Sunday, March 08, 2009

Snake Creek Gap March 2009

Wow, what another awesome weekend at Snake!!

We arrived at the campfire a bit later than usual and had a low key night. (prob helped us all the next day) I only had 1 beer all night... crazy I know. Slept pretty good and we were all up and ready earlier than in Feb and headed off to the starting line ahead of the crowd. I agree with Adam, this was a great move. I started with Keith, Adam, Jeff, Scott and Matt. We were all a bit spun at in the first few miles but we knew our gearing would help for the rest of the course. I tried my best to just stick on Adam's wheel who was stuck on Keith's for the first few miles of gravel roads. It was a lot easier to keep a steady pace with less traffic. The singletrack entrance seemed to come 'early' again and we were in the woods, grunting up still. By now Adam had shot up ahead of Keith and I and we were settling into our pace....which really was just Keith's pace as he pulled me along. I faded some and caught back up which repeated the entire climb to the next gravel road decent. I was never off the bike though which was another first for me. The last kick up before the left turn to reach the gravel road was the end to our walkless-day. Keith lost traction and I bumped right into his wheel and we both dismounted, though we were right back on after the turn and screaming down the gravel road.

I caught back up with Keith in the next few miles and went on to ride with him almost until the halfway mark. I joked if he could carry me to the end. I remembered the good pace he kept at the Feb Snake and just hoped I could stick with him. I got a little behind on the last climb before the 17 mile mark when some traffic passed me on a slow climb and forced me to dismount. I never saw Keith again but I was very thankful for the pace setting. He helped me ride the first 17 faster and more consistently than I ever have.

Photo Credit: Sharpie

When I hit the decent to the halfway mark I let it all out. I passed a rider and then saw this tight left turn where you can kind of ride the wall so to speak. I hit the corner a little too fast but I thought, well I'll try to ride the wall out and just go on. I can't ride walls, never really tried with full intent but I did this time and failed. I went up and the bike quickly slid out and I went down on my right arm. I laughed it off and got back on to finish the decent. I arrived at the rest stop feeling tired and wondering if I could continue on after the effort I'd already put in up to that point. I tried to make my stop brief, ditching my arm warmers, popping more Sport Legs and refilling bottles.

I headed back in to tackle the LONG climb with some fleeting hopes of continuing on but the realistic idea that I may turn around at some point and head back to the halfway stop. I really worried that I had pushed myself too hard in the first half and didn't leave enough in the tank for the tougher half of the course.

I continued on up the climb alone just trying to keep a consistent cadence and keep my momentum. These past two Snake races have started to really hit home the idea of momentum and how important it is to just keep the wheels moving. Even if it hurts to keep pedaling consistently, it hurts more to go just a tad slower and have to really mash each pedal down to keep getting back up to speed. The rocks get so frequent and are the size to really suck your momentum as you fatigue and your finesse goes out the window. So by now I'm getting to the right hand uphill which is almost always a muddy mess forcing a dismount. I was coming up on a geared rider in his granny ring and he immediately 'instructed' me to come around and pass. I jokingly told him not to worry about it, that I was about to get off to walk, remembering how I always have to walk this section. (4 Snakes and walked 4 times). Well I was gaining on him so fast I thought I'd at least try to get around because I didn't want to get off that early to walk. He rallied me and really encouraged me to push until I absolutely couldn't. The trail was in much better shape here this time so I had ample traction to continue on. I made it up to the very tight left hand switch back and swung wide to give it a go. As I'm thinking, "I've never tried this switchback", I hear the rider behind me yell... "Keep momentum...get it!" And next thing I know, I'm through the turn and up the incline, still on the bike pedaling! Wow! Yet another 1st for me at Snake.

I continued to ride alone for the next few miles of uphill. This climb just drags on forever. There are multiple sections where you can't see the direction the trail takes after the next climb, yet when you get there it just keeps going up and up.

