone was confused. I was trying to pre-ride the second half of the course since it was supposed to be a little tougher, and after being out there for about three and a half hours I got it done. I rode a little more than I wanted to at 30 miles and 2.5hrs ride time, but the trails were pretty fun and the weather was perfect.
I linked up with Dana Weber and we headed over to pickup our numbers and attend the rider meeting at the host hotel. After about 20minutes of the same questions being asked over and over at the meeting it was time to annihilate the Whole Foods hot bar.
You couldnt have asked for better whether race day either, it could have been raining, or 90 degrees with 135% humidity, but it was just about perfect for a 60 mile MTB race. I got to the venue an hour or so before my race and stashed my bottles near the feed at the start finish. One of the trickiest things about this race, and any marathon race, is getting enough water and nutrition. Except for a couple guys pretty much everyone had no help in any of the feed-zones. Luckily I could hold two bottles on my bike, which turned out to work great. I stashed two more halfway through the race and got a neutral bottle at the third feed, which, at 5 bottles, is just barely enough to make it through a 4.5 hr race.
The star of the race was pretty slow, which was actually kinda crappy because it let everyone from the back of the race be up near the front near places where they maybe don’t really belong. Point in that Payson McElveen was taken out on the first turn into the singletrack about a mile into the race, which ruined his race as his bars got twisted and he was facing the wrong way on the trail.
Alot of the singletrack trails here have a speed limit, there are pine needles all over the trail, and with all the twists, turns, ruts, ups-n-downs, you literally cant go any faster. So there were about 20 of us together for the first 5miles of the race just ripping through the singletrack at the same speed. After that we hit some faster fire roads, then when we were turning back into the singletrack again a couple guys were able to sneak in front of me. No biggie, except they couldnt ride their bikes that great and the lead group of about 14 riders got away. After a couple of minutes I eventually got around one, then the other guy and led the charge of the chase group.
30 miles into the race we lap at the start/finish and I could see the group of 14 (it looked like 20) and they had probably about a 3-4 minute gap on me. I stopped and literally got off of my bike at the feed station to grab my bottles then was off again racing. I only had one other guy with me and he was content to sit in and let me do all the work, he would take the occasional pull as well if I asked. He wasnt a threat but it was nice to have somewhere there to chat with while we were racing.
We kept trudging on through the roots, and knee deep water crossing, but he finally fell off pace at about the 3 hour mark. Right around this time I picked off the first couple of riders from the lead group. I was fueling well and feeling pretty good and kept a good pace riding solo.
After the third feedzone I picked off a couple more riders from the lead group, one of them ended up staying with me. I had no idea what place I was in, I thought somewhere around 16-18 as I didn’t really know how many guys made that lead group. I threw a couple attacks to try to shake the younger rider I had just picked up but he stayed along for the ride, refusing to do any work.
The last 5 miles were some of the slowest trails yet, with roots everywhere, a bunch of really tight turns and 9million logs to bunnyhop. This was the slowest part of the course for me, I couldnt really get good traction or power out going over all the roots on my hardtail and was starting to feel a little beat up. I ended up just riding a comfortable (slow) pace and chatting with the younger rider.
Finally back out onto the fireroads with only about 20 more minutes to go I put in a few more digs to try to loose the rider, with no luck. He still refused to ride a decent pace so we were kinda just putting along when Payson blew by us at double our speed. Race back on.
The pace was immediately high again the rest of the way to the finish, we were all eyeing each other up waiting for attacks, which were made and all covered. With less than 1k to go I made my move and immediately had a good gap, only it was too early. I thought I went when there was nothing but straightaway to the finish (about 200meters) but there were a couple little corkscrew turns thrown in which brought us back together. Knowing we were still pretty close to the finish I just tried to make my attack stick, but Payson (who was second wheel) easily accepted my lead out and took the sprint (for 11th) and the younger rider took a sketchy pass between myself and the boards off of my draft to come through in 12th, and I took 13th.
Had I had known that I was that far up I would have raced a little differently the last hour of the race, and had I had known that 10th place was only a minute and a half ahead of me I would have definitely ridden the race a little better. I am pretty bummed because I came here for a result of top 10, and I know that Im capable of it. The mistakes of missing the lead group, not riding hard enough (when I could have I felt pretty good) the last 1-1.5 hrs, and running too much air in my tires which just made the turning on pine needles trickier, are all pretty huge mistakes to be making at this level of racing. I believe Endurance Nats are in Georgia again next year, and I will definitely be back.
Heres some quick info from the race…kj – 4077, NP – 296, TSS – 313, miles – 59.5