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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Teamwork makes the dream work! (Hairy Hundred 2015)

Falling just two weeks before Dirty Kanza, the Hairy Hundred offers mid-Missouri-area gravel fans one last local-ish opportunity to race before the DK taper begins.  This year it also afforded some prime weather-stalking, as the chances of rain swung wildly in the lead-up to the race before settling Saturday on a 20% chance of rain.  Which made it all the more surprising to see this when I checked the weather on race morning:

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Well this looks fun...
Luckily, in the sleep-deprived haze brought on by a 3:30 alarm I'd neglected to check the weather, so I was an hour away in O'Fallon before I saw the forecast. Any temptation to go home and kiss my entry fee goodbye was overridden by the knowledge that Mickey and Shaun wouldn't bail and that we certainly have no guarantee of good weather in Kansas. If conditions were as bad as they appeared, we'd get in some bad weather training, possibly secure ourselves some good weather mojo for DK, and, as long as we avoided death by lightning strike, probably come home with some good stories.

Mickey's pics
Good call, weather man
We made it to Rocheport really early; it was weird to not be rushing around in last-minute panic. All of the spaces in the bike rack near the start line were taken, so we stood there holding our bikes and somehow everyone else lined up behind us.

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Laughing with my friend Renee (who I met here last year) about being in the front. "We'll probably win the whole thing!"
Mickey's pics
Pre-race team photo

The guys are waaaay faster than me, but Mickey was riding with me so as to avoid the temptation of racing hard and Shaun planned to stick with us. The guys' take-it-easy strategy did not mean a relaxing day for me, though. Hairy Hundred was to be part two of Mickey's enduring quest to turn me into a bike racer instead of rider, but the additional pressure did come with some perks this time.

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Company for the entire race and pizza delivery. Score!
After some words thanking Michelle, who'd done the lion's share of prep work for the race, and talking about the really cool finisher's prizes, we were sent off with a low-key, "OK, go!" Having no desire to be at the front of a race, even for the neutral roll-out (which so often are anything but), I rode way over to the right behind the guys. It actually stayed neutral, leaving us in the lead until the turn off of the Katy.

Tracy's pics
Neutral rollout on the Katy.  Photo credit: Tracy Wilkins
I'd been in my big ring for the flat trail and failed to downshift in time for my bike to actually respond before hitting the first hill, and my slow crawl gave me a nice view of pretty much everyone riding past.   We'd been warned of thick gravel and sloppy conditions, so I was pleasantly surprised by how rideable the roads were.  The light drizzle we'd experienced before the start had tapered off, and though threatening clouds loomed no subsequent rain appeared.

I had to work a lot harder than I'm used to in order to keep up with the guys' easy pace. Pushing harder was the point of the day, but I was still feeling some anxiety about both my effort level and the fact that the guys were going to spend 91 miles waiting on me.  Sensing this (which isn't brain surgery...if I'm quiet something is probably wrong), Mickey started checking in on me with some encouragement, coaching, and much-needed reminders to eat and drink.

Shaun flatted about nine miles in and sent us ahead while he fixed it.  Knowing how fast he is, I spent the rest of the race waiting for him to catch up. I thought he was there at one point when I felt a push from behind, but it was Benji who slowed to say hi before passing us easily on his singlespeed.

For all the gray in the sky, it was a beautiful day and I was really glad we'd ignored the weather man's gloomy predictions. I eventually settled into a more relaxed demeanor, enjoying the rural scenery and downhills while watching the number of miles remaining tick away.

Tracy's pics
Stealing another of Tracy's pictures to break up the words.
One race goal was to practice keeping up with my nutrition.  I'd struggled with this at Cedar Cross, finding it difficult to combine a harder pace with a) the bike handling necessary to get out food on the go and b) being able to eat enough food to sustain the effort.  My solution for this last year at Dirty Kanza was to try and get a large share of my nutrition in liquid form (Perpetuem then), and I'd intended to use Hairy Hundred to test out CarboRocket Half-Evil, which was first suggested by Emily and has since been highly recommended by several area friends. Instead, I'd accidentally grabbed CarboRocket's energy drink, which provided 100 calories per bottle instead of 300ish. That's a helpful calorie supplement, not replacement.  Whoops.

I'd realized my mistake the night before while preparing my bottles, so I'd brought enough food to make up the difference.  I was helped in my efforts to eat regularly by the fact that I was starving. No matter what I ate, I was still hungry. As we closed in on Fayette (and Casey's) I started thinking about pizza. Instead, Mickey rode past the store.

"Um....I guess we aren't stopping at Casey's, huh?"

"Did you want to stop?" he asked.

Well, yeah, I wanted to stop. I mean, pizza. But I took a mental inventory: two full water bottles, plenty of food, riders parked at the gas station...I didn't need anything, and the idea of leapfrogging people was appealing. "Fine. But I'm stopping at the bag drop."

Mickey's pics
Coming to the top of a hill somewhere on the course.

Not long past Fayette the course turned west and the wind became much more noticeable.  I slowed down some, but the most annoying thing about it was actually how difficult it made for me to hear. I was proud of how little it was bothering me, and I just focused on keeping the pedals going.  More troublesome was the fresh gravel we encountered in this section.