I was actually feeling pretty good at this point. I was getting a little worn down but was getting food in and I could tell the calories were helping my energy level. I wasn't cramping anywhere yet and even the descents were more fun rigid than they were in Feb. I flew down the long decent after the 2 mile climb out of the halfway point. I blazed through the many creek crossings and started the rolling dirt road section. I took the opportunity to get more calories and fluid and then made it to the long gravel road climb to the 8 mile sag stop. I always end up walking the bulk of this gravel road, not really because it's too steep but because I generally start to cramp and I don't want to waste valuable energy here knowing what lies in the 3 miles of hell later on. This ride again was different though. I did start to cramp a little bit but took a gu and drank and just continue to keep the pedals moving. Once the rest stop was in sight I knew I couldn't get off, I had to make it. Riding this gravel road was yet another 1st for me at Snake.

I tried to stretch a little here as the cramps had started. I refilled my water, ate more and chatted with the racers and the volunteer. Once again all the volunteers and support for this race are awesome! Truly amazing people out there on their day off helping racers and this day, fighting the bugs. I tried not to stay too long here and just continue on, even though I was hurting. The next couple miles of trail are a little slow but aren't that hard. I tried to keep a fast pace here knowing I'd be forced to walk a lot in the last 3 miles of trail. My cramps came and went and got really bad once forcing me to dismount and just hang on the side of the trail for a couple minutes doing nothing. Not making any sort of forward progress is very frustrating but I just knew I couldn't really walk these cramps out. I started playing leap frog with a group of 4 riders as we all had to dismount, rest, walk, ride slow, ride fast etc. all at different times.

When I started to hit the really hard stuff I just kept telling myself that I was doing great, was on a great overall pace and that this section was just going to be slow going. I tried to keep reminding myself that this section was hard, it was slow, but it didn't always need to be so frustrating and demoralizing. I've been through this 4 other times, I knew what it was, now just get through it. So I pushed on trying my best to always be moving forward. I thought about starting to look for [I]the tower[/I] but I didn't know if I was close enough to see it and didn't want to waste time or get my hopes up looking for it. I passed the photographer in the hammock and he said "2 miles to go to the finish". He always says this, and I always think "Is that 2 miles of singletrack to the gravel road decent, or is that 2 miles to the actual finish line" You ride down an over 1.5 mile decent to the finish after you get out of the woods so I'm generally confused when he says that. Do I have 2 more miles of this rock to get through? But I never stop to ask ... I just keep going. I started to really cramp but I knew I was so close. I stopped to eat one last Reese cup as a treat and got back on the bike and told myself, "No excuses, no more stopping for cramps... you ride it out!" Less than an 1/8th of a mile out and I was screaming down the gravel, shooting through the tiny section of woods to the road and then tucked in down the steep road decent to the finish line. I was one big cramp ball while tucked. It hurt a lot but I just knew I had a good day on the bike and I wanted every last second I could get. I spun like a gerbil to the finish and clocked a new personal best time, taking 30 minutes off my Feb Snake time.

I still can't believe it. Last year I finished Snake in 5:50, 5:55 and 5:20. This year I missed Jan but finished Feb in 4:46 and now managed 4:15. I remember thinking how completely unobtainable anything under 4:30 was for me. I went into 2009 hoping I could get under the 5 hr mark, but being realistic about my saddle time and trying not to get my hopes set too high. I know I'm not fast and I don't ride a lot (comparatively) and I have a lot of biking friends who are way more skilled than I, have more experience and can push themselves harder and farther than me. I hope I can continue to learn from them and grow as a cyclist and also continue to push myself harder.

I want to thank everyone who helps put on the Snake Creek Gap race series. Thank you Becky for the support! It's hard to describe how nice it is to have someone you know at the halfway point!! I have truly enjoyed every single race. I encourage everyone to give this race a try. Come out, spend the weekend with everyone and experience Snake Creek, even if it is just the 17 mile version of the race. I promise you will leave a different person.

You can view all my pictures here: March Snake Flickr Set


jmilliron said...

Great time improvement! Good to hang out with you guys a little on Friday night.

-d said...

Killer job! Bravo.

freshie (and zero) said...

I usually read your blog on google reader and just saw your "missing" walz cap photo - hilarious!

You're awesome. I'm glad you had a good time riding - even if I'm not there, I certainly brag about your accomplishments to anyone who will listen!

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