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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hairy Hundred "I'm not racing!" report

Cedar Cross left my ego bruised but my legs in pretty good shape. Granted, I wasn’t particularly happy to sit on the saddle Sunday morning when Chuck guilted me into a ride to Mokane, but pedaling wasn’t the problem.  Given the amount of strenuous activity the weekend held, it was beyond irritating to somehow tweak my right hamstring while sitting in a chair at work Monday morning.

Unable to extend my leg or walk stairs without pain, I took a week of rest and ice and heat and foam rolling and trying really hard to ignore the taunting Strava notifications of all the miles my friends were logging.  By Friday I was feeling optimistic enough to take my bike on our family camping trip.  I had a great short ride Saturday evening and was excited about the 120-ish mile route I’d planned for the next day until I woke up unable to extend my leg again.

Instead of biking back from the campground the next day, I sat  in the car, quietly combining massive self pity over missing a perfect day to ride with full-on panic about Mother Lode next month.  The pity party lasted for about two days until I got sick of myself and reined it in; I have two friends who’ve been hit by cars in the last couple weeks while biking, one with significant injuries, and in comparison my worries about a goal race were minor.

Thankfully, my new perspective was untested because I woke up the next morning feeling much better. By Thursday I was confident enough to register for Hairy Hundred, and Friday evening my leg felt great while mountain biking…so imagine my distress when I once again woke up in the night unable to extend my leg without pain.

This was me for two weeks
Luckily, the pain wasn’t as severe this time.  I foam rolled, used a heating pad, took it easy on Saturday, and drove to Rocheport Sunday morning with my fingers crossed.  I thought there was a good chance I’d ride a few miles, start hurting, and have to turn around, but a day spent relaxing and hanging around with bike friends is hardly a tragedy. If the race went well, I’d be relieved. If it didn’t, I’d cloak myself in denial and avoid my bike until Mother Lode.  So far the problem only cropped up after riding my bike; I could deal with a limp for the rest of vacation as long as I could still race.

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Pre-race: "Hmmm...what are the chances I finish this ride?"

***

While I know Mickey really wanted me to race again, I had no such intentions. I had two main goals for Hairy Hundred.  First, I wanted to set a strong but sustainable pace and see how I felt at the end. The last couple of races we’ve done together have featured aggressive starting paces and quickly declining performances (to be fair, that "quickly declining performance" is in comparison to how we started; one of those two races also featured a 2nd place AG finish).  I’ve been pretty sure there’s a direct relation between the two, but you start to question yourself.  Second, I wanted to improve on my poor Cedar Cross fueling.  I planned out nutrition much more carefully and learned how to set a time alert on my Garmin to remind me to eat something every 15 minutes.

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Eric

I lined up near the back with Jim, Renee, Steve, and Eric. Renee and I are racing Motherlode together and keep planning to ride together but failing to execute.  Steve and I were riding together as long as our paces matched, and Eric and I had planned to ride together with the caveat that if one of us (most likely me) was too slow the other was welcome to ride away.

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Jim

The race started with a neutral roll-out on the Katy Trail, which was a nice opportunity to warm up and chat before we turned onto the gravel 6 miles in.  Having a reliable rear derailleur meant I was able to shift into the correct gear for the first hill and was only passed by most of the pack instead of everyone.  Steve and Renee both passed me*, and I never saw either of them for the rest of the race. I had to laugh at how bad Renee and I have turned out to be at riding together. Hopefully in South Dakota we’ll manage better.

Eric slowed at the top of the hills for me to catch up, and we spent the next miles talking.  Riding with a new person is a little like going on a blind date; I’d been a little nervous about it because I’m more tortoise than hare, and I talk a lot. I’m sure I can be annoying. Eric is either very patient or somewhat hearing impaired, though, because we ended up sticking together for the whole day.

After a slow start on the first hills I started feeling stronger and was really enjoying not feeling like death. About 15 miles in we passed the Sonas on a hill; I reached over to very cautiously slap Carrie’s butt and, shortly after, more aggressively smack Jim’s as we caught him. I almost paid for my overconfidence, swerving and almost crashing. “It’s that instant karma,” he laughed before telling me, “I kept hearing your voice behind me and decided to wait up.”

Tracy's pics
Photo credit: Tracy Wilkins
With that, our gang of three continued on. Despite having done this exact route two previous times, I was surprised how little I remembered of it, but my Garmin was super easy to follow. After missing the first couple alerts in the excitement of the start, I got on track with my eating and made sure to drink regularly. The first potential stop was at mile 32 in Fayette; Jim stopped, but Eric and I had stocked up so we only needed to stop at the mile 57 bag drop.

