October 16, 2011

Tour of the White Mountains

I really wanted to do the 35 mile ride last year but things didn't work out. So I set my sights on the 2011 version as my inaugural mountain bike race. Now keep in mind, by no means do I consider myself a 'racer', it's just not my style. I enjoy the sights, smells & experience of being out on the trail no matter how long or short the ride.  I almost always average 5 mph on rides over 20 miles when factoring in photo stops, lunch breaks, BS sessions and a general leisurely pace.  This day would be different for sure.  Since the entry fee was the same for all distances (10, 15, 35 & 60), I decided to enter the 60 mile course.  I've done a couple of other 60 milers so that wasn't too much of a concern, however, I needed to be at Aid Station #4 (the 40 mile mark) in 5 hours (7:30a start time -> 12:30p).  Quick math will tell you that's an 8 mph average.  I better keep that in mind over the beginning miles I thought.  A few things I'd have working in my favor: We camped out to help adjust to the elevation of the ride, we had done a few longer 40-50 mile rides at altitude over the summer, the ride was supported so my pack would be lighter and I wouldn't be hauling my camera out every 15 minutes.  I also heard that the course was, in general terms, uphill on forest roads & downhill on singletrack.  I can do this!!

Seron and I decided to carpool up to Show Low for the campout.  We both grew anxious as race day approached, the weather forecast was beginning to look iffy at best with a 30% chance of showers. If that happened the whole dynamic of the race would be thrown for a loop since the dirt up there is clay based, i.e. super sticky mud!!

I went out for a short ride Wed. afternoon, nothing too crazy just some saddle time, but on Friday my legs were sore?!?!  Then it started, that slight achey feeling & repeated trips to the restroom....noooooo!!  The good news was that I didn't lose my appetite, but was becoming concerned about dehydration.  Thankfully by the time we were ready to head north my guts started to settle down a bit. 

Loaded & ready to go

I was optomistic, but cautious about what I ate.  We checked in and received our swag bag, number plate 75 it will be for my first race.  The pre-race dinner of chicken & pasta was good, it got me thinking about the race & not my stomach!

Tough finding a smooth spot in a volcanic minefield!

Saturday morning we awoke to a cool cloudless sky!! Hooray!! Looks like we should be able to get the race in before any weather moves in sans the normal afternoon thunder showers in high country.  I ate a small breakfast then headed over to the start line.  People were piling up as there were about 200 entrants in the 60 mile event. Saw a few friends, Chris, Walt & Deanna at the start then we were off.

60 miler starting area

Seron and I getting set to go

Let the conga line begin

Nice piece of trail leading into Aid #1

Aid #2/4 which would become a welcome sight as the day wore on.

At Aid #2

Long stretch of forest road.

The one true sufferfest of the ride, a nasty steep HAB section near mile 30.
 The racers began to thin out & jockey for position over the first few miles. For me, it was a good start pace, nothing too frenetic & the trail allowed for safe passes to be made.  I stayed with a group of riders until the first descent climb.  I could tell I didn't have the sustained stamina for a tough climb on this day and when I spun out on a slightly chunky section I decided to let a good bunch of riders go by.  I took this opportunity to shed my arm/leg warmers, catch my breath and focus on the task at hand: Get to Aid #4 by 12:30p.

I had initially planned to stop at all the aid stations, 5 total, but station #1 came up so quickly I rolled right on through.  The 60 mile course was set up so most of the climbing was done on forest road at a comfortable grade all the way to Aid #3 about 27 miles in.  I knew I would make good time getting to that spot, it was the HAB section the followed that I was a bit concerned about.  It would definitely slow me down, but I had no idea just how taxing it would be on this day.  The good news: once at the top it was almost all downhill into Aid #4 and the high elevation spot of the day. 

I made it to Aid #3 ahead of schedule, then slogged up the HAB.  I was really feeling the elevation during the hike having to stop more than I would have liked to recover.  I now had an hour and twenty minutes to reach Aid #4 some 12.5 miles away. I wasn't too worried about not making it until the time kept slipping away...20 minutes to go...10 minutes...how much longer??  My pocket map showed the station near mile 38.5, but I was now over 39 miles!!  Where is the station!?!?  I came across a couple of race volunteers and asked them how much farther? "It's about a mile" Uh oh. I had 7 minutes left!! A fellow racer in front of me heard that and asked me: "Can we make it?" I said back to him "if we put the hammer down, let's go!" Off we went, tick-tock, tick-tock.  5....4....3....2 minutes left and still no station, ugh.  I thought to myself, I can't believe I may miss the cutoff time by a minute or two, I can't let that happen!  I passed the other rider on a short uphill tech section then finally spotted the short road connector. My GPS read 12:29p, I could now see the station and yelled out through the trees "I'm coming, don't cut me off!!" As I rounded the corner & rolled up to the snack table the time was 12:31p, but I snuck in under the wire - WHEW! 

I topped off my fluids, grabbed some snacks and began my pursuit of Aid #5. I had to be there by 2pm.  It was about 10 miles with a couple of short climbs. I now had an hour and twenty minutes to get there.  Like the last section, Aid #5 seemed to drag on as my time wittled down.  Another group of race volunteers informed me that I was 1/2 mile away with 6 minutes to go!  Again, pushing hard to make the cutoff I rolled into station #5 under the wire by a whopping 2 minutes!! I was going to finish after all.  I chilled at station #5 for a good 20 minutes with some other racers, but in my mind the 'race' was over. I planned on taking it easy over the last 10 miles. The last few riders departed from the aid station and we were off, I was now firmly in control of being the last finisher, right where I belong!!

View from Aid #5.

Aid station #5.

Cool looking Alligator Juniper

Some 50+ miles in and even my bike looks tired.

Seron rode strong on this day, crossing the line some 2 hours ahead of me. Great job!!

Thanks to Seron for capturing my roll across the finish line, 8 hrs 29 mins.

I did see this guy about 4 miles from the finish! Trail sweeper.
 I ended up finishing 141st and couldn't be more stoked! I really had my doubts about making the time cutoffs since I don't normally ride a) all that fast and b) that long without stopping.  Some lessons to be learned for sure.  I think next year I'll try and do some 'race-pace' type rides leading up to it.  A big congrats to Chuck, Seron, Walt, Deanna and Chris who all finished the 60 miler in some impressive times. Cheers!

One final note: the rains finally did arrive, but not until 3am on Sunday thankfully. We did have to pack up camp in a steady rain, but that was better than trying to ride in the wetness. It was difficult enough driving out of the campsite, only about 3/4 of a mile, but our truck was sliding all over the place. Until next year, ride strong!

Mother Nature giving my bike a wash.

60 mile Tour of the White Mountains 2011 course. Courtesy of Topofusion

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