Chris Shannon and I arrived at the Thunder Rock trailhead parking lot Friday at noon. The trailhead is directly across from the Thunder Rock Campground*. After lunch we headed out for our pre-ride of the course. I wanted to do the first singletrack hill climb right after passing the Ocoee Whitewater Center.
*This campground has clean bathrooms and showers. Also has a bike washing station. It is small, flat, and right next to the Ocoee River.
I led the way up the climb. It has several large roots to get over and a sharp right turn midway. This is usually where the fast guys make their moves. After the climb we turned around and headed to the Old Copper trail.
This trail is located on the same side of the Ocoee Whitewater Center and runs along the river.
It’s a nice flat section to help turn the legs. As I rode through we noticed so much water everywhere. I rolled through flowing water about 3 inches deep. They had received a lot of rain during the week but I never gave it any thought. I pedaled pretty slow through here trying not to get my bike too muddy before race day.
We finished the Old Copper Trail and decided to take the road back to the truck. This road is the starting climb in the morning. It is approximately 2 miles long.
Packet pickup was very easy. Something awesome about this event is dinner is provided at packet pickup. So after Chris and I cleaned up, we rode the Rhododendron trail to packet pick up. It is a paved path only a mile or so away.
They served salad, spaghetti with marinara sauce, and rolls. With plenty of tables around we grabbed one with several of our friends. This is a good way to meet others racing and get pumped for Saturday.
I woke up at 6 a.m. with 2 hours to get ready. We drove to the Ocoee whitewater Center and parked for $3 in their giant parking lot. It’s so nice to get somewhere and not worry about parking.
It was 39 degrees F and I was having trouble warming up. I rode up and down the parking lot, went up part of the start climb, and several trips to the bathroom. 10 minutes before the start I lined up in the second row next to my teammate, Nick Williams. I had left only my arm warmers on.
The siren went off and I headed to the 2 mile climb. This was the first race with my new power meter. Knowing that I would be sprinting into the singeltrack in 2 miles I tried to push hard up the climb.
Brush Creek is the first section of trail I entered. This is a very fast flow trail. I felt very confident in this trail and seemed to be passing several riders ahead. This trail popped me out at the Boyd Gap Overlook.
I did not have time to look as I descended into the Old Copper Trail. As I entered this section people started piling up. The pace slowed down and there was not many chances to pass. As I tried to be patient all I could think about was all the time I was losing with the other women. I was coming up to the large root section of the trail and tried to pick a line. I flew over the roots only to be stopped by 3 men crashing ahead. Another Big Frog obstacle. Old Copper was coming to an end and I could see the last water crossing. This is my favorite part. I slammed through the ankle high water over the large flat rocks with no care in the world. The temperature had only reached 40 degrees at this point and I now had drenched my feet in cold river water. I rode across the Ocoee Whitewater bridge feeling my feet grow numb. I hit the second challenging climb of the morning. At this point in the race you cannot mess up technically.
I glanced behind me for a second to see a line of racers pedaling up the hill. As the singletrack went on I came to a long climb on a wide trail. This was perfect for people to pass if they felt the need. 20 miles of singletrack was finished and I descended into the first aid station.
I cannot tell you what they had because I chose not to stop. From there, I took a right straight up a long gravel climb. This was where my competition shined. They pulled away quickly on the gravel road. I had no power to match theirs. The next 13 miles consisted of long gravel climbs and too short of descents. It quickly turned into a gravel race. I stayed on gravel until the last 9 miles. With this race being smaller I was out on the gravel alone. I would see a guy here and there but no one consistently. I found myself getting bored and distracted. I kept trying to stay focused on the race as I pedaled up each long and twisty climb.
As I passed the third aid station I was concerned. My stomach was starting to bloat but could not wait in line for water. I sacrificed and left knowing I just needed to make it to the singletrack. I pushed every climb and coasted every descent trying to conserve energy until the singletrack. I made it to the last aid station and downed some water while volunteer lubed my chain. As I entered the remaining singletrack I was thinking of what someone told me last year. “It’s all down hill from here.” If anyone says this, they have not raced here before. My most important goal here was to stay fluid through the turns and push on every flat.
I consistently was looking for the top of thunder rock descent. This is the last trail descent before popping out on the pavement towards the finish line. I finally spied the top and pushed into the downhill. I did not get a chance to pre-ride this section and could only remember bits and pieces from last year. I hit the beginning portion thinking, “this isn’t as technical as I remember.” With my false confidence I blasted into the next turn not realizing how sharp and narrow the path became. Brakes slammed and core engaged I saved myself from going off the side. That would have been a doozy of a fall. 2 turns later and I hit the pavement. I crossed over the bridge seeing ahead of me a woman. I know I only have a little over a mile to go. So I put my head down and tucked my arms in. It was time for me to time-trial into the finish. I had no clue what place I was in but every positioned mattered to me. I cranked up hill to the last bridge crossing. I could hear people cheering as I entered the parking lot. I hit the bridge and turned left into the finish line.
My husband and friends were all waiting to greet me with water and hugs. As I stopped my bike tears poured from my eyes. I did not remember this race being so difficult.
I was excited for the strong finish and full of way too many emotions. I finished 7th out of 34 women. As I calmed down it was time to enjoy the finish line excitement. There was no beer but there was plenty of soda and even a free post race meal. So I chugged my soda and headed over to the food truck.
They loaded my plate up with vegan nachos and hot sauce. We sat around the finish line and several people even got in the Ocoee River. It was way too chilly this year for me to jump in. At this point the weather had warmed up to 79 degrees F. It was a great race. My first 65 MTB race of the year.
From Big Frog 65 I learned your start is very important. It looks like more intensity is going into my training for the next race. I hope to see more people jumping in on the MTB racing scene and recommend this race for anyone interested in endurance MTBing. There is just enough trail for beginner’s and plenty of gravel to push the envelope. Thank you all for reading my Big Frog 65 Race Report. If you have any questions about the area or the race comment below! Happy to share the experience.