Last year at the Tatanka point to point race in Sturgis, SD I had a breakthrough race where I learned that 1) I can race a bike longer than 90 minutes, and 2) Heat doesn’t automatically kill me. I had an amazing time riding really awesome trails. So earlier this summer I decided to throw my hat into the race again.
Then I started to get hesitant…
It was suppose to be mid-90s. I haven’t been riding a lot. My right knee exploded on a road century attempt. And the realization that because I did so well last year, I had personal expectations to do even better. But what if I couldn’t?! Argh.
So I packed up and headed up to Sturgis, about 4:40 of a drive on Friday morning. The drive actually really wore me down, and my right knee was aching anytime I couldn’t use cruise control. Great, not even riding a bike yet and I’m in pain! I picked up my packet once I got into town, and asked to see the start list. I only recognize Jen Toops’ name (strong endurance pro from Ohio who I think is leading the NUE marathon series), and noted the lack of Colorado pro racers. Shoot, now I really have to race as I might have a chance! I thought… to my dismay. I don’t know, it’s easier to know you won’t podium because the field is stacked deep with legit full-time pros.
Drove up to Hog Heaven and grabbed the spot I wanted since last year… nice and shady and down in the trees. I set up camp, and took to staring at my bike, hoping it would do my race openers for me. Finally I kitted up and headed out into the 90 degree sun. Surprisingly, I felt really good. I hadn’t ridden since Tuesday due to the heat, but legs felt peppy. I ended up doing some hill repeats and riding 7 miles in the campground. Hmm… so I felt good. Time to see what the morning would bring!
Thanks to my shady spot, I managed to sleep in longer than last year, waking up at 6:44am, and then dozing on and off until 8am. I was going to ride down to the shuttle pick up with another gal I met at the campground named Cindy, who was racing in her 3rd ever mountain bike race! I ran and got my egg white McMuffin from McDonalds, and enjoyed an earlier breakfast than last year, and drank lots of water and a bottle with a Fizz tablet in it to get loaded up on electrolytes. At 10am we left for the downhill cruise to load up our bikes and wait for the shuttle to Piedmont. On the shuttle ride I choked down a PB&J Bonk Breaker bar, and another bottle of water. Here goes nothing…
The organization of the start was smoother this year, and we didn’t have to stand as long on the hot pavement, though I watched my Garmin creep up to 100 degrees. The start was completely different this year with no Karen Jarchow and Alex Pond to blast off the line, and I found myself and Jen leading out with some men on the “neutral” pavement part. Last year I was out of breathe and dropped hard on this part, but felt strong this year and as we turned onto the Dalton Creek gravel road climb to the start of the single track. Jen was riding strong and hanging onto the wheels of the men in front of her, and I tried my best to stick with her, but found myself gapped. I grappled in my head on if I was going out too hard, but eventually said F it, go hard, see what happens. I won’t lie, I had pictured a podium finish in my mind, so I decided to just go for it.
Single track went well, and unlike the previous year I cleared the first few rock gardens. Suddenly there was a fork in the trail and the guy in front of me that was off his bike yelled “they’re going the wrong way, this is the right way!” So I followed him, thankful he pointed that out. At this point I was in first, but it wouldn’t take long before Jen would be back on course and powering past me. I just concentrated on settling into my pace, which was hard, but not balls to the wall. One of the guys behind me was overheard saying “We have an engine pulling us!”
Due to logging in the area, the first aid station came about a mile sooner, about 5 miles in, and instead of jumping onto the single track of the Centennial Trail, we started a very long grindy fire road climb out of the aid station. I wasn’t going to stop but a cup of cold water tempted me, which I took a sip and then dumped on me. No time to waste and I set out grinding up the dirt road in the hot sun. In a way this change was nice, as I could just settle into a rhythm without worrying about rocks and roots and sharp changes in gradient. We eventually turned off into primitive single track that was overgrown and rough, and I just lightly spun. After that trail we spit out onto another road climb which was covered with cat head sized rocks where were awful to ride out. I started swearing and decided the race promoters must hate us.
