You can have the best coach, the best mechanic, the best bike, the best legs, the best blah blah blah... and then go into the race with the worst weather (the rain at the Cohutta 100 cleared eventually, let's hope it clears for the Mohican 100 too!) and the worst directional skills possible (which also remedied itself eventually at Cohutta... let's hope I don't have that problem at Mohican?!) In retrospect, I was always the worst at following directions in grade school and I've always struggled with doing things other people's ways. I joked about taking the tips sheet that was provided at the Cohutta 100 packet pick-up but left it at the car as I shivered in the rain at the start of the race.. Whoops! You better bet your booty I'll be bringing a course map with me at the Mohican 100 this weekend!!!
Honestly, the weather wasn't that terrible for Cohutta - chilly, down pouring rain, and the threat of a tornado could have been way, way worse. There wasn't any lightning and the rain eventually stopped. Trees were falling on the course up to the start of the race, but a tree never fell on anyone. If anything, the weather just pumped me up more: I felt pretty bad ass lining up at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, site of the 1996 Whitewater rafting Olympics as the sun was rising, getting drenched in my wind breaker and knee-high socks. I'm a fat bike racer for crying out loud; any race start that starts in above freezing temperatures is a great race start by my standards! Plus, I had pre-ridden the first 10-15 miles of single-track the day before in absolutely gorgeous weather and I knew where the trouble spots would be with a water crossing and a few slimy, slippery roots. Despite knowing that I was about to do more climbing than I had ever done in 100 miles before I was feeling really optimistic! Goal #1: have fun! Goal #2: finish and get that coffee mug! Goal #3: finish as one of the top 10 female racers! I'm happy to say that I had a blast, I finished in just over 10 hours, and I was the 7th female to cross the finish line and that was with getting lost and climbing some bonus hills. :)
We'll back up to the pre-ride: absolutely gorgeous scenery, perfect 60 degree temps, the incredible bad ass Carey Lowery showing us the route, my NUE Series travel BFF's Tyler Kuening, Matt Acker, and myself laughing hysterically as we roll around on the first few miles of the Southern Appalachian foothills. Absolutely amazing! Some of the most fun downhills I've ever ridden. It honestly kept blowing my mind that I was riding on a real mountain (I mean, the most real mountain I've ridden on so far!) and that on race day I'd be crawling up, up, up and flying down, down, down more than I'd ever done before. Plus, I was riding with Carey Lowery (who kicked my ass at 12 hours Nite Nationals back in October) and with Tyler and Matt (both incredible riders/racers from Grand Rapids) so I was STOKED! Sometimes my mind will wander while I'm riding over rocks and roots in another state and I'll find myself entirely bewildered, "How did I get here? How did I get so lucky?!" I am absolutely in love with endurance racing and never would have guessed it would be such a big part of my life. I'm always just incredibly thankful that I get to work at GRBC with such cool coworkers (and with the cutest bike mechanic in the world) and with some super awesome GRBC teammates. Gah! I am so lucky!
I rode my little Foundry Tomahawk for the Cohutta 100 and am curious to see how racing my new Salsa Spearfish goes at the Mohican!!! As much as I absolutely adore 27.5" tires and as zippy as that little carbon hard tail is, I've heard really great things about the Spearfish and I cannot wait to see how it feels after 100 miles! After some of my longer races last year my body was pretty beat, especially after single track that had more rocks and roots than I am used to... Speaking of Nite Nationals down in Alabama ;) - I had completely torn the sidewalls of my Schwalbe tires at that race and when I remembered that Tennessee would be similar in terrain, I had panicked and special ordered some Schwalble Snakeskin Racing Ralphs days before leaving to pop on my Velocity Blunt SS rims specifically for the Cohutta 100 singletrack. I was NOT going to drive all that way just to blow the sidewalls on my tires. I seriously am such a clumsy rider that if I had ridden with regular Schwalbe tires set up tubeless than I would have sliced them on one of the rocks on the course. I'm smiling as I type this because I had absolutely no issues with my tire/wheel combo and I feel like in the preparedness category I won first place. It's the little victories that make you happy in endurance racing, and I obsessively thought about this little victory for a good chunk of the race whenever my legs or back began to fatigue! "You got this! Your tires are awesome! Your wheels will never go out of true! There's no excuses, keep riding!" I'm pretty happy that the Spearfish is dressed up in Schwalble Snakeskins on white Velocity Blunt SS's with gold spoke nipples. Fist pumps all around!
