This is gonna be a good one. Buckle up.
SPOILER ALERT: it was muddy
I'm gonna skip right to the start because I feel like this could get long...Marathon'ers were sent off first to stay in front of the Sport/Novice field. We had 14 pre-reg'd and it felt like maybe 10-12 on the line. I love longer distance starts. So much more civil and reasonably paced (sort of). I slotted in at the tail end of the 'front group' per usual. Sitting maybe about 5th heading into the first sections of single track. It wasn't actually raining quite yet at that point. There had been some big T-storms overnight so everything was damp but the trails were more tacky than anything else with slick rocks and roots.
lined up at the start
Those are the conditions I love and the first lap was actually really enjoyable. Just enough to make things really interesting but not enough to really cause any issues with gear or crashing really. It was slowing things down a tad at least for me with my first lap time coming in about 3mins slower than I had wanted, I was hoping I would get in a groove, get used to the conditions a bit and dial things up in the coming laps but Mother Nature had other plans and slowly started to dial the rain up. Rain started at some point during the second lap and conditions started to change quickly. There is sort of a spectrum to mud and its consistency as water is added. It goes from tacky to peanut butter to soup and then back again as the moisture dries out.
First lap was tacky, lap two was peanut butter. Luckily a good portion of the course was under canopy and held up for a bit as the rain came down. Exposed sections got bad fast. Mud was starting to stick to everything. Ikon's shed mud fairly well but not this stuff. Rotational mass of my wheels skyrocketed, mud was getting flung everywhere. Eyes, mouth, drivetrain, brakes. Nothing was sparred. Lots of wasted watts that lap spinning out on climbs (and flats). Much respect for my former SS brethren, climbing out of the saddle was near impossible. Lots of mud sticking to kit and gloves and bottles made feeds interesting. How many calories does mud have? I would say at least 25% of my nutritional intake during the race was quarry dirt.
Towards the end of my second lap I started having issues with shifting. Grabbing cable to shift up was still working ok but trying to drop cable to drop gears was a no go. Spring was having a hard time pulling the cable through all the mud gummed up at the ends of the housing. I figured out that if I dropped 2 gears to increase the tension and then reached down and wiggled the small piece of housing at the top of my seatstays I could get it to go. Obviously this maneuver is not ideal while trying to stay upright in those conditions and it is also not efficient or timely in any way. So I spent much of the rest of day under geared.
Fellow NEMBA racer Erik caught me just as my gears went sideways. I was able to claw my way back up to him and we lapped through together heading into lap 3. I was getting a nice draft through the first part of the field and then we started heading down the slight descent into the woods and I started getting a huge rooster tail of water and mud to the face from his rear wheel so I let him go (that and he probably would have eventually dropped me anyway)
Lap 3...ah lap 3. This is where things go wholly ludicrous. Its been raining for a while now and has even increased in intensity a bit. On lap 3 we begin to move from peanut butter to slicker than snot soup mud. Kinda like riding on ice but way dirtier. The margin for error disappeared. If your weight was even slightly askew from where it needed to be you were going down and FAST. I avoided catastrophe for maybe the first 1/3 of the lap but then things went south....when it rains it pours (GET IT!?).
My first incident and probably the best was on a very fast double track descent heading back into the field/feed zone. To that point the mud had been sticky enough so that you could let it run without issue. There were some roots and rocks to pop over here and there, things would get a little loose but hook up before any problems would result. So like an idiot even though the conditions were changing I still barreled into the descent at full speed. At the beginning of the double track section as you pop out of the woods there was a slight bump in the terrain with some roots that you could ever so slightly pop over, get a bit of air and be on your way. Things were going to plan, but this time around I landed and my bike just disappeared.
Not sure I have ever had a bike come out from under me quite that fast before. With cardio dulled senses my perception was that it was there and then it was not. Without a bike I was quickly on the ground and thanks to my horizontal velocity and the well lubricated trails I began hydroplaning down the trail at a good clip. The world has a tendency of slowing down during life events such as this. Probably some sort of biological adaptation to help us fully realize and remember the error in our ways so as to be avoided in the future. As I flew down the trail on a thin layer of mud I glanced to my left and noticed something flying along down the trail with me just a few feet away. It was my bike. Also hydroplaning. Luckily my slide path was free of debris and once I came to a stop about 10-15ft later my bike was right there (and still in one piece) and off we go!
Things got progressively worse after that. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was like riding on ice. You could easily spin out on flat ground and rooster tailing and sliding out through corners was a near guarantee regardless of how well you balanced your weight. My next crash of hilarious significance happened in a somewhat innocuous corner. I think I just got lazy (or tired). Going down was pretty straight forward nothing funny there but once I was on the ground things got weird. I don't think I can accurately explain how this happened but I somehow ended up on my head and spinning like a top, or more accurately, an 80's break dancer. I only got maybe part of one rotation but I was pretty impressed with myself.
My next issue came about 1-2miles later and this one was nearly heartbreaking. I lost traction and slid out navigating a small rock garden and my line was adjusted just enough to send me hurtling into a very sharp and pointy rock on the edge of the trail. As soon as I hit it (at the speed I was going) I knew I was screwed. 1 second later I hear the tell tale sign and see the Stan's mist spraying into the sky. Now I have had some issues with Stan's sealing up in conditions like these and I was in no mood to try and get a tube in with the amount of mud that was everywhere. I knew very quickly that if this didn't seal my day was over at 3+ laps of 4 and that all that suffering would be for naught. So I started yelling.
I screamed at Stan's to do its job, go to your home, get in that hole etc. I threatened it with bodily harm. I promised it riches. AND IT WORKED. I was actually somewhat amazed. I've had pretty poor luck with Stan's but it came through when I needed it most. It stopped spraying and best I could tell it was holding. I started riding away somewhat gingerly and slowly got back to 'normal' riding without issue. Turns out I probably could have been running my tires a bit softer because things were actually working a bit better with the 1-2psi I lost and I still wasn't really rimming out anywhere.
The rain began to die off towards the end of lap 3 and during lap 4 the mud gradually swapped back to a more peanut butter / tacky consistency. Lines got easier to hold but things got sticky again and shifting got tricky and pushing up climbs wasn't getting any easier. Luckily the trails at Millstone are very well built and were draining really well throughout. Surprisingly very little damage done to the trails and the few spots that got a little more whupped will likely recover in a week or two with a little love. I got a bit of a second wind last lap but I was also running low on fluids and calories. So it was a balancing act of pushing harder but not too hard so as to crack before the finish. Lap 4 ended up actually being almost 2mins faster than my 3rd lap.
I came in at about 3h:52m, almost an hour longer than expected. Results sheet had me in 5th of 7 finishers at the time I checked it (ATTN Root 66: when are you going to ditch those hand written results sheets and get into current century????). Not sure if the rest DNF'd or just hadn't come in yet. I proceeded to use my drink ticket for some Heady Topper and even got a free Turtle Fur for some modeling work I did (pic coming soon hopefully). Turns out an old friend from PSU is a Turtle Fur rep now so we got an opportunity to catch up which was nice.
I'm a model!
All told it was a hell of a day. Memorable to say the least. The trails at Millstone are really great and this course is probably one of the more fun I have ever done. If they keep this event earlier in the year like this and keep offering a marathon class I will probably continue to come back. I mean free Heady Topper and a meatball sub with your reg fee? c'mon