Surprisingly, when we re-joined the Centennial Trail I realized we were a lot further down the course that I thought, and set up for the first big descent of the day… steep, lose, with tight switchbacks at the most unfortunate moments. Immediately my handling skills felt off and I couldn’t get in a good grove with my bike, so I knew I wasn’t descending as fast as I could and definitely not as smoothly. But I made it without incidence, and start plodding back uphill when the descent ended. I was kinda of shocked at how fast the course was flying by due to the change in the earlier parts and soon I found myself down in the creek bed jungle, which they had politely trimmed back this year, so visibility was a lot better and the poison ivy a little further away from human contact. I had one near crash as I haphazardly left the trail but saved it with a quick unclipping and change in my balance. The creek beds were dry this year, and not as slippery, so I rode more of them than last year.
After the longest mile ever, I plopped out at the final aid station, where a kid immediately put an iced bandana on my neck and other volunteers set to refilling my camelback, getting me Coke, filling my bottle, and feeding me watermelon. Someone let me know I was the second women in, which I nodded in agreement. I knew exactly where I was, and I knew I couldn’t get too comfortable off the bike for too long as I had no idea the gap back to the third. With my pack back on, bottle filled with cold water, and a big glob of ice down the back of my jersey, I set out for the last 20 miles.
The climbs out of the aid station are a bit heart breaking, but I plodded on, happy to have the stinging pain of frozen skin on my back from the ice and knowing there were some serious descents coming up. Last year I had some pretty serious cloud cover at this point which helped out mentally and physically, but this year was nothing but hot sun and blue skies. On the first long descent I started catching sprint and kid racers, which was a little hairy due to the speeds I would come up on them. Luckily everyone was great with moving aside! Down down down… aching feet and sore hands as they chaffed with my wet gloves. I never wanted the descending to be over so much in my life! Finally the climb up Bulldog arrived. Last year I was quite proud of myself for clearing the 13% average climb, but I rode maybe the first third of it this year and jumped off and walked. Walking kinda felt good, and I really had nothing to prove by riding it!
Bulldog descent went ok. I took it cautiously, knowing it would be easy to lose my podium place or the whole race by getting too ballsy on the descent. Plopping out into the meadow felt great… until I went off course. Because it is not the Tatanka MTB Race if you’re actually staying on course (Everyone I talked to this year went off course at least once… course markings can be… not great). I saw a bunch of white streamers marking a turn onto single track so I grabbed the brakes and turned onto it. Luckily it didn’t take me long to realize it was not leading me under I-90 properly, so I turned around and hauled ass back to the Centennial Trail, pissed off at myself for turning off. Under I-90… yay!
Well, not yay. They changed the end of the course from the Ft. Meade trails of last year, which weren’t that bad, to a newly re-vamped section of the Centennial Trail. I really had no idea what to expect, but I was expecting something similar to last year. Oh no, oh no… why would it be like that? I was not prepared for the long climb to follow on moondust, which made traction hard and killed my willpower so I just started walking the climbs. I swore more, especially every time I rounded a corner and saw the trail continuing up. Dammit dammit dammit, this isn’t want I was wanting! The sun was hot an this section was very exposed. There was some descending before a steep climb up and then double track climb. OMG it’s never ending! I was sad I watched the time click away, nothing I wouldn’t impressively beat last year’s time with the new course changes.
Some of the descents on this section were just stupid with 6-12″ of powdery mood dust to suck in your front tires. When will this be over? Another super fast descent… to another climb. ARGHHH… but wait… bike path up ahead! YESSS! Luckily I was warned by another racer who rode several miles in the wrong direction on how to properly get on the bike path (once again, kinda sketchy course marking) and settled in for a few miles of being a roadie. Glances over my should assured that no one was close, and legs felt good enough that I knew I could throw in a sprint if I had to, but I was happy that I wouldn’t have to. The finish line was about .75 mile further down the path from last year, which added insult to injury to entire section after crossing under I-90.
4 hours 30 minutes. Done and done! Best marathon MTB finish and first NUE podium!
And I still beat last year’s time by 4 minutes even with the last bit of Centennial Trail moon dust madness!
I just might have to come back next year and hope I can win another buffalo 😀
2 liters with 6 scoops of Tailwind green tea caffeinated endurance fuel and 1.5 scoops of lemon endurance fuel with water topped in it at the aid station. Had 1 liter left at the finish of the watered down mixture. One slice of watermelon. Two 22oz bottles of plain water. Cup of Coke.
Mistakes: No sunscreen on my face. No chamois butter on my hands to prevent my gloves from chaffing. Also forgot a stick of Tailwind to dump on at the refill. I don’t have my crap together when it comes to bike racing this year really!