Friday: the day before the race
Chris and I dropped the dogs off at my moms and headed to Coburn, Pennsylvania. 9 hours in the car and a weekend of free camping in July is a bit too toasty and humid for our pups. We drove into the small town of Coburn, PA and found the Park on the left side of the road, right behind the post office. As we pulled up I could hear the creek roaring and saw the playground covered by a foot of water. This event allows for free camping so we found a great spot right by the creek. I jumped out of the truck ready to stretch my legs. I walked across the soggy wet field to packet pick-up as water poured into my sandals. Terrible choice in footwear for this weekend, found out it had been raining there all week.
I picked up my race packet and searched around until I found a map of the course. This was the first year they have had a 101K (marathon) option. I usually show up to the race with GPS route in my Garmin and know the exact elevation changes so I can use it during the race. After a few minutes of analyzing the map I noticed the total mileage was 75. What? I was in shock, no way. I kept repeating in my head, “that must be wrong.” I flagged down the race director and he quickly reassured me it would be a 75 mile race. Keep in mind, I came thinking I would be racing 63 miles. 12 extra miles on a mountain bike is nothing to take lightly. Chris tried to comfort me and reminded me that I was ready. That my training was enough. He also reminded me that it may be a good thing that it is longer. I tend to be able to out endurance people. Remember that a race is not only about your bike skills and strength but also proper nutrition throughout the entirety. Another 12 miles is another hour on the bike and another hour you have to down calories, electrolytes, etc. After my small freak out moment we jumped on the bikes for an easy pre-ride spin.
The park is actually quite far from the singletrack so we chose to ride the first 5 miles of the race. We pedaled down the road a mile and hung a sharp left across a bridge to ride the starting climb. I found a comfortable gear and cruised up the hill watching the pavement turn into gravel. Halfway up was a clearing, overlooking the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. You could see the fog rolling off the land as the day warmed up. 3 miles up we crested the top. I looked around and was pedaling through a pine forest. Rows upon rows of tall pine trees lined the gravel road. Another magical moment on my bike. If you remember from my previous blog, I love pine forests.
The descent back to the truck was unnerving. I took each turn cautiously not knowing how my bike would handle atop wet uneven pavement. As we rode the straightaway back into the park I kept thinking about Saturday. How was I going to descend as fast as everyone else? I had this daunting image in my mind that my bike was going to just slide out from under me as I fly down the gravel hills.
Starving from such a long drive I heated up dinner. I brought our favorite meal. Here is the recipe minus I used quinoa instead of rice and since I forgot the brussel sprouts at home I used chickpeas. I think this a perfect and hearty pre-race meal. Not long after dinner the sky opened up. It was looking like an early bedtime for us. I could hear the rain come on and off throughout the night. Worry, doubt, and anxiety flooded my dreams. Another wet race. You would think by now I would be pretty comfortable with slick trail.
Saturday: Race Day
5:15 AM Gong…gong…gong…
What the? I hear the race director over the megaphone. What a wake up call. Chris and I had plenty of time to prepare before our race that started at 9 AM. First thing I had to do was get my bottles ready for the aid stations. I kept going over it in my head how I was going to do my nutrition. Aid 1 mile 27, Aid 2 mile 45, and last Aid mile 64. I decided to drop 2 bottles at Aid 1 and Aid 2. The last 11 miles I would have to find something at the aid station to keep me going. If you have not read any of my other posts, I only do liquid nutrition. I premix my bottles with my homemade concoction and ship them on their way. 6 bottles pre-mixed and ready for the race.
The hundred milers took off. Now my nerves were going. I was ready to race! The rain had stopped, the sun was washing away the fog. I could feel it. This was going to be a fun race. Chris did one more bike check before we went on a warm up ride. I was running a Schwalbe Racing Ralph in the front and a Continental Race King in the rear. Were these the perfect tires for the job? Keep reading to see. One good spin through my gearing and I was ready for the race.
9:00 AM > TIME TO RACE!
Those 2 hours between races felt like eternity. I almost needed to eat again. I rolled to the start without much of a plan. Today’s race was going to be all about pacing myself and proper nutrition. I was going to focus on my power and staying on top of drinking a bottle an hour. The white truck pulled away and we took a neutral start to the first climb of the day.
