Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Personal Bests

There is a trail through those rocks.  It's called The Snake!
 Prying our eyes open for another 0:darkhundred wake-up call, Raja and I were Dalton bound for the 3rd and final run of The SnakeTime Trial of 2014.  This would be Raja’s 3rd attempt at the 17 miler, and my 2nd at the 34 miler.  The fact that I even did it in first place was milestone enough.  That initial race in February was almost magical.   Not magical in that I had a flawless ride full of strength and power.   Far from it.  It was one of the most gut wrenching taxing and trying efforts I had endured in a long long time, and yet that was what made it magical.  I was able to push through, survive, and conquer this formidable foe.  

Racing 34 miles of singletrack that climbs mercilessly for 5,600’ in the dead of winter when one has not been racing or training at all, well, that can be a daunting task.   One cannot rest on the laurels of an old resume of racing and strong riding that is all a distant memory.  The reality of jumping back in the deep end without your floaties is  terrifying and humbling.   I knew it would be a humbling experience.   I needed to be reminded that although I cannot do what I used to do, I can still do.   I still am.  I still ride.  One can still race, not win, and it will all be okay.  

My first memory of riding The Snake is 2006.  We started at the Dalton end and rode to the Snake Gap parking lot and then took the road back to the start.  I distinctly remember that first ride, and I can feel myself rolling over those rocks as if it were yesterday.   I loved it!   It was exhilarating, challenging, and fun.  

We have done numerous group rides there and taken advantage of the Time Trial Preride held the beginning of December.   The photos here are all from one of those prerides on the 17 miler we did in 2008.   I still had the energy to ride and take photos at the same time back then.   I don’t do that much anymore.   I never realized at the time how much strength it took to do that and didn’t fully appreciate that ability.   It makes me glad for all the years I took advantage of it and snapped away during rides.  
Raja and The Captain climbing from Snake Gap 
I considered for a second bringing my camera along for the race, but quickly realized what a stupid idea that would be.   Even if I did have the energy to snap a shot or two while racing, I remembered how impossible it is to do when wearing long finger gloves.   It didn’t matter anyway because I knew the memory of this race would be burned into my mind forever.   I wouldn’t need any photos to jog the cobwebs of my mind.

It was a balmy 40 something degrees, which was fabulous when compared to the 29degrees it was at the start in February.   We were the first ones to the start and didn’t hesitate to jump in line at the very front.   I didn’t care that a million people would have to pass me.  I think I do a pretty good job of allowing riders coming from behind to get around me without messing up their stride.

There’s something I’ve come to love about this race in particular.  The atmosphere is unique from any race I have ever attended.  The vibe is so incredibly positive and encouraging.  It’s nothing like the uptight high energy races to which I am accustom.  No pompous attitudes or peacocks strutting around.  Even though I’ve been out of the racing scene for years, I immediately felt a part of this big warm fuzzy family.   Maybe I was tripping, but there was an unmistakable air of camaraderie and encouragement from beginning to end. 

I came into the Feb race with no expectations other than to finish.  Finishing in under 5 hours made me happy and my friends treated me as if I had posted the fastest time out there.  When I crossed that finish line I said I would never do that race again!   Joe laughed at me because he knew I’d be back for a 2nd try.   He was right.  The following few weeks I put forth a bit of effort to get in more than my usual 4 hours of riding in a week.  This time I wanted to see if I could at least pull off a 4 ½ hour finish.  

One of the more daunting features of the 34 mile course is the creek crossing in the beginning.  When it is freezing cold and the water is up to your knees, getting across is not fun.  Rumor was out that a portable bridge was in place, and we were all giddy at the thought of breezing right across.   Sure enough, I got to the creek and there was a magical bridge making the crossing a non issue. 

As I made my way up the doubletrack road, I was relieved that my legs felt okay.  Yea, no lead legs today.  A long steady stream of racers kept passing me by, but this time I didn’t feel as powerless to keep up my pace.  Sure, I was being passed, but I felt stronger and more confident.

A challenging climb that goes on and on and on
We hit the singletrack and the climbing began.  I was able to keep riders in sight this time and the climb didn’t seem as steep.  That was a good sign.   90% of the riders that came by me offered up words of encouragement or a thank you.  This was the most well behaved polite bunch of cyclists I’ve ever seen. 

Before I knew it we popped out onto the gravel road.   Last time I was all freaky descending through the big loose gravel, but this time I held it together much better.  As long as I could find any trace of improvement in each section of the race compared to Feb, I would be pleased.   So far, I was on track.

Back to climbing.  Riders weren’t pulling away from me as fast as last time.  There was  a long train of climbers in front of me trailing through the woods.   I was very encouraged and began to entertain thoughts of actually pulling off a faster time.    Then I reminded myself I had a long way to go, so I should focus on the task at hand. 

I’ve definitely lost the art of focus when it comes to racing.   I guess I was so driven in the past that I didn’t have to drum up the energy to zero in on the goal.  Now my mind was wandering around like a squirrel in the woods.   Constantly I’d have to remind myself what I was supposed to be doing.  I found it rather annoying, but then I’d get distracted and forget to be annoyed.

All of a sudden I realized I was on the downhill leading up to the halfway point.  Wow, was I really on the downhill already?  I kept waiting for another grunt or climb, but sure enough, there it was.  I recognized for sure where I was.  I hollered out in jubilation of being halfway.  I had made it 12 minutes faster than the last time!

