Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Cohutta 100

Sometimes races are won not on strong pedaling performances but on pure grit, perseverance and determination not to give up. That was certainly the case for me this past weekend at Cohutta. Maybe it was a crazy residency work schedule recently and constantly switching from working nights and days. Maybe it was not unloading enough from a tough training block prescribed by Coach Beck. Maybe it was simply the fact I had an off day. Whatever the reason, Saturday's race involved a lot a suffering, and I got lucky that I was still able to pull off a win. If someone had challenged me especially late in the race, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to counter their attack.

This is the 4th year I have raced Cohutta, I'm not sure how many times Chris has raced, but every year we take a picture on the same rock

We drove out to the Ocoee Whitewater Center on Friday. Before we had even had time to park, we had the windows open were saying hi to friends we hadn't seen in a really long time. Chris, Kathy and Mark from the Joe's Bike Shop team, Brenda and Lee Simril, Tom Haines, Jen and Anthony Toops, Dylan Johnson, Jeff Clayton. It was really fun seeing everyone again and catching up. We went for a fun pre-ride down the first 10 miles of singletrack and then set up camp at Thunder Rock Campground. We got invited to a delicious dinner of homemade lasagna and strawberry cobbler cooked in dutch ovens with Brad and all of his friends from Chattanooga.

Group photo from our pre-ride

I'm not going to lie. I was feeling really tired on Friday night. But Saturday morning rolled around and we biked over to the start line under the Kenda arch. After the annual prayer, we were off. There were some last minute course changes unfortunately due to the forest service not letting us bike on some trails in the area or use the usual forest roads. Instead of 100 miles and a big gravel road loop, the course was changed to 83 miles with a smaller gravel loop and an out and back section on a gravel jeep road. Hopefully next year we will get to ride those new back country trails.

Race start

The start was fast. Up the first road hill and into the first 20 miles of single track. It was also hot. Sweat was pouring off my face within the first 20 min of riding. I felt pretty good through the first single track and got a lead on the rest of the women's field. Then we hit the 14 mile out and back jeep road. I was with a group of guys and decided to just sit in with them. I wanted to push, but my legs were already feeling too tired for only being 20-30 miles into the race.

Here is my GoPro footage of the first singletrack section:

Somewhere around mile 40, I was riding with Dan Kotwicki. We usually end up riding together at some point during these NUE races. He said something about how last year I was hammering this course and how he couldn't keep up. That motivated me a bit to get my butt moving. I took up off a hill and actually felt ok for about 20 miles and maybe put in a little more of a gap on the 2nd place woman.

The last 20 miles were a straight out suffer fest. The fatigue I was feeling at mile 20 felt like it was doubling with every mile. I haven't felt that bad in a bike race in a really long time. I wasn't racing anymore. I was simply pedaling to finish, head down, slow spinning up the hills, just flat out focusing not to give up. There were parts of the last singletrack section that were really fun, but then a steep kicker of a hill would pop around a corner and that brought all the misery back. Finally, I hit the last downhill that brought me out to the road and finish line. I looked behind me and still didn't see any other women. Thank goodness. It was a huge relief crossing that finish line.

Crossing the finish line

The result was a great one but the racing was not, and I know I have way more to put out there on the course. Dan also told me during our ride together that I was riding like Cheryl Swornson and Amanda Carey. That was really nice of him, because I look up to both of those women who destroyed endurance mountain bike races and who are also just really nice and encouraging people. I didn't ride like them at Cohutta this year, but I have another month of training, some technical racing in Pisgah, better tapering and then Mohican, where I am already looking forward to personal redemption!

Thanks so much to ESI grips (best grips out there), Maxxis Tires (once again, Ikons with sidewall protection did great, no flats), Huma Gels, Ridge Supply Socks, Back Alley Bikes for getting my hardtail ready, Chris Beck for all the coaching and Joe's Bike Shop for all the support.

Women's Open Podium

Hanging out with Chris, Brad and Dylan after the race

Me, Tom and Jeff
Enjoying post race beers with Janis at Wicked Weed in Asheville on the way home

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