Friday, June 11, 2010

Mohican 100 Report

The Mohican 100 was the 2nd stop on the 2010 NUE (National Ultra-Endurance Calendar). I met the race director, Ryan O’Dell, at last year’s Iceman where he convinced me to come to his race and he did not disappoint! He put on an excellent event that attracted hundreds of racers from all over the country. Everything he had under his control was totally dialed. What he couldn’t control, the weather, was absolutely insane.

It rained every day during the week leading up to the race, including a tornado warning and golf ball size hail the afternoon before. I was able to sneak in 2 short spins on the pavement during the 2 days leading up to the race without getting hailed on but both days were close calls.

When my alarm went off at 4am on race morning it was pouring buckets. Even though I am accustomed to riding in the high, dry desert west, I am becoming more confident in my abilities to ride in wet conditions, especially after my last 2 ultra event wins (Cohutta and Dirt Sweat and Gears) have been in the mud. Plus, I know my equipment was up for the shallenge. My 1.9 Kenda Karmas are the best xc mud tire out there, my Felt Nine tackles wet technical roots and rocks like a steam roller, my crank brothers pedals clear mud extremely well, my Pearl Izumi Octane shoes have sturdy Velcro closures that stay fastened no matter what and my KMC chain is just flat out stupid strong. In these kinds of conditions, good equipment is often more important than your fitness. This year’s Mohican 100 was as much a race of who’s equipment would function the longest as it was about fitness, so I am extremely grateful to the many generous sponsors who gave me gear that could withstand the conditions!

600 racers lined up in downtown Loudonville, OH and were promptly off at 7am. A 1.5 mile pavement climb did a good job of separating out the crowds until we got to the first bottleneck, a wet sloppy marsh like grass field that quickly displayed what the rest of the day would be like. Muddy, slick and difficult.

I rode comfortably with the eventual 2nd place woman, Cheryl Sorensen, through the first 20 miles of wet, rooty and twisty singletrack until Aid Station 1, carefully metering my efforts on the short punchy climbs, avoiding passing and just riding smartly. Because I stopped into the first Aid Station and she did not, we became separated for the next 8 miles. I struggled to chase her down after 2 separate mechanicals robbed me of more precious time. I eventually caught back on and we pulled into Aid 3 at mile 46 together (which was in a very nice volunteer’s garage!) We were elated to see a man with a power washer washing bikes while we stuffed our pockets and filled our bottles with complimentary Hammer Nutrition products. I left the aid station just slightly ahead of Cheryl and continued to ride in the lead and solo for the rest of the day.

At about mile 50 the course began to open up more into double track, paved and dirt roads, allowing me to maximize my ability to ride flats to make up some time. I was struggling to find my climbing legs all day, so I knew that I had to take full advantage of the flats. I also finally started to feel stronger about 5 hours in, giving me confidence in my ability to push the pace a little harder.

The theme of the day was discipline, as I had to stay extremely disciplined to deal with the conditions to keep my body and bike working. That meant stopping in stream crossings, cupping my hands, splashing clean my drive train then applying generous amounts of chain lube. It meant not forcing shifts if they weren’t happening, requiring me to get off my bike a lot in the middle of steep hills and walk. It also meant riding with my eyes closed through as many puddles as I could to preserve what little vision I had left! It meant embracing, not hating the suffering.

It started to pour, thunder and lightening and get extremely dark in the deep backwoods about 2/3 way through the course and like Cohutta, I kept wondering if they would have to call the race off because of the tornado warning. Little did I know, in the county just north of us, people were loosing their lives due to the severe weather. Scary.

The hardest part of the day was pulling into the last aid station and having them say “6 miles of sweet singletrack left to go!” I wanted pavement, not slicker-than-snot, hub deep muddy singletrack! It felt like the longest 6 miles of my life. The mud was so deep in places you could no longer see the roots, my brake pads had worn down to the metal ( stopping power) and I had lost almost all ability to shift by mile 80. I rode the last section with the goal of not shifting and not braking. Rough, but it kept my mind occupied and focused and was a nice distraction of the pain I was feeling in nearly every body part; my hands were blistered, my forearms almost numb from fatigue, and my behind was, well, let’s just say ultra-sensitive from riding in muddy shorts all day. I had rockin’ headache and my eyeballs were so red and irritated from riding without glasses (and consequentially loosing one contact lens) my vision was blurry at best.

Finally, I saw the campground where the finish was located. Woo-HOO! However, there was one final challenge: fording a chest-high stream! There were a bunch of volunteers there to catch us if we got swept under, and they had strung a rope across the water downstream just in case we needed to self-arrest. One more mile loop around the campground led me to the most welcomed finish line I have ever crossed. I managed to win the race by 16 minutes with a time of 9 hrs 15 min and can honestly say it was one of the most psychologically exhausting races I have ever completed. I was absolutely trashed by the end, but strangely enough my legs were not that tired. It was a total body/mind exhaustion that comes from riding in such extreme conditions. Your mind is 100% on the entire race, as one little mistake, one mechanical, one slip can cost you your entire day. I could tell the difference in fatigue, as I slept a solid 9 hours the night after the race. That NEVER happens to me as post-race insomnia is common due to the physical exertion. Clearly, every inch of me was exhausted!

The awards ceremony was a blast and a great opportunity to share all our stories of our misfortunes: broken chains, mangled drivetrains, epic chain-suck, absence of brakes and the full mental and emotional breakdowns that only experiences ultra racers can know. The post-race Mongolian BBQ was like pure heaven. The race organizers and the volunteers were simply amazing for managing to put on such a great event through the awful weather. I will be back next year…well, as long as the weather forecast looks good!

Thanks to everyone and especially to all my sponsors for all the support and encouragement. As always, thanks for reading. Hopefully, my next race report will include sunny skies and sunburns!