October 6, 2012

ToWM 60

What a difference a year makes. Last year I entered the Tour of the White Mountains (ToWM) 60 as my first sanctioned race, got sick the day before and somehow gutted out a finish. This year I knew I could make the time cutoffs, but how much faster was I?? The course had also been slightly modified with a new climb & descent after aid station #4 @the 40 mile mark.

I drove up to Show Low solo <-sounds funny, picked out a close camping spot, picked up my race packet, ate a nice pasta dinner, grabbed a beer, chatted with a buddy doing the 35 mile course, then hit the sack around 9:15. I actually slept pretty well.

Race morning I snagged a breakfast burrito, gathered up my stuff and made my rig ready for the days ride. One key change in this year's setup was that I opted to not carry my pack. I only took one water bottle, stashed some snacks in my feed bag, a spare tube in the gas tank and the rest of my tools/snacks in my framebag. The aid stations are not too far apart, the weather was cool, and I knew there would be plenty of water & Heed at each stop.

Riders gather at the starting line of the 60 mile event.
My goal for this year was to finish under 6 hrs 30 mins. Last year I was the last rider on course with a time near 8:30! The start went off and the dust began to fly, boy did it ever!! The first couple of miles were done in a haze, you could feel the grit on your teeth. The riders began to thin out going up the first climb and by the time the descent to aid #1 was complete there were only a few of us riding together. This was more my taste, I really dislike riding in large packs. I'd be more content to start last just so I could have the route to myself. I skipped aid #1, it's only 9 miles into the route followed by 7 miles of forest road.
Aid #2 re-supply.
I kept a good pace up to aid #3, yo-yo'ing with a few riders along the fast smooth 10 mile stretch between aid #2 & #3. At 25 miles in I was slightly below a 6 hour pace, but I knew that was about to change as the trail kicks up from aid #3 to the only true HAB section on course.
10 miles of fast smooth forest road come to an end at aid #3.
Re-supply at aid #3 & ready for the HAB to the course high point.
A touch of autumn was in the air.
At least I knew what to expect with the HAB section, it is very steep and loose in sections with 2 false summits. I just put my head down and kept one foot in front of the other until I was at the top. On the descent down the backside I got stuck behind a slower rider that I couldn't pass on the steeper sections, but then when the trail mellowed a bit he'd take off. Such are the ways of racing on singletrack!

I was bummed to hear that there was a tree thinning operation going on near the Los Burros trail, this trail was super fun last year, but now it was a bit tore up from the machinery in the area.  As I found out on my hardtail, this would not be the first bumpy section of trail.

I cruised into aid#4 about 45 minutes ahead of last year's time, ate a quick snack, topped off my bottle and made my way to the new section of the route. The climb starts out nice enough, then gradually gets a bit steeper, never too steep, but the tech factor is high. After riding 40 miles having to negotiate through an uphill boulder field for 2 miles can be demoralizing. I was hellbent on trying to clean the entire climb. I got wedged on a couple of rocks and there it was my first dab, followed by a second. I hit a lull in the climb then another pitch, followed by dab #3 and finally a fourth near the summit. At least now most of the climbing for the day was done, only a short grunt after aid #5 remained. Time to rip the descent....not so fast. The downhill was just as rocky/bumpy as the climb had been. My hands/arms were aching and numb. I was really getting tired of navigating to rock gardens. Why does AZ have so many stinkin' rocks!! Riding through a volcanic zone will do that. Eventually things smoothed out and my hands and arms could get some relief.

I was surprised that I started seeing riders from the 35 mile event since they started an hour after us. Most of them were just getting through their rides dealing with their own riding demons. It's good to see people out there pushing their limits and succeeding! Aid #5 finally came upon me, one more quick re-supply & I was off. I had less than an hour to reach my time goal, it was going to be close. I almost cleaned the grunt climb at the start of the last section, but it was only a short HAB. On top of the mesa the trail really smoothed out and I was flyin', the last 10 miles of the course go by pretty quick. Super fast singletrack a few hilly sections then one final descent on forest road into the dusty stretch for the finish line.

Of course the last mile or so had to be ridden into a headwind, I was trying to keep the hammer down, but out of nowhere a fellow racer flew my me in the final chute at the wire!! He beat me by 4 seconds. I was done, gassed. I didn't quite make my time goal finishing with a time of 6:45, but I shaved off about 1:45 from last year!!
Only fitting, drink a Fat Tire after a mountain bike race.
It was nice to be in the finish area while the podium awards were going on. There was still beer left too!! I hung out for a bit, gathered up my stuff and slammed a chocolate milk then a double espresso for the 3+ hour drive home. It's a really fun event, but I'm not sure I'll do it next year. Perhaps expand out to other events in nearby states for a change of pace. Stay tuned.
I like the patch idea, it'll look nice on my coffee table.

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