I hear the Mohican course is easier to not get lost on than the Cohutta course... Man oh man I hope this is true. Down at Cohutta I was getting more and more excited because by time I reached the third aid station at about 50 miles I was told that I was sitting in fourth place. The aid station volunteers were nice, helpful, and I felt so fancy getting my glasses wiped and my chain lubed while I waited for a water refill. Then someone patted my butt - Danielle Musto! Agh!!! Danielle's been working her tail off getting a kids mountain bike team rolling in Grand Rapids - the GR Dirt Dawgs - and she's also been training for the Dirty Kanza (which is also this weekend!! Eeeep!) and was using Cohutta as a training race - she didn't taper down for the race and was picking up with training as soon as she got home. Versus me: Miss I-think-it's-a-good-idea-to-sign-up-for-the-NUE-series, who would get a week off for recovery as soon as I crossed the finish line... Earlier in the single track I was riding behind Danielle, comfortable with our speed, and she eventually had to get stern with me, "Jill, you're racing, you have to go faster!" When she caught up to me at the aid station I got worried she'd give me harder work outs and I took off, spinning my little legs as fast as I could! Go go go go go! Don't let Danielle catch you! Welllllll it could have been this go go go mentality that made me go go goooo past the correct course turn... Dang it! I was smiling and laughing down a careening hill until I got to the bottom and didn't see any of the blue course markings. I wasn't sure if the rain had washed them away in that spot or if someone driving had maybe stopped to tear the blue course markings out of the trees... so I rode in one direction for a little ways and didn't see anything. I rode in the other direction and didn't see anything. I was really starting to curse myself for not having a better cell phone carrier (I don't think anyone had service out in those foothills very well) and especially started cursing myself for not having the tips sheet with me, when another rider came speeding down the hill I had come down.
"Are you lost?" I asked him. "I don't think so." He said. So I watched him ride to the split in the road and scratch his head. I rolled behind a tree and took a bathroom break and rode back over to him. "We must have taken a wrong turn..." We started riding back up the hill when a group of four other guys came zipping down. "We think this is the wrong way!" We shouted at them. Then we watched them scratch their heads when they got to the split. I envisioned us lost out in the foothills for several hours and being disqualified from the race. Worrying was not going to get us back on course faster, so we started chatting, which quickly took the bitterness off from being lost - at least we were all still on bikes and the sun was out, right?! The six of us rode to the top of one hill for cell phone reception and called the number on the back of our number plates to see where we might have taken a wrong turn. There was a sharp right midway down that initial hill that we had all turned left on. Once we rode up to that hill you could just barely make out the blue arrow that we should have followed... dang it!!!
Finally back on course, I tried to pedal as fast as I could up all of the hills. Climbing is one of my strong points and if I was going to make up time anywhere it would be on the climbs. Unfortunately for me, I think climbing is one of a lot of women's strengths and getting lost is definitely one of my weaknesses. Dang it again! I had no idea how many women had passed me or how many more women were behind me. I was still feeling pretty good, so I just focused on my breathing on the climbs and I had Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road stuck in my head on the descents. Finally back at the aid station Danielle had caught up to me at, I whizzed past, happy that I was on my way back to the finish line! The rest of the course on the fire roads went by quickly, and before I knew it I was heading in to the single track. Only 10 or so more miles to go! Only an hour left! I distinctly remember thinking as I turned in to the single track. At one turn, there were some volunteers who told me "only 8 more miles from here - it's all downhill!" The hills had done more damage to my legs than I had realized and it seemed as though my body had forgotten how to ride single track. My bike felt wobbly, my legs couldn't punch up the quick climbs, and it was definitely not. all. downhill... liars! I fought my way over some rocks and roots and finally looped past those same volunteers. "How many miles now?!" I asked, sounding way more perky than I felt. "Six!" Dang it.
For all I know it took me more than half of that finishing time of just over 10 hours to finagle my way through the rest of those 6 miles. (Okay, that's an exaggeration, but it seemed like it went on for forever!) When I finally made out of the single track a sense of accomplishment flooded in to every part me - I had finished the Cohutta 100, and without a damage report I might add! I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a sense of pride each time I drink coffee out of my "Cohutta 100 finisher" mug - and I'd be super lying if I said that I let Dan drink out of it. ;)