The truck pulled off and the race began. Chris said his goodbye’s and sprinted up the climb leading the way. I gave a decent effort for the first 3 minutes but quickly analyzed my power and pulled back. After talking to several men the night before I knew the singletrack was 30 miles away. I tried to stay with a group so we could draft off each other on the flats but the pack dispersed rapidly. Before I knew it we were strung out and I was dangling off the end of the lead group.
I finished the climb with two guys who quickly dropped me on the descent. Those next 20 miles creeped by. I was having a tough time mentally at this point. I had forgotten the feeling of racing. The discomforts and pain you go through even if you are fit. I had no distractions. I tried to remember the words from this podcast I listened to on the way to the race. It’s called, “Do Limits Live in Our Mind or Our Body?” I particularly was thinking about positive self-talk that Sonya Looney speaks about. So if you passed me during these miles I may have been talking aloud to myself.
A bunch of gravel road later I reached the first aid station. I was a few miles shorter than 27 and I was okay with that. I grabbed my 2 new bottles, chugged some water, and a cup of soda. Re-energized and re-vamped I hit the road. Straight out of the aid station I began to climb. The climbs during the race were always long. No rollers here. All of a sudden I see a trailhead and a yellow arrow pointing to enter. Hell yes! Finally some singletrack. I was so worried about the singletrack last night but now I was begging for it.
I entered the trail and quickly caught Marilyn Rayner who rides for Lady Gnar Shredders out of Ohio. The first thing I noticed when I hit the trail was the rocks scattered everywhere. As the trail progressed those rocks grew and became sharper. It was also a very tight and skinny trail. It was hard to see around the turns. I do think that pre-riding/knowing the trail better would have been very beneficial here due to the lack of sight. As I kept pumping and popping over rocks I saw another rider ahead. As I got closer I noticed it was Kayla Randolph. She had passed me on the lonely gravel sections before Aid station 1. Man was she a powerhouse on the road. She stumbled on a rocky section and had to walk. Without even thinking I powered past and luckily found the line over a bridge of rocks on her left. This would be the last time I ever saw Marilyn and Kayla. Once I toughed through the long haul of rock gardens and finally started to descend. It was full of rolling, wet rocks, and sharp turns. I was loving it!
This is where things get fuzzy in my mind. Was this the same trail or a different section? So please take this next part how you will. At some point during the singletrack you pop out of a descent into this huge tall grassy clearing (maybe a powerline area) and you cannot see anything. There is not distinct trail, just tall grass laying over. I follow the path most taken and go barreling through the trail. Finding out that under that tall grass are rocks upon rocks. My bike was jerking and bouncing as I grasped the handlebars firmly. I thought for sure I was going to flip over the bars. Was that the sketchiest part of the trail? Not in my mind.
More gravel, more double-track, more gravel, more double-track.
I am now about 5 miles from Aid 2 (mile 45) and having stomach problems. I see another trail opening ahead. On the left side I see an aid station. I know it cannot be Aid 2. It was way too early. It was a few locals out to help promote an upcoming enduro event called 2018 Raven Mountain Bike Enduro. They saved the day. I skidded to a stop and chugged about 5 glasses of cold water, thanked my heros, and dipped into the singletrack. My Garmin was only saying 68 degrees F but with the high humidity I needed more water.
This trail quickly became a rock garden, come to find out this is what the locals call the Beautiful trail. There were sections that had great flow but plenty of stretches full of rocks as far as the eye could see. The Beautiful Trail drops you into No Name Trail. I hit the trail and immediatly descend. I look ahead and see the trail is covered with large rocks. I can feel them shifting under my wheels. I drop my seat and hinge back trying to keep my weight off of the front wheel. The one mile descent is not for the faint of heart. I could feel myself picking up too much speed and had to try and slow my bike down without sliding off the edge. I passed one person who had chosen to hike down. With all the rocks and tight trail, I could not imagine trying to hike it down safely. Luckily I made it to the bottom unscathed. It may have not been a world record but much quicker than hike-a-bike.