Jim caught up about 7 miles down the road. We were wondering how his time trial was going and had just stopped for a bio break (Eric)/bottle switch (me) when I heard the familiar ding of a bell. Together again, we made quick work of the 17 or so miles before the bag drop, the only negative being when Eric already knew the punchline of our favorite rural joke. Very disappointing.

While the gravel in the first third of the course was in great shape other than one deep patch that took out on of the strongest women in the race, there were a lot more thick sections in the middle. Sometimes we could skirt along the edge of the road where the rock hadn’t yet spread to, and other times we had to make the best of faint lines through the middle. We were all relieved to hit the pavement on the outskirts of Glasgow and enjoy some fast, smooth miles into the bag drop.

We’d planned a 5-minute stop but took twelve due to my disorganization. At least two girls passed us here, including the eventual winner. I’d prepared spare bottles ahead of time but was slightly flummoxed by which needed to be switched out and which needed to be refilled with water.  Enjoying the company and the ride, I was missing the sense of urgency necessary to make our stop faster. That said, I clearly need to leave specific instructions for our Motherlode crew rather than count on myself to know what I need during the race.

The morning had started out cool but gradually warmed up into the low 80’s. Thankfully, the hill leaving Glasgow was heavily shaded, so much so that I was almost sad to reach the top and emerge into the sun again. From there, we only had one more climb before the flats that make up the remaining 30 miles of the race.

Tracy's pics
Descending to the flats.
Photo credit: Tracy Wilkins


30 flat miles sounds awesome, but in reality it’s this purgatory of constant pedaling and somehow this stretch always seems to have a headwind. Last year it about broke me; despite Mickey’s efforts to get me to draft I spent most of the time hanging dispiritedly behind, convinced the wind was out to get me.

This year I did much better. There were a lot of times I really wanted to stop pedaling and just dawdle along behind the guys, but I stuck with our paceline and did my share of pulling. It was still pretty breezy, but instead of sinking into my old persecution complex I just laughed to myself every time the road looked like it was going to turn out of the wind only to quickly disappoint me.

Still, it did wear on me. The plan had been one stop, at the bag drop, but as we approached New Franklin and the final Casey’s, I mentioned that I wouldn’t mind a quick stop there, just to get off of my bike. I think Jim had already planned to stop there, and Eric was happy to grab a cold Gatorade, so we pulled off the road with just ten miles left. This was my one real lapse in focus for the whole day. I could easily have made it to the finish without any extra supplies.

The guys bought drinks; I picked out an ice cream bar, which I ate while waiting in line. While they filled bottles and drank their purchases I ran back into the store to fill my water bottle with ice. Half of it cooled my drink and the rest went into my jersey. Our Casey’s stop was about 10 minutes.

We burned another three minutes just a few blocks down the road when, despite having loaded the same exact route on our Garmins, Jim and I were getting different messages. After some discussion, we went with his, which ended up being correct. “Right,” I grumbled as we began climbing, “Listen to the Garmin that sends us uphill!”

Only one or two hills remained before we closed the loop on the route and headed back east on the Katy Trail. Unlike our teamwork against the wind, this stretch was more good company and conversation (and, in my case, being really eager to see the tunnel that signals the end of the race). Because Mickey always accuses me of sneak-attack last-minute sprints, I was careful to stay right in line with the guys as we reached the Mulberry Grill and the pizza I’d been looking forward to since we started. 93 miles down!

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Post-race sweaty jersey

It was a very encouraging day. I felt really good for probably the first 70 miles and OK afterwards, confirming for me that my race experience is better when I set my own pace. That part may be kind of a “duh” observation, but I didn’t just feel better: my effort was more consistent as well.

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Cedar Cross: Strong start, precipitous decline


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Hairy Hundred: overall much more consistent

And, finally, my performance compared to last year improved. One of the disheartening things about Cedar Cross wasn’t just feeling awful; it was comparing this year’s segments to previous ones and coming up short in every single one.  It’s not a perfect comparison since the overall Cedar Cross course was different and this year’s weather was much harder on me than previous years, but it’s telling that, in all areas that were the same, I was slower than my previous self.

In contrast, despite this year’s Hairy Hundred temperatures being warmer than last year and me setting my own comfortable pace, I had personal bests on many of the segments.

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That said, my time this year was slower than last year by 24 minutes (6:52 in 2015, 7:16 this year). I’m not thrilled about that, but I’m not worried about it, either. Last year I was racing; this year I just wanted to have a good, consistent race, and I did that. Now to work towards a faster good, consistent race (and avoid the lure of unnecessary gas station ice cream).
                                                                                                    

*As it turns out, this isn’t entirely true. Steve passed me at then waited at a turn. I was completely oblivious to him there and for the next miles he was on my wheel. Renee apparently hadn’t passed me and later was slowed by a flat. Basically, I’m an idiot.

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