Part of my motivation was redemption as well as it being one of the best values for a Marathon race all year. Plus I have suspension this year AND gears so how brutal could it be? *still pretty brutal. Figured it would be a good last shot of base fitness heading into cross season and its an easy drive so bing bam boom I'm back heading to a race that broke me two years ago. Race amnesia is a hell of a drug.
Weather on the day was just what I like, 60's and a bit of rain but nothing too bad. Course wasn't muddy by any means but roots were greasy and you had to be on point. I was set for the Cat 2 Marathon which I was a bit conflicted about. I'm used to flogging myself in categories that I barely belong in and frequently coming in or near last. Been doing it for years at non sanctioned events between SS and now Expert with the geared bike. I don't race sanctioned MTB very often and have come nowhere near accumulating enough results to warrant a Cat 1 license so racing Cat 2 was my only choice. But it still just sort of felt off for me. I'm a DFL kinda guy.
I knew at these distances that I should be towards the front of a Cat 2 field and going in my goal was a podium. The field was pretty large though at about 20-25 riders so I figured there were probably some other strong guys in there. I ended up staged on the front row for the start and at the gun the start was pretty civil. No need to sprint when you are looking at a 5hr day but I did manage to get the 'holeshot'. After about 30secs to a minute I even had a sizable 'gap'. I was off the front! That never happens! I was not going that hard but I'm guessing the rest of the field thought I was a joey going too hard too early. Little did they know that the endurance game is my jam.
shootin' the hole!
I remembered the early parts of the course being a bit more fast and forgiving so I figured if they are going to give me a gap I might as well get out of sight and out of mind while I can. I pushed the pace a bit and was even able to catch and move through a bit of the SS and Cat 1 field that had been 1-2 minutes up on us. Now I had a gap and some traffic between me and the rest of the field. I got into a small group with a SSer and a former teammate Fabian racing in the Cat 1 field. This helped a lot to keep things moving mentally but good god is the second half of that course brutal.
I was riding well but taking a beating. We dropped the SSer and Fabian eventually got away from me a bit in the rough stuff on account of full suspension (and hes good at tech stuff). I pulled an excellent maneuver 1st lap heading into a little rock drop / feature. Somehow managed to clip a pedal and then in my quick balance recovery move pull my other foot out as well and ended up rolling this thing at speed in textbook spread eagle formation. Luckily my line was good and I somehow managed to not explode. It was a great reminder that a long race like this one can come unglued real fast.
I started riding a bit more consistent and conservative after that. Lapped through as many of the Novices were finishing up their shorter loops. I tried up'ing the pace again on the easier part of the course. I wanted as much of a buffer as I could manage heading into the rougher section of the second lap because I knew I was going to suffer there. I could feel hot spots forming on my left hand and my back and arms were pretty well thrashed. Lap two was pretty lonely. Our fields had pretty well sorted themselves out and there were no other XC riders on the course any more just Marathon riders. I caught Fabian in the pedal'y stuff and we leap frogged a bit and traded pulls.
Surprisingly the second lap went by pretty fast, at least the first part. Before I knew it there was only about 10mi left. Unfortunately it was one of the roughest stretches of riding I've done in a while. My hot spots were full blown blisters at this point and feeling AWESOME. My back was toast and I was riding on the verge of explosion just about constantly. I managed to stay on the right side of that verge though for the most part. I took a poor line up a punchy technical climb and clipped a rock with my pedal and my foot flew out and I fully extended my leg and my quad said "oh! here let me help you with that!" and proceeded to lock up real tight.
A muscle of that size fully cramping is a unique feeling that is hard to describe. Long story short I stood there trying unsuccessfully to bend my leg for a good 20 seconds or so. I was finally able to massage it out and get rolling but it was really tender after that and I had to baby it for a bit. I'm pretty good at cramp management at this point and I hydrated and got another of my electrolyte pills in and got it back on terms for the most part. The miles were ticking by very slowly at this point and mentally I was pretty rattled. REALLY wanted to be done and was literally cursing the course in spots because I just wanted a smooth section of trail for maybe just 100yds to rest.
I was still turning the pedals over ok but I was running out of the will to keep pushing hard. I was trying to steal some momentum everywhere I could get it. For the most part I kind of checked out and tried to go to a happy place for the last 3 miles or so after the final feed. The drone of sound coming from the finish area was one of the best sounds I've heard for awhile. I had held off the field with a final gap of around 5-6mins to second place and a finish time just north of 5hrs at 5:02.
podium jersey and everything.
All in all a pretty good but brutal day on the bike. Winning was also a nice change of pace for me. Now I get to swap 5-6hr efforts for 45min ones. #CXISHERE