We started the race with only nine of us and I had a great time chatting with everyone at the start. I would have loved to have chatted more with everyone on the first climb up, but a lone rider 🚀ed right from the start. I turned to one of the guys I had been chatting with and said "well, I guess I better give chase". He gave me an encouraging "go for it!", and that was the last I saw of the group all day. For a good fifteen minutes I had the racer in my cross hairs, but eventually I had to find my own pace to not blow up later in the race.
This entire race consists of a short 14km loop with about 500 meters of climbing, followed by TWO 35km loops with a whooping 1220 meters of climbing — that's 4000 feet people! Most of that climbing was on a long dirt road that gradually becomes steeper and steeper. After making quick work of the short loop, I was on to the big climb. But not before a super twisty, rocky, rooty, and moist section of singletrack. I was flowing pretty well on this section, but did have one hiccup were I slipped on a rock. I went sideways and heard a loud CREEEEKKKK! It was the sound of my stem unwillingly twisting a couple degrees to the right off center. I rode the rest of that singletrack section with my handlebars a little bit to the right before coming to the start of the big road climb. While still riding, I grabbed my multi tool from my saddlebag, and unscrewed the upper bolt of the stem. I stopped briefly to unscrew the bottom bolt, adjusted the stem, and tightened the bottom bolt back up. I hopped back on the bike to tighten the upper bolt followed by evenly tightening each bolt. Fixin' on the fly!
With my stem/handlebar back to center, the big task of climbing the monster dirt road was ahead of me! Before going into the climb itself, a weird anomaly about myself I discovered last year racing in Maine. When I race at sea level, my ❤ pumps WAY faster! I had totally forgotten about this until I was climbing with my HR zone above 5! For reference, HR zones go from 1 to 5, with 5 being "you're heart may explode, so you ain't holding this for long". Well, I hold that zone for the duration of the climb! Okay, back to the climb itself. There were mile markers to the top of the climb, so I played a mental game with myself to break up the perceived effort. I would concentrate on doing my best on each mile rather than focusing on the overwhelming climb as a whole. It worked, and I blasted up the climb! I was feeling pretty good up to the last mile, but hold it together to the top. Once at the top, I was met by two wonderful volunteers at the aid station with encouraging words and a refill of water. Thanks for that! Next, it was time hit the singletrack!
The next section was a downhill with two more short singletrack climbs, each about 100 meters. The short breaks from climbing after each descent was enough for me to recover and I once again blasted the uphills. Then it was time for a LONG descent! I started the long descent with two things in mind 1) don't kill yourself going too fast 2) don't do something stupid and get a flat. I hold that promise, and conservatively descended to complete lap one.
Starting lap two, I once again entered the tricky singletrack hoping to not go sideways again! 😂 I did not, and also was given some race feedback A ranger told me that I was about 10 minutes from the lead. This put a 🔥 under me to give the upcoming dirt road climb everything I had in me! Things definitely got blurrly out there climbing that monster again. I would come in and out of focus at the task at hand, my mind wondering from the pain. Each mile harder than the last, and feeling like eternity. At the end, everything I had in me was about 10 minutes slower than my first attempt. It wasn't enough to catch the first racer, but it did keep the third place racer at bay! Not by much though. I knew this because there is a section on the first singletrack descent near the top were you cross the dirt road. I caught a glimpse of him climbing up, and estimated that he was probably only 5 minutes behind!
Knowing third place was hot on my heels, and first could potentially be close ahead, I was on a mission! I dug DEEEEPPPP on the two short 100 meter singlerack climbs! Pretty sure I scared a family hiking down the mountain with a horrifying pain face! 😂 I pedaled hard on any flat section I could which lead me to the last big descent.
Remember how I descended the long descent "conservatively" the first lap? Well, that was out the window with me being closely sandwiched in 2nd place. I needed to go to a place I don't like going. I needed to release my inner "enduro racer". I know this exists in me since I raced several enduro races in 2014. It's a place were you stay low, get those knees & elbows out, and scare the living 💩 out of yourself. It's incredibly dangerous, so I reserve it ONLY in extreme cases. Welp, this was one of those cases! My eyes watered, my adrenaline was high, but reached the bottom a full minute faster than my first attempt! That's a lot on a long descent!
When I reached the bottom, first place was no where in sight, nor was third behind. There was one last 2km flat section, and I wasn't taking chances! I pushed hard to the last 1km, a flat forest road mostly smooth with occasional potholes. This section was windy when I entered it, so I got low by putting my forearms on my handlebars/grips. This position is aero, but super dangerous as your hands aren't on the bar. I nearly hit the deck when I hit a hidden pothole in the road. My bike took a hard right, and my right arm was somehow under the handlebar. It was a miracle I kept it upright, and with an already pounding heart I sprinted to the finish!
I retained my 2nd place, and was greeted with beer, burgers, and a friendly group of people! It was great day on the bike, and I'm grateful to Dana who hosted the NW Epic Series for putting on an incredible race!