I did have to stop at about 40 miles in to switch out an empty bottle with the full one in my jersey pocket (doing that on the move is still a work in progress and not something I'm comfortable with on the thicker gravel), but otherwise we made slow, if steady, progress towards the bag drop and pulled in with plenty of full bags left on the table.

Matt was just heading out after fixing Renee's bike, and she left shortly after we arrived. In the interests of speed, I grabbed food and a drink from my bag (Starbucks mocha double shot and a rice bar) and devoured them on the way to the bathroom. By the time I'd finished that and put fresh water into my bottles, Mickey was waiting. After he grabbed a couple of bars out of my bag for me, we were off again.

Hairy Hundred has two distinct segments. The first 60 miles features near-constant rolling hills.  Once you leave the bag drop, only about 3 miles of hills remain before the final, flat 30 miles of the race.  Much of this runs along the Missouri River, and nearly all of it goes south...which conveniently was also the direction the wind was coming from.

Tracy's pics
Photo credit: Tracy Wilkins
The part with the hills wasn't too terrible. For the most part I was able to cling to Mickey's rear wheel and take advantage of the draft. After we turned from the pavement back onto gravel we could see a figure in black ahead of us, and we gradually began to close the distance until we realized it was Renee.

"OK, she's struggling...we need to pass her fast enough that she doesn't try to hang on," Mickey coached.  I wasn't flying up any hills myself and warned him I wouldn't be able to hold any pass on an uphill, so we waited until it flattened out and made our move.  I followed along with the plan but felt conflicted about it. I've been careful to base my goals on experience instead of results because I worry that being competitive could easily take the fun out of things for me, so I'm much more of a social rider than a racer. My instinct was much more to ride with my friend and, if not work together, at least suffer together.  Still, this was a race, and I was racing, so we made our pass and kept pedaling hard until no one else was in sight.

As the course flattened out and turned south, however, all of my wind-related serenity was replaced by a sense of persecution. Why are we riding straight into the wind? How can every single turn send us more directly into the face of the wind? What is it with these race directors and their flat finishes? This would have been the perfect time to take advantage of the opportunity to draft off of a much stronger riding partner, but I'd let the wind defeat me to the point that I just trailed miserably along behind. Mickey really tried to work together, but I did a lousy job of keeping up my end of the bargain. My mental game still needs work.

While I didn't manage to benefit from the draft as much as I should have, Mickey's presence kept me riding harder than I otherwise would have and kept me from stopping for a break.With 11 miles to go, we hopped back onto the Katy Trail and rode east or, as I'd been thinking about it for the past hour or more, finally not into a headwind. Somehow this did little to dispel my misery since I still had to pedal my bike.  

We passed Matt and Nathan helping Tracy with a flat. The guys quickly passed us back, and the next mile or so of conversation helped pass the time quickly before I couldn't hold onto the pace anymore and dropped back to elderly shuffle pace.

Mickey's pics
Thumbs down for bikes.

I was trying mightily not to complain, and while whiny pouters bring out the worst in me Mickey showed a lot of patience, trying to encourage and distract me into riding faster. I was only moderately receptive to his help, threatening once to punch him in the face and telling him another time, "I hate you so much right now!"

At last we spotted the tunnel that came right before the finish. Mickey, who insists that I ended last year's race in a surprise sprint finish, asked me, "When are you going to start your sprint?"

"This is my sprint," I grumbled, but when he picked up his pace, I did too, and we kept it up until I edged him at the finish, raising my hand (just one) in victory. Even though I know he let me win, it was still pretty satisfying.

Mickey went to get changed, but my first priority was food and a drink that wasn't CarboRocket (note to self: make sure you always have one bottle of plain water). I'd just sat down with my pizza when a guy came up to me. "So, you know you won, right? So we need you to come pick out your prize."

Whaaaat? I'd had no thought of winning, because Dirty Dog Race Pack's Shelby had been ahead of me and riding strong all day long. We'd last caught sight of her leaving the bag drop, but it turned out that she'd missed the reroute in New Franklin, riding several miles out of her way.

Mickey's pics
Winning! The print, from a painting by local artist James J. Froese, is of an iconic local tree. It's going to look great in my dining room!
It feels a little cheesy to win because someone else missed a turn, but I guess the fact is that my race put me in a position to take advantage of her bad luck.  By "my race", of course, I mean our race, because while I did my own pedaling, Mickey's company gave me a lot of advantages.  I do wonder how much of my end-of-race meltdown can be attributed to the wind and how much was due to starting off harder than usual.  Either way I need to start cultivating some mental toughness, because this winning thing is pretty cool.


7 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Congrats on the win and you know, it's just a freak of nature that in the Midwest, the wind is always in your face. :)

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  3. That's incredible! Congratulations! And racing is racing. It's a fair win. Love the print, too.

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  4. You won because somebody missed a turn? Too bad for them ;-) Congratulations!

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  5. Congratulations on winning! You rock!

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  6. That's a gorgeous print! And way to go!

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  7. Wow, this place is looking great. I just love visiting places like this. I strongly believe places like this are best for those people who love greenery and it is also a quick stress reliving site. I will also select place like this for the team building exercises and events for fun.

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