Jed G. and I left town on Thursday for the uneventful 7hr drive up north. I had secured a place to stay with a group of Rassy's guys and gals that have done this event for 10 years or more. They have a house that they rent in the start town of Hayward. It is a great location, on a lake and near a good restaurant. The start is less than a mile away as well.
We did a short pre-ride on Friday morning and the gang took me under their collective wings to show me the course and to point out the various items to watch out for in the first 5 miles. Our alarms were set for 4:30am in order to secure a good place on the start line. The majority of us did not have "preferred starts", so John N. made sure that we all got our bikes down to the line. Front row for John and I!
After eating some breakfast and then lounging around, we finally kitted up and walked to the start line. When we had placed our bikes upside down on the start line we were the first row of maybe 200 bikes. However, this race had over 1800 starters and now the majority were lined up behind us.
Shortly after 10am, we slowly rode away. The start line was a narrow two-lane street, but within one block we were on main street and it was four-lanes wide. John pushed forward, but I quickly got swallowed from the sides. Lesson learned for next year.
The main street roll out is controlled by two four wheelers. The mayhem wasn't as bad as I expected, but you had to keep your eyes and ears open to your surroundings.
The first three miles are on pavement and the speed ramps up quickly after the first mile or so. With my high gear of 34x11, I quickly ran out of gears to keep up. I would jump on a wheel and then slowly lose them, look for another group and jump on their wheel. At the time I wasn't happy about the perception of losing ground, but in hindsight, it was probably for the best that I wasn't able to go 110% yet.
At three miles, we turn into Rosies field and the rest of the race is on dirt. The pics from Skinny Ski and others don't do it justice. I know that I was near the front of the field, but it sure didn't look like it at the time. If you look closely in the pic below, I'm on the right side and just in front of the guys painted like Kiss.
I started to pick groups of people off and tried to use my head on when to draft. We would have a good pack of guys together for 2-3 minutes and then a few of us would jump ahead to the next group. It went like this for the first 8-10 miles. Somewhere in there, we hit a gravel road and it felt like I went backwards. Several people would pass me and I just couldn't hold their wheel.
I tried to recover for a 10 minutes and figured that my race would come around to me later.
At the mid-race checkpoint (actually 16miles), I was already 5minutes behind my goal pace. I knew that due to the wet course that the pace would be slower, but I was already disappointed. I figured that I'd have to have a strong second half to salvage a good result.
The middle of the race is fuzzy, but I found 2-3 guys that all held the same pace and we worked well together. We kept the pace high and kept on reeling in others. By the time that I hit the Seeley Fire Tower climb, I was feeling much better. The guy in front of me firmly, but politely told the walkers to get out of our way. Surprisingly, they parted and frequently apologized for being in our way (love that about MTB racing), the two of us rode all three sections to the top and got a good applause for our efforts.
The rest of the way to the finish was an all out effort that never seemed to end. I did hate the last three or four climbs in the last mile, but now I know what to expect.
I ended up finishing at 2:43.39, which was off my goal of 2:30. I suppose that part of that is because of the wetness of the course, but my time was still too slow. I believe that course knowledge would cut almost 5min of that result, the rest will come from better and more specific training.
My goal time was based on last year and I was shooting for top 200 men. I ended up 221st in men and 248th overall (singlespeed, tandem and women make up the difference). If I shave that 5min off, then I would have been in the 170s overall and 150s in men. That's my goal for next year.
Funny stats: plate number 248, finished 248th overall.......I was 224th fastest in the first split and 224th fastest in the last split.
I can't wait until next year and am already thinking of ways to get faster for this type of racing.