After No Name trail the singletrack was gone until the last 5 miles of the race. The gravel roads turned into a ton of double track through the forest and long climbs. The last Aid station (mile 64) was in a campground area. I rode this area last year so I knew what was left to conquer. I only had one last climb to the finish. As I left the last aid station I concentrated on my power. I knew all I had to do at this point was maintain speed/power, don’t break my bike, and don’t bonk. Easy right? Only 11 miles to go.
I took a sharp right off a gravel descent onto a rails to trails path called Mid State Trail. It’s located in Poe Paddy State Park. As I pedaled down the flat path I looked ahead and saw a dark tunnel. No way. I couldn’t see the light on the other end at first and hesitated to pass through. I entered and my heart rate flew through the roof. I could not see anything but the light shining in the distance. Have you ever pedaled in total darkness, not able to see your body moving or where you are headed? I focused on my breathing and stared straight at the exit. How terrible if I rode right into the wall. I was lucky no one else was walking through.
I finally reached the last climb, Old Mingle Rd. Almost a 3 mile climb from the bottom. I headed up and smoothly climbed towards the top. I kept thinking that after every turn it was going to be over. 20 minutes later I was rewarded with an amazingly fast downhill. Lots of rocks and bumps so I still had to stay focused. I did not need a flat this close to the finish. The descent dropped me right into the last section of singletrack. I took the righthand turn and climbed into the trail. It dropped me near the edge of the creek. The trail was partially flooded and quickly turned into a moss covered mess. Boulder and rocks scattered everywhere. I had no idea where the ride line was. My first major hike-a-bike of the day. I had one early which I failed to mention.
Side note > Somewhere along the race course a bridge was out and I had to cross a roaring creek knee deep (if you’re short). Seriously? I slid down the side and stepped into the ice cold water. My shoes were quickly drenched. I could feel the uneven rocks under my feet and my unsteady arms flailing my bike overhead. I can honestly say I am in dire need of weight training.
I scurried through the forest with my bike in hand. My feet were sliding down the sides of rocks while I attempted ‘running.’ When I finally reached the end of the days worst rock garden I mounted my bike and peddled out of the singletrack. The next segment was a flooded 3 mile rails to trails. I started it with a fairly clean bike and ended covered in black muck. I have a feeling that water had been sitting for awhile.
I crossed the foot bridge to the infamous final tunnell. It was an old railroad tunnel. I entered full of anxiety. I could not see and the ground was flooded. Several areas were deep and full of sharp rocks. I tried to ride smart and stay light on the bike. This was going to be the last section that I had a high risk of flatting. I exited the tunnel with a giant phew! All that was left now was 1.5 miles of road to the finish line.
I crossed the finish line at 6:39:31 feeling super stoked. I had know clue how I did. So many people were ahead on the first climb and we intermingled with the 100 milers at some point. I asked the volunteers and into my surprise I placed third in open women. Finding out my husband placed third in open men made for a perfect weekend.
My legs felt strong throughout the entire race and even though my stomach had some issues I was able to quickly fix. All said and done I believe I raced perfectly. The hardest part for me was to pull back and keep pace. I tend to go out too hard and die off towards the end. This race was different., I made sure to focus on consistent power and not waste energy. The aid stations for me were great. The volunteers helped me get in and out quickly. The only thing I would change would be my tire selection. I would have liked a knobbier tire to help grip better.
So far this is my favorite post race setup. I had plenty of beer in my new glass, I had a full belly from the guys grilling burgers and dogs all day (they even had veggie burgers), and plenty of people hanging around that love talking about bikes. Some events people leave quickly or tend not to intermingle. Here I felt at home. One last sick point is they had 2 hoses hooked up so you could wash your bike post race. Now that’s thinking about the racers. Overall they did a pretty good job with the event.
This race I learned it pays off to pace yourself. It is hard to be confident in your training until you go out and prove it is working. I am a firm believer again that structured training has great rewards. I want to thank you so much for reading Wilderness 101 Race Report. Comment below what you do to get through a long mountain bike race. Do you do structured workouts? Long endurance rides? Eat gummy bears to finish? Or twinkies? Can’t wait to hear.