Dirt Sweat and Gears
I put Dirt, Sweat and Gears on my 2010 schedule because I thought it would be a great introduction to the 12-hr race format. Even though I’ve done many 100-mile races and have ridden my bike for 12 hours straight, I had never ridden in circles for half of a day.
My husband, Nate, and I decided to drive to Fayetteville, Tennessee instead of flying after carefully considering our packing list: 3 mountain bikes, an extra wheel set, a 10x20 Kenda tent, our dog, Nate’s dirt biking gear, a power washer, 2 coolers, an air compressor, a trainer and all the tools, tires and contraptions under the sun one could possibly need for a 12-hour bike ride. We meandered our way out over 4 days, making stops in Denver, southern Illinois and eastern Tennessee to shake out the legs on some nice singletrack. We then visited with some friends for a few days at their lakefront home in Gainesville, GA, took a evening motor boat ride to and from a local seafood joint, swam in their pool, enjoyed the local trails and begrudgingly began to acclimate to the southern heat and humidity.
My pre-ride lap on Friday revealed near perfect course conditions. The challenging 10-mile loop included a lot of tight, tacky singletrack and was full of typical east coast roots and rock gardens. The 1300 feet of climbing per lap came in lots of steep, punchy, technical climbs that kept you constantly on the gas with little time for recovery.
On race morning I woke up to 92% humidity, a forecasted high of 85-90 degrees and a 40% chance of severe thunderstorms and rain showers. Ick. At 9am, 300 racers lined up for the Lemans style start. I lined myself up in the second row and placed my bike in the perfect spot (the first bike on the outside of second row.) My strategy of sprinting as hard as I could to my bike paid off, as I made it on my bike and into the singletrack in the top 20. Only a handful of people ended up passing me during the first lap, so I knew I had saved a precious amount of energy early on by not having to pass a ton of folks on the first lap. I then kept with the same strategy the entire race: ride steady but strong, be conservative, have fun, stay far away from my redline and keep the rubber side down.
About 3 hours in…kaBOOM! Thunder, lightening and a deluge of rain hit the north half of the loop. It was the strangest weather event I’ve ever seen on a racecourse. Half the course turned into a wet, sloppy, peanut butter mud filled death march and the other half remained dry. It then became an even tricky technical skills day, as some sections were as slick as ice, requiring conservative and careful handling, braking and accelerating. The other half of the course required you to shift your brain and riding style to dry conditions mode and not get caught riding overly cautious.
Thankfully, I had 2 great bikes to choose from when the conditions became heinous, both fitted with Kenda Karma's. When the rain hit, I was on my Felt Nine, which up to that point was the ideal ride because of all the technical climbing. But when it became so caked in mud that the tires would no longer roll I was able to get a fresh, clean Felt Six LTD which proved to be the better choice in the super muddy conditions. The smaller the wheel, the less mud that could accumulate on it, making it easier to pedal up all the punchy climbs. Of course, the lighter the bike, the easier it was to carry and to push it, too. As the day went on and the course dried out, I went back to my Nine, preferring its ability to simply steamroll over all the technical sections and to maintain traction over the slick roots, rocks and sloppy corners. After 3 laps, the directors made the smart call to shorten the course by about 15-20 min. by cutting the muddiest section off the course.
Although there were times that it felt like I was riding in a sauna, I handled the humidity and heat pretty well. Each lap I dumped ice water on my head, back and chest and I was sure to keep ingesting a steady stream of Hammer endurolytes pumping all day long. My pit stops were fast, efficient and dialed thanks to Nate. He kept my bikes running well through the tough conditions, filled my bottles and flasks with cold water, Heed and Hammer Gel and constantly reminded me of all the details I was forgetting when my brain started to melt inside my helmet.
I slowly built my lead throughout the day by turning consistent lap times just shy of 1 hour (on the short course). I lapped the 3rd place woman mid-afternoon and lapped the 2nd place woman just before 7pm. When I came into the pit at 7:40, Nate told me to stop riding. He said that I was done, had won it and that it was time to celebrate! The rule at Dirt Sweat and Gears is that only laps completed before 9pm count. I could have easily gone out and completed a night lap before the cutoff, as I would have had 1:20 to do so. However, there was no possible way of 2nd place catching me and all I could think of was how awful it would be if I had gone out and gotten myself injured on a lap I didn’t need to be on. Besides, 10 laps, 10:40 of saddle time and roughly 13,000 feet of climbing was more than enough for me! I was long overdue for a cold shower and real food!
The event had a great vibe for both the racers and the spectators/support crews. The timing was dialed, the rules were clear, the payout was equal and extremely generous, and it was just a fun, fun, fun day of racing. The race directors were incredibly gracious hosts and bent over backwards to show us all some great southern hospitality. The post race party was kickin’ with a live band, a rainstorm of schwagg and lots of good beer. The event itself was a fundraiser for the local trails group SORBA and a $10 donation to SORBA got you a bottomless mug of local Yazoo. All in all, I suffered, I was successful and most importantly I had a blast. Dirt, Sweat and Gears is definitely on my repeat race list.
Thanks for reading and of course a big thanks to Kenda, Felt and all my sponsors for their support and belief in me!