As I started the climb from Snake Gap parking lot, I caught a glimpse of Tom flying by in attack mode.  I envied him.  My legs were starting to fatigue and I wasn’t able to climb as nimbly as I would have liked.   Fumbling around to retrieve my gel flask in my back pocket was an exercise in futility and started to get on my nerves.   This half of the race is the harder part for me.   I had to try and find some focus so I could keep things moving forward as fast as possible. 
Tweety approaching the doubletrack climb

I wasn’t riding exponentially better, but I could tell I was doing a wee bit better than last time.  Every little bit was going to add up.  Bit by bit I was going to do this.   The downhill to the creek went much smoother for me.   A heard a guy come up behind me at the beginning of the downhill, but I managed to actually put some distance on him and stay in front of him.  This thrilled me to no end! 

The doubletrack climb was in much better shape and we didn’t have to climb in peanut butter like we did in February.  In spite of the good conditions, my mind took a vacation.  I was everywhere but present on the trail.   Riders would pass me and jolt me back to reality.  Dang, when I did I come so absent minded?!
Millhouse breezes through the rocks.

Finally, I arrived at the turnoff for the last stretch of singletrack - the long long dreaded stretch for me.  Glancing at my computer I saw that just shy of 3 hrs riding time had elapsed since the start.  I got excited at the possibility of finishing in 4.5 hrs.  With very little strength and energy left, it took everything I had to keep it together. I had to do this last bit in under an hour and a half.  I didn’t want to fall apart like I did in February.   I felt like I was doing slightly better and focused on the fact that I was at least going in the right direction.  

By now I’m doing the yo-yo with other riders.  I’d pass a poor chap with legs seized up.  Later he’d pass on a downhill section.  Scenes like this went on for the next 6 miles.  It was comforting to have others around to feed off of and keep me pushing ahead.  Otherwise, I’d fall into a trance and just be plodding along.  

Concrete Blond rockin' it!
We hit the wall section and everyone dismounted for the slow walk up.  I called upon the tip I learned from my Swiss friends when hiking in the Alps – take tiny quick steps.   It’s the equivalent of spinning on a bike.  Walking was almost a relief for me and gave my muscles change of scenery.

As the little group I was with got closer to the top, I could hear their various groans and moans, "ugh, when is this going to end?!"  I had to resist joining in, but rather thought on positive phrases.  “We’re almost there, I can feel it, we’re going to do this thing, yea baby,” I shouted out to my new found friends. 
Go, Ony!!!

The last quarter mile my quads decided it was time to seize up.  As gingerly as possible, I got off the bike to hike up through the big rock notch.   The guy right behind me did the same and we walked slowly up and around the turn while breathing out deep audible sighs of relief. There was that last beautiful stretch of trail.  I was so elated to be where I was.  
The Captain 

The time on my computer said 4 hrs and 12 minutes.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!   I wondered how much time had not been logged while I was walking my bike?  What was my true time?   Could I really be breaking 4 ½ hrs?   Whatever.  I was ready to get to that gravel downhill and make a move on to the finish.  
Robin and her first taste of the 17

Never has a descent felt so good!  Again, I let out big whoppin’ yells as the parking lot appeared.  I was thrilled to come in with a ride time of 4 hrs 20 minutes.  What was so fun about the whole thing though was how everyone pulled off a personal best and improved their time.   It really didn’t matter to any of us what the time was, but that there was improvement.   I was just as thrilled for someone that had a 6 hr time as those that had a 3.5 hr time.  
James, Cesar, and Tim

We were all so proud of each other, because we all knew how hard this course was and we had all conquered it:  Robin completed her first ever race on the 17 miler, Mike and Carin raced all 3 of the 34 milers on their tandem, Gary broke 4 hrs, Joe shaved off a half hour of his time, Raja was 2 minutes faster, both Ken and Jim turned faster times, Carey shredded it in less than 3.5 hrs, the list went on and on.

I will always remember the warm vibe that permeated the Finish area.   No one was particularly concerned with whether they beat someone else, but rather we were all celebrating a joint victory.   I was so happy and proud of each of my friends for what they did.   It’s the satisfaction of completing these challenges that gives us the drive and motivation within our daily lives to face the obstacles and mountains life presents us. 
Happy campers in 2008 and we're happy campers in 2014!
I truly believe we draw strength and inspiration from these moments to face the moments that really matter.   Personal Bests make a difference, a difference for us to be our best all the time!  I’m glad I did this race.  The take away from this experience has been monumental.

My hat is off to NW Ga Sorba for putting on this Time Trial Series for 10 years.  They do an exceptional job in every aspect.  I am so impressed with everyone involved and I thank you all wholeheartedly for making The Snake a fun and enriching experience!  Keep up the excellent work.

So, if you need a challenge next winter, put this on your calendar.  The first Saturday of Jan, Feb, and March – you can tackle The Snake.  They also host a preride of the course the first Saturday of December.  You can take advantage of the shuttle and get a taste of this beast before race day.  

Am I going to do it next year?   Hmmm, I haven’t decided yet!   As I heard Joe say, “it will take me 9 months to get over this before I entertain thoughts of riding it again!”  Although, since my big 50th is coming up December 2nd, I’ve considered making the preride be my birthday ride.  Who’s in for that?!

1 comment:

Rlaz said...

Man! I really hated missing this. My kind of trail. Maybe next year.....haaaaaa, haaa, haaaaa, haaaa, haa, ha. I just crack myself up.